This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $15M
Course: East Lake Golf Club
2020 champion: Dustin Johnson
We have reached the season-ending TOUR Championship, and for the third year in a row the tournament will employ its version of the "runner-on-second" rule, or as the PGATour calls it, the "Starting Strokes format." Whether you call it a staggered start like we do, whether you like it, whether you don't, it appears to be here to stay. We have a job to do, so let's do it.
As a reminder, the Tour's goal was and is to avoid having different winners of the tournament and the FedEx Cup, as happened in 2018, when Tiger Woods won the TOUR Championship and Justin Rose was crowned FedExCup champion. That didn't seem so terrible, did it?
Oh, hang on a sec ... Sorry to interrupt but ... This just in! .. We have an in-progress leaderboard update, a first for a preview article! The leader is Patrick Cantlay, who is 10-under-par through zero holes.
We kid of course, but while we're listing scores, after Cantlay comes Tony Finau at 8-under, Bryson DeChambeau at 7-under, Jon Rahm at 6-under, Cameron Smith at 5-under, and five guys each at 4-under, 3-under, 2-under, 1-under and even par.
If you think Cantlay is sitting pretty, think again: In 2019, Justin Thomas started at 10-under but ceded the lead to Brooks Koepka, who began at 7-under, and Xander Schauffele, who started way back at 4-under, after one day of play. Thomas wound up tied for third and Rory McIlroy won after opening at 5-under, which worked out very nicely for the Tour since McIlroy also had the lowest 72-hole score. Last year, it was the same thing: Dustin Johnson began on top but was tied after the first round with Rahm, who opened two strokes behind. Only this time Johnson went on to win – though Schauffele ended up with the low 72.
Not that this matters for DFS purposes, but the Official World Golf Ranking recognizes the low 72 as the winner. In the OWGR universe, Schauffele won the 2020 Tour Championship and received world-rankings points accordingly. That must really rankle the PGA Tour.
So to sum up, it's clear the 10-under-par starting point guarantees nothing. Maybe that's why Cantlay is priced at only $13,400, whereas Thomas was $15,500 in 2019 and DJ was $15,200 last year. The minimum price is not the usual $6,000, but $5,000. This basically throws conventional lineup configuration out the window. But the prices make complete sense. DraftKings points will remain exactly the same. Where things get thrown off a bit is the finishing position 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.
Last year, DJ was priced $2,500 more than the No. 2 guy on the DK board, which was Rahm. The Spaniard is second again this year, but only $400 behind Cantlay – and he's not starting from the second position, but the fourth. So clearly the price-setters think very highly of Rahm this week and/or expect a lot interest in him.
In constructing lineups last year, we looked at the five-man tiers, examining golfers who will all begin with the same score but sometimes vastly different prices. Try to find value in each tier.
Here are each of the starting position tiers and the prices of the players in each:
- 10-under-par: Cantlay, $13,400
- 8-under: Finau, $11,800
- 7-under: DeChambeau, $12,300
- 6-under: Rahm, $13,000
- 5-under: Smith, $10,100
- 4-under: Thomas, $11,000; Jordan Spieth, $10,400; Abraham Ancer, $9,600; Harris English, $8,700; and Sam Burns, $8,500.
- 3-under: Johnson, $10,700; Collin Morikawa, $8,300; Viktor Hovland, $8,000; Louis Oosthuizen, $7,600; and Sungjae Im, $7,300.
- 2-under: McIlroy, $9,300; Schauffele, $8,900; Koepka, $7,800; Jason Kokrak, $6,600; and Kevin Na, $6,000.
- 1-under: Scottie Scheffler, $6,800; Hideki Matsuyama, $6,400; Corey Conners, $6,200; Joaquin Niemann, $5,600; and Stewart Cink, $5,200.
- Even Par: Daniel Berger, $5,800; Patrick Reed, $5,700; Sergio Garcia, $5,400; Billy Horschel, $5,100; and Erik van Rooyen, $5,000. (Reed, who missed the first two playoff events with pneumonia but is in this field, was originally not included in this week's contests. He was a late add.)
So here are some things you might want to ask yourself: Is Finau worth rostering over Rahm, getting two strokes and costing $1,200 less? Is Thomas worth $2,500 more than Burns, Johnson worth $4,400 more than Im? Further, is Scheffler – starting in worse position than Kokrak and Na – worth more than them? This is what makes this week so fascinating and so challenging.
Remember, there's no cut, so everyone will play all four rounds. What we don't know, and can't know, is how each golfer will approach the tournament, being two strokes ahead at the start or eight strokes behind or wherever. But as always, we will make our picks looking for value, not only in the usual places but in those five-man groupings.
Before we move on, let's take 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 there's a historical connection to Bobby Jones, and that romanticizes things a bit. But East Lake is far from thrilling, and it's usually not a super tough course. Last season it was only 24th-hardest on Tour. 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. There's only one other par-5, and that's the baby 525-yard 6th hole. What we like about East Lake is that accuracy off the tee counts here more than in most places because the fairways are among the handful of narrowest all season. And the bermudagrass greens generally run very fast. They are a bit on the large size at an average of 6,090 square feet. Water comes into play on four holes.
Weather-wise, a lot of rain is in the forecast for Tuesday and a little for Wednesday, but the course should be dry through completion. The four days could be mirror images, with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s and light wind, which add up to one massive opportunity to go low.
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
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
2011 - Bill Haas
Guys who keep the ball in the fairway normally do well at East Lake, though not last year. The first four guys on the leaderboard were in the bottom half of the field, and Johnson won despite ranking 28th of 30. Of course, he was second in distance, which mitigates some of that waywardness. Besides, he was very good in other areas – fifth in greens in regulation and fourth in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green. He ranked 12th in SG: Putting, which isn't great in a 30-man field, but he did rank second in the field in total distance of putts made at 370 feet. But it's still prudent to keep the ball in the fairway, as player after player will attest, but it's a hard course to do that. There are narrow fairways, trees and rough and even some water lurking. Last year, with the top five of DJ, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler, tee-to-green play was strong but only Schauffele putted very well. Two years ago, McIlroy's stats were great virtually across the board, including off the tee. He ranked first in SG: Tee-to-Green, breaking down to eighth in driving distance and fifth in accuracy, fifth in GIR and fifth in scrambling. He was 11th in SG: Putting – in a small field that's pretty bad. Obviously, it didn't hurt him. As always, there's never only one way to win a tournament.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Jon Rahm - $13,000 (Winning odds at the DraftKings Sportsbook +350)
Rahm had a great start last week and was right there heading into the weekend. He just couldn't keep up with the breakneck pace of Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau. In an off week, though, he still notched a top-10. Clearly, the DraftKings crew – both DFS and Sportsbook – think very highly of Rahm, making him the No. 2 guy on the fantasy board and the No. 1 option for bettors.
Justin Thomas - $11,000 (+1400)
Thomas has played East Lake five times and has never finished worse than seventh. He's been second twice – including last year – and also third. Thomas has expressed a real affection for this type of golf course, and that counts for a lot with us.
Dustin Johnson - $10,700 (+2000)
The defending champion does not arrive on the huge tear he was on at this time last year, but he has proven quite formidable here over the years. He has six top-10s over the past decade. He arrives with some semblance of his old self, with three top-10s in his past five starts, including sixth last week at the BMW. Despite starting seven shots off the pace, DJ has caught the attention of the oddsmakers and price-setters, who think he can contend this week.
Abraham Ancer - $9,600 (+2800)
Keep the ball in the fairway. ... Keep the ball in the fairway ... Keep the ball in the fairway. Ancer is ranked sixth on Tour in driving accuracy. He's also top-30 in greens in regulation, SG: Approach, SG: Tee-to-Green and SG: Putting. What a season he's had, starting in the same position as Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. This will be Ancer's third go-round at East Lake, enough time to learn the nuances and take a big step forward.
Rory McIlroy - $9,300 (+2500)
McIlroy's success at this track is simply to overpowering to pass up. Twice a winner, once a runner-up, eighth last year. He starts from way, way back this time, making victory unlikely but not insurmountable. He even comes in on a high note following a top-5 at the BMW Championship.
Collin Morikawa - $8,300 (+3500)
Morikawa has completely fallen apart in the playoffs. He said he had a back injury at the Northern Trust, announced he was healthy for the BMW but was out of sorts there, as well. He showed a sliver of his old self on Sunday, and this price and these odds are simply too good to pass up, even if the risk level is high. No reminder needed, but Morikawa is still ranked 10th on Tour in driving accuracy, fourth in greens in regulation and first in SG: Approach.
Sungjae Im - $7,300 (+4500)
Im appears to be a steal at this price and the low man in his 4-under tier – $1,000 cheaper than an iffy Morikawa and a whopping $3,400 cheaper than Dustin Johnson. Im showed real progress from his first Tour Championship to his second, improving from 19th to 11th. He is ranked 12th on Tour in driving accuracy, 15th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 26th in greens in regulation and a pretty decent 44th in SG: Putting.
Scottie Scheffler - $6,800 (+6500)
Scheffler is the top-priced guy in his 3-under tier, but that's not a deal breaker – for him. He finished fifth in his East Lake debut a year ago. Scheffler is one of the straighter of the long drivers on Tour, ranking 17th in SG: Off-the-Tee.
Daniel Berger - $5,800 (+10000)
This will be Berger's fifth visit to East Lake. He's never had a top-10. On the other hand, he's never finished worse than 15th. He is perhaps the most "quiet" of the great players on Tour, more so than even Harris English. Berger is ranked fifth on Tour in SG: Approach, seventh in greens in regulation, 45th in driving accuracy and 16th in SG: Tee-to-Green. He starts at even-par, so even a climb into the teens would pay off at this price.
Sergio Garcia - $5,400 (+20000)
Garcia is one of the longest shots in the field, beginning at the bottom at even-par. He's played in 10 Tour Championships, but only four over the past decade and none since 2017. His three most recent have been top-10s. Garcia is ranked 10th on Tour in greens in regulation and 13th in SG: Tee-to-Green. He grinded on Sunday at the BMW to squeak into East Lake; he will not take this week lightly.