Damien Kayat previews the 2022 edition of the PGA Tour’s season-ending Tour Championship taking place at East Lake Golf Club in Georgia.
2021/2022 US PGA Tour
FedEx Cup Playoffs
The Tour Championship
East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Georgia
The curtain comes down on a tumultuous season
Doesn’t it feel like this season has completely flown by? The season-ending Tour Championship is a staple of the American golfing establishment. Tom Watson won the inaugural staging of this event in 1987 (back when it was known as the Nabisco Championship).
It was conceived as a showcase event for the top 30 money earners for the season. But it gradually lost its lustre, with the likes of Mickelson and Woods often choosing to skip the old Tour Championship.
There wasn’t enough of an incentive for players as they came to the end of a grinding campaign. Something needed to change. The FedEx Cup Playoff series was born in 2007, with vastly improved prizemoney and a true feeling of escalating tension.
It’s weird how the LIV Golf series has actually made the FedEx Cup financial incentives look somewhat quaint (especially with those crazy sign-on bonuses). The series originally consisted of four events until the Dell Technologies Championship was done away with. This will the 3rd and final leg of this year’s Playoffs.
Best of the best
In 2019- uneasy with the idea of the best player not being rewarded for his efforts throughout the season- the tour implemented a new strokes-based system called the FedEx Cup Starting Strokes.
It essentially introduced a handicap system whereby the top players from the year will get a distinct advantage. And I get it. What’s the point of having this celebration of the year’s golfing exploits if the 30th placed guy just romps home to victory?
But it does diminish the event as a spectacle to some degree. The 30-man line-up also makes for some pretty laborious home-viewing. I wonder if they briefly considered using LIV Golf’s shotgun start format this week? Blasphemy.
Here is the list of the starting scores this week:
Scottie Scheffler (-10)
Patrick Cantlay (-8)
Will Zalatoris (-7)
Xander Schauffele (-6)
Sam Burns (-5)
Cam Smith, Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau, Sepp Straka, Sungjae Im (-4)
Jon Rahm, Scott Stallings, Justin Thomas, Cam Young, Matt Fitzpatrick (-3)
Max Homa, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Joaquin Niemann, Viktor Hovland (-2)
Collin Morikawa, Bully Horschel, Tom Hoge, Corey Conners, Brian Harman (-1)
K.H Lee, J.T Poston, Sahith Theegala, Adam Scott, Aaron Wise (Level Par)
East Lake Golf Club
Possibly the second most iconic course in Georgia, East Lake Golf Club is a Donald Ross masterpiece. Home course to the mythical Bobby Jones, East Lake is a ball striker’s paradise.
But it’s not necessarily one for the huge bombers. Players who thrive here tend to have a nice combination of length and distance (think Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson). Players will also need to negotiate these vastly undulating Bermuda greens.
One would think that would an onus on putting. But it actually puts more of an emphasis on a strong approach game. Players need to know how to use these undulations to their advantage and you would do well to look for strong GIR stats.
This season almost feels like a carbon-copy of last year, with Patrick Cantlay’s second consecutive BMW Championship putting him in an amazing position to defend his FedEx Cup title.
Sure, he will need to overcome a two-shot deficit to usurp current leader Scottie Scheffler. But Cantlay does seem to be the player with momentum at present.
Elsewhere, the likes of Xander Schauffele and Will Zalatoris have positioned themselves nicely coming into this final leg of the season. Rory showed some signs of life last week but can he make up a six-shot deficit to become the first three-time FedEx Cup champion?
Tony Finau and Cam Smith may also be strong outside options given their current trajectories.
Past FedEx Cup Champions
2021: Patrick Cantlay
2020: Dustin Johnson
2019: Rory McIlroy
2018: Justin Rose
2017: Justin Thomas
2016: Rory McIlroy
To Win Outright:
Scottie Scheffler 24/10 | Patrick Cantlay 4/1 | Xander Schauffele 15/2 | Will Zalatoris 11/1 | Rory McIlroy 12/1
Rory McIlroy- To Win 12/1 | To Place 43/20
McIlroy has the luxury of virtually freewheeling this week. He doesn’t have any expectations upon his shoulders. He looked back to somewhere resembling his best last week, finishing just five shots back from Patrick Cantlay. If anyone has the chance to overcome a six-shot deficit- it’s Rory. He won at East Lake in 2019 and he is a multiple winner on tour this season. He is currently second on tour for Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and first for Scoring Average.
The Man to Beat- Xander Schauffele- To Win 15/2 | To Place 27/20
I think there’s some real value in backing Schauffele at 15/2. Sure, he has to overcome a pretty hefty four-shot deficit. But there are only three players for him to surpass. And Schauffele is an absolute East Lake specialist. He won this event on debut in 2017. He then finished runner-up to Rory in 2019 before another runner-up finish in 2020. He actually shot the lowest 72-hole score in 2020. He’s in great ball-striking form, picking up victories at the Zurich Classic, Travellers Championship and Scottish Open. His combination of length and accuracy make him an ideal candidate this week.