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2019 Tour Championship picks: Is Justin Thomas' lead enough?

Stephen Hennessey

This is a weird week. We’re not talking about the FedEx Cup and Tour Championship format . This isn’t the column for those debates. We’re talking about wagering on this new Tour Championship setup. How significant is Justin Thomas ’ two-shot lead, and who realistically has a chance?

Let's look at the data we have available to us. Of the 18 standard stroke-play tournaments since the Masters, only three times has the first-round leader gone on to win ( Brooks Koepka at the PGA Championship, Nate Lashley at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and Justin Thomas last week at the BMW Championship). In fact, there have been four times where the eventual winner of the tournament was six strokes back of the first-round lead, or more (Matthew Wolff was seven back, Kevin Na, C.T. Pan and Brooks Koepka at the FedEx St. Jude were six back). Keep in mind, this exercise looked at how far back the winner was after 18 holes. The Tour Championship will have a full 72 holes to play ... so could someone like Hideki Matsuyama or Tony Finau, who are both seven back of Thomas, actually win? Using this season as a sample set of data, it suggests it's a definite possibility.

Our expert picks this week, just like it has each week this season, include a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at East Lake Golf Club, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network ; picks from Sobel from, a senior writer at The Action Network , which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.

RELATED: 2019 Tour Championship tee times, viewer's guide

2019 Tour Championship Picks To Win (Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)

PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week : Patrick Cantlay (+475 -- $100 wins $475) — He’s only two back to start the tournament, and obviously he’s playing really well. JT just played a little better at Medinah. But I think the conditions in Atlanta, barring weather, East Lake is a harder course and suited more toward Patrick’s game. JT got the best of Patrick in Chicago and I think Patrick returns the favor this week.

Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst : Rory McIlroy (+950) — We know Rory loves East Lake. And with some people still talking about Rory's year like it was somehow disappointing, he'd love to prove them wrong by taking home the $15-plus-million dollar check.

Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor : Brooks Koepka (5-1) — Based on my modeling, Koepka is actually overrated at these odds, but sometimes we can overlook the data. Sometimes. With $15 million on the line, Koepka’s elite range of variance, and the fact that he’s just three back from Justin Thomas to start—but three up on 25 other golfers—it’s a week where everything could line up for Koepka, who ranks eighth in birdie or better rate and a top-10 performer in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach over the past 50 rounds, via Fantasy National .

Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University : Justin Thomas (+250) — There's not a ton of value in Justin Thomas this week, but if you can find a big enough number, he's worth a size wager on. My model gives him a 43-percent chance of winning, which is pretty unprecedented from what my model normally shows mid-tournament. He has showcased his complete game, tee to green, over the past month since his recovery from the wrist injury. Now his putter came alive last week. That's enough for me to consider this a good bet at such low odds.

Jason Sobel, Action Network senior golf writer : Webb Simpson (22-1) — In a limited field with a headstart, I can’t bring myself to buy favorites that low. So instead, give me Webb Simpson. I don’t think he’ll win, but maybe he’ll play pressure-free starting at 4-under; maybe he’ll play more aggressively. At 22-1, it’s worth a shot—and that’s as far down the board as I’ll go seeking some value.

Golf Digest editors : Rory McIlroy (+950) — Rory will feel at home at East Lake ... and consider his stats entering this week: He's first in strokes gained/off-the-tee, strokes gained/ball-striking and strokes gained/tee-to-green over his past 50 rounds, according to Fantasy National . And he's comfortable on these greens, which leads us to really, really like Rory at East Lake. Five shots in four rounds is a nice buffer for JT, but not enough to hold off Rory if he gets hot.

Lee Alldrick , FanShare Sports golf expert: Justin Thomas (9-1, without strokes) The bet I like is for Justin Thomas to shoot the lowest 72 holes, without the strokes. That's where the value is this week. He ranks first in my model this week, by a large margin. He ranks first in both strokes gained/tee-to-green and Opportunities Gained over the past two months. He's also ninth in this field in strokes gained/putting on fast, Bermuda greens, which even accounts for putting struggles over the past two months, which seem to be settled after his performance at Medinah.

(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted seven of the season’s 36 events. Fittingly, Brandon Gdula and Pat Mayo had the runner-up again last week, which makes over 10 times they've almost nailed a winner. Mayo had a nice season, particularly at the start, correctly picking Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA. Brandon Gdula nailed Rory McIlroy (9-1, Canadian Open) and has had six runners-up. And our Golf Digest editors have also correctly picked Patrick Cantlay (16-1 at the Memorial) Kevin Tway (55-1 at the Safeway)

RELATED: The interesting odds and 2019 Tour Championship picks ahead of the FedEx Cup conclusion

Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at the 2019 Tour Championship (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)

PGA Tour Caddie : Rory McIlroy (9-1) — These odds aren't conducive to a long-shot, but he does start the week trailing by five shots. Still, go with him. He plays hard golf courses really well, and it’s all set up by his driver. If he drives it well, look out. He has won on some of the hardest courses on Tour. And not just won ... but destroyed places.

Mayo : Kevin Kisner (130-1) — Kevin Kisner is also a guy who loves East Lake. He loves putting on Bermuda, so there's some strong value on the Georgia boy here.

Gdula : Paul Casey (75-1) — Casey is one of just two golfers in the field to rank top-five in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach. He has a long road ahead, but his ball-striking suggests that he can score enough to climb the leaderboard.

Riccio : Brandt Snedeker (130-1) — Sneds is trending up, and at these odds, he's enticing. Sneds is one of the best putters on Bermuda grass in this field (he's sixth in strokes gained/putting on Bermuda in the past 50 rounds), so these East Lake greens should suit him well. Sure, he's eight back ... but seven of his past eight rounds in the FedEx Cup playoffs have been 4-under or lower, including a 63 at Liberty National, and he had a T-5 finish last week at Medinah.

Sobel, Action Network : Kevin Kisner (130-1) — Like I said, I'm not recommending betting anyone outside Webb Simpson, but I'm looking to use Kisner in other areas, and I like his odds at 40-1 to have the lowest score of the week.

Golf Digest editors : Abraham Ancer (85-1) — Talk about value: Ancer has played some great golf over the past two weeks. He's only six back of Justin Thomas' lead with four rounds to make up that margin. These odds are really, really high. Go ahead and take a flyer on Ancer.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports : Chez Reavie (275-1) — The recent Travelers Championship winner ranks 11th in my course suitability metric, ninth for Opportunities Gained over the past two months and seventh for Birdie Or Better Gained over the same period. Surpassing the leaders starting at 2-under over a four-round competition is definitely still doable for a player with such promising stats.

RELATED: 2019 Tour Championship picks: Can anyone really win the FedEx Cup?

Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)

PGA Tour Caddie : Bryson DeChambeau (50-1, for lowest score) — He’s been inviting controversy onto himself lately and he just eked out the last automatic spot on the Presidents Cup team. He might be ready to call it a year and get below the radar for a little bit. I’d fade him in any matchup this week.

Mayo : Brooks Koepka (5-1) — There's no value here.

Gdula : Webb Simpson (22-1) — It’s really hard to fade anyone near the top, but Webb at +2200 is just not a bet I’d want to back despite thinking he’s in fine shape for the weekend. A top-five (+), sure, but fending off all the big names at the top and playing from six back of Justin Thomas, isn’t the type of scenario I want to back Webb outright.

Riccio : Adam Scott (45-1) — Starting seven shots back of Justin Thomas' lead will be a lot for Adam Scott to overcome. Scott was hot in the middle of the season but has cooled off in recent weeks. My model gives him projected odds to win at 93-1, more than double what his actual odds, which makes him a stay away for me.

Sobel, Action Network : Matt Kuchar (40-1) — There was a time, many times, actually, over the past decade, when I always liked the Georgia Tech product at East Lake, on a course which should suit his game nicely. There was also a time – not too long ago – when I believed Kuchar was playing just about as well as anyone in the world and would take him nearly any week he was teeing it up. Not now, though, as he’s limping his way across the finish line to this season.

Golf Digest editors : Dustin Johnson (+2800) — The first and second rounds at Liberty National were really the only times Dustin Johnson has seriously threatened a leader board since the PGA Championship in May. And he hasn't finished better than T-20 since then. There's nothing pointing to this being the week for DJ, and having to make up nine shots when he's not playing well is reason to fade him strongly.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports : Patrick Cantlay (+475) — This is not a course that suits Cantlay’s game. He ranks in the bottom 10 of this field in our course suitability metric, and both times he has played East Lake he has finished in the bottom 10. Cantlay putts poorly on fast, Bermuda greens, ranking 22nd of the 30 players in this field.

2019 Tour Championship: Matchups

PGA Tour Caddie : Dustin Johnson (-130) over Hideki Matsuyama (Sportsbook.ag) — They’re both starting the week at 3 under. I’ve been picking DJ a lot lately, maybe this is the week it pans out.

Mayo : Kevin Kisner (+145) over Tommy Fleetwood (Sportsbook) — Again, I love Kisner this week, so I'll take any head-to-head matchup I can get where he's plus-money. Fleetwood hasn't done much of anything at East Lake before, so there's a slight course advantage to Kiz.

Gdula: Tommy Fleetwood (-130) over Kevin Kisner (FanDuel) — Kisner’s tee-to-green game just doesn’t stand out in this field, and over four rounds, that should favor Fleetwood. Even with the juice, this grades out as an even-money bet.

Riccio : Tony Finau (+100) over Adam Scott (Bovada) — His strong showing was overshadowed by Justin Thomas' win and Hideki Matsuyama's two 63s. But Tony Finau finished fourth, and gained more than five strokes tee-to-green on the field for the fifth time out of six weeks. Of course, it was the putting that held him back again. Give me Finau, who's trending up—rather than Scott, who's showing some regression from his mid-season form. My model gives Finau double the odds of winning over Scott, which makes the head-to-head matchup a steal.

Sobel, Action Network : Sungjae Im (-105) over Louis Oosthuizen (Sportsbook) — I really like Im being an underdog, despite starting one stroke better than Louis. I can’t see Louis grinding for a paycheck this week, I can absolutely envision Im trying to solidify his ROY award and make as much bank as possible. There should be some nice matchups to invest in this week, but this one might be my fave.

Golf Digest editors : Kevin Kisner (+145) over Tommy Fleetwood (Sportsbook) — Fleetwood is spotting Kisner a shot in this matchup, plus Kisner boasts a T-3 in his last appearance at East Lake (2017), compared to Fleetwood only playing once last year (T-11). Give me the Georgia boy on these Bermuda greens.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports : Brooks Koepka (+105) over Patrick Cantlay (Sportsbook) — Even Cantlay’s one shot headstart won’t be enough to hold of the big game hunter this week. Koepka’s putting on fast, Bermuda greens is far superior to Cantlay. Statistically Koepka gains a shot per round on these greens over Cantlay.

Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Patrick Cantlay (-150) over Patrick Reed); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Tommy Fleetwood (-125) over Jordan Spieth); Lee Alldrick, Riccio: 1 for 1 (Tommy Fleetwood (+105) over Webb Simpson); Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Justin Rose (-116) over Dustin Johnson); Gdula: 0 for 1; Sobel: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1.

Matchup results for the year: PGA Tour Caddie: 19-13; GD Editors: 18 wins, 12 losses, two pushes; Action Network: 10 for 14; FanShare Spots guest picker: 5 for 6; Riccio: 15-14; Mayo: 13-15-2; Gdula: 11-18-2

Top 10 (odds from DraftKings Sportsbook)

PGA Tour Caddie : Lucas Glover (+700) — You saw the shaky part of Glover's game over the last couple of holes last week. But the guy has done everything humanly possible to put himself into the top 30. His struggles on and off the course – it’s such an awesome story what he’s been able to do. He’d be everyone’s sentimental favorite to finish off the year with a strong showing. Plus, he’s a great guy. A lot of caddies out here really appreciate Lucas. He’s been loyal to his caddie, Don Cooper, and it shows what can happen when you stick with a guy through thick and thin. Him and Coop have been through it all together. That pair gives a lot of other caddies and players out here hope, I think.

Mayo : Kevin Kisner (+400) — I'm big on Kiz this week for all the reasons described above.

Gdula : Abraham Ancer (+225) — Ancer isn’t getting priced as someone who is starting -4. The simulations point to Ancer as a value at +310 to net a top-10, despite his lacking tee-to-green game relative to the field.

Riccio : Tony Finau (+175) — He's a tee-to-green machine. The only thing that will cause pause will be his putting on Bermuda. But as Finau showed yet again last week, losing almost four strokes on the greens last week, but still finishing T-4, Finau can be a factor despite losing ground on the putting surface.

Sobel, Action Network : Hideki Matsuyama (+120) — Following a week that included his single-best putting round ever, I like Hideki to make a nice little run this week. He starts the week at 3-under and in 11th place, so he just needs to improve his position by one stroke against the field to cash this plus-money bet.

Golf Digest editors : Matt Kuchar (+175) — The top-10 machine starts the week at T-6, and he owns three top-10 finishes in his nine previous showings at East Lake. We're sure Kuchar will be motivated to finish his season off strong, so plus-money on this bet seems like a nice opportunity.

Alldrick, FanShare Sports : Paul Casey (+150 without strokes, +200 with them) — Casey comes in ranked second in our model this week. He ranks second, just behind JT, for Opportunities Gained over the past two months. And the Englishman is fifth in our course-suitability metric, as well as being in the top 10 in strokes gained/putting on fast, Bermuda greens.

Top 10 results last week: Gdula and Alldrick: 1 for 1 (Hideki Matsuyama (+290); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Patrick Cantlay (+175); Everyone else: 0 for 1.

Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 9 for 30; GD Editors: 9 for 29; Gdula: 7 for 28; PGA Tour Caddie: 6 for 30; Riccio: 5 for 29; Action Network: 3 for 12; FanShare: 3 for 6

RELATED: 2019 Tour Championship tee times, viewer's guide

DraftKings lineups

Alldrick : I want Justin Thomas in all my lineups this week. I can’t see anyone else getting more DraftKings Points this week. There’s enough players at in the $5K range to enable this. My lineup:

Justin Thomas ($15,500), Webb Simpson ($9,700), Paul Casey ($7,500), Justin Rose ($6,900), Lucas Glover ($5,200), Chez Reavie ($5,100)

Riccio : You need the winner in your lineup and to me, that's going to be either Justin Thomas or Brooks Koepka—who combine to have a 56-percent chance of winning this week, according to my model. I like rounding this lineup out with two ball-strikers, Rose and Kokrak, an off-the-tee machine in Reavie, and Howell III, who should be at home in Georgia.

Justin Thomas ($15,500); Brooks Koepka ($12,200); Justin Rose ($6,900); Jason Kokrak ($5,300); Chez Reavie ($5,100); Charles Howell III ($5,000).

FanShare Sports' Under The Radar DFS Pick of the Week Webb Simpson ($10,300 FanDuel/$9,700, DraftKings) — So far this week, Simpson ranks just 14th for FanShare Tags received. Chalk that low potential ownership up to the amount of generally popular options available around him. However, be careful about fading Simpson this week. He ranks fifth in the field in strokes gained/putting on fast, Bermuda greens which should give him a real advantage over a guaranteed 72 holes. I also have him ranked eighth in our course suitability metric and sixth for Opportunities Gained over the last two months.

FanDuel lineups

Gdula : In cash-games like head-to-heads and 50/50s, finding ways to jam in Justin Thomas ($14,200) makes a lot of sense. Maximizing overall win equity, mathematically, means taking Thomas and a few basement-level plays like Corey Conners ($7,400) or Jason Kokrak ($7,000). With Adam Scott ($9,300) and Paul Casey ($8,300), you can roster just about any golfer you want. In a 30-man field, everyone is in play, and it’s a week to trust what you see as much as anything else.

Riccio : The build for my FanDuel team starts the same as my DraftKings players, and it's balanced out by DJ and Rickie, who my model always favor, but who can make a ton of birdies in a hurry and get into the mix. Bryson and Leishman provide value on the low end.

Justin Thomas ($14,200); Brooks Koepka ($12,100); Dustin Johnson ($10,100); Rickie Fowler ($8,600); Bryson DeChambeau ($7,600); Marc Leishman ($7,300).

RELATED: 2019 Tour Championship tee times, viewer's guide

About our experts

Dr. Lou Riccio , a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.

Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com . Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2019 Wyndham Championship .

Brandon Gdula , a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!) . Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.

Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. To read The Action Network's full betting breakdown for the Tour Championship, click here .

Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a UK based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.

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Originally Appeared on Golf Digest