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PGA Tour FedEx Cup Playoffs Preview: The Northern Trust

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Course Insight: The Northern Trust 

The Northern Trust: Course Insight

Playoff beards are about to grow big, but it’s the biggest heart that usually wins it all. 125 players are ready to do battle as the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs gets underway this week at the Glen Oaks Club for The Northern Trust (formerly The Barclays). Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth have a bulls-eye on their back as the top-ranked players in the playoffs. Others like Harold Varner III, Sergio Garcia, and Adam Scott embrace their underdog distinctions and look to rise from the depths of ranking oblivion with a $10 million prize on the line. The top 100 players will advance to next week’s Dell Technologies Championship in Boston. Then the field gets whittled to 70 for the BMW Championship, and finally, the top 30 players square off in the Tour Championship in Atlanta until one man is left standing.

Glen Oaks is a 27-hole golf club, but for the playoffs, a new 18-hole routing was created that draws from three different nines. Advanced billing of the par-70, 7,350-yard composite track calls it “Augusta of the North,” and it’s easy to see why. Manicured green grass, flawless white sand, and nursery-quality mulch around the trees give it a very Augusta-like appearance. Fairways are wide and tightly mown, bunkers are sharp-edged and deep, and the greens are firm and fast. Shaved areas around the greens present a lot of challenges in the short game, and the slopes and contours of the putting surfaces will demand players’ respect, requiring them to hit certain quadrants for the best chance at scoring.

Noteworthy Holes

The par-5, 625-yard 3rd hole doesn’t give players any time to settle into their round and is the longest hole on the course. A downhill tee shot needs to steer clear of a large, deep bunker on the left side of the fairway, which narrows significantly in the landing area. On approach, players must be extremely precise to attack the heavily bunkered green and putting surface that’s severely sloped.

Tee shot placement is crucial on the par-4, 450-yard 8th hole. Off the tee, players must navigate between the daunting set of fairway bunkers to the left and some very thick rough to the right of the fairway. A blind approach adds an element of uncertainty in club selection into an uphill green that sits at an angle. Aggressive shots here can just as easily be punished as they can be rewarded with steep bunkers protecting both sides of the putting surface that will make any up-and-down very challenging.

No. 11 is a riveting 315-yard, risk-reward par 4 that can be drivable depending on wind direction. The 11th can be played in many different ways to yield birdie opportunities, but any look at eagle will require players to thread their tee shot between a pond running down the entire left side of the green and a water hazard protecting the right. A very shallow green that slopes severely from back to front can make any approach shot extremely demanding, and if players hit their approach through the green the deep back bunker is no bargain either.

At 235-yard long, the par-3 17th is the longest par-3 on the course and also the most difficult. The tee shot plays downhill to an undulating green that’s guarded by a large pond on the left and a pair of menacing bunkers on both sides. Contoured rollout from the putting surface will punish shots that miss even slightly, making par a very good score here.

Players To Watch

Defending FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy put all questions to rest last week about whether he’d return to defend his crown after initially revealing he never fully healed from the rib injury he suffered to start the season. I think McIlroy will be significantly better than the last time we saw him, and his prodigious distance off the tee will be a huge advantage this week. However don’t expect to see the Rory we’ve come to expect over the last few years, especially with his ongoing putting woes on a course that’s going to give even the best putters fits. Rory will finish outside the top-20.

Harold Varner III will be the first player to tell you a long shot is better than no shot, and thanks to a splendid all-around performance last week at the Wyndham Championship, Varner positioned himself inside the top-125. But in order to be a Cinderella you can’t lose in the first round, and unfortunately we’ve likely seen the last of Varner this season. Varner’s statistically one of the worst putters in the field this week, and no matter how well he plays tee-to-green, that’s going to cost him at Glen Oaks. HVIII is a talented kid with a bright future, but expect a quick exit from the playoffs and a finish outside the top-30.

Winner Prediction

In Wesley Bryan’s five top-10 finishes this season and victory at the RBC Heritage he kept his tee shots in the fairway and as a result hit a boatload of greens. However, in Bryan’s nine missed cuts he’s been all over the place with driver and at times looked downright uncomfortable with an iron in his hands. The glue that can keep that all together this week, however, is Bryan’s touch around the greens. This year Bryan’s ranked 5th in Total Putting and that’s going to be crucial this week on Glen Oaks ticklish greens. If Bryan can keep the big stick under control, his ranking of 14th on Tour in SG: Approach-The-Green will give him a lot of good looks at birdie, and his putting will seal the deal. Look for Bryan to hold off Daniel Berger on Sunday for the win and entrench his spot in the top-30 for a chance to win it all next month in Atlanta.

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