It’s possible to be a little precious about the unusual format for the TOUR Championship, introduced 12 months ago. For those of us who like to draft line-ups or place bets it plays absolutely havoc with our standard notions of that to do. But perhaps we should remember that the sport is not just there for our benefit – there is a wider world and an alternate idea might prompt excitement. On the other hand, we could also wonder how the great moment in 2018, when Tiger Woods won here, might never have happened if they’d meddled earlier. Whatever, we’re back at East Lake Golf Club for the finale of the 2020/21 PGA TOUR season. Potentially a key factor this week? Four of the top five in the staggered scoring with which we start the week lack a top five at East Lake and even Jon Rahm’s fourth last year was the consequence of starting with strokes.
Here are this week’s starting positions:
10-under: Patrick Cantlay
8-under: Tony Finau
7-under: Bryson DeChambeau
6-under: Jon Rahm
5-under: Cameron Smith
4-under: Justin Thomas, Harris English, Abraham Ancer, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns
3-under: Collin Morikawa, Sungjae Im, Viktor Hovland, Louis Oosthuizen, Dustin Johnson
2-under: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na, Brooks Koepka
1-under: Corey Conners, Hideki Matsuyama, Stewart Cink, Joaquin Niemann, Scottie Scheffler
even-par: Daniel Berger, Erik Van Rooyen, Sergio Garcia, Billy Horschel, Patrick Reed
East Lake Golf Club
This Donald Ross design in Georgia has been welcoming the finale of the season since 1998 (with three early exceptions) and it says much about the test that the players enjoy coming back to it. It’s a par 70 that plays to 7,346 yard and the grass plays a big part in the examination. The zoysia grass fairways are tight, but offer a great lie. The rough on the other hand is brutal – it’s Bermuda grass and famously sticky.
The same grass is on the greens which are both slopey and slick. The entire set-up produces a course that tends to see a score of around 12-under for the week emerge victorious (starting strokes notwithstanding) – in other words, it’s tough but not excessively so. Players can ride a wave and score well, but should their long game be sloppy, the scores will mount up.
Last week’s winner Patrick Cantlay gave us a primer on the course, straight after his thrilling win against Bryson DeChambeau. Asked about East Lake he said: “Driving the ball in the fairway there is very important with the Bermuda rough. In the past we’ve had it firm, so that highlights putting the ball in the fairway even a little more. Staying below the hole there is very important, too. The greens have lots of pitch, usually back to front, and they are very fast, so as many uphill putts as you can get, then you really have some chances of making some.”
Jordan Spieth has always likened it to another Georgia test. He said: “You have a lot of uneven shots into these greens, you have a lot of uneven lies. That’s similar to Augusta and I think that’s why I play well there even if I wasn’t playing well going into it. The undulations on the green and in the fairway create a lot of a feel aspect that I enjoy.”
The weather for Atlanta, Georgia is set fair. The practice days maybe disrupted by showers and storms, but not Thursday to Sunday. It is currently forecast to be sunny conditions, temperatures in the high 70s, humidity in the high 50s, and nothing more than breezes across the course.
Past Champions at East Lake Golf Club
The first champion here in 1998 was Hal Sutton, followed by Phil Mickelson in 2000 and Vijay Singh in 2002. At that stage it combined hosting duties with The Champions Club in Houston, but from 2004 it settled in Atlanta for good.
Amazingly, Tiger Woods was a distant second to both Retief Goosen in 2004 and Bart Bryant in 2005 before avenging those defeats with a eight shot win in 2007. Eleven long years later he would complete a sensational comeback victory on the course, prompting amazing scenes as the galleries broke the ropes to cheer him home.
Foreign raiders Adam Scott, Camilo Villegas and Henrik Stenson enjoyed triumph here, as did the Americans Phil Mickelson (for a second time), Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, Brandt Snedeker, Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele.
Rory McIlroy was a two-time winner – in 2016 and 2019 – before Dustin Johnson claimed the title when entering the week in pole position – the first man to start the event on 10-under.
Here’s are some entirely FREE suggestions for you this week with MORE for subscribers (DraftKings Prices)
|A list||J. Spieth||$10,400|
|B list||R. McIlroy||$9,300|
|B list||C. Morikawa||$8,300|
|C list||S. Scheffler||$6,800|
|C list||B. Horschel||$5,100|
Jordan Spieth ($10,400) Starts the week T–6 in the scoring, but will be confident. He won here in 2015, was second on debut in 2013 and seventh in 2017. He’s twice been ranked first for SG Putting and the test from the tee has suited him, too. He also likes the vibes from the fairway, as mentioned above. With the top five (at the start of the week) lacking in course form he can mount a run at them.
Rory McIlroy ($9,300) Another who can pounce if the top five wobble because he’s a great fit for the course. In seven starts he’s claimed two wins and a second place. Even last year he was the seventh low-scorer. He regularly gets into the mix too: He’s been inside the top seven at halfway every visit. Strokes Gained have been collected only for the last four years here and three times he led the Off the Tee rankings.
Collin Morikawa ($8,300) He’s not had the best Playoff series and his salary has therefore plummeted, but sometimes the best time to strike is when everyone’s eyes are elsewhere. He made a very smart course debut, ranking 11th Off the Tee, 9th for Approach and 15th for Putting. He opened with a 71, then added 65, 67, 69 to be the seventh best scorer in the field. A super low wage for such a super talent.
Scottie Scheffler ($6,800) The ever-impressive Scheffler is nine back at the start of the week, but he can use that to his advantage and play free. We know that he thrives on the big occasion because he’s finished top 15 in all three World Golf Championship events this year and added four major championship top 20s (three of them top 10s). We also know that he was the second best scorer here 12 months ago, opening with a 71 and finishing 66, 66, 65.
Billy Horschel ($5,100) The option with the low salaries this week is to seek folk who can just pin seek and look to rack up the birdies while the top 10, maybe top 15, fight for the title. Horschel has one big plus in his favor: he’s a past winner on the course. He’s also finished second and T–7. That’s decent for four starts.
Patrick Cantlay ($13,400) A wonderful player, sensational last week, but I’m not having this as an option at the price and there are two main factors why. Number one: he produced the best-ever Strokes Gained Putting stats last week; good luck maintaining that this week, Patrick. If he can, chapeau. But he needs to do so on a track where he’s played three times and has ranked 20th, 29th and 30th (remember, in a 30-man field) in SG Putting.
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Here’s Another Alternate of Core Picks For The TOUR Championship
|A list||J. Thomas||$11,000|
|B list||X. Schauffele||$8,900|
|B list||V. Hovland||$8,000|
|C list||S. Im||$7,300|
|C list||S. Garcia||$5,400|
Justin Thomas ($11,000) It’s taken a while, but Thomas has started to rediscover his mojo in recent times. Specifically his approach work has improved and with it came a first top five finish, at The Northern Trust, since he won THE PLAYERS in March. I like that he spent that weekend racing through the field and I believe he is another who could latch onto the weakness of the top five and pose a threat. He’s always ranked top 11 for SG Off the Tee here.
Xander Schauffele ($8,900) The course rewards specialists and Schauffele is one of those. On debut in 2017 he got off to a sluggish start and won. On defence he was T–7. In 2019, he led after 54 holes and finished second. Last year he started way back in the field and outscored them all by three – only the staggering/staggered scoring system stopped him winning. In all, he’s made 16 circuits of the course, never needed more than 70 blows, gone sub-70 14 times.
Viktor Hovland ($8,000) The importance of SG Off the Tee is excellent news for Hovland who ranked third in the category last week at Caves Valley (he’s also been fourth for Driving Accuracy the last two weeks). He also prefers putting on grainy greens, winning in Puerto Rico and Mexico, and finishing top five at Sedgefield, The Concession Club, Innisbrook and Quail Hollow. Made a good debut last year, breaking par in three rounds, ranking 10th Off the Tee and second for Approaches. Starts 3-under and can go low in quest of something special.
Sungjae Im ($7,300) The key to this pick is that the Korean is a) in progressive form (T–46, T–24, T–16, T–3) and b) he is in that positon because he is driving the ball very well, ranking 9th, 10th and 11th for SG Off the Tee in his last three starts. In two of those he took advantage to also rank top 10 for Approaches and last week he was also a rare top 10 sight in SG Putting. He opened 68-64 here last year which made him the low scorer at halfway.
Sergio Garcia ($5,400) Still has a little to prove to Padraig Harrington if he wants a Ryder Cup berth and given his reluctance to travel to Wentworth it is this week or bust. He ranked second for SG Off the Tee at the WGC St Jude Invitational and it didn’t reap much, but fifth in the category last week helped him to T–6. A nine-time visitor to the course, he’s been second, fourth and twice ninth.
Cameron Smith ($10,100) Argument #1: He’s in great form, starts the week in fifth, and has three top 10s in his last four starts. Argument #2: He was T–34 last week and his two trips to East Lake have reaped just T–20 and T–22. Worse, much worse, he’s ranked 28th and 30th Off the Tee – in other words nearly last in the field and absolutely last. He has also ranked 20th and 29th in Putting. Has to be better options.
It tends to be the case here that course form matters. If you’ve got it, great. If you’ve got none whatsoever, great. But bad course form is a no-no. In the last 10 years course rookies have won three times, but six of the other seven already had a course top three in their resume. Otherwise, look for players who perform well from the tee – they need the advanatge of hitting from the short grass with their approaches.
Other Player Options For The TOUR Championship
• Daniel Berger is playing East Lake for the fifth time and is still looking for a first top 10.
• If you’re persuaded by the notion that three of the last seven winners were course debutants, Sam Burns and Erik Van Rooyen are this year’s options.
• This is not a track Kevin Na has enjoyed: seven starts, not one top 15 finish, only one sub-70 round at the weekend.
COVID-19 and Injury Warning:
Pro DFS players know it makes sense to stay up-to-date on Twitter, DraftKings, FanDuel and-or subscribe to any number of email feeds and whatever to remain up to speed with injuries or COVID-19 withdraws. Players that don’t make the cut are tough enough. Players that don’t play all four rounds (even when pulling out at the last minute) make for a pretty weak lineup.
Go win your lineups and then tell us how you did. Twitter (@FantasyDFSX) is a good place for that.
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