Back in 2010 the PGA Tour hoped that its introduction of the FedEx Cup would work the oracle and produce a dramatic conclusion to every season.
The brains trust was desperate to maintain the attention of a sporting public which was distracted by the start of the NFL season and the answer was to throw huge amounts of cash at the ultimate winner of the rankings.
Alas, money alone proved insufficient to gain either the public’s full attention or the complete interest of the players. Even the man who won the prize pot last year, Justin Rose, was slightly dismissive of it at this year’s Open, saying: “Majors should be protected, that’s how our careers are measured. Thirty, forty years ago there wasn’t a FedEx Cup so if you’re trying to compare Jack and Tiger majors are where you go.”
Now we have the latest idea to produce razzle-dazzle and it is comfortably the most controversial.
This week’s field does not start as in the past. Instead starting strokes as assigned according to ranking.
If that in itself is one controversy, the heavy weighting towards the first two Play-Offs is another.
In fact here are the starting scores:
-4 Rahm, Kuchar, Schauffele, Simpson, Ancer
-3 Woodland, Finau, Scott, D.Jjohnson, Matsuyama
-2 Casey, Rose, Snedeker, Fowler, Kisner
-1 Leishman, Fleetwood, Conners, Im, Reavie
E DeChambeau, Oosthuizen, Howell III, Glover, Kokrak
It makes for something of a mine-field in the punting stakes because who knows what effect it will have on game plans and psyches?
What of the course? East Lake is a Tom Bendelow/Donald Ross design from the early 20th century. It plays to a par of 70 and a yardage of 7,385 yards with Bermuda grass greens.
Tiger Woods said of it ahead his win last year: “It has some of the best Bermuda greens we'll ever putt on, as smooth as you can ever ask for. But in general, this golf course is a ball striker's course. You've got to drive it well, place your irons correctly, it really does set up for a good ball striker.”
Angles to consider
1/ Course Form
Of the last ten winners five had already recorded top two finishes at East Lake. Of the other five two were debutants whose sole course efforts since have been second and seventh, whilst Billy Horschel had finished seventh in his only previous start and has since finished second.
2/ Current Form
Since 2011 every winner has finished top two in July, August or September ahead of winning this event (which used to be played in September of course).
3/ Strokes Gained Tee to Green
Of the last three winners, Tiger Woods last year ranked seventh in this category, before him Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy were both second. In those three years nine of the ten men who have finished tied third or better were ranked seventh with the tenth man 14th.
The above angles have been used to create a shortlist from which the following players are selected.
There’s little getting around the fact that Justin Thomas is the perfect fit for the three angles, but he’s very, very short in the outright market and taking him in the market that ignores the starting strokes seems like too great a leap in the dark. So Cantlay gets the vote. Superb SG Tee to Green stats, second last week, yet to full shine at East Lake but he has carded a 65 and a 66.
A course winner back in 2006, the Aussie has not picked up a top two since the start of July, but he did get one in June and bear in mind this tournament is a month earlier than in the past. Excellent tee to green. Finished fifth and ninth in the last two weeks.
Third last week with two laps of 63 and has finished fourth and fifth on the course, another with fine tee to green stats.
All in the Winner Without FedExCup Starting Strokes Market
1pt e.w. Patrick Cantlay at 12/1 (PaddyPower, Betfair SB 1/5 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Adam Scott at 20/1 (PaddyPower, Betfair SB 1/5 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Hideki Matsuyama at 18/1 (PaddyPower, Betfair SB 1/5 1,2,3,4,5)