PGA Tour Picks: Tour Championship

By Tom LaMarre

Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler tied for third in the BMW Championship to regain the top spot in the FedEx Cup point standings and it earned him 10 strokes in the unique starting grid for the Tour Championship, which begins Thursday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and will determine the 2022 Fed Ex Cup champion.

Right behind Scheffler (pictured) in the 30-man field at 8-under is defending Tour Championship and FedEx Cup winner Patrick Cantlay, who repeated as winner in the BMW, followed by Will Zalatoris, who would have started at 7-under but has withdrawn because of an injury, while fifth-ranked Xander Schauffele is at 6-under and Sam Burns at 5-under.

Rounding out the top 10 are Cameron Smith of Australia, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Tony Finau, Sepp Straka of Austria and Sungjae Im of South Korea, all at 4-under.

Scheffler said the 10 strokes won’t affect the way he approaches the tournament

“(I’ll play) just the same as every other week, just go out there and try and do my best,” said Scheffler, the reigning Masters champion who has won four times this season. “This is the only week of the year where you actually get strokes on the field, but I think I’ll be best suited if I just ignore that and just go out there and play my game and do my best.

“East Lake is a great golf course. It’s challenging in spots. You can get it in some (tough) spots. I think it’s kind of one of those places where if you’re playing really well, it can kind of open up for you. You usually see a couple really low rounds a day there and you’ll see some guys struggle, as well. I think it’s a pretty good test.”

Cantlay became the first golfer in the 16-year history of the playoffs to win a tournament for the second straight year when he sank a six-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to beat Scott Stallings by one stroke in the BMW Championship.

The third-ranked Cantlay will be going for a double repeat this week at East Lake.

“I think every time I’ve tried to defend, I don’t think I’ve been able to do it, but it’s something that you definitely circle on your calendar as something you want to do,” said Cantlay, who has won eight times on the PGA Tour. “I’m in a really good spot. It will be a little different type of a challenge this year, obviously, being two behind Scottie. He’s played a lot of great golf this year, so I expect the same.

“But it’s a golf course I really like, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. I remember last year just trying to stay really in the moment, day after day, and thinking that with that couple shots’ advantage, depending on how you look at it, I’ll be two behind this year, just trying to shoot under par each day and not losing sight of that. I’ll definitely draw on those memories from last year and try to stay as focused and in the moment as much as possible.”

Among the other top players in the field are two-time FedEx Cup champion McIlroy, 2017 FedEx Cup champion and reigning PGA champion Justin Thomas, U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick of England, 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist Xander Schauffele, former world No. 1 Jon Rahm of Spain and 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia.

Smith, who captured the 122nd Open Championship, the Players Championship and the Sentry Tournament of Champions, is something of a question mark after skipping the BMW Championship last week because of a hip injury.

In addition, 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie Year Zalatoris, who opened the playoffs by claiming the FedEx St. Jude Championship for his first victory on the circuit, withdrew after three holes in round three of the BMW because of a lower back injury.

Zalatoris withdrew from the Tour Championship on Tuesday because of two herniated discs and also will miss the Presidents Cup next month.

BEST BETS

1. Scottie Scheffler, United States – The top-ranked Scheffler, who has won four times this season including the Masters, starts at 10-under because he also led the FedEx Cup standings through the BMW Championship, in which he tied for third. He is playing in the Tour Championship for the third time, finishing solo fifth in 2020 and tying for 22nd last season.

2. Patrick Cantlay, United States – Coming off his second straight victory in the BMW Championship, the third-ranked Cantlay will try to defend his title in the Tour Championship this week and repeat as FedEx Cup champion. He has 11 top-10 finishes this season and will start the finale at 8-under-par, two strokes behind Scottie Scheffler in the unique format of the finale.

3. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – The two-time FedEx Cup champion starts out at 4-under at seventh in the point standings, with two victories and nine results in the top-10 this season on the PGA Tour. McIlroy loves East Lake, having won the Tour Championship in 2016 and 2019 among six top-10 finishes, including a tie for second in 2014 and a tie for seventh in 2018.

4. Jon Rahm, Spain – The sixth-ranked Rahm, who won the Mexico Open in what has been a sub-par season for him, warmed up in the playoffs with a tie for fifth in the FedEx St. Jude and a tie for eighth in the BMW Championship, and starts at 3-under. In five Tour Championships, he has never finished outside the top 12, including solo second last year and solo fourth in 2020.

5. Xander Schauffele, United States – The 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist has won three times this season and tied for third last week in the BMW, and starts out at 6-under by finishing fourth in the point standings. The fifth-ranked Schauffele won the Tour Championship in 2017 among five straight top-10 finishes in the season finale, including runner-up results in 2019 and 2020.

6. Justin Thomas, United States – The seventh-ranked Thomas has never won the Tour Championship despite not finishing outside the top seven, including second twice, but did capture the FedEx Cup in 2017. JT has recorded nine top-10 finishes this season, including a victory in the PGA Championship and three third place results, to rank 13th in the standings.

7. Matt Fitzpatrick, England – The reigning U.S. Open champion is ranked 10th in the world and 15th in the FedEx Cup point standings, and he starts the Tour Championship at 3-under-par. Fitzpatrick has recorded 10 finishes in the top-10 this season on the PGA Tour, including a tie for fifth in the PGA Championship and is making his first appearance in the Tour Championship.

8. Cameron Young, United States – The leading candidate for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, who won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, has seven finishes in the top-10 on the PGA Tour this season, including second an amazing five times—including the Open Championship. Young is 14th in the FedEx Cup point standings and starts the Tour Championship at 3-under.

9. Sungjae Im, South Korea – Coming off a tie for 15th in the BMW Championship and a solo 12th in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, Im is 10th in the FedEx Cup standings with eight top-10 finishes this season, including his second PGA Tour victory in the Shriners Children’s Open. He tied for 19th, finished 11th and tied for 20th in the Tour Championship the last three years.

10. Adam Scott, Australia – The 2013 Masters champion got into the Tour Championship at No. 30 in the standings with a tie for fifth in the BMW Championship last week after also tying for fifth in the FedEx St. Jude Championship to open the playoffs. Scott captured the 2006 Tour Championship for one of his 14 PGA Tour victories and has seven top-10 finishes in the finale.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Collin Morikawa, United States; Cameron Smith, Australia; Tony Finau, United States; Sam Burns, United States; Sepp Straka, Austria; Max Homa, United States; Viktor Hovland, Norway; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Jordan Spieth, United States; Joaquin Niemann, Chile.

SLEEPERS

1. Scott Stallings, United States – Finished second in the BMW Championship to climb 34 spots in the standings to No. 12 and will be making his first appearance in the Tour Championship.

2. K.H. Lee, South Korea – Six-time winner as a pro tied for fifth in the BMW for his eighth top-25 result this season and rose 15 spots to No. 16 to qualify for the Tour Championship.

3. Corey Conners, Canada – Tied for fifth in the BMW for his eighth top-25 result this season and moved up seven positions in the standings to earn his third start in the Tour Championship.

4. Sahith Theegala, United States – The rookie from Pepperdine tied for 13th in the FedEx St. Jude and tied for 15th in BMW to climb 12 spots and make the field for the Tour Championship.

5. Tom Hoge, United States – Has five finishes in the top-10 on the PGA Tour this season, including a victory at Pebble Beach, to earn his first berth in the finale at 23rd in the points.

For first-round tee times and starting scores, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html  

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