6 Storylines Ahead of The Northern Trust

Dustin Johnson Wins THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston
Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the ninth tee during the final round of The Northern Trust at TPC Boston on Aug 23, 2020 in Norton, Mass. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The 2020-21 PGA Tour regular season came to a close with last week’s Wyndham Championship, which appropriately, given the direction of the Tour in recent months, ended with a jaw-dropping six-man playoff.

Now comes the postseason.

The top 125 golfers who accumulated the most FedExCup points over the course of the season qualified for at least the first event of the three-week FedExCup Playoffs, with the winner taking the largest payday in sports: $15 million.

The current advantage is with world No. 3 Collin Morikawa, who leads the FedExCup Standings, helped by his two-win season, including a stunning victory at last month’s Open Championship.

The now two-time major champion is in the best position to reach the Tour Championship atop the leaderboard, but points increase significantly in the first two events, so Morikawa is nowhere near a lock.

The performance of the 24-year-old American prodigy will be among the most watched at this week’s The Northern Trust, the first round of the playoffs. Being held at New Jersey’s Liberty National Golf Club, some of the other intriguing storylines include the following:


1. Top 70 Advance

Shane Lowry
Shane Lowry plays a shot on the 18th hole during the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship on Mar 11, 2021 at TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. (Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Now in the third year of the current format, the FedExCup Playoffs are a three-event lineup with progressive cuts. After The Northern Trust is played this weekend, the 125 will be cut to 70, meaning 55 players will not be moving on to next week’s BMW Championship at Maryland’s Caves Valley Golf Club.

Currently, the top 70 bubble looks like this:

66. Shane Lowry
67. Mackenzie Hughes
68. Robert Streb
69. Troy Merritt
70. J.T. Poston

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71. Bubba Watson
72. Harold Varner III
73. Seamus Power
74. Brandon Hagy
75. Andrew Putnam

Other notables from 76-125 include: Ian Poulter (79), Adam Scott (82), Brendon Todd (95), Jason Day (110), Pat Perez (111), Zach Johnson (113), Gary Woodland (114), C.T. Pan (118), Matt Kuchar (120), and Dylan Frittelli (122).

Adam Scott Wyndham Championship Day 4
Adam Scott walks up the 18th fairway, the first-playoff hole in a six-way sudden-death playoff, during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield CC on Aug 15, 2021 in Greensboro, NC. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

The further down the list a player sits, the better they need to perform to move on. Last year, six players moved from outside the top 70 to inside at The Northern Trust.

The player furthest back to make the move was Russell Henley, whose T8 jumped him from 101st to 61st. The highest player in the standings to drop out of the top 70 was Doc Redman, who missed the cut to drop from 60th to 71th.

The top 70 bubble is not the only bubble to be concerned about. At the BMW Championship, the top 30 will move on to the Tour Championship. There will be players outside the top 30 who will essentially secure their spot at the Tour Championship this week.


2. DJ Defends

Dustin Johnson THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston
Dustin Johnson pulls a club on the ninth tee alongside caddie Austin Johnson during the third round of The Northern Trust at TPC Boston on Aug 22, 2020 in Norton, Mass. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The bottom 55 on the FedExCup standings will be cut after The Northern Trust this week. It can be argued that last year, the bottom 124 should have been sent home.

Last year’s The Northern Trust was an absolute one-man show put on by Dustin Johnson at TPC Boston. He won by 11 strokes, the biggest blowout seen on Tour since Phil Mickelson won the 2006 Bell South Classic by13 strokes, and his 30-under final score was the second-lowest of all-time in any Tour event, being passed only by Ernie Els (31-under) at the 2003 Mercedes Championship.

For the week, DJ had more eagles (5) than bogeys (3), and he played the first 11 holes of his second round in 11-under before parring out for possibly the most disappointing 60 in Tour history.

Dustin Johnson THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston
Dustin Johnson walks along the 18th hole during the second round of THE NORTHERN TRUST at TPC Boston on Aug 21, 2020 in Norton, Mass. Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

It was the 22nd win of Johnson’s career, and record-tying fifth FedExCup playoff victory (Rory McIlroy). He would go on to win the FedExCup Championship, which he parlayed into a late 2020 tear highlighted by a four-stroke victory at The Masters in November.

2021 though? It has been a different story for DJ, who has mostly looked out of sorts. In fifteen 2021 calendar year starts, he has not finished better than T8, he became the first world No. 1 since 1997 to miss the cut in the year’s first two majors, faded out of contention at The Open Championship. And in his most recent start – at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, he had a chance at a great result after a pair of 65s in rounds 2 and 3, but faded on Sunday and needed to birdie his final two holes just to shoot even-par and settle for a T10.

In the past year, he has been eclipsed in the world rankings by Jon Rahm, but at No. 2, he should still be encouraged, given that he has won this event three times. None of those wins were at Liberty National, where he finished T24 in 2009, after opening with a 63 and playing the weekend 73-74.


3. Ancer Now A Winner

Abraham Ancer Wins WGC-Fedex-St Jude Invitational
Abraham Ancer poses with the trophy after winning the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in a playoff at TPC Southwind on Aug 8, 2021 in Memphis, Tenn. (Photo by Sam Greenwood via Getty Images)

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer first landed on the PGA Tour radar with great finishes in several FedExCup events. When he finished solo runner-up to Patrick Reed in the 2019 The Northern Trust at Liberty National, his first career victory looked imminent.

Ancer had two more runner-up finishes in 2020, in addition to a T4, and in the current season he had posted six top-10s, including a solo runner-up at the Wells Fargo Championship, going into the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his most recent start.

There, in Memphis, Ancer finally snagged his first career win, overcoming Harris English in the final round and ousting red-hot Sam Burns and reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama on the second playoff hole. The win was even more impressive when it is noted that Ancer had been representing Mexico in the Tokyo Olympics the week prior.

Now the question becomes, will the floodgates open? The 30-year-old has shown tremendous potential between his FedExCup playoff success and the 2019 Presidents Cup, where he starred for the International Squad.

Ancer is not a long hitter, but he is precise, currently ranking 7th on Tour in driving accuracy and 26th in greens in regulation. He is also an above average putter and currently leads the Tour in scrambling from the rough.


4. Nobody Beats The Kiz

Kevin Kisner Wins 2021 Wyndham Championship
Kevin Kisner celebrates with caddie Duane Bock after his birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Wyndham Championship in sudden death on the second playoff hole at Sedgefield CC on Aug 15, 2021 in Greensboro, NC. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton via Getty Images)

Ancer is not the only golfer in the field who is arriving in New Jersey off a victory. Kevin Kisner breathed life into his underwhelming season by winning last week’s Wyndham Championship.

Kisner went low on the weekend and then won an epic six-man playoff with a birdie on the second hole. He did well to even reach that second playoff hole, as he botched his approach on the first, but he got up-and-down, nearly holing an immaculate pitch.

It was Kisner’s fourth career victory.

Now 34th in the world rankings, he improved his FedExCup position from 69th to 29th, giving him an advantage in trying to reach East Lake. He now has three top-8 finishes in his last five starts.

The 37-year-old has played this event well in recent years. He finished T4 a year ago at TPC Boston, and was T12 at Liberty National the year prior, opening the tournament with a 64. Kisner has been relatively streaky in his career, so there should be little doubt that he is capable of chasing his Wyndham victory with an exceptional finish this week.

Kisner will also likely be further motivated by his desire to make the American Ryder Cup team. With two weeks to go before Steve Stricker makes his captain’s picks, Kisner is 18th in the standings, with 12 players making the team. Another great week could really force Stricker’s hands, given Kisner’s prior dominance in match play.


5. Royal Rahm

Jon Rahm plays his shot from the 18th tee as Louis Oosthuizen looks on during Day Two of the 149th The Open Championship at Royal St. Georges Golf Club on July 16, 2021 in Sandwich, England. (Photo by Keyur Khamar for PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

World No. 1 Jon Rahm has been able to get a month of rest before the FedExCup playoffs, although that was not the intent. He was set to represent his native Spain at The Olympics in Tokyo, but was forced out by a positive COVID test. That was especially notable because in early June, Rahm was forced to withdraw from The Memorial Tournament after 54 holes, leading by six, because he tested positive for COVID.

Assuming Rahm does not somehow test positive yet again, he is probably the player with the best chance to win this week. The 26-year-old has been exceptional in 2021, with a Tour-leading 12 top 10s in 19 starts, including a breakthrough major championship victory at the U.S. Open. He is fifth in the current FedExCup standings, largely due to fewer starts made than those ahead of him.

Rahm finished T6 at last year’s The Northern Trust, before winning the following week at the BMW Championship. He was T3 at Liberty National in 2019, finishing two strokes behind Patrick Reed after playing his final five holes in 2-over.


6. Ryder Cup Implications

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth
Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth during the third round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on Aug 8, 2020 in San Francisco, CA. (Photo by Harry How via Getty Images)

As mentioned in the Kisner segment, the Ryder Cup is being held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. The top six players in the Ryder Cup standings automatically make the American team. The current top six is as follows:

1. Collin Morikawa
2. Dustin Johnson
3. Bryson DeChambeau
4. Brooks Koepka
5. Justin Thomas
6. Xander Schauffele

For those who fail to finish in the top six in Ryder Cup points, they could still make the team if as a captain’s pick, chosen by American Captain Steve Stricker. If Stricker went strictly by points (they usually don’t), the next six are as follows:

7. Jordan Spieth
8. Harris English
9. Patrick Reed
10. Daniel Berger
11. Patrick Cantlay
12. Tony Finau

Having more Ryder Cup points is considered a large advantage in landing as a Captain’s pick, but Stricker could use any criteria he chooses to make the team (experience, chemistry, recent play, etc). Notables outside the top 12 include Webb Simpson (13), Scottie Scheffler (14), Kisner (18), and Phil Mickelson (19).

Phil Mickelson and caddie Tim Mickelson
Phil Mickelson and caddie Tim Mickelson celebrate with a fist pump after making a birdie putt on the 9th hole during the second round of the PGA Championship on The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort on May 21, 2021, in Kiawah Island, SC. (Photo by Keyur Khamar PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Mickelson’s case is especially interesting since he has played on a record 12 Ryder Cup teams. It would help his case tremendously if he is able to play well enough to make it to the Tour Championship. He is currently 54th, with the brunt of his points coming from his historic victory at May’s PGA Championship.

The Ryder Cup teams are set to be finalized after the BMW Championship.

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