Tour Championship Preview
Tour Championship Preview: Picks, Sleepers, Predictions and More
It feels like the Tour is still trying to dial things in.
The FedEx Cup — though in its 12th season of play — still very much feels like an experiment. They’ve tinkered with the scoring, the points system, and this year finally, with a modified scoring system.
The Tour has tinkered with the FedEx Cup and its playing system more than Bryson DeChambeau does on a windy approach shot from the rough.
But after 11 months, here we are to conclude the 2019 PGA Tour season and begin the process for reflection, looking forward, offseason regiments, and team events (hello, Presidents Cup).
Let’s dive in to the golf action.
Tour Championship: The Course
Back to East Lake, home of the Tour Championship and the final stop on the 2019 PGA Tour season.
East Lake has been a course that treats players with a history here pretty well. The majority of winners over the past 15 years have been players previously who had top-10s in prior years at East Lake.
The home of Bobby Jones is a classic design with bermudagrass throughout the property. It is a historic track and museum for the history of the game as it rolls gently through the Atlanta topography. The golf course is big, strong, and plays right in front of the golfer.
Also, take note that the club has one of the cooler philanthropic stories of any that I’ve heard of events on the PGA Tour.
Three Surprises in the Field
The 2009 U.S. Open champion (quickly, please list off any other notable achievements in Lucas Glover’s career… you can’t think of any, me neither), he’s making only his second start at East Lake in the FedEx Cup era and fourth appearance of his career.
None of this is a knock on Glover, he surely is a fine player. And he had a fine season. But he never finished higher than 4th all year (I don’t recall him in contention once). The combination of his T7 last week at the BMW and his Sunday 62 at the 3M in Minnesota were probably the two keys to his being in the field.
Again, not knocking him. Just surprising he’s here.
He’s played well this season for sure. But Ancer is the beneficiary of playing well in the playoffs, earning himself a place after finishing just behind Reed at Liberty National in New York.
The appearance at East Lake is the first of his career. And notedly, he is much higher on the leaderboard than maybe he expected to be, starting the event in 11th place.
If you don’t know much about Ancer, it’s because he hasn’t contended much in the majors. He also makes his first Presidents Cup appearance this year. We should be getting to know him much better.
Charles Howell III
This will be Howell’s first appearance in the Tour Championship since 2011 where he notched a top-10 at East Lake.
Howell is another surprise in the field, not because he hasn’t played well (he has), but because he won early at the RSM last fall and hung on throughout the season as he plummeted down the rankings.
Since mid-April, he’s had 5 MC/WDs and only one top-20. I was surprised to see Howell inch his way into the field this week, but kudos to the 40-year old.
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Tour Championship Horses For the Week
This week’s picking of horses will be different than in any year ever. This is the first time ever, that we have a leaderboard in which to monkey around with.
This WILL be factored into my selections this week, so I’m not only going to go with the players I believe will play best this week, but a combination of the two factors.
Take a look at the way things start:
10 under: Thomas
8 under: Patrick Cantlay
7 under: Brooks Koepka
6 under: Patrick Reed
5 under: Rory McIlroy
4 under: Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Abraham Ancer
3 under: Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama
2 under: Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner
1 under: Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood, Corey Conners, Sungjae Im, Chez Reavie
Even par: Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Charles Howell III, Lucas Glover, Jason Kokrak
He has the longest streak going for most Tour Championships consecutively qualified for, and truth be told, it’s not even close.
With 10 straight trips to East Lake, Dustin Johnson has been perhaps the most experienced and consistent golfers of his generation.
He’s never won at East Lake, but has an impressive resume nonetheless, with top-5 finishes a handful of times and five total top-10s.
I feel Dustin’s play will continue this week and he’ll vault himself to the top of the leaderboard, playing in contention down the stretch Sunday.
Thomas’ week last week at the BMW was an exclamation mark on an otherwise “above-average-mediocre season” (if that makes any sense at all).
After ascending to number 1 in the world, the bar of expectation had risen. He had a wonderful start to his season, already notching 4 top-10s before February concluded, but had a bit of a summer slide.
Not that he played poorly, he just hasn’t been in true contention in a golf tournament since March. He was collecting top-20s, but wasn’t featured in the telecasts late, which was an odd form for a player golf fans have expected to win multiple times per season.
It’s the unfair realty of golf. If you win, people expect you to win more. And when you win more, they expect you to win often. At some point, it’s impossible to keep up and a drop off is inevitable.
But nonetheless, Thomas’ play last week at the BMW was completely dominant and shows he’s found something to close out the season.
As if that wasn’t enough, he starts the week at 10-under par and that will undoubtedly helped.
He has set the record for “most days consecutively holding a lead in a PGA Tour,” as he’ll start Thursday with the lead in 6 consecutive days.
The player who has undoubtedly the best season of 2019 has not had his name appear yet in this preview, but the man with the most underrated season starts the event at 5-under par.
That man is Rory McIlroy.
Rory’s season had two flagship victories with wins at both the Canadian Open and the PLAYERS Championship in March, both of which helped him further fill out his career resume. But outside of that, the most impressive statistic from McIlroy’s season was the fact that he went 13-for-18 in 2019.
No, that’s not CUTS made. That’s top-10s placed. That’s a 70% clip for finishing inside the top-10 in a PGA Tour event.
Some players are here at East Lake having notched only one or two top-10s all season.
This is a testament to Rory’s play all season and play that I expect to see him continue this week, especially with a headstart over the majority of the field.
It’s really hard to pick sleepers in the Tour Championship, but with all of the star power littering the top of the leaderboard, I think Xander will come in with some of the spotlight elsewhere.
His history, albeit brief, on this golf course is more than impressive with his rookie victory in 2017 and the man makes birdies in bundles.
A stretch of hot play on Friday or Saturday could close the gap with the leaders and we’ll be seeing Xander compete again for a FedEx Cup championship this year.
I really feel good about Xander’s chances this year.
Tour Championship WINNER
The chum is in the water, blood spreading. The shark is smelling blood and he’ll feast this weekend.
Aside from the fact that East Lake is a great fit for Brooks’ game, this is the level of purse and event to get him excited.
Remember, Brooks likes money.
— Brooks Koepka (@BKoepka) August 17, 2019
I know we need to place emphasis on the playoffs in order to make it interesting. But no one has played better than Brooks in 2019 and its not even close.
Top-4s in every major, another major championship, and a world number 1. Brooks finishes it off with the first ever “come from behind victory starting on Thursday” in the history of the Tour Championship.
Can you hear the beeping of the truck backing up?
USGolfTV Staff Picks
Nick Anson: Rory McIlroy (8/1) – A Tour Championship would be a good cap to a super steady season for Rory, which will build momentum for him to claim major number 5 in 2020 (at the elusive Masters).
Jordan Knowlton: Dustin Johnson (25/1) – He has great odds and it seems like he is due to have a big tournament after being quiet for a while.
Tyler Prins: Xander Schauffele (28/1) – With the new format for the Tour Championship this year, it definitely creates a nice cushion for the guys that are starting at the top. I think we are going to see some guys that are just a little ways off the lead be aggressive right out the gate and put the guys who have an early lead in an uncomfortable spot. I believe that Schauffele will be that guy at 28-1.