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Tour Championship odds, predictions: Two players we’re backing for first-round leader

The Action Network's Nick Hennion delivers his two best bets for the first-round leader market at the Tour Championship.

Xander Schauffele of the United States plays his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club on August 21, 2022 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Xander Schauffele of the United States plays his shot from the seventh tee during the final round of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club on August 21, 2022 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)Read moreAndy Lyons / Getty Images

Like most weeks, handicapping the first-round leader market presents a challenge to golf bettors. Add in the staggered scoring element this week and it becomes further complex.

Scottie Scheffler, who will start two shots of his nearest competitor, is a -140 favorite to lead after the first round Thursday at East Lake Golf Club. Just two players — Scheffler and Patrick Cantlay (+220) — are priced at 10/1 or lower.

Although it’s likely Scheffler will at least share the first round lead — all three players who started in first position have held a share of the lead since staggered scoring began in 2019 — I’m choosing to look further down the odds board to try and find a hidden gem.

Here are my two best first-round leader bets for the Tour Championship. Odds come courtesy of Fanduel Sportsbook and are reflective at time of writing.

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First-Round Leader Bet #1 - Xander Schauffele (+1000)

Schauffele will begin his first round four shots behind Scheffler, but has actually come from further back before to grab a share of the first-round lead.

In 2019, Schauffele began Thursday six shots back of Justin Thomas, but fired a Thursday 64 to counter Thomas’s even-par 70. That year saw three players — Schauffele, Thomas and Brooks Koepka, who opened where Schauffele will open this year — finish Thursday with a share of the lead.

Beyond that trend, there are reasons to feel confident in Schauffele grabbing another share of the first-round lead. Across his previous eight opening rounds, Schauffele rates out third overall in my statistical model. Over that span, Schauffele ranks fifth in the field in birdies or better gained and 12th in the field in bogey avoidance.

Plus, Schauffele owns a stellar historical record at East Lake. Over his previous eight rounds there, he leads the field in SG: Total and sits first overall in both SG: Putting and birdies gained while ranking second in bogey avoidance.

For those reasons, I’ll take a shot with Schauffele at what I consider to be the best combination of player and odds on the board.

» READ MORE: Tour Championship odds, predictions: Two longshot bets we’re backing

First-Round Leader Bet #2 - Rory McIlroy (+2900)

Does anyone play better than Rory McIlroy when he’s healthily behind on the leaderboard?

I kid, of course, but I’m a huge fan of these odds on the 2019 FedEx Cup champion. Across his last eight opening rounds, McIlroy leads the field in birdies or better gained and bogey avoidance. He also ranks seventh in both SG: T2G and SG: Approach over that span, but the former two stats are key in supporting a Rory climb up the leaderboard on Thursday.

Beginning six shots back of Scheffler, a lot has to go right for Rory to grab a share of the first-round lead. But, in addition to his strength in my statistical modeling, Rory also owns a great historical record at East Lake. In his previous 12 rounds at the course, he ranks second in birdies or better gained and SG: Total over that span.

Additionally, Rory leads the PGA Tour this season in first-round scoring average and, save for an untimely triple-bogey last week at the BMW Championship, had a shot at the first-round lead.

Bottom line: you could do a lot worse than 29/1 with a player that has previously won at this track. Play the Northern Irishman at anything better than 25/1.

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