This is it; the final tournament of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season. It’s the last leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and a $10,000,000 winner will be crowned on Sunday. The Tour Championship comes to us from East Lake Golf Club; located in Atlanta, GA. East Lake is a tough 7,307-yard par 70 (longer than any other course in the playoffs despite being a par 70). It has hosted the Tour Championship 14 times and every year since 2005. There are
30 29 players in the field (Jim Furyk has withdrawn), and there is no cut.
To clear up any confusion, the winner of this tournament does not automatically win the FedEx Cup. The golfers have been accumulating points all year, and the first three tournaments of the playoffs mainly serve to whittle the field down to 30. Before the Tour Championship begins, the point totals for each golfer are scaled back and reformatted based on their unique spot in the rankings. This is done to prevent someone from running away with the title and maintain a certain level of drama for the final event. Everyone at East Lake has a chance to win the FedEx Cup, but their likelihood of success is dependent upon both performance at the Tour Championship as well as starting position in the standings prior to the actual tournament. To simplify things, if any of the top five golfers in the standings going into Thursday win this week, they claim the cup. If someone outside the top five wins the Tour Championship, they need a little help. You can find a full breakdown of playoff scenarios here.
Everyone playing this week obviously wants to win, so I’m not too concerned with the extra motivation that a $10,000,000 check could bring. However, it is something to consider as far as pressure is concerned. For guys like Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlory, and Jason Day, it’s just another tournament. For about half of the field, a FedEx Cup victory would be life-changing and career-altering. Similar to poker where winning the Main Event is actually worth more in life equity than the dollar amount of the first place check, winning the FedEx Cup is worth more to a golfer’s career than the actual $10,000,000. Will the guys you roster be able to sink a six-footer on #18 with $10,000,000+ on the line?
Unlike last week, we have fourteen years of course history data on East Lake. There’s a lot of information out there; use it.
When you go back through those results, the first thing that jumps off the page is the importance of greens in regulation. The better the GIR number, the more likely that golfer finds success in Atlanta. Given that we’re looking for GIR, ball striking is also fairly predictive in terms of success at East Lake. Henrik Stenson is #1 on Tour in ball striking; plus Billy Horschel and Bill Haas are past champions and ball striking is pretty much all they do.
Other important stats include:
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
- Driving Distance
- Par 4 Scoring
- Birdie or Better %
Only eight of the 29 golfers in the field have a top-5 finish at East Lake in any of the previous three seasons. They are Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, and Brandt Snedeker. I think the six stats mentioned above fully encompass that group of golfers, and I’m comfortable making my selections based upon this profile.
One more quick note… Most golfers who have done well at East Lake were effective converting birdies from 50-125, 150-175, and 175-200 yards. What this tells me is, and it’s fairly obvious but I’ll say it anyway, you want birdie makers in general. I’m using the overall birdie or better %, but if you feel it’s better to hone in on some of these yardages, go for it.
RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS! RANKS!
With only 29 golfers in the field this week, I thought I’d try something a little different. I was going through my normal process, and I singled out 10 players I liked. Normally, not a big deal. The problem was I only liked four players at or below $8,000, and you couldn’t make more than a dozen unique lineups with my list (not to mention, 10 golfers = over 1/3 of the field). That’s not going to cut it. So I am going to rank all 29 golfers in order based upon how I think they will play this week and include a little information on everyone. You can pick who you like and hopefully make some unique lineups. It’s important to note that I haven’t considered price in these rankings; they are purely performance-based. That said, it won’t be hard to see where I think there’s value. Let’s get to it…
#1) Jason Day $12,500 (3-1)
Surprise! I’m going out on a limb with this one. He finished fourth here last year, and he’s been on a trajectory towards prime Tiger status.
- Stroke Differential: 1st
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green 6th
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 2nd
- Driving Distance: 3rd
- Ball Striking: 9th
- GIR: 3rd
- Birdie or Better %: 1st
- Par 4 Scoring Average: 1st
- Recent Course History: 4th in 2014, 14th in 2013
- Last Three Weeks: 1st, 12th, 1st
It would be kind of surprising if he didn’t win this week. That said, I would probably pass on him in GPPs. …What?
There are two reasons to fade Day this week. First, he should be very popular. We’re dealing with a field of 30 elite golfers; it isn’t hard for the public to find five golfers they recognize to put around Day. Second, the number of possible roster combinations is already extremely low. By rostering Day, you’re shrinking that number even further and probably to the point where it’s impossible to have a unique lineup in a large GPP.
The best way to differentiate is leave money on the table. When you roster Day, it’s tough to leave that much money unspent. There’s just not enough combos to make me want to use Day in GPPs.
So Day is the favorite to win the Tour Championship, but I probably won’t be using him in fantasy.
#2) Henrik Stenson $10,500 (9-1)
By dropping from Day to Stenson, you aren’t actually making that big of a sacrifice in terms of talent, and you gain a lot from a strategy perspective.
- Stroke Differential: 3rd
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 2nd
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 8th
- Ball Striking: 1st
- GIR: 1st
- Par 4 Scoring: 3rd
- Birdie or Better % from 150-175 Yards: 1st
- Birdie or Better % from 175-200 Yards: 6th
- Recent Course History: 1st in 2013
- Last Three Weeks: 10th, 2nd, 2nd
He’s been so close of late, and he’s a previous champion at East Lake. Stenson is the best ball striker in the field, a GIR monster, great from tee-to-green, and a solid putter. By selecting Stenson, you get someone who is almost as likely to win as Day, and you save $2k in salary. That savings completely opens up the roster pool and gives you a better shot at a unique lineup.
#3) Justin Rose $9,800 (12-1)
Stenson and Rose are probably my two favorite plays this week. Rose has a game fit for this course, and it shows with his recent end of the year results.
- Stroke Differential: 6th
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 7th
- Driving Distance: 6th
- Ball Striking: 2nd
- Birdie or Better %: 4th
- Par 4 Birdie or Better %: 6th
- Birdie or Better % from 150-175 Yards: 2nd
- Recent Course History: 4th in 2014, 6th in 2013, 2nd in 2012
- Last Three Weeks: 13th, CUT, 16th
He’s not as hot as he was two months ago, but he has the game to win a tournament like this. At $9,800 and given his course history, he seems like the safest play on the board.
#4) Bubba Watson $8,700 (18-1)
Bubba doesn’t have the best course history, but he’s been trending in the right direction at East Lake. He’s a little risky, and his putting has been crashing back to reality, but I’m focusing on tournament-winning upside this week. I
want NEED those 30 bonus points.
- Stroke Differential: 4th
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 1st
- Driving Distance: 2nd
- Ball Striking: 7th
- GIR: 5th
- Birdie or Better %: 3rd
- Par 4 Scoring Average: 5th
- Recent Course History: 14th in 2014, 5th in 2012
- Last Three Weeks: 10th, 29th, 3rd
He’s a birdie-making machine and a surprisingly good ball striker. It’s a long course, and we know Bubba’s game is distance. I’m a little concerned with his course history, but I see no reason why he couldn’t succeed here. He’s my #4 play this week in a vacuum, yet he’s only the #8 price on the DK board. Value city.
#5) Dustin Johnson $9,100 (15-1)
DJ has been quietly solid in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He’s a decent Sunday at Deutsche Bank away from top-10 finishes at every stop, and there’s a lot to like about him this week
- Stroke Differential: 5th
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 9th
- Driving Distance: 1st
- Birdie or Better %: 5th
- Par 4 Scoring Average: 8th
I’d like his ball striking number to be a little better, but it’s not terrible/prohibitive. He has great length, and he’s an elite birdie-maker. Remember, I’m looking for guys who can win; preferably not named Jason Day. DJ fits the bill.
#6) Rory McIlroy $11,700 (5.5-1)
If it weren’t for his semi-recent injury, I’d have Rory one spot higher on this list. He’s been playing well lately, but I’m not sure I want to go there until he actually wins another tournament. Surprisingly, it’s been his putter that’s shown the most rust, and he needs to prove he’s got it again before I use him. That said, it wouldn’t shock me if he won this week. He finished 2nd here last year and 4th last week at BMW, after all. I’m just more comfortable using Bubba or DJ than Rory.
(He doesn’t have enough rounds to qualify for statistical rankings, and I don’t want to rely on a small sample size to use or fade him. We all know what kind of talent he has; we don’t need numbers to tell us he’s great.)
#7) Jordan Spieth $11,000 (7-1)
Is this real life? Is Jordan Spieth broken? I don’t know… He has all the talent in the world, but something is just off with him.
- Stroke Differential: 2nd
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 4th
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 6th
- Ball Striking & GIR: Surprisingly mediocre; middle of the pack
- Birdie or Better %: 2nd
- Par 4 Scoring Average: 2nd
- Recent Course History: 27th in 2014, 2nd in 2013
- Last Three Weeks: 13th, CUT, CUT (yikes.)
I have him ranked at the bottom of my top tier (Day through Spieth), but he has elite talent. He could snap out of his funk at any time, and his ownership level will certainly be depressed.
#8) Hideki Matsuyama $8,000 (29-1)
After a bit of a hiccup, Matsuyama is rounding back into form. He’s a great ball striker, and despite his poor showing in 2014, I think he could thrive this week.
- Stroke Differential: 7th
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 5th
- Ball Striking: 4th
- GIR: 8th
- Birdie or Better %: 8th
- Par 4 Scoring Average: 4th
- Recent Course History: 22nd in 2014
- Last Three Weeks: 7th, 25th, 13th
We’ve been waiting for Deki to breakthrough for a while now, and this could be the week he does it.
#9) Brooks Koepka $7,300 (60-1)
Brooks and I had to take a little break, but I think we’re going to make up this week.
- Stroke Differential: 8th
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 7th
- Driving Distance: 5th
- Ball Striking: 8th
- GIR: 6th
- Birdie or Better %: 6th
- Par 4 Scoring Average: 6th
- Recent Course History: N/A
- Last Three Weeks: Buzz’s girlfriend (49th, CUT, CUT)
I’d like his tee-to-green number to be a little better, but other than that, it looks like he was made to play this course. He has a really nice combination of distance, ball striking, and putting. On one hand, he’s a name I expect players to gravitate towards, but on the other, he’s been a dumpster fire lately. He could go under-owned.
#10) Paul Casey $7,500 (55-1)
Casey WD mid-tournament in Boston due to a bad back, but he bounced back well at BMW. I think he should be fine going forward, but you never know when a back problem might flare up. Ringing endorsement, I know. Let’s get to the reasons why you should consider him.
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 7th
- Ball Striking: 3rd
- GIR: 2nd
- Par 4 Scoring: 8th
- Proximity from 150-175 Yards: 1st
- Recent Course History: N/A (but did finish 4th in his only start here in 2010)
- Last Three Weeks: 23rd, CUT, 39th
He’s like Bill Haas on steroids. And I’m only half-kidding about the steroids part. Have you seen those biceps? He’ll need a little help from his putter if he plans on contending this week, but he’s certainly worth taking a chance on.
#11) Robert Streb $7,300 (70-1)
Everyone’s favorite value play should be in for a solid week. He’s a golfer in the mold of Billy Horschel, Bill Haas, and Brandt Snedeker but better.
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 10th
- Ball Striking: 10th
- GIR: 7th
- Par 4 Scoring: 9th
As you can see, his statistical profile isn’t as strong as those who have come before him, but he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, either. He’s a safe, steady pick at a great price.
#12) Rickie Fowler $10,300 (9-1)
I won’t be using Fowler this week. His ball striking numbers aren’t up to snuff, and he’s only good from one of the three key distances. He’s an elite talent, but I’m not sure this is the course for him.
- Stroke Differential: 11th
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 11th
- Birdie or Better %: 10th
- Birdie or Better % from 50-125 Yards: 2nd
- Recent Course History: 8th in 2014, 23rd in 2012
- Last Three Weeks: 4th, 1st, CUT
#13) Zach Johnson $8,500 (21-1)
Much like the other Johnson, Zach has had a quietly stellar playoff run.
- Stroke Differential: 9th
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 9th
- Ball Striking: 12th
- GIR: 11th
- Par 4 Scoring: 7th
- Birdie or Better % from 50-125 Yards: 6th
- Proximity from 150-175 Yards: 4th
- Recent Course History: 21st in 2014, 7th in 2013, 15th in 2012
- Last Three Weeks: 13th, 22nd, 4th
He’s playing well but has struggled lately at East Lake. Zach is a big name, so the public will be drawn to him. Plus, there are cheaper guys I like better. Fade.
#14) Daniel Berger $7,200 (55-1)
There’s a chance Berger is the highest owned player this week. Seriously. I think he might have Space Jammed Jordan Spieth’s talent. At only $7,200 and coming of strong finishes in his previous two starts, he will be very popular.
- Driving Distance: 7th
- Ball Striking: 5th
- GIR: 10th
- Birdie or Better % from 175-200 Yards: 12th
- Recent Course History: N/A
- Last Three Weeks: 2nd, 12th, CUT
He’s a great value play, but it’s a short field and fading him could be a great way to differentiate your lineups. It’s up to you to figure out which way to go; choose wisely.
#15) Louis Oosthuizen $7,700 (40-1)
I think Louis is a boom or bust guy this week. He has elite talent, but struggled here in 2012. He didn’t play the first leg of the playoffs (should be fresh), and he finished top-20 at both Deutsche Bank and BMW.
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 12th
- Ball Striking: 10th
- GIR: 12th
- Recent Course History: 23rd in 2012
- Last Three Weeks: 19th, 12th, DNS
#16) Harris English $7,000 (85-1)
Good ol’ Harry was finally able to sneak his was into the Tour Championship after stone bubbling the previous two years. He’s one of my least favorite players on tour, but one of my favorite plays of the week.
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 5th
- Driving Distance: 11th
- Ball Striking: 14th (middle of the pack in this tournament, but very good compared to the rest of the tour)
- Birdie or Better % from 175-200 Yards: 4th
- Recent Course History: N/A
- Last Three Weeks: 19th, 12th, 30th
English was born in Georgia and attended UGA. After just missing out the last two years, you have to think he desperately wants to play well this week.
#17) Bill Haas $7,300 (70-1)
Former champion, but he hasn’t played well here in his last two starts. I think his victory in 2011 was a bit of a fluke; who knows.
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 11th
- Ball Striking: 6th
- GIR: 9th
- Recent Course History: 16th in 2014, 24th in 2013
- Last Three Weeks: 19th, 60th, 53rd
He performs well in the two most important categories this week, but is well below average in almost every area. I’m sure people will look to roster him as a former champion, so I think a fade is in order on DK.
#18) Matt Kuchar $7,800 (35-1)
Kuch has been playing some skunky golf this year. Has his game left him, or is he experiencing a bit of negative variance?
- Stroke Differential: 10th
- Par 4 Scoring: 10th
- Birdie or Better from 150-175 Yards: 9th
- Recent Course History: 13th in 2014, 26th in 2013, 10th in 2012
- Last Three Weeks: 41st, 9th, 39th
Much like Haas, I think his ownership will outpace his chances for success, and I will be fading.
#19) Scott Piercy $7,100 (100-1)
Piercy played well last week; finishing solo 3rd. He’s middle of the pack in ball striking and decent from two of the three key yardages (50-125 and 150-175). He finished 15th here in 2012.
#20) Jimmy Walker $6,900 (140-1)
Jimmy Walker’s price on DK is like a dangling carrot that I can never catch. My brain just can’t accept the fact that I probably shouldn’t be playing him; regardless of price. He’s only $100 more than Sang-Moon Bae and $200 more than minimum. Come on…
- Strokes Gained: Putting: 1st
- Driving Distance: 9th
- Birdie or Better %: 9th
- Birdie or Better % from 50-125 Yards: 7th
- Recent Course History: 17th in 2014
- Last Three Weeks: 32nd, CUT, 69th
I’ve recommended you build your lineups from the top down this week, so if you need a sub-$7k guy, he’d be my pick. He’s not someone I’m actively looking to play, though.
#21) J.B. Holmes $7,400 (65-1)
Holmes played pretty well last week; and when he gets hot, watch out. He probably has one of the largest ranges of outcomes this week, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing for GPPs.
- Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: 10th
- Driving Distance: 4th
- Birdie or Better %: 7th
- Par 4 Birdie or Better %: 8th
- Birdie or Better % from 175-200 Yards: 3rd
- Recent Course History: N/A
- Last Three Weeks: 4th, 44th, 58th
If you’re wondering why he isn’t higher on this list, it’s because he’s one of the worst ball strikers in the field (2nd worst in GIR). There’s something to be said for form trumping all. Maybe he keeps it rolling for a second straight week?
#22) Danny Lee $7,000 (100-1)
After an insane run of four top-6 finishes in five tournaments, Lee has cooled off a bit. He hasn’t finished higher than 30th in his last four starts. He doesn’t excel in any key area this week, but he is at least average in a number of areas (putting, birdie rate, and from important distances). This is his first time playing the Tour Championship.
#23) Kevin Kisner $7,200 (70-1)
Kisner is only above average in one statistic I’m using this week: ball striking (he’s 14th of 29). This is his first start at East Lake, and he’s finished 41st, 12th, and 20th so far in the playoffs. He certainly has talent, but he’s not someone I’m looking to use this week.
#24) Patrick Reed $7,600 (40-1)
Almost everything I said about Kisner applies here, but switch ball striking to putting. Reed finished 19th here last year; and outside of a random 4th place finish at Deutsche Bank, he hasn’t been playing particularly well.
#25) Charley Hoffman $7,200 (55-1)
There’s a disconnect between Charley’s DK price and his odds. At 55-1, he should be closer to $7,500. That means Vegas thinks there’s some value here, but I just don’t see it.
#26) Brandt Snedeker $7,300 (70-1)
Snedeker is a dumpster fire. He’s a previous champion and cheap, but I think those are reasons he should be faded this week. The public is familiar with his name, and they might not know of or care about his recent struggles. Pass.
#27) Kevin Na $7,100 (100-1)
Na finished 10th last week at BMW and 20th a month ago at The Barclays. He’s a solid golfer at a good price, and he’s showing some good form. I just don’t think his game fits this course.
#28) Steven Bowditch $6,700 (160-1)
#29) Sang-Moon Bae $6,800 (140-1)
One of my good friends is Korean, and he loves Bae. That’s all I’ve got.
Well… we made it guys. That’s who I like #1-29. One more thing before you go. If you’re playing GPPs this week, you need to actively think about how you can maximize your ROI. Some of these tournaments are so top-heavy that creating unique lineups will pay off exponentially. If you throw chalk in, you’re likely going to chop up whatever money you win hundreds of times. I think the best way to go would be to leave salary on the table. The more the better (to a point). There’s something in a square’s brain that renders him incapable of letting salary go unspent. We’ve got a field that features, at least theoretically, 29 of the best golfers on the planet. Anyone could win. If Jason Day runs away with it again and you don’t have him, so what? You aren’t playing GPPs to double your money; you’re looking to hit big. You can’t do that if you’re splitting your winnings with the population of a small town. Use your brain and think differently.
Good luck this week!