The field this week comprises only the top 125 golfers in the FedEx Cup standings, and no alternates or qualifiers will be added to the field. After this event, the top 70 golfers in the FedEx Cup standings will then qualify for the next event (the BMW Championship), and the top 30 players in the standings will then go on to the finale at East Lake. As for competitors at THE NORTHERN TRUST, the only big name missing is world No. 7 Louis Oosthuizen, who is skipping his second event in a row after pulling out last week with a sore neck. World No. 1 Jon Rahm is making his return after having to skip the Olympics and WGC-FedEx St. Jude due to COVID-19.
Unlike the last two playoff events, this week features a cut-line — only the top 65 players and ties will get to the play the weekend. That will have huge implications since players who MC won’t have a shot to move up the FedEx Cup rankings. The likes of Tyrrell Hatton (63rd) Shane Lowry (66th) and Bubba Watson (71st) are some of the bigger names sitting on the BMW Championship bubble.
Liberty National—Jersey City, New Jersey
Par 71—7,380 yards; Greens: Bentgrass
THE NORTHERN TRUST remains the first playoff event this season and is now hosted by rotating venues in the New York and Boston areas. This year, it returns to Liberty National for the first time since 2013, when Adam Scott won this same event at 11-under-par.
The venue was designed by Tom Kite and Robert Cupp, and it also hosted this same event back in 2009 but was subsequently redesigned after numerous complaints by the players. Better reviews were had in 2013, and the venue also hosted the 2017 President’s Cup. At its core, Liberty National is quite open, although it doesn’t necessarily rate out as a true links test. Fairways are quite large in places, though, and driving accuracy stats for the top players were up over the TOUR average here in 2013 and 2019.
One of the main defenses of the course, and what sets it apart from links venues, is its smaller than average bentgrass greens, which will put an emphasis on approach games. Green in regulation percentages at Liberty have been four to five percent lower than the TOUR average, so good tee to green games should really flourish here. The top two players here in 2019 (Abraham Ancer and Patrick Reed) both gained over +2.0 strokes on approach and around the greens. So while strong approach games are a necessity, good all-around play should be emphasized just as much.
Liberty National plays as a true par 71 with three par 5’s — one of which looks set to play well over 600 yards. Players will need to take advantage of the easier par 5s since there are plenty of longer par 4s to contend with here. At least five of the 11 par 4s will stretch over 450 yards in length; so again, players will need more than just a simple fairway wood and wedge game to be successful week. Look for good long iron play and strong all-around players to flourish at what should be a challenging tee to green test.
2021 Outlook: Highs are expected to be in the low-to-mid 80’s all week here, but rain is expected for the first three days of the event with chances of precipitation hovering around 30-50% for Thursday through Saturday. Things look clearer for Sunday, but the possibility of some rain delays does exist this week. Thursday and Friday seem likely to be the most affected, with scattered thunderstorms possible for both days. Things do get clearer as the week goes on, though, and we may get a nice weekend. Wind doesn’t appear likely to be huge, so the weather really may not affect play too much with the caveat that the rain will certainly make the rough tougher and the course play longer. This could favor the big hitters, but be sure to check the forecast later in the week to see how the rain situation shakes out.
Last 5 winners
2020—Dustin Johnson -30 (over Harris English -19)
2019—**Patrick Reed -16 (over Abraham Ancer -15)
2018—Bryson DeChambeau -18 (Tony Finau -14)
2017—Dustin Johnson -13 (in playoff over Jordan Spieth)
2016—Patrick Reed -9 (over Sean O’Hair -8)
**played at Liberty National
Seven out of the last 10 winners of this event finished T22 or better in their previous start before winning.
Six of the last seven winners of this event have finished T13 or better at the year’s final major championship.
Winners Stats and Course Overview
2019 Winner (played at Liberty National): Patrick Reed 16-under-par
Lead in form (T22-T12-T10-T23-T5)
SG: OTT— +5.4
SG: APP— +2.6
SG: TTG— +10.0
SG: ATG— +2.1
SG: PUTT— +3.2
- Adam Scott, the 2013 winner at Liberty, ranked second in SG: Tee to Green stats for the week and seventh in Approaches. Runner-up Justin Rose also led the field in SG: TTG stats. Both Tee to Green and Approach stats should be emphasized here, but the emphasis should be on all-around performance.
- 2019 winner Patrick Reed ranked outside the top 10 in strokes gained approach stats but did rank fourth in SG: Tee to Green stats, which again emphasizes the need for a solid all-around game. Both Reed and runner-up Abraham Ancer ranked first and second in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee stats, which is interesting since neither player is a big hitter. Players who find fairways this week and can be consistent OTT should have a decent advantage.
- Since we want to keep the focus on ball-striking, looking at a specific approach-proximity stats seems relevant. Adam Scott was top 15 and pretty solid in every approach category over 200 yards at Liberty in 2013, and given the number of long approaches and longer par 4s on the course, looking at approach proximity >200 makes sense here.
Finding Values (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
- Patrick Reed +4000 and $8,600
- Harris English +4000 and $8,800
- Hideki Matsuyama +4000 and $9,000
- Kevin Kisner +6500 and $7,900
- Matthew Fitzpatrick +5500 and $7,900
- Tony Finau +5500 and $8,200
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
1. Collin Morikawa ($10,400; T26-T4-win): Morikawa slid a bit at the WGC, but his summer run should be respected. He leads the field in strokes gained tee to green stats and approach stats over the last 50 rounds. He’s also second in the field in proximity from 175-200 yards and >200 yards. There’s no one striking it better than him right now.
2. Jon Rahm ($11,500; T3-win): Rahm had a great summer, too, but it was interrupted by another bought of COVID-19. He posted a T3 at The Open in his last start, but the layoff bumps him down to No. 2 in the rankings. It will be over a month since he last played competitively.
3. Brian Stuard ($6,500; T15-T6): Stuard is a curious inclusion here, but the veteran actually leads the field in strokes gained total stats over the last seven weeks. He’s not finished worse than T15 in his last five starts and has gained +2.5 strokes or more putting now in his last four events.
4. Kevin Na ($7,500; T2-T23-T2): Na lost out in a six-man playoff last week but recorded a T2 finish nonetheless — his second such results over the past month and a half. The multiple-time winner gained +7.1 strokes on his approaches last week and is third in strokes gained total stats over the last six events.
5. Jhonattan Vegas ($7,100; T15-T2): Vegas continued his amazing summer run as he again posted a great result for fantasy owners at the Wyndham with a T15 finish. Vegas has now made the cut in 14 of his last 15 events and ranks fifth in this field in SG: OTT stats, making him a potential dark horse threat to win this week.
DRAFTKINGS DFS STRATEGY
Cash Games: Buy the dip on Thomas and DeChambeau
Both Bryson DeChambeau ($9,600) and Justin Thomas ($9,800) have had up and down summers, but both are still ranked inside the top six in the OWGR and look to be a little disrespected here in the salaries. DeChambeau is coming off a week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude where he gained over +2.0 strokes OTT, on approach and putting, and his game doesn’t look particularly far off. Thomas gained +6.1 strokes on approach at the WGC and just needs a little luck on the greens to fall his way. Both make for excellent core plays here. Paul Casey ($8,700) and Tyrrell Hatton ($7,800) also look a little underpriced and can be viewed favorably here, too. Hatton returned to form with a T17 in his last start and is far too cheap for the 13th ranked player in the world. Other potential cash targets here include Kevin Streelman ($7,400), Jhonattan Vegas ($7,100) and Cameron Tringale ($7,300).
Tournaments: Pay up for a trending Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson ($11,000) is coming off a T10 finish at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude, but despite his slow finish there, he did have a solid week. DJ gained strokes in all major categories at the event and gained +3.2 strokes on approach alone, his best in that category since March. He’s a great playoff performer who has won this event twice already and could be lower owned in GPPs due to the high price tag. Scottie Scheffler ($9,300 – see below) has a lot of upside, as does Sungjae Im ($7,800), who gained +4.7 strokes on approach last week and has gained strokes on approach now in six straight starts. Sergio Garcia ($7,600) also makes sense in this range, and he’s played well in this area of the U.S. (Beth Page mainly) before. Other potential GPP targets here include Si Woo Kim ($7,400), Branden Grace ($7,200), Erik van Rooyen ($6,700 – see below) and Adam Hadwin ($6,700).
MY PICK: Scottie Scheffler ($9,300)
Scheffler comes into this event with the kind of form you want to see as we enter the high stakes arena of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. The 25-year-old comes in with three top-10 finishes in his last five starts and off a season that saw him finish T8-T7-T8 at the year’s last three majors. While he doesn’t possess the high-end ball-striking of some of the other top stars, like Collin Morikawa ($10,400) or Viktor Hovland ($9,500), Scheffler has proven to be very adept at grinding when he needs to, especially at tougher courses like we see at the majors.
Liberty National presents a nice blend of challenging holes and scoring opportunities, as it played as the 26th-toughest course on TOUR (out of 49) in 2019 and required a solid all-around performance for success. The top-two finishers in 2019 both gained over +2.0 strokes ATG, on Approach and Off the Tee, and Scheffler accomplished this same feat at this event last year, where he finished T4. Coming off a solid end to his year, and still searching for his PGA win, I like targeting him for a breakthrough trophy this week at a very palatable price in DFS and betting (+2800 on the DraftKings Sportsbook).
MY SLEEPER: Erik van Rooyen ($6,700)
The winner of the 2021 Barracuda Championship a couple weeks ago, van Rooyen enters this week still basking in the glorious glow of momentum from that career-defining win. He gained full status and access to the playoffs with his triumph, and he’s a player who could make some noise in these elite field playoffs. van Rooyen has made a habit of showing up with big results in elite field events over his career (sometimes when you least expect it) and carries a T3 from the 2020 WGC Mexico in his back pocket, along with a T8 at the 2019 PGA Championship — which was held close by this week’s event at Beth Page Black.
The 2019 PGA finish is significant since Beth Page is in the same part of the world as Liberty National, and both set up as more open American links style venues that require solid all-around games. Coming off a T37 at the Wyndham last week, where he gained +3.7 strokes on approach, I like targeting him here in GPPs where his ownership should be small. His pure upside seems bigger than most of the names in his range, based on history and recent form.
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