Now that the regular season has ended, the PGA Tour plays the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. This is the first of four events that are considered the “postseason” in golf. The other events are as follows: Dell Technologies Championship, the BMW Championship, and the TOUR Championship in which the winner will be crowned the FedEx Cup champion and take home the $10 million prize.
Ridgewood Country Club is a 7,400 yard, par-71 course with four par-3’s, eleven par-4’s, and three par-5’s. The par-3’s play an average of almost 200 yards, with the shortest being the 155-yard fifteenth, and the longest being the 230-yard sixth. With no water on any of the four holes, we can expect players to be more aggressive since they only have to avoid the greenside bunkers. The three par-5’s are essentially what gives this course it’s length since they are 588, 626, and 594 yards apiece. This makes them only reachable by the long ball guys if they hit a perfect shot, and even then they’ll probably come up short, especially on the 626-yard thirteenth. The par-4’s only play an average of 435 yards, with one being the drivable 291-yard twelfth. I expect the majority of guys to at least attempt to drive the green because that’s pretty much the only eagle-able hole on the course and those that can’t score there won’t really have a shot at winning. The first hole is the only hole that has a water hazard, and the lack of hazards can only mean one thing. The fairways are incredibly narrow, and the rough is incredibly thick, so I think that accuracy off the tee will be more important than distance this week and we could even see some guys (potentially Tiger) taking more 3-woods and irons off the tee.
Last weekend we saw some storms suspend play on Saturday, but this week that shouldn’t be the case. The forecast says that there will be an overcast Saturday and Sunday, but the chances of rain are low. However, like I always say this time of year, pop-up thunderstorms and rain showers are a thing, no matter how unlikely they are.
As you could probably guess, just like the playoffs in any other sports, the field from here on out will only get stronger. This week, the top 125 guys in FedEx Cup points qualify to compete, but not everyone is here. Rickie Fowler, Henrick Stenson, and Bud Cauley all withdrew due to injuries, and Rory McIlroy and Patrick Rodgers withdrew to get some rest. So of this 120 player field, the top-70 and ties will make the cut. Next week, only the top-100 golfers will qualify, so that could give some motivation to the guys that are “on the bubble” to bring their A-game and advance to the next round.
With the fairways being so narrow, it will be extremely important to hit them, and I’ve also heard that the rough makes the course play even longer making the accuracy stat even more essential to a good round. The greens are also on the smaller side to proximity to the hole will be important as well. Having said all of this, I think scrambling and scoring around-the-green will also be stats to take into consideration because it is inevitable that players will miss fairways and greens.
In the top-tier, the guy that I think has the best chance to win is Justin Rose. Other than driving accuracy (which he ranks fifty-third on Tour), Rose has top-20 ranks in all of the other stat categories. He ranks T-12 in scrambling, T-19 in proximity to the hole, and 16 in strokes gained: around-the-green. Rose has also made every single cut this year and has thirteen overall top-10 finishes (PGA Tour and European Tour combined). His PGA Championship performance ruined a streak of five straight top-10 finish. Oh yeah, and his streak-ending PGA Championship finish was a top-20 T-19. I shouldn’t really have to talk you into liking Rose this week, but he rates the highest across the board in my model.
In the middle-tier, Ryan Moore ranks extremely high in all four stat categories this week. He is fourth in driving accuracy, fourth in scrambling, T-10 in proximity to the hole, and twentieth in SG: around-the-green. Moore is coming off of a T-6 finish at the Wyndham Championship and looking to carry that momentum into this week. He has missed four cuts this year, but his last one was at the Travelers Championship back in the middle of June. Since then, he has had three top-20 finishes (including his finish at the Wyndham). Being ranked fifty-fifth in FedEx Cup points, Moore shouldn’t feel too much pressure to perform well here since he’ll get to move on to next weeks tournament more-than-likely. Hopefully, this relaxes him and he plays stress-free golf because he has some real potential to end up at the top of the leaderboard.
The bottom-tier is a little tricky, and will be until the 2017-18 season is completely over. With such a stacked field, the bottom tier guys actually have a better chance to win this week and the competition only gets tougher from here. However, a guy that I pops-up in my model this week is Chris Kirk. Kirk has also missed four cuts this year, but his last missed cut was back in APRIL at the Zurich Classic of New Orl. This shows me that he is in great form as of late, especially after a T-11 finish at the Wyndham Championship. He doesn’t have great rankings in driving accuracy and SG:ATG, fifty-fifth and fifty-seventh, respectively, but he ranks fifteenth and T-10 in scrambling and proximity to the hole. Out of everyone down in this range, he seems to have the best shot at finishing in the top 33% of the field this week.
While I do like where these three guys are at this week, you can’t count Tiger out, especially if he plays like he has in the past two majors. On the majority of the holes, he might not even have to use driver and if he can eliminate his weakness, his other strengths have the possibility to send him to the top of the leaderboard. This is going to be a great tournament and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.