TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP: We’ve reached the grand finale of these FedEx Cup Playoffs, as the top-30 in the standings will tee it up at historic East Lake this week with a cool $18 million on the line. And that’s just the winner’s take– the total prize pool is a whopping $75 million, with the last-place finisher set to make $500k. So rather than this being a pressure-packed, intense competition, it’s more like a stress-free, nothing-to-lose money grab.
What it is not, to be sure, is a real golf tournament. A few years ago the PGA Tour made the incomprehensible decision to turn what was supposed to be the crown jewel event of the Playoffs into a hokey handicapped competition, starting the players with different scores based on their position in the standings. But as Jon Rahm pointed out this week, the “weighting” system makes no sense– Rahm is in 5th place in the standings so he’ll start at 5-under, five shots back of Scottie Scheffler’s “lead”. But, as Rahm said, he’s also only five shots away from last place (30th), as no players are starting at worse than even par. How does that make sense? Rahm likened the format to the NFL’s Super Bowl, saying it would be like starting the team with the best record with a 2-touchdown lead. Xander Schauffele also spoke out, saying people he knew were still “confused” by the format. He continued, “It’s supposed to be the most important event of all year”, but “it’s still not a finished product.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, eh?
At any rate, we do get to see some the world’s best players compete at one of America’s great classic courses, the place where Bobby Jones himself learned the game, so there’s plenty to be excited about. East Lake has played host to this event since 2004, and we’ve seen over the years that it can be just about as difficult as the Tour wants it to be. It’s a par-70 that tips out at 7,346 yards, and 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 at Olympia Fields last week and should definitely be taken into account when handicapping this field.
Rory McIlroy picked up his second Tour Championship victory last year, overcoming a 6-shot deficit at the start of the week to take home the trophy and the 8-figure cheque. He’s only three off the pace to start the week this time around and is currently trading at 4.8 at BETDAQ, but giving World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler a head start seems downright unfair, so it’s no surprise that Scheffler heads the market at 2.48. McIlroy is the only player to ever come from behind and win this tournament since the new format was instituted in 2019 (he’s done it twice), so it’s tough to get too excited about the longer odds guys this week, though one or two may be worth a dart-throw. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Scottie Scheffler (2.48)- There’s no revolutionary logic behind this pick and the short price definitely takes some of the fun away, but if the object here is to place bets that win, we shouldn’t be shy about backing Scheffler. He’s starting the week at 10-under, meaning he’s 2 shots clear of the field and there are only five guys within 5 shots of him, and, well… he beats these guys most every week anyway, without the head start. He’s also coming off a nice performance at the BMW, finishing runner-up after breaking 70 all four rounds and firing a 64 on Saturday. He was runner-up to McIlroy in this tournament last year, ending the week a stroke behind after a disappointing Sunday, so he certainly knows his way around East Lake and should be plenty motivated (just in case the $18 million isn’t motivation enough…). Scheffler is the clear favorite this week and the current price will look downright juicy if (when?) he opens with a good round on Thursday to further distance himself from the field.
Xander Schauffele (45.0)- Though Schauffele is starting the week 7 shots off the pace (unfair, right?), he’s definitely one to watch due to how well he plays East Lake. He won this tournament in 2017, and since the format was changed in 2019 he’s been a consistent contender regardless of where he’s started the week, shooting the low 72-hole total in 2020 and finishing 7th or better every year. He also happens to be on a tremendous run at the moment, finding the top-25 in 13 of his past 14 starts while ranking in the top-10 on the PGA Tour in both strokes gained on approach and strokes gained putting. All things being equal he might be the favorite this week, but they’re not equal, and if you look back over the past couple of years, he simply doesn’t beat Scottie Scheffler by 8 shots over four rounds very often. That said, it certainly could happen, and Schauffele is undoubtedly one of the best values in the field at a price like 45.0.
Lucas Glover (72.0)- Okay, if you’re going to throw one dart at some long odds this week, just one, Glover is your guy. The ceiling for him is… who knows? Since he switched to the broom that apparently cured his yips he’s been nearly unbeatable, going back-to-back in Greensboro and Memphis earlier this month on courses that share some significant similarities to East Lake (a big one: Bermuda grass). He’s starting this week at 5-under, meaning there are only four guys ahead of him on the leaderboard and he’s only three shots back of second. Considering he’s shot 66 or better in 11 of his past 24 competitive rounds, Glover could make up that ground fast, and he’s firmly at the “house money” stage at this point, so there’s no reason to think he would be bothered by the weekend pressure if he finds himself in the mix. This is pretty close to a must-bet at better than 70/1.