Pat Mayo and Geoff Fienberg preview the course and run through the odds while making their 2021 Northern Trust Picks. The guys give their fantasy golf picks, provide their one and done strategy for the event from Liberty National. Plus, Tim Anderson stops by to debate Ryder Cup picks and to talk about his new driver.
2021 NORTHERN TRUST: Field
Field: 125 Players | Top 65 and Ties Make the Cut after 36 Holes
First Tee: Thursday, August 19
Defending Champion: Dustin Johnson
One day, the golf playoffs are going to feel important. I swear.
In truth, I only swear because the first statement is probably a lie. I like the playoffs, and the next two weeks are probably the most competitive tournaments of the year. It’s just difficult to care about the winner of the FedEx Cup when there are four majors floating in the ether which clearly have far more status. I just had to run a Google search on who actually won last year. I thought it was Dustin Johnson, and it was, but I wasn’t entirely sure. When there are people who can piece together the past 25 Masters winners with minimal thought, it doesn’t bode well that a person who covers golf on a weekly basis doesn’t have instant recall for the playoff winner from a year ago.
Maybe I’m just a moron. Actually, that would solve a lot of these issues.
The 2021 NORTHERN TRUST signals the commencement of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Since the playoffs were condensed from four events to three in 2019, THE NORTHERN TRUST has been alternating locations and welcomes the top 125 players remaining in the season-long points race. The top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings after this week advance to the BMW Championship next week, and the top 30 following that event travel to East Lake for the TOUR Championship. FedEx points are quadrupled for the first two playoff events, like always, but the massive change comes in determining an overall winner of the playoffs.
The eventual champion will get a cool $15 million for winning at East Lake, and there’s $60M total in the prize pool to be split between the 30 players advancing to the finals. Scoring at the TOUR Championship is slightly different. The leaderboard is pre-determined by the FedEx Cup standings, and those with the most points will be spotted strokes at the beginning of the event. So, the lowest score for the week, along with their starting score will be the recipient of $15 million (and a five-year TOUR exemption).
The points leader enters East Lake already starting at -10 to begin the tournament. Second place will start at -8; third -7; fourth -6, fifth -5, all the way down to players 26-30 beginning at even par.
The Top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings are eligible for the field at Liberty National, but current No. 8, Louis Oosthuizen is the only eligible name not playing in Jersey City. Louis has enough points banked to stake to the TOUR Championship already, so getting healthy following a late WD at the Wyndham Championship last week is the prudent move for a guy who skipped the Olympics to focus on winning the $15M.
Morikawa, Spieth, Cantlay, English, Rahm, Ancer, Bryson, Louis, Thomas and Sam Burns are the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings following the regular season.
Streb, Merritt, Poston, Bubba, Varner and Power are on either side of the top 70 to advance next week. You know what? Instead of just naming names, here’s the full list.
Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Ryan Moore and Danny Willett all failed to advance to the postseason. Rory Sabbatini missed out too. But he can retire to Slovakia as a national hero after his silver medal.
2021 NORTHERN TRUST Open: Key Stats
Strokes Gained: Ball Striking
Par 4s Gained: 450-500 Yards
Strokes Gained: Around The Green
Mayo’s Key Stats powered by FantasyNational.com
2021 NORTHERN TRUST: Course
Course: Liberty National GC
2021 NORTHERN TRUST: 2019 Leaderboard
1. Reed -16
2. Ancer -15
T3. Varner III -14
T3. Rahm -14
5. Scott -13
T6. Oosthuizen -12
T6. Snedeker -12
T6. McIlroy -12
T6. Spieth -12
2021 NORTHERN TRUST: NOTES
There are 98 bunkers and 10 water hazards across the course. Prior to 2013, the bunkers were repositioned and an intermediate cut of rough was grown as a buffer area between the fairways and the fescue. The fescue is only in play after a fairly wayward shot. It can be devastating if the ball nestles down in it, though. Beyond the sand, water is in play on about half the holes, and the course sports much smaller than average greens, making recovery incredibly difficult.
The par 5 No. 6 is the easiest hole on the course, while the par 4 No. 15 is the most difficult. In 2019, No. 6 had a scoring average of 4.38 for the week, while No. 15 came in at 4.22. The course has been lengthened by about 30 yards compared to 2019.
Hole nos. 9 and 15 were ranked inside the top 50 toughest holes on TOUR when an event is played at Liberty National. Five of the 11 par 4s measure more than 450 yards and they play as five of the six most difficult holes. In 2019, there was one bogey-free round on the weekend: Kevin Tway (Sunday, 65).
In 2013, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (OTT + APP) was almost double Strokes Gained: Short Game (ATG + PUTT) among the top five finishers — +1.88/round to +0.976/round.
Rickie Fowler (T9), Jason Kokrak (T9), Bubba Watson (T13), Lee Westwood (T25), DA Points (T6), Tiger Woods (T2), Adam Scott (Win), Gary Woodland (T2) and Rory Sabbatini (T13) led the field in SG: Approach in 2013.
The clear path to scoring is fairways and electric irons, but that’s a pipe dream for an entire tournament, even for the world’s best players. Things shifted a bit in 2019. With the tiny putting surfaces, around the green factored in more heavily. It’s less important than Ball Striking, but scanning the leaderboard from 2019 reveals 16 of the top 20 players gaining around the greens, while only one of the top 20 lost more than 0.5 strokes: Kevin Kisner (-1.4 SG: ATG). Kisner made it up gaining five strokes on the greens.
Since the inception of the FedEx Cup playoffs in 2007, the opening event has been won by a player inside the top 25 of the world rankings 12 of 14 times. Hunter Mahan was ranked 41st when he won The Barclays (now THE NORTHERN TRUST) in 2014, with Heath Slocum being the massive outlier. Slocum was 197th in the world rankings when he outlasted Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Paddy Harrington by a stroke in 2009.
Four of the past six winners of the opening playoff event had already claimed a victory in the calendar year. Five of the past six winners entered the week ranked in the top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Beyond the 2009, 2013 and 2019 playoff events, Liberty National GC hosted the 2017 Presidents Cup. From the two teams that year, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Chappell aren’t in the field at the 2021 NORTHERN TRUST, Too bad, since Chappy fired the course record (62) in 2013, a score he shares with Troy Merritt.
Team USA thumped the International squad, 19-11, that year. Dustin Johnson went 4-0-1, leading all players with 4.5 points. Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler were tied for second with 3.5 points. Louis Oosthuizen (2.5) was the only member of the International team to score more than two points.
Patrick Cantlay led all players in birdies in 2019 despite finishing in a tie for 12th. Joaquin Niemann was tied for third in birdies and finished T30. You’d think the lousy result would have been due to poor putting, but it was actually Niemann’s chipping that did him in. The Chilean lost three strokes around the green that week.
2021 NORTHERN TRUST: PICKS
Daniel Berger ($9,100)
Berger didn’t end up in the giant playoff at the conclusion of the St. Jude in Memphis a few weeks back, but he may have played the best of anyone that week … if only irons counted. It’s actually been that way for a while now. Over the past 24 rounds, he sits second to Collin Morikawa in SG: Approach and only trails Doug Ghim (THE GHIM REAPER!!!!) in shortest proximity from 175-200 yards. Three of his past four starts have been majors or WGCs, and he’s finished in the top 10 in all of them. It’s time for the world’s 16th-ranked player to nail a playoff win.
Aaron Wise ($6,600)
After losing a combined 10.5 strokes putting in his previous two starts, Wise actually gained on the greens at the Wyndham, so it CAN happen for him. Strangely, there are two types of events Wise does well in: Coastal courses and strong fields. This is both! The T43 finish here in 2019 isn’t exactly inspiring, but he did gain the sixth-most birdies that week on his way to scoring the 29th-most DraftKings points. And that was with losing more than four combined strokes between chipping and putting.
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Pat Mayo is an award-winning video host and producer of long and short-form content, and the host of The Pat Mayo Experience daily talk show. (Subscribe for video or audio). Mayo (@ThePME) won the 2020 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Golf Writer of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Sports Betting Analyst award, and was finalist for four FSWA Awards in 2020 (Best Podcast, Best Video, Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year). His 21 FSWA nominations lead all writers this decade and are third-most all-time. Mayo has been recognized across multiple sports (Football, Baseball & Golf), mediums (Video, Writing & Podcasting), genre (Humor), and game formats (Daily Fantasy and Traditions Season Long). Beyond sports, Mayo covers everything from entertainment to pop culture to politics. If you have a fantasy question, general inquiry or snarky comment, ship it to Mayo at ThePatMayoExperience@gmail.com and the best will be addressed on the show.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is ThePME) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.
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