Inside the Ropes
The TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola
FedExCup Playoffs Final Event
East Lake Golf Club
East Lake Golf Club
Yards: 7,319 as per the scorecard
Par: 70 (35-35)
Greens: Mini-verde bermudagrass as of 2008; 6,200 square feet on average.
Rough: Bermudagrass at 2.5”
Water Hazrds: 3
Course Architect: Tom Bendelow (1904); Redesign: Donald Ross (1913); George Cobb (1963); Rees Jones (1994; 2008)
Winner’s Share: $1,440,000 and 2500 FedExCup points.
Defending Champion: Bill Haas defeated Hunter Haas in a three-hole playoff to win the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola and the FedExCup Playoffs all in one afternoon. Haas began the week ranked No. 25 out of 30 golfers. Haas did not qualify for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola this year.
Date: September 20-23
Field: 72 holes; No cut
Notes: *As Bill Haas showed last year, almost anyone can win the FedExCup with a victory this week, pending results go in their favor. Remember, only the TOP FIVE heading into this week are GUARANTEED the FedExCup Championship (and $10 million) with a victory this week because of the points re-set heading into this week. Keep up, man!
Rory McIlroy (1), Tiger Woods (2), Nick Watney (3), Phil Mickelson (4) and Brandt Snedeker (5) are the five players who will guarantee themselves the FedExCup championship with a win this week.
No FedExCup winner has ever made it back to defend his championship. Until Bill Haas won at Riviera earlier this season, no FedExCup champion had won on TOUR after winning the FedExCup championship. Tiger Woods would later join him with three victories.
In the last two years, the best finish in the FedExCup Playoffs for the eventual champion was T15 (Jim Furyk, 2010 BMW).
Only two players, Robert Garrigus (31 up to 20) and Ryan Moore (35 to 28) played themselves into the top 30 after the BMW last week.
Only three players, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan have made it to the final round of all six seasons of the FedExCup.
Dustin Johnson is the only player to crack the top 10 in the first three Playoff events, yet he only stands seventh in points.
Seven players are breaking their TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola maidens this week:
Past champions in the field include Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, and Adam Scott. Scott and Woods victories came before 2008 and the changing of the greens.
Mike Weir, Adam Scott, Camilo Villegas, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh are the only foreign winners of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in 25 years. Only Adam Scott is in the field this week.
“Young” Guns versus “Middle” Guns versus “Old” Guns
In 40 events on TOUR in 2012 the “Young” continue to increase the lead thanks to victories in the past weeks by Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Nick Watney and now McIlroy again. The “Young” guns have locked it up at the top as they now lead 21-16-3.
For the “Young”, age during their victory in ( ), Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan TWICE (29) Rory McIlroy FOUR times (22), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23), Dustin Johnson (27), Webb Simpson (26), Marc Leishman (29), Ted Potter, Jr. (28), Scott Stallings (27), Keegan Bradley (26), Sergio Garcia (32) and Nick Watney (32) are your winners.
The “Middle” guys are Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods THRICE (36), Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner TWICE (35), Zach Johnson TWICE (36), Scott Piercy (33) and J.J. Henry (37) have been victorious.
Steve Stricker (44), Phil Mickelson (41) and Ernie Els (42) are the only “Old” guys to hit the board in 2012. At least 33% of their wins are majors! Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood both finished T2 for the “old” folks.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
Bobby Jones called East Lake his home course so that tells you about everything you need to know to get us started! East Lake was developed in the early 1900’s and has hosted the 1950 USGA Women’s Amateur, the 1963 Ryder Cup, 2001 USGA Men’s Amateur and has hosted the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola 11 previous times, including the last eight in succession.
Playing for potentially $10 million should provide plenty of pressure and incentive for the players this week and East Lake is a willing combatant. The winning score here has not reached double-digits since the bentgrass greens were replaced by the mini-verde bermudagrass. The fairways are tree-lined, narrowed and strategically bunkered so steady nerves plus a steady tee ball this week will increase your chances. As with any great course, all facets of the game should be tested and second shots at East Lake will have to stay below the hole and on the green. Short-sided run offs and bunkers should reward the accurate iron players this week. Yet, the greens are not huge but are defended by their speed, front-to-back tilting and bunkering. The short game wizards can take advantage as par is a solid score around these parts.
East Lake, weather permitting, is designed to play firm and fast. The fairways can roll out into bunkers; the greens will be slick if you get above the hole. For $10 million, driving the golf ball, playing solid, accurate irons and having a solid short game is really not asking that much! Long hitters (Woods, Mickelson, Scott), short hitters (Donald, Furyk, Zach Johnson, K.J. Choi) and everyone in between has been in the top parts of the leaderboard over the years. This week, the pressure of the money, the field and the moment will factor into my selections, along with current form and course history. With the way McIlroy is playing, this exercise might just be a moot point but let’s rank them all, from top-to-bottom just for fun!
The 10 projected best
Rory McIlroy: I have run out of superlatives to describe his performances over the last six weeks. He’s won three of the last four times he’s pegged it, including a major and two FedExCup Playoff events. He’s overpowered long, wet courses. He’s gone low when he’s needed to go low. His worse finish in his last four events was T24 at the Barclays when he finished 75th in putting so that shows you where the rest of his game is at currently. He’s afraid of nothing, including Tiger Woods. He’s long, accurate, and sharp with his irons. His putter and short game keep him from a perfect 10, but you couldn’t tell that by his recent results. If he wins this week, he’ll have won four of his last five events, a major, the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola AND the FedExCup Playoffs. Sounds like a guy we used to know…
Tiger Woods: He’s played this tournament only once since they have changed the greens but he finished second in 2009. Woods has been trying to chase down McIlroy for the last two weeks to no avail. Even though Woods has won three times in 2012, we haven’t seen four dominant rounds like we used to in the old days and those wins do not include a major, like McIlroy. This rivalry is brilliant for golf and Woods will not take this challenge lying down. He’s not thrilled with having to answer “Rory” questions every week but only his game can put a stop to those questions. Woods loves difficult courses and slick greens and his driver and 3-wood will have to cooperate this week for him to regain the top spot in golf again, at least for this week. If Woods wins, he will also have four wins, the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola and the FedExCup Playoffs but won’t have a major.
Luke Donald: After finishing solo second in 2010 and T3 last year, Donald is proof that shorter hitters can compete here. I’ve projected Donald and Furyk near the top because they are both accurate off the tee and have excellent short games. Pressure isn’t going to bother either of these guys and Donald, after his amazing 2011, wouldn’t mind sneaking in the back door to put some pressure on those with $10 million ideas swimming through their heads on Sunday. Donald has been off the radar the last couple of weeks as the bombers have been front and center but firm and fast are two words Donald should be excited to hear this week.
Phil Mickelson: He’s played this course enough times and has finished T3 (2008), WIN (2009), T22 (2010) and T10 last year since they have changed the putting surfaces. Mickelson defines streaky and his streak is heading in the right direction the last few weeks. After toiling in the middle of the summer, Mickelson has jumped right back into the conversation with his T4 at DBC and his T2 at BMW last week. Those were Mickelson’s first two top 10 finishes in seven events. His new putting grip has given him confidence and the loose shots are fewer and farther between.
Jim Furyk: Returning to East Lake for the first time since his bunker shot to less than two feet clinched his FedExCup championship in 2010. His backwards hat will be facing forward this week as he tries to pull the upset. He’s in fine form as he’s finished T13 DBC and solo ninth last week. Furyk has shown at the U.S. Open and WGC-BI that he has plenty of game to compete with the best fields and will be under zero pressure entering this week. In his last three events at East Lake since 2008, he’s finished T6, T7 and WIN in 2010. In 13 career starts here, his average finish is T8, better than Woods and Mickelson. Horse for course.
Lee Westwood: Westwood is also making his maiden voyage at East Lake and has been playing some of his best golf at the right time of the season. After T5 at the Barclays, Westwood finished T13 at DBC and shared second last week with Mickelson at Crooked Stick. His putter has shown signs of life as he is embracing his new short-game coach and his ball-striking has been his constant standard.
Adam Scott: The 2006 champion had his best finish on the “new” set-up last year as he finished T6. He’s finding his form late as he was T7 at DBC, where he had previously won, and was T6 last week at the BMW, including 24 birdies (T2). He’s hot. Giddy up.
Jason Dufner: After sitting out the first FedExCup Playoff event at Bethpage State Park, Dufner has yet to regain his form that we saw from him in late spring and early summer. His plan was to rest that week to get his batteries charged for the run-in and the Ryder Cup. Dufner’s ball-striking and improved putting should see him lingering around the top of the leaderboard this week. In two previous trips to East Lake, Dufner finished T19 in 2009 and T13 last year so he’s heading in the right direction.
Dustin Johnson: The only player in the Playoffs this year to find the top 10 in every event, Johnson would be ranked higher but his track record at East Lake leaves me a tad nervous. In three events, all in the last three years, Johnson has never finished better than T22. Johnson only has two rounds under par in 12 rounds here but his form right now is very encouraging. His improved short game has added another dimension and that could come in handy this week.
Zach Johnson: Another player who loves him some Georgia, Johnson has won third of his career victories, nine, in the “Peach” state. Johnson is excellent off the tee and superb on and around the greens. He’s finished T16 in 2009 and T9 in 2010 and has played this event five times in his career. After struggling post-British Open, Johnson turned it around last week at the BMW (T12) before a final round 72 stopped his momentum. He’ll also be happy to the fast and firm set-up this week to help level out the playing field.
Brandt Snedeker: The best putter on TOUR in the strokes gained-putting category, Snedeker’s ability to get up-and-down and to hole putts will be his advantage this week. In his only appearance at East Lake, Snedeker was T15 last year. Remember, with a win and he’s $10 million richer. Not exactly a five dollar Nassau, that.
Steve Stricker: Last year, Stricker was struggling at this time with his neck and shoulder and yet still finished 15th at East Lake. Look for a bounce-back week this week from Stricker as his driving and putting were off kilter last week. This will be his ninth TOUR Championship so I like his experience around East Lake with his steady driving and putting numbers.
Sergio Garcia: His wonderful ball-striking combined with his improved putting should help Garcia make some noise this week at East Lake. Garcia will have fond memories of this course as he finished fourth in 2007 and second in 2008 in his last two appearances. With the Ryder Cup just around the corner, I would expect the Spaniard to be firing on all cylinders this week.
Ryan Moore: With his birdie on 18 last week, Moore qualified, unbeknownst to him at the time, for the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola. He’s finished T10 in the last two Playoff events and is riding some momentum. In his only start at East Lake, he finished T9 in 2010. It would take nothing short of a miracle set of results for Moore to win the $10 million but his form suggests he can keep the ball rolling.
Justin Rose: After a struggling start to the Playoffs, Rose rebounded last week with T16 at the BMW. In three starts at East Lake, Rose has finished T11, T15 and T20 last year. One bad round has killed his chances in each of those years. Rose hits plenty of fairways and leads the TOUR in GIR. His putter will be the club that determines his fate this weekend.
Louis Oosthuizen: He’s hit the top five in three of his last five starts. The other two starts were T21 and T16 so Oosthuizen has been rolling. He’s fourth on TOUR in ball-striking as is in a very nice groove. In the playoffs, he’s finished T5, second and T16 last week after his 73 on Sunday.
Nick Watney: His victory at the Barclays has put him in with a shout for the $10 million. He’s hardly inspired confidence to gamers the last two weeks as he finished T20 at DBC and T45 at the BMW. This will be his fourth-consecutive start at East Lake and T4 in 2010 is his best finish. He was T26 last year and T13 in 2009.
Bo Van Pelt: He’s eighth in ball-striking and 10th in total putting. He has the most top 10’s on TOUR since 2010, including last week where he was T10 at the BMW. He won’t have the pressure of the home crowd to deal with this week so he could surprise. This is the third-straight appearance for BVP in the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by Coca-Cola. Last year he hit the top 10 with a solo-ninth place finish and was 24th in 2010.
Bubba Watson: 2012 has been quite a run for Watson and bully to you if you have had him in your season-long teams. Watson has made 15 cuts (of 18) and 15 times has hit the top 25. There is no cut this week, again, so “Bubbagolf” has four rounds to spread his wings. Last week, he took advantage of a final round 65 to finish T12 at the BMW. Watson prefers Augusta to Atlanta as his best finish in three trips around East Lake is T17 yet he does have a 64 (2011) to his credit.
John Huh: The only rookie to make the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola, Huh is a lock for Rookie of the Year on TOUR. This week, the steady driver and solid putter looks to build on his best finish (T16) last week since his T5 at CPIC the last weekend in May. Huh ranks in the top 30 in ball-striking, total driving and putting. He might not hit it a ton, but that didn’t slow him down at a long, wet Crooked Stick two weeks ago.
Ernie Els: What a ride 2012 has been for the “Big Easy”! There’s been absolutely nothing easy about it. From his late Sunday capitulation outside of Tampa to his brilliant back nine at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, Els has seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows. His best finish in seven events since his Open championship, Els’ best score is 68 and his best finish has been T26 at the DBC. The good news for Els fans is that he has torched East Lake since its re-do in 2008. He was T6 in 2008, solo ninth in 2009 and T7 in 2010. Els was not eligible for East Lake last season.
Robert Garrigus: Like Ryan Moore, Garrigus had to make hay on the back nine on Sunday at the BMW to qualify for East Lake and boy, did he. Garrigus finished T4 to jump from No. 31 to No. 20 after a rocky start, including a double bogey on the front side. Garrigus has used his mini-putter, his long putter and last time out, his medium-sized putter. Garrigus hits it a mile and is 11th in GIR but his accuracy off the tee and strokes gained-putting gives me pause this week.
Matt Kuchar: His last four starts on TOUR have been the PGA Championship and the three Playoff events. His record in those events, starting with the PGA, is MC, T38, T35 and T54 last week at BMW. In two events at East Lake, Kuchar has finished T25 (2010) and T20 last year. The last time I saw Kuchar in a highlight package he was playing ping-pong during a rain delay at the Barclays.
Webb Simpson: In seven events since his U.S. Open triumph, Simpson has posted just one finish in the top 10 (The Greenbrier). He’s seen the birth of his second child and missed two cuts in that span as well. After finishing second on the money list to Luke Donald last year, a regression this season wasn’t terribly surprising. I’d be concerned as he opened with 64 on a soft Crooked Stick two weeks ago but failed to break par in the final three rounds on a course where 20-under-par was the winning score. His family is happy; he’s on the Ryder Cup team. He’s good for 2012 is my guess. He finished 22nd here last year in his only start.
Carl Pettersson: After closing with 79 and zero birdies last time out at the BMW, I don’t have the innards to put Pettersson higher up the list. He stole our hearts as he battled McIlroy and a two-shot penalty at the PGA and almost backed that up with a win at Wyndham but it’s been slim pickings since. In three Playoff events, he’s finished T24, T57 and second-to-last at the BMW. If I was him, I would be more concerned about the lines at the Varsity than where his tee ball is heading.
Keegan Bradley: I have to keep reminding myself that this kid is just that, a kid. He’s on his second year on TOUR and has already won three times, including the PGA Championship last year across town at the Atlanta Athletic Club. He missed the cut at the Barclays on a course he played in college. He finished a very respectable T13 at the DBC in front of friends and family after making the cut on the number. At the BMW, he couldn’t break par at a tournament where 20-under was the winning score. He’s getting ready for his first Ryder Cup coming up at the end of the month so I would think he’ll be using this week as a tune-up. He was T11 here last year.
Rickie Fowler: In an interview with Fowler I was reading, he said he had three goals for 2012. One of them was winning on TOUR. Another was making the Ryder Cup team. The third was making the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola. He said two out of three isn’t bad. Since his 84 on Sunday with Woods at the Memorial, Fowler has exactly four rounds (of 26) in the 60’s. In May Fowler played three events where he won in a playoff (WFC), followed by T2 (THE PLAYERS) and concluded with T5 at CPIC. He was in the top 10 on Sunday at Memorial in his following tournament before his 84. His best finish coming in was T24 at the Barclays.
John Senden: Another solid season from the Aussie but he doesn’t have a podium finish to show for it. His best finish in 21 events was a solo fourth at the John Deere Classic in July. He’ll hit tons of fairways and plenty of greens but slick greens have rarely been his friend.
Scott Piercy: After three putting 18 at the BMW, Piercy had to sit around and make sure that Vijay Singh did not overtake him for the 30th and final spot at East Lake. Singh didn’t and Piercy’s post-season free-fall finished with a happy ending. Entering the playoffs No. 15 in the standings, Piercy MC at the Barclays, finished T64 at the DBC and was T37 last time out at the BMW. His final round 68 at Crooked Stick is his only round in the 60’s (of 10) in the Playoffs.
Hunter Mahan: Wow. 2012 has come full circle for Mahan. After two wins in his first seven events, Mahan finished the season with one top 10 in final 15 events heading into this week. He went from a Ryder Cup automatic selection to finishing ninth in the standings (only top eight make it) and missing out on a Captain’s pick. Since his T19 at the British Open, Mahan closed out with T48, T55, MC, MC, T39 and 70th last week of 70 players at the BMW. I know he finished P2 here last year and he’s made the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola for the sixth time in a row, but I cannot endorse him this week based on his current form. From all accounts Mahan is a great guy and we all hope to see him firing at flags and holing putts sooner than later.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola (Glass Picks)
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: Phil Mickelson
Group 3: Zach Johnson
Group 4: Jim Furyk
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read. Now, Ned also provides us with his Golf Channel fantasy game selections as well!
Full Disclosure: I am NOT Ned! He’s smarter and better looking!
Phil Mickelson-- He is coming into the TOUR Championship after a T4 at the Deutsche Bank and a T-2 at the BMW. His record over the last four years at East Lake is very good with three top 10s including at championship in '09.
Jim Furyk-- I think this spot is a toss-up between Adam Scott and Jim Furyk. Both players are on hot streaks coming into this week, but I'm giving Furyk the nod because he has a better record at East Lake and he will most likely move me very high in the final rankings if he does well.
Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia
Lee Westwood-- Westwood has played well in the PLAYOFFS with a T5 at The Barclays, a T13 at the Deutsche Bank and a T2 at the BMW. It's his first start at East Lake, so he really is about playing the hot hand.
Bubba Watson-- Watson doesn't have the strongest record at East Lake, but like Westwood, he is playing well right now with at T10 at The Barclays and a T12 at the BMW.
Dustin Johnson-- Normally, I would plug Tiger Woods, who has an outstanding record at the TOUR Championship, but I have run out of starts on him. Instead, I'm opting for Dustin Johnson, who doesn't have a great record at East Lake, but comes into this week playing very well.
Ryan Moore-- Rory McIlroy is an obvious pick right here, but I have run out of starts on him. I'm going to use Ryan Moore, who is at the bottom of the Group B list, but has notched back-to-back top 10s in the PLAYOFFS and has a T9 finish here in '09.
Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Bo Van Pelt, Justin Rose
Jason Dufner-- I thought Dufner played a bit tired at the BMW and normally I would be looking to fade him, but there is very little depth in Group C to chose from. I'm hoping that he has been able to recharge himself over the break and will revert to the form he had coming into the PLAYOFFS.
Louis Oosthuizen-- He has been red hot in the PLAYOFFS with a T5 at The Barclays and second place at the Deutsche Bank and a T16 at the BMW. Like Dufner, I thought Oosthuizen was getting tired in the final round of the BMW, so I'm expecting him to play well on the rest.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola (Ned’s Picks)
Group 1: Tiger Woods
Group 2: Phil Mickelson
Group 3: Sergio Garcia
Group 4: Jim Furyk
“And another thing…”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with TheGolfNewsNet.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at NOON ET. They will be breaking down the field at the the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.