The FedEx Cup play-offs begin this week, with the first of four events, The Northern Trust. This event, formerly known as “The Barclays” is played in the New York/New Jersey area, and has been a part of the FedEx Cup since its inception in 2007. After leaving Westchester Country club in 2008, the event began rotating its course each year, with four different courses hosting since departing its long-term venue.
Ridgewood Country Club, this year’s host, last staged the event in 2014, when Hunter Mahan bettered; Cameron Tringale, Jason Day and Stuart Appleby by two strokes. It also hosted the 2008 and 2010 renewals, won by Vijay Singh and Matt Kuchar respectively. Singh outlasted Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland in a play-off, and it went to extra holes again two years later, when Kuchar defeated Martin Laird.
This week, Dustin Johnson will be looking over his shoulder as Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and Justin Thomas all look to end the week as World No.1. Given how tight it now is at the top, significant changes to the World Rankings should be expected over the next month.
Thomas put in a valiant defence of his PGA Championship title last time out, but didn’t do enough to keep up with Koepka in the end and the pair, along with Johnson, will look to battle it out for golfing superiority, before becoming team-mates at the Ryder Cup next month.
The battle for the No.1 spot in both the FedEx Cup and World Rankings may not even be the most exciting storyline this week however, as Tiger Woods will be playing in the post-season for the first time since 2013.
A win this week could potentially see Woods rise as high as #12 in the World Rankings, a cool 638 place improvement since the Hero World Challenge last December. As it stands, Woods is already up to 26th, a 624-place improvement, but anything other than a win in these play-offs is going to feel like a disappointment, for a man who has known nothing but winning his whole career. Woods has humbled himself in recent months, and has admitted that even contending in the majors this year was beyond his expectations, but after playing so well for much of the year, a win will surely be on his radar.
Ryder Cup spots also hang in the balance over the next couple of weeks, as the race for automatic selection has already ended for Team USA, whilst Team Europe’s first 8 players will officially be named two weeks’ time, following the conclusion of the Made in Denmark event.
Good form over the next fortnight will go a long way to securing wildcard picks on both sides as well, with captains, Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn both facing selection headaches.
After a solid start to the Wyndham Championship, Sergio Garcia sat 8th on the leaderboard after 54 holes, however a level-par final round saw him fall 16 places to 24th. Fellow Ryder Cup hopefuls, Henrik Stenson and Rafa Cabrera-Bello both shot final round 64’s to finish the week T20 and T11 respectively.
With these three players facing a far from certain fate in a race to make the side, yesterday’s final round could well have been vital.
Garcia’s disappointing final round meant he missed out on a spot in the top-125 in the FedEx Cup rankings and will not feature in the play-offs for the first time in his career. With less chance now to put himself into the spotlight, Garcia may well struggle to justify what had been assumed as an auto-pick for Bjorn.
Ian Poulter has played well for much of the year and has won on the PGA Tour this season, so there is no chance he misses out, even if he fails to qualify given his Ryder Cup credentials.
Thorbjorn Olesen leapfrogged Poulter into the 8th automatic spot, after finishing 4th in Sweden last weekend, but whichever of the two fails to make the team on merit, can expect a favour from Bjorn, despite the latter being urged to qualify automatically by his compatriot, to avoid any rumours of favouritism.
Stenson also looks an obvious choice, whilst the likes of Bello, Paul Casey, Russell Knox and Thomas Pieters can all make a case for the remaining two spots, so Garcia will have some convincing to do.
Bello is certainly finding form at the right time, as his 64 yesterday was the same score he shot in the final-round of the PGA Championship, so he’s making a habit of eye-catching Sunday’s of late. Finishes of 10th and 11th in his last two weeks have come at the right time, and he along with the other wildcard hopefuls will be hoping for a big week here.
**As of Monday evening, Henrik Stenson has withdrawn from this week’s Northern Trust.
Furyk will announce 3 of his 4 wildcard selections after next week’s Dell Technologies Championship and the final pick after the BMW Championship a week later. With Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods missing out on automatic berths, you would expect both to be selected. Assuming that is the case, that leaves two spots remaining. The form of Brandt Snedeker, Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele, will no doubt be of particular interest over the next couple of weeks, as they look to catch the eye of Furyk.
Snedeker threw his hat in the ring late, after shooting a 59 in the first round last week and going on to secure a wire-to-wire victory at the Wyndham.
Other hopefuls include Brian Harman, Gary Woodland, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, Kyle Stanley and Zach Johnson, all of whom will tee it up this week.
Captain Furyk led by example, shooting a final-round 63 to finish T4 behind Snedeker, C.T. Pan and Simpson last week, so he has set the bar even higher than before, in terms of what is expected from Team USA hopefuls.
Back to this week, as there are plenty of reasons this event is important, outside of the Ryder Cup and we need to examine what will be required from anyone hoping to etch their name on the trophy this week.
The Course and what it will take to win
Ridgewood Country Club, 7,385 Yards, Par 71
This course as already noted, has been used to host this event three times, already (2008, 2010, 2014), so a fair few players in the field this week will have prior knowledge of the layout. There have been changes made to the course, with Gil Hanse coming in to tidy up the route of the course, in the 2015. It now runs a lot smoother, and back to the roots of A.W. Tillinghast’s design.
Looking at the winners’ list at this course, Mahan, Kuchar and Vijay Singh are all wily veterans on the PGA Tour and had multiple victories to their name, before winning here. Singh is a major champion and won plenty elsewhere, whilst Kuchar and Mahan both have WGC titles in their trophy cabinet, so it is clear this is an event won by top-class talent. Some surprise names have gone close in the past though, and many will take confidence from that.
In 2008, Singh had to overcome Kevin Sutherland and Sergio Garcia, with the former just a one-time winner on TOUR. What Sutherland does have in common with other victors here though, is that he is a WGC winner, with his sole PGA Tour victory coming at the WGC Match Play, where he overcame the challenge of his now fellow Champions Tour competitor, Scott McCarron. His play-off loss here was the second of three in his PGA Tour career, with the final one coming later in the year, at the Frys.com Open.
In 2010, Kuchar beat Martin Laird in a play-off, who had only won once on the PGA Tour at that point, and despite going on to win twice since, would still be considered a surprise challenger. Laird obviously found confidence from his 7th place effort in 2008, so this clearly a course that suits the Scotsman.
Lastly in 2014, whilst Mahan wouldn’t have been the most surprising of winners, nor was anyone shocked to see Jason Day in contention, fellow runners-up, Cameron Tringale and Stuart Appleby would not have been the first names on people’s lips that week.
Given the recent history here, it would be no surprise to see some outsiders challenge, but ultimately the winners here tend to be those considered top-tier talents.
As we know the courses here (three lots of 9-holes) were designed Tillinghast, and he was was also responsible for the following courses:
Baltustrol (Lower Course) – 2005, 2016 PGA Championship, 2000, 2018 US Amateur
Bethpage State (Black Course) – 2002, 2009 US Open, The Barclays 2012, 2016
Winged Foot (West Course) – 1997 PGA Championship, 2004 US Amateur, 2006 US Open
Form across these varying events will prove a liking for Tillinghast designs, and can be used to add to the form at this course in 2008, 2010 and 2014.
Other than being comfortable with Tillinghast designs, there is not too much else to go on. The winners of this event in the other three years Ridgewood has hosted, has seen the winners produce a strong putting week, but this is to be expected of any winner on any course, and is very much a variable statistic week-to-week.
Jason Day 14/1 3pts win:
I picked Jason Day to win the PGA Championship, and whilst he didn’t quite bring enough that week, with a final-round 71 nowhere near enough to keep up with the challengers, I find myself backing him on his very next start.
No worse than 19th in his last four starts, the form is there for the Aussie and as we get to the final stages of the season, Day is one of the few top players that does not have the distraction of the Ryder Cup to worry about.
Talking of form at Tillinghast designs, not many can boast a better portfolio than Day, despite not winning on any of his tracks.
He has finished 2nd, 5th and 31st when playing this event at this course, and also finished 24th in 2012 and 4th in 2016, when held at Bethpage Black.
Day can also count on his 2nd place finish at the PGA Championship, which was held at the Tillinghast-designed, Baltusrol two years ago.
In 2015, Day capped off a fantastic season with victory in this event and I see absolutely no reason why he can’t do the same this week, and make it a three-win season.
At 14/1 he is priced amongst the favourites, but for good reason and he for me has the best credentials of any this week.
Patrick Reed 55/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w:
The Masters champion may not be on the best run of form of late, but I feel that is taken into account and then some, with is price this week. At 55/1, he certainly looks good value to win this event for a second time, two years after victory at Bethpage Stage (Black).
That win at Bethpage Black is clearly important as it is another Tillinghast designed tracked and is also in the New York area.
In his only appearance at this golf course he finished in a tie for 9th and in the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol he finished T13 to suggest he likes these setups from Tillinghast.
When you look at his current form, it is hardly inspiring, but there have been some highlights, including the first three rounds at the Porsche European Open, where a final-round 76 cost him another victory outside of his homeland.
After an opening-round 75 at the Open Championship, Reed bounced back to finish T28, whilst it was the opposite story at the Bridgestone. An opening-round 66 at Firestone was ruined by three rounds of 70 or worse and a missed cut at the PGA last time out suggests his game is not where it has been when at best this season.
A return to this course may well bring the best out in Reed though, who is certainly a man for the big occasion, with victories now in a major, a WGC and a FedEx Cup play-off event. It is the business-end of the season and good performances are rewarded generously at this time, let alone what a good week would do ahead of the Ryder Cup.
An in-form Reed is bad news for Team Europe as he is already a tenacious match-play competitor, particularly in the Ryder Cup. Add a Masters title since the last time the two teams squared off, and chances are Europe have him labelled as the danger man.
Reed simply looks too big at 55/1 to regain his form, as a man of his talent can win on any given week. He loves Tillinghast designs and has already proven he is capable of playing this course, and he’s a much improved player since that T9 finish here four years ago.
Gary Woodland 70/1 (Bet365) 1pt e/w:
Gary Woodland played very well at the PGA Championship, finishing in a tie for 6th and this was his third straight top-22 finish. 22nd at the Canadian Open was followed by a T17 finish at Firestone, before playing the PGA a week later.
That T6 finish at the PGA was his best effort since winning in Phoenix earlier in the season, and also his seventh straight made cut. Whilst not all his finishing positions have been eye-catching during this run of made cuts, it still shows a level of consistency and that is important heading into the play-offs.
Woodland is another player that enjoys Tillinghast designs, as he finished T4 at the 2016 Barclays (Bethpage Black) and T13 here in 2014.
That T4 finish at the 2016 Barclays was second top-four finish in this event, after finishing T3 in the same event in 2013 at Liberty National.
His T47 finish at the 2009 U.S. Open is hardly a result to highlight his chances of winning here on its own, but a second-round 66 is further evidence that he enjoys playing at Bethpage Black, and another suggestion he could probably play well again here.
Given his efforts at the PGA Championship, which may have been even better were it not for a bad lie in a poorly-raked bunker, Woodland should go into this event full of confidence.
Woodland has been solid at hitting greens all season (5th Greens in Regulation) and also ranks 2nd in SG: Off-the-Tee and 20th in SG: Tee-to-Green, so like much of his career, it largely depends on what he does on the greens this week.
A 13th here in 2014, a 4th at the same event at Bethpage Black in 2016 and a 3rd three years earlier at Liberty National all suggest he is comfortable with Tillinghast course designs and also this area in general. At 70/1 I think he is a great price this week to keep the good form going, and give Furyk another tough decision ahead of Paris.
Martin Laird 200/1 (UniBet) 0.5pt e/w:
Martin Laird has a very solid bank of form on this course with 7th and 2nd place finishes here in 2008 and 2010 respectively and whilst he only managed a T45 finish last week, he did play very solidly for the most part.
A two-over-par final-round last week saw the Scotsman fall 32 places on the leaderboard from a respectable T13 to an in the end, disappointing T45. If the first three rounds, which were progressively better (69-66-65) are anything to go by though, Laird will be able to put Sunday’s round behind him and go well on a track he clearly enjoys.
Laird has two more top-20’s to his name in this event, one of which came in 2016, at you guessed it, Bethpage Black, where a final-round 75 actually cost him a chance of finishing inside the top-5.
Whilst he is not in the same form he was when entering this event in the past, he played pretty well for the most part last week, so the belief will surely be there, for a man we know plays the same tracks well often.
Laird won the Shriners in 2009 and finished T2 a year later. He also won the Valero Texas Open in 2013, two years after finishing T9 there. A T5 finish at the Players Championship in 2013 a year after finishing T2 there, is also another clear indicator he plays the same places well and that is what gives me confidence he can play well again this week.
It hasn’t been his best season on Tour but he had back-to-back T9 finishes at the Phoenix and Genesis Open’s earlier in the year, as well as playing well at the Texas Open again (T11) and more recently finishing T15 at the Barracuda Championship.
He was well on his way towards another top-15 finish last week and if he can find the form of his first three rounds last week, there’s every chance he goes well again for a third time here.
At 200/1 he is simply too big, given his clear affinity with both this course and Bethpage Black.
Total Points Staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2018: -120