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

(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 ResultPlayerStarting Position
1stRory McIlroy5th
2ndXander SchauffeleT6
T3Brooks Koepka3rd
T3Justin Thomas1st
5thPaul CaseyT16
6thAdam ScottT11
7thTony FinauT11
8thChez ReavieT21
T9Kevin KisnerT16
T9Hideki MatsuyamaT11

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 ResultPlayerStarting Position
1stDustin Johnson1st
T2Xander SchauffeleT11
T2Justin Thomas3rd
4thJohn Rahm2nd
5thScottie SchefflerT16
6thCollin Morikawa5th
7thTyrrell HattonT16
T8Rory McIlroyT11
T8Sebastian MunozT11
T8Patrick ReedT11

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 ResultPlayerStarting Position
1stPatrick Cantlay1st
2ndJohn Rahm4th
3rdKevin NaT16
4thJustin ThomasT6
T5Xander SchauffeleT16
T5Viktor HovlandT11
7thBryson DeChambeau2nd
8thDustin JohnsonT11
T9Billy HorschelT26
T9Abraham AncerT6

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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