This week’s opening event of the very lucrative FedExCup Playoffs – The Northern Trust – may not be a major, but the strength of the field is comparable to one.
Contested at the ultra-exclusive Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey, nearly the entire top 125 of the regular season FedExCup standings will be teeing it up this week.
Some will have their sights set on the Tour Championship at East Lake, while others are going one week at time, just hoping to not be among the 55 who get eliminated from the playoffs after Sunday.
While there are many players to like at The Northern Trust this week, the following are the 10 players we like the most, in what should be an extremely competitive event:
10. Patrick Cantlay
Patrick Cantlay completed another exceptional regular season with a win (Memorial) and several top 10s, finishing No. 6 in the FedExCup standings. He is now considered one of the game’s elite players, and regularly appears on all the various pre-tournament power lists.
Ranked No. 10 in the world, the California native has cooled off somewhat following his win at Jack’s Place, but will still enter New Jersey off three top-21s in his last four outings. And based on past performance (3-4 straight top 10s, followed by 3-4 straight decent starts, followed by 3-4 straight top 10s…) Cantlay appears ready to reel off one of his top-10 runs through the playoffs.
Currently ranked 2nd on Tour in strokes gained: total, Cantlay has the game to win the whole thing.
World Rank: 10
FedExCup Rank: 6
Last Six: 12, 41, 15, 21, 1, 3
9. Tony Finau
Victory No. 1 in a non-opposite field event feels imminent for world No. 14 Tony Finau, right? Well, we (and everyone else) have been saying that for two years now, and we’re still writing about it. At some point, though, he’s gotta come through. Don’t be surprised if this week is the breakthrough for the Utah native.
Ranked 15th in the FedExCup standings, Finau enters New Jersey off a solo third-place at The Open, sandwiched between a T27 (Memphis) and T23 (3M Open). He posted a solo runner-up at The Northern Trust last year (at Ridgewood, not Liberty), which jump-started a 2-4-8-15 run through the playoffs.
World Rank: 14
FedExCup Rank: 15
Last Six: 27, 3, 23, MC, MC, MC
8. Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas seems to be back in form after a mid-season injury which shelved him for several weeks. Despite a season that seems to have been wasted, after such a promising start (three top-3s in his first four starts of 2019), the 26 year old star has maintained his top-10 world ranking, and now sits No. 9.
Returning from the injury list, JT was rusty out of the gate (MC-T20-MC-T36) but has now posted three consecutive top-12 finishes (T9-T11-T12) in three elite events.
As for motivation to win? There are many, but first and foremost, his brand has been defined by winning, and winning often. For instance, after claiming the title at the 2018 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last August, JT was the Tour’s most prolific winner. The then 25-year old had amassed eight wins in his most recent 38 PGA Tour starts. That amounted to a victory every 4.75 starts. At the time, his career total stood at nine (9) wins and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he’d join the likes of Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jack Nicklaus as players with at least 10 Tour wins by the age of 25.
He’s now 26 and still has nine wins, as he’s gone 22 starts without a W.
Thomas has made just 17 starts but finished 17th in the FedExCup standings, aided greatly by the aforementioned early-season hot streak of two runner-ups and a solo third place finish.
World Rank: 9
FedExCup Rank: 17
Last Six: 12, 11, 9, 36, MC, 20
7. Adam Scott
Following a slump-busting third-place finish at last year’s PGA Championship, Adam Scott has quietly returned to form, and become one of the Tour’s elite players again.
With one of the sweetest swings in Tour history, the Aussie has moved back inside the world top 20 after falling outside the top 75 during a stunning one-year slump that saw him post a single top 10 in 24 starts and fall from No. 14 in the world to No. 76.
Starting with that breakout performance at Bellerive, Scott has now posted eight (8) top 10s in his 19 most recent starts, including three-straight during an elite-event stretch which included the PGA (T8), the Memorial (2), and U.S. Open (T7).
His approach game is now fully back, as evidenced by his 5th place ranking this season in strokes gained: approach-the-green, and 4th place in strokes gained: total. If he can improve his putting (45th sg: putting), he could be scary good in the playoffs, as he’s shown the ability to get hot in the post-season before: in 2016, he played the four playoff events T4, 4, T4, T8, and in 2014 he went T15, T16, T8, T9.
Don’t underestimate the 39-year-old Aussie.
World Rank: 20
FedExCup Rank: 21
Last Six: 40, MC, 7, 2, 8, 18
6. Xander Schauffele
The usually calm and cool southern Californian went ballistic at The Open, after someone leaked news that his driver had been deemed illegal by the R & A.
After that controversy, he finished T41, and then posted a mediocre T27 in the 63-player field in the Memphis WGC event. Before that, though, Schauffele was enjoying another stellar season, highlighted by two wins, and a pair of top-3s in two of the majors.
He currently sits in 4th-place in the FedExCup standings, and will enter the playoffs as one of the top betting favorites. The big-game player is also a player not to be overlooked.
World Rank: 11
FedExCup Rank: 4
Last Six: 27, 41, 3, 14, MC, 16
5. Dustin Johnson
He is No. 2 in the World Rankings, No. 5 in Scoring Average, No. 7 in the FedExCup Standings, and claimed one of the four WGC events this season. Yet, despite all that, it’s been considered something of a down year for Dustin Johnson. A lot of this talk has to do with his recent form as he’s not posted a single top 10 in his five most recent starts. It marks the first time since the beginning of the 2013 season that he’s gone this long without a top 10.
While a FedExCup Championship won’t offset another winless season in the majors, it would be a pretty nice consolation prize. In fact, it is one of the few mountains he has not yet to conquer on Tour, and so he’s as safe a bet as anyone to contend down to the end at East Lake.
World Rank: 2
FedExCup Rank: 7
Last Six: 20, 51, MC, 35, 20, 2
4. Bryson DeChambeau
Bryson DeChambeau, the defending champion, won two playoff events last season, and started the 2018-19 campaign with another win at the Shriners – his fifth career PGA Tour title, and fourth victory in 13 starts.
DeChambeau followed this up with two top-10s in Hawaii and then a victory in Dubai and a T6 in Saudi Arabi during the European Tour’s Middle East swing. He was now officially a world top-5 player, but following this hot stretch, he went 11 straight starts without a top 10.
He seemed to break out of his slump with a pair of top 10s at the Travelers (T8) and 3M Open (T2), but then closed out the regular season with a missed cut (his fourth in eight starts) and T48 (at the 63-player WGC event in Memphis).
When you add in the fact the tournament will be contested at a different venue, DeChambeau – despite his defending champion status – is a risky pick.
World Rank: 8
FedExCup Rank: 18
Last Six: 48, MC, 2, 8, 35, 22
3. Rory McIlroy
The world No. 3 has been consistently elite from a pure-stat perspective, with a ridiculous 12 top-10s in 16 PGA Tour starts, highlighted by two victories, including a defining win at THE PLAYERS Championship.
However, as amazing as he has been at times, Rory McIlroy was largely irrelevant during the major season, and shockingly missed the cut at The Open Championship, which was being played in his native Northern Ireland. He then squandered the 54-hole co-lead at the following week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
A former FedExCup Champion, Rory will be among the most watched and feared players in the field, but it could be fair to wonder where his mental game is.
World Rank: 3
FedExCup Rank: 2
Last Six: 4, MC, 34, 9, 1, MC
2. Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm, the 24-year old Spaniard, is the hottest golfer on the planet not named Brooks Koepka. The world No. 7 enters Liberty National off five straight top-11s, including four top-10s, and three top-3s, highlighted by his second career win at the Irish Open. For the third straight season (his only three) he once again won on both the PGA Tour and European Tour – the longest streak in history.
Rahm also enjoyed his best major championship season, finishing with three top 11s (T3, T9, T11).
A win by Rahm in New Jersey (or Chicago or Atlanta) would surprise nobody. He’s expected to be a threat in all the big events for years to come.
World Rank: 7
FedExCup Rank: 10
Last Six: 7, 11, 1, 2, 3, MC
1. Brooks Koepka
The FedExCup Playoffs open up appropriately with world No. 1, Brooks Koepka, also atop the FedExCup Standings. The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year (with back-to-back MVP awards basically guaranteed) had another banner year, owning the major season with four top-4 finishes, including two runner-ups, and a victory at the PGA Championship – his second consecutive year winning back-to-back majors, and his third straight season with a major victory.
Even scarier for the field: Koepka is coming off a win at a non-major – the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, his third win of the 2019 campaign – a Tour best.
Koepka finished T8 in this event a year ago, although, his only experience at Liberty National came during the 2017 Presidents Cup matches, where he performed well enough.
World Rank: 1
FedExCup Rank: 1
Last Six: 1, 4, 65, 57, 2, 50
Joel Cook contributed to this article, including the rankings and some content.