For 20 years the Tour Championship was, as it name suggests, the final event of the PGA Tour season in which the top 30 money winners completed for an obscene amount of cash.
The colossal Tour Championship cheques remain but now the event is the final event of the FedExCup, which is best described as a championship trophy for the PGA Tour. Its introduction marked the first time that men’s professional golf had a play-off system. The first FedExCup took place in 2007 when Tiger Woods won two of the four events, including the Tour Championship, to take out the overall points race.
This year’s Tour Championship will be contested at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. It will be the 12th time that the Georgia course has hosted the exclusive event having had the honour previously in 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and every year since then. The East Lake Golf Club was the home of Bobby Jones, who won 13 major championships in the 1920s and 1930s before deciding to retire from playing at the age of 28.
The Tour Championship is exclusive because, as it stands in 2012, the field is limited to the top 30 players in the FedExCup race after the tournament that precedes it on the calendar, the BMW Championship. Only the very best PGA Tour performers tee it up at the East Lake Golf Club and, because the entry list is so small, there is no 36-hole cut. Everyone has the opportunity to play four rounds.
Rory McIlroy has won three of the last four tournaments in which he has played and bookmakers are taking no chances with the bang-in-form Northern Irishman, quoting him at a general 4-1. At those odds, punters should look elsewhere. He has not competed at the East Lake Golf Club before and driving accuracy, which is usually a key statistic at the Atlanta track, is one in which he ranks extremely poorly.
McIlroy is 142nd in this year’s PGA Tour driving accuracy rankings and that shapes as a big concern for anyone backing the hot favourite. The East Lake Golf Club’s toughest test is off the tee, with the Georgia layout one of the hardest on which to get the ball in play. Most winners at the East Lake Golf Club split an above-average number of fairways.
So what about the man whom bookmakers usually list at the top of golf betting markets, Woods? Well, he has won two Tour Championship titles, including one at the East Lake Golf Club in 2007, and he is ranked a respectable 45th for driving accuracy on the PGA Tour this year. The 14-time major winner makes considerably more appeal at 6-1 than McIlroy does at 4-1 but there is better value elsewhere.
Jim Furyk leaps off the page at around 25-1. Only Woods has better East Lake Golf Club statistics than the man with the strangest swing in professional golf and Furyk seems to have got the disappointment of missing out on this year’s US Open title out of his system, as well as playing well in recent weeks. There is a lot to like about Furyk at the odds.
First, Furyk won the 2010 Tour Championship by one stroke, firing rounds of 67, 65, 70 and 70 to edge out Luke Donald. Overall, Furyk has played in eight Tour Championship events for one win, two top fives, five top 10s and eight top 20s, with his average finishing position being between eighth and ninth and his average round score being a solid 69.06.
Second, Furyk is third in this year’s PGA Tour driving accuracy rankings and the two men above him – Jerry Kelly (first) and Tim Clark (second) – have not qualified for the Tour Championship. Rarely does Furyk go awry off the tee.
And third, there is Furyk’s price. There are no mugs in this year’s Tour Championship field but Furyk, based on his past and recent form, surely has a better-than-average chance of landing the biggest of the big cheques. In a 30-man race, Furyk is over the odds at 25-1. He should be around 16-1.
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Favour accurate drivers
The East Lake Golf Club is one of the hardest courses on which to find the fairway consistently off the tee so go with golfers who are ranked highly in driving accuracy.
Know the FedExCup state of play
The Tour Championship is the final tournament in the race for the FedExCup so get familiar with what it will take for each of the 30 golfers to take out this year’s series. For example, any of the current top five – McIlroy, Woods, Nick Watney, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker – is guaranteed to win the FedExCup if he wins the Tour Championship. For everyone else, the mathematics are much more complicated.
Be wary of Tour Championship form before 2008
Tour Championship form before 2008 – and certainly before 2004 – is not worth as much as that from 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. That is because East Lake Golf Club only became the regular venue for the Tour Championship in 2004 and, furthermore, in 2008 the greens changed and so did the scoring, with the course proving harder to master.