Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Tour Championship Tips 2021

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How Bryson DeChambeau didn’t land a 28/1 winner for this column last week at the BMW Championship is a sore point, but congratulations if you were on-board Patrick Cantlay at Tuesday prices up to 25/1.

Plenty of questions will be answered at East Lake Golf Club this week which hosts the 2020/21 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. 2021 is the third Tour Championship renewal where we will see the FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index, with FedEx Cup standings Number 1 Patrick Cantlay starting the tournament at -10.

Qualifying for the Tour Championship is always a massive deal for players who don’t reside regularly in the OWGR top 50, with invites to next year’s Masters Tournament, U.S. Open and Open Championship the reward. So congratulations to Tour Championship debutant Erik van Rooyen for booking his ticket to the biggest tournaments in 2022. He’s joined by Sam Burns, who despite currently residing in the OWGR top 25 is making his East Lake debut.

The Tour Championship sees a FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index used, with the FedEx Cup standings 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. This then cascades down to those ranked 26th to 30th starting at Even.

Before we go into the detail surrounding the Tour Championship we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System, Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, 6,000+ strong, 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 Bermuda putting surfaces. Driving accuracy around here actually means something, with gnarly Bermudagrass rough that punishes on a set-up which features half a dozen 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 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 & 2016; Course Type: Mid-Score, Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,348 yards; Holes with Water Hazards In-Play: 4; Fairways: Meyer Zoysiagrass; Rough: Tifway Bermudagrass 2.5″; Greens: 6,090 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. 2019: 70.03 (+0.03), Rank 14 of 49 courses. 2020: 68.92 (-1.08), Rank 24 of 41 courses.

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

  • East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • Caves Valley: 40- 60 yards.
  • Liberty National: 250 yards from tee: 37 yards wide; 275:33; 300:30 325:31; 350:27.
  • 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.
  • Old Greenwood: 35-40 yards.
  • TPC Twin Cities: 250 yards from the tee: 38 yards wide; 275:38; 300:31; 325:30; 350:36.
  • TPC Deere Run: 250 yards from tee: 41 yards wide; 275:40; 300:36 325:33; 350:30.
  • 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: 38 yards wide; 275:36; 300:29; 325:29; 350:28.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 26 yards wide; 275:27; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:27; 325:26; 350:23.
  • Ocean Course – Kiawah Island: Up to 50 yards wide.

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

Donald Ross

  • Aronimink – 2010/11 AT&T National + 2019 BMW Championship
  • Detroit Golf Club –  Rocket Mortgage Classic
  • East Course at Oak Hill – 2013 PGA Championship
  • Pinehurst Number 2 – 2014 US Open
  • Plainfield – 2011 & 2015 Barclays
  • Sedgefield Country Club – Wyndham Championship

Rees Jones

  • Aronimink GC – 2010,2011 A&T National + 2018 BMW Championship
  • Baltusrol – 2016 PGA Championship
  • Bellerive CC – 2018 PGA Championship
  • Bethpage Black – 2009 U.S Open, 2019 PGA Championship + 2012/2016 The Barclays
  • Blue Course, Congressional CC – 2011 U.S. Open + 2012-2014 & 2016 National
  • Blue Course, Royal Montreal GC – 2014 RBC Canadian Open
  • Dubsdread, Cog Hill GCC – 2009,2010,2011 BMW Championship
  • East Lake GC – Tour Championship
  • GC of Houston – Houston Open
  • Hazeltine – 2009 PGA Championship
  • Highlands Course, Atlanta Athletic Club – 2011 PGA Championship
  • Medinah Number 3 – 2019 BMW Championship
  • Torrey Pines South Course – Farmers Insurance Open + 2008 U.S. Open + 2021 U.S. Open

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-country Bentgrass and Poa Annua green action.

Driving accuracy undoubtedly helps around here with fairways surrounded by trees and gnarly, tough Bermuda rough. Fairways are also extremely tight and feature quirky Meyer Zoysiagrass fairways which many players claim promotes flyers. 9 of the last 13 winners have been in the top 9 for fairways hit, but high Greens in Regulation numbers are also critical. Since the 2008 Rees Jones re-design, Xander Schauffele holds the tournament lowest total at -15/265 from last year, beating Henrik Stenson (2013) and Rory McIlroy (2019) with -13/267. East Lake is a tough assignment!

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 11 lowest scorers (ignoring starting scores from 2019 onwards) here have ranked – Schauffele 9th, McIlroy 2nd, 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: Schauffele 5th, McIlroy 1st, 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 prerequisite 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.

tour championship tips

Winners: 2020: Dustin Johnson (-18) & Xander Schauffele 72-Hole (-15); 2019: Rory McIlroy (-18) & Rory McIlroy 72-Hole (-13); 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 | 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 Justin Thomas, Sungjae Im, Jon Rahm, Abraham Ancer, Daniel Berger, Collin Morikawa, Kevin Na, Viktor Hovland, Patrick Cantlay and Louis Oosthuizen.

Tournament Winners & Prices: 2020: Dustin Johnson 15/8 – 72-Hole Xander Schauffele 12/1; 2019: Rory McIlroy 9/1 – 72-Hole Rory McIlroy 8/1; 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. Past 7 Renewals Average: 30/1; Overall Average: 27/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2020: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 92. Wind WNW 10-15 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny, less humid with a high of 87. Wind N 6-12 mph. Saturday: Sunny skies with temperatures reaching into the mid-80s. Wind ENE 10-15 mph. Sunday: Sunny. High of 86. Wind E 5-10 mph.
  • 2019: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 93. Wind SW at 5-10 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 91. Wind W/SW 10-15 mph. Due to inclement weather, round two was suspended from 4:07 p.m. until 5:33 p.m. (1 hour, 26 minutes). Saturday: Round three resumed as scheduled at 8 a.m. Widely scattered passing showers throughout the day. High of 79. Wind E 7-15 mph. Sunday: Overcast and cooler, with a high of 79. Wind E 7-15 mph.
  • 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.

First point to highlight is that Atlanta has seen biblical amounts of precipitation since the start of June. 569mm is plenty of rain and has undoubtedly impacted preparations, so potentially we will see softer conditions and thicker rough. Rain is more than likely on Tuesday and Wednesday of tournament week as well. Apart from that, expect little wind and temperatures down on what we usually see here at 29-30 degrees Celsius.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the John Deere Classic / Scottish Open, which includes PGA Tour, European Tour events and the Olympics. Players rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Brooks Koepka; 4) Viktor Hovland; 5) Rory McIlroy; 6) Patrick Cantlay / Joaquin Niemann; 8) Scottie Scheffler / Justin Thomas; 10) Corey Conners; 11) Sam Burns; 12) Sergio Garcia; 13) Sungjae Im; 14) Tony Finau / Collin Morikawa; 16) Hideki Matsuyama; 17) Abraham Ancer; 18) Louis Oosthuizen; 19) Xander Schauffele / Erik van Rooyen.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) Louis Oosthuizen; 2) Daniel Berger / Jon Rahm; 4) Cameron Smith; 5) Xander Schauffele; 6) Viktor Hovland; 7) Bryson DeChambeau; 8) Sam Burns; 9) Abraham Ancer; 10) Sungjae Im / Scottie Scheffler; 12) Hideki Matsuyama / Joaquin Niemann; 14) Justin Thomas; 15) Corey Conners; 16) Collin Morikawa; 17) Sergio Garcia; 18) Patrick Cantlay; 19) Dustin Johnson; 20) Harris English / Kevin Na.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Cameron Smith; 2) Jordan Spieth; 3) Kevin Na; 4) Patrick Reed; 5) Patrick Cantlay / Harris English; 7) Billy Horschel; 8) Brooks Koepka; 9) Abraham Ancer / Joaquin Niemann; 11) Daniel Berger; 12) Louis Oosthuizen; 13) Sergio Garcia / Justin Thomas; 15) Corey Conners; 16) Jon Rahm; 17) Hideki Matsuyama / Rory McIlroy; 19) Sam Burns / Sungjae Im.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Justin Thomas; 3) Cameron Smith; 4) Jon Rahm; 5) Daniel Berger; 6) Sam Burns; 7) Scottie Scheffler; 8) Louis Oosthuizen; 9) Patrick Cantlay; 10) Kevin Na; 11) Corey Conners / Joaquin Niemann; 13) Hideki Matsuyama; 14) Viktor Hovland / Xander Schauffele; 16) Sergio Garcia / Sungjae Im / Brooks Koepka; 19) Abraham Ancer; 20) Rory McIlroy / Collin Morikawa.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Harris English; 2) Tony Finau; 3) Patrick Reed; 4) Cameron Smith; 5) Abraham Ancer; 6) Sam Burns / Patrick Cantlay; 8) Kevin Na; 9) Rory McIlroy; 10) Dustin Johnson / Xander Schauffele; 12) Bryson DeChambeau / Jordan Spieth; 14) Stewart Cink; 15) Viktor Hovland / Justin Thomas; 17) Sungjae Im; 18) Joaquin Niemann / Erik van Rooyen; 20) Louis Oosthuizen.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Kevin Na; 3) Sam Burns / Patrick Cantlay; 5) Bryson DeChambeau / Cameron Smith; 7) Justin Thomas; 8) Louis Oosthuizen; 9) Harris English / Tony Finau; 11) Abraham Ancer; 12) Scottie Scheffler; 13) Xander Schauffele; 14) Joaquin Niemann; 15) Sungjae Im / Rory McIlroy; 17) Viktor Hovland; 18) Patrick Reed; 19) Daniel Berger / Corey Conners / Hideki Matsuyama.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 11, 72-hole stroke play winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2020, Xander Schauffele (-15). SG Off the Tee: 5th, SG Approach: 17th, SG Around the Green: 11th, SG Tee to Green: 12th, SG Putting: 2nd.
  • 2019, Rory McIlroy (-13). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 9th, SG Around the Green: 2nd, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 11th.
  • 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: 5th, SG Putting: 7th.

Traditional Skill Set Trends:

  • 2020, Xander Schauffele (-15). 303 yards (15th), 53.6% fairways (16th), 69.4% greens in regulation (5th), 34″10″ proximity to hole (14th), 77.3% scrambling (2nd), 1.62 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2019, Rory McIlroy (-13). 306 yards (8th), 64.3% fairways (3rd), 69.4% greens in regulation (5th), 34″3″ proximity to hole (12th), 68.2% scrambling (5th), 1.62 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 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).

Traditional Skill Set Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 13th, Driving Accuracy: 8th, Greens in Regulation: 6th, Proximity to Hole: 14th, Scrambling: 7th, Putting Average 6th.

So let’s take a view from players as to how East Lake sets up and what specific skills it requires:

Dustin Johnson (2020): “The 18th is a great closing hole. You can make a 3, actually it’s hard to make a 3. You don’t see a lot of those during the week, just because it’s always hard to get it close to the hole. It’s a tough drive. You have to hit the fairway if you want any shot at knocking it on the green. I mean, that’s first and foremost. The rough here is always brutal, and you never get a good lie ever. You have to hit the fairway, and then once you do hit the fairway, you’ve got to hit a perfect iron shot if you want to get it on the green. It makes it a difficult hole. But you have a chance. You can get it, depending on which way the wind is blowing, you can get a mid-iron in your hand coming into the green. But again, like I said, it’s hard to hit the green.

Round 1, it was okay. I mean, I scored well. I gave myself a few looks, but I need to hit some more fairways. That’s just the key out here is driving, if you can drive it in the fairway, you can shoot a good score. The greens are so good, and the only way to control the golf ball coming into the greens is hitting out of the fairway. That’s the only thing I need to do a little better tomorrow. It wasn’t like I was way off or anything. Just hit quite a few drives just in the rough, which is no good around here.”

Rory McIlroy (2019): ” I started pretty well. I had pretty decent opportunities on the first three holes and didn’t make them and then made a nice one on 4. The greens are so fast, and the greens are getting a little firm. It’s difficult at times to put yourself on the right side of the pin. I felt like I had a lot of putts today from 15 to 20 feet, but you’re just being so defensive with them. You’re just rolling them down the hill, hoping — with good speed, hoping that they might drop. I think, because you’re hitting them so easily or slowly, they take a lot more break as well. So I missed a lot of those downhill ones a little low. So that’s something to just sort of, for me to pay attention to the next few days.

You don’t hit fairways, and with this Bermuda rough, you have no control of your golf ball. You’re sort of guessing whether it’s going to fly or whether it’s going to come out soft. So you need your scrambling boots on this week, and I scrambled well, and I think I only made two bogeys over the first 36 holes, which is a big key to doing well around here.”

Tiger Woods (2018): “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 11 winners of this event:

  • 2020 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st,  Round 3: 1st.
  • 2019 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 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 11 winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2020 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: level, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 5 ahead.
  • 2019 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 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:

  • Dustin Johnson: 2nd BMW/1st Northern Trust/2nd PGA/12th St Jude.
  • Rory McIlroy: 19th BMW/6th Northern Trust/4th St Jude/MC Open.
  • 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.

  • 2020 – Johnson/Rahm = Group 15 -13 (Total) – 5/6 & 3/1.
  • 2019 – Koepka/Schauffele/Thomas = Groups 13, 14 & 15 -10 (Total) – 11/2, 22/1 & 4/6.
  • 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:

  • 7 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy.
  • 6 – Justin Thomas.
  • 4 – Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth.
  • 3 – Sergio Garcia.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Harris English, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith.
  • 1 – Abraham Ancer, Sam Burns, Stewart Cink, Bryson DeChambeau, Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa, Kevin Na.

The Tour Championship sees a FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index used, with the FedEx Cup standings 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. This then cascades down to those ranked 26th to 30th starting at Even. Previous to 2019 at the Tour Championship, any player ranked 1-5 had the same chance of taking the overall FedEx Cup title by winning the title. So yes the FedEx Cup Playoff Standings leader has a tangible advantage over their fellow competitors when it comes to winning the season long FedEx race.

But recent history highlights that the FedEx Cup leader tends to not be the place you want to be when it comes to shooting the lowest score this week, if the 72-hole market, ignoring starting scores is where your interest is this week. But more of that in a minute. Dustin Johnson won the Tour Championship at 15/8 in 2020 starting 1st in the standings. 2019 saw Rory McIlroy start in 5th spot on his way to winning the tournament at 9/1.

But if we’re taking the starting scores out of the scenario this week then nobody leading the FedEx Cup has shot the lowest total at East Lake for a considerable length of time. Take last year, where Xander Schauffele entered the Tour Championship at 14th in the FedEx Cup, shooting -15/265 for the week and 4 shots lower than FedEx Champion Dustin Johnson.

Rory McIlroy entered the Tour Championship at Number 5 in the standings and at -5 on the leaderboard. He went on to shoot -13/267 for the week which was both good enough to capture the FedEx Cup overall and was also the lowest total for the week, beating Xander Schauffele by 3 shots in that regards,

Before the FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index, 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.

My selections are as follows:

Rory McIlroy 3pts EW 14/1 (5EW, 1/5), 72 Holes Without Strokes Index, with Betfred

Starting at -2 this week means that Rory McIlroy has little pressure on him to perform.

Interestingly, the 72 hole winner of the Tour Championship since the FEC Starting Index kicked-off in 2019 has started at -5 (McIlroy 2019) and -3 (Schauffele 2020) respectively. They were 8/1 and 12/1 to win their respective markets. With less pressure, making a fast start for those playing well further down the FEC pecking order seems a logical angle, and McIlroy’s record at East Lake is fantastic.

2nd (2014), 1st (2016), 7th (2018), 1st (2019) and 7th last year when in the complete doldrums with golf without fans, Rory is undoubtedly playing better golf right now as we head towards the Ryder Cup. 12th at the WGC St Jude Invitational, 3rd across 72 holes at the Olympics and 4th last week at the BMW Championship are notable on the basis that Rory’s ‘bread and butter’ driving and approach play looks to be back. 3rd, 3rd and 21st for Greens in Regulation across Kasumigaseki, TPC Southwind and Caves Valley, Rory was 1st and 2nd for Total Driving and 1st and 2nd for Ball Striking across the St Jude and the BMW. From a Strokes Gained perspective, that equated to 1st and 2nd for Off the Tee, plus 2nd and 4th for Tee to Green.

Buoyed by last week’s 4th in Baltimore where a poor performance would have ultimately seen Rory not make it to East Lake, I think he’ll go very nicely this week on Bermuda green complexes he traditionally putts strongly on. RESULT: 14th

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Justin Thomas 2pts EW 18/1 (5EW, 1/5), 72 Holes Without Strokes Index, with Betfred

Justin Thomas is the other player I fancy from the elite grouping this week.

He sits behind only Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, both of whom have 7 wins, in this field for PGA Tour titles on Bermudagrass greens. Justin only joined the PGA Tour in the 2014/15 season and his haul of 6 Bermudagrass titles is impressive. Wins at Kapalua (2017), Waialae (2017), Quail Hollow (2017), PGA National (2018), Kapalua (2020) and TPC Southwind (2020) have all come on Bermudagrass greens. And his win this season at TPC Sawgrass also came on TifEagle Bermudagrass greens overseeded with Poa Trivialis and Bentgrass.

Out of the FedEx Cup Playoff standings limelight, Thomas finds himself in an interesting spot. 6th in the FEC, he heads-up a group of players at -4 which includes Harris English, Abraham Ancer, Jordan Spieth and Sam Burns. 6 shots back of Patrick Cantlay going into Thursday, he’s only 2 shots back of Jon Rahm who many view to be the man to beat this week.

Whether JT ultimately wins the Tour Championship is academic for this bet, but I like the fact that Justin will still feel that with a great opening 36 holes he can still get right into the heat of the battle. And it’s easy to see that Thomas gets on very well with a course he quotes as “loving”. 6th (2016 on debut), 2nd (2017), 7th (2018) 9th (2019 without Strokes Index) and 3rd (2020 without Strokes Index), his record here is phenomenal. Indeed for Strokes Gained Tee to Green here at East Lake since 2016, only Rory has been his peer across players who have played this event multiple times.

Out-gunned at Caves Valley last week, his 4th at a trickier Liberty National highlights a player who’s still knocking on the door at courses that suit a fuller all-round game. So it’s encouraging to see Justin ranking 2nd in this field in my 8-week Strokes Gained Tee to Green tracker. RESULT: T4

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Sam Burns 1.5pts EW 30/1 (5EW, 1/4), 72 Holes Without Strokes Index Market, with Paddy Power

Sam Burns has had a magnificent 2020/21 PGA Tour season.

We were on board at the very first tournament, the Safeway Open, at 50/1 in a weak event. The 36 and 54 hole leader, he eventually finished T7 (as is this column’s habit!) and in reality the 25 year old from Louisiana has never looked back. 7th at the Houston Open (Bermuda greens), 3rd at Riviera, 1st at Copperhead (Bermuda greens), 2nd at TPC Craig Ranch, 2nd at TPC Southwind (Bermuda greens) and 8th last week at Caves Valley. So, in summary, Sam has taken his maiden PGA Tour title, led the star-studded Genesis Invitational across 36 and 54 holes and finished 2nd in a World Golf Championship this season, with a couple of runner-up finishes thrown in for good measure. No wonder he’s jumped 129 spots in the OWGR and has now ensconced himself within the top 25 golfers on the planet.

The Ryder Cup may have proved a hurdle too far, but I think his game will suit a first ever visit to East Lake very nicely. Across my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers he ranks 6th for Tee to Green, 6th for Putting and 3rd in this stellar field for Current Form. Amazing stuff and he reminds me of Scottie Scheffler here 12 months ago, who arrived in excellent form and finished 2nd in the without starting strokes 72-hole market at a best price of 28/1. RESULT: T17

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:20BST 30.8.21 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.