This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE NORTHERN TRUST
Winner's Share: $1.62M
FedEx Cup Points: 2,000 to the Winner
Location: Paramus, N.J.
Course: The Ridgewood Country Club
2017 champion: Dustin Johnson
Here we are. We all knew this day would come – it only feels like it took forever. A mere 10 1/2 months after the start of the PGA Tour season, the FedEx Cup playoffs are finally upon us. Back for the first time in five years is Tiger Woods, whose last playoff event was the 2013 Tour Championship. And back for the first time in four years is venerable Ridgewood Country Club, which hosted the tournament formerly known as the Barclays in 2008, '10 and '14. The club has a storied history, one that dates to the late 1800s. Along the way, Byron Nelson started out as an assistant pro there in 1935, the same year that the club played host to the Ryder Cup. As you'll recall, it was 42-year-old Walter Hagen's final Cup as a player, and he and fellow Hall of Famer Gene Sarazen led the rout of Britain.
Ridgewood actually features 27 holes and, as in the previous three playoff events there, all three nines make up a composite of the 18 the golfers will play this week. The configuration, however, will be slightly different from when Hunter Mahan won at 14-under in 2014. (It was only four years ago, but it was stunning to see that the top-5 on the leaderboard included not only Mahan, but Stuart Appleby, Cameron Tringale, William McGirt and Ernie Els. Things can change awfully fast on the PGA Tour.) Matt Kuchar won at 12-under in 2010 and Vijay Singh at 8-under in 2008. For what it's worth, Woods played only in 2010, and he tied for 12th.
The A.J. Tillinghast 1929 design features narrow, tree-lined fairways; dog legs bending both directions; dozens of steep bunkers that surround the greens; and, at an average of under 5,000 square feet, some of the tiniest putting surfaces the golfers will see all season. The green on the 12th hole is a minuscule 2,200 square feet. Nelson called it the "Five and Dime" hole, a 291-yard par-4 so named because golfers could hit a 5-iron and then a wedge, which used to be called a 10-iron. To illustrate how the setup has changed, that hole played as No. 5 four years ago. There are only three par-5s on the par-71 layout, and all of them are beasts, ranging from 588 to 625 yards. In 2014, there were almost as many eagles at the 291-yarder (five) as at the three par-5s combined (seven). The par-5s collectively have played very tough, and because they are so long, it perhaps negates some of the distance advantages the longest hitters have.
Okay, now on to the field. The top-125 in the point standings have qualified, but only 120 will tee it up. Rory McIlroy is taking a pass, Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Henrik Stenson (elbow) are injured, Patrick Rodgers will be attending a wedding and Bud Cauley is still recovering from a June car accident. At No. 122, Cauley will not advance to next week's Dell Technologies Championship, which takes the top-100 players after this week. At 93rd, Rodgers is risking a similar fate. In the 11-year history of the playoffs, an average of almost six guys jump into the top-100 after the first playoff event. The number has been as high as eight. Last year, it was only three, so perhaps Rodgers will be safe. Of the 120 in the field, eight have made the 70-plus-ties cut in all three prior Ridgewood ventures, most notably Jason Day, who was co-runner-up in 2014 and tied for fifth in 2010. The others are Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Na, Ryan Palmer, Kevin Streelman and Bubba Watson. Both Casey and Cink moved inside the top-100 four years ago, when seven total golfers made the leap to continue their seasons.
Weather-wise, thunderstorms were forecast to hit the New York City suburb on Wednesday, further lengthening the course. (Besides the enormously long par-5s, three of the four par-3s are brutes, too, exceeding 190 yards.) Otherwise, temperatures should be in the 80s with high humidity, though with only light breezes and little chance of further rain.
Key Stats to Winning at Ridgewood
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Driving accuracy
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
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)
2010 - Matt Kuchar (Ridgewood CC)
2009 - Heath Slocum Liberty National)
2008 - Vijay Singh (Ridgewood CC)
Any time the greens are small, greens will be missed. The greens at Ridgewood are mostly tiny, so guys with an excellent short game (pitching/chipping and putting) will have an advantage. Singh was 11th in scrambling in 2008 and Kuchar was sixth in 2010. Mahan was far back in scrambling, but he also led the field in greens in regulation. If you can lead the field in GIR, you're going to do well virtually no matter what else. Singh was sixth in GIR and Kuchar was 15th. The course is long, but with many dog legs and penal rough, a lot of the big hitters will keep driver in the bag. And they won't have their traditional advantage on the par-5s, because there are only three of them and they are all extremely long. Six of the 11 par-4s are under 450 yards, which is another reason why shorter hitters should figure prominently in the champion's conversation. Good putting will always be welcome, though Singh was only 32nd in putting average. Kuchar was sixth and Mahan, 10th.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 9-1)
Everything we wrote above about long hitters being somewhat neutralized, about considering shorter hitters ... none of that applies to this guy. Along with his prodigious talents off the tee, Johnson is ranked 20th on Tour in scrambling and 16th in strokes gained: putting. Neither is enhanced in any way by his long tee balls. Johnson has two wins and two thirds in his last six starts, and the only reason he doesn't win even more is probably between his ears. Johnson tied for ninth at Ridgewood in 2010. He missed 2014 because of his time away from the Tour.
Justin Thomas - $11,200 (12-1)
We suspect Thomas has been carrying around some unfinished business in his head since a few mistakes on the back nine may have cost him the PGA Championship. Thomas' short game is not elite – 25th in scrambling, 39th in strokes gained: putting – but it's good enough considering every facet of his game is so sound. Thomas has come so far so fast that he's never played Ridgewood, not even four years ago.
Jason Day - $10,700 (14-1)
Day is the No. 3 guy on the board, but this isn't one of those wacky DraftKings head-scratchers. Day has the preeminent short game in golf. He's first in strokes gained: around the green and first in SG putting. He was runner-up to Mahan at Ridgewood in 2014 and was tied for fifth in 2010.
Tiger Woods - $10,100 (16-1)
Ridgewood is long in spots, and Woods will have to negotiate some holes with his driver. But he'll try to minimize it, as he's been doing, and hope the rest of his game carries him, as it has been doing. Woods is ranked fourth in strokes gained: approach, ninth in SG around the green and 27th in SG putting. He played Ridgewood once, tying for 12th in 2010.
Tier 2 Values
Jordan Spieth - $9,600 (20-1)
Spieth has not had a great season, obviously. Heck, he wouldn't be in the Tour Championship if it started today (43rd in points). But he has played better in the bigger events, finishing top-12 in three of the four majors, and we are now embarking on four big events. Spieth is 11th in scrambling, 21st in greens in regulation, 23rd in strokes gained: tee to green. His putting has improved a lot. How much? Get this: He was second in the field in SG putting at the PGA. He was close to 200th in putting earlier this season but is now 140th. Watch out for Spieth at Ridgewood, where he tied for 22nd in 2014.
Francesco Molinari - $9,500 (20-1)
There's no mystery here, except for maybe the low price. Molinari has finished top-6, with two wins, in four of his past five starts – and that's not counting Europe. He's 13th in strokes gained: approach and 37th in SG around, but also third in tee to green and eighth in off the tee. The numbers say Molinari's putting is woeful, but he must be doing something right. This will be his maiden trip Ridgewood.
Zach Johnson - $8,000 (50-1)
This will be Johnson's third go-round at Ridgewood. After missing the cut in 2008, he finished top-25 in 2010 and 2014. Johnson has also cashed top-20 in his past six starts, making a spirited run to return to East Lake (and the Ryder Cup). He still has some work to do, as he's 52nd in points. Johnson is 11th in strokes gained: around the green and 26th in approach. His season-long numbers off the tee have hurt him, but he's obviously figured something out the past 2-3 months.
Patrick Reed - $8,400 (50-1)
Reed does not have a top-25 in his past four starts, but what he didn't have then but does now is some time off. After playing five weeks in a row, Reed finally took a breather and skipped the Wyndham. He tied for ninth at Ridgewood in 2014, and that stands to reason since he has a masterful short game – he's ranked eighth in strokes gained: around the green.
Tier 3 Values
Rafa Cabrera Bello - $7,900 (60-1)
The Spaniard has definitely shifted into another gear over the past month, tying for 17th at the Bridgestone, for 10th at the PGA and for 11th last week at the Wyndham. Cabrera Bello is ranked 14th in strokes gained: approach and 54th in around the green. Impressively, he's 17th in SG tee to green. This will be his Ridgewood debut.
Louis Oosthuizen - $7,700 (50-1)
Oosthuizen withdrew from the PGA Championship with a back issue. Any time a recurring injury is involved it's a gamble. But the South African sits 74th in points, meaning he does not have to play this week to advance to next week's event. We take that as a sign he's good to go. Oosthuizen has made only 14 starts on the PGA Tour, making 11 cuts and finishing no worse than T30 in any of them. Nine have resulted in top-25s. He sits fifth in strokes gained: around the green.
Ian Poulter - $7,600 (80-1)
Poulter has a lot to play for: He is in a dog fight to make the European Ryder Cup team on points, and he's trying to get into the top-30 in the FedEx standings (he's 34th). The Englishman has been in contention in some big events over the summer, only to fade on the weekend. He tied for 25th at the U.S. Open and for 10th at the Bridgestone before a T31 at Bellerive. Poulter also tied for 15th at Ridgewood in 2010, missing the cut in his other two visits.
Kevin Na - $7,600 (80-1)
Na is amid his best season in years – at 19th in the point standings, he's all but assured of a berth in the Tour Championship. He tied for 19th last time out at the PGA. Na is ranked sixth in strokes gained: around the green, which goes a long way in explaining why he tied for ninth at Ridgewood four years ago.
Keegan Bradley - $7,000 (100-1)
Yeah, we probably have a thing for Bradley. Being ranked third on Tour in strokes gained: approach, sixth in tee to green and 20th in proximity to the hole surely has a lot to do with it. No, we can't defend his short game – even his scrambling is sub-par. At a course where eagles will be very hard to come by, Bradley is ranked sixth on Tour in eagles (15).
Danny Lee - $7,000 (150-1)
Lee sits 103rd in points, so he has some work to do. He's been making a late-summer run, with top-25s in his past three starts. Granted, the Barbasol, Canada and the Wyndham aren't exactly the Holy Trinity of tournaments, but still. Lee tied for 38th at Ridgewood back in 2014.
Chris Kirk - $6,800 (125-1)
Kirk has not missed a cut in almost five months (excluding the Zurich team event). He tied for 11th at the Wyndham, a week after a T31 at the PGA. Kirk is ranked 15th in scrambling and 17th in strokes gained: approach. He's really had a good year, seeing his world ranking climb from the 180s to 123rd today.
Austin Cook - $6,800 (150-1)
The rookie made the cut at The Players, the U.S. Open and the PGA (He wasn't in the other two majors). His early-season win got him into the Bridgestone, where he tied for 53rd. Cook is ranked in the top-40 in both scrambling and strokes gained: putting.