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Justin Thomas
Odds and Ends

Picks and tips for the Tour Championship

by Will Gray
Updated On: September 1, 2020, 4:13 pm ET

After an 11-month season with an unexpected hiatus in the middle, the PGA Tour's tumultuous 2020 season has reached the finish line.

Only 30 players remain for the season-ending Tour Championship, with the top finisher this week in Atlanta earning $15 million. Every player in the field will leave East Lake Golf Club with at least $395,000, making it a lucrative week for the few that have made it to the third leg of the playoffs.

For the second straight year, the Tour Championship will utilize a staggered "starting strokes" system. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson will begin the week at 10 under, followed by Jon Rahm (8 under) and Justin Thomas (7 under). The five lowest players on the points list will all begin the week at Even, 10 shots behind Johnson.

From a former FedExCup champ to the only man missing last week, here are some bets to consider before the tournament begins on Friday:

To Win (odds via PointsBet)

Justin Thomas (+575): While he has ceded the spotlight in recent weeks to Johnson and Rahm, Thomas hasn't exactly lost a step - and he's likely to make up a little ground this week on a course where he so often shines. Thomas will start the week at 7 under, ahead of all but two players on the board, one year after he squandered an advantage as the No. 1 seed. But he has spoken openly about the mental burden he felt in the top spot, and believes he can make amends this time around. Still the Tour leader in Strokes Gained: Approach and SG: Tee-to-Green, Thomas won the FedExCup on this course three years ago and had finished T-7 or better in all three of his Tour Championship appearances prior to last year. The only three-time winner on Tour this year, there are only a handful of players in this field that can truly match his ability.

Webb Simpson (11/1): Did the rest pay off? That's the question after Simpson strategically skipped last week's BMW Championship, opting instead for some R&R after a busy stretch. The veteran doesn't exactly match the profile of a typical success story at East Lake, but that hasn't prevented him from finishing T-5 or better on three different occasions at this event. Simpson has won twice this season, including setting a scoring record at the nearby RBC Heritage, and he thrived this season off a mix of iron play (sixth in SG: Approach) and putting (12th in SG: Putting). That's a potent combination into and on the slick greens of East Lake, where he'll begin at 6 under and behind only three other players.

Xander Schauffele (22/1): Schauffele is a threat at East Lake, full stop. It was a surprise when he won the Tour Championship here in 2017, splitting the trophy photo op with Thomas, and perhaps less of a shock last year when he started the week at 4 under and finished it alone in second, behind only Rory McIlroy. This time he'll begin one shot further adrift, but he hasn't finished outside the top 25 in seven starts dating back to the Travelers Championship in June. While a top-25 finish in a 30-man field won't be anything to brag about, it speaks to his consistency and a skill set that ranks seventh in both total strokes gained and SG: Tee-to-Green.

Top 5s/Top 10s (odds via PointsBet)

Brendon Todd (+260 top 10): Olympia Fields, Harding Park, Muirfield Village, Bay Hill. What do they have in common, besides being four of the hardest layouts this season on Tour? They all produced top-25 finishes from Todd, who remains the most resurgent storyline of the 30 players teeing it up. Without full status a year ago, he has now won twice this season and demonstrated a knack for hanging around when the conditions are the toughest. That includes a T-8 finish last week in Chicago, where he shot 71 or better each of the last three days. Starting the week at 3 under, he's essentially teeing off T-11 and seems likely to improve that position.

Billy Horschel (+380 top 10): Horschel owes Corey Conners a nice bottle of wine. That's because without Conners' three-putt from 5 feet on the final green at Olympia Fields, Horschel would be watching this week from home. Instead he snagged the 30th and final spot in the field and gets another crack at a course where he won in 2014 and finished second two years ago. Horschel boasts a 67.83 scoring average in 12 prior rounds at East Lake, including five scores of 66 or better. If his putter cooperates even fractionally compared to a couple weeks ago when he shot -20 and finished second at Wyndham, there's a chance he could work his way into the mix despite starting at Even.

Tony Finau (+450 top 5): The trend is tiring, but it bears repeating: Finau might not win, but he seems likely to factor. It came to fruition once again last week, when Finau posted a final-round 65 that would have been the round of the week were it not for Jon Rahm's theatrics a few hours later. Finau will have some ground to make up, starting the week at 2 under, but he's shot 68 or better six times in 12 prior rounds at East Lake and enters off a run that includes four finishes of eighth or better in his last six starts, including a close call at the PGA Championship.

Head-to-Head Matchups

Brendon Todd (-145) over Sebastian Munoz

The price is high for a reason. Todd and Munoz will both start the week at 3 under, but Todd is the much more consistent and accomplished player for reasons outlined above. Even playing this event is an accomplishment for Munoz, whose timely T-8 at the BMW earned him a spot in Atlanta. It also happened to be his first top-10 finish since November, as the Colombian racked up most of his points in the fall of 2019 (including his maiden win in October) and had missed five of nine cuts since the break prior to last week's windfall.

Harris English (+125) over Hideki Matsuyama

This is another situation where one player has performed week in and week out, and the other punched a ticket to the season finale at the 11th hour. English has been rock-solid all season long, with 11 top-20 finishes prior to his runner-up showing at the first playoff event. English is top-20 this season in both SG: Putting and SG: Tee-to-Green. Matsuyama is favored here because of a mix of name recognition, course history at East Lake and a better result (T-3) last week. But that was also his first top-10 finish since February, as Matsuyama has been solid but not spectacular since the break. His putting remains a question mark, and his trademark ball-striking started to get a little sideways down the stretch at Olympia Fields.

Ryan Palmer (+130) over Abraham Ancer

At age 43, Palmer is the oldest player in this week's field by seven years. Ancer, meanwhile, is making his tournament debut. But there's reason to side with the wily vet at an appetizing price in this matchup, as Palmer finished seventh in his most recent East Lake appearance (2014) while posting all four rounds in the 60s. He also posted a runner-up finish at the Memorial and a T-15 result at the WGC event in Memphis, both against loaded fields. Ancer finished second at Harbour Town but hasn't done much since, finishing outside the top 30 in his last three starts including the PGA and both playoff events. Palmer's balky putter can sometimes be an issue, but in this case his mix of course knowledge and recent form is good enough to side with an underdog with a few gray hairs.

Will Gray

Will Gray manages betting, fantasy and DFS content for NBC Sports EDGE across Golf, Soccer and NASCAR. He has covered the PGA Tour since 2013 and regularly contributes golf betting insight and analysis across multiple digital platforms. Gray has been with NBC Sports since 2007 and recently served as a writer, video analyst and podcast host for Golf Channel. You can follow him on Twitter @WillGrayGC