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Last week's Wyndham Championship cleared up the final FedEx Cup Playoff issues. Both Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer failed to qualify for the Playoffs, with Kaymer losing his Tour card for next season (he's only played 13 of the minimum 15 events) into the bargain. On a positive note, Sedgefield shock winner Davis Love III (500/1) joined the Playoff party along with Jason Gore, Jonas Blixt, Ryo Ishikawa and Camilo Villegas. So now that's all done we move onto The Barclays which visits the Donald Ross designed Plainfield Country Club for the second time.
The FedEx Cup has grown massively in popularity since its inception in 2008. The spectacle of watching the world's best golfers fight it out across 4 weeks of top-level competition has become a real highlight of the golfing calendar. In essence this week is where the PGA Tour gets serious as the winner at The Barclays, Deutsche and BMW will receive 2,000 points (regular season winners receive 500 points) and each tournament has a prize fund of $8.25 million with $1.44 million going to the tournament winner - that's effectively a Major victory in cash terms. In addition to the $33 million of tournament funds available, there's also a $35 million FedEx Cup prize fund. The 2015 FedEx Cup champion will receive a cool $10 million, 30th place (East Lake qualifier in last spot) receives $175,000 with the 125th ranked player after this week receiving $70,000. Qualifiers Retief Goosen (family matters) and Francesco Molinari (birth of 2nd child) won't take any part in the Playoff events whilst Rory McIlroy (rest), Sergio Garcia (rest) and Louis Oosthuizen (back problems yet again) all miss out this week.
From Plainfield this week the Top 100 players move forward to TPC Boston, 70 on to Conway Farms, then 30 qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake starting on the 24th September. Over on the European Tour we visit the Albatross Golf Resort outside of Prague for the Czech Masters. Paul Williams has cast is eye over the tournament and you can read his thoughts on that event here.
2015 Punters League. Wins from David Horsey (80/1) and Davis Love III (500/1) made for particularly slim pickings in last week's Punters League. However 3 entries included Horsey and Michael Curran took the weekly free bet price with Horsey, Koepka and Haas selections. Sean Colgan is still in control of the overall Punters League season lead after Week 33. With a weekly £/€25 free bet prize, new entrants are always welcome - so enter your 6 players across The Barclays and Czech Masters via our 2,700-strong facebook group now!
With 120 players at Plainfield and up to 6 places each-way available with a couple of firms, this week offers up a strong betting heat - so here's my Barclays preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: For the second consecutive week we visit a Donald Ross design in the form of Plainfield Country Club in New Jersey. Back in 2011 Hurricane Irene reduced this tournament to 54 holes and incredibly soft course conditions meant that the then sub-7,000 yard Par 71 offered up no defence for the cream of the PGA Tour who simply took aim and fired. Since then Gil Hanse has renovated the track, making it more acceptable for high-level tournament play, and there have been numerous changes to the course with the par being reduced to a 70 (34 & 36 for the two 9s). To make things more interesting for 2015, Ross' design features really tough rough allied to faster playing conditions which, in tandem with the reduced par, should see scoring checked a little from the 2011 level.
Plainfield Country Club, Edison, New Jersey: Designer: Donald Ross 1916, with Gil Hanse renovation onwards from 1999; Course Type: Up-State; Par: 70; Length: 7,012 yards; Water Hazards: 4; Fairways: Bentgrass; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Rye and tall fescue +3.5"; Greens: 7,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2011: 68.80 (-2.20).
Course Overview: The Donald Ross design has been toughened for 2015 after unbelievably soft conditions left the course totally defenceless in 2011. 48 yards have been added to the scorecard, but more importantly the set-up now features only 2 par 5s, both of which are located on the back nine. The 5th, which was the easiest hole on the course, has been converted from a 527 yard par 5 to a tough 495 yard par 4. The closing 18th driveable par 4, which played at 285 yards, yielded a whopping 3 eagles and 158 birdies across just 3 rounds in 2011. It's now been extended to 380 yards. In reality these changes will have a material impact on the scoring level that we'll witness in 2015, but it's still hard to defend a 7,000 yard par 70 with huge 7,500 sq.ft. average greens. Fairways are also relatively wide, so even though tough rough is promised, the key to this week (as ever) will be the speed of the greens. Firm and fast conditions look very likely, so I'm expecting a tougher, low-to-mid double-digit winning score for consistent players who thrive on green complexes featuring poa annua.
Winners: 2014: Hunter Mahan (-14); 2013: Adam Scott (-11); 2012: Nick Watney (-10); 2011: Dustin Johnson (-19); 2010: Matt Kuchar (-12).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Barclays predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Jim Furyk (Predictor number 1), Jason Day, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson. Lower down in the Top 25 Jason Bohn, Jerry Kelly, William McGirt, Brendon Steele and Rory Sabbatini are all available at substantial triple-digits.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the US Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Mahan 50/1; 2013: Scott 16/1; 2012: Watney 70/1; 2011: D Johnson 35/1; 2010: Kuchar 40/1; 2009: Slocum 250/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Edison is here. Wind will not effect play with warm and sunny conditions producing temperatures up to 31 degrees Celsius. The course is set to play much firmer and faster than it did in 2011 with green speeds likely to increase across the 4 days of tournament play.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the top 3 at Plainfield in 2011 gives us a little insight into the requirements for this test, but remember the course was extremely soft that year:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 4 Barclays winners:
So let's take a view from players as to how Plainfield Country Club sets up and why the scoring was so low in 2011:
Jim Furyk: "I knew it was going to be a good golf course when we got here. I heard a lot about Plainfield. On the front nine there's two or three extremely severe greens where there's not a lot of pin placements and other greens where they are flat and green. Initially I was thrown back with the blindness of the golf course in that you hit a lot of tee shots over hills where you cannot see the perimeters of the fairways. So the more you can play the golf course, the more comfortable you'll get with it. There's also a lot of approach shots where you can't see the pin or the surface of the green. So you're again hitting up over hills and hitting a lot of blind shots."
Matt Kuchar: "To me it seems like any time you have soft conditions doesn't matter how long, doesn't matter how deep the rough is. Some guys are going to figure out a way to make a bunch of birdies. I think the kind of biggest determining factor in how hard a course plays and how difficult it is to make birdies is how firm greens are. I think when you have really firm greens, it becomes difficult to get a ball close to the hole and difficult to chip balls close to the hole. I think the scores are under are just a lot less under par with firm conditions."
Brandt Snedeker: "It's been tough, just because they had to play the ball up every day because of the rain, and the greens have been relatively soft. It's such a great golf course, everybody has been raving about, you know, if this place played firm and fast how much fun it would be to play because it would be so tough. It's unfortunate it had to play this soft, but still, that being said, there's a lot of tough shots out there, you can make a lot of birdies if you weren't placing your ball in the right positions, you'll make bogeys, as well."
The comment from Brandt Snedeker and I quote, "It's such a great golf course, everybody has been raving about, you know, if this place played firm and fast how much fun it would be to play because it would be so tough" has to be taken into account for me this week at a tournament that traditionally plays closer to -10 than -19 when conditions allow. The New York area is traditionally hot at this time of year with electrical and even tropical storms a fact of life. However the immediate build-up to the tournament has been dry and that looks set to carry through the whole of this week with temperatures up to 31 degrees Celsius. Plainfield will play firmer and faster than 2011 without doubt.
So what will that mean? Well Gil Hanse has been working on Plainfield over a 16-year period and the course has been noticeably changed for The Barclays, 4 years on from the beating it took in 2011. 3 par 5s have become just 2, with the 5th now playing as a 495 yard par 4. The second of two par 5s on the back nine, the 16th hole, has been lengthened by 19 yards to reach a maximum of 601 and the closing par 4 18th, which was a driveable par 4 at 285 yards, can now be stretched to 380 yards. So the 7,012 yard par 70 set-up might not be such a pushover this week especially when you tie in that graduated rough starts at 3.5" working its way up to 8" in places. Ross' trademark green complexes are extremely large for the length of the course, but getting the ball close proved difficult even in 2011 when they were awash. All in all there may well be slightly more of a premium on driving accuracy this time around as approach shots won't hold nearly as much from tough rough, but the course will still be scoreable to tactical shot-makers who are confident with poa annua putting.
Those looking for Donald Ross-positive players should look no further than PGA Tour tracks Aronimink (AT&T National 2009/10), East Lake (Tour Championship) and Sedgefield (Wyndham Championship), as well as Oak Hill (2013 PGA Championship) and Pinehurst No2 (2014 U.S. Open).
In terms of other factors to look out for, the initial FedEx Cup Playoff since 2009 - when the current structure was put in place - has been won by players ranked 124th, 9th, 19th, 49th, 11th and 62nd going into the tournament. The current top 8 reads Spieth, Day, Watson, Walker, Rose, Streb, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed with Number 9 Rory McIlroy at home in Florida. In essence the tournament tends to be an early 'moving week' for high quality players who enter the tournament playing well and who need to position themselves for later Playoff events.
The President's Cup will also have an impact across both The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship next week. Automatic qualification is available into both the International and United States teams for the Top 10 in their respective points standings. The United States team's points system is based on FedEx Cup points with the International team's based on the OWGR. This year sees automatic qualification extended to include the Deutsche Bank with Captain's Picks being announced after Boston. It's noticeable that Hunter Mahan (made Ryder Cup), Graham Delaet (made President's Cup), Nick Watney (failed) and Brandt Snedeker (made Ryder Cup) in the past 3 renewals were all making late charges to make their respective Ryder Cup / President's Cup teams.
These are big tournaments to win and all Barclays winners in the Playoff era have been multiple PGA Tour event winners with the past 5 renewals all being won by players who had previous up-state victories.
My selections are as follows:
With Augusta, Chambers Bay, St Andrews and Whistling Straits making up the Major schedule for 2015, Jim Furyk never had a serious look at contending. However it's clear that Jim, who sits 18th in the FedEx Cup Standings and 5th in President's Cup qualification, has had a stellar 2015 outside of the Majors. 3rd at Firestone, 4th at Glen Abbey, 5th at Muirfield, 4th at the Harding Park-hosted World Matchplay, plus his first Tour win since his FedEx Cup triumph in 2010 at Harbour Town back in April, all adds up to a super campaign for the veteran 45 year-old. But where the Major schedule was cruel, the Playoff schedule looks kind to Furyk with short courses here and at Conway Farms, plus a technical Bermudagrass greened par 70 at East Lake, offering up the potential for a real concerted push for Playoff glory. He can mix it in these events and a win here would cement that all important spot in the Top 5. Comfortable on Bent/Poa annua putting surfaces, the higher winning total will suit this week for Furyk who has a Ross design form-line of 2(East Lake)-12(Pinehurst)-14(East Lake)-2(Oak Hill)-7(East Lake). RESULT: T11
Matt Kuchar at 26th in the FedEx Cup and 9th in the President's Cup standings still has work to do. With Woods, Mickelson and Stricker very much out of the President's Cup equation, you'd assume that Kuchar is a shoe-in for a Captain's Pick from Jay Haas, but the 37-year-old will undoubtedly want to close the campaign strongly and qualify for his 6th straight US Team appearance in tandem with his 6th straight visit to East Lake. 2015 has been a step down results-wise for Matt who, to his credit, has still fired in 6 Top 10s across the season, but the World Number 15 is undoubtedly playing much better from tee-to-green of late and that makes him a real danger at Plainfield where he finished 2nd in 2011. Up-state golf has always been a speciality of Kuchar, who is comfortable on bent/poa annua greens, and his record at The Barclays is outstanding with a win at Ridgewood (2010), 2nd here and 5th again at Ridgewood (2014), all coming on Bent/Poa annua putting surfaces. Finished 7th last time out at Whistling Straits where he only conceded 9 bogeys (tied 5th for Bogey Avoidance). RESULT: T39
All the early 50/1 is gone about Brandt Snedeker who, like Kuchar, is an undoubted match to this course and who still has plenty to play for in the next 2 weeks. At 13th in the FedEx Cup and 14th in the President's Cup standings, Snedeker still has massive motivation to play well across both Plainfield and TPC Boston. His record both up-state and on poa annua putting surfaces is outstanding and the larger greens here will clearly be to his advantage. We were on-board earlier this year when he won at Pebble Beach and in recent weeks Snedeker has finished 12th at a Whistling Straits setup which suited the bombers and shot an incredible 61 at Sedgefield last week. Sneds only shot 3 Bogeys across his opening 54 holes last week, but like all PGA Championship contenders at the Wyndham he ultimately flattered to deceive when running out of steam in the closing round. Refreshed and motivated, he will go again at The Barclays where he has earned $1.5 million to date. RESULT: MC
Players undoubtedly develop at varying paces and Bill Haas slowly seems to be getting his head around the fact that he has the game good enough to challenge at the biggest non-Major tournaments. Despite winning 6 PGA Tour titles and both the 2011 Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, he's never delivered at a Major Championship - a record that didn't improve in 2015. However spurred on by the birth of his second child earlier in 2015 and by his desire to qualify for his father's President's Cup team on merit, Bill won early in 2015 at PGA West and has finished 7th at the WGC Cadillac Championship, a career best 12th at Augusta (equalling his best ever Major result) and 4th at The Players Championship; in additional he's finished 4th at RTJ and 6th last week at Sedgefield on his last 2 PGA Tour starts. 23rd in the FedEx Cup and 11th in the President's Cup standings, Haas has a strong record on the Poa Annua greens of Torrey Pines and has won on Bent/Poa Annua at Riviera Country Club. Haas plays well up-state and won the invitational title at Congressional in 2013. RESULT: T53
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