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Tour Championship Betting Tips: Three picks for the end of season finale

Who will lift the FedEx Trophy this week?
Who will lift the FedEx Trophy this week?

Following a strong year in 2021, where Patrick Cantlay rid himself of the tag of being someone who found it a little tough when in the heat of battle, there were big expectations of him heading into this season, from myself included, who thought he’d be a serious player at this year’s majors.

That hasn’t quite transpired, with a best of 8th in The Open in the majors and being winless for 2022. 

That was before yesterday evening, when Cantlay defended his BMW Championship title, running out a 1-shot winner over Scott Stallings, with Xander Schauffele and Scottie Scheffler a further shot behind.

Cantlay will be looking to repeat what he did last year, following his win in the BMW Championship by being crowned FedEx Cup champion, as he and 29 others now head to East Lake Golf Club for the 2021/22 season ending Tour Championship, which is also the climax of the race for the FedEx Cup and the huge $18milllion prize that comes with it.

Tour Championship Tips

* All of these selections are in the 72 hole stroke-play market, NOT including starting scores 

Since 2019, the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup have been one and the same, with each player who has earned his place in this season ending tournament allocated a starting score for the Tour Championship, based on their position in the FedEx Cup standings, with Scottie Scheffler as #1 in the FedEx Cup starting with a score of -10, Patrick Cantlay at #2 on -8 and so on. 

The full list of starting scores can be found below:

FedEx Cup Ranking – Player (Starting Score)

1 – Scottie Scheffler (-10)

2 – Patrick Cantlay (-8)

3 – Will Zalatoris (-7)

4 – Xander Schauffele (-6)

5 – Sam Burns (-5)

6 – Cameron Smith (-4)

7 – Rory McIlroy (-4)

8 – Tony Finau (-4)

9 – Sepp Straka (-4)

10 – Sungjae Im (-4)

11 – Jon Rahm (-3)

12 – Scott Stallings (-3)

13 – Justin Thomas (-3)

14 – Cameron Young (-3)

15 – Matthew Fitzpatrick (-3)

16 – Max Homa (-2)

17 – Hideki Matsuyama (-2)

18 – Jordan Spieth (-2)

19 – Joaquin Niemann (-2)

20 – Viktor Hovland (-2)

21 – Collin Morikawa (-1)

22 – Billy Horschel (-1)

23 – Tom Hoge (-1)

24 – Corey Conners (-1)

25 – Brian Harman (-1)

26 – K.H Lee (E)

27 – J.T Poston (E) 

28 – Sahith Theegala (E)

29 – Adam Scott (E)

30 – Aaron Wise (E)

Whoever tops the leaderboard at the end of the week, taking into account this handicapped scoring, will be crowned as the FedEx Cup champion.

Despite reservations, the format actually started off in quite exciting fashion in 2019, as Rory McIlroy, starting at -5 and #5 in the rankings didn’t just make up the 5 shots on Justin Thomas, who started at the top but ran out an impressive 4-shot winner.

The last two years have gone to script with both Dustin Johnson in 2020 and Patrick Cantlay last year starting and finishing the week at the top of the leaderboard. However Cantlay was made to work for it last year, as Jon Rahm made up a 4-shot deficit to finish just a shot behind him at the close of play and though DJ ran out a more convincing 3-shot winner in 2020, Xander Schauffele made up 4 of the 7-shots he gave away at the start of the event to chase him home. 

In those three years, Rory is the only player to shoot the lowest score for the week, whilst also running out winner of the overall championship. Thankfully, we are provided with an alternate leaderboard which doesn’t take into account the starting scores, as this is the basis on which world ranking points are awarded and bookmakers also offer betting on this market, as well as the outright titles, giving us more than one avenue into the event from a betting point of view.

The Course

East Lake Golf Club has been the designated home of the Tour Championship since 2004 and provides a tough, championship test, with an average winning/low score of -12 over the last 10 renewals.

This traditional tree-lined course is a lengthy par 70, measuring 7346 yards and was originally designed by Tom Bendelow, opening for play in 1908. Though it is Donald Ross’ redesign in 1913 for which the course is known; even multiple renovations by Rees Jones since 1994 have been done with the intention of bringing the course more in line with Ross’ design.

The course is challenging throughout, with tight fairways amongst some of the trickiest to find on tour, made all the more difficult by cleverly placed bunkers and hardy rough.

Elevation changes make approaches into these undulating bermuda surfaces even more demanding, which can easily repel balls with run-off areas aplenty on these upturned-saucer greens, synonymous with Donald Ross. Whilst there’s water in-play on around 5 holes.

There is little let-up around the course, with the par 3s particularly demanding, 3 of them above 200 yards, including the 211 yard 15th into what is essentially an island green.

There’s an excellent mix of par 4s, 6 of them above 450 yards and the shorter ones certainly no gimme birdies, with it essential to find the right spot off-the-tee to give you the chance to attack. However, the two par 5s, including the closing hole do give a breather from the generally tougher golf around the rest of the course and should be reachable for most in the field.

The Stats

With the difficulty around this course, you simply have to do everything well, particularly tee-to-green. Length off-the-tee is an advantage around such a lengthy par 70, though accuracy is also important as the course rates as one of the more penal on tour when missing fairways. Whilst strong iron-play is not only imperative to take advantage of the birdie chances but finding the greens is a must, with the difficulty on show around the greens, which then brings into the equation the need for a good short-game. This is well on show when we look at recent renewals of the event.

Last year, Kevin Na and Jon Rahm shot the lowest scores of the week at -14. Whilst from a ball-striking point of view they both excelled in different areas, with Na 2nd in approach and Rahm 4th off-the-tee, they both combined those elements with an excellent short-game, Na ranking 1st for scrambling and 4th around-the-greens, whilst Rahm ranked 1st around-the-greens and 2nd in scrambling, with both ranking top 5 on the greens.

In 2020, Xander Schauffele shot the lowest score thanks to showing strength with the short-game, 2nd in scrambling and 2nd in putting, combining that with a strong driving performance, ranking 5th, as well as hitting a high % of greens, also ranking 5th. He was followed home be Scottie Scheffler, who provided an excellent iron performances, ranking 1st for approach and 2nd for GIR, also showing strong scrambling skills, ranking 5th. Whilst 3rd place finishers, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson produced strong all-round tee-to-green displays. 

Rory McIlroy was a convincing winner in 2019 and produced the type of strong all-round performance you’d expect for such an impressive win. Ranking 1st off-the-tee, 2nd around-the-greens and 9th in approach. 

Prior to that change of format the story was similar, Tiger Woods excelled in scrambling and putting in 2018, though also drove it well, this very similar to runner-up, Billy Horschel. 

2017 saw Xander Schauffele win thanks to a field-leading driving performance and a strong game around-the-greens. Whilst back in 2016, where Rory was again the victor, he unsurprisingly led the field off-the-tee and hit plenty of greens, followed home by Ryan Moore, who excelled with the short-game and irons, ranking 2nd in approach, scrambling and putting. Whilst Kevin Chappell did everything well but putt.

In addition to the need for a strong tee-to-green game, I’ve noticed a higher than usual amount of approach shots from 200 yards+ around here, due in no small part to those par 3s, so expect proximity from those distances to be important, whilst the strength and variety of the par 4s leads to me to also put some value on strong par 4 players.

Key Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Approach, SG: Around-the-Greens, Scrambling, Greens in Regulation, Proximity from 200+ yards, Par 4 Scoring

Correlating Courses

Due to this course hosting a select, elite, 30-man field, form-ties are not in abundance but there are plenty of courses that have some of the same characteristics and ask similar questions.

Charles Schwab Challenge @ Colonial Country Club

Colonial Country Club is the type of tough, old-fashioned golf course that should provide a nice correlation to East Lake. Statistically they match up almost perfectly, as courses where fairways are hard to find and penal should you miss, whilst also possessing similar averages over the last six years in terms of greens in regulation and scrambling. 

Form-ties are found with Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, both past champions at the two courses, whilst another past Charles Schwab champion, Kevin Na, tied the lowest score at East Lake last year. We can even look to Scottie Scheffler, who was 2nd at East Lake on debut in 2020 and finished 2nd earlier this year at Colonial.

Arnold Palmer Invitational @ Bay Hill

Bay Hill is a tough, long championship course that compares well to East Lake, asking similarly tough questions of every aspect of your game. Though I’m particularly interested in form from the event since 2020, where more difficult to find fairways have brought it even more in-line with what we see at East Lake. Whilst there’s also an overwhelming requirement to hit approaches from 200+ yards.

Scheffler again ties these courses together, winning at Bay Hill this year, whilst Billy Horschel, the 2014 Tour Championship winner, was 2nd there to Scheffler. Further are form-ties found from the likes of Hideki Matsuyama and Viktor Hovland.

Houston Open @ Memorial Park Golf Course

The Houston Open only moved to the revamped Memorial Park Golf Course in 2020, though is already building a reputation as a difficult championship test of golf, with winning scores of -10 and -13 in the two renewals so far. It is a similarly lengthy par 70 that asks questions of your game tee-to-green.

Form-ties are tricky to find here with just the two events staged, though we can again look to Scottie Scheffler, who was 2nd there last year. 

Farmers Insurance Open @ Torrey Pines

The Farmers Insurance Open is a tight driving course, much like East Lake, whilst greens are of a comparable level of difficulty to hit.

Brandt Snedeker has won both events, whilst Rahm is a past champion there and tied the lowest score here last year. In addition we have Xander Schauffele, who has an excellent record at the Tour Championship possessing a runner-up finish and plenty more correlating form from the likes of Viktor Hovland and Billy Horschel.

Wells Fargo Championship @ Quail Hollow

Finally I felt the traditional, tree-lined and championship test of Quail Hollow could provide further pointers. Again it’s a tough course tee-to-green, where strong ball-striking, particularly off-the-tee is required and where approaches from 200+ yards is consistently required.

Rory McIlroy has dominated the course with three victories and is a two-time winner at East Lake, whilst Justin Thomas has a good record there, including his 2017 PGA Championship win, and has never finished outside the top 10 at East Lake. Viktor Hovland again adds a further form-tie, finishing 3rd at Quail Hollow.

The Weather

The weather doesn’t look great at the minute, with thunderstorms predicted almost every day of the week preceding the event and throughout. Such a large amount of rainfall should soften the course up and with little wind in the forecast, there’s a chance we see the course playing easier than usual, potentially seeing a lower score than Xander Schauffele’s -15 in 2020.

Though as usual, the weather is subject to change.

The Field

Full field and starting scores is mentioned above. Scott Stallings made the biggest jump up the rankings last week in the BMW Championship, rising 34 positions from 46 to 12 to book his first visit to East Lake thanks to that 2nd place finish. Whilst Adam Scott also made a sizeable jump, from 45 to 19, to get into the Tour Championship field for the first time since 2019.

Selections

I’ve looked at the outright market where Scottie Scheffler is the 5/2 favourite to make his starting 2-shot advantage count and is followed by Patrick Cantlay at 4/1, who is 2 behind. Xander Schauffele at 8/1 is 4 behind, with Rory McIlroy and Will Zalatoris coming next at 12/1 from 6 and 3 back respectively. Much like previous years there’s little that appeals to me in this market, Rory is the only player to come back from a deficit so far, which was 5 shots, so it’s hard to see anyone outside the top 5 in the FedEx rankings winning the title, with Sam Burns at 22/1 the biggest priced of those but not really on my radar here.

Instead I will be concentrating solely on the 72 hole scoring market, without the starting scores. This market is headed by Rory McIlroy at 9/1, with Scheffler, Cantlay and Schauffele coming next at 12s. Schauffele makes most appeal here, thanks to his excellent record at East Lake but I’m just not keen to get so involved at the top of the market in what is essentially a side market.

Instead I start at 22/1 and with a guy who came out clear first in my model this week, Korea’s Sungjae Im.

Golf Odds
Sungjae Im each-way (1/5 5 places)
22/1
Odds correct as of 2022-08-22 17:10 Odds subject to change.

Following a disappointing run of performances from Sungjae 4-6 starts ago, which included missed cuts in the US Open and Scottish Open, as well as an 81st place finish in The Open at St Andrews, he has responded well in recent weeks.

He followed that performance in The Open with consecutive 2nd place finishes on the PGA Tour, in the 3M Open and Wyndham Championship, showing quality in every area of his game. He then made a good start to the playoffs two weeks ago in the St Jude Championship, finishing 12th and was 15th last week in the BMW Championship.

Though he’s playing well across the board, it’s with the driver and putter that he’s excelled most recently, gaining at least 2.5 strokes a tournament in both areas over these four latest performances. 

The strong driving has been on show all season, where he’s only lost strokes once, at THE PLAYERS Championship in March and ranks 9th on the PGA Tour this season. He compliments this with a superb short-game, ranking 4th for scrambling and 8th around-the-greens. With a full compliment of highly attractive stats in relation to this week’s event completed by rankings of 4th in par 4 scoring, 10th in GIR and 19th in proximity over 200 yards.

Sungjae has played the Tour Championship on three occasions, finishing 15th, 12th and 23rd. Two finishes in the top half of this 30 man field are decent enough but I’m sure he’s capable of much better. This confidence is increased by him possessing a good record at Bay Hill, where he’s twice finished 3rd and he also possesses top 10s at the Farmers and at Colonial.

He starts the week at -4 and whilst he’s probably a little too far behind to win the FedEx Cup, he certainly has the game to shoot the low score of the week and in turn make whoever wins the overall title work a little harder for their success.

Viktor Hovland each-way (1/5 5 places)
28/1
Odds correct as of 2022-08-22 17:10 Odds subject to change.

Just three starts ago, Viktor Hovland was starting the final round of a major with a genuine chance to win for the first time, as he entered round 4 of The Open tied for the lead with Rory McIlroy. He struggled in that position, firing a 74 to ultimately finish 4th but he returned from a four week break two weeks ago at the St Jude, playing well and finishing 20th. 

Not quite as good last week as he finished 35th but he fired the joint-best round of the day on Sunday, where his irons and short-game looked in good condition and he can go well at a place this week, where he’s gone well on both visits.

Hovland started the year as one of the form horses and made good on that pretty swiftly, winning his 3rd start of 2022 in the Dubai Desert Classic. This was part of a strong early part of the year where he also put up consecutive finishes of 4th in the Genesis Invitational, 2nd in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 9th in THE PLAYERS Championship.

Though his form tailed off following that run, there was little wrong with his game, as Hovland remained one of the best ball-strikers on tour, ranking 16th in approach and 19th off-the-tee on the PGA Tour this season.

We know where his deficiencies lie and that’s around-the-greens, where he ranks 193rd on the PGA Tour this season. However I’m hoping that may be less of a concern for this quality ball-striker in the softer conditions.

I’m also willing to forgive those shortcomings as he ranks highly in another two areas I felt important this week, 200+ yard proximity, where he ranks 11th and par 4 scoring, where he ranks 23rd.

This has helped Hovland amass a good record here, finishing 4th and 14th in two visits, shooting 6 rounds out of 8 in the 60s. In addition to this he has 2nd place finishes in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Farmers Insurance Open, as well as a 3rd at Quail Hollow.

Hovland starts the week at -2 and 8 behind Scottie Scheffler, so isn’t a feature in the overall race but I’m hoping with the pressure off, this supreme ball-striker will go well and providing he doesn’t miss too many greens, putting that short-game under pressure, he should be able to score as well as most in the potentially soft conditions.

Aaron Wise each-way (1/5 5 places)
50/1
Odds correct as of 2022-08-22 17:10 Odds subject to change.

Aaron Wise got into this week by the skin of his teeth, ranking as the 30th man in the FedEx Cup rankings. Now here he has nothing to lose and can improve on his solid debut effort here in 2018, where he finished 15th.

Wise finished 15th last week, with a poor final round of +2 putting him closer to that cut-off line than he’d have liked. This the most recent example of a strong 2nd part of the season, where he has five top 25s in his last ten starts, the best of them a 2nd place finish in the Memorial Tournament.

Much like last week, where Wise ranked 7th in GIR, 9th in approach and 16th off-the-tee, ball-striking is very much where he excels and turns those into season long rankings of 20th, 21st and 26th respectively. In addition to this, he has a solid short-game, ranking 34th for scrambling and 78th around-the-greens. Whilst he too ranks high in those two extra areas I’m interested in, sitting 11th in 200+ yards proximity and 23rd in par 4 scoring. 

He used these assets in that debut effort in 2018 and though he hasn’t won since that year, when winning the Byron Nelson, he’s a much more complete player now. He also has a strong record at Quail Hollow, where he’s finished 2nd and 9th, giving me extra confidence.

Wise is another for whom the pressure is off this week, he can play aggressive golf and if at his ball-striking best, there’s no doubt he has the game to go even better around here than that 2018 debut effort. 

Golf Tips
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