The 2018 Tour Championship preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
To Atlanta and Eastlake for the Tour Championship Final. Who’ll win the Fed Ex Cup and the $10m? It’s all a little vulgar to be frank and yet it could be transformed if the winner just gave it all away. Would I? Would I!
Our objective here is to find the winner of the event as opposed to the Fed Ex champion and its testimony to the tour that with tweaks over the years there is a consensus that they have just about got it right. It’s an affectation for sure but so what? The tour is about entertainment as much as anything and if a little contrivance is needed to enable anyone of the final 30 to prevail then so what? The beauty is that the Tour Championship itself is still a 72-hole stroke play golf tournament – the way god intended.
The oddity of the Fed Ex is that DeChambeau, having got himself so far in front over the first two legs – he could have skipped the BWM and still headed to Eastlake in number one spot – is still not guaranteed to win it. Rory has faced this possibility twice: in 2012 where he didn’t win the Fed Ex and in 2016 where he did. Strange but I’m not bothered about to whom the $10m goes.
Last year Rory failed to make it to Eastlake and this year Jordan will be home watching on TV. It does, to my eyes, inadvertently cheapen an elite event when the likes of Jordan Speith is excluded but even he’ll admit its nothing if not a meritocracy. Tiger, a two-time winner of the Fed Ex, makes the grade for the first time in 5 years and has only actually played the Tour Championship in Fed Ex guise four times in total. Strange indeed until you consider they only began in 2007 and all that has happened to him since. He does have serious pre Fed Ex form at Eastlake but how valid is form over ten years back? It’s not Tigers actual overall form I don’t like; it’s his putting and price.
Last year of the Tour Championship:Hitting both fairways and greens is critical at Eastlake with most recent winners ranking in single figures across these categories. If you miss the greens then you need your scrambling boots.” Mmm I seem to recall a Mr R McIIroy being quite highly ranked in these categories…2nd as it were in scrambling. Rory is also the leading winner in playoff events with Dustbin at four each. He’s quite a decent prospect at Eastlake with a win, a 2nd and a tenth and 16th in four efforts. He arguably comes into this event with strong form with a two shot 2nd at the BMW and a 12th at the Dell Tech when he could conceivably have won both. We did get an each way return last time out so while we await the win at least he delivered on the place element.
The front end of the market looks loaded with Roses’ recent form and Eastlake form extraordinary – but lacking a win. Rose’s last five current tour efforts have produced three 2nds, a 19th and a missed cut. His last five Eastlake efforts are, two 2nds, a fourth, a sixth and a tenth. So ten starts for five 2nds and three top tens. He just contrives to not win. The delight he felt at becoming number one at the BMW was clearly tinged with the frustration of getting beaten by Bradley. The irony of the great putt on 18 in regular time to miss the win followed by the only short miss he had on the playoff hole can’t have been lost on him. I love Rose but despite all the form evidence there is no way I can back him at 8’s.
Dustbin, Thomas, Tiger, Ricky, Hideki and Brooks all have failed to light a sustainable fire over the playoffs and yet the form posted and their various Eastlake credentials hardly rules any of them out.
Tiger lead at the BMW and yet was always camped in behind the leaders after his ordinary 2nd round. Finau we tipped for this event last year at 69/1. He finished 7th on debut and his form this year is lot stronger but like Rose he never seems to win and he’s not 69/1 now – he’s 22’s.
DeChambeau played and looked like he really wanted to just lie down at the BMW but with the break and his Ryder Cup place assured you’d imagine he’s up for Eastlake – and with his current form who knows. For obvious reasons we can’t be on him at 22’s.
DeChambeau does fit into a category we are familiar with though – debutants. Schauffele won here last year for us a debutant and so why not another one this year? DeChambeau is joined in this category by Cameron Smith, Aaron Wise and Patton Kizzire.
Smiths’ form is current and is Wises’ but Kizzire has made the event by virtue of early season performances – not to disrespect the achievement.
Eastlake does offer some clues to a winner’s profile. As mentioned you do need to hit fairways and greens and if you miss, scramble. But most events pan out like this for the winner. What is established is that modest hitters can win and accuracy is no less important than power. Unless you come down the last, playing at nearer or over 600 and you’re in contention, and its late, and the air is thick, and you’re up against the likes of Rory or Dustbin etc – then power might prove a huge weapon, deep into the back nine on Sunday. Back in the days when the last was the current ninth, a par 3, things under the microscope of the 72nd hole heat, it would have been different.
The winner’s list is unsurprisingly littered with big hitters but as stated last year of the previous seven Tour Finals winners only Rory averaged over 300 off the tee. Rory has been melting the ball a lot longer in the finals series but at Eastlake it’s clearly not a prerequisite. The winners and close finishes list is littered with modest hitters. Consider how well this lot have done over the last five Tour Finals: Spieth, Stricker, Simpson, Horschel, Furyk, Kirk, Lee, Moore and Henley have all won or posted top four finishes. The others include much bigger hitters but the purpose of this exercise is to not rule out supposedly short hitters.
Last year Xander surprised with his length and despite the comment above the conditions might actually favour those who can carry the ball if it gets wet, as the playoffs have been this year. So bet early and suck it up if its wet – or wait. It’s currently dry and hot.
So anyone and everyone can win it.
Rory McIIroy 2pts win at $10 with Ladbrokes
Webb Simpson 1pt e/w at $34 with Ladbrokes
Aaron Wise 1pt e/w at $67 with Unibet
Jon Rahm 1pt e/w at $34 with Ladbrokes
Rory McIIroyhas an adjusted scoring average of 68.5 for the two play-off events he’s contested – or 28 under for 8 rounds – including a 62 and 63. Yes he’s frustrating but the underlying case – stated previously – is still solid. He’s bang in form and looks to have so much more to come. With his current and Eastlake form he makes sense in the win only market at 9/1.
Webb Simpson: last year we wrote: Webb Simpson’s form coming into Eastlake is all trending in the right direction. Having overcome the anchoring ban to great effect this former major winner is having his first Tour Final outing since finishing 24th in 2014. Prior to this he had two top fives. Then there is the Donald Ross / Sedgefield connection which Simpson lives in. Sedgefield Country Club, like Eastlake is a Ross design and the performance parallels across the two venues are striking. Sedgefield hosted the Wyndham Championship this year with an admittedly weak field won by Stenson. The connection is the performance by players across the years by players over the two venues. Take 2017. Simpson’s Eastlake credentials are well establisged – 3rd at Sedgefield. 2016 – 72nd….didn’t make the Tour Finals. 2016 – T6. 2015 – T5. Winner 2011. Bill Hass former Tour Championship winner – 2nd at Sedgefield in 2014, T7 in 2012. It goes on and one. What emerges from both venues is that moderate, straight hitters prevail – with the odd exception of course. Consider the last seven winners at Eastlake and only Rory averaged over 300 of the tee (Hass did but that year was exceptionally dry – remember his shot out of the dried up lake?) most were in the second tier off the tee. Length isn’t an issue. Simpson simply has to be backed at the price with all the convergent factors. He’s emerged strongest of the two biggest victims of the anchoring ban (Keegan Bradley being the other and he’s getting there) and a strong performance here wouldn’t surprise. Another bonus he ranks 2nd in scrambling.
Well he didn’t win but at his first Tour Championship for three years he acquitted himself respectably for 13th. In hindsight his 2017 season was just part of a journey from his heyday in the pre-anchoring ban days when he (and Bradley) was at his best. If we look again at his Eastlake form it’s hardly shabby: a 4th and a 5th in four efforts. The idea that you need to hit fairways at Eastlake could undermine Simpson, as he can be wild off the tee with his whirligig action but since the PGA Championship he’s been consistently driving it in the mid to high 60’s range – above his seasonal average. He’s also been hitting a lot of greens including 83.33% at the Wyndham where he finished 2nd. I’m loath to take a price on any player less than the last time but this is a new year and Simpson has trained on so to speak. Consider his numbers. Fifth in scoring average at 69.311. Seventh in strokes gained putting, 10th in strokes gained total and first in scrambling. How is he 30/1 in this restricted albeit lofty field? A winner on tour this year when he ran the tables at The Players, 20th at the Masters, 10th in the US Open, 12th the Open and 19th at the PGA and long since safe for the Ryder Cup, 2018 is proving a stellar year for Simpson. What really makes the case for me is his putting. This was a guy who pre ban was posting 0.313 in the strokes gained putting category in 2013 and 0.300 in 2014. Come the ban what happened? In 2015 he had a -0.646 figure and went underground. 2016 was little better at -0.482 and last year we could see some progress with a 0.70 / 88th ranking. So all positive trends. Where is he now in 2018? 0.653 for 7th. Surprise…Webb is competitive and wins again!
Aaron Wise….at the Dell Tech: “come on down to Oddy town. This kid looks about 14 but he can play. A swing to die for he is already a winner on the USPGA Tour lets not forget. Like Bradley I think he got excited to be in the mix last Sunday and pushed too hard. What’s not to like about that? To hell with 2nd. Wise is the 52nd best player on the planet and 15th in the Fed Ex. He missed the cut at the PGA after a poor opening round but he has 7 of his last 10 rounds in the 60’s averaging 68.8. Already winner this year he has a 2nd a 6th and last weeks 5th that only serve to illustrate what a talent he is – a talent delivering. Across the board positive stats, and not afraid at 22 to go for it, plus the ability to go low he looks destined to be a top 10 player and now is the time to ride that wave.”
At the BMW:Wise just made the cut at the Dell Tech before a meltdown on Sunday. A bogey at the simple first was then compounded with a triple at the soft par 5 2nd. He tried to play himself into the round but a knifed bunker shot did for him and a 6 over 77 followed. Monday saw him at his best with a bogey free 7 under 64. I think we have to remember he isn’t interested in 2nd and is ranked – even after last weeks effort – 18th on the Fed Ex list. With no Ryder Cup baggage and virtually assured of a place at Eastlake he can go out and attack for fun. And he’s 100/1…really…..in a limited field off the back of a 64?
At the risk of repeating my repeats once again I’m getting on Wise. In this 30-runner field Wise is 66/1. I suspect Wise is playing as freely as anyone can with nothing to lose and all to gain – an attitude that has led to some serious scrapes that have scuppered promising positions – he got to within four on the Monday of the BMW sitting 4 under through eight with clear intentions to go for it. He came unstuck but I’m not bothered as a free wheeling player is far more likely to go low. Off the back of his closing 64 (7 under) at the Dell Tech he posted 4 rounds in the 60’s at Aronimink for 13 under and a last five scoring average of 4 under. Undeniably hot form. Here’s hoping he follows Xander and wins on debut.
Jon Rahm makes his first appearance here at Oddy. Why now you may well ask? Because I think he’s found his putting boots. Firstly he’s the 5th best player on the planet at 23 win two PGA Tour wins and 20 top tens from 54 starts. Rahm makes a ton of birdies but like Hatton can get volatile and lose the plot. (I’d quite like to see them paired in the Ryder Cup to see just how heated it could get.) He seemed far more relaxed at the BMW and was spotted interacting and even laughing with the crowd. Fourth at the Masters he then missed the cut at the US Open and Open Championships before a return to form at the PGA with four rounds in the sixties. He then inexplicably missed the cut at the Northern Trust. Things have improved since with a T43 at the Dell Tech and a T24 at the BMW with four rounds in the sixties. He was chasing hard too, a theme I’m warming to, and yes he finished with a double but the intent was there to see. He wants to win. What I really like is the fact he had 23 birdies posting a 1.350 strokes gained putting figure against his seasonal figure of -0.80. He also has Eastlake form with a 7th place last year at 7 under.