WELCOME to the latest attempt by the PGA Tour to deliver some oomph into their seasonal finale. This is the tenth conclusion to the FedEx Cup Play-Offs and it is all set to be the most controversial by some margin. Why so? Well, in the past, the Tour Championship and the Final Rankings were two separate entities which meant someone could win the tournament, but not the rankings and the Tour didn’t like that, feeling it lacked a little tension and spectacle. So this year the field starts on scores which reflect seasonal performance (and for added debate, it is heavily weighted towards the last two tournaments). These are not just contentious moves, but from a selfish point of view they play havoc with punting and that will be reflected in this week’s picks.
FedEx Cup Winner – Brooks Koepka 5/1
To some degree we’re betting in-running from the very start this week and here’s how the top ten looks: -10 Justin Thomas, -8 Patrick Cantlay, -7 Brooks Koepka, -6 Patrick Reed, -5 Rory McIlroy, -4 Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Abraham Ancer. You can immediately see that the field is playing catch-up and it is equally clear that the top five (especially the leader) have a big advantage. It’s also glaringly obvious that Brooks Koepka, who leads the money list this season (he is $4.5million clear of Thomas and $3.5million ahead of Cantlay) has also lifted three trophies to their one apiece. However, it is they who hold an advantage over him.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 15, 2019
This state of affairs offends many people’s sense of fair play and if it has anything like the same effect on Koepka himself it might be to his benefit. This is a man, after all, who has successfully motivated himself over the last three years with a variety of genuine and contrived chips on the shoulder. If he can ally a similar sense of righteous indignation to a bit of course knowledge (he was sixth at East Lake in 2017) and the sort of form which has seen him win the PGA Championship and WGC St Jude Invitational this summer, then he makes a fine prospect to spend the week hunting down the leader.
Each Way in Winner without FedEx Cup Starting Strokes – Abraham Ancer 70/1
Given that the field is elite it kind of makes sense, but over the last eight years, the winners at East Lake have tended to be in supreme form with all eight of them having finished top two between the first week of July and the start of this event. In terms of course form, five of the last ten winners had already finished in the top two on the track whilst three were debutants.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 12, 2019
Does that give us much of a hint? Of the players to have finished top two since the start of July only Justin Thomas has also finished top two on this course. Given that the event is earlier in the calendar this year, let’s stretch that out to June – the only addition who checks both requirements is Rory McIlroy. Both those names are very tight in the betting. But one name has a top-two and is a debutant – is he our Ancer? The Mexican said during his runner-up finish at The Northern Trust that he enjoys a tough test rather than a birdie fest and he’ll get that this week. He looks a live option against the field.
First Round Leader (also without FedEx Cup starting strokes) – Paul Casey 20/1
The 42-year-old Englishman loves this Donald Ross-designed layout in Georgia. He finished fourth on debut in 2010 and again in 2016. He also finished fifth in 2015 and 2017. And even when he underperformed, last year, he still collected 11th. A glance at the stats shows that his entire game is a fine fit for the test because he’s never ranked worse than 11th for Driving Accuracy or Putting Average, never below 12th for Greens in Regulation, always in the top six for All-Round Game.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 21, 2019
But above and beyond such a clear affinity for the track he has also been a notably quick starter. On that first visit in 2010 he posted a round one 66 to tie the lead. A 65 in 2012 and another 66 in 2017 earned a share of second. When he began his challenge with 68s in 2016 and 2018 he was only two and three shots back of the early pace-setter. A first look at his form suggests recent struggles and yet he was fifth after 54 holes on his penultimate start having carded two 65s and a 66. Last week he made ground on the field with a Saturday 67. He might be ripe for another swift start.