This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE NORTHERN TRUST
Winner's Share: $1.71M
FedEx Cup Points: 2,000 to the Winner
Location: Jersey City, N.J.
Course: Liberty National Golf Club
2020 champion: Dustin Johnson (TPC Boston)
After an unprecedented season on the PGA Tour, one with more majors and more big tournaments than we'd ever seen before, there is one more superlative to throw at you: The Northern Trust, the first of the three 2020-21 playoff events, will feature the strongest field ever recorded outside of the majors and The PLAYERS Championship (in the OWGR era, which dates to 1986). That's the word from Twitter's noted OWGR expert @VC606. The strength-of-field rating per the OWGR website is 828, which actually comes very close to this year's PLAYERS, which was 840.
The record was reached despite a number of top golfers being absent from the 124-man field. Most notably, world No. 7 Louis Oosthuizen chose not to enter, which is why the field is not 125. Then there's No. 31 Will Zalatoris, who was not eligible, and No. 38 Tommy Fleetwood and No. 45 Justin Rose, who did not qualify.
World No. 1 Jon Rahm heads the field, making his first appearance since the Open Championship more than a month ago and following his second COVID-induced break. No. 2 Dustin Johnson technically is the defending champion, though last year the tournament was played at TPC Boston. When it was last at Liberty National in 2019, Patrick Reed came away with the title.
This will be only the fifth tournament played at Liberty National – after the 2009 and 2013 Barclays, the 2017 Presidents Cup and the 2019 Northern Trust – and also the last for the foreseeable future. New York/Boston is being removed from the playoff rotation next year in favor of a FedEx-sponsored event at TPC Southwind in Memphis. So make sure to get one final look at the breathtaking views of the New York skyline and Statue of Liberty.
Liberty National has been around only since 2006. It's a little on the longer side for a par-71, and it features moderate-width fairways, almost 100 bunkers and water affecting 12 holes. In 2013 and 2019, it played middle of the pack in course difficulty. There were 175 double bogeys or worse in 2019, which is on the high side considering the field was only 121. Of the three par-5s, one is reachable by the entire field (538 yards), one is reachable by some (580) and one is reachable by hardly anyone (611). Three of the four par-3s exceed 200 yards. There are six par-4s of 450-yards-plus (well, one is 445, so shoot me). So this course has many long holes and, combined with the smallish bentgrass greens averaging only about 4,600 square feet, will put a premium on ball striking, specifically approach shots. The golfers have noted that the greens are tricky with contours and undulations. There has not been a high correlation between putting and a high finish in the three prior tournaments – even Reed, one of the premier putters on Tour, ranked only 20th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting in 2019. So this a week that the great ball strikers/bad putters merit lineup consideration.
After this week, the top-70 golfers will advance to the second playoff event, the BMW Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club in Maryland, where there will not be a cut. This week, almost half the field will be cut after Friday's play, to 65 and ties. In the first two years of the three-event playoff format, an average of five guys have vaulted from outside the top-70 to inside – four in 2019 and six last year. Harold Varner made the biggest jump, from the 102nd position in 2019, with Russell Henley right behind at 101st last year.
Weather-wise, there's a chance of rain/thunderstorms most of tournament week, though likely not enough for significant delays but maybe enough to soften/lengthen the course. Highs will be in the low-80s and the wind is forecast to be light.
Liberty National factoids: There are 87 golfers in the 124-man field who played in the 2019 tournament, 41 of whom also played in 2013.
Key Stats to Winning at Liberty National
The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key Stats" follow in importance.
• Ball Striking, with an emphasis on driving accuracy
• Strokes Gained: Approach/Greens in Regulation
• Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green/Scrambling
• Par-4, 450-500 Efficiency
2020 - Dustin Johnson (TPC Boston)
2019 - Patrick Reed Liberty National)
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau (Ridgewood CC)
2017 - Dustin Johnson (Glen Oaks Club)
2016 - Patrick Reed (Bethpage Black)
2015 - Jason Day (Plainfield CC)
2014 - Hunter Mahan (Ridgewood CC)
2013 - Adam Scott (Liberty National)
2012 - Nick Watney (Bethpage Black)
2011 - Dustin Johnson (Plainfield CC)
Reed's winning performance (16-under) in 2019 was not what we've come to expect from him. For instance, he ranked ninth in the field in driving distance and 20th in Strokes Gained: Putting. But he was eighth in fairways hit, fifth in greens in regulation and second in scrambling. Those stats are the thread that runs through Scott (11-under) in 2013 and Heath Slocum (9-under), who won in 2009. Scott ranked 11th in driving accuracy, fourth in greens in regulation and 15th in scrambling. For Slocum, he was 11th in fairways hit, sixth in greens in regulation and ninth in scrambling. Neither Scott nor Slocum relied heavily on his putting to win. The over/under on the winning score at golfodds.com is 269.5 – 14.5 under par.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS
Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap
Tier 1 Values
Jon Rahm - $11,500 (Winning odds at DraftKings Sportbook: +800)
After winning the U.S. Open in June, Rahm finished seventh at the Scottish Open and tied for third at the Open Championship. He very rarely misses. He tied for third here in 2019. About the only concern is lack of reps; he hasn't played in five weeks.
Jordan Spieth - $11,000 (+1200)
Of all the things that attracted us to Spieth, tops was his tie for sixth in 2019 – smack in the middle of his four-year nosedive. If he can finish sixth when his game is lost, what about now? He also was top-20 in 2013.
Collin Morikawa - $10,400 (+1600)
On a course that puts a strong emphasis on ball striking but doesn't overly penalize poor putters, which golfer might come to mind? Anybody care to venture a guess? Oh, c'mon, take a wild guess.
Rory McIlroy - $10,000 (+2200)
In the second half of Tier 1, there's Brooks Koepka ($10,200), then McIlroy, Justin Thomas ($9,800) and Bryson DeChambeau ($9,600). DeChambeau always has a good shot at being a train wreck, Thomas has been lost for months and Koepka may or may not have tweaked his knee before Memphis (T54). McIlroy was T4 at the Olympics and T12 at the WGC-FedEx. Those are good results for his last two times out, and he's only seventh on the DK board.
Tier 2 Values
Scottie Scheffler - $9,300 (+2800)
Scheffler continued to play well over the summer in the biggest tournaments with the best fields – eighth at the Open Championship, 14th at the WGC-FedEx. His greens-in-regulation ranking is far from elite – 62nd – but he uses his all-around game to get the job done. He's ranked eighth on Tour par-4 450-500.
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,000 (+4000)
Matsuyama has been playing lots of overtime of late. He was in the seven-man bronze-medal playoff at the Olympics, then the three-way playoff at Memphis. He came up short both times, but he still got there. We all know about Matsuyama's elite iron play – seventh on Tour in SG: Approach – but he has a vastly underrated wedge game – he's ranked 41st in SG: Around-the-Green.
Adam Scott - $8,400 (+4000)
If Scott can get over gagging away last week's tournament – he missed a four-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole that would've won the Wyndham Championship – he checks off a lot of boxes for this week. He won the tournament here in 2013 and, six years later came back and finished fifth. Scott made a big leap last week, from 121st to 82nd in the standings. He still has work to do to get into the top-70.
Corey Conners - $8,300 (50-1)
Conners has had a good but not great summer, registering a bunch of top-20s – PGA, Charles Schwab, Open Championship, Olympics – but not top-10s. At $8,300, that's not required. Along those lines, he tied for 21st here in 2019. Conners is ranked an elite ninth in SG: Off-the-Tee and 14th in both SG: Approach and greens in regulation. He'll need all that this week, because his short game is pretty weak – and his scrambling is even worse than his putting.
Tier 3 Values
Tyrrell Hatton - $7,800 (+5500)
The No. 13-ranked golfer in the world is under $8,000. Sounds like a slam dunk, right? It's not, not by any means. Hatton has had an up-and-down season, which is why he's no longer No. 8 in the world. But his tee-to-green game remains very strong, so he should be able to succeed here. He's ranked top-25 on Tour in SG: Off-the-Tee, Approach and Tee-to-Green. And he's on the plus side in SG: Putting, albeit barely. Those numbers suggest Hatton should be playing better.
Jason Kokrak - $7,700 (+6500)
This is a track where Kokrak should excel. In fact, he was 12th here in 2019, ninth in 2013. The concern is, he's done very little since winning for the second time this season at Colonial, which was way back on Memorial Day weekend. Kokrak is ranked 27th in par-4 450-500, 31st in greens in regulation and he continues astound on the greens, ranked sixth in SG: Putting.
Keegan Bradley - $7,500 (+13000)
Bradley has had a lot of good weeks – four top-20s in his past nine starts, including a runner-up at the Valspar. But also three missed cuts in that stretch. That's the life of an elite ball striker/horrid putter. Bradley is ranked fourth in SG: Approach, but also surprisingly 47th in SG: Around-the-Green, meaning he has a decent wedge game. He's made the cut here in both 2013 and 2019, and he should be able to do it again.
Emiliano Grillo - $7,200 (+13000)
Grillo is ranked fourth on Tour in greens in regulation, 13th in SG: Approach. He misses his share of cuts, maybe more than his share, but they tend to come more in birdie-fests. Grillo is also tied for 14th in par-4 450-500.
Charley Hoffman - $7,000 (+10000)
Hoffman has cooled off from his fantastic spring, but he's still ranked 32nd in the standings, meaning he's secure into next week's BMW and could even sneak into the Tour Championship with one good week. He made the cut at Liberty National in both 2013 and '19, albeit without a high finish. Hoffman is ranked 12th on Tour in SG: Approach, 23rd in SG: Tee-to-Green, top-50 in both scrambling and SG: Putting and 23rd in par-4 450-500.
Chris Kirk - $6,800 (+15000)
Kirk has had a great comeback season, and it's not over yet. Ranked 52nd in the standings, he's safely through to the BMW. But he also has the goods to deliver at Liberty National. He does just about everything well except hit the ball far, but where he really shines is around the green, ranked top-20 on Tour. He's also pretty fair in par-4 450-500 efficiency, ranked sixth.
Roger Sloan - $6,800 (+15000)
We've been riding Sloan a bunch of late, including last week, when he paid off big-time by getting into the Wyndham playoff. That vaulted him from outside the top-125 to well inside at 92nd, leaving him with a fighting chance to get into the top-70. There's a lot to be said for a good greens-in-regulation guy, and Sloan is one of those guys, ranked 21st on Tour. He's also 20th in par-4 450-500. Sloan made the cut at Liberty National two years ago.
Aaron Wise - $6,600 (+20000)
Wise is ranked ninth on Tour in greens in regulation, which gives him a chance every time he tees it up. The thing is, as good as his iron play is, that's how bad his putting is. So we'll be happy with a made cut, which is what Wise did here in 2019, when he tied for 43rd. He's also ranked 40th in SG: Around-the-Green, offering hope of a lot more than just a made cut.