Events & Reviews
Dell Technologies Championship: Course Insight
After Dustin Johnson’s thrilling, come from behind playoff victory over Jordan Spieth kicked off the PGA Tour’s post-season last week at the Northern Trust, attention now turns to the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Dell Technologies Championship (formerly the Deutsche Bank Championship) at TPC Boston. 100 players will be spending Labor Day weekend positioning themselves to move into the top 70 in points and the right to continue playing next week at the BMW Championship in Chicago. Reigning FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy defends his title in Norton, MA this week against a field that includes PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, Masters champion Sergio Garcia (who sat out the opener for the third consecutive year), and regular-season FedEx Cup points leader Hideki Matsuyama.
View from the tee of the 231-yard Par-3 11th hole at TPC Boston
TPC Boston has hosted this event since its inception in 2003, and has given up double-digit under-par winning scores (between 15-under and 22-under) every year over the past decade. However don’t be fooled into thinking this 7342-yard, par-71 track is a pushover. The Arnold Palmer designed and Gil Hanse renovated course has some serious teeth, and only the best ball-strikers flourish here. The formula that shapes the leaderboard this week will include a heavy dose of Par-4 Scoring (with six of the 11 par-4s measuring between 450 and 500 yards), SG: Approach-The-Green (which is always a key metric on this course), and Driving Accuracy (missing the fairway is penal with Bluegrass and fescue rough approaching four inches).
Players will need to seize every birdie and eagle opportunity on the three par-5s, and limit the damage on three big boy par-3s measuring over 200 yards. Bentgrass, Poa annua putting surfaces aren’t complicated but they play firm and fast; and with some greens being very narrow, getting the ball to check up won’t be easy. Course history will be a factor in separating players from the field, but past experience won’t matter on two new holes, the 12th and 13th respectively, which have been lengthened and feature two entirely new greens. No. 12 is a par-4 that’s been stretched out to more than 500 yards, and will leave players with a challenging long iron approach into the green, while No. 13 has moved and dropped down the tee box to change what used to be a relatively straight par-4 into a more challenging dogleg-right hole.
At just 542-yards, the par-5, 2nd hole isn’t long by Tour standards, but still plays tough and requires three well placed shots for any opportunity at birdie. Players will have to consider using 3-wood off the tee as some chocolate mounds now line the left rough in the landing area, while the right side is protected by a deep bunker that pretty much forces a lay-up if you find it. Players who try to reach in two will face two gnarly bunkers positioned in a catch basin to the left of the green along with a strategic mound protecting the front-left. The green is small and undulating, and protected by water on the front and right, and to make things more challenging, it slopes towards the water. No. 2 will put every player to the test.
GPS View of Hole No. 4 from the 18Birdies App
A number of options exist off the tee on the risk-reward, par-4, 353-yard, No. 4. Players who attempt to reach in one will favor missing right of the narrow, 22-pace green as a massive, yawning greenside bunker protects the left side. Finding trouble here could quickly turn hopes of a birdie or eagle opportunity into a bogey or worse. Players who lay-up too close to this bunker will be left with a tricky pitch with little room to stop the ball on the green, particularly with left-side pin placements.
The uphill, 231-yard, par-3, 11th hole is the most daunting par-3 on the course, and features an enormous bunker laying several feet below the putting surface to the front-right of the green. Pin locations on this side will bring high scores into play, and deep fescue mounds surrounding the green can put par out of reach. The preferred shot is left, as that side has been contoured to allow shots to funnel down toward the hole. Players will be happy to finish with a par on No. 11 as last year it played as the fourth most difficult hole on the course.
On the par-5, 530-yard 18th hole, longer hitters who carry the right fairway bunker at about 320 yards out will give themselves a mid-iron chance at eagle. Shorter hitters can also reach in two by carrying two bunkers in the middle of the fairway, but then will be left with a longer approach into the green, likely needing a fairway wood. Players who lay up with their second shot will have to avoid a torturous pot bunker in the center of the fairway about 110 yards from the green. The primary defense on No. 18 however is the green itself and everything surrounding it. Approach shots that land short of the green will find a hazard running across the hole, while the right side of the green is protected by a deep and intimidating bunker. Missing to the back or left side is equally treacherous as the tightly mown run-off area sits five-to-seven feet below the putting surface. Expect to see plenty of birdies, bogeys, and heartache on this finishing hole.
Players To Watch
Dustin Johnson’s back injury prior to The Masters certainly derailed the momentum on his sensational start to the season, and for the first time in his career Johnson failed to record a top-10 finish at a major this year. However last week at the Northern Trust D.J. looked like his old swashbuckling self. Johnson was again blistering drives that every player on Tour would envy. He was firing at pins with sniper accuracy. He was even draining crucial putts again with the kind of consistency that helped him ascend to the ranking of No. 1 Player in the World. In short, Johnson looked like he’s figured it out, like he’s self-corrected, like he’s healthy again, and that should be a reason of concern for every player remaining in the playoffs. This might not be the historic season Johnson was hoping for when it began, but he looked untouchable down the stretch last week, and if that kind of play continues, D.J. will be the last man standing in Atlanta. Look for Johnson to finish top-3.
Jordan Spieth started the final round last week with a three-shot lead and looked like a lock to win the first leg of the playoffs before Johnson rallied down the stretch and stunned Spieth in a playoff. Granted it wasn’t the same kind of shock as watching Spieth blow a five-shot lead at The Masters in 2016, but at times this year Spieth’s performed a tightrope act between failure and success, and a few bad holes have cost him in what’s otherwise been an extraordinary season. Spieth checks off two of the crucial metrics at TPC Boston: he’s ranked second in SG: Approach-The-Green and first in Par-4 Scoring. However the driver has given him fits all season, and at times his putting has been inconsistent. Combine that with the fact that Spieth missed the cut here two years ago, and finished T-21 last year, and it just feels like TPC Boston isn’t a place where Spieth will contend. I don’t expect him to perform poorly, but I also don’t expect him to finish inside the top-15.
It might sound strange to call Justin Thomas’s four-win season a rollercoaster ride, but the highs and lows are undeniable. The PGA Championship titleholder has 10 top-10 finishes this season, however he’s also missed the cut in nearly 30-percent of his starts. Thomas has lived and died by the driver most of the year, and when he keeps it in play, the hugely talented Thomas doesn’t merely win, he writes history. When he’s careless off the tee however, fire and emotion become his enemy. The frontrunner to win Player of the Year is ranked ninth in SG: Approach-The-Green, and first in Par 4 Birdie or Better average which bodes well at TPC Boston. And when J.T. gets hot tee-to-green, few on Tour are better. He’s ranked second in Consecutive Greens In Regulation and Consecutive Holes Below Par. Expect Thomas to catch fire at some point this week and possibly even cruise to his fifth victory of the season.