Sobel’s 2020 TOUR Championship Betting Preview, Picks: Rooting for Chaos
Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Brendon Todd
This week’s format is one for the bettors.
Ask your casual golf fan, one who doesn’t understand spreads in other sports, to explain the staggered scoring start to the Tour Championship, and they’ll likely turn into a sputtering mess before shrugging it off as a foolish enterprise. Ask a bettor, though, and they’ll easily analyze it in terms that we understand.
Dustin Johnson is giving three to Justin Thomas. Bryson DeChambeau is chasing four against Jon Rahm.
It’s not an exact comparison, but at least those familiar with betting odds can comprehend the pre-tourney scoring configuration better than those who aren’t.
That said, the advantage for bettors ends there.
Whether you like the staggered start, weighed toward those with more FedEx Cup points, or dislike it — I tend to fall in the latter category, though I do understand the necessity to eliminate the possibility of two players claiming trophies on Sunday afternoon — we can all agree that it doesn’t exactly level the playing field.
In any usual 30-man event, we might only have 20 players capable of winning. In this one, it might be limited to 10, or even five.
You might be able to find a book which also lists tourney-only scoring, with every player starting at even-par this week, but most will only list odds using the same method that the PGA TOUR will employ this week, with Johnson starting at 10-under, Rahm at 8-under, Thomas as 7-under, all the way down to those ranked 26-30 starting at even-par.
As such, I’m following the same format with my picks below. Johnson will start Friday — yes, this event begins Friday, not Thursday, and ends Monday, not Sunday – with the lead, but my own personal chaos theory has another top player claiming this thing by the end of the long weekend. Let’s get to the picks.
One player to win the tournament.
Webb Simpson (9-1)
I’m rooting for chaos. Just like those who secretly (or not-so-secretly) root for every undefeated CFB team to lose in their conference championship to promote full anarchy, I’m hoping for golf’s version of it this week.
Simpson was the lone player to skip last week’s BMW Championship, insisting he wanted to rest up before the season finale. You might now call that a poor decision, as he’ll start behind each of the world’s top-three players. Or you can call it a brilliant move, as DJ, Rahm and JT each exhausted themselves playing a brutally wonderful Olympia Fields course, while Webb rested up. Either way, if he seriously contends or even wins this week, expect plenty of debates over the validity of a playoff which allows a player to skip an event and still claim the title.
It’s very possible, though. Simpson owns three top-five results in seven career starts at East Lake. It’s difficult to back anybody when they’re spotting strokes to a trio of superstars, but if you’re rooting for chaos, then Webb is clearly your guy this week.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Dustin Johnson/Jon Rahm
There are only two reasons for not playing one of the top points-leaders in OAD pools this week: 1) Either you used ‘em already; or 2) Your pool is determining scoring from everyone starting at even-par, rather than their delineated totals. Even if your OAD extends to the year’s final two majors, there’s no reason to hold on to one of these players.
Sure, they can each win the U.S. Open or the Masters, but they’re both virtually guaranteed a high finish this week. Take the sure thing, if you can.
One player to finish top-five.
Brendon Todd (14-1)
I’ll readily admit it: Through all of Todd’s midsummer title contentions, I didn’t love him at most of those venues. Some were better suited for longer hitters; others had especially deep fields. He’s continued to surprise and impress me, though, by climbing the leaderboard at tournaments which don’t necessarily suit him. All of which leads to this week, one which should suit him perfectly.
Back in his current hometown of Atlanta, playing on Bermuda greens, on a course which mostly doesn’t benefit length off the tee, East Lake should be right up Todd’s alley. Starting at 11th on the board, I can easily see him moving into the top-five based on a combination of physical skills and mental toughness – essentially, this is going to mean a lot more to him than it will to so many of the other superstars in this field.
I’ll bank on the combination of those things helping his top-five come true here.
One player to finish top-10.
Abraham Ancer (+550)
Chaos? Did somebody say chaos? OK, here’s another potential chaos theory: One of the best players without a victory on the PGA TOUR right now, Ancer could take fewer strokes than any other player in the field this week and still lose by a half-dozen strokes.
This is a track which should suit his game, and it would clearly be the hardest of hard-luck finishes should this happen. Based on his start at 1-under on the leaderboard, it’ll be extremely difficult for Ancer to seriously challenge for the win, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play better than everyone else. Just as with Simpson, this scenario would drive the masses wild on social media.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
Unlike the betting markets, DFS won’t stagger scoring entering the first round. Schauffele will come in at 14th, seven shots behind Johnson, but the slate will be clean if you’re filling out a lineup, where his three past results of first, second and seventh should make him a very smart play in all contests this week.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
That’s right — the same Leishman who is fresh off a DFL finish at the BMW, when he posted a four-day total of 30-over. So, why would I bother to list him here? Two reasons: 1) After a final-round 73, he alluded to the fact that he saw some positives and believes he’s due for a good week at East Lake; and 2) With a 30-man field, you’ll need to differentiate (for GPPs, at least) and the easiest way to do that might be to roster a guy most others won’t consider.
I don’t think Leishman is about to shock the world, going 30-over-to-victory in one week, but I do think there should be some thought to selecting him for the sheer contrarian value of the play.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Daniel Berger (50-1 staggered scoring, 14-1 tournament-only)
Once again, check your local listings for whether FRL is based on the staggered scoring or tourney-only scoring in your book, but I’ll make it easy on you and suggest Berger for both. Yeah, I get that making up a half-dozen shots on DJ in one afternoon probably isn’t the sharpest play, but it’s not impossible — and I do really like him for Thursday-only scores.
Since the restart, he’s posted opening-round totals of 65, 66 and 67 (twice), which suggests he could be geared up for another low one to kick things off here.
One player who should beat comparable players.
If I was more jaded, if I was more suspicious, if I was more mistrustful … I might think something was up with the way Horschel got into this week’s field.
Needing a double-bogey from playing partner Corey Conners, he watched as the Canadian missed a par putt from inside five feet, then a bogey attempt from two feet away. When Horschel converted his par, he had essentially clinched his spot in this field.
Now, I’m not making any sort of accusation here; I’m simply pointing out the incredibly fortuitous circumstance for Horschel, who seemed to know exactly what he needed as soon as he walked off the final green.
In any case, if he’s going to keep placing that mind-melting intimidation on his playing partners, then we should benefit from it, too, and take him in matchups this week.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
For nearly nine months, McIlroy did a tremendous job of keeping the secret about he and wife Erica expecting their first child, a baby girl. This past weekend, of course, the news went public, with Rory revealing that the baby is due “any day now.” He also intimated that should he be playing and the call comes, he’d WD without hesitation.
As of the time I’m writing this, he was still in the field and there was no news on the birth. Even if he does start the opening round without receiving that call, there are too many variables at play. You either run the risk of him withdrawing or playing with his mind elsewhere.
That’s a shame, because he’s starting to play well enough to win on a golf course he likes, but he obviously has his priorities in the right order.