The 2018-19 FedExCup Playoffs begin this week with The Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. The playoffs were cut from four events to three this season, and 121 of the 125 eligible golfers from the top of the season-long standings are in the field and scheduled to tee off Thursday morning. Here, we make our top Northern Trust betting picks in search of sleepers and values.
Notably, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson opted to skip the event. The injured Sam Burns (ankle) will be out until early in the 2019-20 PGA Tour season. Rafa Cabrera Bello is awaiting the birth of his child and won’t participate. The top 70 in the FEC standings after this week will move on to the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Country Club next week, with Casey already assured a trip. From there, the top 30 will compete for the $15-million first-place prize at the Tour Championship Aug. 22-25.
Each of the top 20 players from the Official World Golf Ranking is in attendance, with the exception of Casey (No. 19). World No. 5 Tiger Woods will play in just his second non-Major since winning April’s Masters. He missed the cut at both the PGA Championship and The Open but finished 21st at the US Open and ninth at the Memorial Tournament. He enters this week 28th in the FEC standings and will need a solid performance in order to book his trip to East Lake to defend his Tour Championship title in two weeks.
The course: Liberty National Golf Club
Liberty National Golf Club measures 7,370 yards and plays as a par 71. Bob Cupp and Tom Kite were the original designers. A massive renovation took place ahead of The Barclays in 2013. Adam Scott won the event at minus-11 over a group of runners-up, including 2018 FedExCup champ Justin Rose and 2019 Major winners Gary Woodland (US Open) and Woods.
Ninety bunkers and 10 water hazards litter the course. Deep fescue penalizes wayward shots. The four par 3s range from the 150-yard 14th (ranked as the easiest on the course) all the way to 250 yards. The par 4s range from the drivable 325-yard No. 16 up to the 490-yard finishing hole. The 611-yard, par-5 eighth is the toughest on the course, and one other par 5 comes in above 600 yards.
Liberty National also served as the host of the 2017 Presidents Cup. World No. 2 Dustin Johnson led all players in the international competition with a 4-0-1 record. Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, and Patrick Reed are other notables with recent experience on the course.
Key stats to consider for The Northern Trust
Without a lot of historical data for Liberty National, we’re left tailoring stats to the course design and those best associated with success in strong-field events. Only two of 12 winners of the first FEC Playoffs event since 2007 came from outside of the top 25 in the world ranking. Three of the last four winners had already claimed a victory that PGA season.
My model at Fantasy National this week looks at the key stats of Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Strokes Gained: Approach, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, Opportunities Gained, Greens in Regulation Gained, and Par 4s Gained. The model is set to the most recent 24 rounds played on courses with Bentgrass greens.
The Northern Trust betting picks: Sleepers and value bets
Billy Horschel +6000 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Horschel always manages to step up his game by the time the FedExCup Playoffs come around every year. The 2014 FEC champion is fresh off a T6 at last week’s Wyndham Championship. He was T9 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational the week before.
He enters the week ranked 37th in the world but 44th in FEC points. The 32-year-old will need an impressive finish in order to help secure a second consecutive trip to East Lake and only his second since his 2014 victory.
Horschel is 25th by the stat model, but he is one of just six golfers with a top-10 field rank in at least three of the key stats. He is second in SG: Approach, fifth in SG: Ball Striking and 10th in Greens in Regulation Gained over everyone’s last 24 rounds. None of the last five FEC champs have higher odds than Horschel, including the spiraling Spieth.
Gary Woodland +7000 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Woodland is tied with Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry for the highest odds among 2019’s Major winners. Ranked 16th in the world, he has been falling almost weekly since his US Open title when he was ranked 12th by the OWGR.
The breakout 35-year-old made it to East Lake each of the last three years and is all but guaranteed a spot this year. He enters this week ranked fifth in the FEC standings. He’s also fifth or better in three of the week’s six key stats—third in SG: Ball Striking, fourth in Opportunities Gained, and fifth in SG: Approach.
Woodland’s runner-up finish in 2013 shows he has long been a strong fit for the course.
Joaquin Niemann +10000 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Niemann is sixth by the stat model and leads the field in Par 4s Gained. He adds ranks of second in Opportunities Gained, eighth in SG: Off-the-Tee, and 10th in SG: Ball Striking.
The 20-year-old collected his fourth top-15 finish in his last six events last week. He is still without a PGA Tour victory, but he has earned more than $1.3 million this year. He’ll need a big weekend in order to advance to the BMW Championship, as he comes into this week ranked 74th in the FEC standings.
The Northern Trust betting picks: Our winner
Patrick Cantlay +2500 (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Cantlay leads the overall stat model. His worst rank is 12th in the field in SG: Approach, but he leads all 121 golfers in Opportunities Gained.
The Memorial Tournament champion made the cut in all four Majors this year with top-10 results at the Masters and the PGA Championship. Just 27 years old, Cantlay made it to East Lake each of the last two years and begins this week sixth in the FEC standings and 10th in the OWGR.
The eight golfers with better odds this week make Cantlay a good value with a suppressed number despite his not missing a cut in a solo event since The Players Championship.