After a regular season consisting of 43 events in six countries spanning ten months, the PGA Tour enters its four event playoff sprint with the top 125 players on the season long FedEx Cup rankings vying to make it to the Tour Championship and a shot at landing the $10 million first prize.
Last year, Rory McIlroy entered the playoffs in 36th place before winning two of the four playoff events to secure the title and the bank balance boost, whilst Billy Horschel came from 69th to land the spoils in 2014 so anyone catching fire at the right time has a very real chance to win the title. Despite injury concerns, McIlroy returns to defend his FedEx crown and will be joined in the field by four former FedEx Cup champions Jordan Spieth, Horschel, Henrik Stenson and Bill Haas.
The playoff opener, which switches title sponsor from Barclays to Northern Trust this year, sees the Tour visit the Glen Oaks Club in New York – a 7,346 yard par 70 hosting its first ever professional event. Quotes from the players have seen the course given rave reviews, most trumpeting a view that the course is the ‘Augusta of the North’, with wide fairways featuring cut-out bunkers and green complexes which are surrounded by tightly shaved run off areas and very little rough.
Tour pro Scott Brown added:
“You have to play shots to certain quadrants of the greens…the greens are firm and you have lots of options for shots around the greens”.
My read from that assessment is that, similar to Augusta, approach play is going to be very important, with accuracy with the wedges and short irons more important than tee-shots, whilst solid scrambling is likely to be very important also given the shaved run off areas and Brown’s opinion that there are lots of options around the greens.
Aside from excellent scramblers and players ranking highly in the Strokes Gained: Approach statistics, recent form takes the biggest weighting in my analysis this week given the absence of any past course form, though I am always looking to keep players with previous playoff success onside. Players that putt well historically on Poa Annua greens (as featured here) are also given a big tick given the uniqueness of that strain of grass, which tends to create bumpier, more inconsistent putting strokes as events progress.
Where I’m Leaning this week
Given the volatile nature of golf betting, I am also suggesting some trade out prices for my outright selections this week, and will likely be adding to my portfolio throughout the week in-play as the players settle into the new course, as there are bound to be some excellent trading opportunities.
With the above said, my first outright selection this week is England’s Paul Casey (37.0). The stocky Surrey lad put up a career best performance in the FedEx Cup last season, finishing 5th after top 5 finishes in three of the four playoff events, and his game would appear a perfect fit for Glen Oaks based on what we know of the course. He ranks 7th in scrambling this season and 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach, whilst his Poa Annua performance since 2014 has him ranked 9th in Strokes Gained.
If the links to Augusta pan out, it’ll play into the 40 year olds hands as he has five previous top 10 finishes at the Georgia track and he also enters this week in excellent form, having finished no lower than 26th in any tournament since February. The knock on Casey has been in inability to get over the line on the PGA Tour, but at a workable price, we can make profit on a trade and I am happy to get stuck in given all the ticks in his favour.
After a turbulent first half of the season beset by injury problems and family issues, Jason Day (21.0) looks to be returning to form at the perfect time for a tilt at the FedEx Cup title. The Aussie won two playoff events on route to becoming world number 1 in 2016, and will be keen to improve to establish his position as one of golf’s true elites, having been surpassed by the likes of Hideki Matsuyama and Dustin Johnson in recent times. His improving form line reads T27-T24-T9 and he was bang in contention at the US PGA before a third round 77 sunk his chances.
What peaks my interest most however, is that over the last 50 rounds, Day leads the Tour in Strokes Gained: Total, which combined with his second place ranking in Poa Annua performance, gives him the profile of someone who looks somewhat overpriced. His excellent past Augusta history also adds another plus, with two podium finishes and a further top 10 earlier this year. Although I’m not going mad with the staking, this does have the feel of a time when we’ll look back in a few weeks and say “how did he get go off at that price?”.
Tony Finau (91.0) is another player worth a look this week, as he seeks to progress to the Tour Championship for the first time in his three year PGA Tour career. The powerfully built 27 year old has enjoyed a successful season to date with just one missed cut since February, and enters the week off the back of two top 10 finishes in his past four events.
Indeed, according to the Fantasy National tool, which drills down into performance over a player’s last 50 rounds, Finau is ranked 12th on Tour in that timeframe in the Strokes Gained Total: Total stat, tied with Jordan Spieth and ahead of McIlroy, Koepka, Rahm and Fowler, all of whom are a quarter of the price in the outright. The Utah native ranks in the top 50 for both scrambling and approach play and in the top 15 for Poa Annua performance, and looks a strong candidate for a breakout playoff performance. A very interesting runner at long odds.
At the Valero Texas Open in April, a missed cut had seemingly cost Ian Poulter (141.0) his Tour card by virtue of a failure to secure enough FedEx Cup points to meet the terms of a medical exemption, but a miscalculation by officials afforded him a stay of execution and he has certainly made the most of that opportunity.
A runner up finish at The Players in his very next event has been backed up with top 25 finishes in both the US PGA and The Open, as well as a podium finish at the recent Canadian Open, pushing Poulter comfortably inside the FedEx Cup top 50. We know the talismanic Ryder Cup specialist is a big event specialist and his record includes three top 10s at Augusta but it’s his performance in the approach (4th on Tour this season) and scrambling stats (1st on Tour this year), which really catch the eye. At a three figure price, the inform English definitely looks overpriced.
- Paul Casey – 2.5 points @ 37.0 (lay set for 8.0)
- Jason Day – 1.5 point @ 21.0 (lay set for 5.0)
- Tony Finau – 1 point @ 91.0 (lay set for 17.0)
- Ian Poulter – 1 point @ 141.0 (lay set for 21.0)