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FEDEXCUP PLAYOFFS TAKE FLIGHT

By Brady Kannon  () 

It is easy now to clearly see the beautiful scheduling coordination with golf and football.

The PGA Tour ended its regular season last week and will now kick off its three-week postseason tournament series, the FedExCup Playoffs, that culminates on Aug. 25 with the crowning of this year’s FedExCup champion. The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J., begins golf’s postseason Thursday, the same day that the NFL will begin its frst full week of preseason games. When football season concludes with the anointing of its Super Bowl champion on Feb. 2, the 2020 golf season will be just getting started again.

The FedExCup playoff series opened in 2007 and was a four-event show until being trimmed this year to three tournaments. At the end of play last Sunday at the Wyndham Championship, the top 125 players in FedExCup points standings qualifed for round one of the playoffs. The top 70 will advance into round two next week for the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club in Chicago. The fnal leg, The Tour Championship, closes the door on the season at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta with a feld of the fnal top 30 players in the standings competing for the $10 million grand prize.

Liberty National Golf Club, designed by Robert Cubb and Tom Kite, is situated on the shores of New York Harbor with a stunning view of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty just a thousand yards away. The course is almost 7,400 yards in length and plays to a par 71. It hosted this tournament in 2009 and 2013 and was home to the Presidents Cup in 2017. The entire facility cost an estimated $250 million to build and is equipped with a spa, restaurant, helicopter port, yacht services and millions of cubic feet of dirt that was brought in to create the golf course.

It is diffcult to handicap this week because there are only two prior standard tournaments at the site to evaluate. In addition, because the course was not received well by the pros in 2009, there have been a number of changes, including the widening of fairways and massive overhauls to the greens. While this week marks the frst time on this course for over half of the feld, it is to some extent the frst time for everyone.

Based on the 2013 tournament, ball-striking will far outweigh putting. As for most weeks on the tour, current form is a factor for determining Northern Trust winners. The champion usually is someone who has been playing well.

Full Tournament Head to Head Match Up

Marc Leishman (-120) over Rory Sabbatini

Sabbatini has been a hot player, with two top-10 fnishes in his last four starts, but those came in second-tier events with watered-down felds. Leishman counters with two top-fve fnishes in the last two months against highly competitive felds at The Memorial and at the WGC FedEx St. Jude. Both enter in good form, but Leishman is the better ball striker, with a No. 18 ranking in Strokes Gained. Leishman also has the advantage of playing here in 2017 for the international side in the Presidents Cup. I’ll take the better player as a small favorite.

To WIN The Northern Trust

Marc Leishman (60/1)

Let’s go back to the well here again with the 22ndranked player in the world. Leishman is a former winner in the FedExCup Playoff series, having taken the BMW Championship two years ago while going wire-to-wire against the top competition in the sport. It was just a month later that he competed in the Presidents Cup at this course. Leishman is 29th on the tour in Scrambling and 38th in Strokes Gained: Putting. I like the way he can play and is playing now. I feel 60-1 is too high of a number.

Patrick Cantlay (20/1), Webb Simpson (25/1), Tommy Fleetwood (25/1)

All are tremendous ball strikers who are in very good form. Simpson, in fact, comes in off of two straight second-place fnishes.

If putting is of less importance this week and ball striking is the key, is there any better player to ft that mold than Fleetwood? He fnished runner-up to Shane Lowry at the British Open and then came right back, ripe for a letdown, with a fourth-place fnish at the WGC FedEx St. Jude in Memphis. He hasn’t missed a cut all season and ranks No. 1 in Scrambling.

No. 3 in Scrambling is Cantlay. He’s also third in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and 11th in Approach the Green. If that’s not enough, he’s also 27th in Strokes Gained: Putting. I like the 25-1 on Webb and Tommy better than 20-1 on Patrick, but this guy’s game is too good to not be in the conversation this week.

There’s not much more to say about Simpson other than he may be the hottest golfer in the game not named Brooks Koepka. Besides his seconds two weeks in a row, he was second two months ago in Canada. He ranks second in Scrambling. At ninth in the FedExCup standings, Simpson might not be just a good bet to win this week but maybe to win the whole darned thing.

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