This article is part of our DraftKings PGA DFS Picks series.
Purse: $75M (Complete playoff bonus pool)
Winner's Share: $18M
Course: East Lake Golf Club
2022 champion: Rory McIlroy
In the first four years of the reconfigured TOUR Championship, we have twice seen the expected and twice seen the unexpected. The expected is simple: The golfer who started with the lead under this staggered-start format won the tournament and, thus, was the FedExCup champion. The unexpected? That was a golfer rallying from five shots behind at the start and, last year, a golfer rallying from a whopping six shots back to be crowned the playoff champion.
The "golfer" in both instances was no ordinary golfer -- each time it was Rory McIlroy, who last year began the tournament at 4-under-par to leader Scottie Scheffler's 10-under. McIlroy had turned a similar trick in the 2019 edition, opening at 5-under before overtaking Justin Thomas and his 10-under start. In between in 2020 and 2021, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay started in the lead and held serve to win the Cup.
So even though the leader on Thursday morning is in optimum position to claim that the ginomrous $18 million winner's share of the $75 million playoff bonus pool, we know the winner can come from far back -- or at least that McIlroy can come from far back.
For the record, the PGA Tour calls this the "Starting Strokes Format." Since this week is different from every other week on the golf calendar, let's get right to what we're dealing with, then we'll break it all down with our preferred strategy. Scheffler, the leader in the playoff point standings, will begin the week with a score of 10-under-par, two strokes better than Viktor Hovland and a full 10 strokes better than the bottom five guys in this 30-man, no-cut field.
Here is how the leaderboard will begin, along with each golfer's DraftKings price. As you'll see, the prices are vastly different from the rest of the year and do not strictly conform to the starting position:
- 10-under-par: Scottie Scheffler, $13,400
- 8-under: Viktor Hovland, $12,500
- 7-under: Rory McIlroy, $13,000
- 6-under: Jon Rahm, $11,600
- 5-under: Lucas Glover, 9,700
- 4-under: Max Homa, $10,900; Patrick Cantlay, $10,800; Matt Fitzpatrick, $10,000; Brian Harman, $9,500; Wyndham Clark, $9,100
- 3-under: Xander Schauffele, $10,500; Rickie Fowler, $9,000; Tommy Fleetwood, $8,800; Russell Henley, $8,300; Keegan Bradley, $8,100
- 2-under: Sungjae Im, $8,500; Tom Kim, $7,900; Corey Conners, $7,900; Tony Finau, $7,500; Si Woo Kim, $7,200
- 1-under: Collin Morikawa, $7,700; Jason Day, $7,400; Taylor Moore, $6,500; Adam Schenk, $5,200; Nick Taylor, $5,000
- Even par: Tyrrell Hatton, $6,900; Jordan Spieth, $6,700; Sam Burns, $6,100; Emiliano Grillo, $5,700; Sepp Straka, $5,400
As we have learned in the first four years of this format, Scheffler is far from secure. In 2019, Thomas started at 10-under but lost sole possession of the lead by the end of Thursday to Brooks Koepka, who began at 7-under, and Schauffele -- who made up a whopping six shots -- way back at 4-under. But it was McIlroy who wound up the tournament winner after opening at 5-under and then shooting the lowest 72-hole score. That was a perfect ending for the Tour: The winner of the FedEx Cup also shot the low 72.
However, that didn't happen the next two years. The guys who began at 10-under, Johnson and then Cantlay, had enough of a cushion to come away with the title even though they didn't shoot the lowest 72-hole score. Not that this matters for DFS purposes, but the Official World Golf Ranking website recognizes the low 72 as the winner. In the OWGR universe, Schauffele won the 2020 TOUR Championship and received world-ranking points accordingly. Two years ago, Rahm and Kevin Na tied at the top and, in effect, were co-winners in the OWGR's eyes.
The vastly different pricing throws conventional lineup configuration out the window. But the prices make complete sense. DraftKings scoring will remain exactly the same with birdies, bogeys, pars, etc. Where it can "screw" you (and whenever someone gets screwed, someone else benefits) is with the final-leaderboard bonuses: The winner of the tournament -- the Tour's winner, not the OWGR's -- will get the standard 30-point bonus, then 20 for second, 18, 16, 14 for fifth and so on.
In constructing our lineups in past years, we looked at the five-man tiers, examining guys who will all begin with the same score but at sometimes vastly disparate prices. Try to find value in each tier. Or maybe find a discrepancy from tier to tier. For instance:
- Is McIlroy, a three-time winner at East Lake, worth playing over Hovland, who gets an extra stroke, is $500 cheaper and coming off a staggering 61 to win last week's BMW Championship?
- Is Glover a better value than Homa, Cantlay, Schauffele and Fitzpatrick, all of whom cost more and are starting further back. Or did he start leaking oil last week after two straight victories?
- Is Homa worth $1,400 more than Harman, both starting at the same score (4-under)? They each tied for fifth at the BMW.
- Henley has been one of the top players over the past three weeks (three top-8s). Despite Schauffele's exceptional record at East Lake (two wins, five top-5s), is the large $2,200 price differential justified? However you answer this question, it doesn't mean you should play only one of them, as you will see in a few minutes.
- Are guys in the $5,000s worth a play since they are hundreds or even thousands less than guys either in their own tier or even in a lower tier?
You will have to answer those types of questions for yourself before setting your lineup.
Remember, there's no cut, so everyone plays all four rounds. We will make our picks as always looking for value, not only in the usual places but in those five-man groups.
Before we move on, a quick look at the course. East Lake was a 1904 Tom Bendelow design, then renovated by Donald Ross in 1913 with further modifications by Rees Jones in 1994, 2008, 2016. We get it that there's a historical connection to Bobby Jones, and that romanticizes things, and blah, blah, blah. But East Lake is far from thrilling. The closing stretch is ho-hum; in fact, the 430-yard 17th and 590-yard 18th tend to be among the easier holes, which doesn't seem the proper way to cap a sport's season and to crown a champion. Both play under par. In fact, only one hole on the back nine last year (the par-4 14th) played over par. There were only 18 over-par rounds all tournament, out of 120 rounds). There's only one other par-5, and that's the baby-short 525-yard 6th. There are six par-4s of 450+ yards. What we like about East Lake is that accuracy off the tee counts more than in most places because the fairways are among the narrowest all season, tree-lined and with thick rough. And the bermudagrass greens generally run very fast, about 12ish on the Stimpmeter, plus they have significant contours and undulations. You don't want to be above the hole because downhill putts can be treacherous. The greens are medium size at an average of 5,619 square feet, but they are quirky in that they are narrow and long. That means greens will be missed and scrambling takes on importance. Water comes into play on six holes.
As a reminder, the staggered started emerged because the Tour didn't want different winners of the season-ending tournament and the FedExCup Playoffs, as happened in 2018, when Tiger Woods won the TOUR Championship and Justin Rose was crowned FedExCup champion. Didn't seem so terrible, did it?
Looking at the weather, it will be a scorcher -- steaming hot every day, getting near 100 degrees on Friday and Saturday with high humidity, little wind and not a significant chance of any rain.
Key Stats to Winning at East Lake
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Driving Accuracy/Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation/Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Strokes Gained: Putting
2022 - Rory McIlroy
2021 - Patrick Cantlay
2020 - Dustin Johnson
2019 - Rory McIlroy
2018 - Tiger Woods
2017 - Xander Schauffele
2016 - Rory McIlroy
2015 - Jordan Spieth
2014 - Billy Horschel
2013 - Henrik Stenson
Like the first two playoff events, the lowest score at East Lake -- not including the staggered start -- tends to be in the low to mid-teens. Last year, McIlroy shot 16-under -- plus his 5-under start to get to 21-under. Golfers who keep the ball in the fairway normally do well, and the course setup does a good job in blunting length off the tee, though McIlroy led in driving distance last year at a massive average of 334 yards. There's always an exception to every theory; it's amazing how many times the exception is McIlroy. SG: Off-the-Tee is a good barometer at East Lake. McIlroy ranked fifth in the field last year and everyone in the top 7 in the field in SG: OTT finished in the top 8 on the leaderboard. SG: Approach and Tee-to-Green also correlated to the top of the leaderboard. Around-the-Green didn't last year, but usually does, so it remains a key state. McIlroy also finished fourth in GIR and second in SG: Putting, which is a winning combination almost 10 times out of 10.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
It says so just above but it bears repeating: DraftKings will follow the PGA Tour's lead on scoring. Scheffler can finish top-5 even without a 10-stroke head start, thank you very much, but he will get that huge starting boost. The way he's putting, he may need it. High finishes do land the same DK bonuses -- 30 points for a win, 20 for second, etc. -- and that might be the difference in winning or losing your contest. Scheffler finished runner-up here two of the past three years, though last year without the 10-spot at the start he had only the 13th best score. Still, because DK follows the Tour's scoring, he got that runner-up point bonus. Scheffler leads the Tour in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee.
Rory McIlroy - $13,000 (+330)
We've seen McIlroy rally from five and six shots down to win here. Now, he's just three back. He is ranked second on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee. McIlroy notched his ninth straight top-10 last week at the BMW. He has only one win in that stretch -- the Scottish Open -- but there's an argument to be made that he's playing better than anyone else over the past couple of months, apologies to all the Glover truthers on Twitter/X.
Max Homa - $10,900 (+2800)
Homa has played East Lake only once, last year, and he tied for fifth (third under real scoring). That is noteworthy, of course. But he's also been outstanding the couple of months, improving from T21 at the Rocket Mortgage to T12 at the Scottish Open to T10 at the Open, to T6 at the FedEx St. Jude to T5 last week at the BMW.
Patrick Cantlay - $10,800 (+1600)
Cantlay is one of the great drivers of the golf ball. Yes, we said the same thing last week and he limped home with a tie for 15th in the 50-man field. But there's no denying that Cantlay is ranked fifth on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee. He finished a legitimate here two years ago.
Xander Schauffele - $10,500 (+2800)
We're not going to overthink this. Nobody plays this course better. Nobody delivers more in smaller, elite fields. In the past six years, Schauffele has won the TOUR Championship twice while also finishing second, third, sixth and seventh.
Sungjae Im - $8,500 (+9000)
A month ago, it didn't look like Im would be playing this week. But he came alive at the Wyndham with a tie for 14th, then registered back-to-back top-10s at the first two playoff events. He was co-runner-up here last year, his first top-10 in four trips to East Lake. Im is only 14th in our model, which covers the past 24 rounds. But when cut in half to 12 rounds, he zoomed up to seventh. Im starts way back at 2-under -- but really, that's only three shots from a top-5.
Russell Henley - $8,300 (+6000)
Henley has been quietly outstanding the past three weeks: runner-up at the Wyndham, then sixth at the FedEx St. Jude and eighth last week at the BMW. He leads the Tour in driving accuracy and is third in proximity to the hole. That adds up to Henley ranking second overall in our model. He has not played East Lake since 2017, but he finished third that year.
Si Woo Kim - $7,200 (+15000)
Kim is our favorite play in the $7,000s and, conveniently, he's also the cheapest. He is ranked 25th on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee, in large part because he's seventh in driving accuracy, and 11th in Tee-to-Green. Kim's putting really hurts him, but he's still ninth in our model. This will be his first visit to Atlanta since 2016, when he tied for 10th.
Tyrrell Hatton - $6,900 (+18000)
We like Hatton best of anyone in the $6,000s. It's hard to believe this will be only his second TOUR Championship. He tied for fifth in 2020. Hatton survived tense moments at the end of the BMW to see whether he'd advance. He is ranked in the top-25 in every strokes-gained category but Around-the-Green and is longer than it appears as a top-50 driver.
Adam Schenk - $5,200 (+50000)
There are four golfers in the $5,000s. In the last tournament of the season, we turn to Schenk, as we have so many times this season, usually to great success. He's one of five East Lake rookies. At No. 21 in our model, Schenk is the top choice in the $5,000s, and they all have their flaws. Schenk is not especially accurate off the tee, but he knows that and expect him to take a little off the gas to find the fairways.
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