The top 125 players in the standings have qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs and the first of four post-season tournaments takes place this week. The defending champion at the Northern Trust Open is the world number one Dustin Johnson. He is the favourite this week and the only player at a shorter price is Justin Thomas who won the FedEx Cup and the 10 million dollars bonus last season. Brooks Koepka has won two major championships in 2018 and will be a popular pick.
The field for next week’s FedEx Cup event is 100 players strong and the number of qualifiers is reduced to 70 players for the third tournament. All roads lead to the Tour Championship next month for which only the top 30 players in the point’s table are eligible. There is a 36-hole cut this week and 70 players and ties will play over the weekend. The same cut rules apply next week but there is no cut in the last two events so every player will pick up a cheque.
The current FedEx Cup format was introduced in 2007. Only Tiger Woods, in 2007 and 2009, has won the title more than once. Eight of the 11 champions were US players, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy are European winners and Vijay Singh is the only overseas FedEx Cup winner. There were only three qualifying events in the first year but since 2008 the playoffs consist of four standalone tournaments. Once the FedEx Cup is out of the way the best golfers from the United States and Europe will focus in the Ryder Cup being played in France at the end of next month.
The winner of the FedEx Cup has always won one of the counting tournaments but no player has won more than two. Three of the winners finished in the top 5 in three of the four events. All but four winners had a pre-Cup ranking in the top 10. In 2014 Billy Horschel finished at number 69 in the regular season standings and then won two of the play-off events to win the FedEx Cup. Only Woods (2009) and Jordan Spieth in 2015 won the FedEx Cup from number one in the pre-Cup ranking.
Johnson and McIlroy share the record for the number of play-off wins at four. McIlroy is the only player to win three of these events at least once and only requires the Northern Trust Open to complete the FedEx Cup career Grand Slam. Johnson has won this week’s event in two years and is the only multiple winner in the history of the FedEx Cup. In the last two seasons Johnson and McIlroy have won four of the eight play-off tournaments and the previous multiple winner is Jason Day who won two events in 2015 but Spieth won the Tour Championship to overhaul him in the standings.
This week’s host course is at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. It is a par 71 track over 7,385 yards with three par 5s. The course rewards players who know when to be aggressive and can take advantage of the relatively easy holes. The good ball-strikers have an advantage but the accuracy stats in recent years are average. Strokes gained putting is more significant than hitting fairways and greens. Course experience is more important than specific skills. The greens are average in size and speed.
Justin Rose has won a major, two WGC events and the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2014. He has never won a FedEx Cup play-off event but he is in the best form of his life so can win one of the four post-season events for the first time. Johnson does not have a good record at Ridgewood so Rose is preferred.