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Johnson in form as FedEx Cup playoffs open

By Wes Reynolds  () 

The Northern Trust
 
Jim Herman was ranked 192nd in the FedEx Cup standings going into last week’s Wyndham Championship. He knew he basically had to win to get in, and that’s what he did. Herman, who was listed at odds as high as 1250/1 at Circa Sports but was market consensus between 500/1 and 750/1, shot 61-63 on the weekend to win the Wyndham. His 124 tied the lowest score over the final 36 holes for a PGA Tour winner, matching Stuart Appleby at the 2010 Greenbrier Classic with 65-59. 
Herman achieved his third PGA Tour victory, all after turning 38. He doesn’t get many opportunities, but when he does, he cashes in. Over the last two seasons, Herman has only two top-25 finishes on tour, and both came in victories at the 2019 Barbasol and now the Wyndham. Those victories go along with 27 missed cuts in that span. Now the ultimate underdog steps up in class and takes on the world’s best in the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Northern Trust. 
This tournament will rotate between New York/New Jersey and Boston. This year the event will be at TPC Boston. It’s no surprise that the last two winners on this course for the former Dell Technologies/Deutsche Bank Championship, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas, are favored at 12/1. DeChambeau also won the Northern Trust in 2018. Rory McIlroy (14/1) won on this course in 2012 and ’16 and shares the same price as world No. 1 Jon Rahm, who finished fourth here in 2017. Xander Schauffele (18/1) follows in the market, and reigning PGA champion Collin Morikawa and Dustin Johnson, a two-time winner of the Northern Trust, are at 20/1. Patrick Reed (30/1) is the defending champion and has won the Northern Trust two of the last four years. 
 
The Event
The Northern Trust marks the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The top 125 players on the FedEx Cup points list will play. Only the top 70 in point standings move on to next week’s BMW. Then the top 30 will play at the Tour Championship to close out the playoffs. The winners of the first two FedEx Cup events receive 2,000 points instead of the usual 500 for winning a regular-season event. This week will mark the first time this event will be played outside the New York/New Jersey area. Before Chicago-based financial services company Northern Trust took over sponsorship in 2017, the tournament was known as the Barclays from 2005-16. In fact, the event’s history dates to 1967 for the Westchester Classic at Westchester Country Club on Long Island. 
 
The Course
TPC Boston is in Norton, Mass., about 25 miles south of Boston. It hosted the Dell Technologies/Deutsche Bank Championships from 2003-18. The track was designed by Arnold Palmer and built in 2002 before a redesign in 2007 by Gil Hanse and Brad Faxon. It plays as a par-71 of 7,342 yards. TPC Boston is a tree-lined parklands course that was toughened with the Hanse redesign. The par-4s can be attacked and are relatively easy, but the par-5s are a bit tougher. Long-iron play will be important. The layout has pretty wide Bentgrass fairways with some thick, 4-inch Bentgrass/Fescue rough with average-size and fast (12 Stimpmeter) Bentgrass greens. The average winning score over the last decade on this track is about 18 under par. SG: OTT, SG: APP, Par 5 Scoring, SG: T2G, SG: Putting are usually the key stats that indicate success here.
 
While this course is an original Palmer design, the Hanse correlations are probably stronger. Here are the Hanse renovations that have been recently played on the PGA Tour:
— Trump National Doral — 2014-16 WGC Cadillac Championship (Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott)
— Ridgewood CC — The Barclays/Northern Trust 2010, ’14 and ’18 (Matt Kuchar, Hunter Bryson DeChambeau)
— Plainfield CC — The Barclays – 2011 and ’15 (Jason Day, Dustin Johnson)
Northern Trust Recent History
2019: Patrick Reed (-16/268); Liberty National, 55/1
2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-18/266); Ridgewood, 100/1
2017: Dustin Johnson (-13/267); Glen Oaks, 14/1*
2016: Patrick Reed (-9/275); Bethpage Black, 50/1
2015: Jason Day (-19/261); Plainfield, 10/1
2014: Hunter Mahan (-14/270); Ridgewood, 50/1
2013: Adam Scott (-11/273); Liberty National, 16/1
2012: Nick Watney (-10/274); Bethpage Black, 70/1
2011: Dustin Johnson (-19/194); Plainfield, 35/1**
2010: Matt Kuchar (-12/272); Ridgewood, 40/1***
 
 * - playoff win over Jordan Spieth
 ** - event shortened to 54 holes
 *** - playoff win over Martin Laird
 
TPC Boston Recent History
2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-16/268)
2017: Justin Thomas (-17/267)
2016: Rory McIlroy (-15/269)
2015: Rickie Fowler (-15/269)
2014: Chris Kirk (-15/269)
2013: Henrik Stenson (-22/262)
2012: Rory McIlroy (-20/264)
2011: Webb Simpson (-15/269)*
2010: Charley Hoffman (-22/262)
2009: Steve Stricker (-17/267)
* - playoff win over Chez Reavie
 
As you can see, these events are usually won by class players. 
 
Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green
1. Justin Thomas (1) 1.905
2. Hideki Matsuyama (2) 1.584
3. Collin Morikawa (3) 1.524
4. Rory McIlroy (4) 1.485
5. Xander Schauffele (5) 1.393
6. Jon Rahm (7) 1.312
7. Bryson DeChambeau (8) 1.244
8. Patrick Cantlay (9) 1.234
9. Tony Finau (10) 1.223
10. Harold Varner III (11) 1.177
11. Daniel Berger (12) 1.151
12. Webb Simpson (13) 1.086
13. Tyrrell Hatton (14) 1.075
14. Jason Day (15) 1.074
15. Russell Henley (16) 1.072
16. Paul Casey (17) 1.034
The last three TPC Boston winners have averaged third for the week in the category. 
 
Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee
1. Bryson DeChambeau (1) 1.175
2. Cameron Champ (2) 1.060
3. Rory McIlroy (4) 0.807
4. Jon Rahm (5) 0.744
5. Xander Schauffele (T6) 0.721
6. Bubba Watson (8) 0.660
7. Scottie Scheffler (9) 0.643
8. Jason Kokrak (10) 0.640
9. Corey Conners (T11) 0.588
10. Matthew Wolff (T11) 0.588
11. Paul Casey (13) 0.579
12. Dustin Johnson (15) 0.559
13. Viktor Hovland (16) 0.514
The last three TPC Boston winners have averaged 13th for the week in the category. 
 
Strokes Gained: Approach
1. Justin Thomas (1) 1.125
2. Collin Morikawa (2) 1.044
3. Russell Henley (3) 0.874
4. Tyrrell Hatton (4) 0.830
5. Hideki Matsuyama (5) 0.769
6. Paul Casey (6) 0.762
7. Patrick Cantlay (7) 0.746
8. Webb Simpson (8) 0.713
9. Marc Leishman (9) 0.692
10. Viktor Hovland (10) 0.687
11. Joaquin Niemann (11) 0.662
12. Gary Woodland (12) 0.632
13. Doc Redman (13) 0.611
The last three TPC Boston winners have averaged ninth for the week in the category. 
 
Strokes Gained: Putting
1. Denny McCarthy (1) 1.086
2. Matthew Fitzpatrick (2) 0.916
3. Kevin Na (3) 0.857
4. Bryson DeChambeau (5) 0.838
5. Matt Kuchar (6) 0.802
6. Patrick Reed (9) 0.687
7. Patrick Rodgers (10) 0.666
8. Billy Horschel (11) 0.633
9. Webb Simpson (12) 0.617
10. Ian Poulter (13) 0.592
11. Daniel Berger (T14) 0.574
12. J.T. Poston (T14) 0.574
13. Harris English (16) 0.560
14. Mackenzie Hughes (17) 0.557
The last three TPC Boston winners have averaged seventh for the week in the category. 
 
Par 5 Scoring Average
1. Justin Thomas (1) 4.46
2. Rory McIlroy (T2) 4.47
3. Patrick Cantlay (T2) 4.47
4. Xander Schauffele (T2) 4.47
5. Jon Rahm (T5) 4.49
6. Collin Morikawa (T5) 4.49
7. Daniel Berger (T7) 4.50
8. Kevin Streelman (T7) 4.50
9. Hideki Matsuyama (T7) 4.50
10. Gary Woodland (T7) 4.50
11. Jason Day (T11) 4.51
12. Matt Jones (T11) 4.51
13. Ryan Palmer (T11) 4.51
14. Justin Rose (14) 4.52
Selections
 
Dustin Johnson 20/1
Johnson probably played well enough to win the PGA Championship but settled for another runner-up finish when Collin Morikawa shot 129 (-11) over the final two rounds. Johnson’s putter was on point as he tied for fifth for Strokes Gained: Putting, and he gets the preferred Bentgrass surface this week. If he can just improve a little on the tee-to-green game, he can surely do well here.
He looks like the guy near the top of the board who is getting ignored, considering Thomas and DeChambeau are the last two victors on this course, McIlroy has won twice here and Rahm is the No. 1 player in the world. Johnson is a two-time winner of the Northern Trust, including a 2011 win at Plainfield on another Hanse redesign. He also has three finishes of eighth or better in the last six stops here. 
 
Jason Day 32/1
Day looks like he’s getting close to being back to his best form since 2017, when he was a top- 5 to top-10 player in the world. He has posted four straight finishes of seventh or better, including top-5s at the Memorial and the PGA Championship. 
In Day’s last two events, he has been in the top seven for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and led the field at the PGA for Strokes Gained: Approach while finishing second for Greens In Regulation. Another buy sign for Day, aside from the recent form, is that he’s back in contention and really hasn’t putted the ball well. He tied for 39th for Strokes Gained: Putting at the FedEx St. Jude in Memphis and then was 26th for SGP at the PGA. The short game is always Day’s strength, and when it hits, which could be this week, he’ll be firing on all cylinders. 
Day also fits that Hanse course-correlation angle, having won this event in 2015 at Plainfield. He also has three finishes of seventh or better at TPC Boston, including a second in 2010 and third in 2011. Day also finished second in 2014 and fifth in 2010 at Ridgewood, another Hanse redesign. He also usually fires very well at the first FedEx Cup playoff event with other finishes of fourth in 2016 and sixth in 2017 at the Northern Trust. 
 
Tony Finau 40/1
As soon as Jim Herman won his third PGA Tour event, I and many others came with our Finau jokes on social media. Herman has three PGA Tour wins and Finau still only one, which is astonishing. Then I thought: Now that I’ve joked about him, he’ll break through and shut us all up. Finau does have a fourth on this course in 2018 and was the runner-up at Ridgewood to DeChambeau the week before that.
 
Finau tied for fourth two weeks ago at the PGA but rated second in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach and third for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green. If these marks can carry over to this week, he should be right there in contention Sunday. The question remains whether he can kick in the door.
 
Adam Scott 50/1
This is a bit of a speculative play since Scott has played only the PGA Championship since the restart in June. However, this is some disrespect from the betting market for a player who won on this course in 2003 and has numerous top-5 and top-10 finishes here. 
 
The rust factor could perhaps be overrated when it pertains to Scott. He was already in this spot this year. Last December he won the Australian PGA Championship and then didn’t play for more than two months. Next he returned to a place he’d had success at, Riviera (2005 winner, ’06 and ’16 runner-up), and went on to win the 2020 Genesis Invitational. Only two-time winner McIlroy averages more strokes gained per round at TPC Boston than Scott.
 
Abraham Ancer 60/1
Ancer was the 54-hole leader at TPC Boston two years ago before slipping to seventh place. 
 
Ancer also finished second at the Northern Trust last year at Liberty National to Patrick Reed. That was the first of three runner-up finishes last year for Ancer. He’s No. 25 in the world and is still searching for that first PGA Tour win. He has shown he has the all-around game to compete with the top players. 
 
Matthew Fitzpatrick 60/1
Fitzpatrick was one of the trendy picks going into the PGA Championship, but the talented Englishman missed the cut. His odds had shortened to the high 30s and low 40s at some shops, and now he drifts back to the 60s after one event. This is a good spot to buy on the drift. 
 
In his T-6th finish in Memphis for the FedEx St. Jude, Fitzpatrick gained 10 strokes on the greens and finished 9 under par. Even one of the best putters in the game (second in Strokes Gained: Putting) had to regress a little from that. He’s likely a bit under the radar off the missed cut at Harding Park but does come off two top-6 finishes before that, including a third at the Memorial against one of the stronger fields of the season. He certainly has the look of a player who will win sooner rather than later. 
 
Wales Open
 
Sam Horsfield’s red-hot putter last weekend at the Celtic Classic led him to his second European Tour victory in a three-week span as he cashed for bettors at 25/1. For both victories by Horsfield, Belgian Thomas Detry has finished second and has now been the runner-up three times in the last seven months as he searches for his maiden European Tour win. This column tabbed Connor Syme at 80/1, and he was the 54-hole leader but fell short for a share of third. 
The European Tour stays in Wales for back-to-back weeks and in fact stays on the same course at Celtic Manor for the ISPS Handa Wales Open. Horsfield and Belgian Thomas Pieters, who returned from a break for the birth of his child and tied for third last week, sit atop the market at 12/1. Haotong Li (16/1) returns to the European Tour after being in Saturday’s final pairing at the PGA Championship. Robert MacIntyre (18/1) made the cut at the PGA and is making his first start in Europe since the restart. Andrew “Beef” Johnston (20/1) also tied for third with Pieters and Syme (40/1 this week) to post his best finish in nearly three years. 
 
The Event
The ISPS Handa Wales Open returns to the European Tour for the first time since 2014 as part of the current UK swing on the European Tour. Japanese nonprofit ISPS Handa, whose stated mission is to promote welfare through sports, returns as the event sponsor. It is being held on the Twenty Ten Course at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales. Celtic Manor hosted the 2010 Ryder Cup and the 2014 NATO summit. The Twenty Ten Course also hosted the Wales Open from 2008-14. This event is also the cutoff for players to accumulate points for the UK swing as the top 10 point-getters will be afforded spots in next month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot due to U.S. Open qualifying being canceled this year.
 
The Course
The Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor was designed in 2007 by Ross McMurray along with a conversion of Wentwood Hills, designed by Robert Trent Jones, into this track. It is a 7,493-yard par-71 that encourages bombs off the tee, but you ought not go wayward as water is in play on nine holes and there are a lot of risk-reward holes and forced carries. The course has a different makeup than most par-71s in that there are four par-5s and five par-3s. The par-3s are actually the toughest holes on the course. Length off the tee certainly helps, but it’s not a requirement. You need the proper combination of distance and accuracy (Total Driving) to go along with GIR and Scrambling. The field is of similar quality to last week, and the course looks to be playing the same save for slightly higher rough and perhaps some potential bad weather. 
 
Wales Open Recent History
This event has no recent history since it is a debut and likely a one-off event. However, the Wales Open was played here from 2008-14. The 2008 event is an outlier since the course was very much toughened afterward in preparation for the 2010 Ryder Cup. 
2014: Joost Luiten (-14/270), 14/1
2013: Grégory Bourdy (-8/276), 40/1
2012: Thongchai Jaidee (-6/278), 125/1
2011: Alex Noren (-9/275), 66/1
2010: Graeme McDowell (-15/269), 22/1
2009: Jeppe Huldahl (-9/275)
2008: Scott Strange (-22/262)
 
Celtic Classic Stats, Trends and Angles
 
For the seven Wales Opens at Celtic Manor, the winner averaged a field ranking of ninth for Greens In Regulation, and Horsfield ranked 12th last week:
1. Wil Besseling (1) 78.21%
2. Connor Syme (3) 75.00%
3. Jordan Smith (4) 75.00%
4. Adrien Saddier (5) 74.51%
5. Ross Fisher (6) 74.34%
6. Thomas Pieters (9) 73.72%
7. Lorenzo Gagli (11) 73.69%
8. Brandon Stone (12) 73.68%
9. Cormac Sharvin (14) 73.37%
10. Gavin Green (15) 73.15%
11. Ashley Chesters (16) 73.13%
In five of the seven Wales Opens, the eventual winner ranked sixth or better in Scrambling and Horsfield ranked 11th last week:
1. Richie Ramsay (3) 65.75%
2. Aaron Cockerill (5) 64.12%
3. Chris Paisley (6) 63.81%
4. Sam Horsfield (9) 62.12%
5. Adrian Otaegui (10) 62.09%
6. Siwhan Kim (11) 61.81%
7. Jason Scrivener (12) 61.80%
8. Louis De Jager (13) 61.71%
9. Ashley Chesters (14) 61.45%
10. Gavin Green (15) 61.38%
11. Renato Paratore (17) 61.14%
Selections
Gavin Green 25/1
We’re going to play the same angle we used with success this summer with Jon Rahm. If you recall, Rahm didn’t have much going at the Workday Charity Open before he shot an 8-under 64 Sunday to tie for 27th. The next week he won on the very same course at Muirfield Village for the Memorial Tournament. 
Last week Green was just grinding along in his second start and then shot 63, which bettered the field by two strokes, to tie for 11th. This week Green plays the same course and fits the profile statistically, ranking top 10 in this week’s field for GIR and Scrambling.
Connor Syme 40/1
Ordinarily I wouldn’t come back with a player at half the price he was the previous week because players usually have a hangover effect after a near-miss. 
Syme was the 54-hole leader last week and was in the final group having to watch eventual winner Horsfield make long putt after long putt. Syme hit 79.2% of his greens and ranked fourth in the field for Scrambling. He also tied for the low round of the tournament with a 63 to get the lead going into Sunday. 
Sean Crocker 40/1
Crocker has been backed a lot in these columns. He slipped to a T-22nd finish after a 2-over round Saturday took him out of contention. He has been in progressively good form. 
He has seen Horsfield win two of the last three weeks and can perhaps take some inspiration or motivation from that, considering that Crocker and Horsfield were once co-medalists at the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur. 
Sami Valimaki 60/1
The 22-year-old tied for sixth last weekend at the Celtic Classic and shot 65-66 for the final 36 holes, which was the best in the field and could carry over into this week. 
 
It has been a quick rise for the Finn. He won three times last year on the Pro Golf Tour in Europe and earned a battlefield promotion to the Challenge Tour but ended up bypassing that and finishing eighth at the European Tour qualifying school. He has taken advantage of his European Tour rookie season by winning the Oman Open.
 
Max Kieffer 100/1
Kieffer tied for 14th last week at Celtic Manor and led the field with a 13-under mark on the par-5s. He was 1 over for his last four holes to cost him a top-10 finish, but that leaves a bigger price for a capable player. 
 
Ashley Chesters 100/1
Chesters is not a big hitter, but he’s deadly accurate off the tee (leads the tour in Driving Accuracy) and is an excellent ball striker and scrambler.
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