On paper, which player has the best game for East Lake?

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Jason Dufner tied for 19th in his only appearance (2009) in THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola.
September 12, 2012
Rob Bolton, Fantasy Columnist

Imagine, if you will, even for just a few hundred words, a golf tournament contested without the influence of weather, golfers' recent form or history on the course, emotion and all of the usual vagaries that always influence the outcome. In this quest to identify who triumphs at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, let's focus only on the challenges of the track and the strengths of the competitors in this vacuum of suspended disbelief.

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The top 30 in FedExCup points will tee it up at East Lake Golf Club on Sept. 20-23 for the finale of the Playoffs. It's the 12th time that the nearly 100-year-old track in Atlanta has hosted this tournament, the last six of which as the site of the climax of the FedExCup, which began in 2007.

Like most classic courses, the par-70 East Lake has undergone its fair share of modifications over the decades, the most recent of which a switch from bentgrass to Bermudagrass greens in advance of the 2008 edition. The change influenced scoring so much that the analysis below takes into account only the results of the last four years.

In six editions of the TOUR Championship at East Lake from 2000-2007, the winning aggregate was no worse than 11-under 269 (achieved twice). Since 2008, Phil Mickelson's 9-under 271 is the lowest any of the four champions has scored.

Scoring represents a cumulative product, so we need to dive into the Xs and Os for a greater understanding of the experience. For the purpose of this exercise, four specific factors are circled, the collective value from which will determine the projected contenders.

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First up, East Lake's most difficult test is off the tee. In three of the last four years, the track has ranked inside the top 10 in fairways hit. Last's year's clip of 52.86 percent was seventh-lowest of 49 courses measured. Since 2008, each of the champions split 32-35 fairways, well above the field average. So, consider driving accuracy as one of the factors for success.

• Next, while East Lake hasn't ranked inside the top 10 in greens in regulation, all four champions in our sample size have finished inside the top 11 in GIR during the week they won. This includes 2010 victor, Jim Furyk, who led the field, hitting 53 of 72 (or 73.61 percent).

Since its introduction in 2011, Strokes Gained-Putting has earned a reputation as a tremendous indicator for success at nearly every tournament. It's no different at East Lake where each of the last four winners placed inside the top 10 for the week; three finished inside the top five. Bill Haas led the field with a clip of 2.048 en route to his title last year.

With one facet of the game off the tee, on approach and with the putter, we must inject an element to reflect how champions have capitalized on their scoring opportunities. Quite obviously, winners tend to convert eagles and birdies more than their competition. Therefore, par breakers will round out our framework to find a winner. The only champ at East Lake since 2008 that didn't lead the field in par breakers was Jim Furyk, who ranked T12 in 2010. However, he led the field in scrambling and bogey avoidance, incurring just six bogeys all week. As mentioned above, he also led the field in greens hit, so he established the greatest margin for error.

To determine which golfer owns the best overall game as it relates to these four factors, each of the 30 scheduled to compete at East Lake next week was ranked in each stat. Then, just like the all-around ranking on the PGA TOUR, the total of a golfer's four rankings in this exercise became the metric that was then ranked against the others.

For example, Furyk sits third on the PGA TOUR in fairways hit, best among the 30 in the field, so he was assigned a value of 1 in that category. Mickelson sits 160th on TOUR in the same stat, worst among the lot, so he was assigned a value of 30 in fairways hit.

After plugging in all of the values, adding them up and then ranking the totals, your winner of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola is ...

... Jason Dufner.

Of the 30 in the field, Dufner, who sits 10th in FedExCup points, ranks fifth in fairways, fourth in greens in regulation, 18th in Strokes Gained-Putting and fourth in par breakers. His total value is 31, four points better than Bo Van Pelt (9, fairways; 12, GIR; 5, Strokes Gained-Putting; 9, par breakers). Tiger Woods, who ranks third with a value of 43, is the most consistent across the board, ranking no lower than ninth (Strokes Gained-Putting ) and no lower than 13th (fairways). Keegan Bradley (46) and Webb Simpsons (47) round out the top five.

This formula makes the imperfect assumptions that all four factors are weighted evenly and that the field represents a fair depiction of the TOUR overall. Both are certainly debatable with merit, but they are solid jumping-off points nonetheless. For example, Bubba Watson hasn't finished better than T17 (2010) in his three visits to East Lake, all of which since 2008. In the formula used above, he checked in at T14 with Luke Donald and John Huh, all of whom with a value of 62. (Watson ranks worst in the field in Strokes Gained-Putting.)

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Similarly, red-hot Dustin Johnson has qualified for the TOUR Championship every year since 2009 but hasn't placed better than T22 (2010), so it comes as no surprise that he ranks 25th in the formula with a value of 77.

Meanwhile, Ernie Els, who owns a sparkling record at East Lake, recording six top-10s in eight appearances, including all three since 2008, could be the exception to the formula. He ranks last with a value of 91, three points higher than Rickie Fowler. Els sits inside the bottom half of all four splits.

Furyk is eighth in the formula with a value of 51. He's highest among the 30 that ranks last in any of the four stats. His aforementioned value of 1 in fairways hit is offset by a 30 in par breakers. Brandt Snedeker (13th overall with a value of 59) boasts a similar extreme, ranking last in GIR but first in SG-P.

FedExCup leader, Rory McIlroy, ranks T18 with Ryan Moore, each with a value of 64. McIlroy leads the field (and the TOUR) in par breakers, but he's outside the top half in the other three splits.

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