East Lake Tour Championship

Tour Championship

The FedEx Cup draws to a close this week at the Tour Championship with 30 players battling it out for an extraordinary $15 million at East Lake.

Dustin Johnson leads the standings, even after a defeat to Jon Rahm in a play-off at the BMW Championship, who sits second.

Justin Thomas is third, Webb Simpson fourth and PGA champion Collin Morikawa makes up the top five.

In a setup created last year, Johnson goes off with a two-shot lead in reward for being top of the standings, with the starting score for all players staggered after that depending on their position in the FedEx Cup standings.

It is not an insurmountable task for some of these world class players to be able to come from three, four, five or more strokes behind, as Jon Rahm’s spectacular weekend at the BMW Championship demonstrated.

Similarly, DJ running away with it like he did at the Northern Trust and making it a dull, uninteresting Tour Championship is far from inconceivable either.

I’m not entirely convinced by the format, but also not full of ideas of how else for it to play out, apart from how it was before. All in all, I’m not particularly big on the week ahead or extremely invested in how things will play out.

The man who to me looks best priced in the market without the starting handicap is PGA champion Collin Morikawa (18/1).

This will be his first visit to East Lake, but that will not phase a player who was able to win a major at only the second time of asking.

Morikawa, who put on a show to clinch his first major title a few weeks ago, could top off an already magnificent season by doing the unthinkable and adding the FedEx Cup to his trophy cabinet.

It’s possible he could come from behind and defeat DJ, Rahm and Justin Thomas, but I especially like his chances with everyone starting at E.

A top 20 last week, fighting back from +7 after two rounds to finish +5 on a course that was playing very tough in Olympia Fields, the young American will take some encouragement from his golf on the weekend in Illinois.

Although his PGA Championship hangover probably spilled over to the Northern Trust where he missed the cut, I’m sure his game is back where he wants it now.

You only have to look at a similar player in Xander Schauffele, who has yet to fall out the top 10 at East Lake in three visits, winning once and finishing runner-up last year.

Schauffele is somebody who has a very similar game to Morikawa, which bodes well for the latter having some success here too this week.

Morikawa ranks fourth in SG: tee-to-green for the season, and second in SG: approach. Although he ranks 136th in putting, that has actually took a huge upturn since the PGA, which is only likely to make his game even better.

The main question mark since he’s been on tour has been his putting. Now he’s demonstrated that he can putt, while also showing the mental strength to come back from a play-off defeat just after lockdown, Morikawa can win anytime, anywhere.

Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Following the conclusion of a hugely successful UK Swing, which ended with a tremendous victory from behind for young Dane Rasmus Hojgaard at the Belfry, the European Tour is branching out to Spain for the Andalucia Valderrama Masters.

Hojgaard’s string of performances of late, mostly in the UK Swing, have been incredibly impressive, and he was finally rewarded with a second victory on the European Tour in his rookie season.

It’s no surprise, after that fearless final round display in Birmingham, that Hojgaard heads the market this week, with Martin Kaymer, Bernd Wiesberger and Thomas Detry closely behind.

Kaymer is incredibly tempting after a fantastic tee-to-green display at the Belfry, but at 14/1 it’s hard to pull the trigger on somebody that has struggled so much for consistency in recent years.

Around him there are plenty of players who are equally appealing – Detry and Wiesberger in particular – but like Kaymer it is hard to predict they will be able to get over the line come Sunday.

Instead I’d like to go with somebody who has a great track record at Valderrama, even despite some slightly poor recent form.

Joost Luiten (20/1) has ended outside the top 20 only once in his last six visits to Valderrama and finished in the top five on three of those occasions, which is a fantastic run of form at one of the most popular venues in Spain.

Twice runner-up in 2016 and 2017, the Dutchman is evidently a massive fan of the Spanish classic. When looking at his tee-to-green stats over the years, it’s no surprise that he’s had such success here.

Valderrama is tight and tree-lined, which leads to it being demanding both off the tee and in approach play. With Luiten ranking inside the top 50 for driving accuracy every season since 2015 (including 2020) and the same for greens in regulation all the way back to 2010, his streak at Valderrama makes sense.

Unfortunately, he may have very fond memories of Valderrama but doesn’t have particularly good form heading into the event.

He has gone MC-51-MC in his last three events, after being 18th and 6th in Austria. It’s not particularly encouraging, but being at the Forest of Arden, which was completely unknown to him, a PGA Championship with the best field in golf, and a difficult, windy Celtic Manor in his last three poor results, I’m not going to read too much into it.

He has the ingredients to win here without doubt, and course form is undoubtedly important at Valderrama, more so than most other places with how crucial it is to be strategic.

With such experience on this golf course, he is to me the best of the rest after Hojgaard, Kaymer and Detry, while also being good value at 20/1 too.

With at least one Spaniard almost always contending in this event, it would be silly not to back one this week.

Although he is yet to win a stroke play event on the European Tour, being in the comfort of his own country without the added pressure of the fans presents Adrian Otaegui (50/1) with a brilliant opportunity to win on home soil.

The Spaniard was having a pretty torrid run of form last year, even missing seven consecutive cuts at one stage. 2020 wasn’t going that much better for him either pre-lockdown, posting no top-25s in his first five starts.

However, his return at the UK Swing has been much more positive. Managing a 35th on his first week back after a long break, while also finishing runner-up at Hanbury Manor and 14th in the Celtic Classic, Otaegui will be much happier with his finishes since the European Tour re-started.

And after a nice rest with a week off at the Belfry, I feel he will be raring to go in his home land.

He may have missed the cut last year, but I can forgive that when considering his performances in 2019. Other than that, he finished 38th in his first tournament at Valderrama in 2016, and followed that up with a 12th a year later.

Those are two pretty positive finishes when taking into account the pressure of playing in front of a home crowd and it being his first eight professional rounds at Valderrama.

He ranks 45th in driving accuracy for the season, which is not bad all things considered, and 25th in SG: approach.

His putting isn’t exactly a specialty in his game and could do with some work, but his long game has largely been pretty consistent.

Being on home surfaces and somewhere he has undoubtedly played a lot, I like his chances and strongly believe he’ll be much more comfortably on these greens.

The reduced pressure of no fans is only going to help him and play into his hands too, and I think there’s a fair chance Otaegui could finally break that duck in a stroke play event in Cadiz.

Once upon a time Maximilian Kieffer (125/1) was one of the most consistent and talked up players on the European Tour.

Unfortunately for him, since 2015, a season in which he missed just two cuts, he hasn’t been able to maintain that level of performance.

He has been able to find some consistency since the European Tour’s restart though, going 6-MC-14-44 in his last four events.

It’s hardly outstanding form but it’s a start, and he’ll most definitely be keen to build on it.

To put it into perspective, that sixth placed finish in Austria was his best result since the Maybank Open at the beginning of the 2019 season, illustrating just how difficult he has been finding it.

Surprisingly though, his SG: tee-to-green rank for the season is still only 46th. And his tee-to-green game is likely to have improved even further in recent weeks, which should be a confidence boost on a tree-lined layout like Valderrama.

Kieffer may have had his struggles, but hopefully he is on the other side of that battle now. This week is a glorious chance to better that sixth in Austria, and potentially go better than he did here a couple of years ago when he finished fifth.

Collin Morikawa w/o handicap (18/1) – 2 pts

Joost Luiten (20/1) – 2 pts e.w.

Adrian Otaguei (50/1) – 1 pt e.w.

Maximilian Kieffer (125/1) – 1 pt e.w.

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