Steve Bamford Golf Tips

Steve Bamford's Tour Championship Tips 2019

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It was a case of close but no cigar last week with Tony Finau (35/1) and Brandt Snedeker (50/1) giving us a run for our money and ultimately generating full each-way returns at the BMW Championship. Congratulations to all Justin Thomas backers who was best price 16/1 on Monday. With European Tour colleague Paul Williams putting up the talented Spaniard Adri Arnaus at 66/1 who finished 2nd in Prague, it was a solid week overall.

Plenty of questions will be answered at East Lake Golf Club this week which hosts the 2018/19 PGA Tour season-ending Tour Championship. The FedEx Cup Series culminates in Georgia with the top 30 in the standings arriving in Atlanta with a shot at the overall title. 2019 sees a new FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index in play for the Tour Championship, with FedEx Cup standings Number 1 Justin Thomas starting the tournament at -10. Like the new system or loath it, us punters will have to try and make sense of it, with many on Twitter telling me to think of it purely as in-play betting.

Qualifying for the Tour Championship is always a massive deal for plenty of players who don’t reside regularly in the OWGR top 50 with invites to next season’s WGC-Mexico Championship, The Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship the reward. So congratulations to Corey Conners (Tour Champ debutant), Lucas Glover (first visit to East Lake since 2009), Charles Howell III, Sungjae Im (rookie & Tour Championship debutant) and Jason Kokrak (Tour Championship debutant) for booking their tickets to the biggest tournaments in 2020. They’re joined by Abraham Ancer who despite currently residing in the OWGR top 50 is making his East Lake debut.

The 2019 Tour Championship will see a new FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index used for the very first time, with the FedEx Cup standings leader starting the tournament at -10, FEC Number 2 at -8, FEC Number 3 at -7, FEC Number 4 at -6 and Number 5 at -5. This then cascades down to those ranked 26th to 30th starting at Even. Previously at the Tour Championship, any player ranked 1-5 in the FedEx Cup standings had the same chance of taking the overall FedEx Cup title by winning the title, although as we saw 12 months ago, that didn’t necessarily relate to the Tour Championship winner.

Before we talk the Tour Championship, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing by the week. Welcome to all new readers, listeners and viewers and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

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Course Guide: East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia first hosted the Tour Championship in 1998. Back then the tournament alternated every year with the Champions Golf Club in Houston, but East Lake has been the sole host since 2004. The course is a Donald Ross original which had a Rees Jones renovation in 2008 that included a change from Bentgrass to faster MiniVerde Bermudagrass putting surfaces.

This course tends to negate pure power and aggression, instead rewarding consistent ball-striking or excellent tactical play and putting from short-game experts comfortable on the putting surfaces. Driving accuracy around here actually means something, with Bermudagrass rough that punishes on a set-up which features 5, 450+ yard par-4s.

The course is a traditional Par 70 layout with only 2 par-5s. The 6th is reachable for all and the closing 18th is reachable for the power hitters. Rees Jones inspired course changes prior to the 2016 renewal saw 78 yards added to course yardage with new tees on both the 16th and 17th par-4s. In addition the sets of 9 holes were reversed, with the round now finishing with the 590 yard par-5 rather than the traditional par-3 closer. Rees Jones inspired the changes on the new 18th, with a larger tee box so that it may always be set up as a two-shot par-5, and a re-contoured landing area to prevent drives rolling into a water hazard on the right side of fairway. Plenty of work has been put in-play to ensure the chance of a more exciting finish.

East Lake Golf Club, East Atlanta, Georgia: Designer: Donald Ross 1913 with Rees Jones re-designs 2008 & 2015; Course Type: Mid-Score, Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,346 yards; Water Hazards: 3; Fairways: Meyer Zoysiagrass; Rough: Tifway Bermudagrass 2.5″; Greens: 6,300 sq.ft average featuring MiniVerde UltraDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 12.5 ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.42 (+0.42), Difficulty Rank 20 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.38 (-0.62), Difficulty Rank 20 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.26 (+0.26), Rank 20 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.38 (+0.38), Difficulty Rank 17 of 52 courses. 2016: 69.62 (-0.38), Difficulty Rank 27 of 50 courses. 2017: 69.38 (-0.62), Difficulty Rank 31 of 50. 2018: 69.62 (-0.38), Rank 24 of 51 courses.

East Lake Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for East Lake and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:

  • East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:24; 350:22.
  • Medinah No 3: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:30; 300:28; 325:29; 350:27
  • Liberty National: 250 yards from tee: 36 yards wide; 275:33; 300:30 325:31; 350:26.
  • Sedgefield: 250 yards from tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:26 325:23; 350:22.
  • TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.
  • Montreux G&CC: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:41; 300:42; 325:40; 350:38.
  • Keene Trace: 250 yards from tee: 34 yards wide; 275:31; 300:30 325:30; 350:29.
  • TPC Deere Run: 250 yards from tee: 41 yards wide; 275:40; 300:36 325:33; 350:30.
  • TPC Twin Cities: 250 yards from tee: 38 yards wide; 275:38; 300:31 325:30; 350:36.
  • Detroit Golf Club: 250 yards from tee: 34 yards wide; 275:34; 300:35 325:34; 350:33.
  • TPC River Highlands: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:28; 325:28; 350:27.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Donald Ross and Rees Jones re-designs include:

Donald Ross

  • Pinehurst Number 2 – 2014 US Open
  • East Course at Oak Hill – 2013 PGA Championship
  • Detroit Golf Club – 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic
  • Sedgefield CC – Wyndham Championship
  • Plainfield – 2011 & 2015 Barclays
  • Aronimink GC – 2010 & 2011 AT&T National + 2018 BMW Championship

Rees Jones

  • Torrey Pines South Course – Farmers Insurance Open + 2008 U.S. Open (re-design)
  • GC of Houston – Houston Open
  • Aronimink GC – 2010 & 2011 A&T National + 2018 BMW Championship (re-design)
  • Blue Course, Congressional CC – 2011 U.S. Open + 2012-2014 & 2016 National (re-design)
  • Blue Course, Royal Montreal GC – 2014 RBC Canadian Open (re-design)
  • Hazeltine – 2009 PGA Championship (re-design)
  • Highlands Course, Atlanta Athletic Club – 2011 PGA Championship (re-design)
  • Baltusrol – 2016 PGA Championship (re-design)
  • Bethpage Black – 2009 U.S Open + 2012/2016 The Barclays (re-design)
  • Dubsdread, Cog Hill GCC – 2009,2010,2011 BMW Championship (re-design)
  • Bellerive CC – 2018 PGA Championship (re-design)
  • Medinah Number 3 – 2006 PGA Championship + 2019 BMW Championship

Course Overview: East Lake is a long circa 7,400 yard, Par 70. The course’s main defence is fast MiniVerde Bermudagrass greens which feature the Donald Ross trademark back-to-front pitch surrounded by tightly mown run-offs into collection areas. The green complexes are fast (12+ on the Stimpmeter) and contoured. Downhill putts are difficult to attack and players constantly talk about positioning approach shots below the pin. Plenty of green complexes are also long and thin, making finding the putting surfaces tricky. East Lake is a traditional, old-school golf course that up until now hasn’t been overpowered by brute force and it has a definite Florida feel to it after weeks of Up-State Bentgrass and Poa Annua green action.

Driving accuracy undoubtedly helps around here with fairways surrounded by trees and gnarly Bermuda rough. The course also features quirky Meyer Zoysiagrass fairways which many players claim promotes flyers. 8 of the last 11 winners have been in the top 9 for fairways hit, but high Greens in Regulation numbers are also critical. Nobody since Bill Haas in 2011 has won here at East Lake without being in the top 9 for Greens In Regulation on their way to victory. Since the 2008 Rees Jones re-design, Henrik Stenson holds the tournament winning lowest total with -13/267 in an event that featured softened greens on the Sunday.

East Lake is one of those rare tests on the PGA Tour where accuracy from the tee needs to be respected, especially on a course which continually ranks in the top-third in terms of hardest to hit fairways on the Tour. Ball-striking wise, the last 9 champions here have ranked: Woods 6th, Schauffele 3rd, McIlroy 3rd, Spieth 7th, Horschel 9th, Stenson 8th, Snedeker 5th, Haas 3rd and Furyk 3rd.

From a Strokes Gained Off the Tee perspective, ranks look like this: Woods 6th, Schauffele 1st, McIlroy, 1st, Spieth 3rd, Horschel 7th, Stenson 16th, Snedeker 5th, Haas 5th and Furyk 14th.

So hitting both fairways and greens here is a pre-requisite for victory. That solid core of play both with tee shots and approach shots is magnified on the basis that East Lake always ranks in the top-half for scrambling difficulty on the PGA Tour. This is a course to be respected.

Winners: 2018: Tiger Woods(-11); 2017: Xander Schauffele (-12); 2016: Rory McIlroy (-12); 2015: Jordan Spieth (-9); 2014: Billy Horschel (-11); 2013: Henrik Stenson (-13); 2012: Brandt Snedeker (-10); 2011: Bill Haas (-9); 2010: Jim Furyk (-8).

Tournament Stats: We’ve published some key player statistics for this week’s event that are well worth a look. Naturally they’ll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes | Combined Stats.

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Tommy Fleetwood, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the Andalucía Masters, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 20 Driving Accuracy: 1) Abraham Ancer; 2) Chez Reavie; 3) Kevin Kisner; 4) Jon Rahm; 5) Rory McIlroy; 6) Tommy Fleetwood; 7) Lucas Glover / Justin Rose; 9) Webb Simpson; 10) Brooks Koepka; 11) Brandt Snedeker; 12) Corey Conners; 13) Sungjae Im; 14) Paul Casey / Xander Schauffele; 16) Marc Leishman; 17) Bryson DeChambeau; 18) Gary Woodland; 19) Hideki Matsuyama / Patrick Reed.
  • Top 20 Greens in Regulation: 1) Tony Finau; 2) Corey Conners; 3) Paul Casey; 4) Kevin Kisner; 5) Jon Rahm; 6) Louis Oosthuizen; 7) Tommy Fleetwood; 8) Justin Thomas; 9) Hideki Matsuyama / Xander Schauffele; 11) Rickie Fowler; 12) Brooks Koepka; 13) Adam Scott; 14) Abraham Ancer; 15) Patrick Cantlay / Marc Leishman; 17) Patrick Reed; 18) Matt Kuchar; 19) Jason Kokrak / Brandt Snedeker.
  • Top 20 Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Rory McIlroy; 2) Justin Rose; 3) Jon Rahm / Justin Thomas; 5) Patrick Reed; 6) Webb Simpson; 7) Brandt Snedeker; 8) Lucas Glover / Chez Reavie; 10) Dustin Johnson; 11) Patrick Cantlay; 12) Sungjae Im; 13) Brooks Koepka; 14) Gary Woodland; 15) Hideki Matsuyama; 16) Bryson DeChambeau / Tony Finau / Matt Kuchar; 19) Jason Kokrak; 20) Rickie Fowler / Adam Scott.
  • Top 20 Scrambling: 1) Patrick Cantlay; 2) Tommy Fleetwood; 3) Webb Simpson; 4) Brandt Snedeker; 5) Justin Thomas; 6) Sungjae Im; 7) Bryson DeChambeau; 8) Rory McIlroy; 9) Rickie Fowler; 10) Paul Casey / Charles Howell III; 12) Patrick Reed; 13) Tony Finau / Xander Schauffele; 15) Louis Oosthuizen; 16) Abraham Ancer; 17) Brooks Koepka / Marc Leishman / Adam Scott; 20) Hideki Matsuyama.

Winners & Prices: 2018: Tiger Woods 14/1; 2017: Xander Schauffele 100/1; 2016: McIlroy 13/2; 2015: Spieth 9/1; 2014: Horschel 25/1; 2013: Stenson 16/1; 2012: Snedeker 40/1; 2011: Haas 45/1; 2010: Furyk 20/1. Average: 31/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 31/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2018: Thursday: Sunny with a high of 93. Wind ESE at 5-10 mph. Friday: Sunny with a high of 91. Wind SE at 5-10 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy with a high of 90. Wind SSE at 4-8 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 90. Wind SE at 5-10 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 90. Wind NNE 4-8 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 89. Wind ENE 4-8 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87. Wind NE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 85. Wind ENE 10-15 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 89. Wind NNE at 6-12 mph. Friday: Clear skies with a high of 89. Wind N at 5-10 mph. Saturday: Hot and humid conditions with a high in the lower 90s. Calm NNE wind reaching 5-10 mph in the afternoon. Sunday: Partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the lower 90s. Wind E at 5-10 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 88. Wind WSW at 7-12 mph. Friday: Mist and drizzle in between showers. High of 68. Wind NNE at 10-15 mph. Saturday: Rain showers all day with a high of 71. ENE wind at 7-12 mph. Sunday: Cloudy with a high of 74. Wind E at 7-12 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for East Atlanta, Georgia, is here. Atlanta has been dry in the build-up to the Tour Championship, with as little as 38mm of rain falling in August. It’s been considerably drier here than we’ve seen in previous renewals, so I’m expecting fast, firm fairway conditions. But with temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius and the standard Georgia in August high humidity, greens will be continually watered to stop them getting out of hand. As ever here at East Lake though, they will be fast enough to keep scoring more than honest, but thunderstorms will be a constant threat. Wind no greater than 10 -15 mph on Sunday won’t be a huge factor.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 9 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 2018, Tiger Woods (-11). 304 yards (13th), 64.3% fairways (3rd), 66.7% greens in regulation (14th), 34″3″ proximity to hole (16th), 70.8% scrambling (1st), 1.65 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2017, Xander Schauffele (-12). 315 yards (5th), 60.7% fairways (9th), 70.8% greens in regulation (6th), 36″4″ proximity to hole (21st), 66.7 % scrambling (7th), 1.75 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2016, Rory McIlroy (-12). 315 yards (3rd), 53.6% fairways (11th), 77.8% greens in regulation (2nd), 31″4″ proximity to hole (4th), 56.3 % scrambling (13th), 1.64 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2015, Jordan Spieth (-9). 282 yards (16th), 64.3% fairways (7th), 65.3% greens in regulation (9th), 33″4″ proximity to hole (4th), 66.7 % scrambling (8th), 1.72 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 2014, Billy Horschel (-11). 296 yards (12th), 51.8% fairways (21st), 79.2% greens in regulation (1st), 32″0″ proximity to hole (6th), 66.7 % scrambling (8th), 1.74 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2013, Henrik Stenson (-13). 285 yards (27th), 64.3% fairways (3rd), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 37″11″ proximity to hole (22nd), 62.5% scrambling (10th), 1.66 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2012, Brandt Snedeker (-10). 294 yards (18th), 66.1% fairways (2nd), 69.4% greens in regulation (8th), 31″4″ proximity to hole (1st), 63.6% scrambling (1st), 1.66 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2011, Bill Haas (-9). 300 yards (9th), 62.5% fairways (5th), 69.4% greens in regulation (11th), 39″4″ proximity to hole (26th), 40.9% scrambling (24th), 1.58 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2010, Jim Furyk(-8). 290 yards (22nd), 57.1% fairways (7th), 73.6% greens in regulation (1st), 38″4″ proximity to hole (25th), 68.4% scrambling (1st), 1.81 putts per GIR (20th).

Tournament Skill Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 12th, Driving Accuracy: 13th, Greens in Regulation: 6th, Proximity to Hole: 14th, Scrambling: 7th, Putting Average 7th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2018, Tiger Woods (-11). SG Off the Tee: 6th, SG Approach: 14th, SG Around the Green: 9th, SG Tee to Green: 7th, SG Putting: 2nd.
  • 2017, Xander Schauffele (-12). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 15th, SG Around the Green: 3rd, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 13th.
  • 2016, Rory McIlroy (-12). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 6th, SG Around the Green: 8th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 9th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 3rd, SG Approach: 12th, SG Around the Green: 7th, SG Tee to Green: 4th, SG Putting: 19th.

So let’s take a view from players as to how East Lake has played in recent years and what specific skills it requires:

Tiger Woods: “Well, these have been some of the – once they’ve redone the greens and went away from bent, some of the best Bermuda greens we’ll ever putt on. They’re as smooth as you can ever ask for. But in general, this golf course is a ball striker’s course. I mean, you’ve got to hit your golf ball well. You’ve got to drive it well, place your irons correctly. But it really does set up for a good ball striker. For most of my career, that’s basically what I’ve done. It’s hard to get the ball close here. There’s so much chase in it. If you drive the ball in the rough, you know you can’t get the ball close. The Bermuda rough, you just can’t control it. It puts a premium on driving and puts a premium on allowing for a little bit of chase on some of these greens. When I had some good looks, I went right after it, and otherwise I played pretty conservatively.

Well, it’s not like we faced a couple weeks ago at a soft Aronimink, when you felt uncomfortable firing at 18 straight flags. Here we’re playing a little bit more conservatively and working the ball in there, and take your par. Dump it and move on. The scores are indicative of that. The guys aren’t going to be running away with this. The golf course is just too difficult and too hard.”

Rory McIlroy: “I actually thought with the way they switched the nines, it’s going to be – it’s a bit of a slog because you’ve got your first par 5 on the 6th hole, and then you don’t have the par 5 again until the 18th. So you have to play a lot of good golf to make birdies. Fortunately, I did. I hit some fairways on the front nine and made some putts. Yeah, I think it makes it — I think the flow of the golf course has gotten more difficult. Obviously, you’re playing the same amount of holes, but the way you’re playing the holes just, it makes the flow of the golf course a little harder, I think. I think that’s why you’re not seeing so many low scores. It’s a tough golf course. You’ve got to hit fairways. But once you get it on the fairway, you have chances to score.

Yeah, like any golf course, if you hit fairways and you hit greens, it’s not that difficult, but when you start to get yourself out of position, especially they’ve let this Bermuda rough just get up a little bit, and it just takes all control out of your hands with your second shot. So I’ve only hit basically half of the fairways this week. When you do that, you’re going to struggle. But I have been aggressive off the tee. I’ve been hitting driver quite a lot. There was some holes where I was hitting drivers where Paul was just hitting a 3 wood. But I feel like I’ve been driving the ball really well the last couple of weeks and feel confident with that club. So I’m going to keep hitting it.”

Jordan Spieth: “I like to come to a place that I look at as very similar to Augusta National. I think the layout, the feel, the slopes, it reminds me a lot of it. I said it from after the first time I played Augusta, and then came back here last year, said, wow, this actually is somewhat similar. Just by the look of it. Obviously the greens are different and the bunkers are a bit different, but it has a very similar look and layout in my mind. And I really like this place. I like this place. I played solid two years ago. I know how to attack this golf course. I’ve been here before and attacked it the right way. This Bermuda can get a hold of you, you got to play it the right way, you got to be very careful about where you’re leaving the ball. And I believe on these greens, that I can get back to the way that I’ve been putting and that I believe that I should be able to putt because these are the type of greens I grew up on. So I feel very comfortable.

Brandt Snedeker: “This set of par 3s that we play at East Lake is probably the toughest set of par 3s we play all year on tour. I think all four of them are ranked in the top nine toughest holes on the golf course which we don’t see very often. Most important element here is hitting the fairways. If you don’t hit the fairways here, you can’t be aggressive. You can’t be aggressive if you put the ball in bad spots and you make bogeys. But the green complexes here are so severe. They’re probably the second most severe we play all year compared to Augusta. That’s where it’s going to be won or lost this year is where you play around the greens. Hardest hole every year is 16, 17, 18, that stretch of holes. Those three holes always play the most difficult, I think, just coming down the stretch because so much can happen. 17 is a really tough par 4. Tough tee shot, tough second shot. And 18 is an iconic par 3, the way it is. Always a tough finish. It’s tough coming down those few holes, it seems like. And the guys that play those holes the best can end up winning.

Henrik Stenson: “It’s still kind of important to hit the fairways and you leave yourself the right path. It’s crucial to be underneath the hole around here because even with a bit of rain and so on, you still get a lot of slick putts if you’re above the hole. It’s one of those courses, I think, if you’re on the wrong hole, you’re trying to attack too much, it can come back and bite you straight away. It’s got some real long holes, some tough holes. The greens are really slick if you’re coming down the hill. So it’s key to keep the ball underneath the hole. So good approach play is going to pay off for sure. You know, I didn’t grow up on Bermuda. So it might not be my best surface to pitch from and so on. So to hit a lot of greens is going to be crucial to do well. I don’t think the scoring has been that low here in the past either. I think it’s a golf course that kind of keeps the scoring pretty much under control.

Jim Furyk: “A lot of the defence of this golf course really is the Bermuda rough. You have to hit fairways. Some of them are very thin and very difficult to hit. 16 comes to mind. And then also I’d say the severity of the greens. They’re very quick. And they have a lot of slope from back to front and I hit a lot of putts today where I had 20 footers for birdie and really was putting extremely defensive because I was above the pin on the wrong side of the hole. And it’s tough to stay patient. You got a short iron your hand, whip one in there 15, 18 feet behind the hole and you realize it’s really not a great opportunity for birdie. And it’s similar to the style of greens I grew up on, pitching very severe from back to front. But it’s tough to make putts because you have a lot of putts that have a lot of break to them.

Chris Kirk: “I’d say this course and Boston are probably the most similar as far as it’s a lot of drivers and it’s a long golf course and not a whole lot of wedges in. So it’s going to favour guys that are hitting their drivers real well and obviously putting well. These greens, like I said, are in perfect shape. They are very, very tricky to read with the grain, and the ball doesn’t generally goes with the grain, but not always. So it can be despite how perfect they roll, they can be tough.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 9 winners of this event:

  • 2018 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2017 – Xander Schauffele: Round 1: 17th, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2016 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2015 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2014 – Billy Horschel: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2013 – Henrik Stenson: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2012 – Brandt Snedeker: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 10th, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2011 – Bill Haas: Round 1: 10th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2010 – Jim Furyk: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 winners of the Tour Championship and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2018 – Tiger Woods: Round 1: level, Round 2: level, Round 3: 3 ahead.
  • 2017 – Xander Schauffele: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2016 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2015 – Jordan Spieth: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2014 – Billy Horschel: Round 1: level, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3: level.
  • 2013 – Henrik Stenson: Round 1: 1 ahead, Round 2: 4 ahead, Round 3: 4 ahead.
  • 2012 – Brandt Snedeker: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 5 back, Round 3: level.
  • 2011 – Bill Haas: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2010 – Jim Furyk: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 ahead.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Tiger Woods: 6th BMW/24th Dell Tech/40th Northern Trust/2nd PGA.
  • Xander Schauffele: 20th BMW/53rd Dell Tech/17th Northern Trust/MC PGA.
  • Rory McIlroy: 42nd BMW/1st Deutsche/31st Barclays/MC PGA.
  • Jordan Spieth: 13th BMW/MC Deutsche/MC Barclays/2nd PGA.
  • Billy Horschel: 1st BMW/2nd Deutsche/MC Barclays/47th Wyndham.
  • Henrik Stenson: 33rd BMW/1st Deutsche/43rd Barclays/3rd PGA.
  • Brandt Snedeker: 37th BMW/6th Deutsche/2nd Barclays/28th Wyndham.
  • Bill Haas: 16th BMW/61st Deutsche/24th Barclays/MC Wyndham.
  • Jim Furyk: 15th BMW/37th Deutsche/24th PGA/15th Bridgestone.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.

  • 2018 – Fowler/Woods = Groups 4 & 6 -5/65 – 20/1 & 16/1.
  • 2017 – Stanley – Group 5 -6/64.
  • 2016 – Chappell/D Johnson/Matsuyama – Groups 7/8/15 -4/66.
  • 2015 – Stenson – Group 14 -7/63.
  • 2014 – Horschel/Kirk = Both Group 15 -4/66.
  • 2013 – Stenson – Group 15 -6/64.
  • 2012 – Rose/Woods – Groups 4 & 15 -4/66.
  • 2011 – Bradley – Group 6 -6/64.
  • 2010 – Casey/Donald/Ogilvy – Groups 10/12/13 -4/66.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 6 – Dustin Johnson.
  • 5 – Rory McIlroy
  • 4 – Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas.
  • 3 – Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker.
  • 2 – Paul Casey, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Adam Scott.
  • 1 – Charles Howell III, Brooks Koepka, Marc Leishman, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Gary Woodland.

We step into the unknown this week at the Tour Championship. A shortened FedEx Cup Playoffs also sees a departure this week with the new FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index in use. Under the previous Playoffs structure that was continually thrown at us was the fact that the top 5 in the standings controlled their own destiny with a win at East Lake. But things have moved on in 2019, with the FedEx Cup Playoff leader starting the next week at -10, FEC Number 2 at -8, FEC Number 3 at -7, FEC Number 4 at -6 and Number 5 at -5. As a result Justin Thomas goes off as short as 5/2 in the Tour Championship Winner Market, but it’s well worth recognising that we can also access a Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes market.

Naturally we’re dealing with a new structure in terms of how the Tour Championship leaderboard starts out and, for the first time, the FedEx Cup Playoff Standings leader has a tangible advantage over their fellow competitors. Up until this point though, what is interesting is that Tiger Woods (Rank 20), Xander Schauffele (Rank 26), Rory McIlroy (Rank 6), Jordan Spieth (Rank 2), Billy Horschel (Rank 2), Henrik Stenson (Rank 2) and Brandt Snedeker (Rank 5) have won the Tour Championship since 2012. Bill Haas and Jim Furyk were in positions 25 and 11 respectively in the 2 years prior to that. For the full picture Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup 12 months ago, T4 in the actual Tour Championship.

Indeed if the revised FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index had been in use across the last 2 renewals, Justin Thomas (Rank 2) and Justin Rose (Rank 2) would have won the Tour Championship with Woods T2 last year and Schauffele T4 in 2017. Starting positions are explained fully here.

My selections are as follows:

Hideki Matsuyama 2.5Pts EW 20/1, Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Market (4EW, 1/4) with Coral

With this new Tour Championship Starting Strokes Index, the inevitable has happened with a huge stretch in odds. Naturally the leading protagonists have shortened with those towards the base of the starting leaderboard available at prices up to 400/1 – that’s understandable with the very best players already significantly ahead of their competition. It’s been best explained to me as an “in-play market on steroids”. The cards are undoubtedly stacked in favour of the big guns and deservedly so. I have no real beef with this new departure, but it does make it a nightmare for punters. My option was to take the staggered leaderboard out of the equation and place my bets in the Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes market. This certainly isn’t the perfect scenario, especially with a dead-heat very much in-play, and heaven knows if we’ll get to see a non Starting Strokes Index live leaderboard, but hey-ho, we play with the cards dealt.

First up for me is Hideki Matsuyama who looked like a man on a mission last week in Chicago. At 33rd in the FedEx Cup standings arriving at the BMW Championship, he had to perform – and boy did he. A Friday -8/63 set the Medinah Number 3 course record, which lasted for 24 hours, before Justin Thomas promptly shot that amazing -10/61 to take the course record and control of the whole tournament. Hideki led by a shot from Patrick Cantlay going into Saturday and undoubtedly he looked uncomfortable with his first 36 hole lead since the 2017 PGA Championship. But he delivered again on Sunday, producing yet another -8/63 to record his biggest haul of OWGR points since his 2017 WGC Bridgestone Invitational win.

Arriving at East Lake with nothing to lose and everything to gain, I love the look of the Japanese 27 year-old this week, who can just look to shoot low scores, especially as he sits in T11 at -3 on the starting leaderboard. Recent outings at East Lake have produced 12th (2015), 5th (2016) and 4th (2018). I prefer him on Bentgrass putting surfaces – just look at last week – but he has won the 2016 Hero World Challenge on Bermudagrass carpet and his 2 wins at TPC Scottsdale have come on Bermudagrass overseeded green complexes. Closer to home he topped Strokes Gained Putting here in 2016.

Importantly he’s also experienced and comfortable on Zoysiagrass fairways having 2 top-25 finishes at Trinity Forest on top of his 2 top-5 finishes here. 3rd for Driving Accuracy, 5th for Total Driving, 3rd for Greens in Regulation, 2nd for Ball Striking, 1st for Strokes Gained on Approach and 1st for SG Tee to Green here 12 months ago, I think Hideki will be arriving here with that new-found bounce in his stride that we saw at Medinah last week. Result T12

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Brandt Snedeker 1.5Pts EW 45/1, Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Market (4EW, 1/4) with Unibet

It would be silly of me to jump off the Brandt Snedeker train as well. 5th last week at Medinah Number 3 delivered a full each-way return at 50/1 and this week we find him at 45/1 in the Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes market. The winner here in 2012 when again he entered in great form, I have always preached that Brandt is a Donald Ross connoisseur. Indeed his record on Ross designs reads: Pinehurst Number 2: 9th (2014); Sedgefield: 5th (2009), 8th (2010), 5th (2014), 3rd (2016) and 1st (2018); Detroit Golf Club: 5th (2019); Plainfield: 3rd (2011). As a golfer based and educated in Tennessee, Brandt is happy on Bermudagrass greens and he’s also delivered on Zoysiagrass winning here and finishing 5th (2007) and 6th (2018) at TPC Southwind.

16th at -2 on the Tour Championship starting leaderboard might slightly irk a player who has finished 6th and 5th in consecutive weeks in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but for the purposes of this bet it keeps him slightly below the radar. And that’s surprising for a player who has shot -6/66, -5/67 and -4/68 across 3 of his rounds last week in Chicago and a particularly eye-catching -8/63 at Liberty National. 11th for Driving Accuracy and top 20 for Greens in Regulation in my 8-week rolling trackers, I think Brandt could again be a factor on a course he described as “one of my favourites we play all year” in 2012. Result T23

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Kevin Kisner 1.5Pts EW 60/1, Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Market (4EW, 1/4) with Unibet

Fairways and greens is the ultimate combination at East Lake and those who like Bermudagrass putting surfaces and can handle the Zoysiagrass fairways is a huge plus point as well, so Kevin Kisner ticks plenty of boxes this week. 27th at St Jude, 12th at Liberty National and 9th last week at Medinah, KK is a lover of tougher formats and he’s more than happy on a Par 70.

The 2015 RSM Classic winner and this year’s WGC Dell Technologies Match Play winner, both on Bermudagrass putting surfaces, Kisner will want to highlight to Tiger Woods that he’s good for a Captain’s Pick into the United States Presidents Cup team across the next few months and a high-profile outing at East Lake will do just the job for the University of Georgia product.

3rd for Driving Accuracy and 4th for Greens in Regulation in my 8-week trackers, Kisner was 3rd here in 2017 arriving with form of 54-53-67 across the Playoffs. One of his earliest breakthroughs came at TPC Southwind in 2012 when he was 4th going into Sunday and he was also 12th at last year’s Bellerive-hosted PGA Championship on a course that was way too long for him – a little like last week. But his liking for Zoysiagrass is clear to see and he’s more than happy on MiniVerde Bermudagrass putting surfaces as 6th at Quail Hollow (2014) and an impressive team record at TPC Louisiana indicate clearly. At T16 starting here at East Lake, Kisner has no pressure whatsoever and I can see him going well in Southern State heat and on grasses he’s happiest playing upon. Result T9

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:50BST 19.8.19 but naturally subject to fluctuation.