This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE NORTHERN TRUST
Winner's Share: $1.665M
FedEx Cup Points: 2,000 to the Winner
Location: Jersey City, N.J.
Course: Liberty National Golf Club
2018 champion: Bryson DeChambeau
In years past, the PGA Tour season seemed eternal, as if it would never end. This year, the playoffs got here in a hurry, didn't they? And not only that, there are only three FedEx Cup playoff events, rather than the traditional four. New York and Boston were combined into one, and will alternate years, with this year's event being held in the Big Apple. Or, more specifically, Jersey City. The Tour is back at Liberty National for the third time, bringing with it the breathtaking views of the New York skyline and Statue of Liberty.
Liberty National has been around only since 2006, yet this will be its third go-round for the tournament formerly known as the Barclays. It's a little on the longer side for a par-71, with only three par-5s, all of them reachable for the longer hitters. What have we learned about the track in its brief history? We learned that when Heath Slocum shockingly won in 2009 and Adam Scott emerged in 2013, quality ball striking was paramount, much more so than putting despite the smallish greens that are undulated and speedy. Slocum won at 9-under and Scott at 11-under (Tiger Woods was among four runners-up both times), so birdies will be a bit hard to come by this week. In 2013, Liberty National was the 22nd hardest track on Tour and punished the golfers with almost 200 double bogeys or worse. Ten water hazards and 90 bunkers will do that. In 2009, it was even tougher, ranking as the eighth hardest course on Tour and producing more than 200 doubles or worse. Both years, the four hardest holes were the same, but not in the same order. They were Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 15. So, maybe stick that little snippet in you back pocket and, if you're deciding between two guys for your lineup, avoid the one who has to open the tournament with that tough back-nine stretch. And if you see one of your guys go sideways on Thursday after starting on the back, don't freak out right away – wait a few minutes, then freak out. One more note about the course: There were significant changes after 2009 in response to player, um, input. We'll take a closer look at what it takes to win at Liberty National in the key stats and Champions Profile below.
Now, on to the field. We're down to the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings, though there are actually only 121 golfers on hand. Paul Casey is curiously skipping this event. Henrik Stenson is also passing and because he's 81st in the point standings and only the top-70 advance to the BMW Championship next week, he is in effect bagging the entire playoffs. Young Sam Burns is out with an injury, so his season also is over. And on Tuesday morning, Rafa Cabrera Bello withdrew while he awaits the birth of their daughter (at No. 59 right now, he could return for the BMW). Tiger is in the field, and he's already committed to the BMW as well, so if he qualifies to defend his title at the Tour Championship, he'll be playing three straight weeks for the first time all season. In all, 49 golfers in the field were also in the 2013 tournament, and 29 of them also played in 2009. Only two guys who are here now finished top-10 both times: Woods, and of course, Nick Watney.
With this being the first year of the revised playoff setup, there is no history to indicate how many golfers could jump up from outside the top 70. We do know that in the past two years, when the top 100 were trying to get into the top 70, only three guys accomplished the feat each year. This also will be the only playoff week with a cut, so it's the last tournament of the season when nailing 6-for-6 in your lineup comes into play. With 121 golfers, getting all six through will be slightly easier than it is in the standard Tour week.
Weather-wise, thunderstorms were forecast to hit the New York City area on Tuesday and Wednesday, likely lengthening the course. Not much rain is expected for the tournament-proper, but rain can come quickly during NYC summers. Otherwise, it will be hot, with temperatures in the mid- to upper-80s, though with the humidity and wind not as bad as they could be this time of year.
Key Stats to winning at Liberty National
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Ball striking (driving distance + driving accuracy + greens in regulation)/strokes gained: off the tee
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau (Ridgewood CC)
2017 - Dustin Johnson (Glen Oaks Club)
2016 - Patrick Reed (Bethpage Black)
2015 - Jason Day (Plainfield CC)
2014 - Hunter Mahan (Ridgewood CC)
2013 - Adam Scott (Liberty National)
2012 - Nick Watney (Bethpage Black)
2011 - Dustin Johnson (Plainfield CC)
2010 - Matt Kuchar (Ridgewood CC)
2009 - Heath Slocum Liberty National)
In looking at 2013, the top five finishers – Scott and the four runners-up, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland and Graham DeLaet – all were near the top in driving distance, driving accuracy and greens in regulation. No one was outside the top 30 in any one of those categories and most were much higher. Scott was T20 in distance, T11 in accuracy and T4 in GIR. He also tied for 15th in scrambling, and most of the others were also top-20. In 2009, it was somewhat similar with the top-5 guys then: Slocum and runners-up Woods, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Padraig Harrington. Slocum ranked 22nd in distance, T9 in accuracy and T6 in GIR. Four of those top five finishers also were in the top-6 in scrambling. Slocum was fifth. Repeating ourselves just to spell it out: Scott was T4 and Slocum was T6 in greens in regulation.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Brooks Koepka - $12,000 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
It was a bit of a stunner to see a $12,000 price tag, considering that number has been rare all year, and it comes up despite the loaded field. Still, it's proving to be more and more foolish to bet against Koepka, who secured his third win of the season last time out at the WGC event in Memphis. He is ranked sixth in ball striking, but we don't really need to present any stats in defense of Koepka, who is the overwhelming favorite to win his first FedEx Cup.
Rory McIlroy - $11,400 (12-1)
McIlroy leads the Tour in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee by a large margin, so much so that the rest of his game needs to be only good, not spectacular, for success. But of course, he has not been able to deliver even "good" performances in the biggest moments. Would anyone be surprised to see another high finish, albeit a disappointing one, as we saw a few weeks back in Memphis? McIlroy finished 19th at the 2013 Barclays.
Jon Rahm - $10,400 (16-1)
So many other things in golf have masked what Rahm has accomplished this season on the PGA Tour. He's made 15-of-17 cuts, with top-25s in all but one of them and top-10s in 10 of them. Really, almost every time out, he has produced a high finish. Rahm even won last month at the Irish Open. He is ranked fourth in SG: Off-The-Tee and really has no weakness.
Tommy Fleetwood - $9,800 (25-1)
Fleetwood is coming off consecutive top-5s at a major and a WGC, turning around a season that had been a big disappointment. He's ranked 13th on the PGA Tour in SG: Off-The-Tee and really could contend this week on a course that has shown you don't need to be an elite putter to do so. That said, Fleetwood is surprisingly ranked 42nd in Strokes Gained: Putting, statistically better than Koepka.
Tier 2 Values
Webb Simpson - $9,400 (25-1)
It's hard to turn away from a guy who finished runner-up in three of his past five starts, but that's exactly what Simpson has done, despite being one of the shorter hitters around. He's been getting it done week after week by putting the ball in the fairway and then relying on his elite short game. If you're concerned that this is Simpson's fourth straight week playing, and it eventually will be six, get this: Last year at this time Simpson played six tournaments in a row and tied for sixth in the final one, the BMW Championship.
Patrick Cantlay - $9,200 (20-1)
Cantlay has not had a top-10 since winning the Memorial in early June. That's just four starts, so at least he should be rested for this three-event stretch. Cantlay really has no weakness in his game. His worst strokes-gained category is putting, and even then he's ranked 27th, ahead of all four guys listed in Tier 1. And his tee-to-green game is every bit as good as theirs.
Xander Schauffele - $8,900 (30-1)
Schauffele's game was perhaps affected by the controversy over his non-conforming driver that was flagged at Royal Portrush. He wound up outside the top 40 at the Open and then outside the top 25 at the WGC. Enough time has passed that we think he's ready for the playoff push. And to get the No. 11 golfer in the world rankings at under $9,000 is a good value. Schauffele is ranked top-20 in both SG: Off-The-Tee and SG: Tee-To-Green.
Jason Day - $8,200 (50-1)
Day played Liberty National in both Barclays, finishing 12th in 2009 and 25th four years later. He also saw it at the 2017 Presidents Cup. We like Day because he's dipping close to Tier 3 while ranking 10th on Tour in ball striking. And of course he has one of the best short games around. Day's partnership with Stevie Williams has gotten off to a slow start, so they are going to have to put together something soon or the grouping could fracture.
Tier 3 Values
Patrick Reed - $8,100 (50-1)
Reed continued his strong play in the second half of the season with a tie for 22nd at the Wyndham Championship, his fifth straight top-25. Reed's tee-to-green game is not his strongest suit, but his short game has been so good he's been able to overcome that. He is ranked 14th in strokes gained: around-the-green.
Billy Horschel - $8,000 (50-1)
Horschel is another guy who struggled earlier in the season. But we've seen him get hot before around playoff time, and he's doing it again. Horschel is coming off back-to-back top-10s at Memphis and the Wyndham event, and he's missed only one cut since April. He played the Barclays back in 2013, but missed the cut.
Joaquin Niemann - $7,600 (80-1)
Niemann is yet another guy having a strong second half, riding top-25s in five of his past six starts into his first career playoff event. Three of those finishes doubled as top-10s. The 20-year-old is ranked 30th on Tour in ball striking. Niemann is 74th in the point standings, and he'll need to finish solo 28th or better to make it to Medinah next week, according to the Tour's website.
Jim Furyk - $7,100 (125-1)
Furyk has missed only two cuts in 15 starts in 2019, both coming consecutively in a brief spring dry spell. He's one of the shortest hitters on Tour but is still ranked 25th in greens in regulation. At almost 50 years old, Furyk has a real shot to make it to East Lake. He begins the playoffs 39th in points.
Emiliano Grillo - $7,000 (125-1)
Grillo's ball striking is every bit as good as his short game is bad. He is ranked 24th in strokes gained: off the tee and third in SG approach. Grillo has missed only one cut since February, and that was at the Open Championship. His game is far more suited to Liberty National than Royal Portrush.
Ryan Palmer - $6,900 (150-1)
Palmer has three top-25s in his past five starts. He's ranked top-50 on Tour in both strokes gained: off-the-tee and tee-to-green. Plus he's a fairly decent putter, ranking 68th in SG: putting. Palmer played in the 2013 Barclays, finishing 66th. Inside the top-30 in the point standings, this should be a stress-free week for Palmer.
Bud Cauley - $6,800 (150-1)
Cauley rides four straight cashes into this week, including top-25s in his past two starts at the John Deere Classic and the Wyndham Championship. At 92nd in the FedExCup standings, he has a lot of work to do to advance to the BMW event, needing at least solo 16th, according to the Tour website. Cauley is ranked second in strokes gained: around-the-green.
Cameron Tringale - $6,600 (200-1)
Tringale has made seven straight cuts, thanks largely to sharp iron game that has him ranked 14th on Tour in greens in regulation. Five of those seven have been top-25s. Tringale has been around long enough to have played Liberty National back in 2013, when he finished 58th. At 101st in points, he'll need at least a solo 14th to advance to next week.