The Northern Trust Preview, Picks & Analysis
IT’S not a bad life being a top PGA Tour golfer. Of course it takes years of hard work and dedication, and there is all the travelling, the suitcases, the lost luggage, the lost golf clubs, the hotels. But when you crack it, the rewards are enormous. The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings head for the Northern Trust at Liberty National in New York, the first of three playoff events (reduced from four).
And this year, the stakes are even higher. With the PGA Tour’s move to three Playoff events, only 70 players will advance, with 55 players going home. Additionally, players are competing for more tournament prize money than ever before –there is a $9.25m purse at the Northern Trust and a mind boggling bonus pool of $60m. The overall FedEx Cup champion will pick up, wait for it, $15m. I say again, the overall champion will collect an extra $15m. That’s on top of any prize money he will win.
Newly-crowned Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry, as well as top contenders Tommy Fleetwood and Tony Finau, have officially committed to play. Lowry’s stellar performance at The Open Championship included battling brutal rain and wind during the final round to win his first major championship by six shots and join Padraig Harrington as the second Open champion from the Republic of Ireland.
It counts as a PGA Tour victory and it is actually Lowry’s second. He won the 2015 World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Lowry set the 54-hole Open Championship record (197), and his 23 total birdies during the week was five more than any other player in the field. With the win, he moved to a career-high 18th in the FedExCup standings.
While this will be his first time competing in any FedExCup Playoff event, Lowry is no stranger to the area. Lowry and his wife, Wendy, were married in New York City in 2016.
Fleetwood will be making his second appearance at the Northern Trust (he finished T20 in 2018) and Finau will be making his fifth appearance (he was runner-up iast year). Thanks his tied fourth finish at the Open, Brooks Koepka claimed the No. 1 spot in the FedExCup standings for the first time in his career, taking over Matt Kuchar for the top spot, which Kuchar previously held for eight consecutive weeks.
It has been a rollercoaster of a season for Lowry, who missed the cut in four of his first six starts. He won in Abu Dhabi, missed the cut at The Masters, finished tied third at the RBC Heritage to move to No. 125 in the standings and then recorded two more top-10 finishes shortly after, including a tie for eighth at the US PGA Championship and tie for second at the Canadian Open.
Fleetwood’s runner-up finish at Royal Portrush was his second in 18 major starts (he was also second behind Koepka at last year’s US Open) and his fifth top-10 finish of the season. He has since added another at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational. He has not missed a cut all year. Fleetwood had only two bogeys on his scorecard through 54 holes at The Open, the fewest in the field, and was looking to become the first player from England since Nick Faldo in 1992 to win The Open. His second place finish moved him to 20th in the standings as he looks to improve upon a career-best 19th place finish in the FedExCup standings, in his second season as a PGA Tour member. His performance at the St Jude saw him rise to 19th.
But what he wants more than anything else is a victory on American soil. It is a measure of the progress he has made and the standards he sets for himself that he was bitterly disappointed not to have caught Lowry.
He began the season with a seventh place finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Back-to-back top-five finishes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship moved him into the top-50 in the standings, where he’s stayed ever since.
Finau remains something of an enigma. Incredibly, he still only has one PGA Tour victory to his name. His third-place finish in The Open was his best in 15 major appearances and his fourth top-10 of yet another incredibly consistent season. The 2016 Puerto Rico Open champion is still in search of his second PGA Tour victory and will be making his fifth consecutive birth at the FedExCup Playoffs. He is looking to improve upon a career-best sixth-place finish in the standings, which he accomplished in 2018, and which was good enough to secure him a berth in America’s Ryder Cup team.
In four previous appearances his best was his runner-up finish last year. He started his season by losing in a playoff to Xander Schauffele at the WGC-HSBC Champions. Since then, Finau has stayed inside the top-35 in the standings, with 10 top-25 and four top-10 finishes. He bounced back from three straight missed cuts—Memorial Tournament, U.S. Open, Travelers Championship—to finish T23 at the 3M Open and third at The Open.
The Northern Trust was won in 2011 and 2017 by Dustin Johnson, in 2012 by Nick Watney, in 2013 by Adam Scott, in 2014 by Hunter Mahan, in 2015 by Jason Day, in 2016 by Patrick Reed, and in 2018 by Bryson DeChambeau.
DeChambeau has had a sensational start to his professional career but his recent form is a worry. With such an idiosyncratic method, it should surprise nobody that he blows hot and cold. In his first six starts of the season he finished no worse than tied 15th, and won the Shriners. But the wheels came loose after The Masters, with three successive missed cuts. He was second at the 3M Championship after Matthew Wolff’s extraordinary finish but missed another cut at The Open, when he looked utterly bewildered by the challenge of links golf. Mind you, Watney and Mahan would happily swap places with their fellow American. When they won this tournament both men were riding high in the world rankings, but it has all gone horribly wrong since. It is a salutary lesson to us all.
Rory McIlroy. Determined to finish the year on a high
Tony Finau. Hugely impressive
Tommy Fleetwood. Desperate for PGA Tour win
Rory McIlroy. Most gifted natural talent on the planet
Tony Finau. Still trying to work out how to win
Tommy Fleetwood. Looking to move to the next level
Dustin Johnson. Could go low here. Very low
Justin Rose. Mr Consistency
Justin Thomas. Fit and in form again
Jordan Spieth. There are signs of recovery at last
Bryson DeChambeau. Will love returning as defending champion
Matt Kuchar. Having the year of his life
Brooks Koepka. World number one - without any argument
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