The Northern Trust Preview, Picks & Analysis
UNBELIEVABLY, the FedEx Cup Playoffs begin this week, with Dustin Johnson back to defend the Northern Trust title he won by an incredible 11 shots last year.
Johnson played the final two holes in near darkness after a late storm delay and finished with a birdie for an eight-under 63 and an 11-shot victory over Harris English.
It was the 22nd victory of his PGA Tour career, and he never made it look easier. Johnson won his fifth FedExCup Playoffs event - tied with Rory McIlroy for most - and took the lead in the FedExCup standings as well as returning to No. 1 in the world. He finished at 30-under 254.
He began the final round with a five-shot lead over English and gave an early indication of his intent with an eagle at the par-five second. Two holes later he struck a three wood to the front of the fourth and two-putted for a routine birdie.
He reached the turn in 30, stretching his lead to seven. On the 500-yard 12th hole, he hit a fade with a 6-iron to three feet for anther birdie.
The only question was whether he could set two PGA Tour scoring records - 31-under par by Ernie Els at Kapalua in 2003, and the 253 by Justin Thomas at the Sony Open in 2017.
But after that birdie on the 12th put him at 29 under, Johnson had to settle for four straight pars. He is only the third player to finish 30 under, joining Els and Jordan Spieth, also at Kapalua.
In the second round he had been 11 under par after 11 holes but then made seven straight pars for a 60.
This closing stretch was different. Johnson cares more about trophies than records, and getting his round finished was all that mattered.
English did his best to keep up, three times matching birdies with Johnson. He finished with a bogey that didn't matter, shot 69 and moved to sixth in the FedExCup. English started the year without a full card. This was the week that filled him with confidence and he would go on to win twice this season.
But Johnson was in a class of his own. He didn’t miss a green in the final round.
Kevin Kisner, who grew up playing junior golf with Johnson in South Carolina, said: "He can absolutely dismantle a golf course when he's on. I’ve been watching it for 25 years. I'm pretty accustomed to it. When he's on, I just step to the side and try to add to my bank account."
This is a big week. The top 70 after the Northern Trust advance to the BMW Championship. Last year Louis Oosthuizen, at 99 in the standings, was in the 18th fairway, easily in range of the green on the par-5 closing hole. He managed a two-putt birdie in the dark to lock up the 70th spot.
Robby Shelton closed with a 63, enough for him to be among six players who moved into the top 70. The others were Oosthuizen, Harry Higgs, Alex Noren, Russell Henley and Jason Kokrak. Five of the six players knocked out missed the cut, including Phil Mickelson.
This time last year Johnson was well-nigh unbeatable but 2021 has not been his best.
It has been an entirely different story for major winners Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama, all of whom will be looking to mount serious challenges for the FedEx Cup and its massive bonus pool.
The real surprise package this season has been Jordan Spieth. This time 12 months ago the American could barely hit a barn door. Every part of his game was in tatters. What a difference a year makes. He finds himself in second place in the standings behind Morikawa after a year in which he has enjoyed one victory and nine top-10 finishes. Spieth missed four of his first seven cuts but since then has finished tied third at The Masters, tied 30th at the PGA, 19th at the US Open and second at The Open Championship. He won the Texas Open and was also runner-up at the Charles Schwab Challenge. He still misses more fairways than most but has rediscovered his magical putting touch.
The most frustrated golfer in the field will surely be Louis Oosthuizen, who finished second at the PGA and US Open and was third at Royal St George’s. In all there have been four runner-up finishes. It is hard to believe that Oosthuizen’s only PGA Tour success is the 2010 Open Championship. Nobody has played more consistently in 2021 with the possible exception of Rahm, who has enjoyed 12 top-10 finishes and looks like winning every time he tees it up.
And there have also been some encouraging signs from Rory McIlroy, who narrowly missed out on a bronze medal at the Olympic Games and finished in a tie for 12th at the WGC-St Jude despite an opening round of 72.
The tournament was won in 2015 by Jason Day, in 2016 and in 2019 by Patrick Reed, in 2017 and in 2020 by Dustin Johnson, in 2018 by Bryson DeChambeau.
Liberty National, which measure 7,387 yards, was designed by Tom Kite and Bob Cupp. It is a parkland course that boasts magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbour and the Manhattan skyline. Expect to see LOTS of birdies.
Jordan Spieth is enjoying a glorious year with nine top-10 finishes, a victory and near misses at both The Masters and The Open. He is not the most accurate driver of a golf ball, but never has been. Crucially, he has managed to find his touch on the greens again. Collin Morikawa was imperious in winning The Open at Royal St George’s and is, without debate, the best iron player in the world - if his game is dialled in this week he could destroy Liberty National. Jon Rahm made his major breakthrough when he won the US Open and he also played superbly at The Open. He has reeled off top-10 finishes for fun in 2021 and will really fancy his chances this week.
Jordan Spieth. Due a second win of 2021
Jon Rahm. Having a dream season
Collin Morikawa. The best iron player in the game
Five to Follow:
Jordan Spieth. Back to his very best
Jon Rahm. Would love to win the FedEx Cup
Collin Morikawa. Much depends on his putting
Dustin Johnson. Keen to rescue a disappointing season
Rory McIlroy. Getting there
Outsiders to Watch:
Matt Fitzpatrick. Find slots of fairways
Shane Lowry. Determined to secure a Ryder Cup berth
Ian Poulter. Has played some very solid golf recently
Garrick Higgo. Enjoying a sensational year
Mackenzie Hughes. Comfortable at this level
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