The 2018 major season might be over, but the most exciting stretch of golf of the year is upon us (or at least that’s what the marketing department of the PGA Tour is desperately hoping we’ll buy into). The first leg of the FedEx Cup kicks off at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey for The Northern Trust.
Ridgewood Country Club was built in 1929 and designed by A.W. Tillinghast. While Ridgewood isn’t the most famous of his designs, he’s known for places like Bethpage Black, Baltusrol, Winged Foot and Medinah, all of which have hosted multiple major championships. Ridgewood is designed in a similar manner of its sister courses as it features small-but-quick bentgrass greens, tree-lined fairways and narrow fairways flanked by deep rough. Its routing also encourages creativity and careful precision around the golf course.
The golf course also features a prominent feature of Tillinghast designs – the forced carry long-hazard on both Par 5’s. Large swaths of fescue grass split the fairways of both Holes 3 and 15 and will factor into the golfer’s decisions on what shots to hit off the tee. If you want more information about this feature in his designs, here’s a blog on the Fried Egg.
The venue for The Northern Trust (and what was then known as The Barclays) is rotated every year, so it presents a challenge for handicappers to try and pin down what types of golfers will fare well. Typically the top of leaderboards at this event featured golfers who dominated off the tee and used their tremendous length to score well on Par 5’s to bolster their score. This was on full display in last year’s event when Dustin Johnson beat Jordan Spieth in a playoff by taking just an incredulously insane, ridiculous line off the tee to put Spieth away:
341 yards. Over the water. In a playoff. Against Jordan Spieth.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 21, 2018
But the leaderboard of the 2014 event held at Ridgewood was much different. While there were certainly some bombers on the top of the leaderboard, overall the contenders featured golfers who were more adept scramblers and putters. This was also a common trait at the 2010 event as well, which was won by Matt Kuchar. The architecture of Ridgewood hasn’t allowed the bombers to dominate like some courses on the schedule do.
Since the 2014 tournament, the course has undergone a renovation in which the fairways were widened and the greens were expanded to try and restore the course closer to the original design. That may make it a little more feasible for a guy to bomb and gouge the course. Therefore, I’m going to walk a fine line between length and short game when handicapping the field, as well as look at the results of the Bridgestone (which was also held on another Tillinghast design at Firestone CC).
Here’s who I like this week (with DraftKings values and odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):
- Dustin Johnson – 9/1, $11,500
- Justin Thomas – 12/1, $11,200
- Brooks Koepka – 12/1, $10,500
- Jason Day – 14/1, $10,700
- Tiger Woods – 14.5/1, $10,100
- Jon Rahm – 18/1, $9,700
- Justin Rose – 18/1, $9,600
- Francesco Molinari – 22/1, $9,500
While the Northern Trust will be missing studs like Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson, the event isn’t starved for star-power. Usually, you’ll see more than a few big names skip the first event of the FedEx Playoffs if they’re a shoe-in to qualify for the Tour Championship, but the huge purse offered this week is too good to pass up.
Because of the conflicting nature of a golf course that elevates those whose strengths reside on and around the green and a renovation that invites longer, elite ball-strikers to dominate, I’m looking to target complete golfers. The guy I consider as the most complete player on the planet in Justin Thomas. Brandel Chamblee referred to Justin Thomas as a five-tool player a la Mike Trout before the PGA Championship, and while his barrel-fire takes are often misguided this is one I wholeheartedly agree with.
When Thomas is firing on all cylinders he has every tool in the bag to rise to elite levels – overpowering distance off the tee, pin-point precision with his approach shots, soft touch around the greens to nuzzle chips close to the hole and a smooth putting stroke to rack up birdie after birdie. We saw him at his peak at both the WGC Bridgestone and the PGA Championship, and he should be up for the task once again this weekend.
Another guy on this list with a combination of a dominating driver and the fantastic short game is Jason Day. Day went into a little bit of a funk after his win at Quail Hollow, but over his last four tournaments, he’s averaged 1.25 strokes gained tee-to-green. He remains one of the most elite putters on the planet and that’s helped him stay on the first page of the leaderboard on several big name tournaments of late. While he faltered in the final round of both the WGC Bridgestone and PGA Championship to knock him out of contention, he possesses all the skills to get over the hump at Ridgewood.
Justin Rose is going to win one of these weeks. He scared off a lot of backers at the PGA Championhip because of an ailing back, but he got through that tournament in one piece and notched another solid performance. Since his win at Colonial, Rose has averaged a staggering 2.32 Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green and has been superb all season around the green, particularly out of bunkers. A week off should help his cranky back, and he’s long overdue to finally hold the trophy once again.
- Patrick Cantlay – 33/1, $8,600
- Patrick Reed – 55/1, $8,400
- Kevin Na – 80/1, $7,600
A lot of people have been waiting for Patrick Cantlay to break out. Cantlay has quietly had a good summer that includes a T6 at The Bridgestone and a T12 at the Open Championship, but I think this is the week he shows a little more and can contend for the victory. Cantlay’s averaged 1.7 Strokes Gained Tee-To-Green over his last 5 tournaments and is one of the better scramblers on the PGA Tour. He ranks 33rd in Sand Save % and 30th in Scrambling from the Rough.
Right now on mybookie.ag you can grab Patrick Cantlay -120 over Adam Scott, whose touch on and around the greens is as surgical as Helen Keller attempting to perform a triple bypass. He’s an odd man out to get a Captain’s Pick for the Ryder Cup, but look for him to put up a solid performance and throw his name into the ring.
It was a pretty frustrating PGA Championship for Patrick Reed. Reed was generally fine tee-to-green in his first two rounds, but he lost 1.75 strokes on the green and missed several short birdie putts that could have propelled him into the weekend. Reed finished Top 10 at Ridgewood in this event back in 2014, and he also won this event in 2016 when it was held at another Tillinghast design in Bethpage Black. Reed is both a good driver and a hot putter, and this combination should put him back into contention after a bit of a lackluster summer. He’s worth putting 55/1 on a futures bet or laying +450 on a Top 10.
At golf courses that place a premium on precision and a sharp short game, there’s not a lot of better golfers in those departments than Kevin Na. Na consistently makes up for his shortcomings in length with a very good approach game and the ability to get up and down for par from all areas around the green. On the year, Na ranks 29th in Strokes Gained – Approach, 6th in Strokes Gained Around-the-Green, and 3rd in Sand Save %. Na also finished well at Ridgewood the last time this event was held there, placing T9.
Unfortunately, he’s paired up on matchup props most often with Ryan Moore, who’s another guy I like for this event. Avoid that one, but if you can find a matchup prop that pairs Na with a weaker golfer, go for it. If not, take solace that you can add a $7,600 golfer with Top 10 upside to your DraftKings lineup.
Others To Consider – Webb Simpson (33/1, $9,200), Brandt Snedeker (40/1, $9,000), Rafa Cabrera-Bello (75/1, $7,900)
- Austin Cook – 170/1, $6,800
- Ryan Armour – 220/1, $6,500
Here are two cheap option on DraftKings who are not only playing solid golf over the last few tournaments, their profile matches the type that should fare well at Ridgewood. Both are pretty good iron players that possess a solid short game. Austin Cook has averaged over a stroke gained tee-to-green in four of his last six tournaments, while Ryan Armour is coming off a tremendous ball-striking performance last week at the Wyndham and ranks 31st in Strokes Gained Around-The-Green in 2018. Both are worth a look in DraftKings and on Top 20 props this weekend.
Others To Consider – Jamie Lovemark (200/1, $7,100), Andrew Putnam (250/1, $6,600)
The Northern Trust DraftKings Lineup #1:
- Justin Rose – $9,900
- Webb Simpson – $9,200
- Zach Johnson – $8,700
- Rafa Cabrera-Bello – $7,900
- Bryson DeChambeau – $7,400
- Austin Cook – $6,800
The Northern Trust DraftKings Lineup #2:
- Jason Day – $10,700
- Patrick Cantlay – $8,600
- Patrick Reed – $8,400
- Kevin Na – $7,600
- Ryan Moore – $7,500
- Jamie Lovemark – $7,100
The Northern Trust DraftKings Lineup #3:
- Justin Thomas – $11,200
- Tommy Fleetwood – $9,400
- Matt Kuchar – $8,200
- Marc Leishman – $7,800
- Chris Kirk – $6,800
- Ryan Armour – $6,500