The end of season finale has been royally shaken up this year and we technically enter the area of handicaps before the event even starts. Justin Thomas who heads the rankings starts on 10 under par and the rest are allocated starting scores all the way to level par. The objective was to get the winner of this event automatically winning the Fedex (usually the case anyhow) but the starting scores seem so unfair now the week is upon us. The bookmakers saw the iceberg ahead and thankfully priced the 72 hole market from scratch which I am sure will see a lot of action this week. That being said I'm not a huge fan of investing in a market where a player doesn't exactly know where he stands and little benefit from winning it. Also the possibility of a dead heat looms large.
East Lake is a track we know well that rewards tee to green excellence. It is a long enough par 70 at 7300+ yards and the rough is often troublesome so an ability to hit it long and straight is a huge asset around this layout. The fairways are amongst the most narrow on the schedule so driving accuracy is certainly asset to look towards when selecting those who may overcome their handicaps these four days. After his sparkling performance last week Justin Thomas heads the leaderboard and in turn the betting for the Fedex Cup. He will no doubt prove hard to stop given his record here reads 7-2-6 starting from scratch scores. Pressure will be on for four days mind you instead of the usual two at the weekend and it would not surprise me should the leaderboard be properly shook up come Sunday evening.
The one most likely to relish the challenge is Rory McIlroy. He knows for certain he has the capability of winning an event by a number of shots and thus overturning Thomas' lead. Of the 8 rounds Thomas and McIlroy have played here at the same time, the Irishman has won 5 of them to Thomas' 1 and with two ties. If this trend continues we can certainly see McIlroy getting closer to the lead come Sunday and his desire to land another title here and the Fedex prize may exceed everyone else as he has been left behind somewhat over the past couple of weeks. Having been questioned about his ability in final groups and getting over the line in the lead in to this season McIlroy has proved the doubters wrong with two wins and a host of other good finishes. The players above him although in a good position haven't exactly taken to East Lake in recent years. In 10 attempts the best Koepka, Cantlay and Reed could muster is a 6th placed spot with next best being 13th. Plenty of negatives present themselves with the players above McIlroy bar the leader. With his results against Thomas here in the last few years and the ordinary efforts by the others I think McIlroy has to be a solid each-way play in the market including the starting scores.
3u - Rory McIlroy To Win @ +800
3u - Rory McIlroy To Finsh Top 5 @ +150
Paul Casey ranks 3rd in Total Scoring here at East Lake in this field and can be expected to benefit somewhat from the format. We have all seen how the Englishman has struggled to get over the line at times and given the 72 hole scratch leaderboard won't be anyone's priority this week Casey may just stumble upon a win. He has four top 5 finishes in his last five attempts here and generally ranks very high in the departments essential to scoring here. Like the Valspar this is one of Casey's favourite haunts and although the main prize looks out of his grasp the 72 hole scratch event certainly looks like something he could win without barely knowing it is materialising.
1.5u - Paul Casey To Win Without Fedex Starting Strokes @ +2500
1.5u - Paul Casey To Finish Top 5 Without Fedex Starting Strokes @ +400