The Northern Trust – the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs – did not disappoint from a viewing perspective, as a playoff was required to separate world number one Dustin Johnson and world number three Jordan Spieth, with eventual victor Johnson choosing the 73rd hole to execute the most outrageous tee-shot-over-water we’ve witnessed on Tour this season on route to securing his fourth title of 2017.
With that win DJ shot to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and he’ll be keen to consolidate that position as the PGA Tour moves on to TPC Boston for the Dell Technologies Championship, taking with it 96 of the top 100 players remaining in contention for the season long prize. As is customary, the second leg of the playoffs is hosted over the Labor Day weekend in the US so starts on Friday, allowing for a Monday finish and additional time for us punters to get our bets on.
The 7,342 yard par 71 Massachusetts course has been the sole host of this event since 2003, under its previous moniker The Deustche Bank Championship, so we’ve got an excellent bank of course form to digest, and the track has generally produced a high class winner with Rory McIlroy and Vijay Singh scoring multiple victories at the track, and other major champions such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Webb Simpson also triumphing. With that said, the talent pool is currently deeper than ever on the PGA Tour so it would not be a surprise to see a young pretender in contention come Monday.
The Arnold Palmer design has gone through a few tweaks in recent years, and this season is no exception with the 12th and 13th holes getting a make-over for this edition of the tournament. Fairways have been lengthened and new greens have been added, though the same Bentgrass seeding has been used so players who have played well here in the past should enjoy that consistency despite the new look.
Scoring is traditionally relatively easy here and with the weather set fair, a winning total in the region of -15 to -20 can be expected so making the most of birdie opportunity is a must. I’ll be looking to the birdie average stat as a pointer in the right direction as a result. A look at the previous winners of the event, with Rickie Fowler and Charley Hoffman included amongst those already mentioned, also reveals a distinct correlation between ball strikers and success so I’ll also be using ball striking as a key pointer this week too.
Mcilroy Loving ‘Beantown’
With the above said, the first port of call in our staking plan this week is the defending champion Rory McIlroy (19.0). It goes without saying that this has been a disappointing season for the Holywood pro but TPC Boston has traditionally been a happy stomping ground for the man who is still ranked 4th in the world. Wins last year and in 2012, plus a 5th place finish here in 2014, reveal a real comfort at the venue and McIlroy’s record of six victories on Bentgrass tracks is matched by only Steve Stricker in this field.
The 28 year old arrived at this event last season having finished 31st in the Barclays, which is not dissimilar to his 34th place showing last week, and his general form was not a million miles away from that which he has displayed over the past few months.
Yes he’s changed caddies; yes he’s suffered with a nagging rib problem and yes he’s putted fairly woefully recently, but McIlroy is still widely regarded as the premier ball striker in the game and we have to go all the way back to 2008 for the last calendar year without a Rory win.
Last season his win here was the catalyst for a successful assault on the $10million FedEx Cup first prize, and at 18/1 I think we can chance him repeating the trick at one of his favourite courses.
In Form Casey
I’m clearly banking on there being a similar looking leaderboard to last year as my next pick is last year’s runner up, Paul Casey (27.0). We backed Casey last week and he finished a creditable 5th though we didn’t get our lay matched as Spieth and DJ dominated proceedings from 36 holes.
However, the Englishman’s excellent finish once again reinforced his outstanding form and the law of averages dictates that if he continues to put himself in contention often enough he’ll eventually get back into the winner’s circle.
Aside from his excellent recent finishes and runner up here last year, the world number 14 ranks 4th on Tour in ball striking, 41st in birdie average and 13th in Bentgrass performance so looks a natural fit for this challenge. At the odds he represents a touch of value despite his lack of wins in the US.
El Nino to strike back
My final pick is this year’s Masters champion Sergio Garcia (45.0). Garcia hasn’t been sighted since a disappointing missed cut at the PGA Championship, as he chose to skip last week’s playoff opener in favour of some downtime at home with his new bride. That missed cut was the first time he’d failed to play the full 72 holes of an event since the 2016 PGA Championship and there is definitely an argument to say that missing a tough Northern Trust event in order to recharge the batteries is a sensible move given the increased media attention that his maiden major win and subsequent marriage would have provided.
Had Garcia rocked up last week and finished top 20, it’s not hard to imagine that he’d be at least 15 points shorter this week given his positive previous record at TPC Boston, where he was 54 hole leader before fading to 4th in 2013 (also 5th in 2008 and never worse than 31st in six visits) plus his status as one of the game’s pre-eminent ball strikers – ranking 6th on Tour in that stat this season.
He’s been very successful on Bentgrass greens in recent times, ranking 7th on Tour for Bentgrass performance and looks well overpriced given he’s won twice already this year and plays well at the course. The fresh Spaniard could be bang in the mix come Monday.