This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $18M
Course: East Lake Golf Club
2021 champion: Patrick Cantlay
We are back for the fourth year of the TOUR Championship being played under what the PGA Tour calls the "Starting Strokes Format." Whether you like it or not, it appears to be here to stay. Then again, every time you turn around, something in golf is changing, so who knows?
As a reminder, the Tour's goal was and is to avoid having 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 the FedExCup champion. Didn't seem so terrible, did it?
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. Scottie Scheffler, the leader in the playoff point standings, will begin the week with a score of 10 under par, two strokes better than the next guy, Patrick Cantlay, and a full 10 strokes better than the bottom five guys in the 29-man -- it was 30 before Will Zalatoris (back) withdrew -- no-cut field.
Here is how the leaderboard will begin, along with the golfers' DraftKings prices. 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, $13,600
- 8-under: Patrick Cantlay, $13,000
- 6-under: Xander Schauffele, $12,300
- 5-under: Sam Burns, $9,900
- 4-under: Rory McIlroy, $10,800; Cameron Smith, $10,400; Tony Finau, $9,600; Sungjae Im, $9,100; and Sepp Straka, $7,200
- 3-under: Jon Rahm, $10,900; Justin Thomas, $9,400; Cameron Young, $9,000; Matt Fitzpatrick, $8,800; and Scott Stallings, $7,400
- 2 under: Viktor Hovland, $8,500; Joaquin Niemann, $8,300; Hideki Matsuyama, $8,100; Jordan Spieth, $7,800; and Max Homa, $7,500
- 1 under: Corey Conners, $8,000; Collin Morikawa, $7,900; Billy Horschel, $6,900; Brian Harman, $5,700; and Tom Hoge, $5,000
- Even par: Sahith Theegala, $6,700; Adam Scott, $6,600; K.H. Lee, $6,000; Aaron Wise, $5,400; and J.T. Poston, $5,100
If you think Scheffler is sitting pretty, he is -- to a point. In 2019, Thomas started at 10-under but had lost sole possession of the lead by the end of Thursday to Brooks Koepka, who began at 7-under, and Schauffele, way back at 4-under (4-under caught the lead on Thursday!!). 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 FedExCup also shot the low 72.
However, the past two years, that didn't happen. The guys who began at 10-under, Dustin Johnson and then Cantlay, had enough of a cushion to come away with the title even though they didn't shoot the lowest 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. Last year, Rahm and Kevin Na tied at the top.)
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 two-time winner at East Lake, worth playing over Rahm, who was last year's co-low-72, getting one stroke and costing $100 less?
- Is Thomas worth $2,000 more than Stallings, who is on the heater of his life? Keep in mind that Thomas has top fives in three of the past five TOUR Championships while Stallings is new to East Lake.
- Is Conners really worth more than Morikawa, both starting at 1-under?
- Is Conners worth $1,100 more than Horschel, also starting at 1-under? Conners has not finished in the top-15 at East Lake in two tries while Horschel has won the TOUR Championship, finished runner-up once and seventh twice, including last year.
- Are guys in the $5,000s worth a play when they are hundreds or even thousands less than guys either in their tier or nearby?
Remember, there's no cut, so they will all play 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 played under par last year. 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 have significant contours and undulations. You don't want to be above the hole because downhill putts can be treacherous. The greens are a bit on the large size at an average of 6,090 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 four holes.
Weather-wise, it will be a rainy week. The horn blew on Monday to shut down practice time. Tuesday looked fairly dry, but Wednesday through Sunday all had scattered thunderstorms in the forecast, with Thursday and Friday being the worst days. Otherwise, highs will be in the 80s and the wind will be light. With such a small field, there's no edge to rostering for certain tee times.
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: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Strokes Gained: Putting
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
2012 - Brandt Snedeker
Like the first two playoff events, the lowest score at East Lake (not including the staggered start) tends to be in the low teens. Last year, Jon Rahm and Kevin Na tied at 14-under, while Xander Schauffele was 15-under the year before and Rory McIlroy was at 13-under in 2019. Guys who keep the ball in the fairway normally do well, and the course setup does a good job in blunting length off the tee. SG: Off-the-Tee is a good barometer: Rahm ranked fourth (Na ranked at 24th was an outlier), Schauffele ranked fifth and McIlroy was first. These guys also had largely great numbers in both SG: Around-the-Green and Putting. Rahm was first and fourth, respectively, Na was fourth and fifth, Schauffele was 11th and second, and McIlroy was second and 11th.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Scottie Scheffler - $13,600 (Winning odds at DraftKings Sportsbook with starting strokes: +225)
Aside from being the best golfer on Tour this year and just coming up short last week in the BMW Championship, Scheffler has a real advantage starting out with a two-shot lead, or three or four or more. The DraftKings bonus for the tournament winner goes to the PGA Tour's winner, not the golfer with the low-72 score. Two of the three years under this format, the guy starting at 10-under won. Further, we think this price could mute Scheffler's ownership, as much as any golfer's ownership can be depressed in a 29-man, no-cut field.
Xander Schauffele - $12,300 (+550)
Nobody plays this course better. Nobody delivers more often in smaller, elite fields. In the past five years, Schauffele won the TOUR Championship twice -- once officially and once unofficially. He also finished second and third, unofficially. Starting at 6-under, he's closest enough to win, officially.
Jon Rahm - $10,900 (+1200)
No one's price is more misaligned to his starting position than Rahm, who begins way back at 3-under. We're not saying that DraftKings is wrong, just that they hold Rahm in such high regard. And with good reason. He had the lowest score last year and sixth-lowest the year before. It's been a down year for Rahm, but he's been coming on in the playoffs with a T8 at the FedEx St. Jude and last week's T5 at the BMW. After season-long putting woes, Rahm ranked eighth in the field at the BMW.
Rory McIlroy - $10,700 (+900)
McIlroy has won the TOUR Championship twice and was runner-up once. One of the wins came under the new format when he began at 5-under in 2019. This year he starts at 4-under. He very quietly tied for eighth last week at the BMW. We're gonna discount McIlroy's missed cut the week before at the FedEx St. Jude as part of his lingering Open Championship hangover. He had top-5s in three of his previous four starts.
Collin Morikawa - $7,900 (+8000)
There's a wide gap in the middle of the DraftKings board where the golfers/prices don't really speak to us. So we drop down to Morikawa. And we're not exactly 100 percent all-in on him, either. He did play quite well for three rounds last week after announcing he had rediscovered his vaunted fade. It did not show up on Sunday, however, as Morikawa ballooned to a 79 to tumble down the leaderboard. In a perfect world, this course is a good fit for Morikawa -- and at this price he doesn't have to come anywhere close to winning to pay off. We shall see.
Billy Horschel - $6,900 (+13000)
Here's where we start to see some better value, especially if you want to load up with two or even three guys near the top. Under $7,000, there's a lot to like, beginning with Horschel. He has only one top-25 in six starts since his big win at the Memorial, but it's impossible to discount his East Lake track record: a win, a runner-up and two seventh-place showings, including last year. Horschel is ranked top-30 in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation, and top-20 in both SG: Around-the-Green and Putting.
Sahith Theegala - $6,700 (+25000)
Theegala really had to grind on the back nine on Sunday to get here. Remember, he's still a rookie. Many years, he'd be Rookie of the Year but Cameron Young has simply been too good. There's a chance Theegala might be a little bit out of his league in this elite field, but he's already been top-15 in each of the first two playoff events, so he has proven every test so far.
Adam Scott - $6,600 (+13000)
Scott has not played in the TOUR Championship since the staggered start was implemented. Starting all the way at the bottom at even par, a younger player might feel the need to put his foot on the accelerator from the opening hole. Scott, at 42, should be more measured. This will be only his 20th start of the season going back to last September, and his plan to stay fresh for the stretch run has worked out perfectly. Scott was top-15 at both Opens, then tied for fifth at each of the first two playoff events. His last three trips to East Lake resulted in top-10s, though of course none under the current format.
Brian Harman - $5,700 (+25000)
Harman made an impressive late-season surge to get into the field for only the second time in his career. In the past two months, he had a T8, a T6 and, two weeks ago at the FedEx St. Jude, a T3. Harman isn't among the longest hitters, but he is one of the most accurate, ranking 23rd in fairways hit. From there, he can compete with just about anywhere on Tour.
J.T. Poston - $5,100 (+30000)
If you're gonna pay up into the $13,000s or anywhere near, you're gonna need to come down low because we're still dealing with a $50,000 salary cap. With a no-cut setup and not needing to pass that many guys to get a good finish, we're attracted to Poston. Who knows, he may be simply happy to be here since the heavy lifting for this season has all been completed. But as one of the best putters in the field, and putting traditionally being an important stat at East Lake, we're willing to take a flier way down here.