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2022 Tour Championship: Even with a Staggered Scoring Start, Expect Leaderboard Movement

2022 Tour Championship: Even with a Staggered Scoring Start, Expect Leaderboard Movement article feature image
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(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) Pictured: Patrick Cantlay.

ATLANTA – How many times have we seen it over the years: A player leads a PGA TOUR event by multiple strokes through 54 holes, leaving us collectively expecting a Sunday coronation, only to see the leader fail to close it out in the final round?

That’s not a rhetorical question.

According to data analyst Justin Ray of the Twenty First Group, players leading by two strokes entering the last day own a mere 25.9 percent conversion rate in the past three seasons. Those with a three-stroke advantage close out just over half of the time at 57.1 percent, while a four-shot lead wins 60 percent of the time, and a five-shot lead only wins on two-thirds of those occasions.

All of this is relevant information entering this week’s TOUR Championship, where the initial staggered scoring format shows Scottie Scheffler opening with a two-stroke advantage at 10-under, followed by Patrick Cantlay at 8-under and – since Will Zalatoris’ third-place spot at 7-under was vacated due to his injury withdrawal – Xander Schauffele at 6-under, then Sam Burns at 5-under.

The season finale might not be wide open, as it’s tough to imagine any player at the bottom of the starting leaderboard making up 10 strokes on the game’s No. 1-ranked player in four rounds, but it might not be as much of a done deal as it’s seemed over the past two editions of this event.

Cantlay parlayed the pre-tournament lead into a victory last year. Dustin Johnson did the same one year earlier. Only Rory McIlroy, who won from a five-stroke deficit in 2019, has come from behind during the staggered start era.

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And yet, based on those aforementioned conversion numbers with 18 holes left to play, we should understand that plenty can change when there are 72 holes remaining.

That information should have us looking a bit further down the leaderboard for an outright selection, and it can also help frame our decision-making process for top fives and top 10s this week.

Let’s go through each of the previous three years of staggered scoring and examine where players within the top 10 started.

Here’s 2019:

Final Result Player Starting Position
1st Rory McIlroy 5th
2nd Xander Schauffele T6
T3 Brooks Koepka 3rd
T3 Justin Thomas 1st
5th Paul Casey T16
6th Adam Scott T11
7th Tony Finau T11
8th Chez Reavie T21
T9 Kevin Kisner T16
T9 Hideki Matsuyama T11

The first year of this format offered some serious volatility – not only with McIlroy overcoming a five-stroke deficit to win by a whopping four shots but also throughout much of the leaderboard. Of the players who finished inside the top 10, more than half of them began the week outside that number.

Now let’s check out 2020:

Final Result Player Starting Position
1st Dustin Johnson 1st
T2 Xander Schauffele T11
T2 Justin Thomas 3rd
4th John Rahm 2nd
5th Scottie Scheffler T16
6th Collin Morikawa 5th
7th Tyrrell Hatton T16
T8 Rory McIlroy T11
T8 Sebastian Munoz T11
T8 Patrick Reed T11

Even though it looked chalky at the top, with Johnson simply extending his two-shot advantage to a three-shot victory by Sunday afternoon, once again there was value down the board, as more than half of the top 10 started the week outside of it.

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And finally, 2021:

Final Result Player Starting Position
1st Patrick Cantlay 1st
2nd John Rahm 4th
3rd Kevin Na T16
4th Justin Thomas T6
T5 Xander Schauffele T16
T5 Viktor Hovland T11
7th Bryson DeChambeau 2nd
8th Dustin Johnson T11
T9 Billy Horschel T26
T9 Abraham Ancer T6

Once again, there’s some volatility here. Cantlay led by two and hung on to win by one, but others made a move from further back, including Horschel, who became the first player in three years to start the week a full 10 strokes back and still finish inside the top 10.

What does all of this tell us? Even though the chalk has triumphed in the last two years, we should expect plenty of leaderboard movement. In fact, in all three editions of this event with the staggered start, one player who started within the top-five failed to finish inside the top 10 by week’s end.

Don’t expect a total leaderboard flip this week, as that’s virtually impossible with so many talented players being staked to such an advantage. By the same token, don’t expect Sunday’s final leaderboard to look mostly the same as what we have right now, before it kicks off.

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