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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Sparkling Spieth looks set to reap rich reward

FedEx Cup leader can claim both trophies

Jordan Spieth will take a two-shot lead into the second round of the Masters
1 of 1

Tournament starts 4.40pm Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 6.30pm

Palmer's top tip
Jordan Spieth 5-1
The top five in the FedEx Cup standings know that victory in the Tour Championship this week will guarantee they also get to take the main prize home, while the other 25 runners  at East Lake, Georgia, need help from others if they are to become the richest golfer of the year.

Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Jon Rahm fill the precious FedEx Cup spots, and that illustrious quintet will be determined to top the East Lake leaderboard. All are already multi-millionaires but an $11.55m payout (the $10m FedEx Cup booty plus the Tour Championship reward) is a juicy carrot.

Johnson buckled under the pressure of chasing the fattest cheque of his career when carding a three-over-par final-round 73 in the Tour Championship last year, a Sunday wobble which allowed Rory McIlroy and co to swamp him.

Johnson signalled his readiness for East Lake revenge with a closing 64 in the BMW Championship on Sunday and is obviously a serious threat, but this tight layout, which has only two par-fives, is far from perfect terrain for DJ to perform. The world number one is a fair price at 8-1, but his wait for a first FedEx Cup seems likely to continue.

Thomas, who finished 47th in the BMW on Sunday, tied for sixth place on his East Lake debut last year. Like Johnson, though, Thomas relishes breathing space off the tee and a full complement of par-fives.

BMW champion Leishman finished second from last in his only previous East Lake start, closing with a 78 in 2009. The Aussie's BMW gallop appears likely to become a Tour Championship trot, while Rahm is making his course debut.

The Spaniard continues to greatly impress, putting superbly at the Dell Technologies, then hitting his ball better than ever in the BMW. He could put it all together in Atlanta and become FedEx champ at the age of 22, but it is more likely that inexperience will cost him.

Spieth is the member of the top five with fewest, if any, question marks. He is the only previous FedEx Cup winner lining up, which brings a significant psychological edge, and he is the only previous East Lake champion.

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Georgia is a happy hunting ground for Spieth. He was second on his East Lake debut in 2013, closing with a 64, then runner-up in the Masters the following year. In 2015, he nailed the Masters and Tour Championship double, and in 2016 he was second in the Masters having led for much of the way.

In terms of course credentials, it is also worth noting that Spieth's only appearance in the Wyndham Championship (2013) resulted in a playoff loss. The Wyndham is played on another Donald Ross designed track (Sedgefield).

Spieth has revealed that he was running on empty when arriving for the Tour Championship last year. He had got his 2016 schedule wrong and had failed to rest properly between tournaments. He reports himself much fresher this time, raring to go as he bids to put the FedEx Cup next to the Claret Jug to cap a wonderful 2017.

In his press conference prior to the BMW, the 24-year-old admitted that he had been taking it easy in BMW week, conserving energy with minimal practice. Looking ahead to the Tour Championship, he said he would be “treating it like a Major”.

Spieth signed off with a 65 for seventh place in the BMW and his game looks in the shape to deliver FedEx playoffs form figures of 2-2-7-1. He is arguably driving his ball better than ever, which gives him a fantastic platform from which to destroy East Lake with his traditional strengths of iron-play and short-game.

Next best
Russell Henley 100-1
Johnson is the biggest danger for Spieth supporters and backing both may be an appealing option for some punters, but preference as a supplementary wager to a serious investment on Spieth, is an each-way bet on Russell Henley at a massive price.

Henley was born in Georgia and played for the University of Georgia for four years, before winning his first Tour title in the same state when still an amateur in 2011. He followed up with two more victories before becoming a US Tour star.

Henley has won three times on the US Tour and does not turn 29 until April. He can boast a top-20 finish in every Major and is one of the most underrated players on the circuit. Two of those three triumphs came on a par-70 course and his only previous start at East Lake was an encouraging one.

Henley finished 12th on his Tour Championship debut in 2014 and this exceptionally good putter can handle the firm, fast greens which are nearly always a feature of the US Tour finale.

It is more than five months since Henley romped to a three-shot Houston Open success, before finishing 11th in the Masters next time out, but fifth place in the Greenbrier Classic in July was a decent effort and there have been flashes of brilliance in the playoffs. He led after round one of The Northern Trust, firing a 64, then scrapped his way to East Lake in 27th spot of the FedEx standings.

Henley has not missed a cut for more than three months, should play with more freedom having achieved his goal of reaching the Tour Championship, and is good enough to be a title contender in a state where he is ultra-comfortable. There is plenty of 100-1 available, but BoyleSports go each-way a fifth the first five.

Others to note
Kevin Chappell
The Texas Open champion lost a playoff for this title 12 months ago when still a maiden. The 33-1 chance is a hugely tempting option, but next week's Presidents Cup may be a distraction.

Charley Hoffman
Like Chappell, Hoffman did well on his TC debut (sixth, 2010) and is playing nicely, but is representing his country for the first time next week. May be getting anxious as he lines up against teammates at East Lake.

Rickie Fowler
The frustrated Californian still has only one victory to his name this season, another chance slipping away at the BMW. He is swinging beautifully and is an obvious threat, but likely to remain in the shadow of Spieth and Johnson this week.

Hideki Matsuyama
Produced something close to golfing perfection in the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational, but appears to have been rocked by his USPGA near-miss, playing poorly since.

Patrick Cantlay
The cocksure youngster qualified for East Lake playing in only 11 events. He oozes potential and class, but may need time to settle on debut.

Kevin Kisner
The Carolinian, typically accurate and strong on the greens, went to college in Georgia and looks a good fit for East Lake. Previous efforts there have been poor, though, and he has gone off the boil since the USPGA. May still be worth chancing at 125-1.

Staking plan
J Spieth
4pts each-way 5-1 general
R Henley
1pt each-way 100-1 BoyleSports

Tour Championship
Course East Lake Golf Club, Atlanta, Georgia

Prize money $8.75m ($1.55m to the winner)
Length 7,362 yards Par 70 Field 30

Course records – 72 holes 257 Tiger Woods (2007) 18 holes 60 Zach Johnson (2007)
Course winner taking part Jordan Spieth

When to bet By 4.40pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 6.30pm Thursday
Time difference Georgia is five hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – BMW Championship 1 M Leishman (45-1), T2 R Fowler (14-1), J Rose (33-1), 4 J Day (18-1), T5 M Kuchar (35-1), J Rahm (14-1)

Course overview East Lake is the curtain-closer to the US Tour season, with the most successful performers of the year ending their Stateside campaign in the Tour Championship. East Lake has hosted this event in 1998, 2000, 2002 and from 2004 onwards.

The famous course was designed by Tom Bendelow and Donald Ross, but Rees Jones took charge of a redesign in 1994 and at the end of 2007 (he switched all the greens from bentgrass to Bermuda).

It is extremely long for a par-70. The nines were switched last year, the front becoming the back and vice versa. That meant the tournament no longer ended on a 235-yard par-three, but instead a 600-yard par-five.

The 14th and 15th holes – a 544-yard par-four followed by a par-three over water – has become a difficult stretch with the finishing line looming.

This is a demanding, heavily undulating venue where eight, nine, seven, eight, ten, 13, 11, nine and 12 under have topped the charts in the last nine years. A SubAir drainage system means firm, fast greens are almost certain

Story of last year Rory McIlroy finished regulation play strongly, before edging Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell in a playoff, the Northern Irishman winning both the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup

Weather forecast Hot, sunny and calm, with a thunderstorm threat for each of the first three afternoons

Type of player suited to challenge The fairways are notoriously difficult to hit at East Lake, so accurate drivers should prosper. There are only two par-fives and no easy birdies, so players who like to grind out plenty of pars can flourish

Key attribute Accuracy

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