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Northern Trust Tips: Top bets for this week's PGA Tour event

Northern Trust Tips: Daniel Berger features.
Northern Trust Tips: Daniel Berger features.

The PGA Tour now makes its way into the FedExCup playoffs. First stop - Liberty National in Jersey City for The Northern Trust. An event previously known as The Barclays, which now alternates every year between here and TPC Boston. Plenty to play for this week outside of a win, with the top 70 players in the FedExCup rankings all moving on to the BMW Championship next week.

Liberty National is a 7410 yard par 71 and was designed by Bob Cupp & Tom Kite in 2006. It has hosted this event three times, twice in its former guise as The Barclays, in 2009 & 2013, with the most recent trip taking place in 2019. A parkland course with a linksy feel, it puts your all round game to the test.

Though the course is long enough, I put more of an importance on driving it straight this week. The fairways are a real mix in width. Some generous some narrow, with thick fescue rough, clever bunkering and an abundance of water hazards waiting to eat up any stray tee shots. All three of the previous winners of the event here ranked high in driving accuracy. Patrick Reed was 8th when winning in 2019, with Adam Scott 11th in accuracy off the tee in 2013 and Heath Slocum ranking 9th in 2009.

Golf tips

The bentgrass greens are relatively small on the whole, though were expanded after the tournament in 2009, with new contouring, to make the course more tournament friendly. Approach play is going to be key here. Reed was 27th in approach in 2019 & 5th for greens hit, Scott 7th in approach & 4th for GIR in 2013 and Slocum 4th in approach & 6th in GIR in 2009.

With run off areas around a large portion of the greens, you’re going to have to bring a quality short game, particularly if the long game isn’t quite up to scratch. Reed ranked 2nd in scrambling & 21st around the greens in 2019, Scott 15th in scrambling & 6th around the greens in 2013 and Slocum 5th in scrambling & 14th around the greens when winning in 2009. 

All 3 past winners at Liberty National and many of those occupying a position toward the top of the leaderboard have simply played excellent all round golf when visiting here. It’s a real tough test that sets up to suit no one type of golfer. Plenty of variety in hole length, no more on show than down the final few holes, with the drivable, risk-reward par 4 16th accompanied by some tougher, close to 500 yard holes. Though there are plenty of birdie chances throughout, it’s a course in which I think the bogeys you don’t make could be more important than the birdies you do make.

With Louis Oosthuizen the only player from the top 125 in the FedExCup not teeing it up, we have a really mouthwatering field descending on Liberty National this week.

Northern Trust Tips

Golf odds
Daniel Berger each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-16 20:30 Odds subject to change.

Jon Rahm tees it up for the first time since The Open and is the rightful favourite after being 3rd here in 2019, but at 10/1 is a little shy of the price I like to get involved at. Improved performances recently from the likes of Dustin Johnson and Rory Mcilroy made them tempting. The same goes for the recent 1-2 in The Open, Morikawa and Spieth, who continue to play well. Though instead, I’m going to start with a trio of players at around the 30/1 mark. First up is Daniel Berger.

Despite this being his debut at the course, Berger looks a perfect fit for Liberty National. A fantastic tee-to-green game, where he ranks 19th on tour and 8th in strokes gained total is testament to how good his all-round game is, one which helps him rank 2nd in bogey avoidance. 

Very strong off the tee ranking 39th, where he’s both accurate and long enough, also backed up by a good short game, ranking 30th for putting and 28th in scrambling. Though it’s the iron play where he really excels, ranking 6th in approach on the PGA Tour and was in fine form the last time we saw him in that respect, as he was the best iron player in the field at the St Jude Invitational, helping him on his way to a 5th place finish.

That 5th place finish was the most recent bit of form in what has been a superb last 14 months or so from Berger. That has seen him miss just 3 cuts in his last 33 tournaments, racking up 15 top 10s and 2 titles in the process. First winning at Colonial in June of last year, adding to that with a victory at Pebble Beach earlier this year, a course which looks a good comp for this week’s venue.

Exposed to the elements, clever bunkering and a course where you know you’ve got to be hitting those fairways to give yourself the best chance of hitting the small greens. It was no surprise to see plenty of form tying in between the two events.

He finished 3rd in this event last year at TPC Boston and though the venue is different, I think Berger has the game to go just as well, here in Jersey City.

Patrick Cantlay each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-16 20:35 Odds subject to change.

When talking about golfers with the fewest weaknesses and the most complete game, there are few that match that description more than Patrick Cantlay. 4th on tour in strokes gained total and 3rd best tee-to-green. He’s one of few to be an excellent ball-striker but also possess a quality short game, where he ranks 1st in scrambling, 8th around the greens and a more than acceptable 67th in putting. With this, it’s no surprise he ranks 4th on tour in bogey avoidance. 

After a hot finish to last year and start to this, Cantlay went a little off the boil in the middle of the year but has been back in business since winning the Memorial Tournament a couple of months ago. Four starts since that, finishing 15th in the US Open and 13th in the Travelers Championship. He bounced back from a disappointing MC in The Open two starts ago, to finish a solid 23rd in the St Jude Invitational on his latest start.

He’s a player who bolsters the Pebble Beach connection further, with form in both events. He’s never missed a cut at Pebble in multiple visits and has recorded finishes of 9th, 11th and was 3rd to Daniel Berger this year. Rewind two years and he finished 12th here at Liberty National on debut.

Much maligned as a player who struggles with winning, Cantlay is now a four time PGA Tour winner and held his nerve well when he won the Memorial for the 2nd time, beating Collin Morikawa in a playoff. Looking like an ideal match for this week’s test he has both the game and class to win.

Webb Simpson each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-16 20:40 Odds subject to change.

One of very few players this week to have played here in 09,13 & 19, Simpson will be more familiar with this place than most and with finishes of 5th, 15th & 18th, he’ll also feel more comfortable than most.

Usually more suited to shorter courses, Simpson is no stranger to performing at more lengthy venues, as his results here show but he’s also got form at course likes Augusta and Quail Hollow. For what he lacks in length, he makes up for in every other part of his game. 

He ranks 33rd on tour tee-to-green, largely due to an excellent short game, ranking 15th around the green, 2nd in scrambling and 25th in putting. He’s also a solid iron player, ranking 56th in approach and though he’s not amongst the best drivers on tour in terms of strokes gained, he’s certainly one of the straightest, which I think will fair him well this week. Another who also rates high in that bogey avoidance stat, ranking 3rd.

After a couple of rare missed cuts in June/July, he’s responded well on his last three starts, finishing in the top 20 each time, a 7th place finish last week at the Wyndham Championship that offered up plenty of encouragement the latest. Strangely, it was the usually excellent short game that stopped him from winning last week. Ranking 54th in putting and 65th around the greens, he made up for it by ranking 1st in approach and 11th off the tee, to finish just a shot outside the playoff.

The Wyndham also popped up for me as a potential correlating course, with plenty of form that ties in with Liberty National. Not instantly one which springs to mind but you can see it, both courses which require accuracy off the tee and both possessing small undulating putting surfaces. Simpson is somewhat of a Wyndham specialist and has a stellar record here.

There’s no doubt it’s a longer course than you’d ideally see Webb winning on but he’s proven more than once he can go well here. Despite the poor short game performance last week, the long game was the best it’s been for a few weeks, so if he can keep that up and put that poor week on and around the greens down as nothing more than a blip, he should once again go well here.

Kevin Streelman each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-16 20:45 Odds subject to change.

With three from relatively close to the top of the market, I’m going to finish with another three from further down, all at 100/1+. Starting with Kevin Streelman.

Just five missed cuts in 19, with three top 10s and a handful of other top 25s to boot, it’s been a consistent, strong year for Streelman. One in which he’s recorded top 20 finishes in each of the three major championships he’s played in.

A very good ball-striker, ranking 29th in approach and 40th off the tee, he’s amongst the more accurate players on tour, ranking 19th in GIR and 43rd in driving accuracy. This was once again on show last week in his 7th place finish at the Wyndham, where he was 8th off the tee and 14th in approach. 

As mentioned with Simpson, I like the Wyndham as a comp event and he also has an excellent record at Pebble Beach. With an excellent run of results in the event in the last five years, which reads: 14-6-7-2-13.

His short game isn’t his biggest asset and he’ll need to be at his ball-striking best to contend but with form in the right places, as well as boasting a top 20 finish here in one of his two tries at the course, he’s shown it suits his game and hopefully can continue his good run of form.

Seamus Power each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-16 20:45 Odds subject to change.

A bit of a breakthrough year for the Irishman, Power. Who picked up his first PGA Tour title in the Barbasol Championship a few weeks ago. This was the culmination of a superb run of form, which saw him go 9-19-19-8-8 in the five events before picking up the title.

His game is rock solid across the board but he particularly excels around the greens, where he ranks 8th and in approach ranking 34th. This combination to go with the solid driving and putting means he’s 10th on tour in bogey avoidance and looks a player with the game to contend in much choppier waters.

He was 60th last week in the Wyndham Championship but that was his first start in four weeks since winning his first title, so I’m not too concerned. He’s in the best form of his career and possesses a bunch of figures which suggest he’ll like the course this week. Hopefully he can keep it up in this undoubtedly classier field.

Maverick McNealy each-way (8 places)
Odds correct as of 2021-08-16 20:50 Odds subject to change.

A player who was expected a lot of when he turned pro in 2017, off the back of reaching number one in the amateur rankings. McNealy hasn’t managed to reach the heights of some of his contemporaries just yet but is in the midst of his best season and close to cracking the world’s top 100 for the first time.

He had his best career finish to date earlier in the year, when he was 2nd at the aforementioned Pebble Beach, a place where he finished 5th a year prior. Following on from that he’s had a raft of missed cuts but in the middle of them he managed to find another excellent performance, finishing 4th at the RBC Heritage. 

A couple more MCs followed but he’s achieved an impressive, newfound level of consistency over recent weeks. Six cuts made in a row, finishing no worse than 30th, four times finishing inside the top 20. This recent run of consistency has coincided with him finally finding a bit of form with his irons, where he’s started to put up regularly positive numbers.

The rest of his game is solid, ranking inside the top 100 for the year in putting, driving and around the greens. 45th in bogey avoidance also shows a player who is handy at getting himself out of trouble.

With some excellent form at Pebble Beach that ties in nicely around here and the improvements with his iron game, this big talent has the game and potential to mix on the East Coast this week. 

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