The Northern Trust: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Our fantasy insider Brian Mull has Sungjae Im high up on his list of contenders for this week’s Northern Trust at TPC Boston. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The TPC Boston is the ideal venue for the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs. In a year where power has never seemed like a greater asset or been celebrated more, the par-71, 7,342-yard layout rewards the bomber with an abundance of birdie opportunities.

The Northern Trust – played last year at Liberty National – has a $9.5 million purse and the champion in the 125-man field earns $1.71 million and secures his spot in the Tour Championship. The top 70 in the standings after the tournament advance to next week’s second round at Olympia Fields in the Chicago suburbs.

From 2003-to-2018, TPC Boston played host to the Deutsche Bank Championship and Dell Technologies Championship. The course, originally designed by Arnold Palmer with renovations by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon, produced a heady list of champions.

LISTEN: This week’s ‘Under the Strap’ podcast with longtime caddie Steve Hulka

The weather is expected to be great with temperatures in the mid-80s and light winds.

Strokes gained tee-to-green, par-5 scoring average, recent form and past performance at TPC Boston were the categories analyzed in depth this week. The greens and fairways are slightly easier to hit here than on the average Tour course and the par 5s can be stingy when it comes to yielding birdies.

I’ll be surprised by anything other than a star-studded leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.

25. Richy Werenski​ – Missed the cut at the PGA, which is understandable considering he was coming off his first career win at the Barracuda. Has gained at least two strokes tee-to-green in each of his last five starts and thrives on bentgrass greens in calm, good scoring conditions.

24. Sam Burns​ – Making first appearance at TPC Boston – and in the FedEx playoffs – but his game is on form. He’s made five consecutive cuts since Travelers, finishing between 13th and 32nd. Irons and putting have been consistently solid during the stretch, putter is heating up and ranks top 20 on the season in par-5 scoring.

23. Harris English​ – Slotting the steady Georgia Bulldog right in his comfy place – he’s finished between 13th and 23rd five tournaments in a row due to a cash collecting combination of superior iron play, short game and putting. In 17 starts out of the 126-150 category, has finished in the top 25 a dozen times and earned $2.29 million (27th in FedEx Cup).

22. Rory McIlroy​ – Because he won at TPC Boston in 2012 and 2016, McIlroy has the third lowest odds (14-1) per golf bookmaking guru Jeff Sherman. So, it’s difficult to omit him from our list, even though he hasn’t cracked the top 10 in six tries since the restart. Approach game was good at Harding Park; putting was not.

21. Tiger Woods​ – At 49th in the FedEx Cup, needs a high finish to earn a place in the Tour Championship in two weeks. The warm weather should be conducive to better driving and over the last 24 rounds on courses of this length with bentgrass greens, he leads the field in SG: Approach-the-Green. Won here in 2006, has three other top 3s and a 68.3 scoring average.

20. Patrick Reed​ – Won the Northern Trust last year at Liberty National but finished top 6 at TPC Boston in 2015, ’16 and ’17. Coming off his best SG: Off-the-Tee effort of the season (4.8) and iron game has set up ample opportunities for one of the game’s streakiest putters. He flourishes on bentgrass.

19. Billy Horschel​ – Let a victory slip through his fingers on the back nine in Greensboro on Sunday afternoon, however, the former FedEx Cup champion is peaking for the playoffs once again. Gained a season-best 4.3 strokes on approach last week and the putter has been red-hot for weeks, producing four top 25s in five starts. Tied for second in Boston in 2014.

18. Viktor Hovland ​- Scuffled a bit of late but has made nine consecutive cuts and TPC Boston and his game should be a successful marriage. He putts his best on bentgrass and gained 4.9 strokes on the greens at Harding Park. Don’t be stunned if the young Norwegian makes a dash for the playoff cash.

17. Matthew Wolff – ​Could be love at first sight for Wolff and TPC Boston. The 2019 NCAA champion is determined not to let fellow second-year pro Morikawa steal all the attention. Finished fourth at the PGA despite losing two strokes on the green. Leads the field in SG: Off-the-Tee in the last 24 rounds.

16. Patrick Cantlay​ – Has been outside the top 25 in three consecutive starts since a top 10 at the Workday. Still, we’re projecting a FedEx charge by Cantlay, whose season was interrupted first by surgery and later by COVID-19. His 4.47 scoring average on par 5s will serve him well on a layout where he’s two-for-two in the top 25.

15. Cameron Champ ​- If you haven’t noticed, we love the young bombers this week. Buoyed by a top 10 at the PGA – where he gained 8.2 strokes off the tee – he should dominate the par 5s at TPC Boston. Defying some of the other metrics with this pick (putts poorly on bentgrass) but all signs still point to a solid week, hovering on the second page of the leaderboard.

14. Hideki Matsuyama​ – Over the last 24 rounds, we analyzed the field in the major strokes gained categories on courses with bentgrass greens that had favorable scoring conditions. Matsuyama is top 31 in every category, including 26th in putting. He also tied for fourth at TPC Boston in 2018 and has been inside the top 25 in all four starts.

13. Daniel Berger​ – He’s a par-5 killer (seventh on Tour) and despite shaky putting on the weekend at Harding Park still managed a T-13 – only his second non top 10 in the last eight starts. Made the cut in each of his four previous TPC Boston starts, with a T-12 in 2015. Bentgrass is his worst putting surface, however.

12. Scottie Scheffler​ – This former Texas standout has star qualities and his strong showing at the PGA Championship (fourth) was a third consecutive top 25 and a glimpse into the future of a long, fruitful PGA Tour career. He’s ninth on tour in birdie average (4.33).

11. Sungjae Im​ – Gonna make his first appearance at TPC Boston count. Racked up his seventh top 10 of 2019-20 last week in Greensboro to climb to fifth in the FedEx Cup standings. Poor putting on bentgrass in last two efforts – Harding Park and Memorial – is a cause for concern.

10. Adam Scott​ – Finished in the top 10 at all three FedEx Cup playoff events last year and chipped away the rust from a long layoff with a T-22 at the PGA Championship. Has six top 10s in 12 starts at TPC Boston also. Always a smart play in the big events.

9. Jon Rahm​ – The game’s top-ranked player finished 13th at the PGA despite losing 0.4 strokes on the greens. Won on bentgrass at Memorial earlier in the summer. When the course presents scoring opportunities, Rahm, who is fifth on Tour in par-5 scoring average, takes advantage. Should have more than four PGA Tour victories by now.

8. Webb Simpson​ – What’s not to like? Won at TPC Boston in 2011 and secured his Wyndham annuity with yet another top 3 in Greensboro. Tied with DeChambeau as the best on Tour on the par 4s (3.89). Would be higher if this course wasn’t such a bomber’s playground.

7. Tony Finau​ – Shot 12 under to tie for fourth at TPC Boston in 2018. Bentgrass is his favorite surface and has three top 10s in his last four starts. Seems to be jelling with new caddie Mark Urbanek, who might be the missing piece required to push Finau from contender to champion. Is elite in every category except short game.

6. Collin Morikawa – ​After taking a week off to take the lid off the Wanamaker, the young phenom is primed for another cash bonanza over the next three weeks. Strong putting inside 15 feet – and a lion’s share of longer ones – propelled him to victory at Harding Park and his ballstriking rarely rests. Approach shots from 175-225 are one of his many strong suits.

5. Bryson DeChambeau​ – Not only did he win at TPC Boston in 2018 and finish fourth at the PGA, he’s going to love unleashing his power on fairways that are slightly easier to hit than the Tour average. Must improve iron play to complement a sizzling putter.

4. Justin Thomas​ – With nine top 10s in 15 starts and three victories, the FedEx Cup points leader is virtually a sure bet to perform – or as close as you can get on the PGA Tour. Leads the field in SG: Total and SG: Approach-the-Green over the last 24 rounds and No. 1 on Tour in par-5 scoring average (4.46). Won at TPC Boston in 2017.

3. Jason Day ​- It’s possible there was significant action on Day here at your Fantasy headquarters during the PGA Championship and the former World No. 1 made a spirited run for that title, settling instead for his fourth top-7 finish in a row. Costa Rica will have to wait, but in the meantime keep riding Day while he’s hot, healthy and gaining strokes in every category. Posted five top 25s in a row at TPC Boston from 2013-2017.

2. Dustin Johnson​ – Posted top 10s at TPC-Boston in 2016 and 2018 and of course, had another near-miss in a major with his runner-up at the PGA Championship. Here’s the most important stat: has gained 1.2 strokes on average with the putter in his last five starts. Other than Memorial, where he was battling an injury, ballstriking has been impressive, as usual.

1. Xander Schauffele​ – Last five starts: 20-14-13-6-10. Also, gained strokes on the green in four of those five events, including 3.4 on bentgrass at Harding Park and 5.8 at Muirfield Village in the Workday. With six top 10s and $3.3 million in earnings, it’s been a very good year. He’ll make it a great one, beginning this week.

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