The PGA Tour play-offs get underway this week when The Northern Trust, the first of a reduced three events to determine the winner of the FedEx Cup, is played out in New York. We have lost an event from last season so the 125 men to have qualified for the postseason gets reduced to 70 here.
Bryson DeChambeau got his play-off campaign off to a winning start last year and he has qualified for the event again this term, although he will defend on a different course with the event moving to Liberty National, scene of the Presidents Cup a couple of years ago.
2018 – Bryson DeChambeau
2017 – Dustin Johnson
2016 – Patrick Reed
2015 – Jason Day
2014 – Hunter Mahan
2013 – Adam Scott
2012 – Nick Watney
2011 – Dustin Johnson
2010 – Matt Kuchar
2009 – Heath Slocum
Liberty National alongside the Hudson River is the venue this week. As the name suggests the sights of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline are the backdrop to a wonderful golf course. This is the fourth time in the last 10 years this track has been used. It hosted this tournament in 2009 and 2013 and was the setting for the Presidents Cup in 2017.
Length is actually a big thing around here. The course is a par 71 which stretches out to 7,370 yards and with the rough surrounding the fairways on the short side the bigger hitters can let it fly here. The key element is greens in regulation. The rough is fiddly around these greens and we saw in the Presidents Cup here that it is a nightmare course to scramble on. A bunch of rain hit the track in the build up to the tournament so the track is likely to be soft.
125 men have qualified for the tournament this week but Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Sam Burns have not committed to the tournament so we are down to a field of 122 which includes the defending champion Bryson DeChambeau and the current holder of the FedEx Cup who is Justin Rose. Tiger Woods is also in the field as he bids to get back to East Lake and defend his title there.
The winner of the Wyndham Championship JT Poston is in the field and he’ll be looking for successive wins against a whole host of good players that include Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and the world number one Brooks Koepka to name just a few. Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay all want to be dangers this week while recently crowned The Open champion Shane Lowry tees it up for the first time since he won the Claret Jug.
Brooks Koepka is the favourite to win the tournament this week at 8/1. He played here in the Presidents Cup two years ago but lost his singles match to Adam Scott however since then he has kicked on a gear and heads into this tournament ranked number one in the FedEx rankings, a position that if he maintains through to East Lake he will be in the box seat for the bunce. He should go very well but in this company if I’m taking someone at 8/1 I want him to win more than Koepka does.
Rory McIlroy will begin the tournament as a 12/1 shot to win the competition and on the face of it he should have every chance of going well but I wonder if he has managed to put his Royal Portrush disappointment behind him remains to be seen. This is a course which should suit McIlroy and he finished in the top 20 here in 2013. There are just enough question marks for me to give him the slip this week though.
Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson are both 16/1 shots to win the tournament. You would think they are both genuine contenders based on their length and actually Rahm could be very tough to stop with his touch on and around the greens but he might just be ever so slightly skinny. Johnson is in no form whatsoever at the present time so he is probably easily dismissed albeit with the caveat that surely he must come good again soon.
Justin Thomas is a 20/1 shot which means we are getting into the more backable price range now. Whether Thomas is the one to be on remains to be seen though because although he has been solid in recent times he hasn’t really threatened winning which would be a concern given the much higher profile nature of this tournament. He was well beaten in singles play by Hideki Matsuyama a couple of years ago. It is 25/1 bar.
Xander Schauffele has long since been my man for the big occasion and I expect him to come to the party in a big way here. He is pure class and the bigger the tournament the better he comes to the party. He is a pure ball striker but there is no weakness in his game whatsoever. If there is a genuine strength it is tee-to-green but that is not to take away anything from his short game which is decent enough too. The bright lights bring the best out of Schauffele and they shine no bright than in the city that never sleeps. Schauffele is a massive runner here.
Adam Scott might not win as often as he should do but at 40/1 we can have a nice each way bet this week safe in the knowledge that we are going to make a few quid if he only places. That said he has won around here and he backed up his liking for the track when he schooled Brooks Koepka here in the singles in the Presidents Cup. It is no surprise that he goes well here. He is a relentless flusher of the ball from tee-to-green. In the six years since he won here he has overcome his putting issues and looks a winner in waiting. He is too good not to win soon. It may very well come here on a track that fits like a glove and where he has good memories. He’s a no brainer pick at 40s.
It is well known that you have to take Bubba Watson on tracks he has previous on. If a course suits his eye he’ll eat it up and if it doesn’t he won’t be around long. He has good form at Liberty National and that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. He belts it a long way and you can do that round here but the key thing is the challenge is right in front of you which is what Watson likes. There are a couple of short holes that he can get after here and as long as he’s strong off the tee, and to be fair he usually is on those courses he plays well, he has the touch which can push him right into contention. Bubba is nowhere near a lock for East Lake, in fact as it stands he isn’t even playing golf next week so he needs a big week here. I think he’ll find it.
My picks are generally long hitters but I’m going to sacrifice that for Andrew Putnam who has been in excellent form recently and would have had more eye catching finishes than he’s had were it not for a couple of poor final rounds here and there. Putnam isn’t the worst into the greens and he is one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour on them. There isn’t as much scrutiny off the tee around here so a lot of the strengths of Putnam’s game are suited to this track. At a three figure price I can’t ignore him.
Jhonattan Vegas gave Jordan Spieth a lesson around here a couple of years ago and he is someone who comes alive in the busy areas and big crowds so Vegas should be buoyed this week. I’ve never really believed in the nappy factor but it is amazing how often it lands and Vegas would certainly have that on his side here having left a tournament recently for the birth of his child. Vegas fits this place nicely. He’s not the worst from tee to green, has a nice touch around the greens and just looks absolutely massive at 200/1 to me.
Back X.Schauffele to win The Northern Trust (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-6)
Back A.Putnam to win The Northern Trust (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-6)
Back B.Watson to win The Northern Trust (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
PLACED – Back A.Scott to win The Northern Trust (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)
Back J.Vegas to win The Northern Trust (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 251.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)