So 125 have now become 70 following the eventual conclusion of last week’s Northern Trust. It was everybody’s favorite golfer, Tony Finau, who finally ended a five-year wait to win only his second PGA Tour title and with it leap to the top of the FedEx Cup Rankings with just two more events to go.
The Northern Trust was a frustrating tournament for all of our picks. Paul Casey, Seamus Power, Viktor Hovland, and Patrick Cantlay all made the cut and after the first round were all ranked inside the top 20. It was a weekend where our picks simply couldn’t pick up enough birdies to keep up with the tournament front runners. Hovland entered the final round 3 shots off the leaders, before a quadruple-bogey at the par 4 8th put pay to his chances. Patrick Cantlay flirted with the top 10, finishing T11 which would have given us a small return but it wasn’t quite to be.
With the season gearing up for an exciting and unpredictable conclusion, attention now turns towards the second playoff event, The BMW Championship, which is due to be held at Caves Valley in Maryland. Before we get into this week’s picks, let’s take a quick look at what the field can expect from this week’s stunning and picturesque course.
This is the first PGA tournament ever to be held at Caves Valley, it is a course that has been designed by well-respected course designer Tom Fazio and is a reasonably young course, opening back in 1991. However, it is no stranger to hosting top-level events. It has hosted several many senior major championships, the LPGA’s inaugural International Crown team event, and hosted several NCAA Championships. The most recent championship held at Caves Valley was the 2017 Senior Players Championship, but since this event, the course has embarked on a fairly radical transformation.
A variety of new tee boxes have added around 300 yards in length which takes the total yardage to a tick above 7,500 yards. Every bunker has been rebuilt with the addition of new ones ensuring a harder driving test, trees have been removed and the rough thickened. For this week’s championship, the front and back 9 have been reversed which should allow the players a gentler start to their rounds before encountering some challenging finishing holes.
Interestingly the course has been designed to play fast and firm but with all of the recent wet weather that has hit the Maryland area, the course could be set for low scoring - there is even the prospect of players starting on the par 4 10th being able to drive the green. It has been predicted that the winning score this week could be as low as -20.
As has become custom with a Tom Fazio-designed course, expect rolling hills and slopes, with large greens consisting of a bentgrass surface, similar to last week's Northern Trust so players who putt well last week should find themselves at home once more. Although measuring long, it shouldn't eliminate the game's lesser hitters. With scoring set to below, we will be picking golfers who are efficient on the greens and efficient in the strokes gained through the approach. We will also be considering players who have performed well at other Tom Fazio courses.
MAIN BET: JUSTIN THOMAS +1800
For those that read these articles regularly, you will know that just a few weeks ago Justin Thomas was my main bet for the Olympics, and it was a pretty poor showing from the American in Tokyo, however, I was encouraged by last week's T4 finish with Thomas seemingly looking back to his best. The stats that really leap out are Thomas's performances on Tom Fazio-designed courses where he leads the field in strokes gained over the last 36 rounds.
Other key stats that support Thomas doing well this week is that Thomas ranks third on Tour for strokes gained through his approach and 4th in strokes gained from tee to green. He ranks 22nd in total driving distance and 4th in scoring average.
With the scoring set to be low and Thomas coming back into form, I think it could be Thomas's week.
DARK HORSE: JOAQUIN NIEMANN +6000
Again I am returning to a golfer that I have previously backed in 22-year-old Chilean sensation Joaquin Niemann. Niemann when we last backed him lost out in an agonizing playoff in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and his form has been ok since then. A 10th place finish in the Olympics was followed by a 17th place finish at the St Jude Invitational before last week's 47th place finish at The Northern Trust.
Niemann by far is at his best on a bentgrass surface and interestingly his only Tour win came in a similar area to Caves Valley at The Old White TPC in West Virginia.
Niemann lies 12th in scoring average, 7th in total birdies, and 17th in birdie average. With the putter, Niemann is ranked 22nd in strokes gained and he is ranked 17th in total overall putting. Combine this with an average 300-yard driving distance and Niemann could be a real contender this week. Odds of +900 for a top 5 and +400 for a top 10 could be a great way to play.
LONG-SHOT: CAMERON DAVIS +1500
Returning to the scene of the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the man who beat Joaquin Niemann in a playoff was Australian Cameron Davis. Davis has enjoyed a break-through year on Tour, claiming a first PGA Tour title and two other top-ten finishes. Davis enters the week in 36th position in the FedEx Cup Rankings so has a bit to do in trying to make the year-ending Tour Championship for the first time.
Davis is at his best on a bentgrass putting surface and I am hoping he can have a great week on the greens. Davis has the ability to shoot low, ranked 21st in birdie average with just over 4 per round and 13th in total birdies making 373 on Tour this year. Davis is sneaky long off the tee averaging 308 yards per drive. Off the tee, he is ranked 30th in strokes gained.
With motivation set to be high and with hopes of crowning a breakthrough year with a Tour Championship appearance odds of +3500 for a top 5 and +1400 for a top 10 are really appealing.
Its been really pleasing to see Jordan Spieth bounce back to form this year. Still only 28, Spieth earlier this year found himself in real danger of dropping out of the world's top 100, but a stellar year which has included a win at the Valero Texas Open and an astonishing 9 top 10 finishes has seen Spieth climb the rankings where he is currently ranked 7th in the FedEx Cup rankings and 12th in the world rankings.
Spieth had a mixed week at last week's Northern Trust converting back-to-back eagles in round 2 before backing that up with back-to-back triple bogeys in round 4. Spieth’s inconsistency is usually why I don’t back him but I think this week could be different.
Looking to cap off a stunning year with a bold run in these FedEx Cup playoffs, Spieth’s stats of ranking 27th in strokes gained through approach and 32nd in strokes gained off the tee offer encouragement. Unsurprisingly for such a great putter, Spieth ranks 8th in one-putt percentage and 5th in overall putting average.
If Spieth can get the putter going and eradicate the wild mistakes, odds of +1600 should hopefully put him right in the mix.