Numbers: Why Justin Thomas Should Be a Lock to Win the Tour Championship

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas plays a shot during a practice round prior to the TOUR Championship at East Lake GC on Aug 21, 2019 in Atlanta, GA. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Yes, we know that Justin Thomas will sleep on a two-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay, and three clear of world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, but what’s not being discussed a lot is that he’ll also be five clear of 90% of the entire field when he wakes up tomorrow morning in Atlanta.

Couple this with his current form (win), past performance at this tournament (7th, 2nd, 6th), along with his clear comfort level at East Lake Golf Club (Tour-best 68.25 scoring average from 2016-18), and it’s no wonder he’s the heavy favorite to win the Tour Championship.

In fact, we’d be shocked if he did not win.

Here’s why.

The Field:

Out of the gate, Thomas will be nine to 10 shots ahead of one-third of the entire 30-man field, and six to 10 strokes clear of two-thirds. In fact, just four players are within five strokes.

Thomas’ primary competitors, at least early on, will be the following four: the aforementioned Cantlay (-8) and Koepka (-7), along with Patrick Reed (-6) and Rory McIlroy (-5).

The Leader & Chasers

1. Justin Thomas (-10)
2. Patrick Cantlay (-8)
3. Brooks Koepka (-7)
4. Patrick Reed (-6)
5. Rory McIlroy (-5)

How does Thomas’ performance stack up against those four, relative to current form, as well as historically in this tournament on the East Lake track?

Pretty well.

Current Form

Justin Thomas Wins BMW Championship
Justin Thomas lines up a putt on the 17th green during the final round of the BMW Championship at Medinah CC No. 3 on Aug 18, 2019 in Medinah, IL. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

In terms of recent form, it’s hard to argue that the winner of last week’s BMW Championship does not have the hottest hand, although Reed won the week prior in New Jersey, and Koepka took home the WGC title in Memphis last month.

All five are world-class players with No. 1 Koepka, No. 3 McIlroy and No. 5 Thomas all world Nos. 1.

However, following a mid season injury, Thomas is really coming into form with five-straight top-12s – all at elite events, and has performed more consistently than his four chasers with a worst finish of 12th, and an average of 9th.

Thomas, Reed and Koepka each own a win and a top-10 over this stretch, while Rory has two top-10s, and Cantlay one.

Last Five Starts

1. Thomas: 1, 12, 12, 11, 9 (9th)
2. Reed: 19, 1, 22, 12, 10 (13th)
3. Cantlay: 2, 12, 12, 41, 15 (16th) 
4. Koepka: 24, 30, 1, 4, 65 (25th)
5. McIlroy: 19, 6, 4, MC, 34 (25th)


East Lake Comfort

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas plays a shot on hole No. 1 during the third round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake GC on Sep 22, 2018 in Atlanta, GA. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Next, we’ll look at how Thomas, and the four chasers, have fared at this particular tournament – and because it’s not a rota format, on this specific golf course.

Thomas and Koepka have only made three starts at East Lake, while Cantlay has two, so we’ll use these most recent starts to measure.

Crunching the numbers, JT is head and shoulders above Cantlay, Koepka, and Reed when it comes to overall success at East Lake, while Rory won here in 2016, but still falls short in terms of overall scoring and consistency.

JT is the only one of the five who owns three finishes inside the top-10, with an average finish of 5th. Rory also averages out to a top-10 finish in three starts. Koepka has one top-10, while Cantlay and Reed have mostly struggled.

Recent Starts at East Lake

1. Thomas: 7th, 2nd, 6th (5th)
2. McIlroy: 7th, 1st, 16th (8th)
3. Koepka: 26th, 6th, 18th (17th)
4. Cantlay: 21st, 20th (21st)
5. Reed: 28th, 13th, 24th (22nd)


Scoring

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas celebrates after a chip-in birdie on the 14th hole during the third round of the BMW Championship at Medinah CC No. 3 on Aug 17, 2019 in Medinah, IL. Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Finally we look at scoring where only Rory can compare to Thomas at East Lake, but still comes up well short. In fact no one over the past three seasons, can top JT’s scoring prowess here.

How good has he played at East Lake? Well, in 12 rounds he’s shot over-par just once, and that was a one-over 71. Cantlay, for instance, has played eight rounds at East Lake, and posted over-par in half (4) of those, while Reed has also gone over-par half the time – six (6) in 12 starts.

Where Thomas really shines, though, is his consistency. For example, when aggregating his four (4) worst scores, he nets out to an even-par 280. That’s Spieth-level good at Augusta. The closest competitor here is McIlroy, who comes in at 9-over par using his four worst scores.

Based on 12 rounds, with exception of Cantlay who’s played only 8 rounds.

Over-Par Rounds Ratio

Justin Thomas – 8% (1/12)
Rory McIlroy – 25% (3/12)
Brooks Koepka – 25% (3/12)
Patrick Cantlay – 50% (4/8)
Patrick Reed – 50% (6/12)

Under-Par Rounds Ratio

Justin Thomas – 75% (9/12)
Rory McIlroy – 58% (7/12)
Brooks Koepka – 58% (7/12)
Patrick Cantlay – 50% (4/8)
Patrick Reed – 25% (3/12)

Even- or Under-Par Ratio

Justin Thomas – 92% (11/12)
Rory McIlroy – 75% (9/12)
Brooks Koepka – 75% (9/12)
Patrick Cantlay – 50% (4/8)
Patrick Reed – 50% (6/12)

Scoring Avg/Round

Justin Thomas – 68.25 (-1.75)
Rory McIlroy – 68.63 (-1.38)
Brooks Koepka – 70.0 (E)
Patrick Cantlay – 70.13 (+0.13)
Patrick Reed – 70.60 (+0.60)

Scoring Avg/Start

Justin Thomas – 272.6 (-7.4)
Rory McIlroy – 274.66 (-5.34)
Brooks Koepka – 280.0 (E)
Patrick Cantlay – 280.5 (+0.5)
Patrick Reed – 282.6 (+2.6)

4 Low Scores

Rory McIlroy – 64,66,66,66 (-18)
Justin Thomas – 66,66,67,67 (-14)
Patrick Cantlay – 65,66,69,69 (-11)
Brooks Koepka – 66,67,68,69 (-10)
Patrick Reed – 65,69,69,70 (-7)

4 High Scores

Justin Thomas – 71,70,70,69 (E)
Rory McIlroy – 74,74,71,70 (+9)
Patrick Reed – 74,73,72,72 (+11)
Patrick Cantlay – 76,74,71,71 (+12)
Brooks Koepka – 78,74,72,70 (+14)

4 High/4 Low Differential

Justin Thomas – (-14)
Rory McIlroy – (-9)
Patrick Cantlay – (+1)
Patrick Reed – (+4)
Brooks Koepka – (+4)

First-Round Scoring

Rory McIlroy – 67.0 (-3)
Justin Thomas – 67.3 (-2.7)
Brooks Koepka – 67.6 (-2.4)
Patrick Cantlay – 70.13 (+0.13)
Patrick Reed – 70.6 (+0.6)

Second-Round Scoring

Patrick Cantlay – 65.5 (-4.5)
Justin Thomas – 68.6 (-1.4)
Rory McIlroy – 69.6 (-0.4)
Patrick Reed – 69.6 (-0.4)
Brooks Koepka – 73.6 (+3.6)

Third-Round Scoring

Rory McIlroy – 67.3 (-2.7)
Brooks Koepka – 69.0 (-1.0)
Justin Thomas – 69.6 (-0.4)
Patrick Reed – 70.3 (+0.3)
Patrick Cantlay – 73.5 (+3.5)

Final-Round Scoring

Justin Thomas – 67.6 (-2.7)
Patrick Cantlay – 69.0 (-1.0)
Brooks Koepka – 69.6 (-0.4)
Rory McIlroy – 70.6 (+0.6)
Patrick Reed – 71.0 (+1.0)


Predictions

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas plays his shot from the 6th tee during the third round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake GC on Sep 23, 2017 in Atlanta, GA. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

With all the data laid out, golf is more than a game of numbers, and it’s why prediction models generally cannot peg a winner with more than a 10-15% probability on any given week.

It can’t measure variables such the player’s psyche, for example: Does this lead make Thomas play more conservative, or does it free him up to play more carefree and fire away at pins, knowing he has a built-in cushion? Does it make him more nervous, not wanting to blow such an advantage?

Hard to say, as this is all new.

Despite the unknown, we still say Justin Thomas should be a lock to win this thing. However, don’t bet the mortgage on it.

Justin Thomas

FedExCup Start: 1st
Starting Strokes: -10
Predicted Gross Score: -10
Predicted Net Score: -20
Predicted FedExCup Finish: 1st

Rory McIlroy

FedExCup Start: 5th
Starting Strokes: -5
Predicted Gross Score: -10
Predicted Net Score: -15
Predicted FedExCup Finish: 2nd

Patrick Cantlay

FedExCup Start: 2nd
Starting Strokes: -8
Predicted Gross Score: -6
Predicted Net Score: -14
Predicted FedExCup Finish: 3rd

Brooks Koepka

FedExCup Start: 3rd
Starting Strokes: -7
Predicted Gross Score: -7
Predicted Net Score: -14
Predicted FedExCup Finish: 3rd

Patrick Reed

FedExCup Start: 4th
Starting Strokes: -6
Predicted Gross Score: -2
Predicted Net Score: -8
Predicted FedExCup Finish: 11th

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here