The first leg of the PGA Tour’s Playoffs for the FedExCup tees off this week at Liberty National in New Jersey with The Northern Trust.
The field consists of the top 125 in the regular-season FedExCup standings (121 of whom are playing). When the tournament ends, the top 70 will advance to next week’s BMW Championship in Chicago, where the field will be dwindled to the top 30 for the playoff finale – the Tour Championship – at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Bryson DeChambeau won The Northern Trust a year ago at nearby Ridgewood and returns as the defending champion (currently No. 18 in FedEx standings). The last time this tournament was contested at Liberty National was in 2013, when Adam Scott won. He’s there again this week, starting out at No. 21.
So, which players should you be carefully watching in a field that includes Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Tiger Woods – the top 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking – and more?
Here’s who our caddies on the ground like…
- Dustin Johnson. “I want to go with DJ. I feel like he hasn’t been a part of the favorites lately. For the first time in a while, he’s flying under the radar. Weird to say for a guy who’s the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but it’s true. He hasn’t finished better than T20 in his last five PGA Tour starts and even had a rare missed cut in that stretch at Rocket Mortgage – his lone missed cut this season. I think he embraces that N.Y. crowd… remember the late rally at Bethpage with the final-round 69 to finish second in the PGA Championship? I also think the course suits him. I personally witnessed him shoot the easiest final-round 64 I’ve ever seen when the Barclays was at Liberty National in 2009. Every club we laid up with on a par 5, he hit into the green. He doesn’t have as much expectations built up and not being on anyone’s radar, maybe he’s going to sneak up on them this week. It’s hard to sneak up when you’re seventh in FedEx points… he has seven top-10 finishes in only 16 events this year. The cream rises to the top in these events.”
- Ryan Armour. “Starting the week at No. 108 in the FedEx standings, Ryan will need a big week – one I believe he’s capable of – to advance to the BMW. I think he’s played some really good golf lately, but just hasn’t been able to rattle off a top 10 of late because he hasn’t been able to piece together four good rounds. I’m a historic long-shot underdog kinda guy, which is why I like Ryan here. He’s been in position a lot. Just needs to get four rounds together. He’s one round away from a top 10. Last week at Wyndham is a perfect example of that. He went 64-66-65 before a final-round 72 to finish T22.”
- Pat Perez. “The No. 125 player in the FedEx standings, Pat missed the Wyndham cut last week and just barely snuck into the Playoffs. He still would have been OK, riding that two-year exemption from the CIMB win in the 2017-18 season, but every player – regardless of status – wants to make the playoffs. I’m picking Pat in the spirit of Heath Slocum. Back in 2009, Heath missed the cut at the Wyndham and was No. 124 going into the Barclays at Liberty National… then he won the damn thing, finishing one stroke ahead of Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. Ever heard of those guys? I have a feeling about Pat this week. He might do something like that. Here’s your headline: ‘Pat Perez survives near-death playoff experience to win first leg of the FedExCup.’”
- Adam Schenk. “The fans in NYC will adopt him simply for his last name. He also just recently had a season-best T6 at the John Deere Classic.”
- Patrick Rodgers. “His upbeat personality is sure to attract locals to his camp this week. He also needs a big week to advance, starting the tournament at No. 100 in the FedEx standings.”
- Billy Horschel. “It’s the playoffs and his caddie – Josh Cassell – is one of the best under pressure. Remember Billy’s epic 2014 where he won the FedExCup? He knows how to get it done. Wouldn’t hurt to grab a ‘W’ this week to make a run at a second FedExCup.”
- Louis Oosthuizen. “Louis always seems to show up for the bigger events. I expect to see his name on the first page of the leaderboard come Sunday afternoon. In 16 PGA Tour starts this season, he has four, top-10 finishes, highlighted by a T2 at the Valspar Championship. He’s due for a top finish.”
- Jon Rahm. “He’s got to be one of the favorites going into the playoffs, right? He’s a top-10 machine with 10 such finishes in 17 PGA Tour starts this season. In his last three starts – two majors and a WGC – he’s finished T3 (U.S. Open); T11 (The Open); and T11 (WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational). He’s in form so there’s no reason to think the solidly consistent play won’t continue at Liberty National.”
- Marc Leishman. “Man, I’d love to see Leishman win this week. The treatment he received during the 2017 Presidents Cup here was deplorable because of some fans who were over-served. No one deserves that sort of nonsense – especially when it happens to be one of the nicest guys on Tour. He’s had a great season – 12th in the FedEx standings to start the week. Hopefully he leaves Liberty National with a better taste in his mouth this time around.”