The TOUR Championship
East Lake Golf Club
East Lake Golf Club
Yards: 7,319 via the scorecard
Par: 70 (35-35)
Greens: Mini Verde Bermudagrass; 6,200 square feet on average.
Rough: Bermudagrass at 2”
Water Hazards: 3
Course Architect: Donald Ross (1913); Rees Jones (2008) redesign
Winner’s Share: $1,440,000
FexExCup Points: 2,500 to the winner
Dates: September 11-14
Notes: The final 29 players will play four rounds with no cut. Dustin Johnson, No. 30 on the list, is not playing again this week. There will be no replacement. All 30 players are entered into next year’s Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship by virtue of making The TOUR Championship.
Recent History Lessons
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won 27 of 44 events in 2013-14. The red, white and blue have gone back-to-back-to-back in the FEC Playoffs as Hunter Mahan, Chris Kirk and Billy Horschel have secured the first three wins. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk (TWO), Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed (TWO), Scott Stallings, Kevin Stadler, Bubba Watson (TWO), Russell Henley, Chesson Hadley, Matt Every, Matt Kuchar, J.B. Holmes, Brendon Todd, Ben Crane, Kevin Streelman, Brian Harman, Hunter Mahan and Billy Horschel have won for the USA. It’s been a great Playoffs for the U.S. 32-and-under contingent!
Geoff Ogilvy, Adam Scott, Matt Jones, Steven Bowditch, John Senden and Jason Day, all Australians, have cashed six victories. Hideki Matsuyama and Seung-yul Noh are the Asian representatives. Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy are the European chalk that has won four of the last six majors dating back to the 2013 U.S. Open. Angel Cabrera and Camilo Villegas are flying the flag for South America; Tim Clark flies it for South Africa.
S.Y. Noh, Steven Bowditch, Matt Every, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Stadler, Chesson Hadley Matt Jones, Brendon Todd, Hideki Matsuyama and Brian Harman are the first-time winners this season. There were 12, first-timers in 40 events last year and we’ve had 10 in 44 events in 2014.
At the DBC, Chris Kirk joined Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy as the multiple winners on TOUR this season. Walker and McIlroy have three victories each #rydercupfoes.
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has since added two more wins to lead the FedExCup standings. Ryan Moore (30), Zach Johnson (37), Kevin Stadler (33) and Bubba Watson (35), Matt Every (30), Steven Bowditch (30), Matt Jones (33), all were victorious before Watson picked up victory No. 2 of the year at Augusta. Matt Kuchar (37), J.B. Holmes (32), Adam Scott (33), Ben Crane (38), Kevin Streelman (35), Justin Rose (33), Tim Clark (38), Geoff Ogilvy (37) Camilo Villegas (32) and Hunter Mahan, 32, have added to the prime-timers trophy case as the season moves along.
Scott Stallings (28), Patrick Reed TWICE (23), Chris Kirk (28) TWICE, Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29), Harris English (24), Jason Day (26) and Russell Henley (24) Seung-Yul Noh (22), Martin Kaymer TWICE (29), Brendon Todd (28) and Hideki Matsuyama (22), Brian Harman (27), Rory McIlroy THRICE (25) and Billy Horschel, 27, are the twenty-somethings who have made large noise this year.
Turn Back the Clock
Pay Attention: It’s FREE!
In 2008 East Lake replaces their greens with Mini Verde Bermudagrass. The previous editions were played on Bentgrass. History on this track prior to 2008 does not interest me because of the slickness of the new greens.
The TOUR Championship made East Lake its permanent home after the 2005 edition.
The five players who can win the FedExCup Playoffs with a victory are Chris Kirk, Billy Horschel, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and Hunter Mahan. The other 24 players will need a compass, protractor and three calculus professors to find out how they can win.
Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan are the only three players to compete in every TOUR Championship since the FEC Playoffs began. Mahan is the only player who is left from this group of three this year. He is now the ONLY player to do this.
Mahan has started every single Playoff event, 31 of them, over the last seven years. His streak continues this week.
For only the second time in seven years a rookie is not participating in The TOUR Championship. Chesson Hadley’s T12 last week wasn’t enough (No. 47) to move him into the top 30.
Only Rory Sabbatini (2007), Padraig Harrington (2009) and Dustin Johnson in 2012 have finished in the top 10 in in all four FEC events. That streak will live on for another year as Jason Day (T2, T7, WD) was the only player last week at Cherry Hills that had a chance to join that club. He WD Friday afternoon when his back gave out.
Only Phil Mickelson has a top 10 finish in at least one event of the Playoffs in every season. He was MDF at The Barclays, T45 at the DBC and WD last weekend. Streaks have an abrupt way of coming to an end.
Morgan Hoffman (No. 68) and Ryan Palmer (No. 37) were the only two players to play themselves into this week’s field last week. Hoffmann finished third and Palmer was T4. #housemoney
There have been four years in the FEC Playoffs where a player has won multiple events. There have been three years this has not happened. Nobody has multiple victories in 2014.
This Will Win You a Bar Bet
Only six foreign-born players have won The TOUR Championship in 27 editions. Mike Weir, Adam Scott, Camilo Villegas, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh and Henrik Stenson are the members of this exclusive club.
Inside the Ropes
East Lake was the course where Bobby Jones learned to play the game of golf and it was the course where he played his final round. Developed in 1904 the course was redesigned to its current status by renowned architect Donald Ross in 1913. East Lake hosted the 1963 Ryder Cup, the 2001 U.S. Amateur and has hosted The TOUR Championship (1998, 2000, 2002, 2004-current). In 2004 it was named the permanent host of The TOUR Championship and continues to this day.
East Lake will test all facets of the modern player as a classic mixture of holes will test all the clubs in the bag. With only two par fives on the card it is essential, especially on the easy 15th, that the field takes advantages of these opportunities. The greens at East Lake, for the most part, slope back-to-front in classic Ross design so crisp iron play to keep the ball below the hole will be required to score. Running at 12’+ on the Stimpmeter will also require very solid lag putting. The fairways were expanded throughout most of the layout prior to last year to increase the landing area but at the same time bringing more of the fairway bunkers into play. The par threes all play at 197 yards or greater so long iron players could have an advantage. Interestingly enough, the inward loop wraps up with a 235-yard par three to close out the 18. Just cool and weird enough at the same time to decide, possibly, who is going home with $10 million!
Since the Mini Verde was installed in 2008, here are the winners and their score in relation to par:
2008: Camilo Villegas -7
2009: Phil Mickelson -9
2010: Jim Furyk -8
2011: Bill Haas -8
2012: Brandt Snedeker -10
2013: Henrik Stenson -13
Here’s what jump off the page from the list above:
--Both putters and ball-strikers have thrived on this course.
--Bill Haas is the only player to win here and win the FEC Championship under the age of 30.
--Last year, Stenson finished the week T1 in GIR, T3 in fairways and third in strokes gained-putting (SGP).
--In 2012 Snedeker was second in fairways, T7 in GIR and numero uno in SGP.
--In 2011 Bill Haas was fifth in the fairways, 11th in GIR and ninth in putts per round.
--In 2010 Furyk was seventh in fairways, first in GIR and T10 putts per round.
It takes a well-rounded four rounds of golf to win this week.
Call to Order
Here are all 30 players in order of FedExCup Playoff Position
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Chris Kirk (C): Gamers like me have been singed this year when the expectation level on Kirk began to rise on the back of 22 consecutive made cuts. He didn’t fire on birdie-friendly courses like Greenbrier or TPC Deere Run and only had one top 20 in seven starts before his win at the birdie-friendly TPC Boston. He destroys par fives but there are only two of them this week, just like last week. He was cool not making the Ryder Cup as a captain’s pick and finished T36 last week on a course he’s never played. The current Atlanta resident, and former Georgia Bulldog, has played this track once, a few weeks ago with Brendon Todd. These factors push me away this week.
Billy Horschel (B): The last two weeks gamers have witnessed the Horschel they thought would START the 2013-14 season but better late than never. He gave us a nice tease in June when he rattled off T15, T6, T23 and T11 but followed those four with MC, T58, T47 and MC before his victory and T2 the last two weeks. Todd Anderson saw pupil Brandt Snedeker rack up $10 million in 2012 so I’m going to ride the Horschel wave as well this week. He finished T7 last year in his first appearance at East Lake and didn’t have many problems with the greens. I like the fact that he already believes that he’s going to win AGAIN this week. #confidence
Bubba Watson (A): He finished second last week even though he was 59th in SGP and T35 in putts per GIR so even I can figure out he was hitting it great from tee-to-green! He’s been under par in two of the four rounds each time he’s teed it up at East Lake and that includes all four at par or better in 2012 when he posted T5. He also fired 64 in round two in 2011 so he should be confident on this classic course. Watson doesn’t goof around either as six of his eight top 10s are T3 or BETTER.
Rory McIlroy (B): In his first attempt at East Lake, fresh of his DBC and BMW titles in 2012, he couldn’t complete the $10 million hat trick. He finished the week T28 in fairways and T17 in SGP and still was T10. He four putted twice on the weekend last week and still finished T8. For me, he’s the obvious class of those who don’t need help to win the $10 million this week. He leads the TOUR in scoring average, birdie average, strokes gained-tee-to-green, strokes gained-total and par-four performance. Plus about five other categories!
Hunter Mahan (B): The question for gamers is whether or not Mahan peaked too early. His excellent run of WGC-BI, PGA and Barclays led to his inclusion as a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup but he has one round in the 60s in his last eight rounds. He finished 64th at the DBC and T59 last week at Cherry Hills after Tom Watson told him he was going to play all five matches at Gleneagles. Well, then. He’s hit the top ten three times from seven at East Lake including a P2 to Bill Haas in 2011 and T8 in 2012. His chilly putter the last two weeks will need to thaw if he wants to take home the $10 milllion.
Jimmy Walker (C): It wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if he pulled a “Jordan Spieth” and hit the podium in his first trip to East Lake. His putter is tremendously underrated (seventh in SGP) and the lack of rough off the fairway will just help him improve on his GIR numbers. He leads the TOUR in par three birdies and rests T15 or better in par three, four and five performance. His career year hasn’t stalled out and he has TWO rounds over 72 dating back six events to The Open Championship. Rock solid.
Jim Furyk (B): His worst finish since the switch to Mini Verde Bermudagrass in five events was last year’s T14. His other four starts were seventh, win, T7 and T6. He’s clearly this week’s horse-for-course. It doesn’t hurt at all that he’s been playing superbly over the last three months either. He should be considered among the favorites this week and proves the theory that length is not a prerequisite for success on this track.
Matt Kuchar (A): As I’ve written over the last week or so, I don’t believe Kuchar is in a very good place on the golf course after the sudden death of his caddy’s wife. His very candid interview after the DBC sounded like golf was on the back burner, as it should be, during this trying time and his performance at Cherry Hills backed that up. Kuchar was in the bottom half of every major stat category besides GIR where he finished T33. His course history at East Lake includes three finishes of T20 or worse and one T10.
Rickie Fowler (A): He’s done everything but win this season. His last two months have been incredible and I see nothing that would suggest his train derails this week either. The Butch Harmon Effect is real and spectacular as he’s turned Jimmy Walker and Fowler into week-in and week-out loiterers inside the top 20 and even top 10. He’s finished inside the top 10 in six of his last seven. Yes, please!
Jason Day (B): Man. Gamers have seen his career movie in three Playoff events as he’s finished T2, T5 and WD. He’s only 26 but he makes Tiger Woods look like the portrait of health. I can’t endorse him after he WD less than a week ago. Backs are tricky and having a WD in a field of 30 golfers doesn’t make sense. See you next year, Aussie.
Jordan Spieth (B): Similar to Watson, Spieth put a rough five events in his rearview mirror with T8 last week at Cherry Hills. He surprised most last year as he finished all four Playoff events last year inside the top 19, including T4 at DBC and T2 at East Lake. He led the field in SGP last year. Not bad for his first time playing the course. His putter will consistently bail him out of trouble and it was on point last week as he was second in putts per GIR and sixth in strokes gained.
Adam Scott (A): He’s set the bar so high that gamers feel cheated when he doesn’t somehow win EVERY week. In his last NINE events on TOUR he’s finished no worse that T16 and I’d be shocked if he broke that string this week. His 20 birdies last week wouldn’t push me away but he’ll need to hole some non-birdie putts to contend. That’s always the final question for the former world No. 1.
Sergio Garcia (C): Man, he was RIGHT THERE at Cherry Hills before making triple on the penultimate hole last week. He has two top 10s in three trips since the Mini Verde was installed and those went for P2 in 2008 and T9 last year. He’s second on TOUR in strokes gained-total, scoring average and all-around so I would expect another strong push this week.
Martin Kaymer (B): He should have the chops to deal with a course like East Lake but his fall from T3 to T16 on Sunday last week makes me pause. Yeah, he’s T7 and T16 in his last two Playoff events so I’ll use him if necessary.
Zach Johnson (B): With nothing inside the top 16 in his last six and playing with a heavy heart after the death of Lance Bennett’s wife, I’m sliding away from a guy who’s won a few times in Georgia.
Bill Haas (B): He’s been the definition of steady yet unspectacular all season long. I wouldn’t lead with him but he’s proven he can handle this layout and hasn’t shot himself out of any tournaments this season. His worst finish in his last four was last week’s T16 at Cherry Hills.
John Senden (C): I’m overlooking his past efforts here as he continues his career-year on TOUR. If his putter holds up as it has all year, he should be knocking come the weekend as he’ll comfortably fly well underneath the radar. He’s been T22, T5 and T23 in the first three Playoff events and that’s quite solid. I’m on board.
Patrick Reed (A): He could win. He could finish dead last. Ah, youth…
Cameron Tringale (C): His closing rounds of 68-68 last week give a flicker of hope if the roster needs a deep fill. He made nothing on slow greens last week so slick Mini Verde Bermuda greens might not be the best surface to “find” the putter this week.
Russell Henley (A): He backed up his T2 at DBC with T59 at BMW. He backed up his win at Honda with T47 at Doral. He backed up his T7 at Houston with T31 at Augusta. East Lake fits the mold of classic course after a big finish. I’ll let you connect the dots. It’s his first TOUR Championship.
Morgan Hoffmann (B): This kid began The Playoffs at No. 124 and has made it to Atlanta. I questioned whether his big finish at Ridgewood was due to the fact that he grew up in the area. Maybe it was but he did enough the following week in Boston to have a chance to improve at the BMW. His 62-63 weekend (that included two bogeys and a double!!) was the lowest two round stretch on TOUR this season and it came at the right time. He needed to make eagle on his penultimate hole on Sunday to advance. He did. I wouldn’t build my team on his back as this is his first trip to East Lake but there’s no doubting he’s nary afraid entering the week.
Webb Simpson (B): He’s back-doored the top five the last two years here with 66 in 2012 and 63 last season so don’t get caught up in the course history too much. Simpson had a chance last week to prove his captain’s selection on a classic course in Colorado. He finished T53 of 66 players and reaffirmed to me that 2014 is about resort courses and big birdie events. This week doesn’t qualify.
Ryan Palmer (C): He’s proven this season that he’s more than a bomb-gouge-putt player. Credit due as he found a way to Atlanta by holding on for dear life as he wobbled down the stretch at the BMW. Gamers would be thrilled for another top-five result for the third time in five events this week but he’s never broken par here in four rounds. His current form suggests that could be overlooked but I feel he might be in the deep end of the pool.
Kevin Na (C): My angle that he was playing tougher courses better than easier ones blew up in my face last week as he finished T46. His splits suggest he should be a solid play on any track and if a “sleeper” is needed this week, he fits the bill.
Geoff Ogilvy (B): With his card secure for the next two years he should be able to just get after it this week and pad his best year since 2011. He has as many rounds in the 60s as he does in the 70s in four attempts so nothing stands out. Neither do any of his stats.
Justin Rose (B): Unlike Garcia, Rose’s break last week did NOT fire him back into contention as his game was rusty tee-to-green and on the short stuff. There’s no doubt he has the class to win anytime he tees it up and he’s been par or better in 10 of his last 12 on this layout. He was sixth last year and second in 2012. Course experience speaks to me this week.
Brendon Todd (C): I feel like I have been picking on Todd for the last month or so but he hasn’t changed my mind by playing onto my radar. Too many new courses and too many big fields are expanding his learning curve but I’m quite high on him for next season. He has the talent to break back into sight at any time but his best finish in his last is T36 last week in a field of 66. This week’s field is even better and this is his first time at East Lake.
Hideki Matsuyama (B): His last five events have registered nothing inside the top 20 so the optimism is waning this week for me. His formula is similar to Woodland’s that he needs his putter to contribute to contend. He’s fourth in strokes gained-tee to green but is 149th in strokes gained-putting. His rank of No. 16 in scoring average gives gamers hope but he hasn’t put it all together since the first week of August, plus it’s his first loops around East Lake.
Gary Woodland (A): Checking in at as the last eligible player teeing it up, he should be free from any expectations and should enjoy a care-free week. He’s been close as four of his last five rounds have been 69 or better but only has three rounds of eight under par at East Lake. His length could be a benefit but his putter will be tested.
Coming Later TUESDAY Afternoon
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it around 6ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat Wednesday at NOON p.m. ET. We will be breaking down the field at The TOUR Championship and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.