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Tour Championship Tips: Three selections for the PGA Tour finale at East Lake

Tour Championship Tips: Sergio Garcia features.
Tour Championship Tips: Sergio Garcia features.

Another incredible play-off on the PGA Tour last week. One that saw Patrick Cantlay produce a stunning putting performance, to deny Bryson DeChambeau on the 6th playoff hole. He himself producing his own heroics after making an up and down for par after driving it in the water on the 4th playoff hole.

It was such a fantastic spectacle, and the tour will be hoping for more of the same this week, as it’s time for the season ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia.

After a format change in 2019, in which the PGA Tour decided it needed to ‘uncomplicate’ the finale to the FedExCup race, The Tour Championship itself has become less meaningful as a result. Now just a vehicle to decide the winner of the FedExCup, rather than a quality event in its own right. 

This new format is essentially that, after last week’s BMW Championship, every player will be allocated a starting score at East Lake depending on where they stand in the FedExCup rankings. Patrick Cantlay as #1 in the FedExCup, starts on a score of -10, Tony Finau as #2, starts on -8 and this goes on right down to the players who rank from #26 to #30, starting at level par, a whole 10 shots behind Cantlay. Meaning they have to make that up to take home not only this title, but the FedExCup in the process. 

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This has made the outright market unappealing over the last two years and that once again looks the case this year, even if you do think a player is capable of making up the strokes over four rounds.

Fortunately, the books also offer a ‘lowest 72-hole score’ market, much like a regular stroke-play event, and it is this market where I’ll be concentrating. This is primarily because I see little attraction in backing a golfer, who may go on to play the best golf of the week, shooting the lowest score, yet not pick up the trophy.

Last year we saw that exact scenario. As Xander Schauffele shot -15 for the week, 3 shots better than anyone else, but still finished 3 shots behind the overall champion, Dustin Johnson, despite Johnson shooting -11 on the week. 

East Lake Golf Club plays host to the event, as it has every year since 2004. Though many people have had a hand in the design of the course, it is synonymous with Donald Ross, after he completely redesigned the original by Tom Bendelow in 1913. Rees Jones has since renovated the course in 1994, but it was very much with the intention of reverting it to Ross’ original layout.

A par 70, measuring 7346 yards, this traditionally tree-lined course is an excellent, tough test of championship golf. Only once has the best score of the week been better than -13 in the last 13 years and it’s easy to see why.

A long course with plenty of elevation changes throughout. The fairways are of medium width on most holes, though some appear much tighter due clever fairway bunkering and the rough is typically penal.

Ryder Cup Odds

Clever bunkering is once again on show around many of the undulating, predominantly small, bermuda greens and there’s water well in-play throughout. No more so than the par 3 15th, with the green looking a small target almost completely surrounded by water.

Every part of your game will need to be in good shape around a course such as this but there’s no doubt it suits quality drivers of the ball. Xander Schauffele and Rory Mcilroy have dominated recent renewals, winning/shooting the best score in 4 of the last 5 years, and the driver played a huge part in their successes. 

Driving was the best of Schauffele’s tee-to-green stats last year when shooting the best score, whilst Rory was the best driver in the field when winning in 2019. 

Tiger drove it well in that memorable victory in 2018, the last time it played as a normal stroke-play event, with the 2017 & 2016 versions going to Schauffele and Rory respectively, both driving it better than anyone else that week. 

It’s the top 30 players on the PGA Tour this year, so the field is strong, as you’d expect. Erik Van Rooyen and Sergio Garcia no doubt delighted as the only two players to jump from outside the top 30 at the start of last week’s BMW Championship, to inside the top 30 by Sunday evening, thus earning their spot at East Lake.

Tour Championship Tips

*All in the 72 stroke-play/without starting strokes market

Collin Morikawa each-way (5 places)
28/1
Odds correct as of 2021-08-30 19:05 Odds subject to change.

As mentioned above, I am going to solely concentrate on the 72 hole stroke-play market here, so make sure to place your bets on the right market. Due to the nature of the event and the size of the field, it really isn’t a week to get seriously involved. Though I’ve found three selections who can hopefully have a good week and push themselves up those rankings, if not quite being able to win the tournament outright.

First up is Collin Morikawa, sitting 11th in the FedExCup, meaning he’ll start the event at -3, 7 shots behind Patrick Cantlay. He’s been a little off the last couple of weeks but an excellent weekend with his irons at Caves Valley, where he signed off as the 2nd best approach player on Sunday, is enough to make me take a chance on him this week, at what looks a big price.

I say he’s been a little off, but he only won The Open 5 starts ago, following that with 4th at the Olympics and 26th at the St Jude Invitational. It’s really the last two events, where he’s recorded a MC and finished 63rd last week, that he’s not been at his best.

That he’s the best iron player on the planet is the worst kept secret in golf, but he doesn’t get enough credit for how well he drives the ball. Ranking 31st off the tee this season and hits it plenty long enough, for all accuracy is his strong point.

With a lot of players, two weeks in a row like he’s had would be more concerning, but Morikawa has won twice this year off the back of poor performances the week previous and appears to be able to get his game together pretty swiftly. His win at The Concession earlier in the year was following a 43rd place finish at Riviera, where he putted awfully. 

He then won The Open after finishing 71st at the Scottish Open the week previous, sounding like he had a lot of work to do if he was going to get in the mix at Royal St Georges. He got it together and by the following Sunday evening was lifting the Claret Jug as The Open Champion.

He played here for the first time last year, shooting the 7th best score of the week, including 3 rounds in the 60s after an opening 71. Showing his suitability to the course. 

With his irons firing at the weekend, he should fancy his chances of a good week here and that price looks a bit of an overreaction to only a small down period for such a high class player.

Corey Conners each-way (5 places)
40/1
Odds correct as of 2021-08-30 19:05 Odds subject to change.

A supreme ball-striker, ranking 8th off the tee and 9th in approach, Conners sets up well for this week’s test and with the form he’s been showing in recent weeks, looks a good shout to go low over the four days and jump up those rankings.

Unlikely to win the event outright, due to him starting at -1, 9 shots behind leader Cantlay. This isn’t reflective of his last 5 starts, where he’s reeled off 4 top 25s. Each event in elite company, the best an 8th place finish at the Northern Trust two weeks ago. 

He played here two years ago, finishing 23rd but his level of form has gone up a notch since. Excellent performances in events such as The Masters, where he finished 8th and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing 3rd, show a player who is capable of ball-striking his way into the mix on tough, championship golf courses.

Sergio Garcia each-way (5 places)
55/1
Odds correct as of 2021-08-30 19:15 Odds subject to change.

Looking at prices and wanting to back guys who drive the ball well, none stood out more than Sergio Garcia. He’s the 3rd best driver on the PGA Tour and continued to drive the ball excellently in a superb 6th place finish last week, one that got him into this event. 

It’ll be the first time he’s played here since 2017, when he finished 10th. Though he played here frequently pre 2015 and has an excellent record. With bests of 2nd in 2008 and 4th in 2009, to go with many other top 10s. It’s a course that clearly suits.

Sergio has been showing good signs for a few weeks now. He’s missed just 1 cut in his last 8 starts, recording top 25s in 6 of the other 7, with the other event a 26th place finish. 

Just snatching a place here, with last week’s 6th, he starts the event at level par, 10 back and will have little expectation of winning the event. He’ll be able to relax and play aggressive golf, hoping to climb the leaderboard as much as he can. 

As well as striking the ball excellently last week, the huge plus was how well he putted, ranking 8th, one of his best putting performances of the year. This led to him also ranking 8th for birdie average.

If he can keep the putter rolling, he looks to have everything in his favour to have a good week on a familiar setup, at which he has an excellent record.

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