The Northern Trust (August 8-11) is the first of the 2019 FedEx Cup playoff events. It’s a tournament that has been hosted by a variety of venues and the 2019 edition returns to the Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey for the first time since 2013, a course which staged the tournament for the first time in 2009. It also staged the 2017 President’s Cup.
20 years ago, the site of Liberty National Golf Club was a junkyard that blighted the Manhattan skyline. However, after Paul and Dan Fireman’s reclamation project, it was turned into one of the most revered golf courses on the PGA Tour by designers Tom Kite and Bob Cupp.
This week it welcomes the top-125 in the FedEx Cup standings, who are set for the first of three battles that will help decide the 2019 FedEx Cup champion. There’s over $9 Million up for grabs this week, whilst the FedEx Cup winner in three-weeks-time will collect the $15 million lion’s share of the FedEx Cup bonus pool. Not everyone can win, but players that struggle this week will have the consolation of being able to soak in the views of iconic architecture like the Verrazano Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
The two past editions of The Northern Trust held at Liberty National have produced polar-opposite winners. In 2009, journeyman professional Heath Slocum rolled in a 20-footer on the final green to avoid a five-man playoff with no less than Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, and Steve Stricker hot on his heels in second place
Woods, despite suffering from back spasms, also went close in 2013 but again fell one-shot short of a playoff when Adam Scott clinched the title. Justin Rose, Graeme De Laet, and Gary Woodland also finished one-shot back in a tie for second with Woods.
As this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs have been reduced from four events to three, only the top-70 players in the FedEx Cup standings at the end of The Northern Trust will progress to next week’s second event, the BMW Championship, a motivation for all those in danger of missing out on a potentially big payday.
When it comes to finding players that may do well at Liberty National this week, punters have a dilemma as to whether to concentrate on past course form, overall form in the event, or just go with players currently in good form.
Tiger Wood is the big name that stands out on his last two visits to Liberty National, finishing runner-up each time. However, he does come into the event under a cloud after missing the cut at the Open Championship. His efforts looked laboured there and you’re taking a chance he’s back in the sort of health he’ll probably need to be to go close.
However, I do like the look of two players that tied with Woods for second in 2013. Current FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose is one of those. He looks to have his game back to something like his best and he also finished 15th here in 2009. The other player to take from that 2013 playoff could be reigning US Open Champion Gary Woodland.
Admittedly, his form has taken a nosedive after his first major success, but he could avoid plenty of press coverage this week with the likes of Woods, McIlroy, and Koepka likely to distract much of the paparazzi. Woodland was also fourth in this event in 2016, when Bethpage Black produced a 9-under winning total, and he looks overpriced on his best form this season.
Another player I’m hoping has sneaked massively under the radar this week is Nick Watney. The 38-year-old is a hit-and-miss performer nowadays but two top-eight finishes in his last eight events suggest he could go well at a course he finished sixth at in 2009 and ninth at in 2013. He also won this event in 2012 and finished 11th last year, be it those two results came at two different courses.
By comparison, this isn’t an event that market leader Brooks Koepka boasts much form in, though he did finish eighth last season. He also only won two of his four matches at the 2017 Presidents Cup at Liberty National. He’s a much better golfer now but he may reserve his best for the Tour Championship in two-weeks, a comment that also applies to Rory McIlroy. One player who does like this event is two-time winner Dustin Johnson, but neither his course form nor current form inspires much confidence.
That means this week’s fourth and final bet goes on the in-form Webb Simpson. Three times a runner-up in his last five starts, his past form at this venue also catches the eye. He was eighth in 2009 and 15th in 2013 and deserves inclusion as he’s at the peak of his powers.