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 of The Barclays, Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship will receive 2,000 points (regular season winners receive 500 points), plus each tournament has a prize fund of $8.5 million with $1.485 million going to the tournament winner - that's not too far away from a Major victory in cash terms. In addition to the $34 million of tournament prizes available, there's also a $35 million FedEx Cup fund. The 2016 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 Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Shane Lowry and Anirban Lahiri have all decided to miss out this week.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams tackles the Made In Denmark - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Courses are often measured by their difficulty. Few golf courses are more difficult than the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York. 'The People's Country Club' - unbelievably it's a public golf course - has hosted two US Open Championships (2002, 2009) and will host the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup. The Tillinghast design hosted this tournament in 2012 and follows the same 7,468 yard, par 71 format in 2016. The course is best described as a fair test which is very much in front of you. No tricks, no deception, but at over 7,400 yards with long forced carries, massive bunkers and brutal rough, the Black Course will again this week be a test in fast conditions.
Bethpage State Park - Black Course, Farmingdale, New York: Designer: Joseph H Burbeck with A.W Tillinghast, 1936, with Rees Jones renovation 1997; Course Type: Up-State, Technical; Par: 71; Length: 7,468 yards; Water Hazards: 1; Fairways: Kentucky Bluegrass; Rough: Bentgrass, Perennial Ryegrass with tall fescue +3.5"; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.72 (+0.72), Rank 15 of 49 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Bethpage Black and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: Bethpage State Park is located at the west end of Long Island. A public golf course, its Black Course is famous when it comes to stern golfing tests. For The Barclays the course is set as a 36-35, par 71 - the 7th hole played as a par-4 in the 2009 U.S. Open. The course features wide enough fairways with long forced carries over massive bunkers and challenging approach shots to numerous elevated greens. Green complexes themselves are small (5,500 sq.ft average) for the length of the course, featuring a mix of Bentgrass with Poa Annua. As we know Poa Annua is a not a friend of many players in this week's field.
Since the 2002 U.S. Open, Bethpage has used graduated rough. The first cut of rough gives players a shot at the greens. The second cut of rough (3.5") makes it difficult to get any substantial length on the ball, but as Dustin Johnson highlighted in 2012, those whose skill set is to hit greens from off the fairway can still contend. Expect firm and fast conditions this week with greens at 12 on the Stimpmeter. However course superintendent Andy Wilson will have to have watered the greens pre-tournament, so expect better scoring on Thursday/Friday - Watney was 2nd after Round 1 here in 2012 - with the course drying significantly in the afternoons/across the weekend.
Statistically both sets of par-3s (9th most difficult on Tour) and par-4s (5th most difficult) yielded very few birdies or better in 2012, whereas the 3 par-5s yielded significant opportunities. Breaking par is also made more difficult by greens which yielded a particularly low One-Putt Percentage in 2012.
Winners: 2015: Jason Day (-19); 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 which are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well: 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 model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Dustin Johnson (Predictor Number 1), Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson, Jason Day and Justin Rose.
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 events. 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: 2015: Day 10/1; 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. Average: 67/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2016 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Farmingdale is here. The Black Course will show its teeth in 2016 with firm and fast conditions pretty much guaranteed throughout. The tournament will feature sunshine with significant breeze also a factor Thursday, Friday and Sunday. The wind direction changes from south-westerly to south-easterly on Sunday. Temperatures will be comfortable apart from Friday where the afternoon starters will see 34 degrees Celsius.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the top 3 finishers at Bethpage Black in 2012 gives us a little insight into the requirements for this test. The greens had been well watered for Thursday, but the course turned faster throughout the tournament:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how Bethpage Black played at the 2012 Barclays and what specific skills it requires:
Bubba Watson: "I think it'll be a tough test. Again, that's the only time I've played it, so I don't know if they can firm up the greens. If they've firmed up these greens, the golf course is really, really tough. You know, you're looking at the rough is probably not going to be as bad as it was then, but it's still going to be pretty bad. So we're just looking at hitting fairways, hitting greens and hopefully make some putts, but as I said, I heard that they're not going to speed it up. The greens aren't going to be as fast as they were for the Open. Unless the greens get really firm, the golf course is going to be playable, but I mean, if it gets firm and dries out and all that stuff, then yeah, it's going to be a really tough test of golf."
Nick Watney: "Well, all you can do is go out there and first and foremost try and hit the ball in the fairway because the rough is up pretty good. It's not quite U.S. Open level, but the rough up makes it much more difficult to play from there. Driving the ball in the fairway is a huge key. And then it's just up to the conditioning as far as how firm the greens get because the firmer the greens get, the higher the scores will go. I think as far as preparation, you're not going to shoot 6‑ or 7‑under every day, so it's just a matter of knowing the course will be tougher and preparing to grind a little bit."
Sergio Garcia: "I've done well at this golf course the two U.S. Opens we've played, so that definitely helps. And the first two days have been good. There's going to be two very hard days coming. The course is getting extremely difficult out there. It's just a very thin line between a good shot that goes 10 feet and a good shot that goes over the green, and then you have almost an impossible chip. Hopefully I'll be able to play well the next couple of days like I've been doing and keep myself in the position I am and have a chance on Sunday."
Brandt Snedeker: "Yeah, you just can't hit greens out there, I don't care what anybody says, the greens are pretty much unplayable for the most part. You can't keep the ball‑‑ you can't hit them. Just really, really tough test. You're going to miss greens and I got up‑and‑down when I had to which is great, made a bunch of key, par‑saving putts and I felt like I played as good as I possibly could play today and I was very happy to shoot 68. unfortunately I think they got the greens a little too firm, they lost a couple of par 3 greens coming in and 17 is unplayable right now, unfortunately. It's a great hole but you can't possibly hit one close there, so you have to play to edges of greens, backs of greens and get up‑and‑down from there. The wind whipping around makes it tough on some holes."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Team USA Ryder Cup Standings (those not qualified): Top 8 in the rankings after this week qualify - 6) Brandt Snedeker; 7) Zach Johnson; 8) Patrick Reed; 9) J.B. Holmes; 10) Bubba Watson; 11) Matt Kuchar; 12) Rickie Fowler; 13) Scott Piercy; 14) Bill Haas; 15) Jim Furyk; 16) Daniel Berger; 17) William McGirt; 18) Kevin Chappell; 19) Jason Dufner; 20) Kevin Na; 21) Daniel Summerhays; 22) Charley Hoffman.
The Ryder Cup will undoubtedly have an impact this week at The Barclays and across the whole PlayOffs for the United States team at least. Things are a little complex, with different criteria and timelines across both teams so let me explain, starting with the home nation. Automatic qualification is available for the top 8 in the US points standings after this week. Dustin Johnson, Spieth, Mickelson, Walker and Koepka have all safely qualified. Holmes, Watson, Kuchar, Fowler and Furyk amongst those down to 22nd in the current standings (see above) still have a shot at qualifying automatically this week. From there Davis Love III announces 3 of his 4 Captain's Picks after the BMW Championship (3rd of 4 events), with his final selection being announced after the Tour Championship.
Europe, under Darren Clarke, have less flexibility with the Northern Irishman's automatic qualifiers locked in a week prior to the deadline - McIlroy, Willett, Stenson, Wood, Garcia, Rose, Cabrera-Bello, Fitzpatrick and Sullivan. Clarke announces his 3 Captain's Picks next Tuesday with Donald, Knox, McDowell, and Molinari looking to make waves in New York while Kaymer, Kjeldsen, Lowry and Pieters all play in Denmark.
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, 62nd and 2nd going into the tournament. Jason Day changed the dynamics 12 months ago winning The Barclays 2 weeks after capturing his first Major Championship at Whistling Straits, but his closest rival at Plainfield was Henrik Stenson who was ranked a lowly (for him) 41st in the FedEx Cup. So 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.
These events are big tournaments to win and all Barclays winners in the Playoff era have been multiple PGA Tour event winners, with the past 6 renewals all being won by players who had previous up-state victories.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week plus there's a couple of other offers out there:
My selections are as follows:
The very early 28/1 on Justin Rose has been quite rightly snapped up. His win at the Olympics will be seen as a weakness this week by many and, yes, I can see a case of Rose either contending or potentially doing very little. There will not be much in between, but for me Rose played some brilliant golf in Rio to capture the Gold Medal where he topped Greens in Regulation, Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and most importantly found his putter across the final 36 holes. He deservedly won Gold, but what makes me think he will continue to play well this week at Bethpage?
Well Rose's CV contains 5 'Up-State' wins across Muirfield, Aronimink, Cog Hill, Merion and Congressional. Tough, classical golf courses where he comes to the fore - indeed Justin tops my rolling technical golf course scoring category across the past 5 years ahead of DJ, Spieth (since 2013 only - amazing) and Scott. Motivation-wise he sits 51st in the FEC standings so needs to move quickly to guarantee his Tour Championship spot and, more interestingly, his recent record at TPC Boston is not the best and he was only 16th at Crooked Stick in 2012, although he was defending the title so that needs to be taken into account.
But all of this is superseded by the fact that when Rose is at the top of his game he strings excellent results together. I think back to 2010 when after winning his first PGA Tour title at The Memorial, in his next outing he led by 3 shots going into Sunday at the Travelers Championship, eventually capitulating Sunday and finishing 9th - Justin Rose in 2016 would not do that. The week after TPC River Highlands he then won again at Aronimink - 2 wins and a 54-hole lead in 3 appearances. He also won consecutively in 2014 where he was victorious at Congressional on the PGA Tour then again a fortnight later at Royal Aberdeen on the European Tour. 2nd (Liberty National) and 6th (Plainfield) at The Barclays since 2011, an in-form Rose should give those who are shorter in the market a run for their money at the very least. RESULT: T31
I wasn't expecting to see 30/1 about Hideki Matsuyama but I'm happy to take it. People including myself bemoan his putting ability, but his 3rd last week at Sedgefield on 'alien' Bermudagrass greens is my green light to jump on board the Japanese World Number 16. Yes he was 48th last week in Strokes Gained Putting - but more importantly he was typically Hideki in terms of his tee-to-green game. 4th for Driving Accuracy when he hit the ball on average 322 yards is a dangerous combination for a golf course such as Bethpage Black and he was also 5th in Greens in Regulation, 2nd for Strokes Gained off the Tee, 3rd in Strokes Gained Tee to Green plus 3rd in Proximity to Hole. He also topped Strokes Gained Tee to Green at Baltusrol where his 4th place finish was his best ever Major Championship result. A veteran now of 2 FedEx Cup Playoff campaigns, he was 13th last year at the Plainfield-hosted Barclays when entering the tournament with indifferent form and was 7th at Conway Farms - an event where Nick Watney finished 2nd in 2013. Matsuyama is clearly warming to the PlayOff task and it's worth remembering that his first PGA Tour win came 'Up-State' at Jack's Tournament in Ohio. Very much a form horse who thrives on Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens and whose tee-to-green game - and scrambling - is top notch right now. RESULT: MC
So the blueprint for Bethpage Black is for longer hitters who are hitting plenty of greens and who like Poa Annua. Step forward Bubba Watson whose career results look very similar to 2012 victor Nick Watney. Yes, Watson has had his troubles in 2016 (he's only 24th in the FEC standings) and after a blistering February where he won at Riviera and was 2nd at Doral, he's been very quiet. However at 10th in the Ryder Cup standings I'm sure that Bubba would like nothing better than to qualify automatically for Davis Love III. Signs are there that he can achieve that goal in a big way this week. 10th here in 2012, Watson was 3rd in this tournament 12 months ago at Plainfield. It's also worth noting that he was 18th here at the 2009 US Open. Like Watney, Bubba has won at Torrey Pines (2011) and TPC Louisiana (2011). His record at Doral is phenomenal (Watney has a 1st and a 2nd there) and we know that he absolutely loves Bent/Poa greens - 2 wins at Riviera (2014 and 2016) tell you that much, as does his record at TPC River Highlands. His 2 wins in Connecticut link in well. On a course where par 5s are vital, Bubba sits 6th in par 5 Scoring Average and he also sits 11th in Greens in Regulation from 200+ yards - both stats I like here.
His performance at the Olympics was interesting: 14th for Fairways Hit, 5th for Greens in Regulation and 16th for Putts per GIR was a decent set of numbers. 4-over and plum last after 14 holes of Round 1, his hopes of a gold medal were gone, but from there he shot 10-under to get back into medal contention come Sunday. Yes, putts didn't drop in volume on the Paspalum greens of Rio, but he's putting better of late and I think he will be a contender this week in New York. RESULT: T13
For Branden Grace the FedEx Cup PlayOffs are a completely new departure - new golf courses and a new format of knockout golf. He also knows that despite a win at Harbour Town in April (his first on the PGA Tour) and 2 Major top 5 finishes, he sits 25th in the FEC standings and so needs to hit the ground running to ensure he reaches the Tour Championship at East Lake. His recent record alone highlights a player who thrives on greens that contain Poa Annua and we know that Grace can handle technical golf courses. Well rested, I'm sure he'll be relishing this week.
5th at the Oakmont-hosted U.S. Open (Poa Annua greens), 10th at Firestone (Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens) and 4th at the Baltusrol hosted PGA Championship (Bentgrass/Poa Annua Greens) tells you all you need to know about his recent ability to play top-level golf on similar golf courses to Bethpage Black and his European Tour CV also contains plenty of positive Bent/Poa results. 11th in Scoring Average (despite a tough tournament schedule), 46th in Strokes Gained off the Tee, 4th in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green and 19th in par-4 Scoring Average are strong numbers for Bethpage and where many will struggle with the fast conditions, Grace should thrive. 4th at Chambers Bay last year and 5th at Oakmont this year tell you as much. RESULT: MC
A value price for Jimmy Walker who bookmakers clearly think will rest on his first Major Championship laurels. I'm not so sure though as Walker has a huge amount of positives going into this week. Safely qualified for the Ryder Cup team (as Kuchar was when winning this in 2010), Walker's results CV looks very similar to that of Nick Watney with a plethora of top finishes on the West Coast across Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, CordeValle and Riviera, so we know he can perform well on putting surfaces with Poa Annua in them. That fact is backed up by his win at Baltusrol which ticks the won 'Up-State' box. However, for me, Walker will want to build on his PGA Championship success. He grabs me as a level-headed sort who has already won twice in quick succession in his career: 2014: Waialae/Pebble Beach; 2015: Waialae/TPC San Antonio.
He shot an opening round -4/67 here in 2012 and admitted to 'loving the course' and it was interesting that he decided to play at Sedgefield last week. Yes, he missed the cut, but he was still 8th for Greens in Regulation and in an interview said, "I'd love to win - just keep winning, whatever you win. But I'm just giving it all I got to be ready to go every week I play. So, that's the long-term goal, just keep winning, keep putting yourself in positions to win."
Jimmy should thrive on the greens this week and will want to guarantee his Tour Championship spot as soon as possible. RESULT: MC
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