On the PGA Tour we now move into the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The FedEx Cup has grown massively in popularity since its inception in 2007 – the spectacle of watching the world’s best golfers fight it out has become a real highlight of the golfing calendar – and that spectacle may well increase as 2019 for the first time sees the PGA Tour Playoff finale take place across 3 tournaments in 3 consecutive weeks. The top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings are eligible to play this week’s Northern Trust in New Jersey, with the top 70 then moving onto the BMW Championship hosted at Medinah Country Club and then the top 30 qualifying for the Tour Championship at East Lake. We will know who the 2019 FedEx Cup champion is by the close of August
In essence, this week is where the PGA Tour gets serious as the winner of The Northern Trust and BMW Championship will receive 2,000 points (regular season winners receive 500 points), plus each tournament has an increased prize fund of $9.25 million with $1.62 million going to the tournament winner – that’s not too far away from a Major victory in cash terms. The Tour Championship will also see a new FedEx Cup Starting Strokes index used for the very first time with the FedEx Cup standings leader starting the tournament at -10, FEC Number 2 at -8, FEC Number 3 at -7, cascading down to those ranked 26th to 30th starting at Even.
What is also clear about the shortened Playoffs is that prize money has increased, making this a very profitable exercise for players who have a strong 3 weeks of golf. The 2019 FedEx Cup champion will receive an increased $15 million (up by $5 million) overall prize, with the runner-up pocketing $5 million. Even the player finishing the Tour Championship in last spot will receive $395,000. Paul Casey has chosen not to play this week at The Northern Trust, but will play the BMW Championship next week. Henrik Stenson (elbow injury) and Sam Burns (broken ankle) will take no part in the Playoffs, leaving a field of 122 players for this week.
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Course Guide: We last saw Liberty National on the PGA Tour in 2013 when it hosted this tournament – known back then as The Barclays. It also hosted the 2017 President’s Cup, where Team America gave the International Team a heavy beating. Set on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, this old refuse site is set on an exposed piece of land on what is classified Upper Bay. Like any coastal course, Liberty National is susceptible to wind and rain but is not a links golf course. The course record is held by Kevin Chappell who shot a -9/62 in 2013.
Liberty National Golf Club, Jersey City, New Jersey: Designer: Bob Cupp & Tom Kite, 2006, with Steve Wenzloff, PGA Tour Design Services re-design 2010; Course Type: Coastal; Par: 71; Length: 7,370 yards; Water Hazards: 13; Fairways: Bentgrass; Rough: Graduated Kentucky Bluegrass 1.25″; Greens: 4,653 sq.ft average featuring G2 Creeping Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 12.5ft; Scoring Avg 2009: 72.28 (+1.28), Rank 8 of 51 courses. 2013: 71.15 (+0.15), Rank 22 of 43 courses.
Liberty National Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Liberty National Golf Club and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
- Liberty National: 250 yards from tee: 37 yards wide; 275:33; 300:30 325:31; 350:27.
- Sedgefield: 250 yards from tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:26 325:23; 350:22.
- TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.
- Montreux G&CC: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:41; 300:42; 325:40; 350:38.
- Keene Trace: 250 yards from tee: 34 yards wide; 275:31; 300:30 325:30; 350:29.
- TPC Deere Run: 250 yards from tee: 41 yards wide; 275:40; 300:36 325:33; 350:30.
- TPC Twin Cities: 250 yards from tee: 38 yards wide; 275:38; 300:31 325:30; 350:36.
- Detroit Golf Club: 250 yards from tee: 34 yards wide; 275:34; 300:35 325:34; 350:33.
- TPC River Highlands: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:28; 325:28; 350:27.
- Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:33; 300:29; 325:30; 350:26.
- Hamilton: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:27; 350:28.
- Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:35; 300:30; 325:26; 350:30.
- Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 27 yards wide; 275:25; 300:26; 325:25; 350:22.
Course Overview: Naturally we’ve only had 2 renewals at Liberty National and the course was heavily overworked between the 2009 and 2013 Barclays tournaments. The course itself is a pretty standard length Par 71, which features 3 par-5s that are reachable for top ball-strikers who can drive the ball straight and long. Pure Bentgrass greens are the order of the day, with green complexes being described as contoured and tricky. Indeed Webb Simpson likens them to the type of greens you find on Donald Ross designs such as Pinehurst Number 2.
With winning scores of -9/275 and -11/273 scoring here, Liberty National to this point has been quite tough overall. Both tournaments featured wind at points up to 20mph and that certainly took the edge of off the scoring. But with Kevin Chappell shooting a -9/62 here, supported by 63s and 64s by Keegan Bradley and Gary Woodland, scores are available and will be available this week if the conditions lie down a little.
Linking Liberty winners Heath Slocum to Adam Scott isn’t that easy, but what is clear is that Slocum ranked 12th on the PGA Tour and Scott ranked 7th for Ball Striking in the respective seasons they won here. Runners-up Tiger Woods, Graham Delaet and Justin Rose are also extremely prominent in those Ball Striking numbers. And not wanting to be classed as a statistical dinosaur, Strokes Gained Tee to Green from 2009 and 2013 is also an intriguing angle as 2009 saw Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Ernie Els all finish runner-up to 250/1 shot Slocum – they ranked 1st, 2nd and 4th for SG Tee to Green that year. 2013 saw 16/1 Adam Scott triumph with Justin Rose and Tiger Woods amongst the runners-up. Respectively they ranked 5th, 1st and 2nd that year for SG Tee to Green.
Winners: 2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-18); 2017: Dustin Johnson (-13); 2016: Patrick Reed (-9); 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’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 | Combined Stats.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the U.S. Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Top 20 Driving Accuracy: 1) Ryan Moore; 2) Adam Long; 3) Abraham Ancer; 4) Jim Furyk; 5) Chez Reavie; 6) Si Woo Kim / Kyle Stanley; 8) Ryan Armour / Kevin Kisner; 10) Jonas Blixt / Brian Stuard; 12) Brice Garnett; 13) Adam Hadwin; 14) Rory McIlroy; 15) Billy Horschel / Andrew Landry; 17) Tiger Woods; 18) Russell Henley / Martin Laird / Denny McCarthy / Kevin Na / Rory Sabbatini.
- Top 20 Greens in Regulation: 1) Corey Conners; 2) Jon Rahm; 3) Kevin Kisner / Louis Oosthuizen; 5) Vaughn Taylor; 6) Cameron Tringale; 7) Shane Lowry; 8) Martin Laird / Hideki Matsuyama; 10) Patrick Cantlay / Justin Thomas; 12) Collin Morikawa; 13) Tommy Fleetwood / Francesco Molinari / Adam Scott / Sepp Straka; 17) Jason Day / Xander Schauffele; 19) Sergio Garcia / Tiger Woods.
- Top 20 Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Justin Rose; 2) Webb Simpson; 3) Denny McCarthy; 4) Rory McIlroy / Andrew Putnam; 6) Danny Willett; 7) Jon Rahm; 8) Rafa Cabrera-Bello / J.T. Poston; 10) Bryson DeChambeau / Roger Sloan; 12) Ryan Armour / Gary Woodland; 14) Aaron Wise; 15) Adam Hadwin / Patrick Reed / Jordan Spieth; 18) Nate Lashley / Collin Morikawa; 20) Joaquin Niemann.
Winners & Prices: 2018: Bryson DeChambeau 100/1; 2017: Dustin Johnson 14/1; 2016: Reed 50/1; 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. Average: 42/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 45/1.
- 2013: Thursday: Mostly cloudy, with periodic thunderstorms and showers. High of 86. Winds SSW at 10-18 mph. Officials suspended play due to a dangerous weather situation at 8:33 a.m., with play resuming at 11:05 a.m. Play was suspended due to bad weather again at 12:47 p.m., resuming at 4:15 p.m. Play was suspended due to darkness at 7:43 p.m. Friday: Partly cloudy and less humid. High of 85. Winds N at 10-20 mph. The first round resumed at 7:02 a.m. The second round began at 10:20 a.m., and was suspended due to darkness at 7:45 p.m., with 40 players yet to finish their rounds. Saturday: Mostly sunny and pleasant. High of 80. Winds E at 6-12 mph. The second round resumed at 7:27 a.m. and the third round began at 10:43 a.m. The third round was played in threesomes off of split tees. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 82. Winds SSE at 8-15 mph.
- 2009: Thursday: Partly cloudy and cool in the morning and sunny in the afternoon with a high near 80 degrees. N-NE winds at 6-12 mph, shifting to SE later in the day. Friday: Showers throughout the day. A total of 2 inches of rain fell. Cold and blustery conditions with high of 70. Easterly winds at 6-12 mph in the morning and 10-20 mph in the afternoon. Saturday: Due to the weather forecast for rain overnight and early Saturday morning, tee times were delayed to 10:48 a.m., with threesomes off No. 1 and No. 10. Sunday: Light rain in the morning before 7a.m. The sun broke through at midmorning. High of 85. Winds W 12-22 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Jersey City, New Jersey, is here. It’s undoubtedly been a wet build-up in Jersey City. Over 549mm of rain has fallen since the start of June, 84mm of which was last week. Yes the course will feature fast drainage, allied to green complex Sub-Air systems, but in the best of circumstances I’m expecting lush turf conditions at the very least.
Wednesday evening rain (+50% chance) could also mean a soft look to the golf course on Thursday. The key factor this week will also be what looks like a distinct lack of wind at Liberty National. Both 2009 and 2013 renewals here featured winds up to 20mph which tapered the scoring. Winds no greater than 15mph should see lower scoring in 2019. Sunny skies, pleasant temperatures and no rain should see mid-scoring conditions.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the past 2 winners here gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2013, Adam Scott (-11). 299 yards (21st), 75.0% fairways (11th), 69.4% greens in regulation (4th), proximity to hole 33’5″ (30th), 68.2 % scrambling (15th), 1.70 putts per GIR (22nd).
- 2009, Heath Slocum (-9). 284 yards (22nd), 80.4% fairways (11th), 63.9% greens in regulation (6th), proximity to hole 31’7″ (10th), 69.2 % scrambling (9th), 1.74 putts per GIR (33rd).
Tournament Skill Averages:
- Driving Distance: 22nd, Driving Accuracy: 11th, Greens in Regulation: 5th, Proximity to Hole: 20th, Scrambling: 12th, Putting Average 28th.
So let’s take a view from players as to how Liberty National has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Adam Scott: “No, the course is in perfect shape here. They can get them as fast or as slow as they want. The greens are not very big, so if you’re hitting the green, I think you’re going to see a lot of birdies because they are not going to be long putts. And they are in perfect condition, and I don’t see no matter what they do to them, to getting to a state like Bethpage was last year.”
Webb Simpson: “Yeah, I don’t know what it is. I love being here. I love this city. You know, I don’t think this is Donald Ross, but the greens remind me of Donald Ross greens. I grew up in Raleigh playing on Pinehurst and playing a lot of Donald Ross courses. They are undulating; the putts break a lot and you have to use a lot of imagination around the greens.”
Keegan Bradley: “Well, I do see that they put some of the pins in some bowls and I know they want to get us around the course and finish up as early as possible, but this is not an easy golf course. If you hit the ball, I mean, it’s very easy to short‑side yourself, and, you know, make a bogey. So it’s not, 62 or 63 is not an easy score no matter what the conditions.”
Gary Woodland: ” It sets up really good to my eye. Obviously the greens are great. You get in the right spot, you can make putts. I feel like I putt fast greens pretty well but off the tee box, I can really use my length to my advantage. I can hit irons off a lot of holes where guys are hitting driver, 3‑wood, I can get the ball in play with iron. And when I do hit driver, the par 5s, I can get to all of them, which I think is a huge advantage out here.”
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 9 winners of this event:
- 2018 – Bryson DeChambeau: Round 1: 18th, Round 2: 4th, Round 3: 1st.
- 2017 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2016 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2015 – Jason Day: Round 1: 18th, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 1st.
- 2014 – Hunter Mahan: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 12th, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2013 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 32nd, Round 2: 4th, Round 3: 13th.
- 2012 – Nick Watney: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2011 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 8th, Round 2: 2nd
- 2010 – Matt Kuchar – Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 5th.
Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:
- 2018 – Bryson DeChambeau: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 4 ahead.
- 2017 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 3 back.
- 2016 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: level, Round 2: 2 ahead, Round 3: 1 back.
- 2015 – Jason Day: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: level.
- 2014 – Hunter Mahan: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 1 back.
- 2013 – Adam Scott: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 6 back.
- 2012 – Nick Watney: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 2 back.
- 2011 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 1 back.
- 2010 – Matt Kuchar: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 5 back.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Bryson DeChambeau: MC PGA/30th Bridgestone/13th European Open/51st Open.
- Dustin Johnson: 13th PGA/17th Bridgestone/8th Canada/ 54th Open.
- Patrick Reed: 22nd Wyndham/11th Olympic/11th Travelers/13th PGA.
- Jason Day: 1st PGA/12th Bridgestone/1st Canada/4th Open.
- Hunter Mahan: 7th PGA/15th Bridgestone/MC Canada/32nd Open.
- Adam Scott: 5th PGA/14th Bridgestone/3rd Open/57th Quicken National.
- Nick Watney: 31st Wyndham/MC PGA/19th Bridgestone/23rd Open.
- Dustin Johnson: MC PGA/48th Bridgestone/6th Nordea/2nd Open.
- Matt Kuchar: 10th PGA/9th Bridgestone/21st Greenbrier/4th Canada
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
- 2018 – Lovemark/O’Hair/V Taylor/Tway – 3AM/1PM -5/66 – 125/1, 200/1, 175/1, 125/1.
- 2017 – Henley – AM -6/64 – 125/1.
- 2016 – Laird/Reed – Both AM -5/66.
- 2015 – Finau/Levin/Villegas/Watson – 3AM/1PM -5/65.
- 2014 – Van Pelt – PM -6/65.
- 2013 – Stadler – AM -7/64.
- 2012 – Harrington – AM -7/64.
- 2011 – Kuchar – PM -8/63.
- 2010 – Taylor/Woods – Both AM -6/65.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Bentgrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 7 – Justin Rose.
- 6 – Rory McIlroy.
- 5 – Jordan Spieth.
- 4 – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods.
- 3 – Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Francesco Molinari, Kevin Na, Adam Scott.
- 2 – Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Lucas Glover, Brian Harman, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Troy Merritt, Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas, Jhonattan Vegas.
- 1 – Jonas Blixt, Patrick Cantlay, Dylan Frittelli, Charley Hoffman, Billy Horschel, Kevin Kisner, Russell Knox, Martin Laird, Danny Lee, Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter, Chez Reavie, Patrick Reed, Rory Sabbatini, Brandt Snedeker, Scott Stallings, Kyle Stanley, Kevin Streelman, Nick Watney, Danny Willett, Matthew Wolff.
The President’s Cup will have an impact across both The Northern Trust and the BMW 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 being completed after the BMW Championship with 4 Captain’s Picks per side being announced at a later date.
It’s noticeable that Bryson DeChambeau (made Ryder Cup as a Captain’s Pick), Tony Finau (made Ryder Cup as a Captain’s Pick), Jhonattan Vegas (entered tournament at position 9 in President’s Cup rankings), Patrick Reed (made Ryder Cup Captain’s Pick), Hunter Mahan (made Ryder Cup Captain’s Pick), Graham Delaet (made President’s Cup), Nick Watney (failed) and Brandt Snedeker (made Ryder Cup Captain’s Pick) across the past 8 renewals all produced late charges to make their respective Ryder Cup / President’s Cup teams.
In terms of other factors to look out for, the initial FedEx Cup Playoff tournament since 2009 has been won by players ranked 124th, 9th, 19th, 49th, 11th, 62nd, 2nd, 7th, 4th and 9th going into the tournament. Naturally with the FedEx Cup Playoffs only encompassing 3 legs for the very first time this season, it will be fascinating to see how and if this dynamic changes.
These events are big tournaments to win and all Barclays/Northern Trust winners in the Playoff era have been multiple PGA Tour event winners, with 8 of the past 9 renewals all being won by players who had previous ‘up-state’ victories on the PGA Tour in North America. Patrick Reed broke that trend in 2016, but the Texan had already finished 4th at Firestone, 4th at TPC Boston and 9th in this tournament previous to locking up his Ryder Cup spot when winning at Bethpage Black.
My selections are as follows: