When the Sentry Tournament of Champions begins Thursday, the race for the FedExCup will be in a unique position for the first tournament of the calendar year.
For one, two major championships have already been contested in this ‘Super Season.’ Nearly 14% more winners’ points have been distributed than at this same point last season.
Because of COVID-19, there were only 22 tournaments played between last year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions and the final event of the regular season, the Wyndham Championship. There are 35 official events scheduled for that stretch this year, which means players will have work to do if they want to earn one of the 30 coveted spots at the TOUR Championship.
The unprecedented structure of this new season is guaranteed to generate volatility in the FedExCup race. Last season, half of the top 30 in the FedExCup on Jan. 1 also started the FedExCup Playoffs in that position. Fourteen of those players went on to qualify for the TOUR Championship.
Using the 15th Club Performance Index, shot-level metrics from around the world, and predictive modeling, we ran 10,000 simulations to determine what the FedExCup standings would look like at the end of this regular season. The exercise yielded some interesting results, and a few surprises from players who could outperform expectations over the next eight months.
Here’s who the analytics projected would be in the top 30 of the FedExCup entering this year’s Playoffs (and if you’re more interested in a human being’s opinion, click here to read Cameron Morfit’s prediction of the top 30 entering East Lake):
30. Brian Harman
29. Mackenzie Hughes
28. Cameron Smith
27. Ryan Palmer
Our numbers project that Palmer will be the only 40-something in the top 30 entering the Playoffs. Last year, Palmer was the only player older than 36 to make it to East Lake, getting there for the third time in his career. From 2019 to 2020, the Texan jumped significantly in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green (up 30 spots) and in scoring average (from 56th to 29th). His 11 top-25 finishes in 2019-2020 tied his most ever in a single season, and he finds himself in Maui this week thanks to the expanded Sentry Tournament of Champions field.
26. Brooks Koepka
It’s been a long climb back from injury, but Koepka showed signs of his old self down the stretch in 2020: after nearly winning in Memphis, he was two off the lead entering the final round at the PGA Championship. A fifth-place finish in Houston and seventh-place finish at Augusta National followed, door prizes for a man who had never previously gone a calendar year as a pro without a victory. Koepka is still a superhuman 73 under par in majors since 2016, 59 strokes better than any other player in that span.
25. Adam Long
24. Tyrrell Hatton
23. Kevin Kisner
22. Joaquin Niemann
21. Abraham Ancer
20. Jason Kokrak
19. Sungjae Im
Prolific isn’t a strong enough word for Im. Over the last three seasons, Sungjae Im has played 69 PGA TOUR events, five more than any other player. He has 123 rounds in the 60s in that span, 24 more than any other player. He has 159 rounds under par, 30 more than any other player. Sungjae was 15 under at the 2020 Masters, the best score in tournament history (by three strokes) by a player making his debut.
18. Matthew Wolff
17. Russell Henley
Lauded for his putting earlier in his career, Henley has generated a new statistical calling card: his approach play. He ranked fifth on the PGA TOUR last season in greens in regulation, the best performance of his career in that statistic. From the PGA TOUR season restart last May through The RSM Classic, no player averaged more Strokes Gained: Approach per round than Henley. 15th Club Performance Index ranks Henley as the 27th-best player in the world right now, 33 spots higher than his current spot in the OWGR (60th).
16. Corey Conners
Conners has established himself as an elite ball striker: each of the previous two seasons, the Canadian ranked in the top-20 on TOUR in greens in regulation, Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. In the fall of 2020, he showed glimpses of what he could become with improved putting. Conners is currently 98th this season in Strokes Gained: Putting, up more than 80 spots from the last two seasons. He has also jumped up nearly 100 spots in birdie conversion percentage from ’19-20.
15. Carlos Ortiz
14. Daniel Berger
13. Tony Finau
12. Patrick Reed
There’s a consistency to Reed’s career that may not always be fully articulated. Consider this: there are only three players to officially rank in the top-25 in Strokes Gained: Total each of the previous six seasons on the PGA TOUR. Those players are Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama and Reed. He currently has pole position this young season in birdie average, one year after ranking 11th on TOUR in the statistic.
11. Hideki Matsuyama
10. Viktor Hovland
With oceans of game and an outstanding amateur résumé in tow, Hovland is one of the most exciting young players in golf. An improvement in his short game could turn a budding star into one of the game’s best: Hovland ranked 22nd on the PGA TOUR in scoring average last season despite being well outside the top-100 in both Strokes Gained: Around-The-Green and Strokes Gained: Putting.
9. Rory McIlroy
8. Patrick Cantlay
7. Webb Simpson
6. Harris English
Our Performance Index is extremely bullish on English, rating him as the ninth-best player in the world at the moment, between Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama. His ascent has been impressive: since 2018, he has gone from 143rd to 89th to 7th in Strokes Gained: Total. He was one of just four players to rank in the top-20 last season in both Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and Strokes Gained: Putting, along with Berger, Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau.
5. Bryson DeChambeau
Of the traits or actions most associated with DeChambeau, ‘vastly improved putter’ isn’t nearly as high on the list as it should be. In his first full season on the PGA TOUR, DeChambeau ranked 145th in Strokes Gained: Putting. That number climbed each of the previous three seasons, landing him at a lofty 10th in the statistic a season ago. DeChambeau made 91.2% of his putts inside 10 feet last season, the highest percentage on the PGA TOUR. He was the only player on TOUR in the top 15 in both that statistic and driving distance.
4. Xander Schauffele
3. Jon Rahm
2. Justin Thomas
He is, statistically, the best iron player in the men’s game over the last 18 months. For a fifth consecutive season, he is among the top-five on TOUR in both scoring average and Strokes Gained: Total. And he’ll easily surpass $40 million in official career PGA TOUR earnings before his 28th birthday in April. I’d “love me some me,” too, if I were JT.
1. Dustin Johnson
Johnson ended his 2020 schedule with seven consecutive finishes of sixth or better, capped off with the largest margin of victory at Augusta National (five strokes) since Tiger Woods’ historic 12-shot win in 1997. Johnson could get 2021 off to a quick start: since the Sentry Tournament of Champions moved to The Plantation Course, his score of 148 under par is 14 strokes better than any other player. DJ is on his way to a seventh straight season ranked inside the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, and has not shot over par in the final round of a golf tournament in eleven months