The First Tee – Tour Championship

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly August 18, 2019 23:16

The First Tee – Tour Championship

This Week

The 2019 season comes to a close this week at East Lake for the TOUR Championship, and with the new wrinkle (see below), it will basically play as a very long R4 Showdown slate on DraftKings. It’s a 30-man field with no cut, and golfers will start with finishing position points already:

Golfer (FedEx Rank) Starting Score DK Points
Justin Thomas (1) -10 30
Patrick Cantlay (2) -8 20
Brooks Koepka (3) -7 18
Patrick Reed (4) -6 16
Rory McIlroy (5) -5 14
Rahm, Kuchar, Schauffele, Simpson, Ancer (6-10) -4 12
Woodland, Finau, Scott, DJ, Matsuyama (11-15) -3 6
Casey, Rose, Snedeker, Fowler, Kisner (16-20) -2 5
Leishman, Fleetwood, Conners, Im, Reavie (21-25) -1 4
DeChambeau, Oosthuizen, Howell III, Glover, Kokrak (26-30) E 3

 

As with last year, this is a week I personally stay away from as a one-lineup player and I’d typically advise the same for anyone playing less than ~20 lineups, especially in the larger contests on DK.

The Course

East Lake GC near Atlanta is a par-70 that plays at 7346 yards, and while there are a lot of birdie holes (half of the par-4s averaged below par last year), there are rarely eagles here – just ten last year, with nine of those coming on the par-5s. Distance is a big factor here, as seven of the par-4s play outside 440 yards, three of the par-3s play outside 200 yards (and the fourth is 197 yards), and one of the par-5s is listed at 590 yards. The short par-4s all rank as the easiest holes on the course, par-5s excluded, so scoring there every round is important.

Winning scores over the past ten years have fluctuated in the -8 to -13 range – even with golfers making birdie or better on 21% of holes (which is just above the average course on tour) and averaging 3.71 birdies/round. What that means is a lot of bogeys are lurking out there, so the winner’ll have to do a better-than-average job of avoiding those this week, especially as the back of the pack will be pin-hunting for four straight days with no fear of big numbers given the new setup.

The fairways here are narrow, averaging 25-26 yards across at the 275 and 300 yard markers and narrowing beyond that, which is a large part of why the fairways rarely get hit here – last year saw just 53.75% hit, and over the past five years it’s landed between 51.1% at its lowest and 57.46% at its peak. That’s because golfers tend to pull driver (all distance average of 298.9 which is above average) as the rough is thin in the primary cut and doesn’t offer much of a challenge.

On approach, golfers will be hitting into fairly large greens (6300 sq. ft. on average) and will usually be doing so in the 175-225 ranges, although the massive hitters like Brooks should adjust that down by a bucket into the 150-200 ranges. Unless the course gets wet, the greens should be baked out in the Georgia heat and should be very firm which makes holding balls always a bit harder than an average week.

The greens are Bermuda grass and aren’t much for trickery – putts inside 10’ here drop at a higher rate than average (about 2% more), it has consistently tiny three-putt numbers (2.22% last year but below 2% from 2015-18), and the past three years 30% of birdie putts have dropped. The only concern would be on missed GIRs, as the rough is built up high around the greens and the bunkers can be tricky to hit out of; account for scrambling in stat rankings.

Comparable courses/events:

C.C. of Jackson (Sanderson Farms) – Tough-to-hit fairways, long at 7400 yards (although a par-70), and fast Bermuda greens. Scoring is similar to East Lake and players can smash driver without too many repercussions; easy-scoring but tough with potential bogeys-or-worse. Obviously not much leaderboard overlap given Sanderson plays opposite a WGC but there’s some (Aaron Wise 2018, Russell Henley 2017 jump out right away); Corey Conners (2), Lucas Glover (T14) and Sungjae Im (MC) all played this course in the fall.

Firestone C.C. (WGC Bridgestone) – A long Par-70 that plays firm and fast – although greens here are bentgrass – with narrow fairways. Scores are similar, as is the no-cut format. Tends to reward long hitters.

You could make an argument for The Old White TPC (Greenbriar) based on the heat and overall course setup that rewards length, but the greens are bentgrass and the fairways could land an airplane so they’re not a perfect comp.

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Putting
  • Off the Tee
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Par-4 Birdie or Better %
  • Greens in Regulation %
  • Approach Shots: 175+ Yards
  • Good Drive %
  • Scrambling

Top-Tier Golfers

Patrick Cantlay ($12400), 20DK Pts, -8: Priced a whopping $3100 below Justin Thomas, Cantlay has a great lead on the pack by starting at -8, but more than that he’s a great fit statistically and he enters the week in fantastic form: he hasn’t missed a cut since the team event in New Orleans, he has finishes of 1, 2, 3 since then (eight events played), and all but one of those were top-21 finishes. He played to a T21 at East Lake last year (71-65-76-69) but finished T6 at the comparable WGC Bridgestone event; he also finished T20 here in 2017.

His major checkmarks statistically:

  • 3rd SG: Tee to Green
  • 22nd in Driving Distance / 13th in SG: OTT
  • 11th and 3rd in proximity from 150-175 and 175-200 respectively (his long game off the tee should move him into these buckets), and he ranks 6th and 1st in those buckets relative to par
  • 3rd in Scrambling / 6th in SG: ARG
  • Leads the tour in Par-4 Average (3.95) and ranks 1st and 4th in P3 and P4 Birdie or Better %
    • Ranks 3rd in overall BoB% and has the second-highest birdie average at 4.51

Rory McIlroy ($10600), 14DK Pts, -5: Over four days, Justin Thomas is definitely within reach even if he has a strong start, and over Rory it’s only a five-shot difference; Rory has beaten JT handily when the two play the same event (50% to 37% all-time, 61% to 28% in the past three months) and has beaten JT 62.5% of the time at East Lake. Rory’s picked up a T7, win, T16 and T2 in the past four years and although he didn’t win last week, his form is solid: only two missed cuts all year and a whopping 13 top-10s in only 18 events which includes two wins and a runner-up finish.

The Irishman leads the tour in SG: Tee to Green thanks to his dominant play off the tee – he’s first in SG: OTT and second in all drive distance – and his approach game ranks 13th in strokes gained. He’s hitting 69.4% of greens in regulation and has played almost perfectly from the 150-175 and 175-200 ranges (36th and 4th RTP, 11th and 4th in proximity); his putting has been above-average although he’s converting an unsustainable amount of birdie putts (36.68%) so while that may drop down slightly, Rory’s not the type to make a bogey via the putter.

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Jason Kokrak ($5300), 3DK Pts, E: Kokrak has picked up a T3 at the Greenbriar as well as a T7 and T12 at Sanderson but has yet to play East Lake or the comparable Firestone, but he’s on a made-cut streak of five in a row (including T6 at the Wyndham) and overall that one missed cut was his only MC of the year – thanks to historically bad putting. Beyond that, he’s picked up 13 top-25s in 20 events which includes five top-10s.

He’s 17th from tee to green as a fairly long player off the tee (31st), but it’s his approach game that really sets him apart – he sits 7th in SG: APP and has hit 68.8% of greens in regulation, but his proximity buckets look like:

150-175: 17th-best proximity at 25’1”, 11-under par (-0.055, 89th)

175-200: 7th-best proximity at 29’6”, 19-under par (-0.103, 8th)

200-225: the best proximity at 35’0”, 28-under par (-0.239, 1st)

Much like anyone with a tee to green game this good, his major malfunction is on and around the greens where he loses 0.249 combined strokes on average per round. He does convert birdie putts at a great rate (32.6%) but it’s the three-putts that have cost him, as well as the scrambling from the rough. Even with the poor play in those areas though, Kokrak is a birdie-machine at 23.32% overall BoB and he averages par on both par-3s and -4s.

 

Corey Conners ($6100), 4DK Pts, -1: He absolutely can’t putt – he ranks 182nd in that regard, losing 0.510 strokes per round – and he struggles around the greens (beyond that, how was the play Ms. Lincoln?) but Conners is an absolute ball-striking stud and is far too cheap even as he’s nine strokes back.

The Canadian ranks 8th and 10th in SG: OTT and SG: APP and even when losing 0.119 strokes around the green, he still manges to sit 9th overall from tee to green and he’s hit the most greens in regulation on tour this year at 73.31%. He’s not extremely long or extremely accurate (49th/43rd) but he puts himself in fantastic positions, and he actually has the best proximity to the hole on tour as well; he’ll need to drive slightly longer here as he struggles a bit outside 200 yards, but inside 200 yards his irons are on point.

His scoring numbers are pretty ugly thanks to the poor putting, but he’s definitely worth a look given how often he gets to the green, and he’s usually a better putter on Bermuda greens. He’s finished T27, T22, T21 and T7 in his past four events to squeak into the finals, and he managed that solo second in the fall at C.C. of Jackson which is a great sign. He’s never played at East Lake before.

 

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

 

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly August 18, 2019 23:16

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