Caddie Network

Tour Championship 2021: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Jon Rahm and caddie Adam Hayes. Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Summer was all there was. We were playing golf, breathing heat.

The top 29 players on the PGA Tour gather in Georgia this week for the Tour Championship, in all its glory. Staggered Scoring! Not everyone understands it and hardly anyone likes it but we’re stuck with it, all the same.

Patrick Cantlay walks to the first tee on Thursday at 10-under par. Sergio Garcia and three others are 10 shots back. The remaining 24 golfers are sprinkled in between based on their current place in the FedEx Cup standings. Tony Finau (-8) is the closest to the lead and come Sunday afternoon some fortunate pro will have earned $15 million and an enormous silver cup.

MORE: Caddie Line homepage | Under the Strap Podcast: Previewing the Tour Championship

As goofy as it may be, the format will likely create drama on the back nine at East Lake GC, the 7,319-yard, par-70 Donald Ross layout in the heart of Atlanta. Cantlay can smell the cash from where he stands but he can’t spend it. I will use this opportunity, however, to again urge the Tour officials to put the stacks of cash in a glass box on the first tee for each player to see – but not touch. That’s one hundred and fifty thousand $100 bills.

A nice visual.

The lead is hardly insurmountable, although the course, one of the most difficult on the PGA Tour each year, doesn’t yield the birdies we’ve seen the last two weeks. Still, a golfer can erase a five or six-shot deficit in one round. Likely, someone will.

It’s a strange field to handicap. The thick Bermuda rough at East Lake puts a premium on hitting fairways. There are four par 4s in the 400-450 yard range and five measuring between 450 and 500. The greens are perfect, fast with slight undulations and Bermuda, so it’s wise to focus on those who putt the best on the surface.

Be certain to check your format for the week. On most fantasy games there’s a wider than usual range in salaries because the points will be factored based on the player’s final official finish, not on the scores shot over 72 holes this week. Maybe we’re better off with this format. Either way, it’s here to stay.

Bargain Bin

  • Daniel Berger, Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

10. Sam Burns (-4). He’s tied for sixth on the leaderboard but leads the field in SG: Putting over the last 50 rounds on Bermuda greens and Tee-to-Green has gained 6.4, 5.9, 3.7 and 41. Shots on the field in his last four measured starts, posting top 10s in two of his last three outings. Making his first Tour Championship appearance.

9. Harris English (-4). Another excellent Bermuda greens putter who shot four rounds of par or better at East Lake last year, closing with a 67 to tie for 12th. His ballstriking has slipped slightly the last two weeks but still gained shots Tee-to-Green and on approach at Caves Valley.

8. Abraham Ancer (-4). Leads the field in Good Drives Gained over the last 50 rounds and is second in Bogey Avoidance over the same span. Hasn’t played great in two previous East Lake attempts (T-18 and T-21) but he’s also playing the best golf of his life, proving he could take down an outstanding field four weeks ago in Memphis (on Bermuda greens).

7. Rory McIlroy (-2). Iron play has been inconsistent yet still finished T-4 last week despite losing 0.2 shots on approach. Has a terrific record at East Lake, winning this tournament twice and finishing runner-up in the last six years. Gained 6.2 shots Tee-to-Green last week and 9.7 at WGC-St. Jude.

6. Xander Schauffele (-2). Hasn’t been sharp since his gold medal effort in Tokyo but can erase the recent mediocrity with inspired play on a course he loves. Has a win and pair of runner-ups in four East Lake starts (and actually shot the lowest 72-hole score last year but couldn’t overcome the staggered start).

5. Tony Finau (-8). Closed with 63 at Caves Valley and won the Northern Trust. Putting as well as he has in his career, gaining four shots two weeks ago and six last week. Has two top 10s in four trips to East Lake and might be in the ideal position to make a charge to the big Cup. Doesn’t have the pressure of holding the lead but could erase the deficit in one hole.

4. Scottie Scheffler (-1). Has nothing to lose (you get $395,000 just for maintaining a pulse for four days). Finished T-5 in his East Lake debut a year ago, has Ryder Cup motivation and has shown up against the strongest fields all year. Good around the greens (8th in SG) and sixth in Good Drives Gained.

3. Sungjae Im (-3). Putts his best on Bermuda greens and is in a ballstriking groove. The last three weeks he’s gained an average of 6.9 strokes Tee-to-Green. Finished T-19 and 11th at East Lake the last two years and can say he’s never missed the Tour Championship as a PGA Tour member. On a nice progression, finishing 24th, 16th and third the last three weeks.

2. Justin Thomas (-4). Had a bad week with the wedges at Caves Valley but the rest of his iron play was pinpoint. Is driving it well again and has gained at least 4.7 shots Tee-to-Green in his last three starts. Has never finished worse than seventh in five appearances at East Lake with a pair of runner ups.

1. Jon Rahm (-6). Sure, he’s the Vegas favorite whether you slice it staggered or straight up. And for obvious reasons. Missed out on a sure victory at Memorial, let one slip away late at Northern Trust and yet it feels like the U.S. Open champion has been the best golfer on Tour all season. Finished between fourth and 12th in his four East Lake starts and leads the field in SG: Total over the last 50 rounds – or the last 12. Has five consecutive top 10s and gained six shots on approach at East Lake a year ago. The big Spaniard gets the big cup.

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