TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP: We’ve reached the end of the road for these FedEx Cup Playoffs, with only the top 30 in the standings– minus Will Zalatoris, who withdrew due to a back injury– set to tee it up this week with $75 million on the line.
That’s right… $75 million. The winner will earn $18 mil and the last place finisher will make $500k. It’s quite the reward for those good enough to have made it this far, and I’m sure it makes each player’s decision to refuse the LIV cash a little easier to swallow. That being said, much of what has been criticized about the Saudi-backed tour– guaranteed money diminishing the competition, hokey rules that make it feel like something less than a “real tournament”– are in full effect this week at what is supposed to be the PGA Tour’s crown jewel event.
As a matter of fact, the rules and conditions of competition this week make the LIV tournaments seem rather traditional by comparison– the new tour may have shotgun starts and 54-hole formats, but at least a “true” winner is determined, meaning the person who shoots the lowest score over 54 holes is awarded the trophy. This week, that is not the case. In one of the most head-scratching sporting-related decisions I can recall (a decision that looks even worse now that the Tour brass has been criticizing LIV for its “unseriousness” for months), the PGA Tour decided three years ago to make this a handicap event, thereby changing it from a bore (this tournament had been losing steam for years prior to the change due to the top players not always showing up) to an outright farce.
Scottie Scheffler, who leads the FedEx Cup standings, will begin the week at 10-under; second-place Patrick Cantlay will start at 8-under; Xander Schauffele will start at 6-under, and so on. Five players will start the week at level par, meaning they need to make up 10 shots on Scheffler to have a chance. Call it what you want… the end of the playoffs, a four-day cash giveaway, a reward for a good season… but it’s not a golf tournament.
Not surprisingly, the players who began the week with the lead have been crowned champion of this event in each of the last two years despite neither man shooting the low 72-hole score for the week. Like I said… a farce.
But hey, at least we get to see a great golf course in action. Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, the course best known for being the stomping grounds of a young Bobby Jones, has played host to this event since 2004. A par-70 that tips out at 7,346 yards, East Lake can be just about as difficult as the Tour wants it to be. If they played it all the way back and grew the Bermuda rough high, we would see U.S. Open-like scoring. The Tour knows the fans want birdies, though, so they’ll move the tee boxes around a bit, and if the last few years are any indication the rough, while still penal, will be playable. The greens are also Bermuda, which will be a change from what the players saw last week and should definitely be taken into account when handicapping this field.
Will anybody be able to catch the top guys? Leader Scottie Scheffler heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 3.15, and Cantlay, who is starting two behind and is coming off a win at last week’s BMW Championship, is currently trading at 5.3. This is a tough week to chase the long odds simply because of the format, but one of these years someone is going to come charging from several shots behind. That said, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Patrick Cantlay (5.3)- This is Cantlay’s time of year– he won last week, he won this tournament last year, and he’s a combined 53-under in his last five starts, logging four top-10s in that span. He’s a brilliant ball-striker and because of that he’s always been a great front-runner, and though he started at the top in his victory here last year, he did break 70 all four rounds and post 21-under for the week, so he clearly knows his way around East Lake. He starts this week two shots behind Scheffler and two (or more) ahead of everyone else, so it’s a near-lock that he’ll be right around the lead on Sunday. Sometimes you just have to swallow the short odds… this is one of those times.
Justin Thomas (39.0)- One of these years it’s going to happen– someone is going to start the week way off the lead and ride four blazing rounds to the victory and the big check. Thomas will begin this week at 3-under, seven behind Scheffler, but he’s certainly someone who is capable of going crazy low and blowing away the field… we’ve seen him post 59s and absolutely run away with tournaments. He loves East Lake, ranking third in the field in scoring over the last 24 rounds at this tournament (h/t The Caddie Network), and we saw him post back-to-back 66s in the final round of the FedEx St. Jude and the first round of last week’s BMW Championship, so he’s been flashing the type of form necessary to climb this mountain. Four rounds is plenty of time for Thomas to chase the leaders down, and this is going to feel like a great bet if/when he opens with a low one.
Jordan Spieth (112.0)- Spieth feels like a great value when you compare his price to some of the guys who start just a shot or two ahead of him… like Justin Thomas. Unlike Thomas, Spieth has actually won here at East Lake, hoisting the trophy in 2015, and he’s been playing some quality golf lately, finding the top-20 in three of his last four starts, including a pair of top-10s. His T19 last week would’ve been a lot better had it not been for a third-round 74, and the fact that he put together three brilliant rounds just a week ago would certainly lead you to believe that he has the ability to string together four of ’em this week. He’ll start at 2-under but has four days to erase the deficit, and we’ve seen Spieth do some crazy things over the years. He’s worth a shot at such a big price.