Experts roundtable: TOUR Championship
August 20, 2019
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- August 20, 2019
Inside the PGA TOUR
New format for 2019 FedExCup Playoffs
ATLANTA – The final event of the 2018-19 season has arrived, with the FedExCup (and the bulked-up $15 million bonus) on the line at the TOUR Championship. PGATOUR.COM’s Experts tackle some of the most pressing questions going into Thursday’s first round at East Lake.
1. With the new Starting Strokes format, how many of the 30 players do you think have a real chance of winning the FedExCup?
BEN EVERILL (Staff Writer): All of them. We all know golf can be a crazy game. Everyone in the field is capable of having a 10-shot better week than Justin Thomas, especially if Thomas is sporting any sort of victory hangover. But do I think it will happen? No. I get the feeling 3 under is the mark you need to start on to have a serious hope, not because of the number, but because of the quality of players at the top.
SEAN MARTIN (Senior Editor): I don’t often agree with Ben, but I have to here. Ten shots over the course of four rounds is not insurmountable.
CAMERON MORFIT (Staff Writer): One weird thing about golf is 10 shots can mean everything and it can mean nothing. Thomas had a six-shot lead at the BMW on Sunday, and Cantlay whittled it down to two. He and McIlroy are fully capable of getting hot and creating some discomfort for the leader, but I can't see someone 10 back doing so.
MIKE McALLISTER (Managing Editor): Take the top five guys out of the equation. Really, there’s only a four-shot difference among the other 25 players in the field. Plus, having a small number of players in the field should, theoretically, make it easier to climb up the leaderboard. JT has a 10-shot lead only on the last five guys in the FedExCup standings – and one of those guys, Lucas Glover, once rallied from 7 shots back after 36 holes to win his first PGA TOUR event. Sure, it looks daunting at first, but honestly I don’t think it’s impossible. Of course, the top guys have to stumble. But you can say that about any tournament with 36 holes left. The key here is 72 holes are left. I think it makes for an interesting chase.
ANDREW TURSKY (Equipment Insider): A player starting at even par could make up 10 shots on Justin Thomas after the first two rounds, let alone 72 holes. I agree spotting strokes to all of those quality players isn't ideal, but I think it's anyone's game. Tiger finished at 11 under last year and Phil finished at 13 over. With that big of a scoring differential possible throughout the week, anything can happen.
HELEN ROSS (Correspondent): I think everyone has a chance. Remember, the players have 72 holes to close that gap – not one round on Sunday. I think we’re going to see a lot of excitement at East Lake this week and we won’t need someone else to decipher it for us.
ROB BOLTON (Fantasy Insider): All of them. I know that that seems like the homer thing to say, but the best thing that the guys who open at even par have going for them is that they have nothing to lose. East Lake is a bomber’s course and soft conditions will yield a handful of 65s or even lower, so all possibilities are on the table. With this talent in the smallest field of the season over 72 holes, you can’t rule out anyone.
2. Justin Thomas said he’s never slept on a Wednesday lead in his career. How quickly will the players get adjusted to the new format?
EVERILL: I think it will be all systems normal after the opening round. Players will figure out how they plan to attack or defend in the opening stages and then instincts will just take over. They’ll see their name on the board, they’ll know what they need to do and they’ll go after it.
MARTIN: I think they’ll treat Thursday and Friday fairly normally. Those days are still about getting into position. East Lake is not the kind of course where you can play recklessly. A well-executed gameplan is still the best way to make a move.
MORFIT: It's going to take at least the first round to adjust to this, and probably the first two. By the weekend, they'll know exactly where they stand and what they have to do, and instinct will take over.
McALLISTER: I think they’ve already adjusted. Unlike the previous format, at least the players know exactly where they stand going into the first round. It’s all about clarity. “This is very simple. I think it makes sense,” Matt Kuchar said this week. It may feel weird at first, but it’s easy to understand – and that’s why the format was changed.
TURSKY: I agree. I’m sure to some players it may be weird at first, but once play gets underway on Thursday, it will be business as usual. All of these guys know how to play golf based on their position in the event, and it may actually help by not having to think about all sorts of different scenarios.
ROSS: Once they tee it up at East Lake on Thursday, it’s just golf. As the rounds progress and players have ground to make up on Justin Thomas – or whoever is leading at the time -- they’ll think about taking chances and pick their spots to be aggressive.
BOLTON: Professionals adapt faster than the rest of us. I suspect that most quickly will feel like they’re waking up after at least one round played. It’ll be a non-issue by Friday, if not sooner.
3. Of the 25 players who start six strokes or more behind the leader, which one has the best chance of winning the FedExCup?
EVERILL: Xander Schauffele. Already has a win at East Lake on his resume and loves to be an underdog fighting his way up. This format screams out his name.
MARTIN: Hideki Matsuyama. His game is headed in the right direction, and this would be the perfect ending to the season.
MORFIT: I agree with Sean here. I was on the 14th tee when Matsuyama hit a drive during the first of his two 63s at the BMW, and there was something so pure about that sound. He is hitting the ball with absolute conviction.
McALLISTER: Going to give you two names – defending FedExCup champ Justin Rose and 2012 FedExCup champ Brandt Snedeker. Both are starting eight strokes off the lead, but their track records at East Lake are terrific. If I had to pick one, I’d go with Sneds. He’s in great form, and the man knows how to go super-low. He can quickly make up ground.
TURSKY :Dustin Johnson. He'll be on an immediate birdie hunt starting so far back, and it may free up his game. He also shot two 67s on the weekend in the 2018 TOUR Championship to finish solo third in the event.
ROSS: Webb Simpson. I like the way he’s playing right now. He’s got three runner-up finishes in his last seven starts so he’s due for a win. Plus, he’s played well at East Lake before, tying for fourth last year and posting two other top-five finishes in his last five appearances.
BOLTON: Jon Rahm loves himself the Playoffs and he’s been playing tremendously well all year. While he and the others open at least six back, there are only five golfers separating them from the lead. The pressure is on the early contenders to retain position and not all will hit East Lake running.
4. OK, so name your FedExCup champ, and predict who the players will select as Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.
EVERILL: Hard to go past Thomas as FedExCup champ given his form last week and status as a former FedExCup champion. Can’t count out Koepka despite poor East Lake past or Rory McIlroy who has past East Lake success. Player of the Year will go to Koepka despite the result in Atlanta. Not just for being a three-time winner but for being in the mix at all four majors. Rookie of the Year will see history unless Sungjae Im contends heavily in Atlanta. Im would be my vote for his consistency but I get the feeling his peers might plump for a rookie winner, and not just the guy who finished highest in the FedExCup. Collin Morikawa.
MARTIN: I think it’s Justin Thomas. Hard to spot him strokes the way he is playing right now. I think Rookie of the Year will go to Collin Morikawa. Sungjae Im is the only rookie in the TOUR Championship, but Morikawa earned more than twice as many FedExCup points per start. They both had three top-4 finishes, but Morikawa did it in just nine starts. Player of the Year is Brooks Koepka and there’s no way that changes.
MORFIT: Thomas gets it done at East Lake, Koepka is Player of the Year, and Sungjae Im gets the nod for top rookie.
McALLISTER: I like Patrick Cantlay this week. He’s the closest to JT, and so only needs to make up two strokes. He’s been more consistent than JT this season. My only reservation is his track record at East Lake (T20, T21 in two starts). Of the top five entering this week, Rory is the only player with an actual win at East Lake (remember, JT finished second to Xander in winning the FedExCup in 2017), but he’s five shots behind. Still think the players will vote Koepka as Player of the Year, although if McIlroy wins this week, he’d have the FedExCup, THE PLAYERS Championship and the RBC Canadian Open on his resume to give voters pause. Morikawa wins Rookie of the Year in a close battle with Im.
TURSKY: I think Rory McIlroy is going to win this week and make up for a poor performance against Tiger last year. Brooks Koepka is the Player of the Year regardless, and Collin Morikawa is the Rookie of the Year.
ROSS: No disrespect to Justin Thomas here but for the sake of argument, I’ll pick Rory McIlroy, who starts fifth and 5 under, to win the FedExCup for the second time. And if McIlroy does, a PLAYERS Championship among three wins and the FedExCup might be enough to overtake Koepka for Player of the Year. Otherwise, I think Koepka gets it. As for Rookie of the Year, there are several good choices but Collin Morikawa’s win, runner-up and tie for fourth in just nine starts is the most impressive to me.
BOLTON: I’m beholden to Justin Thomas, who sits atop my Power Rankings. He’s a front-runner, he’s a little more rested than the others and the Playoffs have rewarded hot play throughout the years. However, no one is taking Player of the Year honors from Brooks Koepka. The Arnold Palmer Award (for the season’s best rookie) should go to Sungjae Im. For more on that race weekly, please read my Rookie Ranking.
5. Tiger Woods did not qualify for East Lake to defend his title. What letter grade would you give him this season (and why)?
EVERILL: A. He won the Masters. Doing nothing else can’t bring that magic moment down. In fact the rest of the season showed just how amazing that really was.
MARTIN: A+. He got what he wanted. With each passing week, it’s more and more amazing that he was able to get his body ready for the tournament that has meant the most to his career.
MORFIT: I agree that this was a historic season, and no doubt Tiger gets an A for winning The Masters again. Epic. The only reason I can't give him an A+ (like he cares) is he faded away so quickly after that, but I guess that's the new reality.
McALLISTER: The 2000 version of Tiger might give himself a B if he had won just one major and nothing else (for the record, he won three majors and five other TOUR events in 2000, so, uh, A+ that year). The 2019 Tiger gets an A for winning a major when most of us had given up hope we’d ever see another one from him. “Very special,” said Tiger when asked to describe his season. Very special gets the high grade.
TURSKY: He won The Masters, which surpassed any expectation I had for him on the season, and it cemented one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. That earns an A+ in my grade book.
ROSS: I’ll give him an A as well. The Masters win was epic, and as much as we all wanted to see him play – and contend – more, that’s not his new normal. We should just be happy he put it all together at Augusta National so we could witness that greatness once again.
BOLTON: B+ ... While he picked off major victory No. 15, I can’t give him an “A” because he didn’t qualify for the TOUR Championship. He performed well early in the season but failed to solve the challenge of the condensed schedule of the last four months or so.