(CBS New York/CBS Local) — This week’s Northern Trust at Liberty National starts off the FedExCup Playoffs, the PGA Tour’s high-stakes season finale. The top 125 players (in terms of points) qualify for the first of three tournaments, which tees off Thursday in Jersey City, New Jersey.
The top 70 players will advance to the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago next week. And after that, the top 30 move on to the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta. Players in the final tournament will start with a score ranging from 10-under par to par, based on his position, from best to worst, in the FedExCup rankings. A $60 million purse awaits, with a cool $15 million earmarked for the Tour Championship winner.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s lots of golf to be played in Jersey City this week… and lots of money and points on the line. The tournament’s purse totals $9.25 million, with $1.665 million going to the winner. As for points, the top finisher will add 2000 points to his season tally going forward, with lesser amounts awarded to lower finishers.
>>WATCH: The Northern Trust Live Stream
Liberty National welcomes a stellar field to open the FedExCup Playoffs. Three of the top 125, however, have opted out, including the world’s 19th-ranked player Paul Casey, who will rest. Expect all the big names to show up, however, including every other top-20 player. The FedExCup point standings shake out a little differently than the rankings, but Casey remains the only absentee among the top 20.
Bryson DeChambeau won the Northern Trust last year, shooting 18-under par at Ridgewood Country Club to best the field by four strokes. Tony Finau placed second, with Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay and Justin Thomas further down in the top 10. Justin Rose, who missed the cut last year and didn’t win any of the Playoff events, eventually won the FedExCup.
Liberty National last hosted a professional event with the 2017 Presidents Cup, in which many of this year’s contenders participated. That includes Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar, among others.
But how that experience translates remains to be seen. As CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch recalls, “Dustin Johnson played so well there in the Presidents Cup. Does that mean he should do well there this time around? Adam Scott won last time it (The Northern Trust, then known as The Barclays) was at Liberty National, but didn’t play so well at the Presidents Cup.”
Tiger Woods also returns after another long absence. And while his body may need the rest, his performances since the Masters have been lackluster at best. He probably views the Northern Trust as the first of three consecutive events. And in Baker-Finch’s estimation, “I don’t think he’ll be wasting much energy this week. He might go out there in such a relaxed frame of mind that he plays great. But I think this will be him playing his way into form for the next two playoff events.”
Liberty National, which sits on the banks of the Hudson River, with the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan in the distance, has been called the best skyline in sports. And the views throughout do not disappoint. The history of the land on which the course was built is almost as striking. Over the last century, it functioned as munitions storage, a prisoner of war camp, an oil refinery and an industrial goods warehouse, before finally becoming a toxic landfill.
Liberty National, designed by Bob Cupp and golfing legend Tom Kite, sits on top of that landfill, which remains capped and sealed underneath. It measures 7,370 yards and plays at a par-71. And in Baker-Finch’s view, “It’s a tight course. It’s a visually intimidating course.”
“This one is not just about teeing it high and letting it fly. You really have to position your ball around here,” according to Baker-Finch. “…You need to make sure you get the ball in play.”
“That being said, it also favors the guy who can hit it a long way, who can hit an iron out there a long way on those tight, intimidating holes.”
Brooks Koepka (8-1)
Koepka is the world’s top-ranked player and the FedExCup points leader going into the event. Will he come out strong or save his energy? If he treats the Northern Trust like a major, in which he’s yet to miss the top five this year, he’ll be tough to beat. If he holds back, then he could very easily lose that top points position.
Rory McIlroy (10-1)
McIlroy enters the Northern Trust ranked third in the world and second in points. His missed cut at the Open Championship was only his second of the year. On top of that, he has 12 top-10 finishes in his 15 finishes. As Baker-Finch sees it, “Rory McIlroy is in great form and may have a little something to prove, having not finished off so well in Memphis.”
Dustin Johnson (16-1)
Johnson is ranked second in the world and comes into the Northern Trust seventh in points. He played well on Liberty National back at the 2017 Presidents Cup. But his performance since his second-place finish at the PGA Championship back in early May has been a little inconsistent. His best showing in five events has been T20 at the RBC Canadian Open and WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.