NORTHERN TRUST PREVIEW
This week, players head to Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey for the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Northern Trust. The field consists of 121 of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup Season Standings (Stenson, Casey, Cabrera Bello, and Burns WD’ed) with the top 70 moving onto the BMW Championship next week. This year the Tour shortened the playoff run from 4 to 3 tournaments and added a substantial amount of funds to the purse, the winner here gets $1.6 million which isn’t far off from what is awarded for a Major victory, and the overall winner of the Playoffs receives $15 million. This should equate to a motivated group of the world’s best golfers looking to cap their year with a huge payday. It is also important to note that the final event of the year, the Tour Championship, has changed its format to a “Starting Strokes” index where whoever is #1 in the FedEx standings will start the 30-person tournament at -10, 2nd at -8, number 3 at -7 all the way down to 26-30 starting at even par. This means that while players are competing for an awesome purse this week, they will also be jockeying for position over the next two weeks to set themselves up in the best possible position to take home the huge payday that comes along with being FedEx Cup Champion. Now that all the confusing stuff is out of the way, lets recap the Wyndham last week!
WYNDHAM CHAMPIONSHIP RECAP
The Postman, JT Poston secured his first PGA Tour win after carding an 8 under 63 on Sunday, holding off Benny An and Webb Simpson. What a huge win for Poston, securing his card for the next two years and more importantly avoiding the dreaded Korn Ferry Qualifier. Victor Hovland, featured here last week, shot a 5 under 66 after two early bogeys to finish 4th and Kyle Stanley cashed the Top 20 bet at +310 finishing 13th. With the good comes the bad as Denny McCarthy was finally able to find the center of the club, gaining almost 2 strokes on approach, en route to absolutely housing Doc Redman who failed to make the cut. On the flip side, Reavie easily cashed over Cam Smith who failed to make it to the weekend. I also want to add that if you’re having fun with these golf bets follow me on Twitter (@jmazzjd) and look for my full card that usually comes out Wednesday morning and live bets throughout the tournament. This week the card cashed a Benny An First-Round Leader bet as well as Poston 33/1 prior to round 4. Now onto the Northern Trust!
The course history of Liberty National is sparse as we last time we saw the course played in a Tour event was 2013. The course sits on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. While not specifically a dunes type setup, the exposed nature of the course does leave it susceptible to high winds. Due to this, it is imperative to check the weather on Wednesday night as oftentimes certain draws can get the worst of it weather wise (see the final round of the British Open), leaving us as bettors with advantageous positions. The Bentgrass greens have been compared to last weeks undulated greens at The Wyndham and Bent is typically the preferred putting surface on Tour due to its smooth rolls without much grain. A lack of course history is a big of an issue, but we can look at previous winners in an effort to see what kind of player has had success here. Heath Slocum won here in ’09 and Adam Scott was victorious in ’13. That year they ranked 12th and 7th in ball striking in the respective seasons they won. That is a good start. Another interesting fact to note is that Kevin Chappell holds the course record, shooting a 9 under 62 in 2013 and Keagan Bradley and Gary Woodland carded 63s and 64s which shows that when the wind dies and conditions are favorable guys can certainly go low, making birdie opportunities important. Finally, winning scores of 9 and 11 under suggest that the course will play far from easy if the wind does arise and an all around game will be necessary to compete.
This week I will be considering current form more heavily than most weeks as it is difficult to ascertain what kind of test players will face. What I do know is that ball striking will be at a premium (it usually is) so SG:BS will be included. The course features 3 par 5s with all 3 ranking between the 1st and 4th easiest hole that players will face. This suggests that Par 5 Scoring will be important and I will also incorporate Strokes Gained Par 5s into my model. Finally, if the winds do pick up players will have a harder time hitting greens which will put a premium on chipping. Therefore, a sprinkle of strokes gained around the greens is necessary to capture players who excel and getting it close when greenside.
Justin Thomas +2250 – JT is my favorite play this week and it is easy to understand why. After going through a stretch where he putted as if he had never been on a green before, Thomas showed signs of life with the flat stick at the St. Jude. Look, he only gained one stroke putting over the 4 days but after losing almost 8 strokes putting at the Travelers we can call that a victory. Ultimately, this has more to do with ball striking and JT is regaining the striking form he displayed earlier this year prior to his wrist injury. His last 3 times out he has gained between 4.5 and 6.1 strokes on approach which means he is constantly leaving himself with opportunities to score and given his pedigree I don’t see how his putting woes can continue. Here, I’m willing to bank on the ball striking on a course that will undoubtedly demand it and hope he can simply not putt his way out of contention.
Billy Horschel +5550 – Horschel seems to be doing the exact same thing he did last year: peak during the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Last season Horschel ended the year 11th at the Wyndham, 3rd at the Northern Trust, 2nd at the BMW and 2nd at the Tour Championship. His current form boasts a 9th at the WGC – St. Jude and a 6th last week at the Wyndham. It should also be noted that Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014. What’s more, Billy has gained strokes ball striking in 8 of his last 9 tournaments while gaining strokes putting in 7 of the last 9 and only missing the cut at the British Open (not really suitable for his game) in that same time frame. This is the kind of form I’m looking for given the lack of course history. I love backing guys who are no strangers to the winners circle and given his current form 55/1 is a great value in a field Horschel has proven to have success in.
Rory Sabbatini Top 20 +300 – Simply put, the South African Slovakian (Google it) has been a top 20 machine this season including in 7 of his last 10 starts and he has done so behind exactly the kind of play we are looking for this week. During that 10 tournament stretch the other Rory has gained strokes ball striking in all but 2 tournaments. If conditions get a little hairy South Africans are well known for their ability to play in difficult conditions and Sabs is no exception. He ranks 4th in scrambling and 4th in strokes gained around the greens over his last 50 rounds and threw in a 16th at the British Open including an even par 71 on the last day. This 3/1 number is more than generous and I’ll gladly take a share.
2u Snedeker (+110) o Woodland – Couple things: 1. Woodland is on the short list of my favorite golfers so it pains me to put his name in this section as a fade for another week. 2. I don’t have kids but I get tired chasing my puppy around so I can only imagine what it is like with two newborn twins to worry about. So Gary is now the proud father of identical twin daughters, born just a few days ago, and after everything he has been through I couldn’t be happier for the guy. The thing is, there is no way that amount of stress and sleepless nights can be good for your golf game. Sneds is FINEEEE, I don’t love him but at least he has gained strokes on approach in his last three tournaments and is known for battling in tough conditions. This is more about fading Woodland and who could blame him for not being entirely focused this week. I have to take the plus money, focused golfer in this matchup.
2u Reed -1.5 Strokes (+100) over Lowry – There is a theme to the matchups this week: distractions. Let’s face it, they cannot be quantified. Based on the numbers, Reed is simply a slight favorite over Lowry and probably not a bet. Based on my logic, there is no way in hell Lowry can be ready to compete this week and I’ll gladly back the in form Patty Reed. First Lowry, we obviously haven’t seen him since his amazing victory at the British Open. Has he stopped celebrating? Has he picked up a club since winning? I know I wouldn’t! In leading up to the British Lowry had displayed an excellent ball striking game, something that has very much come and gone throughout his career. I worry that given his undoubted time away from the game, that is the first thing to leave him. Now Reed, who has been in no mans land for most of the season but is finally starting to show the form that had him putting on the Green Jacket last year. Reed has gained strokes on approach in 9 of his last 11 starts and is coming off 6 straight top 25s, including a T5 and t10. A final round 63 last week shows me his game is very close and a top 25 is currently his floor. Given Lowry’s current state, I would be surprised to see him reach the top 25 here and will gladly lay the strokes at even money with a former major winner who is trending up.
That is it for this week’s breakdown! Thank you for reading and as always look for my full card on Wednesday morning and feel free to shoot me any questions on Twitter @jmazzjd!