It's the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs, and The Northern Trust will kick things off from Ridgewood Country Club. The top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings have all booked their ticket to Paramus, N.J., where they will hope to build foundations towards their goal of claiming the $10 million prize on offer for the 2018 FedEx Cup champion. There have been five withdrawals, however, and with no alternates in the playoffs, the field is down to 120 for this week. Stenson, Fowler and Cauley have all withdrawn with injuries, while Rory McIlroy and Patrick Rodgers have both opted to skip the event.
The 2017 Northern Trust was won by Dustin Johnson, who defeated Jordan Spieth in a dramatic playoff after both men had posted totals of 13 under par.
Ridgewood CC is a par-71 golf course that measures 7,319 yards. Ridgewood has hosted three playoff tournaments in the past: the 2008, 2010 and 2014 Barclays events. Length off the tee is not expected to offer players a significant advantage, and besides the three par-5 holes, many players will choose to keep their driver in the bag this week. Ridgewood has thrown up some interesting leaderboards in the past, but consistent ball striking looks to be vital around this track.
Deciding on one man at the top of the board isn't an easy task this week. It would be easy to make a strong case for Johnson, Thomas and Koepka for this event, and Jason Day was a man I had my eye on for this week since the end of the PGA Championship. The Australian has gained strokes for his approach play in his last three events, which is the first time in 2018 he has done so, while his course history at Ridgewood is hard to ignore. Day played the course in both 2010 and 2014 and twice finished in the top-five. However, to say I was disappointed to see him at best price 14/1 this week would be an understatement, and he's just a little too short for me to get involved.
Ridgewood CC is going to give Tiger Woods his best opportunity to win a tournament at least before Atlanta at the Tour Championship. He will be able to keep his driver in the bag for most of the week, and with the ball in play off the tee, anyone who watched him over the weekend at the PGA Championship knows just how devastatingly good his iron play is. Despite not winning two weeks ago, it's hard to think of another event in the past five years that Woods has arrived at with as much confidence and feel good factor as he has this week.
As I said previously, the fact that Ridgewood takes away some of the advantages that the longer hitters usually have should benefit Woods greatly. The average driving distance at the PGA Championship for those who finished within the top 10 was 310 yards. The average driving distance for those who finished in the top 10 at Ridgewood in 2014? 276 yards. This week requires a different skill set than we saw at Bellerive, and should iron play and scrambling need to be relied on this week then 16/1 on Woods looks good enough. We all know just how sharp his iron play is right now, and over his last three events, Woods has gained an average of 4.2 strokes over the field with his flat stick. Woods has been knocking on the door all year, and Ridgewood offers the perfect opportunity for him to smash that door down this week.
It has been a frustrating year thus far for Hideki Matsuyama, affected by injury and struggling for form at times, but the Japanese star looks poised for a big week in New Jersey. Last week at the Wyndham Championship, Matsuyama played excellently on his way to a T11 finish. Over the weekend Matsuyama shined, posting rounds of 64 and 65 which provides excellent momentum heading to the Northern Trust.
Known as one of the best ball strikers on tour, Matsuyama hasn't shown much of that this year, but last week his ball striking was back to its absolute best. The Wyndham Championship was Matsuyama's best performance with his irons since the 2017 Phoenix Open. Matsuyama gained 7.4 strokes over the field with his approach play and was only let down by a disappointing week on the greens. With his tee-to-green game seemingly in excellent shape for this week's challenge, it may come down to how Matsuyama performs on the greens. Not known for being a great putter, Matsuyama has lost strokes on the greens in three of his last five events. However, the two events he gained strokes in he did so in style gaining over five strokes each time. A price of 45/1 is too big for a player for Matsuyama's class, and coming off a brilliant week with his irons, he looks to offer plenty of value this week.
Torn between Kevin Kisner and Zach Johnson, I've decided to go with the latter. Johnson's form has been solid recently, with the American finishing in the top 20 in his last six consecutive events. There is no doubt that Ridgewood is a golf course that should suit his game, and it's perhaps a little surprising that his best finish here is only a T21.
Johnson is one of the best putters on tour, and up until recently this season, he's been a little frustrating on the greens. But the American has been deadly with his putter as of late. Over his last four recorded tournaments, Johnson has averaged over 3.5 strokes gained over the field on the greens. Johnson has gained strokes over the field with his approach play in back to back tournaments, and he has gained strokes around the greens in his last 13 events. At 55/1 with eight places available, Johnson looks a little disrespected in the market this week.
A golf course that doesn't offer a distinct advantage to the bombers and where accurate iron play will be crucial sounds like an ideal fit for Kevin Na. In 2014, on the one occasion that the American has played the course it proved just that too. Na notched a top-10 finish that year, and with a victory under his belt already this season he should be able to relax on a golf course that he is comfortable on, and that may bring out the best in his game. Over his last 24 rounds, Na ranks 15th for strokes gained approaching the green in this week's field, and he has also been putting superbly as of late. In his previous three events, Na is gaining an average of four strokes over the field with the flat-stick. The 7/2 price looks more than acceptable for a man who has been a top-20 machine over his career.
With back to back top-five finishes at Ridgewood, and in excellent form with four consecutive top-20 finishes, I wanted to get Jason Day onside this week, and this is the market I'm happiest to do so in. He's at 5/6 to beat Adam Scott, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith, which appears to be too big a price. Leishman and Smith have two top-20 finishes between them from each of their last six events, while Scott looks to be overvalued this week thanks to his performance at the PGA Championship. Scott played very well at Bellerive; however, it was the first time that Scott has recorded a top-five finish in two years, and it was also his best performance with his putter in over 18 months. Scott is 182nd in strokes gained putting for the season, and I don't trust him to produce back to back good events with the flat-stick. Take Day at 5/6 to get the better of all three in this market.
2018 The Northern Trust recommended bets
- Outright Winner: Tiger Woods 16/1 (General)
- Each Way: Hideki Matsuyama 45/1 (6 places, Unibet), Zach Johnson 55/1 (8 places, Paddypower)
- Top 20: Kevin Na 7/2 (General)
- Top Australian: Jason Day 5/6 (General)