Steve Bamford Golf Tips

Steve Bamford's Tour Championship Tips

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Congratulations if you were on Jon Rahm at 10/1 last week. We covered the week with Tony Finau paying a full each-way place at 40/1. Star of the week though was our European Tour expert Paul Williams who landed a full 250/1 each-way on Craig Howie at the UK Championship. Some tipping that! If you don’t already do so, then you can follow him on Twitter @GolfBetting. Another thing to point out at the top is that the Tour Championship runs from Friday to Monday this week, to mark Labor Day festivities in the US.

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

Plenty of questions will be answered at East Lake Golf Club this week which hosts the 2019/20 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. 2020 is the second Tour Championship renewal where we’ll see the FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index, with FedEx Cup standings Number 1 Dustin Johnson starting the tournament at -10. Like the 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 year’s WGC-Mexico Championship, The Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship the reward. So congratulations to Tour Championship debutants Sebastian Munoz, Lanto Griffin, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Champ and Mackenzie Hughes for booking their tickets to the biggest tournaments in 2021. They’re joined by OWGR top 50 residing players in the form of Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland, Scottie Scheffler and PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, all of whom are also making their East Lake debuts.

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.

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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 Bermudagrass rough that punishes on a set-up which features 6, 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 & 2015; Course Type: Mid-Score, Classical; Par: 70; Length: 7,346 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.

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: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:24; 350:23.
  • Olympia Fields: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:26; 350:26.
  • TPC Boston: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:34; 325:27; 350:33.
  • Sedgefield: 250 yards from tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:26 325:23; 350:22.
  • TPC Harding Park: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:26; 300:28 325:27; 350:26.
  • TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:31; 350:26.
  • TPC Twin Cities: 250 yards from the tee: 38 yards wide; 275:38; 300:31; 325:30; 350:36.
  • Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:24; 350:29.
  • 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.
  • Harbour Town: 250 yards from tee: 29 yards wide; 275:26; 300:22; 325:26; 350:22.
  • Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 27 yards wide; 275:26; 300:27; 325:26; 350:23.

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

  • 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-country Bentgrass and Poa Annua green action.

Driving accuracy undoubtedly helps around here with fairways surrounded by trees and gnarly, tough Bermuda rough. The course also features quirky Meyer Zoysiagrass fairways which many players claim promotes flyers. 9 of the last 12 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, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy hold the tournament winning lowest total 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 10 champions here have ranked – 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: 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 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.

tour championship tips

Winners: 2019: Rory McIlroy (-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 Webb Simpson, Daniel Berger, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Kevin Kisner, Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Workday Charity Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour (where recorded) 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:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Collin Morikawa / Brendon Todd; 3) Jon Rahm; 4) Daniel Berger; 5) Abraham Ancer / Webb Simpson; 7) Kevin Kisner / Scottie Scheffler; 9) Kevin Na; 10) Tyrrell Hatton; 11) Sungjae Im; 12) Viktor Hovland; 13) Billy Horschel; 14) Harris English / Justin Thomas / Xander Schauffele; 17) Bryson DeChambeau; 18) Rory McIlroy; 19) Sebastian Munoz; 20) Dustin Johnson.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Xander Schauffele / Scottie Scheffler; 4) Tony Finau / Rory McIlroy; 6) Justin Thomas; 7) Tyrrell Hatton / Collin Morikawa / Webb Simpson; 10) Viktor Hovland; 11) Harris English / Patrick Reed; 13) Ryan Palmer; 14) Dustin Johnson; 15) Joaquin Niemann; 16) Daniel Berger / Kevin Kisner; 18) Billy Horschel; 19) Mackenzie Hughes; 20) Lanto Griffin.
  • Scrambling: 1) Harris English; 2) Kevin Na; 3) Daniel Berger / Hideki Matsuyama / Cameron Smith; 6) Xander Schauffele; 7) Kevin Kisner / Jon Rahm; 9) Sungjae Im; 10) Abraham Ancer / Justin Thomas; 12) Collin Morikawa / Patrick Reed; 14) Mackenzie Hughes / Webb Simpson; 16) Brendon Todd; 17) Ryan Palmer; 18) Cameron Champ; 19) Tony Finau; 20) Bryson DeChambeau.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Daniel Berger; 2) Kevin Na; 3) Jon Rahm; 4) Mackenzie Hughes / Webb Simpson; 6) Kevin Kisner; 7) Tyrrell Hatton / Viktor Hovland; 9) Bryson DeChambeau; 10) Billy Horschel; 11) Patrick Reed; 12) Tony Finau / Rory McIlroy / Xander Schauffele; 15) Harris English; 16) Brendon Todd; 17) Collin Morikawa / Scottie Scheffler; 19) Lanto Griffin; 20) Abraham Ancer / Dustin Johnson / Justin Thomas.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Workday Charity Open, which includes PGA Tour events where recorded. 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 SG Off The Tee: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Bryson DeChambeau; 3) Scottie Scheffler; 4) Collin Morikawa; 5) Daniel Berger; 6) Cameron Champ / Tony Finau; 8) Rory McIlroy; 9) Dustin Johnson; 10) Xander Schauffele; 11) Sungjae Im; 12) Justin Thomas; 13) Patrick Reed; 14) Abraham Ancer / Tyrrell Hatton; 16) Joaquin Niemann; 17) Sebastian Munoz; 18) Viktor Hovland / Billy Horschel; 20) Webb Simpson.
  • Top 20 SG Approach: 1) Kevin Kisner; 2) Justin Thomas; 3) Tony Finau; 4) Lanto Griffin; 5) Rory McIlroy; 6) Collin Morikawa / Joaquin Niemann; 8) Tyrrell Hatton; 9) Cameron Smith; 10) Harris English / Scottie Scheffler / Jon Rahm; 13) Daniel Berger; 14) Ryan Palmer / Xander Schauffele; 16) Billy Horschel; 17) Hideki Matsuyama; 18) Viktor Hovland; 19) Mackenzie Hughes 20) Dustin Johnson / Kevin Na.
  • Top 20 SG Around The Green: 1) Harris English; 2) Webb Simpson; 3) Justin Thomas; 4) Hideki Matsuyama; 5) Scottie Scheffler; 6) Mackenzie Hughes / Brendon Todd; 8) Jon Rahm; 9) Xander Schauffele; 10) Sebastian Munoz; 11) Patrick Reed; 12) Daniel Berger; 13) Kevin Na; 14) Ryan Palmer; 15) Marc Leishman; 16) Tyrrell Hatton / Collin Morikawa; 18) Cameron Smith; 19) Lanto Griffin / Dustin Johnson.
  • Top 20 SG Tee to Green: 1) Jon Rahm; 2) Justin Thomas; 3) Scottie Scheffler; 4) Xander Schauffele; 5) Daniel Berger; 6) Tony Finau; 7) Harris English / Collin Morikawa; 9) Kevin Kisner / Hideki Matsuyama; 11) Rory McIlroy / Patrick Reed; 13) Tyrrell Hatton; 14) Webb Simpson; 15) Joaquin Niemann / Ryan Palmer; 17) Billy Horschel; 18) Lanto Griffin / Sebastian Munoz; 20) Dustin Johnson.
  • Top 20 SG Putting: 1) Kevin Kisner; 2) Mackenzie Hughes; 3) Harris English; 4) Abraham Ancer / Billy Horschel; 6) Webb Simpson; 7) Brendon Todd; 8) Bryson DeChambeau; 9) Jon Rahm; 10) Tony Finau; 11) Daniel Berger / Viktor Hovland / Xander Schauffele; 14) Collin Morikawa; 15) Patrick Reed; 16) Kevin Na / Scottie Scheffler; 18) Dustin Johnson; 19) Lanto Griffin / Marc Leishman.
  • Top 20 SG Total: 1) Kevin Kisner; 2) Xander Schauffele; 3) Jon Rahm; 4) Harris English; 5) Daniel Berger; 6) Justin Thomas / Scottie Scheffler; 8) Tony Finau; 9) Mackenzie Hughes / Webb Simpson; 11) Billy Horschel / Collin Morikawa / Patrick Reed; 14) Brendon Todd; 15) Viktor Hovland; 16) Hideki Matsuyama; 17) Lanto Griffin; 18) Ryan Palmer; 19) Rory McIlroy; 20) Bryson DeChambeau.

Winners & Prices: 2019: Rory McIlroy 9/1; 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 6 Renewals Average: 27/1; Overall Average: 28/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 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 thing to point out is that Atlanta has seen plenty of precipitation in August. 237mm is the highest I’ve record since 2013, and 18mm of that fell on Sunday. So we may well see slightly slower conditions as the tournament starts, although temperatures 36 degrees Celsius on Friday and Saturday will dry out any early moisture. With wind not being a huge factor here in Atlanta, I’m expecting the winner needing to score a genuine -13/-15 score plus their FedEx Cup Strokes Index.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 10 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:

  • 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

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

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 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: 2nd, SG Approach: 11th, SG Around the Green: 5th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 9th.

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

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 10 winners of this event:

  • 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 10 winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2019 – Rory McIlroy: Round 1: 1 behind, Round 2: 1 behind, Round 3: 1 behind.
  • 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:

  • 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.

  • 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:

  • 6 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy.
  • 5 – Justin Thomas.
  • 4 – Patrick Reed.
  • 3 – Billy Horschel,  Ryan Palmer.
  • 2 – Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner, Marc Leishman, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Cameron Smith.
  • 1 – Cameron Champ, Harris English, Lanto Griffin, Tyrrell Hatton, Mackenzie Hughes, Sungjae Im, Sebastian Munoz, Brendon Todd.

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. But recent history highlights that the FedEx Cup leader tends to not be the place you want to be when it comes to winning this week. Take last year, where Rory McIlroy entered the Tour Championship at Number 5 in the standings and at -5 on the leaderboard. 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:

Jon Rahm 5pts Win 3/1, ‘Winner Tour Championship’ market at Unibet

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 500/1. That’s understandable with the very best players already significantly ahead of their competition. It’s 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. But as per 2019, there’s a Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes market, although this angle certainly isn’t the perfect scenario, especially with a dead-heat very much in play.

At the top of the market, FedEx Cup leaders have a terrible record at the Tour Championship. In its current guise, I can’t find a player who’s led the FedEx Cup standings arriving in Atlanta, who’s gone on to win the Tour Championship. So Dustin Johnson is out. However we’ve seen players in 2nd spot take this a number of times. Camilo Villegas in 2008, Henrik Stenson in 2013, Billy Horschel in 2014 and Jordan Spieth in 2015 were all 2nd in the FEC when triumphing. Justin Thomas in 2017 and Justin Rose in 2018 were also 2nd in the rankings before lifting the FedEx Cup, although both finished behind tournament winners Schauffele and Woods respectively. Indeed if the revised FedEx Cup Starting Strokes Index had been in use across both 2017 and 2018 renewals, Justin Thomas (Rank 2) and Justin Rose (Rank 2) would have won the Tour Championship with Woods T2 (2018) and Schauffele T4 in 2017. Undoubtedly ‘second on the Atlanta grid’ is an excellent spot.

So on this basis I’ll take Jon Rahm in the straight to win the Tour Championship market. 3rd for Driving Accuracy, 1st for Greens in Regulation, 1st for Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 10th for SG on Approach across my 8-week trackers, nobody has hit the ball better since the Workday Charity Open. And what would be sweeter for the Spaniard than recapturing the World Number 1 spot in tandem with winning the FedEx Cup. For those of us with a short memory, it’s well worth remembering that Jon is the current European Tour Race to Dubai title holder, a feat he managed by winning the Open de Espana and DP World Tour Championship back-to-back last autumn.

With 2 of his 5 PGA Tour victories coming on Bermudagrass greens, his Zoysiagrass form is also decent enough. 4th at the 2017 PGA Championship hosted at Bellerive, Jon was also 7th at the 2019 WGC-St Jude Invitational held at TPC Southwind, plus his record here at East Lake is solid enough. 4th after 36 holes on his Tour Championship debut in 2017, he eventually finished 7th. He was also 4th after 54 holes in 2018 before finishing 11th as ‘Tigermania’ took over East Lake Country Club. In the form of his life, it’s going to take a superhuman performance from either DJ, or out of sorts types such as Justin, Collin, Bryson, Rory or Xander to beat him. RESULT: 4th

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Webb Simpson 2pts Win 12/1, ‘Winner Tour Championship’ market at bet365

A win-only approach also gives us the opportunity to get Webb Simpson on-board, at a course he thrives upon. 6th in the OWGR, Simpson gets passed over frequently, but we know exactly what his modus operandi is. His last 3 PGA Tour wins have been on greens featuring Bermudagrass and every one of his 7 PGA Tour victories have come on sub-7,400 yard golf courses. And at East Lake, where brute  power is far less important than top-level driving and ball-striking, Webb undoubtedly has a massive chance this week. Arguably the most consistent player of the season, the 35 year old from Raleigh, North Carolina starts at -6 and let’s not forget that Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open and the 2018 Players Championship. He has won some of the biggest prizes in golf.

17th for Driving Accuracy, 6th for Greens in Regulation, 6th for SG on Approach and 1st for both Birdie and Scoring Average across the whole season, Webb has elevated himself a level or two this season. He’s also crucially added 8 yards to his Driving Distance number and improved his Total Driving rank from 96th last season to 16th this. That will pay dividends at East Lake where he’s finished 5th (2012), 4th (2013) and 4th (2018). From a Zoysiagrass perspective you can also add 3rd (2014), 2nd (2019) and 12th (2020) at TPC Southwind.

17th and 12th for Driving Accuracy on his last 2 appearances at Sedgefield and TPC Boston, he also ranked 7th and 3rd for Greens in Regulation. Well rested after a tactical swerve at Olympia Fields last week on Poa Annua greens he hates, I think the Donald Ross design-positive Simpson has a huge chance this week. RESULT: T12

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Daniel Berger 2pts EW 28/1 (5EW, 1/5), ‘Winner Tour Championship’ market at William Hill

Whether Daniel Berger has the mental strength to win a Tour Championship is up for debate, but what is fundamentally clear to me is that he’s a great each-way bet at 28/1. At 6th in the FedEx Cup standings he starts at -4 this week, the same position as Xander Schauffele did 12 months ago, on his way to finishing runner-up at a best price 33/1.

Starting on the same score as Bryson DeChambeau, Harris English, Sungjae Im and Hideki Matsuyama, for me Berger has the experience, confidence, skill-set and current form to mix it this week at the Tour Championship. A Par 70 specialist, who won his 3rd PGA Tour title at Colonial back in June, Daniel has been mixing it at a very high-level this season. 9th at the Phoenix Open, 5th at the AT&T Pebble Beach, 4th at the Honda Classic, 3rd at the RBC Heritage, 2nd at the WGC-St Jude Invitational, 13th at the PGA Championship and 3rd at The Northern Trust, Berger has undoubtedly jumped a notch or two in 2020.

12th (2015), 15th (2016) and 15th (2017) on his 3 visits to East Lake, his course average of 69.58 is 9th best in this field. An opening day -4/66 on his last visit was the 2nd best round of the day and that came off inbound form of MC-33-61-33 and no top 10 finish since mid-July. Now ranked at a career-best 13th in the OWGR, it’s safe to say that Daniel is in a far better spot confidence wise 3 years down the line.

But his liking for East Lake shouldn’t be a surprise on the basis that Berger has 2 wins (2016 and 2017), plus a WGC 2nd this year, on the Zoysiagrass of TPC Southwind. That Zoysia link also comes through via another correlating course angle, as his best finish at the PGA Championship, a 12th place, came not at TPC Harding this year, but Bellerive in 2017. 4th for Driving Accuracy, 1st for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), 5th for SG off the Tee, 12th for SG Around the Green, 5th for SG Tee to Green, 11th for SG Putting and 5th for SG Total in this field across my 8-week trackers, I can certainly see Daniel being there or thereabouts come Monday. RESULT: T15

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Brendon Todd 1pt EW 55/1 (5EW, 1/5), ‘Winner Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes’ market at William Hill

My last tip of this season is Brendon Todd who I like in the Without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes market. Straight as a die off the tee can work around East Lake and Todd, who’s up to a career-best 39th in the OWGR has been excellent this season. A 2-time winner in the autumn section of this season in Bermuda and Mexico, Todd has gone on to mix it post Covid pandemic resumption. 11th at The Travelers, Todd was the 54-hole leader at that star-studded tournament. He was also the 54-hole leader at the WGC-St Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind – more of which in a short while – before collapsing to 15th on Sunday. 17th at the PGA Championship and 8th last week at the BMW Championship, stringent, Par 70s, where Brendon can hang around have been a forte of late. That makes sense as you can’t describe Todd as a ball-striking machine, but he does specialise in hitting fairways and having a razor-sharp short game.

1st for Driving Accuracy, 16th for Scrambling, 16th for Putting Average (Putts per GIR), 6th for SG Around the Green, 7th for SG Putting and 14th for SG Total in this field across my 8 week trackers tells you exactly what Brendon is about, and that may well pay dividends on a course where even the best ball-strikers struggle to hit 70% of Greens in Regulation. I also like the 35 year-old, who resides here in Atlanta, on the basis that he’s finished 12th (2009), 18th (2013) and that aforementioned 15th (2020) on the Zoysiagrass fairways at TPC Southwind. 17th here on course debut way back in 2014 and with no pressure whatsoever on his shoulders, he’s a fair shout at a price this week. RESULT: 21st

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:10BST 31.8.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.