Preview: 2020 TOUR Championship

Bombs away!

FedExCup Playoffs Event – Finale

2020 TOUR Championship

East Lake Golf Club

Atlanta

Yards: (per official scorecard):7,346
Par:70; (35-35)
Greens:Mini-verde Ultradwarf Bermuda; 6,000 square feet on average.
Stimpmeter:Pushing 13′.
Rough:Bermuda at 2.5″.
Bunkers/Water Hazards74/5 (water is in play on four holes).
Architect(s):Tom Bendelow (1906); Donald Ross (2014); Rees Jones (1994, 2008 and 2016).
Purse:$60 million. $15 million to the winner. All money is unofficial bonus money.
Defending Champion:Rory McIlroy (13-under event; 18-under total).
Fact of the Week:Only course to host the TOUR Championship in the FedExCup Playoffs.
Fact of the Week II:21 players return to East Lake while nine make their debut.
  

2019-2020 Season Winners

*- First-time winner

**- First-time winner AND rookie winner

EventWinner (total wins)
  
A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier*- Joaquin Niemann
Sanderson Farms Championship*- Sebastian Munoz
Safeway OpenCameron Champ
Shriners Hospitals for Children OpenKevin Na
Houston Open*-Lanto Griffin
CJ CUP AT NINE BRIDGESJustin Thomas
ZOZO ChampionshipTiger Woods
WGC-HSBC ChampionsRory McIlroy
Bermuda ChampionshipBrendon Todd
Mayakoba Golf ClassicBrendon Todd (2)
The RSM Classic*-Tyler Duncan
Hero World ChallengeHenrik Stenson
Sentry Tournament of ChampionsJustin Thomas (2)
Sony OpenCameron Smith
The American ExpressAndrew Landry
Farmers Insurance OpenMarc Leishman
Waste Management Phoenix OpenWebb Simpson
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AmNick Taylor
The Genesis InvitationalAdam Scott
WGC-Mexico ChampionshipPatrick Reed
The Honda Classic*-Sungjae Im
Arnold Palmer InvitationalTyrrell Hatton
THE PLAYERS ChampionshipAbandoned due to COVID-19, no winner
Charles Schwab ChallengeDaniel Berger
RBC HeritageWebb Simpson (2)
Travelers ChampionshipDustin Johnson
Rocket Mortgage ClassicBryson DeChambeau
Workday Charity OpenCollin Morikawa
MemorialJon Rahm
3M OpenMichael Thompson
WGC-FESJ InvitationalJustin Thomas (3)
102nd PGA ChampionshipCollin Morikawa (2)
Wyndham ChampionshipJim Herman
THE NORTHERN TRUSTDustin Johnson (2)
BMW ChampionshipJon Rahm (2)

Horses for Courses publishes at PGATOUR.COM Tuesdays. It’s a look who has played well here recently so I suggest reading it as I won’t replicate all of the information here.

Recent Winners – Event

YearPlayerNotes
2019Rory McIlroy, -18Started in fifth place, five shots back before posting all four rounds in the 60s to shoot 13-under and win for the second time.
   
2018Tiger Woods, -11Not in the field this week but held off Billy Horschel to win another season finale. Justin Rose won the FedExCup Playoffs.
   
2017Xander Schauffele, -12Rookie showed nothing but class in defeating Justin Thomas by a shot.
   
2016Rory McIlroy, -12Closed with 64 to force a playoff with Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore.
   
2015Jordan Spieth, -9Won by four to cap his magical season.

Facts and Figures:

Back to Bermuda and Donald Ross (see: Wyndham Championship) but for the second week in a row par should be a good score. Since the putting in Bermuda greens in 2008, nobody has gone deeper than 13-under in the no-cut event.  

Tournament Record:267; McIlroy (2019).
Course Record (event since 2008):63; Gary Woodland (2014), Webb Simpson (2013)
Defending Champions (last):No FedExCup has ever been defended.
Defending Champions (event):Nope.
Multiple Winners Entered (course):McIlroy.
First-time – TOURCamilo Villegas (2008).
First-time Entered (non-inaugural)Xander Schauffele (2017).
Odd Fact:Only Camilo Villegas has made a FedExCup Playoff event his first TOUR win.
Odd Fact II:Villegas followed the next week by winning his second (BMW, TOUR Championship).
Odd Fact III:Only four players have had a chance to defend. Only Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are entered this week.

Life isn’t fair

The 2019 season ends next week on Monday but it’s Labor Day so it’s still the weekend. It will definitely not feel like a vacation for the 30 players trying to grab their piece of a $60 million pie. The first five places will collect more than any tournament winner this year or next so there’s plenty of attention that will be played. For the second season in a row, staggered scoring will be used to determine the one and only champion.

Bogeys will be made as only seven of the 30 players last year made less than 10 for the week. Making pars and taking care of birdie chances will be the formula and that starts with keeping in the ball in the fairway. Shorter grass plus lofted club equals better birdie chances. Playing from the Bermuda rough off the fairway or around the green will force players to grind out, and accept par. Only two Par-5 holes, including the last, and they don’t provide much resistance, if the tee ball finds the short stuff.

Perfect greens will encourage aggressive putting, as long as they are from below the hole, a staple of Ross designs.

The last five players are 10 back and will have to eat the elephant one bite at a time over the four days. The others will hope for blown tire or two at the top of the leaderboard early in the weekend so they don’t have to floor it all four days.

I mean, nobody loses this week as last place takes home $395k!

Every other week the field begins at even-par. Not this week so not only do the premium players get a running head start, most of the field is TOAST before they hit the first tee ball.

What a time to be in the top five!

The 30 – Bottom to Top (Score to start)

Billy Horschel – No. 30 (E)

Course historians are drooling (T7-WIN-2nd) but I’m not sure how much as he starts 10 shots back. His 67.83 stroke average includes just one round above 70 (71). Last time on Donald Ross he should have won the Wyndham Championship! BUY.

Cameron Champ – No. 29 (E)

I doubt he’ll have one eye on his defense at Safeway next week but he should be inspired as he won that event right before his grandfather died. Everyone is looking for an angle this time of year because I’m not sure the money keeps any of these guys up at night. He’s a monster from tee-to-green and won’t have to make 25 birdies to keep up. Also won at CCJ in 2019, a Ross redesign.

Mackenzie Hughes – No. 28 (E)

Made a wonderful 5-footer for par on the last hole at Olympia Fields to qualify. Should be full of confidence with T13 or better in four of his last seven. The big targets from the fairway should help, if he can dial in his  tee ball (No. 161) and irons (No. 179). Strength is the short game, obviously.

Viktor Hovland – No. 27 (E)

Believe it or not there still is a learning curve, even for young guys as talented as him. He’s remarked more than once that his short game isn’t where it needs to be so that puts tons of pressure on his game tee-to-green. One top 25 in his last five starts came on the easiest track of the bunch. East Lake Cup champion at Oklahoma State on this track in 2018.

Cameron Smith – No. 26 (E)

T20 on 2018 debut included three of four rounds at 70 or better including closing 69-68. Took him a while to get going at Olympia Fields (75-73-68-69) so he should know the position of being 10 back quite well. Similar to Hughes, he struggles tee to green but excels on and around the greens.

Mark Leishman – No. 25 (-1)

Sadly this is converging trends in the wrong direction as the Aussie struggles here and has struggled recently on TOUR. Pass.

Kevin Na – No. 24 (-1)

Just six rounds in the red from 24 in six previous trips and nothing better than T16 to show for it. I’ll save him for TPC Summerlin and Shadow Creek in the coming weeks.

Ryan Palmer – No. 23 (-1)

Last time he was here was 2014, same with Brendon Todd, but he stuck all four rounds in the 60s. At 43 he’s the most “veteran” player in the field and has no problem getting it tee to green.

Abraham Ancer – No. 22 (-1)

Rolled in last year T6 after finishing runner-up to Patrick Reed at Bethpage Black. A trio of 72s and a 69 will provide a point of reference in his second try. He’s 15th in scoring average and 19th Strokes-Gained: Total so he’s not faking it. I wonder if he’s out of gas.

Kevin Kisner – No. 21 (-1)

Plus-22 in his first two visits. 13-under in his last two visits for T9-T3. Last eight rounds all 71 or better. Keeps it down the sprinkler line and loves Bermuda. And most importantly, will not be distracted by college football. T3 and 3rd last two visits to Ross courses. Yep. Yep.

Tony Finau – No. 20 (-2)

What’s that you say? Putting isn’t do or die this week? Outstanding. Move him up. Top 10s in four of his last six isn’t because he made tons of putts. Bash away, my man.

Tyrrell Hatton – No. 19 (-2)

Won on a difficult, Bermuda Bay Hill track and has been fantastic since. Top 15 Tee to Green and top 7 approach. First timer will need to limit his frustrations to catch back up.

Joaquin Niemann – No. 18 (-2)

Like Xander Schauffele he picked up his first win at Greenbrier. Now like Schauffele he has a chance to end his season with a victory at East Lake. Super tee-to-green at Olympia Fields, he’ll need to match or better that performance this week. 5th in Approach and 20th Tee to Green suggests he has another gear.

Scottie Scheffler – No. 17 (-2)

2016 East Lake Cup champion while at the University of Texas so he should be excited on his return. Nothing outside T22 in his last five events tells me he’s not intimidated by the events/fields he’s playing. Big ball parks don’t bother him either.

Lanto Griffin – No. 16 (-2)

Best result of the restart was last week on the toughest course as he posted three rounds at par or better for T10. T19 at TPC Harding Park two weeks before that shows his confidence is flying. One of nine first-timers.

Sebastian Munoz – No. 15 (-3)

Found what he was looking for once the FedExCup Playoffs began with T18 in Boston followed by T8 in Chicago. Without a cut he should have time to figure it out but he’s already had his best season by a mile.

NOW WE LIVE

Those above this line, with the exception of Kisner and Finau, for my money, will need to have unbelievable weeks to poke their noses into the big money.

Last year only McIlroy and Schauffele were double digits under par.

Only 5 players were four-under or better for the four rounds (not including starting strokes, duh).

Xander Schauffele – No. 14 (-3)

Seven shots back will keep him off the radar but will also give him the freedom to chase again. His 12 rounds here don’t include any over par so he knows how to post a number and put the pressure on from the peloton. 67.75 scoring average.

Patrick Reed – No. 13 (-3)

Bagged his first top 10 in this event last year but did so playing the week 1-over. His starting strokes, thanks to his win at TNT, saw him begin 6-under. Gotta peel back some layers before diving in head-first! This is his seventh consecutive year at East Lake. He has produced six rounds in the red over his first 24 tries. Caution.

Rory McIlroy – No. 12 (-3)

Signs of life last week in Chicago but when everyone went low on the weekend he went the other direction. Only positive was the driver and that can help again this week. Too many other questions to answer, for me.

Brendon Todd – No. 11 (-3)

First appearance since 2014 where he didn’t break par until a final round 66. Playing down the sprinkler line will help and he’ll need his putter to find another gear on grainy Bermuda, which hasn’t been the case recently.

Hideki Matsuyama – No. 10 (-4)

Did somebody say putting isn’t terribly important this week?!?!?!?!

Three of his last four trips have resulted in top 10 paydays and this will be seven years running at East Lake. Time to string four rounds together. I’m buying.

Sungjae Im – No. 9 (-4)

Fantastic season has carried him to this point. The optimist will suggest his last time on a Donald Ross layout saw him cast T9 at Sedgefield, his best finish since Bay Hill. The results before and after that T9 aren’t inspiring as the 22-year looks like he’s out of gas.

Bryson DeChambeau – No. 8 (-4)

Heard this week he’s having equipment issues but there’s not much else that will slow him down. Except Bermuda rough. If he’s not hitting fairways it will be another battle this week. He was last fairways and T64 (of 70) and GIR last week.

Harris English – No. 7 (-4)

Making his second appearance after T22 in 2015. Fantastic run of top 25s ended last week on a difficult track. Playing four rounds didn’t get him any rest either but he knew he was in East Lake regardless of his finish at BMW after solo second at TNT.

Daniel Berger – No. 6 (-4)

His part of the world and minus last week has been excellent. It says something when T25 is the black sheep of results since the restart but that’s the worst of the bunch. Like most last week, started slowly but figured it out as the week progressed. This will be his fourth crack at East Lake so he should have a plan ready to execute. I’m onboard.

The Fab 5

No, not the Beatles or Michigan with C-Webb, just the five dudes who have earned their scores, prize money and lead in this field over the season.

On the line for this group is simple:

* Player of the Year

* OWGR No. 1 (possibly)

* 3-win season or BETTER

* 5th place gets $2.5 million

Collin Morikawa – No. 5 (-5)

Late arrival last week after taking 36 holes to figure it out. Closed 68-68 after 76-73 to open. I’d expect, if his last 36 holes of ball-striking follows him, he should be lurking Come Monday. Bonus points for the Labor Day reference.

Webb Simpson – No. 4 (-6)

So fresh and so clean after a week off. Loves Ross and Bermuda so this checks all the boxes. At just four behind, he knows he doesn’t have match the course record early to have a chance. Chop that wood. Fairways. Greens. Bermuda putts. His fantastic year should have one more magic moment.

Justin Thomas – No. 3 (-7)

Mentioned fatigue at the TNT and cashed T49. Closed with 68 at Olympia Fields and won the last time he was on Bermuda at TPC Southwind. Should find his second wind on a track he loves (68.50) if he hasn’t decided enough is enough for 2019-2020.

Jon Rahm – No. 2 (-8)

Made for the most difficult courses, this week should set up nicely again. Already has done the business at Memorial and Olympia Fields, so now time to show out on Bermuda. His fourth start here and T7 is his best payday.

Dustin Johnson – No. 1 (-10)

The only two players that have beaten him in his last three events are Morikawa and Rahm. Just think for a minute what they had to do to knock him off. Morikawa’s eagle at TPC Harding Park and Rahm’s putt at BMW are two of the most iconic shots in golf HISTORY, let alone the last three events DJ has played. He’s led or co-led after 54 holes in those three events as well. Now, he has the well-deserved lead on the entire field. His luck and execution at East Lake has resulted in only one podium over the years.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

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