Tour Championship 2021 picks: Even with huge deficit, we love Sungjae Im at East Lake
On a normal week, sharp bettors are constantly monitoring live in-tournament odds in the hopes of finding a player with some value that may be five or six shots back of the leaders. Yet, on Tour Championship week, which features the "starting strokes" format, we toss aside those same players who are starting the week five or six shots back, because conventional wisdom tells us the guys at the top of the leader board are the only ones who have a real chance at the FedEx Cup.
In 2020, that line of thinking would be correct, as Dustin Johnson started with the lead and claimed the FedEx Cup with relative ease. The year before that, however, Rory McIlroy was able to erase his five-stroke deficit to begin the tournament, winning the FedEx Cup title for the second time in his career.
With such a limited sample size, it’s hard to know what to expect this week at East Lake. Judging by the last few months on the PGA Tour, though, no lead is safe. If you go in with that mindset, from a betting perspective, there is some valuable numbers to be found in this 30-man field. Our job is to hopefully steer you toward those guys, like Sungjae Im, who our experts are high on this week after a T-3 finish at the BMW Championship.
Read on to see who we like this week in Atlanta.
Tour Championship 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Dustin Johnson (22-1, DraftKings) — I like the 12-1 line on him without starting strokes much better. DJ got back to his strong off-the-tee game last week, gaining the fourth-most strokes at the BMW per datagolf. He always rises to the occasion at East Lake, and I’d bet on him doing it again.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Collin Morikawa (22-1, DraftKings*) — I like the “without starting strokes” odds (22-1) much better. Morikawa, despite the poor play of late, is the most attractive play there.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Cameron Smith (22-1, FanDuel) — Smith starts five-under par, which is where we saw Rory McIlroy win from back in 2019. Smith ranks in the 97th percentile in birdie-or-better rate gained over the past 50 rounds on tour, according to Fantasy National, so he should have the ability to make a move. He’s a strong Bermuda putter and shouldn’t be penalized for mediocre driving stats this week.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Patrick Cantlay (+380, DraftKings) — I know it’s boring, but the starting strokes format is incredibly valuable to those at the top … obviously. Even with just an average week from Cantlay, he would remain somewhere in the top three. Outside of the four tournament stretch from The Players Championship to the Wells Fargo Championship, Cantlay has been one of the best players on the tour this season.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Sungjae Im (40-1, MyBookie) — This is a weird betting week. I’m punting on the top and just looking for potential value. Sungjae looked really good last week, and though he’s struggled at East Lake in the past, I’m trusting the eye test more than his past form. He was top five in the field at the BMW tee to green, and longer term, Sungjae is one of the best Bermuda putters in the field (he’s fourth looking at the past 50 rounds on Fantasy National, but in the bottom 10 over the past 24 rounds). I’ll buy the upside of his third-place finish from last week.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Justin Thomas (18-1, FanDuel) — If you’ve read this column the last two weeks, you’re well aware I’ve been chasing JT. Might as well take one last ride, especially considering his history at East Lake and how well he is playing tee-to-green right now. He’s only six back, which is a deficit he can make up in his sleep, provided the putter gets hot. We’re going to need that to happen this week for this to have any chance.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Harris English (37-1, FanDuel) — There are big question marks for me around Cantlay and Finau so I see English not starting too far behind the leaders. English has been playing great golf of late and ranks top five in the field this week for both total strokes-gained over the last two years and strokes-gained/putting on Bermuda greens over the same period. English, ranked 11th in the world, has three top-five finishes in his last six events, including a win.
Recent results: Golf Digest's betting panel has been red-hot the past two seasons—and we’re finishing this season on a strong run, too. Our experts have now predicted 13 of the past 27 winners—an insane clip in predicting golf events (after going up 225.30 units last season!). Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel just predicted Patrick Cantlay’s victory at the BMW Championship at 23-1, giving him four wins on the season. Christopher Powers recently predicted Kevin Kisner’s win at the Wyndham (55-1) and Cameron Champ’s victory at the 3M Open (at 150-1), which gave him five wins this year. Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports picked up his second win of the year by predicting Collin Morikawa’s victory at The Open (at 40-1, after hitting Garrick Higgo at the Palmetto, also at 40-1). Stephen Hennessey predicted Jason Kokrak’s victory at the Charles Schwab Challenge (at 45-1), giving him two wins on the year (Jordan Spieth at 11-1 at the Valero). Rick Gehman also has two wins this year (Justin Thomas at the Players; Daniel Berger at 14-1 at Pebble Beach), as does Pat Mayo, who predicted Brooks Koepka’s WMPO win at 50-1 as well as Collin Morikawa’s WGC-Workday win at 33-1. We’ll stop there! Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Listen to Golf Digest's weekly betting podcast, "Be Right," (below) where we interview the industry's leading experts (and sometimes tour pros) to help you make your bets and pick your fantasy lineups. And be sure to subscribe to "Be Right" wherever you get your podcasts!
Tour Championship 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win
Caddie: Sungjae Im (40-1, MyBookie) — I loved what I saw from Sungjae last week. He’s been hot and cold from round to round all year, but he won’t have much pressure starting eight strokes back this week. And I think he can make that up in a hurry.
Mayo: Sungjae Im (40-1, DraftKings*, I’d bet him 30-1 without strokes) — Sam Burns might be everybody’s Bermuda darling, but Sungjae might be just as good with the putter on Bermuda greens.
Gdula: Brooks Koepka (50-1, FanDuel) — If anyone can run down the top of the field, Brooks is on that list. He’ll say it himself that he’s not always motivated to play his best golf, but a $15-million check should have him dialed in. Koepka’s tee-to-green game is strong right now, but the putter is cold. And he’s a good Bermuda putter.
Gehman: Cameron Smith (22-1, FanDuel) — It’s always a little jarring to consider a longshot at only 22-1, but that’s the situation we have this week. There are likely only four or five golfers with a legitimate shot at winning this event and Smith, starting at five under, is one of them. Smith has three top-10 finishes in his last four starts and has been a staple on the top of the leaderboard all year long.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Daniel Berger (125-1, MyBookie) — This is a bit of a pipe dream, but there’s a reason this has been one of the most popular bets of the week (he’s the fourth-most popular bet of the week, per our friends at Oddschecker.com/us). Berger has supplanted Collin Morikawa as the best iron player in the game over the past 24 rounds per Fantasy National. And he’s third in my model, being sixth in SG/total on par-70 courses between 7,200 and 7,400 yards and ranking eighth in SG/off the tee. The better bet is Berger at 25-1 or so to have the best score without starting strokes … that’s where my money is going.
Powers, Golf Digest: Sungjae Im (40-1, MyBookie) — If you’re going to throw a dart with one of these guys who needs to come from the back of the pack, you have to go with either Bermuda Burns or Bermuda Im. I’ll ride with Sungjae over Sam here.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Sungjae Im (40-1, MyBookie) — Im’s all round play last week was fantastic and he now ranks sixth in the field this week for total strokes-gained over the last two months. We all know what a great player Im is when he is at his best and all signs point to that being the case. He is also the third-best putter in the field on Bermuda greens over the last two years.
Tour Championship 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Tony Finau (+700, MyBookie) — Finau doesn’t have a great track record at East Lake, and he reverted back to the mediocre Tony Finau we saw all summer at Caves Valley. He’s already solidified his spot on the Ryder Cup, so there won’t be that sense of urgency this week.
Mayo: Patrick Cantlay (+380, DraftKings) — The law of averages says Cantlay will lose strokes with the putter after that outrageous putting performance at Caves Valley. If that happens, this thing will be wide open.
Gdula: Bryson DeChambeau (+550, DraftKings) — We’re a historic putting performance from Patrick Cantlay away from discussing Bryson as someone who dominated the BMW Championship by six shots, but East Lake rewards driving accuracy plenty, so we should see plenty of golfers in the mix. The odds just are too short even with a seven-under start.
Gehman: Rory McIlroy (25-1, DraftKings) — The “fade” on McIlroy is in regards to his winning potential. As much as I love the way his game is shaping up, it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to start at two under (eight shots off the lead) and win. Some quick calculations over at RickRunGood.com reveal that he would need to gain approximately 13 strokes to the field to have a chance on Sunday. That’s something he’s accomplished just once since the start of 2020.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Patrick Cantlay (+380, DraftKings) — I love the stat from Justin Ray: Only 14-percent of players with a two-stroke lead after Round 1 this season have gone on to win. Cantlay just had THE best SG/putting week since the stat was created in 2004 … and we know that putting isn’t easy to replicate week to week. I expect full fireworks this week at East Lake, so I think it’ll be tough for Cantlay to hold on for the lead with 72 holes to go.
Powers, Golf Digest: Patrick Cantlay (+380, DraftKings) — He’ll probably win, but there’s no way he can replicate that putting performance from BMW. That should give the field a chance to catch him, enough for me to back off at these odds.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Cantlay (+380, DraftKings) — Cantlay does not play well at East Lake and a major reason for that is his poor putting stats on Bermuda greens. Anyone chasing his putting performance last week is going to be disappointed. I see Cantlay being caught within the first round.
Tour Championship 2021 picks: Matchups
Caddie: Erik van Rooyen (-105) over Billy Horschel (DraftKings) – Van Rooyen is hitting it great over the past month. He won in Tahoe, played great even in the final group at Liberty National and backed it up at Caves Valley. There’s no reason that tee-to-green game shouldn’t translate to East Lake.
Mayo: Sam Burns (+115) over Abraham Ancer (DraftKings) — Burns should not be this big an underdog against Ancer. Both guys are equally hot right now and Burns is the best Bermuda putter in this field.
Gdula: Rory McIlroy (+106) over Dustin Johnson (FanDuel) — McIlroy has been great at East Lake in his career and also ranks second behind just Rahm in adjusted strokes-gained/tee-to-green over the past three months among this field. DJ ranks 23rd.
Gehman: Daniel Berger (-160) over Sergio Garcia (DraftKings) — Seemingly everything points in the direction of Berger who will start at even-par, along with Sergio Garcia. Not only has Berger gained strokes on approach in every event since the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but he still has a lot to play for. While it’s unlikely he wins this week, this is his final audition for the U.S. Ryder Cup team where his status is unclear. One last impressive start could be the swaying factor for Captain Stricker.
Hennessey: Jon Rahm (-158) over Bryson DeChambeau (FanDuel) – I don’t mind Bryson spotting Rahm a stroke. Rahm outgains Bryson in all the key SG categories, especially SG/approach (fifth for Rahm compared to 24th for Bryson over the past 24 rounds, per Fantasy National). Rahm’s first in my Fantasy National custom model compared to 12th for Bryson, enough of an edge to lay this big number.
Powers: Dustin Johnson (-155) over Viktor Hovland (DraftKings) — Considering they are both starting at three under, this feels like too big a number to lay with DJ. But Hovland is struggling right now, particularly with his short game, while DJ seems to be on the rise, and he’s playing a course he’s had a ton of success at.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Harris English (-111) over Corey Conners (Betway) — As you can see above, English is my favourite to win. Conners on the other hand played abysmally here at East Lake on the only time he’s played, finishing 26th in a 30-man field. The main reason for this is the fact he putts so poorly on Bermuda greens.
Matchup results from the BMW Championship: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Rory McIlroy (+105) over Brooks Koepka); Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Patrick Cantlay (-111) over Jordan Spieth); Everybody else: 0 for 1.
Matchup Results this season (Wins-Losses-Pushes): Alldrick: 27-15-1 (up 6.63 units); Hennessey: 24-17-3 (up 5.22 units); Powers: 23-19-4 (up 1.93 units); Gdula: 22-22-2 (down 1.12 units); Gehman: 20-24-2 (down 4.61 units); Mayo: 18-24-3 (down 6.83 units); Caddie: 16-25-5 (down 7.79 units).
Tour Championship 2021 picks: Top 10
Caddie: Rory McIlroy (-110, FanDuel) – Rory loves East Lake, and in a 30-man field at nearly even odds, this feels like a safe bet based on how well we saw him play last week.
Mayo: Sam Burns (+160, DraftKings) — Playing too well right now and is starting the tournament tied for sixth.
Gdula: Daniel Berger (+490, FanDuel) — Berger starts at even par and is, then, four shots out of T-10 to start the event, so he has ground to make up. However, we’d normally be boosting him at a course that rewards accuracy and has Bermuda greens, so that checks out for him at East Lake. Berger is also fourth in this field in adjusted strokes-gained/tee-to-green over the past three months in my database.
Gehman: Sam Burns (+160, DraftKings) — Burns has plenty of upside and firepower to move up the board, but he won’t necessarily need it to cash this wager. He’s going to start the Tour Championship at four under, in a tie for sixth place. We’ve seen Burns thrive when he gets the advantage of four guaranteed rounds and as long as he avoids disasters, he will make plenty of noise this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Xander Schauffele (+115, FanDuel) – Xander ranks first in this field in SG/total in the past 24 rounds at East Lake, per Fantasy National. Though he starts eight strokes back, he’s just two shots back of what would be T-6 right now. I love Xander’s chances of doing that, and I’m sure he does, too.
Powers, Golf Digest: Sungjae Im (+180, DraftKings) — Sungjae seems to be rounding into form and he’s playing on his favorite putting surface.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Scottie Scheffler (+300, FanDuel) — Scheffler loves playing at East Lake and ranks fifth in the field this week for total strokes-gained at the Tour Championship course. He has five top-14 finishes in his last eight events so a top 10 here in a 30-man event is within his grasp.
Top-10 results from the BMW Championship: Mayo: 1 for 1 (Rory McIlroy (+230); Everybody else: 0 for 1.
Top-10 results from this season: Gehman: 10 for 43 (up 12.85 units); Hennessey: 7 for 41 (down 1.87 units); Powers: 8 for 43 (down 4.37 units); Gdula: 4 for 42 (down 14 units); Tour caddie: 7 for 42 (down 17.98 units); Mayo: 4 for 42 (down 19.2 units); Alldrick: 3 for 41 (down 26.5 units).
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By The Numbers:
Courtesy of Rick Gehman of RickRunGood.com:
1.42 - The number of strokes gained per round by Rory McIlroy at East Lake in 28 rounds since 2011. That is, by far, the most in this field by any golfer with as many rounds.
31.02 - The number of strokes lost by Kevin Na in his five trips to East Lake, the worst mark in the field.
739 - The number of days since Jon Rahm last lost strokes off-the-tee in a measured event. He’s gained in 32 straight measured events, dating back to the 2019 Tour Championship.
8.03 - The number of strokes gained off-the-tee by Bryson DeChambeau last week at the BMW Championship. That’s the most in any event of his career and the most by any player in any PGA Tour event since 2018.
About our experts
Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, owner of the Mayo Media Network and host of The Pat Mayo Experience. (Subscribe for video or audio. Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com.
Brandon Gdula, managing editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year *(congrats, Brandon!)*. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Rick Gehman is the founder of RickRunGood.com and the RickRunGood YouTube Channel, is one of the industry’s leading experts on golf DFS and gambling. Gehman is co-host of the First Cut Podcast and appears regularly on the Pat Mayo Experience golf podcasts. Follow him on Twitter: @RickRunGood.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a U.K.-based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.