The Northern Trust
It was what you would call a ‘nearly’ week for us at the Wyndham with our win only bet on Webb Simpson coming up a shot shy in second place while Brian Harman finished in a log jam for sixth place missing out on a full place pay out by one shot.
To be honest that is fairly symptomatic of how our season has gone and we just need to accept that that’s the way golf betting goes at times!
Anyway big congratulations to JT Poston on his first PGA Tour title. 72 holes bogey free and closing with a 62 in his home state to secure his first PGA Tour title is the stuff that dreams are made of.
So we move on to the home stretch of the PGA Tour, yes, it’s Play Off time…
This year as regular followers of the PGA Tour will know the Fedex Cup Play Offs have been re vamped with two main purposes in mind of firstly, shoehorning everything in to the desired finishing time line of the end of August before the main NFL season kicks off and secondly to simplify what the powers that be thought was a too confusing format to the average viewer by the time we reached the Tour Championship at East Lake.
So let’s briefly recap the revised format.
As we know all season long players have been jockeying for position in the Fedex Cup race to ensure they finished the regular season in the top 125 ranked players, and with the regular season concluding at last weeks Wyndham Championship those achieving that have moved on to this weeks first Play Off event, The Northern Trust.
Historically those who were then in the top 100 Fedex Cup spots would move on to the Dell Technologies Championship in Boston in week two before the field was then whittled down to the Top 70 for the BMW Championship before finally the top 30 ranked players move on to the Holy Grail of the Tour Championship, at East Lake GC in Atlanta.
This year however The Dell Technologies event has been removed from the calendar meaning that the previous four Fedex Play Off events now turning in to three as the top 125 is reduced straight down to a Top 70 who will head on to the BMW.
This in essence allows the PGA Tour to shave two weeks off of the Play Off schedule as not only do they of course lose the week The Dell Technologies historically held but with only three Play Off events now scheduled there is no need for the week off we used to get between The BMW and The Tour Championship.
The second big change, which I wont go in to huge detail on here [as I will do in a couple of weeks time in my preview!] is that the Tour Championship will now operate a handicapping system whereby the player who leads the Fedex Cup point race going in to the week will start the week on -10, the second place player on -8, the third on -7 and so on down to those ranked 26-30th who’ll start at Level par.
With this change the player who then finishes the week on the lowest score will be the Fedex Cup champion and deemed the winner of the Tour Championship even if they have not shot the best four day total if the handicap were discounted.
While I am open to being proved wrong my own personal point of view is that this change to the handicapping system is big mistake and I am sure I will expand on my thoughts on this much further in my preview for the Tour Championship in a couple of weeks time.
So, getting back to this week and the Play Offs get underway at Liberty National GC in Jersey City, New Jersey with The Northern Trust.
This will be the third time Liberty National has hosted The Northern Trust [formerly known as the Barclays] as it was held here in 2009 and most recently in 2013.
As you would expect for this event the field on show is a very strong one with only Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Sam Burns [who is injured] of those eligible skipping the event.
The favourite at the time of writing is understandably the world number one Brooks Koepka. Brooks is then followed in the market by Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm.
Liberty National GC is a par 71 measuring just over 7370yds.
The greens are Bent Grass.
The course was designed by Robert E Cupp and Tom Kite and opened in 2006.
The course has been seen twice on tour over the past ten years hosting The Northern Trust [or The Barclays as it was]. Firstly when Heath Slocum pulled of a major shock to take the title here in 2009 and secondly when Adam Scott was victorious here in 2013.
In addition the Presidents Cup was held here in 2017.
It should also be noted that after the initial event was played here in 2009 following a lot of criticism from the players the course, and particularly the greens, underwent significant changes before the event returned in 2013.
Obviously with only two 72 hole stroke play events held here in the past ten years we have fairly little to go on however the over riding impression from past leader boards is that the key to Liberty National is to be found tee to green, particularly approach play.
There is plenty of water in play in play and with the course exposed to New York Harbour the wind can be a factor.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of The Northern Trust since 2009.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2018 B Dechambeau
2017 D Johnson
2016 P Reed
2015 J Day
2014 Hunter Mahan
2013 A Scott**
2012 N Watney
2011 D Johnson
2010 M Kuchar
2009 H Slocum**
**Denotes event played at this weeks venue Liberty National GC.
As you can clearly see with this list of winners as a rule play off victories tend to be shared out by the elite players of the game and by and large this is something that we will see has been the historical pattern over the years in all of the play off events, as we go through the next three weeks.
There have of course been some exceptions over the years with the most noticeable one at the Northern Trust coming in the form of Heath Slocum’s win back in 2009 on this course. All in all though when looking for the winner over the next few weeks it will no doubt pay to focus on the higher end of the market.
With regards to the recent form of the winners of the Northern Trust coming in to the event a pattern had developed over recent years, which can be seen from the table below.
As you can see from this table all of the winners from 2013-2017 had been in strong form coming in to the week leading to a conclusion that we should look for a marquee player with good momentum coming in. Last year however Bryson somewhat bucked this trend and took the trophy on the back of some fairly mediocre form.
Three Previous Starts – most Recent First
2018 B Dechambeau MC 30 51
2017 D Johnson 13 17 18
2016 P Reed 22 11 13
2015 J Day 1 12 1
2014 Hunter Mahan 7 15 MC
2013 A Scott ** 5 14 3
2012 N Watney 31 MC 19
2011 D Johnson MC 48 2
2010 M Kuchar 10 9 21
2009 H Slocum** MC 47 37
**Denotes event played at this weeks venue Liberty National GC.
One other thing I have looked at is how many of the past ten winners had already won on the PGA Tour that season. The answer to this was actually quite surprising as it was only five. It could be therefore we are looking for an ‘elite’ player this week who hasn’t had the best of seasons but has turned the corner recently and is now primed and fresh to make a play-off run at just the right time.
The next important thing to look at of course is the leaderboards from the two Northern Trust events held at Liberty National in 2009 and 2013 with a view to garnering clues as to the type of player it suits.
Firstly, if we look at the 2013 event we will see that the winner was Adam Scott with Graham Delaet, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland and Tiger Woods filling the runners up position, while going back to 2009 as already mentioned Heath Slocum pulled of a shock victory and he was chased home by Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.
From these leaderboards, particularly the 2013 one [when the course had seen changes made to the greens since the 2009 edition following the criticism they received] it would seem clear to me that this is a course that favours strong ball strikers who flourish from tee to green.
Finally from a winning score point of view the two events held in 2013 and 2009 were won with scores of -11 and –9 respectively and if this pattern continues Liberty National will be more than capable of holding its own against the top players.
At the time of writing the good news is that all four tournament days look set fair with sunshine mixed with some clouds and temperatures in the 80s pretty much the order of the day.
Tuesday and Wednesday however both so a 50% chance of a thunderstorm and if these materialize that will lead to a softer course and easier scoring conditions come Thursday.
Wind does not look to be an issue for the first three days with nothing even reaching 10mph in the forecast, however it could become more of a factor on Sunday with the potential for 15mph gusts.
As mentioned above though It should be noted that with the course exposed to New York Harbour the wind can potentially be more of a factor than the forecast for the area as a whole shows.
As I always say though…this could all change!
Before going in to this weeks picks in detail the first thing to say here is that there is no doubt in my mind that finding the winner of these early play off events is as tough a challenge as we face all season.
The reason for this is fairly obvious, we have basically a field as strong as pretty much any we see all year, many of the big names in great form, and more often than not a rotating course situation with limited course history.
Not unlike a Major Championship in other words accept that because it isn’t a major and doesn’t come with the pressures associated with one, the pool of players who could win is far wider.
From that point of view none of us would be surprised come this time next week if Brooks, Rory, Ram, Rose, DJ etc, etc had lifted the trophy, however there are only so many of these bigger names we can include in our team and on that basis I have gone with five players this week as follows;
PATRICK CANTLAY –22-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
First cab of the rank for us this week is Patrick Cantlay. As indicated above you could in all truthfulness make a strong case for many of those near the top end of the market, however the one that I am keen to have on side the most is Cantlay.
My logic here is that I am basically hanging my hat on what little course history we do have to go on and the fact that this history points clearly to players that are at their strongest from tee to green, after all if a leaderboard where Adam Scott and Graham Delaet finished first and second doesn’t tell you this then what does it tell you!
From that point of view in my opinion the stat we should be looking at mostly this week is Strokes Gained Tee To Green and if we do take a look at this category we see that Cantlay ranks third for the season in this category.
Patrick currently sits sixth in the Fedex Cup standings so he is firmly in the hunt for the big money over the next few weeks and the reason he finds himself so high up in the standings is that on top of his win at the Memorial he has been an absolute model of consistency this season.
With only two missed cuts all season and none since Sawgrass in March the UCLA grad is a fixture now on pretty much all the ‘big event’ leaderboards and after an ever so slight dip in form [relatively speaking] after his win at the Memorial, he was back to his best for three rounds out of four in Memphis last time out.
Unfortunately for him his week in Memphis was derailed by a bad third round on Saturday however he still finished the week 12th in Strokes Gained Total on his way to his 12th place finish so there was clearly not too much missing in his game.
The one area that was not quite up to his final position on the leaderboard in Tennessee for Cantlay was his putter as he finished the week 26th in this category. The hope this week though is that a return to Bentgrass greens, the surface, which Patrick triumphed on at the Memorial, will see the slight improvement in this area required.
As well as his all round game another factor I like about Cantlay this week is that he performed heroically just up the road at Bethpage Black in May when finishing third at the PGA Championship so he should have good vibes returning to the New York area.
We saw last year with Bryson Dechambeau, one of the games ‘young guns’ take the Play Off’s by the scruff of the neck with a win at this event and I am optimistic that Cantlay can follow in Bryson’s footsteps this week and a add a win at The Northern Trust to his previous win at The Memorial.
JUSTIN THOMAS – 20-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 12th
In a theme that will become familiar as we go through this weeks selections I am going to take another player who sits right near the top of the Strokes gained Tee To Green stats for the season for our second selection and that is Justin Thomas.
Thomas was our headline pick in Memphis a couple of weeks ago and in the theme of ongoing frustration of late he continued to play really solidly tee to green without holing much, before stalling on Sunday.
To flesh this out further if we look at JT’s stats in Memphis we’ll see that he ranked fourth for the week in Strokes Gained Approach To The Green.
If we then look at JT’s overall stats for the season we will see that he is ranked second for Strokes Gained Tee to Green.
One other thing I like about Thomas this week is that he will have very positive memories of his previous visit to Liberty National in The Presidents Cup a couple of years ago where he finished with 3.5pts out of 5.
Thomas started the 18/19 season really strongly however things went awry when he injured his wrist at The Honda in March and after this he struggled for a few months.
The last few weeks however have seen JT trending really clearly in the right direction with strong performances in Scotland and at the Open Championship before his week in Memphis and it is quite possible he is going to peak at just the right time of the season to make a big run at the Play Offs and I am happy to have him onside this week.
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 40 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 30th
Waiting for Hideki Matsuyama to post PGA Tour victory number six has become a very frustrating business of late as despite a consistent string of high finishes he remains winless in over two years since the 2017 WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
In that time and particularly through this year though, because Hideki was threatening top ten finishes most weeks he was going off at odds of 25-1 or way less dependent on the strength of the field and this of course was less than attractive based on his recent inability to get the job done.
This week however we find that due to three poorer efforts on the spin including two missed cuts at The Open and last week at The Wyndham, the Japanese star’s odds have drifted out to something more attractive and this makes him of interest to me on, following this weeks theme, a course, which really should suit his long game strengths.
Now of course as noted the reason for these odds is Matsuyama’s poorer recent efforts and that could lead to concerns of a loss of form, however instead I am happy to take a view that there was not too much wrong with his game in Greensboro last week and his missed cut basically was brought about by one bad hole, the 17th where he made seven on Friday.
The main problem for Hideki this season has as we know been the putter, however if we look again at the 2013 leaderboard here it is clear that with all due respect to them, players who don’t normally flourish with the flat stick can flourish on this track.
Another positive for Hideki is that like our previous pick Thomas, Matsuyama has some experience of Liberty National having played here at the 2017 Presidents Cup.
Finally, as regular readers will know I am always on the look out for an angle whereby a player takes some inspiration from elsewhere and on this basis it is just possible that Hideki may well be inspired to great things this week by the performance of his fellow Countrywoman, Hinako Shibuno at Woburn at the weekend.
I am quite sure The Smiling Cinderella’s win at The Women’s British Open will be huge news back home and as the standard bearer for men’s golf in Japan who carries the weight of expectation of a nation on his shoulders every time he tees it up, it may just be that her victory inspires Hideki on to a great end to his season.
This of course is pure speculation, however either way I am happy to have Hideki onside at decent odds on a course that should suit his precision game.
BILLY HORSCHEL – 50-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 21st
Regular readers will know that I had Billy on side at the WGC Fedex St Jude a couple of weeks ago where he finished ninth, thus just missing out on a place return for us.
Having come so close to rewarding us that week it was very hard to leave the Former Fedex Cup Champion out of our team at Sedgefield last week and the fact that I did was purely down to price, I will therefore confess I was relieved in the end that his slow start to the week, particularly on the greens meant he did not finish higher up the board than in the logjam for sixth place.
Expanding on Billy’s week in Greensboro in more detail and we saw that having lost not far short of two strokes on the field in putting on day one he improved dramatically each day with the flat stick from there on in, so that by Sunday he actually gained just over 3.5 strokes on the field in this department.
In addition to putting the lights out by Sunday Billy actually finished the week fifth for SGOTT, sixth for DA and sixth for SGT in Greensboro, so everything in his game is working well.
As we well know by now when the Florida Gator finds form he is a man to follow and this is particularly the case at this time of year when he has a habit of coming to life.
In addition to his memorable run to the Fedex Cup title in 2014 Billy has performed really well in the play offs on two other occasions over recent years and on both of these instances the springboard to his run was a good performance at the Wyndham.
The first of these occasion was in 2016 when he posted a 13th place at The Northern Trust and the second was last year when he delivered three top three finishes in four Play Off events including a third in the Northern Trust.
The only downside to Horschel this week is that he missed the cut here on his only previous start however he was in no sort of form in 2013 at the time and I am more than happy to ignore that.
Instead I will side with the hot hand here and I am confident Billy can continue his momentum this week and put in another great performance.
COREY CONNERS - 200-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 21st
For my final pick this week I am going to take my chances at huge odds on another tee to green specialist Corey Conners.
The Canadian has had a fantastic season on tour with the noticeable highlight being his victory in Texas on the back of Monday qualifying.
Since then it must be said that until a couple of weeks ago things had gone distinctly quiet for the 27yr old, however his last two efforts have seen him steady the ship somewhat with a 27th place in Memphis followed by a 22nd place in Greensboro at the weekend.
Whilst this is solid enough stuff it is hardly spectacular form, however what makes Corey of particular interest this week, other than his huge odds, is his ball striking prowess allied with this track.
Expanding on this further if we look at the SGTTG stats for the season we see that Conners sits in tenth place just below the likes of Koepka, JY, McIlroy, Casey, DJ, Cantlay and the 2013 winner here Adam Scott, heady company indeed. In addition to this Corey actually sits sixth on the year for SGOTT and first for GIR.
As we know Corey’s nemesis is the putter but once again I will mention that 2013 saw Adam Scott win here with Graham Delaet in the tie for second, so it would seem that the putter is not the key here!
Finally I cant help thinking that the fact that Delaet finished second here may not only be down to his great ball striking but that with Canada only being a 45 minute hop away on a plane from New York there is always a strong Canadian support at events played in the North East, and this is something that I am hoping can spur Conners on this week.
On this basis and with his undoubted skill sets for this course I am more than happy to finish things off this week by rolling the dice on Conners at huge odds.
UPDATED - 8th AUGUST
TRADER - NICK WATNEY - FINISHED 59th
For this weeks trader pick I have chosen to take a chance with Californian Nick Watney.
Watney as we know is not the force he once was however he has steadied the ship over the past couple of years and currently sits 99th in this years Fedex Cup standings.
Nick's recent form has been pretty hit and miss although he did finish sixth on his last but one start at the John Deere Classic so his game is clearly in reasonable order, however the main point that draws me to the 38yr old this week is his past form both on this course and in the New York area in general.
Firstly in relation to Liberty National he has finished sixth and ninth on the two occassions this event has been held here making him the only player outside of Tiger to have posted two top ten finishes here.
Secondly, in addition to Nick's good form here he won the Barclays at Bethpage Black in 2012 and far more recently finished 11th at this tournament at Ridgewood CC in New Jersey last year.
The victory at The Barclays in 2012 remains Nick's last win on tour, however he did show when finishing second at the Wells Fargo last year [where those with long memories will remember he was actually our trader pick] that he has what it takes to compete at the top level still, and I am happy to roll the dice on the Sacramento native this week as our trader in a part of the world he clearly hugely comfortable in.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 460