TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP: The race for the FedEx Cup trophy has been whittled down to 30 players, and they’ve once again gathered at historic East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta for the season’s final event, the Tour Championship.
First opened around the turn of the 20th century as Bendelow Golf Course, East Lake was redesigned by Donald Ross in 1913 and then touched up by Rees Jones in 1994. It’s perhaps best known for being the home course of the legendary Bobby Jones, and the clubhouse is now essentially a shrine to Jones. It has hosted this event since 2005 and has produced quite a few memorable finishes, including last year’s edition, when Rory McIlroy outlasted Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell in a three-man playoff to take home the trophy and the $10 million bonus that is awarded to the FedEx Cup champion. McIlroy was the seventh consecutive Tour Championship winner to also win the FedEx Cup title, but it’s not a guarantee: everybody outside the top-5 in the standings needs some degree of “help” this week if they are to win the FedEx Cup, and indeed Dustin Johnson would’ve won it last year had Moore or Chappell prevailed in the playoff.
East Lake is a par-70 that measures nearly 7,400 yards, so length off the tee is obviously an advantage this week. It’s not a “bombers only” layout, however, as the likes of Jordan Spieth, Billy Horschel, and Brandt Snedeker have won here over the past few years. Henrik Stenson’s 13-under total in 2013 was the lowest winning score that this tournament has seen in the past five stagings, so it’s not easy out there, and the Bermuda greens have proven difficult to navigate. Jordan Spieth heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at the frighteningly short price of 6.0, but with only 30 guys in the field I guess no price is too short if you feel strongly about someone. I don’t feel strongly enough about Spieth, so I’ve decided to opt for some friendlier prices. Here’s what I have in mind:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Justin Rose (15.5)- Rose had a disappointing summer in which he missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship and finished 54th at the Open, but he’s figured some things out over the past few weeks and is now in brilliant form, with 10th-place showings at both the Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies followed by a runner-up in last week’s BMW Championship. That was his third runner-up finish this season, so he’s been knocking on the door but hasn’t yet found the winner’s circle in 2017. That may change this week– not only is Rose playing great golf at the moment, he has a terrific history at East Lake, finishing 6th or better in each of his last four appearances at this event, a stretch that includes a pair of runner-ups. I’m happy to back him at a price like 15.5.
Matt Kuchar (35.0)- It’ll be a homecoming of sorts this week for Kuchar, the Georgia resident and graduate of nearby Georgia Tech who will return to a place where he’s logged hundreds of rounds since he was a teenager. Of course, this is old hat for him by now, as this will mark his eighth Tour Championship appearance at East Lake, a remarkable number that speaks to the consistency that he’s displayed over the past decade. He played well here most years, finishing in the top-half of the field in each of his last three appearances (not a small feat in an elite, limited-field event like this), but he’s yet to threaten the winner’s circle. Might this be the year? Course familiarity certainly isn’t an issue, and Kuchar comes in this week on the heels of three top-10s in his last four starts, including a T5 at last week’s BMW Championship. I’ll take my chances at better than 30/1.
Xander Schauffele (100.0)- The last three months have been life-changing for Schauffele, as he went from an also-ran who had missed 8 out of 10 cuts to one of the hottest up-and-coming players on the PGA Tour. He’s coming off a strong finish at the BMW Championship, shooting 65-67 over the weekend to claim his seventh top-20 finish in his past 10 starts, a stretch that includes a win at the Greenbrier. He hits it a mile, so the length of East Lake shouldn’t give him any problems, and he’s a streaky putter who can make ’em all when he’s comfortable. He’s never played East Lake in competition, but, much like Jon Rahm, this is a handicap he faces on a near-weekly basis and it certainly doesn’t seem to be slowing him down. I think an in-form Schauffele has a real chance to contend this week, making him a great value at the current price.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Jordan Spieth (1.65) vs. Dustin Johnson (2.12)
Look, I realize Spieth is playing great golf right now and has a nice history at this tournament, winning a couple of years ago and adding a runner-up finish in 2013. I get it, but I just feel like people are going a little overboard with him this week, and having him priced at 1.65 in a head-to-head matchup with Dustin Johnson is a good example of this. Johnson might be the most naturally talented player in all of professional golf, and when he’s “on”, there’s simply nobody any better. He was a winner at the Northern Trust just three weeks ago (beating Spieth in a playoff, if you recall), and judging from his closing 64 at last week’s BMW Championship, I don’t think top form is too far off. And while Johnson may not have quite the course history that Spieth does– he’s never won or finished second here– he does have a solid record at this tournament, finishing 6th or better in each of the past three years. Recommendation: Johnson at 2.12
Jason Day (1.91) vs. Jon Rahm (1.91)
Day has made a nice little run to close out the season, logging three top-10s in his past four starts and shooting par or better in 11 of his past 13 rounds. He has plenty of experience at East Lake but it hasn’t always been good experience, as he’s finished 10th or worse in each of his last three appearances at this event (remember- it’s a 30-man field, so 10th is nothing special). Rahm, meanwhile, has never played East Lake in competition, but he’s devoured plenty of fresh courses this season on his way to a top-5 ranking in the FedEx Cup standings. He’s on a tear at the moment (that’s about the third time you could’ve said that about Rahm this season), notching top-5 finishes in each of the three Playoffs events, and his prodigious length and spectacular iron play should help him navigate East Lake without much trouble. If he can control his temper, Rahm is one to watch this week. Recommendation: Rahm at 1.91