Power Rankings: TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola

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September 17, 2012
Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist

The sixth edition of the FedExCup Playoffs culminates with this week's TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta hosts for the 12th time, including each of the last nine occasions. The historic layout that Bobby Jones called home will turn 100 years old next year.

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Before we dig into what it takes to tame the par 70 that can stretch to 7,319 yards, it's important to circle two seminal adjustments that have occurred in the recent past.

First, going all the way back to the tournament's beginning in 1987 and extending through 2006, the TOUR (nee Nabisco) Championship was contested in late October through mid-November. It was shifted to mid-September with the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, and has remained entrenched in the latter half of the month since.

Then, after Tiger Woods destroyed the tournament record in the inaugural Playoffs with a 23-under 257, coasting to an eight-stroke margin in the process, course architect Rees Jones, who restored the track in 1994, returned to replace the Bentgrass greens with Bermudagrass that roll at 12 or higher on the Stimpmeter. As explained below, scoring has risen directly as a result of the change in putting surfaces.

By all measures, East Lake is a fair and predictable test, but it's not immune to the occasional anomaly. In advance of last year's tournament, dry conditions suggested that drives that didn't come to rest in fairways wouldn't be penalized as heavily due to thin rough. To wit, while the driving-accuracy clip landed at just 52.86 percent, greens in regulation hit a high of 67.92 percent during the Bermudagrass era, and the overall scoring average of 69.792 marked the first time since 2007 (68.325) that it checked in under par. However, none of the four winners of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola since Bermuda was introduced has finished double digits under par.

Hitting fairways is just one of the components to the steady attack necessary to contend. From 2008-2010, East Lake ranked 14th-18th on TOUR in GIR; it was 30th last year. And since 2008, the putting average has ranged from 1.773 (2010) to 1.791 (2008). While the hi-low difference is negligible, it speaks to the challenge on the greens, especially when you consider that the hi-low difference in greens hit over the same time frame is 7.97 percent.

This usually signifies that putters thrive. In fact, three of the last four champions have led their fields in putting. Jim Furyk (2010) is the only exception, but he's also the only champ of the four that led his field in GIR and scrambling.

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One of East Lake's signatures is its par-3 18th hole, one of just two closing one-shotters on the PGA TOUR. (The Old White TPC, host of The Greenbrier Classic, boasts the other). It's a reasonable challenge as a stand-alone hole but birdies at any of the last three are uncommon, particularly with so much at stake. (Holes 16 and 17 are par 4s.) All three ranked inside the top half hardest holes at East Lake a year ago, surrendering an aggregate 53 birdies, including just 10 in the final round. (No eagles were carded.)

The last legitimate opportunity to convert a par breaker is at the par-5 15th hole, which comfortably ranked as the easiest on the course last year, checking in with a scoring average of 4.417. The other par 5 (No. 9) was the second-easiest at 4.592. En route to his playoff victory over Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas played the par 5s in bogey-free 6-under with six birdies, including all four trips through 15. (Mahan scored bogey-free 7-under with an eagle and a birdie at 9, and four birdies at 15.) However, Haas lost an aggregate four strokes on the final three holes; in his last two rounds, he played 16-18 in birdie-free 5-over.

Gunning to become the first FedExCup champion to return to East Lake the following year, Haas slipped to 32nd in points following a T45 at the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick. However, former FedExCup winners Tiger Woods (2007, 2009) and Jim Furyk (2010) are in the field this week. Vijay Singh (2008) finished 33rd in points.

Mother Nature is expected to cooperate throughout the tournament. After a system exits late Tuesday, a dry pattern with seasonable high temperatures hovering around 80 degrees should allow the course to play true. Winds are forecast to be light.

Power Rankings: TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola
Rank Player   Comment
Tiger
WOODS
The 2007 champion and four-time runner-up at East Lake returns for the first time since 2009. Finished third at TPC Boston and T4 at Crooked Stick. Enters the finale ranked second in points. Sits sixth in total driving and second in adjusted scoring.
Rory
McILROY
The FedExCup leader is one of seven first-timers at East Lake. It's his only detriment. Winner of three of his last four starts, including the last two at which he scored 20-under in each. Leads the PGA TOUR in both birdie average and adjusted scoring.
Phil
MICKELSON
Have claw grip, will contend. Chased a tie for fourth at TPC Boston with a T2 at Crooked Stick. Fifth on TOUR in Strokes Gained-Putting. Only two-time champ at East Lake (2000, 2009). One of three to qualify for every FedExCup finale. Fourth in points.
Jim
FURYK
Started postseason ranked 17th in the FedExCup, highest among 2012 non-winners. Led field at Crooked Stick in Strokes Gained-Putting; placed ninth. Won at East Lake in his last start (2010); third straight top 10. Fourth on TOUR in adjusted scoring.
Adam
SCOTT
Quietly rattled off top 10s in the last two events and rose to a season-high 21st in the FedExCup standings. Held the 36-hole lead at East Lake last year en route to a T6. Won here in 2006. Ranks 36th in greens in regulation and fifth in adjusted scoring.
Luke
DONALD
At 15th in FedExCup points, he's highest among seven in the field that didn't post top 25s in either of the last two events. Runner-up at East Lake in 2010; tied for third last year. Ranks second in Strokes Gained-Putting and 14th in adjusted scoring.
Jason
DUFNER
After starting the Playoffs ranked second in FedExCup and electing not to compete in The Barclays, he's drifted to 10th. May own the best skill set for East Lake: 16th in fairways hit, fourth in GIR; 64th in Strokes Gained-Putting; fourth in par breakers.
Lee
WESTWOOD
One of seven making his debut at East Lake. Shared runner-up honors at Crooked Stick -- his third straight top 15 -- to rise 15 spots in FedExCup points to eighth. Sits second on TOUR in greens in regulation and 15th in adjusted scoring.
Brandt
SNEDEKER
Sneaks in ranked fifth in points, last among the guys that are guaranteed a FedExCup title with a victory. After earning his way onto the Ryder Cup team, he settled for a T37 at the BMW Championship. Leads the TOUR in Strokes Gained-Putting.
Sergio
GARCIA
First appearance at East Lake since a playoff loss in 2008. After posting a T3 at The Barclays, he rested during the second leg of the Playoffs, and then placed T24 at Crooked Stick. Ranks 18th in both Strokes Gained-Putting and adjusted scoring.
Louis
OOSTHUIZEN
One of seven first-timers at East Lake. Regained the form with which he closed out 2011 and started this year. Seven consecutive top 25s entering, including a solo second at TPC Boston. Ranks sixth in greens hit and eighth in adjusted scoring.
Bo
VAN PELT
En route to a solo ninth at East Lake last year, he led the field in fairways hit and played holes 9-18 in bogey-free 9-under. Currently 28th in accuracy off the tee, 21st in GIR, 13th in Strokes Gained-Putting and 12th in adjusted scoring.
Ernie
ELS
Six top 10s in eight appearances at East Lake, including in all three since 2008. However, since winning the British Open two months ago, he's gone six starts without a top 25. Forever playing above his average splits, he's 23rd in adjusted scoring.
Dustin
JOHNSON
He's seventh in FedExCup points, but he's the only golfer in the field with top 10s in all three postseason events, the worst finish of which was a share of sixth place at Crooked Stick. Hasn't cracked the top 20 in three appearances at East Lake.
Ryan
MOORE
Started Playoffs ranked 64th, lowest in this field. One of two to play his way in from outside top 30 at Crooked Stick, rising seven spots to 28th after a T10; ranked inside top 10 in fairways, GIR and Strokes Gained-Putting. Also finished T10 at TPC Boston.
Zach
JOHNSON
Ranks ninth in FedExCup points, highest among 14 in the field that failed to record at least one top 10 in the first three Playoffs events. Tied for ninth in his last start at East Lake (2010). First three (of nine) career wins occurred in Georgia.
Justin
ROSE
Broke out of his short-lived funk with a T16 at Crooked Stick, where he led the field in greens in regulation. Currently leads the PGA TOUR in GIR and ranks 23rd in fairways hit and ninth in adjusted scoring, but sits 140th in Strokes Gained-Putting.
Steve
STRICKER
Mr. September hasn't posted a top 10 in the Playoffs since a T8 at the 2010 BMW Championship, a drought of eight starts (including a withdrawal from the 2011 BMW). Ranks 14th in greens hit. One of three to qualify for every Playoffs finale.
Bubba
WATSON
Owns an actual scoring average at East Lake of 71.67 in 12 rounds. Zero top 15s in three appearances. While he's third on TOUR in greens hit, the lefty is 163rd in Strokes Gained-Putting, yet all 15 of his cuts made this year (in 18 starts) are top 25s.
Hunter
MAHAN
Zero top 35s in his last six starts. In the wake of failing to make the Ryder Cup squad, finished last (of 70) at Crooked Stick. One of three to qualify for every TOUR Championship during the FedExCup era. Lost in a playoff at East Lake last year.
Webb
SIMPSON
While statistically sound throughout his bag, he's been misfiring severely in at least one aspect lately. No top 15s in his last five starts, his longest such drought in over two years. Played his last three rounds at Crooked Stick in 6-over to finish T51.
Robert
GARRIGUS
One of two to play his way into the field from outside the top 30 thanks to a T4 at Crooked Stick. Also one of seven first-timers at East Lake. Famously tinkering with his putter, he converted to a conventional-length model (33 inches) at TPC Boston.
Keegan
BRADLEY
In his first start at East Lake last year, he held a two-stroke margin after one round; would eventually finish T11. He's 2-for-3 in the Playoffs, with nothing much to show other than a 63 in the third round at TPC Boston en route to a T13.
John
SENDEN
Third appearance at East Lake. En route to a solo 25th last year, he ranked T5 in greens hit but last in total putts, thus fulfilling his reputation. However, he tied for 10th in his debut in 2009. Still among the best in the world tee to green.
Scott
PIERCY
Last qualifier in the field, finishing seven FedExCup points clear of Kyle Stanley. One of seven first-timers at East Lake. Piercy hasn't posted a top 35 in his last four starts, but he ranked T4 in GIR at Crooked Stick and closed with a seven-birdie 68.
John
HUH
The only of 11 PGA TOUR rookies that qualified for the Playoffs to advance to East Lake, and just the fifth all-time. One of seven first-timers at East Lake. Placed T16 at Crooked Stick. Ranks eighth in fairways hit, 52nd in greens and 34th in adjusted scoring.
Nick
Watney
Since winning The Barclays, he's finished T20 and T45. Now third in FedExCup points. Only top 10 in three starts at East Lake resulted in a T4 in 2010; seven of his 12 rounds have been over par. Worst Strokes Gained-Putting split (-0.017) in four years.
Matt
KUCHAR
Sits 16th in FedExCup points, highest of three that failed to post a top 30 in the first three Playoffs events. Ranked last (of 70) in GIR at Crooked Stick. He's broken par once in eight rounds at East Lake, where his best finish in two starts is a T20 (2011).
Rickie
FOWLER
Only top 30 in his last eight starts was a T24 at The Barclays. Has yet to solve his putter woes; currently 134th in Strokes Gained-Putting. Outside the top 120 in birdies or better on both par 3s and par 4s. One of seven first-timers at East Lake.
Carl
PETTERSSON
Cooled after top fives at Kiawah Island and Sedgefield. Only top 55 since was a T24 at The Barclays. Making first start at East Lake since a 21st-place finish in 2008. Currently outside the top 100 on TOUR in both fairways and greens hit.

MORE BOLTON: Which player is best suited for East Lake??

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