By Sam McPherson
The 2017-18 PGA Tour season comes to a close this week with the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. The best golfers in the world will play the final 72 holes of the year to determine an overall champion. Three FedExCup playoff tournaments have whittled down the field to just 30 players, and by the end of the day Sunday, the PGA Tour will crown one of them as the winner.
Before looking at the Tour Championship, however, let’s review the last 12 months, and 44 events before the playoffs even began, to see just how the Tour arrived at this moment. Four different players — Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, and Bubba Watson — won three times each this season, and it is no surprise all four are in the Tour Championship field.
Johnson and Tony Finau led the Tour this year with 11 finishes in the top 10 over the season’s tournaments. Justin Rose was right behind them with 10 top-10 finishes. Finau and Rose will both tee it up this week as well in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Johnson (68.702), Rose (69.000), and Thomas (69.117) finished 1-2-3 in scoring average. They were followed by Brooks Koepka (69.310), who won both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and Webb Simpson (69.311), both of whom are headed to East Lake as well.
For those fans who like the long ball, Rory McIlroy led the Tour in driving distance this season, averaging a whopping 320 yards off the tee; Finau was third at 316.3 yards. McIlroy won the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016, and he has an outside shot at winning it all again this week, too, thanks to his driver.
One of the most telling metrics in golf is strokes gained tee-to-green, and the top-5 players in this statistical category are all playing in the Tour Championship. Johnson (1.981), Thomas (1.613), and Rose (1.388) finished first, third, and fifth, respectively, in strokes gained tee-to-green, while British Open winner Francesco Molinari (1.684) and Patrick Cantlay (1.408) finished second and fourth, respectively. In keeping with the pattern here, Molinari and Cantlay are both playing in Atlanta as well.
In terms of strokes gained overall against the field on average, the best players are familiar names: Johnson (2.352), Rose (1.964), Thomas (1.929), DeChambeau (1.664), and Tiger Woods (1.597). Over the last few months, a reinvigorated Woods has finished sixth at the British Open and second at the PGA Championship. Play like that has him in the Tour Championship with a chance to win the FedExCup for the third time.
When it comes shots gained on the greens alone, Jason Day (0.800) led the Tour this season, while Phil Mickelson (0.701) finished fourth in the category. Both are in Atlanta, with slightly better chances overall to win the event and claim the FedExCup itself than either McIlroy or Woods.
Every golfer needs to be able to save par when things do not go right off the tee, and Simpson has been the best on the PGA Tour this year, making par or better 66.88 percent of the time after missing the green in regulation. McIlroy was second (65.67 percent), and Rickie Fowler was fifth at 64.89 percent. Thanks to five top 10s this year, Fowler gave himself a shot at the FedExCup, even though he did not win a single event this season.
Perhaps the best thing about the Tour Championship is that every one of the top 30 golfers has a chance to win the FedExCup with a victory at East Lake. Even No. 30 Patton Kizzire, although he will need a lot of help to do so. That makes it the most interesting event of the season, and the perfect ending. It is, perhaps, the best four days in golf all season long.
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Next On The Tee: Tour Championship
This is it: The 30 best players of the 2017-18 season come together to decide the overall Tour champion. Last year, Xander Schauffele won this event, and Thomas finished second to claim the FedExCup title. Schauffele has a chance to defend his tournament title, and Thomas also has the opportunity to win the Cup again. No player has won this event twice since it became the final event of the playoffs in 2007, and only Woods has managed to win the Cup twice (2007, 2009).
In addition to all the aforementioned players who have had stellar seasons, the Tour Championship also includes less-famous players, like Cameron Smith and Kyle Stanley, two golfers who did not win an event on Tour this year. Nine of the 30 players in this week’s event went winless this season, including Finau and Woods. DeChambeau has the points lead, with Rose, Finau, Johnson, and Thomas right behind him, thanks to the rest of the point totals. Depending on how the balls drop into the cup from Thursday to Sunday, though, each golfer on the East Lake course is a threat to win the event — and the FedExCup.
As for the circuit itself, the course was designed originally by Donald Ross and later made famous by the legendary Bobby Jones in the early part of the twentieth century. Later, it was restored by Rees Jones to Ross’s original intent. The Tour Championship has been played at East Lake continuously since 2004, including every year of the PGA Tour playoffs, which began in 2007. Zach Johnson set the course record in 2007 when he shot 60 on the par-70 loop. The tournament records were set by Woods that same year at 23-under par and 257 overall.
The East Lake Golf Club course plays 7,364 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose
Players to Watch: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods