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TOUR Championship Preview

PGA: BMW Championship - Third Round

Aug 19, 2023; Olympia Fields, Illinois, USA; Rory McIlroy tees off from the 12th tee during the third round of the BMW Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

The FedExCup Playoffs come to a conclusion this week in Atlanta.

The pool of players has been whittled down from 70 to 50 and now 30, over the last two weeks.

Unlike any other event you’ll see on the Tour schedule, this one has a handicapping element. Golfers will start the week with a set number of strokes, based on their current FedExCup rank. You can find those starting strokes on the table below.

2023 Tour Championship Starting Strokes

Starting Strokes for the 2023 TOUR Championship

The Course

East Lake Golf Club will be the host venue this week. This Donald Ross design is the oldest golf course in Atlanta. It was laid out by Tom Bendelow in 1904 with Donald Ross doing his work in 1913.

Similar to what we’ve seen over the last two weeks, this is another traditional design with a big penalty for missing fairways. As Matt Fitzpatrick put it last year, “I feel like it’s a little bit similar to Memphis. Obviously same grass type. It looks tight off the tee, thick rough, and lightning fast greens.”

Off the tee, the course doesn’t heavily reward power, thanks to the tree-lined nature of the property, but it does reward precision. Dustin Johnson stated it well back in 2016, “The golf course isn’t real long. If you’re in the fairway, you know, you get a decent amount of short irons in your hand, but if you drive it in the rough all day, it’s just no fun.”

In 2018, Justin Thomas also talked about the go-low potential here, if you are driving it well, “If you drive it well, you have a lot of wedges. I think I had somewhere between 140 and 150 seven times today.”

As we often see with classical designs, pin positions and heavily-sloped greens can play a key part in protecting par. Jon Rahm commented on the greens in 2020, “You can tell the traditional design for the most part. All the greens are narrow and then they open up in the back. Very sloped.”

For grass types, golfers will see zoysia fairways with bermudagrass rough and MiniVerde ultradwarf bermuda greens. The greens typically run on the speedy side, prepped around 12.25 feet or faster on the stimp.

While the course can be described as tricky, it is not tricked up. The course is right in front of you, rewarding solid striking. There are a few notable exceptions due to weather, but when you adjust for field strength, this course typically plays on the tough side of the scoring spectrum. Fourteen of the last 15 winning scores have been 13-under or tougher at East Lake, once you remove starting strokes from the equation.

Looking for comparable courses, we see tough venues that reward good driving. While they play tough, most of the comp courses don’t have a lot of big numbers, not a ton of penalty strokes. Those courses that popped when looking at crossover results were Augusta National, TPC Scottsdale, Riviera CC, Muirfield Village, Torrey Pines, and Innisbrook.

Golfers to Watch

Rory McIlroy

He’s the course horse at East Lake and he’ll start at 7-under this week, three shots off the lead. He’s a three-time winner of this event. McIlroy has gained at least two strokes over the field in 12 of his last 20 rounds in Atlanta. He won it in 2016 when there was no handicap element to the scoring. He also won it in 2019, starting the week at 5-under and then again last year when he started on 4-under but twirled a field-best 263 over the course of the week to nudge out Sungjae Im and Scottie Scheffler from the top spot.

Scottie Scheffler

The Texan stumbled down the stretch last year in Atlanta, losing 4.2 strokes to the field on the final day to surrender his lead to Rory McIlroy. Scheffler will look for revenge this year as he starts in the top spot for a second straight season. There are only three golfers in the field who gained strokes tee-to-green in more than 80 percent of their rounds this season. Scheffler leads the way in that department, gaining from tee-to-green in more than 92 percent of his measured rounds this season!

Jon Rahm

While the Spaniard may be a member of the “Big Three”, he’s been bumped (by Viktor Hovland) to fourth in the FedExCup standings ahead of the playoff finale. As we’ve been reminded all season, whenever one of the big three (Rory-Rahm-Scheffler) appears to be the outcast, that is typically when they rebound to prove they still belong in the conversation. If that holds true then it’s likely Rahm’s time to shine.

Xander Schauffele

Rory McIlroy may hold the title as course horse due to his consistency at East Lake, but Schauffele has plenty of low rounds under his belt, on this Donald Ross design. He’s lapped the field by at least three shots in six of his last 16 rounds at East Lake. Schauffele will start the week at 3-under on the starting-strokes chart but he’d put his name right into the mix if he twirled one of those ultra-low rounds on day one. McIlroy won last year when starting at 4-under, and that was the biggest climb in the four-year history of the starting-strokes era of this event.

Lucas Glover

He finally cooled off last week in Chicago. After back-to-back wins, he settled for a 22nd-place finish at the BMW Championship. Still, those wins put him in a great position in the FedExCup race as he sits in 5th, meaning that he’ll get five starting strokes come Thursday morning. This will be his third time making it to East Lake (17th/2009; 29th/2019). Regardless of his finish this week, it’s been a career year for the 43-year-old.

Ranking the Field

1. Scottie Scheffler
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Viktor Hovland
4. Jon Rahm
5. Patrick Cantlay
6. Xander Schauffele
7. Max Homa
8. Rickie Fowler
9. Tommy Fleetwood
10. Wyndham Clark
11. Matt Fitzpatrick
12. Russell Henley
13. Brian Harman
14. Collin Morikawa
15. Sungjae Im
16. Tony Finau
17. Tom Kim
18. Keegan Bradley
19. Lucas Glover
20. Tyrrell Hatton
21. Corey Conners
22. Jordan Spieth
23. Jason Day
24. Si Woo Kim
25. Sam Burns
26. Adam Schenk
27. Taylor Moore
28. Emiliano Grillo
29. Sepp Straka
30. Nick Taylor