The FedEx Cup Playoffs kicked off last weekend at legendary Bethpage Black on Long Island. The top 125 players in the season-long rankings battled it out over the storied track, and American hero Pat Reed took home the spoils, overcoming a Chris Berman-esque final three holes as he rumbled, stumbled, and bumbled his way to a bogey-par-bogey finish.
This weekend the tour makes its annual Labor Day pilgrimage to the Northeast, stopping in Norton, Massachusetts for the Deutsche Bank Championship. It’s one of only two Friday-Monday tournaments in the rotation (the other being Kapalua’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions). Labor Day always feels like the official end of summer to me, and as August closes faster than an elite NFL corner, I still exhibit low-level PTSD symptoms whenever I see a back to school commercial. The upside is three days of work-free, high-stakes golf. High stakes because, while you might not care who cashes that monstrous check after the Tour Championship, there are only two events left before Captain Davis Love III starts to make his picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup squad.
If you’re reading this, it’s more probable than not that you’re at least generally aware of the massive impact that Cpt. Love’s picks will make on this year’s Cup. Love has four picks at his disposal, one more than Tom Watson did in 2014, and an abundance of options from which to choose. I won’t hijack the DBC’s preview and turn it into a full-scale Ryder Cup breakdown, but let’s just say that there are a few players you should keep your eye on this weekend in Norton. In no particular order, these are:
But I digress. Let’s talk Deutsche.
Since being yoked to the FedEx Cup cash cow in 2007, the DBC has turned into a premiere stop on the tour, with the top 100 players in the FedEx Cup standings competing for a $7 million purse. That means that nearly every big name on tour will be out there. Big names not in the field include Masters champion Danny Willett (86th in the FedEx Cup points standings, but skipping the event), and former Ryder Cuppers Shane Lowry (102nd) and Keegan Bradley (103rd). .
The strength of this field has usually produced a top-notch champion with Phil, Vijay, Steve Stricker, Rory, and Henrik Stenson among the winners since ’07. Big Cat took the title in ’06 and Adam Scott scored his first pro win here in the inaugural DBC way back in 2003, a year before the Curse of the Bambino was lifted.
Rickie Fowler comes into this week like a dog with a plate of stolen people food: excited, but gun-shy. The good news: the mustachioed Puma rep won this event last year, coming from behind to beat Henrik Stenson by a shot. The bad? Three great rounds last week had him on the verge of both a win and an automatic Ryder Cup berth, before a 3-over 74 left him tied for 7th.
If a balky knee doesn’t hold him out of the event, Henrik Stenson is always a threat to contend at TPC Boston. He won the thing in 2013, and in between WDs at the U.S. Open and Barclays, he’s gone 1-T7-2 in his last three events (including the Olympic silver). Speaking of silver, the Swede took 2nd place in this event last year after rinsing his tee ball on the par-3 16th, where the tees had been stretched to a previously unseen 188 yards. Also, if we’re going really deep here, 7 of his last 10 rounds at TPC Boston have been 67 or better.
Pat Reed is ramping up his ‘Merica tour with fiery quotes like these:
Patrick Reed is going to ride a bald eagle to the first tee at Hazeltine! pic.twitter.com/3PHQHLK7ew
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) August 29, 2016
Start the countdown to Hazeltine. Reed on clinching his spot: "I want sweet revenge, just like our whole team does."
— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) August 28, 2016
…which turned his W last week into a kind of pre-emptive “F you” to the entire continent of Europe. Several right-to-left doglegs here at TPC will suit Reed’s preferred draw off the tee, so he could find himself in the hunt come Monday (apologies for the Buffett).
Jason Day comes in hot, having finished top 25 in every event since the Memorial (including four top 5s), and sporting putting numbers that are flat-out dominant. He’s wielding that red TaylorMade Spider putter (which I’ve nicknamed the Spider 2 Y Banana) like a magician – just look at Kyle Porter’s tweet for some context:
The second-best putter on the PGA Tour is closer to No. 25 than he is to No. 1. Day continues his lunacy. pic.twitter.com/8XSX0AlFDR
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) August 29, 2016
Fellow putt-maker Brandt Snedeker has described TPC Boston’s greens as “perfect”, so the possibility of some long-range bombs dropping home seems distinct.
Also, Charley Hoffman always plays well here, and he’s hard to miss.
Before Arnold Palmer Design got the go-ahead to route a golf course through this rural area, the land was used for some very traditional blue-collar New England industries: gravel mining, charcoal production, and lumber milling for shipbuilding. I can practically smell the cigarettes and PBR.
The King’s routing proved a bit too stiff a test, which might be unsurprising. It reminds me of the anecdote on Ted Williams being a terrible hitting coach – he couldn’t figure out why his guys couldn’t just get up there and hit. Anyway, Palmer’s layout was shortened and softened by the hands of Olympic course architect Gil Hanse along with local pro Brad Faxon in 2007.
TPC Boston checks off a lot of the quirks and design features that typify a New England golf course – exposed rocks and stone walls; sand traps and waste areas edged with uncut fescue; blind approach shots; and relatively small, challenging greens. Hanse and Faxon deserve credit for the local flavor, as both Steve Stricker and Stewart Cink have noted in the past that the track improved over the years. The best bit of work Hanse and Fax did was to eliminate many fairway bunkers in favor of the more traditional chocolate drop mounds found at courses ’round these parts. Expect Johnny Miller to reference the local “flavor” (heh) that these little bumps impart to the track.
The one thing they couldn’t (or chose not to) incorporate was elevation change – the track plays relatively flat the whole way through, which is characteristic of the terrain in the low-lying Norton area but not at all representative of New England as a whole. Many of the more dramatic courses in the Northeast, such as The Country Club in Brookline and Granite Links in Quincy, get much of their character from being routed through and across the rolling New England topography.
At more than 7,200 yards, this par-71 has the bones to test the best players in the world, though the course usually gives up some low numbers. The tournament scoring record is a blistering 262 (-22), shared by Vijay, Stenson, and Charley Hoffman. Having played this course a few times myself, I’d have to say that the buzzword for the weekend (other than ‘fall-line’) is precision. Bombers will have a few chances to let loose with no regard for human life, particularly on the front 9, where 2, 7, and 8 all reward long tee balls without offering too much trouble. But many holes feature cross bunkers, doglegs, and funky looks into greens that slope in odd directions and open at strange angles to the fairway. You need to know your numbers here, and often the best line into the green forces players to find weird corners of the fairway that the average hack (read: me) wouldn’t think to aim for.
There’s one major change this year, as the driveable par-4 4th hole has grown a beefy set of back tees that can stretch this little guy out to 353 yards. I’m not sure if that still counts as a “driveable” hole, and frankly I’m not thrilled that this measure was necessary. #RollBackTheBall
After attending the event last year, I can safely report that I was right on the money with my predictions for the clientele. The prep/bro contingent was in full force, and local flavor was provided by these guys, who ended up finding a 60s-ish man in full Ben Franklin attire that they adopted as their (founding) father.
They're calling themselves "America's children" pic.twitter.com/7Hhug3gGhC
— Robbie Vogel (@RobbieVogel14) September 6, 2015
This year, expect those rocking Vineyard Vines, boat shoes, and Ray Bans (think JFK in this clip) to ride hard for a certain deceased member of the ape family. #RIPHarambe culture is as alive as Harambe used to be, and the only thing standing between many patrons and the dreaded post-shot telecast scream are a few tall, cool Budweisers. Also, feel free to insert any generic drunk Irish stereotype you may have here, some real ‘Gems‘ should be on patrol.
Fowler and Stenson traded blows down the stretch, with Rickie hanging on as Henrik ballooned a 7-iron into the pond on 16. That eventually turned into a double, and flipped a one-shot lead into a deficit that the Swede couldn’t make up. This is one of those events where you have to go bird hunting on Monday to put yourself in position to win – there aren’t a ton of holes where they can hide the pin and make par a good score.
Two years ago, the drama was ratcheted up to a 11, as Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup captain’s picks came out the day after the final round. As described in these pages, the shot-by-shot speculation on this matter was breathless to say the least, but it was all for naught as Ol’ Cap’n Tom took three guys (Mahan, Bradley, Simpson) heavy on experience and (with the notable exception of Keegles for Eagles) light on fiery competitiveness.
Also, Billy Horschel did a thing not many professional athletes had ever done and got a rule named after him. After his scorched-earth effort during the FedEx Cup Playoffs, Horschel was the hottest player in the world and was forced to watch the proceedings at Gleneagles from his couch. Fast forward to now, and DL3 will be making the final U.S. pick live at halftime of Sunday Night Football on Sep 25, making the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys’ game vs. the Bears a bit more inviting.
Here be the odds. I’m getting long-winded here, so I’ll be brief. Hate anyone with better than 20-1 odds, including Day because, though he’ll probably win, 6.5/1 is not nearly enough value. DJ and Rory can’t putt, Spieth missed the cut here last year, Stenson is hurt, and Fowler’s head is in a pretzel.
With the slightly longer course and forecast promising warm, dry conditions, ballstrikers like Adam Scott (22/1), Brooks Koepka (40/1), and Brandt Snedeker (50/1) are good plays.
The First Cut
- Ralph Lauren has released the scripting for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, apparently using a 6-foot-5 Luke Donald as their model. Catch the threads here.
- In case you missed this, Skratch TV put together two quick Tiger montages: 20 years of fist pumps and 20 years of club twirls. Saucy.
- Patrick Reed’s Golf Digest feature. Sample quote: “At some point in my career, I hope it comes down to me. I want to be in the deciding match on the final day.” Whether you love him or hate him, he is one confident dude.
In the meantime, catch us on twitter for running commentary all weekend @NoLayingUp. Also, follow me @RobbieVogel14 if you’re itching for semi-cooked takes on golf, soccer (particularly Liverpool), and shitty pop music.