THE NORTHERN TRUST: Rahm, Thomas Sit Atop

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And we’re off in the 2021 postseason as 123 players began their FedEx Cup Playoffs at The Northern Trust Thursday morning. Patrick Reed joined Louis Oosthuizen as the only other player inside the top 125 to rest this week, as the defending champion at Liberty National withdrew this morning citing an ankle injury.

Despite a late storm Wednesday evening and softer than expected conditions, Liberty National did not let up and gave players everything they could handle, at least until two players arrived on property. Jon Rahm, the world No. 1, fresh off a four-week hiatus, was nervous about the possibility of rust leading up to the tournament. He put any question marks to bed immediately, going bogey-free in Round 1 and carding an 8-under 63.

Given his summer and having broken 70 in each round in the 2019 Northern Trust, no one should be surprised of Rahm’s performance. The class of professional golf, Rahm led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green on Thursday. Nothing new for the Spaniard, he is now an even heavier favorite with 54-holes to go. At PointsBet Sportsbook, Rahm is listed at +140 as he looks to win a FedEx Cup Playoff event for the second consecutive year.

In what feels like the beginning of an epic duel, the man alongside Rahm at 8-under is world No. 5, Justin Thomas. Struggling since his Players Championship victory, the American finally found his putting stroke that he has so desperately been searching for. With his old “gamer” back in the bag, he gained nearly 2.5 strokes on the greens, finishing seventh in SG: Putting on the day.

Combined with leading the field in SG: Approach, Thomas turned in 5-under 31 before a late flurry of birdies pulled him tied with Rahm atop the leaderboard. Sitting at +325, he is the only man even remotely in the neighborhood of Rahm as he searches for the third postseason victory of his career. Three-clear of the closest pursuers, unless someone makes up some serious ground over the next few days, a two-man race is likely to unfold.

Updated Odds to Win (Odds Via PointsBet):

+140: Jon Rahm

+325: Justin Thomas

+2000: Adam Scott

+2500: Viktor Hovland

+2800: Patrick Cantlay

+3300: Tony Finau

+4000: Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele

+4500: Cameron Smith

+5000: Brooks Koepka, Cameron Tringale, Harold Varner III, Kevin Na, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy

Round 2 Plays (Odds Via PointsBet):

Andrew Putnam (+167) over Brandon Hagy and Erik van Rooyen:

It will be interesting to see how the former Cal Golden Bear bounces back tomorrow. Listed at +258 in this three-ball, the odds makers don’t like his chances after posting a first-round of 7-over 78. Losing strokes in every statistical category, including nearly five-strokes with his short-game, he may very well be in afterthought amongst this trio.

That leaves us with Putnam and Van Rooyen who both put together rounds of 69 on Thursday, albeit in different manners. In contrast to Hagy’s short-game woes, Van Rooyen thrived on and around-the-greens, gaining more than a combined four-strokes in the statistical categories. However, while his short-game peaked, his ball-striking valleyed, specifically his irons, costing him just about 2.5 strokes to the field.

The same can’t be said for Putnam who gained across the board in tee-to-green metrics, ranking eighth in the field on day 1. Coming into the week 42nd on Tour in SG: Putting, the former Pepperdine Wave struggled on the greens on Thursday. Given his typical competence in that area of the game, I expect to see him rebound in the second-round and outperform Hagy and Van Rooyen.

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Anirban Lahiri (+196) over Matt Kuchar and Chez Reavie:

Needing a big week coming into The Northern Trust, Lahiri was confident that his game was in a good spot. At no. 121 in the FedEx Cup standings before play began, the Olympian had utilized a strong off-the-tee presence en route to some recent success.

After an opening round of 2-under 69, Lahiri is now projected to be 90th in the FedEx Cup with the top 70 players gaining entry into the BMW Championship for the second playoff event. Carding four birdies on Thursday, he put together a solid day of golf from tee-to-green, ranking inside the top-10 in the field in said category.

However, there were two issues that occurred. The first was the flat stick, as he lost more than a stroke on the greens, thanks in part to three-putting from inside of five-feet on his 10th hole of the day. The second was his par-5 play as he played them in even-par in Round 1. Not only that, but he failed to take advantage of the drivable, par-4 16th, meaning the room to improve is vast.

If he keeps the tee-to-green prowess at a comparable level tomorrow, he should be able to take care of Kuchar and Reavie. Both lost strokes to the field tee-to-green and posted more than a stroke gained on the greens. Having gotten the better of both of them in Round 1, I figure a similar result could be in store for Round 2.

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