The Northern Trust Preview, Picks & Analysis
STATISTICS only tell part of any story. Patrick Reed, who this week defends his Northern Trust title, lies in 129th place in driving distance, 181st in accuracy and 177th in greens hit in regulation. From those figures you would assume he has had a miserable season. Right? Wrong?
He won the WGC-Mexico Championship, finished second at the Tournament of Champions, helped the USA to win the Presidents Cup and was responsible for some unsavoury headlines after finishing third at the Hero Challenge, where he clearly grounded his club in a bunker and improved his lie. Controversy is never far away when Reed is on the scene but here’s the thing - most of his peers have nothing but admiration for him. And Brooks Koepka, who had a well publicised spat with him after the 2018 Ryder Cup, has said there is nobody he would rather have by his side in a team environment.
He is one of the most feisty competitors on the PGA Tour and a man who feeds off galleries, and has admitted that he has struggled to find motivation during these strange times when the world’s best golfers are playing without spectators. Reed goes into the Northern Trust with an outside chance of winning the FedEx Cup, but knows that he is going to have to make a successful defence of his title if he is to achieve that goal.
The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings will make up the field in Boston, with the top 70 after this tournament heading to the BMW Championship before the season-ending Tour Championship and its elite field of 30 competing for mega-bucks at East Lake - except that it will not be the end of the season, of course, with the US Open and The Masters still to come. In other words, this is a great time of year to be in the form of your life - step forward Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson and Brendon Todd.
(Patrick Reed - Defending Champion)
Much was made of Koepka’s apparent return to form but the four-time major champion is languishing in 97th place. He went into the final round of the US PGA Championship with a great chance of winning the event for the third successive time but ended the day fully 10 shots behind the winner, Morikawa. If Koepka harbours any realistic chance of landing the FedEx Cup he simply must win in Boston - and he will probably also need to land the BMW and the Tour Championship.
And he is not the only star name with it all to do simply to make it into the field for the BMW. Justin Rose is 109th in the FedEx Cup, Jordan Spieth 100th, Tommy Fleetwood 89th and Rickie Fowler 88th. Most of these players will blame their positions on the truncated season, but it has been the same for everybody. Thomas, Morikawa, Simpson and DeChambeau have all done very nicely, thank you very much. Rose, Spieth and Fowler simply haven’t played well enough. Yes, they have shown glimpses of their best but they have all struggled to string four good rounds together.
It is an entirely different state of affairs for Fleetwood, who only returned to PGA Tour action at the 3M Championship. He struggled to shake off the ring rust and admitted that although he had played a lot of golf with his friends in and around Southport, trying to put 18 holes together in a tournament with a scorecard in your hand is an entirely different kettle of fish. The Englishman played some beautiful golf at Harding Park but was unable to keep it going for four rounds.
Fowler has been working on swing changes but still looks like a man who is not entirely sure where the ball is going to end up. He is a brilliant putter, and that part of his game remains as strong as ever, but you can’t win tournaments when you keep missing fairways. And that has been Fowler’s big problem.
(Jordan Spieth in Search of Magic)
The same applies to Spieth, who has now gone more than three years without a win. It is staggering to learn that his last triumph came at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. Anybody who witnessed that will know that even back then he constantly battled with his driver. Little has changed in the interim. He has found some extra distance but he misses almost as many fairways as he hits and the real issue is that when he misses the short and prepared, he does so by huge distances and ends up on parts of the course that have never previously been explored by anybody. It has all put huge additional pressure on his magical short game and, unsurprisingly, that part of his game has also begun to suffer.
And what of Justin Rose? He recently turned 40 and admitted that he has been playing poorly for more than a year. He is sliding down the world rankings at at alarming rate but you can be sure of one thing - he is working his socks off to put things right. And at some point he will do so.
It was good to see Paul Casey returning to something like his very best form during the US PGA Championship, a tournament he had every chance of winning until Collin Morikawa’s heroics at the 16th hole in the final round. He will take many positives from finishing joint runner-up in the season’s first major and will be looking to continue that form and finish the year on a high. Casey remains a brilliant ball striker with very few weaknesses. When he drives the ball well he can win anywhere.
Justin Thomas. Looking to finish the regular season on top of the pile
Dustin Johnson. A serial winner
Paul Casey. Full of confidence after Harding Park
Justin Thomas. Has no weaknesses
Dustin Johnson. Came so close to finally landing that elusive second major
Bryson DeChambeau. This course should suit his unique game
Paul Casey. Brilliant ball striker
Justin Rose. Ready to produce a BIG week
Brooks Koepka. Slowly but surely getting back to his very best
Collin Morikawa. In sensational form
Webb Simpson. In the form of his life
Daniel Berger. Has been a revelation since the restart
Brendon Todd. Has moved to a different level this season
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