Just 30 golfers remain for the final PGA TOUR event of the 2022 season. The TOUR heads to Atlanta to wrap things up at East Lake Golf Club for the 2022 TOUR Championship. As always, we begin our weekly preview with a look at TOUR Championship odds.
We’ll see the smallest field of the year, which is sure to breed some volatility on the leaderboard. Case in point, last year’s “shadow” leaderboard (removing the staggered starting strokes) was led by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, two very different players.
Unlike last week’s event at Wilmington Country Club, we have plenty of data to pull from to profile course fit at East Lake. So although every player in this year’s field may not make this a regular stop on their schedule, we still have a growing understanding of what skillsets best navigate this course.
In short, East Lake Golf Club offers a complete test of golf, rewarding positional tee shots while still yielding a high percentage of missed greens in regulation. That puts an overall emphasis on trending tee-to-green play. As one of Donald Ross’ most famed designs, the course should reward the most skilled long-term putters, particularly on Bermuda greens.
Considering the limited field and nuanced staggered scoring system, it doesn’t bring the most favorable conditions for bets. But some shadow leaderboard and finishing prop markets do offer value. With that said, let’s get into the key facts and info about East Lake Golf Club for the 2022 TOUR Championship.
TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS: THE FAVORITES
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TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP: FIELD AT A GLANCE
The field is now officially set with the top 30 remaining players in the FedEx Cup Standings. Will Zalatoris bears most close watching as he recovers on a short week from a back injury that forced him to withdraw in the third round of the BMW Championship. We also wish Cam Smith a speedy recovery from his devastating hip discomfort which forced him to pull out of the BMW Championship. With $18M on the line now, he has quickly regained his health.
KH Lee, Sahith Theegala, Adam Scott and Aaron Wise each played their way onto the good side of the top-30 bubble with strong play at last week’s BMW Championship. Each will look to carry that momentum and close out the year on a high note.
Patrick Cantlay looks to defend his 2021 TOUR Championship title. He protected his lead as the No. 1 seed entering this event last year, and will start two strokes behind Scottie Scheffler this time around. Additional past TOUR Championship winners in the field this week include Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Billy Horschel.
Below is a breakdown of how the staggered strokes will apply for all 30 players in the field, as well as the payouts from first to 30th.
STAGGERED-START FORMAT EXPLAINED
A great paradox exists when applying the traditional playoff format to golf. As the playoffs go on, only the top-ranked players advance round by round until the best remains. Unfortunately, it creates a very anti-climactic finish to the season when the TOUR Championship features only 30 players. The staggered start format effectively eliminates 75% of the field from serious contention. Fans are understandably unhappy with the end product.
The TOUR Championship is not about keeping the fans happy, however. It rewards the body of work over a long wraparound season and provides an advantage for the players who have earned it.
Amidst the TOUR’s pushback against LIV as a competitive golf product, it’s fascinating that the most prized event has a severely limited field, no cuts, artificially applied starting strokes and a boatload of prize money at stake. Of course, a pretense of meritocracy exists for the TOUR Championship in that players earn your ways here over the course of an entire season. But, that doesn’t make fans any less annoyed about its lack of drama or betting appeal.
Can This Be Fixed?
It doesn’t require much effort to divine a 30-man no-cut event complete with the best remaining players on TOUR. As a result, the discourse in TOUR Championship week centers on debating ideas for a superior format. I actually don’t think the format requires changing. The staggered-start format does reward the body of work while still giving opportunity to players who peak late to make a run.
The average players who’ve just snuck into the top-30 like Brian Harman, KH Lee and Aaron Wise have effectively no chance to overcome Scottie Scheffler and his 10-stroke advantage this week. Which is as it should be, in my opinion. Sepp Straka and Scott Stallings stand as examples of opportunities earned in the playoff format for those who can peak at the right time. By all accounts, both players had mediocre to average 2022 seasons. But with new life in the playoffs, they’ve played themselves into shouting distance of Scheffler. Scheffler has been the clear best player over the course of this season with wins at the Masters, WGC Match Play, Arnold Palmer Invitational and WM Phoenix Open. So, a format which sets him up well to be the TOUR Champion would seem one that works.
I’m that guy in the fantasy football league who lobbies for a more premium payout to first place after the regular season. The body of work impresses more than the volatility of a playoff champion decided a one-week match-up at a time.
A Happy Medium?
I can understand this removes the drama from the playoffs at the expense of fairness. But while the format hurts viewers’ value, the TOUR Championship is about the players, not the fans. Even still, we can’t help but wonder if a happy medium exists.
If I were the czar of the PGA TOUR, my modifications to the TOUR Championship would better acknowledge the fans while keeping the format exactly the same. So many easy ways to do this exist.
Experiment with new broadcast features like the NFL has tried at the Pro Bowl. Add new camera angles and more hot mics for player-caddy conversations. Incorporate more fan engagement via live tweets during the broadcast. Work with DraftKings as a league partner to interview some Milly Maker winners. Or even carve out $1M from this gargantuan purse and give it back to players in a free Single-Entry Milly Maker contest on DraftKings or Pool Contest on PointsBet.
And no offense to East Lake, a beautiful and challenging course. But if we’ve committed to a limited field and staggered scoring, it would be nice to shake things up on rotating course basis, whether as a preview of upcoming major venues or by leaving it up to a player or fan vote.
Any acknowledgement of the fans within all the dead air that comes with a 30-man field would put the audience’s concerns at ease and surely win over any younger demographic considering hitching their wagon to LIV.
INTRODUCTION TO EAST LAKE GOLF CLUB
Established in 1904, East Lake Golf Club has rich history in Atlanta. East Lake has served as the permanent final stop of the season since the TOUR Championship’s inception in 2004. In addition to hosting this event, East Lake has also hosted the 1963 Ryder Cup and 2001 U.S. Amateur. It has also hosted the East Lake Cup, a collegiate match play series with notable individual medalist honors to Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland.
East Lake joins Sedgefield CC and Detroit GC as the three regular Donald Ross stops on the PGA TOUR schedule. While sharing the commonality of nuanced greens complexes, East Lake clearly provides the sternest test of the three. It rewards above-average distance off the tee and a complete tee-to-green game. Zach Johnson holds the course record of 60 (10-under par), but the low four-day score has typically fallen in the modest -13 to -15 range.
How It Breaks Down
As a 7,319-yard par 70, East Lake plays slightly above TOUR average in distance. The layout features six par 4s over 450 yards and three par 3s over 200 yards, offering a slight advantage to longer hitters and players who excel with their long irons. Overall, East Lake provides a well-balanced test, with half of its holes yielding a scoring average above or below par.
Notable Stats & Course Traits
Driving prowess is at a premium at East Lake, as it features the most narrow fairways on TOUR and has annually finished top three in missed fairway penalty. With three par 3s measuring over 200 yards, East Lake also ranks top three in average par-3 length. Over 30% of approaches will come from beyond 200 yards this week, well above the TOUR average. So, it’s a great spot to hone in on elite long iron players, particularly those who have had success on similar courses with penal Bermuda rough.
EAST LAKE GOLF CLUB COURSE SPECS
- Yards: 7,319
- Par: 70 (4x 3s / 12x 4s / 2x 5s)
- Grass: Bermuda Greens, Zoysia Fairways, Bermuda Rough
- Architect: Donald Ross (Rees Jones renovation in 1994)
- Comp Courses: Quail Hollow, TPC Southwind, Sedgefield CC, Detroit GC, PGA National, Sheshan International GC
- Past TOUR Championship Winners: Patrick Cantlay (’21), Dustin Johnson (’20), Rory McIlroy (’19), Tiger Woods (’18), Xander Schauffele (’17)
- Past TOUR Championship Winners (Shadow Leaderboard): Kevin Na & Jon Rahm -14 (’21), Xander Schauffele -15 (’20), Rory McIlroy -13 (’19), Tiger Woods -11 (’18), Xander Schauffele -12 (’17)
- Hole-by-hole Breakdown:
COURSE HISTORY & COURSE COMPS
To have experience at East Lake would inherently imply a strong and consistent overall player. Only the top-30 players each PGA TOUR season can punch their tickets to Atlanta. In this week’s field, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama carry the most extensive experience on these grounds with eight events apiece. But with that said, Xander Schauffele holds the title of king of East Lake. Schauffele has finished no worse than T7 over five career appearances, including a victory in his debut in 2017. He posted the low score in 2020, falling just short of Dustin Johnson’s head start to finish runner-up.
The top-10 players in SG: TOT at East Lake entering this week are Schauffele, McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Billy Horschel, Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Viktor Hovland, Tony Finau, Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth.
Looking at comp courses for this week, Quail Hollow makes the top of the list, considering McIlroy’s dominance, the overlapping Bermuda agronomy and premium on long iron approaches. Donald Ross specialists like Kevin Kisner and Billy Horschel who can lean on their short game strengths also tend to succeed. So, I’ll give a close look at recent performance at Detroit Golf Club and Sedgefield CC.
On a secondary tier, TPC Southwind and PGA National also feature a premium on total driving on Bermuda grass. Sheshan International, former host of the WGC HSBC, has also produced similar overlapping leaderboards to East Lake, highlighted with wins by McIlroy and Schauffele over its last two years of hosting.
Combine that all together and the top 10 in comp course history are McIlroy, Schauffele, Thomas, Scott, Hovland, Sepp Straka, Jon Rahm, Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young and Aaron Wise.
KEY STATS TO CONSIDER
- Par 4 Scoring / SG: T2G
- SG: APP / Prox 200+
- Good Drives Gained
- Scrambling Gained
- Bogey Avoidance
- SG: Putting (Bermuda)
- Course History & Comp Course History
In a 30-man field of players who’ve earned their entry by way of sustained strong play or a hot streak to climb up the rankings in the playoffs, you can almost do no wrong by backing any given player. That has me leaning towards eyeballing the field for the best values rather than deep-diving into key stats. But, they should still act as a helpful guide to whittle down a player pool.
The foundational stats I’ll prioritize for this week are the weighted recent form combination of Par-4 Scoring and SG: T2G. The top-10 players in this combined category are Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, Cameron Young, Will Zalatoris, Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm.
Looking at a weighted combination between the key stats of Good Drives Gained and Prox 200+, just seven players rate out above average: McIlroy, Schauffele, Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Tom Hoge.
Looking at the correlated stats to success historically at East Lake, SG: APP and Good Drives Gained make the most notable jumps in importance. That makes sense on a demanding course which penalizes erratic driving. Conversely, Par-4 450-500 and SG: OTT take the greatest steps back in importance compared to TOUR average this week. Given the tight fairways and penal rough, it will be difficult for players to gain on the field with their first shots, again emphasizing the importance of the second shot at East Lake.
There are five players who rate above average in the top-10 correlated stats for East Lake: McIlroy, Scheffler, Finau, Schauffele and Cantlay.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: SEPP STRAKA
Anything can happen in a field of 30. While it’s a bit farfetched to expect Sepp Straka to surmount a six-stroke head start from Scottie Scheffler, that doesn’t mean the top-10 ranked player in the FedEx Cup playoff standings can’t still play himself towards the top of the leaderboard.
The narratives all line up in Straka’s favor this week. He’ll enjoy a homecoming to the Peach State as a Georgia alum who joins Brian Harman as the only two Dawgs in the field. Those Southern ties have translated to a significant bias toward Bermuda tracks this 2022 season as all four of his top-10 finishes have come in this region. That list includes a win at the Honda Classic, runner up at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, T3 at the RBC Heritage and a T9 at THE PLAYERS.
But above all else, Straka’s affection for Coca-Cola products draws me to him in this spot. Coca-Cola, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, is the title sponsor of this event. Straka is a Diet Coke obsessive, quoted as saying he will bring his own supply of Diet Cokes if going to a tournament sponsored by Pepsi. So, you have to imagine he’s due for some “members” bounces this week, in his debut at East Lake.
Straka won’t jump out in any models this week considering he’d missed six consecutive cuts leading up to the FedEx Cup playoffs. But with newfound ball-striking form, a propensity to gain putting on Bermuda greens, a solid track record on Comp Courses (No. 5), and some ancillary positive vibes in his favor from the title sponsor, I’ll find a way to get some exposure to the Austrian this week.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR AT THE 2022 TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
Although it may be an anti-climactic format to conclude the 2022 season, the stakes remain very high with $18M up for grabs and Scottie Scheffler in pole position to claim Player of the Year and TOUR Champion honors. Scheffler will be difficult to catch with a -10 head start, especially considering his solid course history and preceding form. But players like Patrick Cantlay, Will Zalatoris, Xander Schauffele, Sam Burns, Cameron Smith, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are still in shouting distance to track him down. That should hopefully make for an entertaining weekend to track before heading into a short off-season of LIV and Presidents Cup speculation.
Normally I would include my player pool here. But, with only 30 players to choose from, I don’t really think it’s worth whittling down a list or projecting where values may fall before pricing comes out. It’s the TOUR Championship, and everyone who’s still in the field is an elite player in good form. So, you’ll be hard pressed to find many comfortable fades this week. That said, a small handful of guys I do expect to target in DFS includes McIlroy, Schauffele, Rahm, Adam Scott, and Sepp Straka.
For my model this week, I’m putting a premium on Recent Form (SG: T2G + Par-4 Scoring), SG: APP, Comp Course History and Good Drives Gained, followed by a balanced mix of Prox 200+, Bogey Avoidance, Scrambling Gained and SG: P (Bermuda).
The No. 1 player in my model this week is Xander Schauffele. He fell flat for us last Sunday but seems to have rediscovered his form after a lackluster FedEx St. Jude showing. Schauffele of course tops the list in terms of course history, which is little surprise considering he also rates top-10 in the key course fit categories of Prox 200+, SG: APP, Good Drives Gained and Bogey Avoidance.
Rounding out the top 10 of the model, we have Rory McIlroy, Will Zalatoris, Sungjae Im, Tony Finau, Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, Matt Fitzpatrick, Justin Thomas and Cameron Young.
When TOUR Championship odds open on Monday, I’ll look to take one or two shots at the shadow leaderboard while also eying some specialty props to keep things interesting. I’ll have my eye on Schauffele, McIlroy and Rahm at the top, with Sepp Straka and Adam Scott also in mind as potential values who fit the course well when odds open.
Best of luck navigating 2022 TOUR Championship odds!
2022 TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP ODDS BOARD
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