2017 Tour Championship: 10 players to watch, picks to win

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 19, 2017 at 9:11 PM
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1. Jordan Spieth, United States

Jordan Spieth hits his tee shot on the 17th hole in the final round before winning The Northern Trust golf championship. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Even though he has not won, Spieth has played better overall in the playoffs than any of the other top guns, losing in a playoff to Dustin Johnson in The Northern Trust, finishing second to Justin Thomas in the Dell Technologies Championship and tying for seventh in the BMW Championship. He leads the point standings heading to the Tour Championship and can claim the FedExCup for the second time in three years if he wins at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta or finishes near the top of the leaderboard if the others in the coveted top five fail to win. Spieth has finished in the top 10 on 11 occasions this season, including eight in the top three, winning the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Travelers Championship and the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Spieth captured the FedExCup in 2015 when he won the Tour Championship by four strokes, and he also tied for second in the 2013 finale, closing with a 64 to finish three shots behind Henrik Stenson of Sweden.

2. Jon Rahm, Spain

Jon Rahm hits off the ninth tee box during the first round of the 2017 PGA Championship. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI
It's been a remarkable first full season on the PGA Tour for the 22-year-old who graduated from Arizona State last year, and he can capture the FedExCup with a victory this week in his first appearance in the Tour Championship at East Lake. Playing courses for the first time doesn't faze Rahm, who has finished in the top five in his initial starts in the first three tournaments of the playoffs. He tied for third in The Northern Trust, tied for fourth in the Dell Technologies Championship and tied for fifth in the BMW Championship last week. Those results gave him 10 finishes in the top 10 during the 2016-17 season, including five in the top five, one of them his first victory on the PGA Tour in the Farmers Insurance Open. Phil Mickelson said early in the season that this guy already was one of the top players on the planet, and Rahm has proven him to be correct by climbing to No. 5 in the world golf rankings.

3. Marc Leishman, Australia

Marc Leishman prepares to hit off the 1st tee during round 3 of the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The Aussie thrust himself right into the middle of the FedExCup race by winning the BMW Championship by five strokes last week, jumping to fourth in the point standings and giving himself a chance to win the Cup with a victory this week in the Tour Championship. He opened with a career-best 62 and led virtually from wire-to-wire in claiming his third victory on the PGA Tour and second this season. Leishman might have tied the playoff record shared by Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Rory McIlroy and Billy Horschel for two straight playoff victories, but he blew a two-stroke lead on the back nine in the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship and finished third. That came after he missed the cut in the playoff opener, The Northern Trust. He has seven top-10 finishes this season, including a victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He is making only his second start at East Lake, having tied for 28th in 2009, when he was the PGA Tour's Rookie of the Year.

4. Dustin Johnson, United States

Dustin Johnson hits his tee shot on the 17th hole in the final round at The Northern Trust golf championship. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Johnson has four victories this season, including a playoff win over Jordan Spieth in the Northern Trust to open the playoffs, and is third in the FedExCup point standings thanks to eight results in the top 10 this season. However, he has not had his best stuff the last two weeks, tying for 18th in the Dell Technologies Championship and tying for 33rd in his title defense in the BMW Championship. Johnson led the point standings after winning the BMW last year and would have won the FedExCup had Rory McIlroy not drilled a 15-foot birdie putt on the fourth playoff hole to beat Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell to win the Tour Championship. Had Moore or Chappell won the tournament, then Johnson would have claimed the Cup after finishing in a tie for sixth. The top-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking is making his eighth start in the finale at East Lake and has finished in the top 10 each of the last four years, also tying for 10th in 2012, finishing fifth in 2013 and tying for fifth two years ago.

5. Justin Thomas, United States

Justin Thomas hits his second shot on the 15th green during the final round at the 2017 PGA Championship. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI
Entering the Tour Championship as the leader in the PGA Tour's Player of the Year race, Thomas would like to finish off what has been a breakthrough season with another strong performance in the Tour Championship. The 24-year-old has won five times this season, including his first major title in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow and a victory in the second event of the playoffs, the Dell Technologies Championship. He also tied for sixth in The Northern Trust to start the playoffs and is second in the point standings on the strength of 11 results in the top 10 this season, despite a disappointing tie for 47th last week in the BMW Championship. Thomas made his debut in the Tour Championship last year at East Lake in Atlanta and took a liking to the course right away while posting a tie for sixth in the finale. If he wins this week, he will take home the FedExCup in addition to locking up that Player of the Year Award.

6. Rickie Fowler, United States

Rickie Fowler and caddie Joe Skovron walk to the 9th green in the final round of The Northern Trust golf championship. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Fowler was nudged out of the coveted top five in the point standings when Leishman leap-frogged him by winning the BMW Championship last week, but he is playing very well and could possibly win the FedExCup by winning the Tour Championship this week. He has finished in the top 25 in eight consecutive events including ties for fifth in the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and is sixth in the points. Fowler, who claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory early this year in the Honda Classic, opened the playoffs with a tie for 20th in The Northern Trust, then tied for 13th in the Dell Technologies Championship and tied for second last week in the BMW Championship. That gave him 10 results in the top 10 this season. Fowler is playing for the fourth time at East Lake, having tied for 23rd in 2012, finished solo eighth in 2014 and tied for 12th last year and would love to claim the first playoff victory of his career this week in the season finale.

7. Justin Rose, England

Justin Rose of England stands on the practice green at a practice round before The Northern Trust golf championship. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Playing his best golf late in the PGA Tour season, Rose has finished in the top 10 in each tournament during the playoffs, tying for 10th in both The Northern Trust and the Dell Technologies Championship before tying for second behind Leishman in the BMW Championship. He has not won since the Olympic Games last summer in Rio de Janeiro, but has posted seven results in the top 10 this season and ranks eighth in the point standings. That means Rose will need to win the Tour Championship this week and hope those in the top five fall for him to claim the FedExCup. He is making his eighth start in the Tour Championship, and even though he has never won at East Lake, he has not finished outside the top 20. Rose's best results in the finale were a tie for second behind Spieth in 2015, and he held the lead heading to the final round in 2012, but closed with a 71 and wound up second, three strokes behind Cup winner Brandt Snedeker.

8. Jason Day, Australia

Jason Day watches his drive off the second tee box during the third round of the 2017 PGA Championship. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI
Finally playing the way he did the last few seasons, Day has made a run in the playoffs, but it might be a little late. After tying for ninth in the PGA Championship, he opened the playoffs with a tie for sixth in the Northern Trust, then tied for 25th in the Dell Technologies Championship and finished fourth in the BMW Championship last week. Those results lifted Day to 15th in the point standings, but he needs too many players in front of him to falter in order to win the FedExCup with a victory this week in the Tour Championship. He is making his seventh start at East Lake and has finished no worse than a tie for 17th in 2010, other than last year, when he withdrew because of a back problem after opening with a 67. Day, who claimed two playoff victories in 2015 only to have Spieth steal the Cup by winning the Tour Championship, tied for fourth in the final event of the season in 2014, tied for sixth in 2011 and tied for 10th two years ago.

9. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan

Hideki Matsuyama watches his drive off the 16th tee box during the final round of the 2017 PGA Championship. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI
Although he has three victories on the PGA Tour this season and led the FedExCup standings much of the way, Matsuyama slipped from fourth to seventh in the points after a third straight finish out of the top 20 during the playoffs. He opened the postseason by missing the cut in The Northern Trust, tied for 23rd in the Dell Technologies and tied for 47th in the BMW Championship last week. Still, he could capture the FedExCup with a victory in the Tour Championship this week if the players in front of him falter in the finale. This will be his fourth start at East Lake and he finished 22nd three years ago and tied for 12th in 2015 before really getting the hang of the course in Atlanta last year. He was tied for the lead with Kevin Chappell at 66 after one round before finishing alone in fifth place. Matsuyama's late-season slump started after he tied for second in the U.S. Open, tied for 14th in the Open Championship, won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and tied for fifth in the PGA Championship.

10. Paul Casey, England

Paul Casey hits out of a trap on the 15th hole during the third round of the 2017 PGA Championship. File photo by Nell Redmond/UPI
Perhaps flying under the radar more than any of the top players heading into the Tour Championship, Casey has a chance this week because he plays East Lake about as well as anyone. This is his fourth appearance in the finale in Atlanta, and he tied for fourth in 2010, tied for fifth two years ago and finished solo fourth last year by closing with a 64. Casey has finished in the top 10 eight times this season, with most of them coming in the second half of the season, before he stumbled a bit last week with a tie for 33rd in the BMW Championship. That came after he opened the playoffs with a solo fifth place finish in The Northern Trust to open the playoffs before he tied for fourth in the Dell Technologies Championship. Before last week, he was out of the top 25 only once in 12 tournaments, and that was 26th in the U.S. Open. Casey, 10th in the point standings, claimed his only victory on the PGA Tour in the 2009 Shell Houston Open.

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