Tiger Woods returns to action for the first time since his thrilling PGA Championship performance a few weeks ago as he headlines the first FedEx Cup Playoff event, The Northern Trust, at Ridgewood Country Club. Some stars (like Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler) won’t be attending for various reasons, but this field is loaded with most of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup rankings.
Let’s take a look at this week’s contest.
What: The Northern Trust | When: Aug. 23-26
Where: Ridgewood Country Club — Paramus, NJ
Ranking the field (odds)
Field strength — A: It’s really strong, but it’s probably a good thing that this time next year the Tour Championship will be taking place as attention is just not as strong on golf at this point in the year.
Three stories to watch
1. What’s up with Spieth? The former FedEx Cup champ and three-time major winner goes into the playoffs outside the top 40. It’s weird to say that someone with three top 10s at majors is “struggling,” but that’s sort of what it feels like with him (given what we’ve come to expect). The primary issue remains the putter, where he’s ranked No. 140, even though that part of his game has been improving slightly throughout the year. Spieth will figure it out at some point because he’s generationally great, but I’m not sure if that will be this week, next week or in 2019.
Jordan Spieth is 43rd in the #FedExCup standings and according to our model only has a 47% chance of advancing to East Lake.
Full playoff probabilities: https://t.co/UwMurR7ILF
— data golf (@DataGolf) August 21, 2018
2. Tiger fatigue: I’m not talking about our perception of him, but rather his ability to close out a season in which he’ll end up playing close to 20 (!) events in the same calendar year. Woods said on Tuesday that it’s certainly an issue but one he’s monitoring.
“I’m playing the first three right now and that should get me into Atlanta and on the back side is obviously The Ryder Cup,” Woods said. “Yeah, that is a lot of golf. As I was explaining to you guys back in Akron, it’s about pacing myself and making sure I don’t practice too much, don’t overdo it, and make sure my training schedule goes well. That’s one of the hard things this year is trying to find the right balance, and as the summer has gone on, I’ve gotten better and felt better, and this is a pretty important stretch.
“So yeah, the discipline has changed,” he added. “It’s certainly become more cautious. I can’t go out there and start sprinting with the kids at home. I’ve got to take it easy, and so that part, my mind still wants to do things like that but just being more disciplined.”
3. First one: How important is it to win the first playoff event? Not very if your goal is to win the FedEx Cup. Only one of 11 Northern Trust champs have gone on to win the FedEx Cup. Compare that with the Dell Technologies Championship (4), BMW Championship (3) and Tour Championship (8), and you get an even that feels more like an extension of the regular season than a full-fledged part of the playoffs.
- 2017: Dustin Johnson
- 2016: Patrick Reed
- 2015: Jason Day
- 2014: Hunter Mahan
- 2013: Adam Scott
Northern Trust picks
Winner: I think he’s on a Billy Horschel-like run (from 2014 when he won two playoff events as well as the FedEx Cup). I’m not sure Snedeker is going to repeat that, but I don’t think we’ve heard the last from him after his 59 and Wyndham win.
Top 10: Eight top 10s in 19 events thus far. Only Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose have better percentages. Has all the tools (obviously), and it’s easy to see him going back-to-back for $10 million.
Sleeper: How is Zach Johnson 80-1? I know he hasn’t won since the 2015 Open and only has three wins since 2009 overall, but his short game will carry the day, and it’s not a course that players will necessarily overpower. I like him a lot at that number.