TOUR Championship odds, best bets: What's a head start worth?

Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images Sport / Getty

This PGA TOUR season has been awesome. Never mind the plethora of major tournaments thanks to a condensed schedule following the COVID-19 shutdown; the regular events have been one wild finish after another.

It was no different Sunday when Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau dueled for 18 holes and then six more in sudden death at the BMW Championship, taking turns looking like a sure victor throughout the one-on-one playoff. Normally, one week matters little to the next on TOUR, but not in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The top 30 players now travel to East Lake Golf Club for the TOUR Championship and, for a third straight year, there's a leaderboard before the first tee ball is launched.

Player Starting Score Odds Win Prob. +/- Adj. Odds
Patrick Cantlay -10 +400 +18% +397
Tony Finau -8 +700 +12% +602
Bryson DeChambeau -7 +450 +9% +626
Jon Rahm -6 +400 +6% +480
Cameron Smith -5 +2500 +3% +1508
Justin Thomas -4 +1600 - +1200
Harris English -4 +3300 - +3500
Abraham Ancer -4 +2800 - +2500
Jordan Spieth -4 +2500 - +2000
Sam Burns -4 +3500 - +2800
Collin Morikawa -3 +4000 -3% +4960
Sungjae Im -3 +4000 -3% +9187
Dustin Johnson -3 +2000 -3% +1779
Louis Oosthuizen -3 +4500 -3% +6681
Viktor Hovland -3 +4000 -3% +9187
Rory McIlroy -2 +2500 -6% +3291
Xander Schauffele -2 +3300 -6% +3291
Kevin Na -2 +10000 -6% +38256
Brooks Koepka -2 +5000 -6% +19128
Jason Kokrak -2 +8000 -6% +30604
Corey Conners -1 +12500 -9% +16845
Hideki Matsuyama -1 +10000 -9% +27431
Stewart Cink -1 +30000 -9% +76502
Joaquin Niemann -1 +14000 -9% +41253
Scottie Scheffler -1 +9000 -9% +20484
Daniel Berger E +12500 -12% +37800
Erik van Rooyen E +20000 -12% +45020
Sergio Garcia E +14000 -12% +40287
Billy Horschel E +25000 -12% +50364
Patrick Reed E +20000 -12% +45020

Cantlay's 18-foot birdie putt Sunday was clearly a big deal. Beyond the joy of beating DeChambeau for the BMW Championship trophy, he had Georgia on his mind - and the $15-million top prize for the FedEx Cup winner. That victory means Cantlay will start with a two-shot lead over Tony Finau and a three-shot lead over DeChambeau.

With the unusual scoring situation, the handicap of this market has to start with one question: What is a stroke worth?

A head start is great, but a Saturday night leader has only closed out a tournament once since Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship in May. Rory McIlroy started five strokes behind Justin Thomas at the 2019 TOUR Championship and beat him by five shots, making up four in the first round alone. Last year, a red-hot Dustin Johnson used his head start to cruise to victory. The only two data points we have are opposite results.

Essentially, one "artificial" stroke is worth a 3% increase in win probability, which means Cantlay's chances of beating Finau are 6% better than they'd otherwise be. The good news is there's a second market available: the more traditional 72-hole score. So we've been given the win probabilities for everyone starting on the same footing.

Tony Finau (+700)

Sunday's duel at "The Caves" looked exhausting, so we're fading both Cantlay and DeChambeau this week. If the number in the adjusted odds column is higher than the number in the odds columns on the left, there may be some value on the golfer in question. And that's the case with Finau.

Finau can be excused for taking it easy after his win at The Northern Trust - he still finished T15 with a 63 on Sunday. He knew he could cruise to a top-three spot for this weekend, but there's value on him here, and he's capable of turning 8-under into 20-under with four solid rounds.

Cameron Smith (+2500)

Smith has the biggest discrepancy between the two odds columns, so he offers the most value, especially with a solid starting position. After losing The Northern Trust to Finau in a playoff, Smith finished T34 this past weekend. But his father was visiting from Australia, and the two hadn't seen each other since before the pandemic. It's been reported that Smith's 68 on Sunday was particularly impressive after a late-night catch-up with Pops. Expect renewed focus from Smith, who enters in fine form.

Xander Schauffele (+1200 stroke-play winner)

The Olympic gold medalist and "Prince of East Lake" has shot 10-under and 15-under in the last two TOUR Championships. That's good enough for second and first against the field. Starting at 2-under, he'll need to shoot at least 15-under to have a chance this weekend; it's wiser to bet Schauffele in the alternative stroke-play market in case his East Lake form can come through again.

Viktor Hovland (+2800 stroke-play winner)

The difference between this week and others is that players know they need to make up ground. With no cut and a guaranteed $400,000 payday just for showing up, they can throw caution to the wind. No one goes eagle-hunting more than Hovland, who ranks seventh in birdies-or-better percentage. Now that he's seen East Lake once (4-under last year), he can take the restrictor plate off.

Matt Russell is a betting writer for theScore. If there's a bad beat to be had, Matt will find it. Find him on Twitter @mrussauthentic.

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TOUR Championship odds, best bets: What's a head start worth?
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