THE NORTHERN TRUST Preview

Josh Culp
·8 min read

Back in March the pandemic had us wondering if or when golf would return in 2020. Fast forward five months and the PGA TOUR is cruising along and the FedExCup Playoffs are set to kickoff this week at TPC Boston.

The Top 125 was officially set on Sunday night at the conclusion of the Wyndham Championship. That list is what we will see for this week's field. If anyone backs out before the start of the event, there will be no replacements. That means a relatively large percentage of the field will make their way through the cutline this week. Somewhere between 54 and 60% will likely get a weekend tee time.

Going back to the FedExCup list, the points are amplified now that we've reached the Playoffs. The winner receives 2,000 FEC Points instead of 500 for a standard TOUR event. Those boosts go all the way down the line, so it's no time to rest on what you've stockpiled this season. You need to keep your foot on the gas if you want to make it to East Lake in two weeks.

CLARIFICATION: Due to the lost events from the COVID-19 pandemic, the boosted FedExCup Points are only tripled instead of quadrupled as in year's past.

The Course

TPC Boston was moved into a rotating role starting last year and it's back on the schedule this week.

Golfers will be very familiar with this Arnold Palmer design because it joined the TOUR schedule in 2003 and has hosted 16 events. Gil Hanse came along and made some renovations in 2007. The par-71 layout shows 7,308 yards on the scorecard on year. We should expect them to set it up within 50 yards of that each day.

Off the tee, the landing areas are generous. It's no wonder that big hitters like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day has feasted here over the years.

At the same time, even the shorter hitters will get plenty of approach shots with a wedge or short iron in hand.

In that regard, it's a well-balanced test of golf. You can back that up by looking at the list of course winners that includes bombers like Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, and Rory McIlroy but also shorter hitters like Chris Kirk, Henrik Stenson, and Webb Simpson. That's all within the last 10 years.

The course is generally a tough test but there are years where the playing conditions lead to low scores. Winning scores usually float in the 15-to-17-under range but they have reach 22-under on three occasions.

There are three par fives on the course with two of them being reachable by all in the field and the other being 600 yards and yielding eagles to just 0.5 percent of golfers that stroll through. That is almost a percentage point lower than the eagles recorded at the driveable par-4 fourth.

If you are playing the course from the 1st tee then you need to score early and late in the round because there are a lot of tough holes sandwiched in between.

For turf talk, golfers will get back to some cool-season grasses after a quick visit back to bermuda last week. At TPC Boston, they will see bentgrass from wall-to-wall with bluegrass and fescue rough. The greens are often some of the purest, and quickest they'll see all season. It's common to see the target stimp at 12.5 feet and we've seen them ramp them up even higher than that.

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.

Tiger Woods: "I think that in general it sets up for a guy that hits it long and high. And I've done that pretty much my whole golf career. Especially when this golf course gets firm and the greens get hard, then the high ball hitters have an advantage. And that's been one of my trademarks over my career."

Jon Rahm: "You can tell it’s a ball-striker’s course because on every green, there’s little sections for the pin to be at, right. It can be a big green, but there’s little sections for the pin to be at, right."

Paul Casey: "I think you’ve got to move the ball around a little bit. There’s some trees that get in the way. The greens are tiny little areas to hit. My iron play is always strong, one of the better guys on TOUR when it comes to proximity to the hole."

Sean O'Hair: "I think it’s a very playable golf course, which makes it fun. You don’t get on the tee shots and feel like you can’t miss it. You feel like you can give it a whale and you go find it and the rough is not too bad."

Marc Leishman: "there's some room, and you can play it into the fairways. I guess I enjoy that about it. Generally it's pretty firm here and a bit of wind. I like playing in the wind and firm conditions."

Overview: Golfers talk about firm conditions giving an advantage to high-ball hitters (or Aussies). The greens are average or just below average in size but as you can tell from the quotes, the adjusted sizes are much smaller because you need to hit into the right sections on approach.

Correlated Courses

Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:

Innisbrook (Valspar)
Augusta National (Masters)
TPC Sawgrass (PLAYERS)
Muirfield Village (Memorial)
Quail Hollow (Wells Fargo)
Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational)

The theme that pops this week is fast greens but we also see some overlap with bentgrass turf and long hole-by-hole layouts.

The Weather

Thursday: Sunny with a high of 80 degrees. Winds at 5 to 8 MPH

Friday: Mostly Cloudy with a high of 83 degrees. Winds at 7 to 10 MPH

It's nice to see a forecast without rain in it. That should lead to some firm and fast conditions as the week progresses.

Golfers to Watch

Bryson DeChambeau
He's the defending champ at TPC Boston and he made a charge at the PGA Championship. HE's one to consider as an anchor in weekly rosters and the bookmakers agree as he starts the week as a 12/1 co-favorite alongside Justin Thomas.

Rory McIlroy
The pandemic really slowed his momentum but if this tournament was taking place in early March then there is no doubt McIlroy would have entered as the odds-on favorite. He is 7-for-8 at TPC Boston with a pair of wins (2012, 2016). McIlroy may not be firing on all cylinders but this is a good venue for him to get back into contention.

Tiger Woods
Speaking of course history, Woods has a win, two runner-up finishes, and a third-place finish at TPC Boston. Back in the quotes section, he talked about his high ball flight working very well here. That should definitely be the case with no rain in the forecast this week.

Jason Day
When I think of high ball flight, J Day is one of the first names that pop into my brain. I guess it's no surprise then that the Aussie has finished T19 or better in seven of his 11 starts at TPC Boston. He also arrives with some of the best form in the game, all since he decided to ditch the swing coaches and go back to trusting himself.

Collin Morikawa
The youngest could become World No. 1 with the proper finish this week. That's pretty shocking for a golfer that has so few events on his OWGR resume. From tee-to-green he sets up for any course but has he proven himself on fast greens yet? He won the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield but then finished T48 at the Memorial when they ramped the green speeds up. His short game is always the wildcard but he's one of the steadiest tee-to-green players which makes him an ideal target for weekly gamers.

Keegan Bradley
It's a home game for Bradley so he should be comfortable this week. He'll need that comfort to boost him because he arrives with nothing better than a T32 finish in his last 11 starts on TOUR.

Brooks Koepka
He continues the week-to-week grind despite his body not fully cooperating. Koepka sits at 97th in the FedExCup race so he'll need to move up at least 27 spots to advance onto next week. Now that he's at least cracked the Playoffs, it might not be the end of the world if his postseason ended early, allowing him to get more work done on his knee. He'll remain a boom-or-bust option.

Webb Simpson
There were talks about a rib injury nagging him at the PGA Championship but he dismissed those worries last week with a strong showing at Sedgefield Country Club. He is a past champ at TPC Boston and arrives at 3rd in the FedExCup race. Simpson is a name that might get overlooked with so much firepower at the top of the board this week.

Ranking the Field

1. Justin Thomas
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Jon Rahm
4. Bryson DeChambeau
5. Xander Schauffele
6. Webb Simpson
7. Patrick Reed
8. Jason Day
9. Daniel Berger
10. Adam Scott
11. Collin Morikawa
12. Patrick Cantlay
13. Dustin Johnson
14. Matthew Fitzpatrick
15. Billy Horschel
16. Tony Finau
17. Harris English
18. Abraham Ancer
19. Paul Casey
20. Scottie Scheffler