Punter’s pointers: The Northern Trust

Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey is set to host the first week of the PGA Tour’s 2020/21 season FedExCup Playoffs.

This week 125.

Next week 70.

The week after 30.

The PGA Tour's culling of the 2020/21 season's membership has started and there is more to it than merely making that final week at East Lake.

Why so? Well, the field of 30 in the Tour Championship will be handicapped by dint of performance in the FedExCup points list.

The leader will start the week on 10-under, second on 8-under, third on 7-under, etc..

So there is more for the elite to play for than merely the win this week and next.

Meanwhile, those currently ranked outside the top 50 want and need a big couple of weeks to reach that finale.

Plenty to chew on, then. Let's take a closer look at a few angles.

The event specialist

Since this event became The Northern Trust, Dustin Johnson has thrived.

He won the 2017 edition at Glen Oaks in New York and then he won again at TPC Boston in 2020 (by the mere margin of 11 shots): that's two wins in four starts.

At first glance, he's not fared so well at Liberty National.

He was T15th and missed the cut when The Barclays was played there, and he was also T24th when it hosted The Northern Trust in 2019.

But he was actually leading by one shot at halfway that year and he has further good course vibes because he collected four and a half points for Team USA when the track hosted the 2017 Presidents Cup.

He also said this two years ago: "This course suits my eye and I've always liked it since the first time I played it."

Add in two top 10s in his last three starts - tied eighth at the Open and T10th last time out at the WGC St Jude Invitational - and he might be a sneakier option than he first looks.

The key stat

The top five finishers in the first three tournaments played at this course all had exceptional Strokes Gained Tee to Green stats.

But in 2019 it also became apparent that, within that parameter, playing well from the tee box also mattered.

Winner Patrick Reed ranked second for SG Off the Tee and runner-up Abraham Ancer was first in the category.

The leaders for SG Off the Tee this season are Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia.

DeChambeau was T24th in his only course visit in 2019, ranking 54th Off the Tee; Garcia has never made the top 30 in three starts at the track; but Rahm was third in 2019 after contending in the final round (and ranking eighth Off the Tee).

He looks to have a great chance this week even if he is the favourite.

An outsider based on the stats? Cameron Champ ranks seventh Off the Tee this season, was a winner last month and was T21st on the track in 2019.

Mr Bounce Back

Last Sunday Adam Scott stood over a four foot putt on the first extra hole.

The other five men in the playoff had all failed to break par (a sixth golfer, Russell Henley, had missed a tiddler to join them all in post-regulation play).

Scott could end it all.

But he didn't.

The putt never looked like dropping and at the next hole Kevin Kisner pounced for the win.

What Scott went through will hurt and yet the Aussie is a golfer who has been there before. He really should have won the 2012 Open, but made a mess of the last four holes. He was soon back in-contention at the PGA Championship and the following spring he won the Masters.

Now he has a genuine opportunity to repeat that bounce back because he's playing in an event, and at a course, that he loves.

He won the tournament (in a previous guise) at TPC Boston and at Liberty National he won in 2013 and was fifth in 2019.

That year he said: "Coming back to Liberty National is always fun. It's quite a setting to play golf with the Manhattan skyline in the backdrop. It's been spectacular every time we've been here, no doubt."

The win might be too much to ask, but a good week is well within his grasp.

The Donald Ross link

In last week's Punter's Pointers we highlighted Kevin Kisner off the back of a Donald Ross link - he plays the architect's courses very well and duly completed the victory on Sunday.

Another expert on such tracks is Billy Horschel who has made nine cuts in 10 starts at Sedgefield and Detroit.

Moreover, five of his last six starts have been top 20s.

Why should that matter this week, though? Well, here's what Webb Simpson has to say about this week's course, Liberty National (where Horschel was T21st in 2019): "The greens remind me of Donald Ross greens. I grew up in Raleigh playing on Pinehurst and playing a lot of Donald Ross courses. They are undulating. The putts break a lot and you have to use a lot of imagination around the greens."

Horschel also has history in the end-of-season events. Back in 2014 he won the BMW Championship and then also the Tour Championship.

He's desperate to play the Ryder Cup and it really is last chance saloon for his hopes.

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