So, after 43 events over a ten month period we’ve arrived at Play Off time on The PGA Tour. The newly revamped schedule means that instead of four events this year there are just three Play Off events, culminating in the Tour Championship in two weeks-time, when the winner under its new handicapping format will take home both the Fedex Cup Champions title and the Tour Championship, along with a cool $15 million or so.
The first of the three events is The Northern Trust with a field of 125 players teeing it up at Liberty National Golf Club, which over-looks New York Harbour in New Jersey. The Top 70 in the Fedex Cup rankings after this week will then move on to next week’s BMW Championship.
A par 71, measuring to 7370 yards, Liberty National has been seen twice on the PGA Tour over the years in 2009 and 2013, when it hosted this event [when formerly known as The Barclays]. In addition it played host to the 2017 Presidents Cup.
With limited course history to go on there is more speculation involved than most weeks, however looking at past leaderboards here and reading various comments from players, it appears that this is very much a course that favours players who are strong from tee to green.
On that basis many people will start and end their search for the winner with world number one and current Fedex Cup leader Brooks Koepka, and it would be hard to argue with them. Koepka’s long game was imperious last time out when winning in Memphis and having won just up the road in May at Bethpage Black at the PGA Championship no one would be surprised if he were to complete a ‘Big Apple double’. For me though in a field that is as strong as any Major Championship I am happy to pass at single figure odds, particularly as I suspect Brooks will have ‘downed tools’ for a week or so after peaking at the Fedex St Jude.
Just behind Brooks in the market we find Rory and Rahm and they make more appeal than Dustin Johnson who continued to lack spark last time out, however at bigger odds of 22/1 I prefer the chances of Patrick Cantlay who did us a big favour when winning at the Memorial back in June.
Currently third on tour in this weeks key stat Strokes Gained Tee To Green the ultra -consistent Cantlay seems ideal for this track.
There is no doubt in my mind that Cantlay is a Major winner in waiting and a win at a Play Off event is a natural next step progression for him and I can see him following in the footsteps of last years Northern Trust winner Bryson Dechambeau and completing the Memorial/Northern Trust double.
At similar odds to Cantlay I am also happy to give another chance to Justin Thomas. A cold putter prevented JT from getting closer than his final 12th place finish in Memphis last time out when we were onboard, however he continues to ‘flush it’ tee to green and it is surely only a matter of time before Thomas, who performed admirably here at the Presidents Cup in 2017, returns to the winners enclosure.
Further down the list two more players who appeal are Hideki Matsuyama and Billy Horschel. Matsuyama’s odds have drifted out to a far more attractive e/w price of 40/1 based on a couple of more lacklustre efforts, however again, due to his great tee to green strengths, I can’t help but think this week will be far more up his alley than last weeks putting contest in North Carolina. As for Horschel he undoubtedly comes alive at this time of year and he arrives here with great momentum on the back of consecutive top ten finishes.
Finally I will complete this week’s team with a huge priced e/w punt on Corey Conners at 2001/. The Canadian is a tee to green machine and there are plenty of similarities on that front between him and his Canadian counterpart Graham Delaet who finished second here in 2013. Not the most consistent of players Conners comes alive on tracks, which reward his ball striking and on the back of two solid weeks I can see him making the frame at massive odds.