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PGA DFS Preview: 2021 Northern Trust

Scottie Scheffler PGA dfs lineup betting picks daily fantasy golf

Hi RotoBallers! I'm Andy Lack and I'm very excited to be with you as a new member of the RB PGA team! In our ongoing attempt to expand and improve our PGA coverage, I will be dropping a 'Tournament Preview' every Monday morning.

I hope this preview will give you a head start on your Northern Trust research and I'd also like to encourage you to check out my Pick The Pup podcast to hear more of my thoughts on Liberty National and this week's tournament. If you aren't already utilizing RotoBaller's amazing weekly PGA content, fix that right now by joining us this week and throughout the rest of the PGA Tour season.

Access to tons of RotoBaller's PGA content is COMPLETELY FREE but we also offer a PGA Premium subscription for those of you that want to take your game to the next level! You can sign up now using promo code: ANDY at checkout to receive a discount.

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RotoBaller Weekly PGA Article Schedule


You can find out all you need to know about this week's layout with Josh Bennett's Course Breakdown (Premium) and learn which golfers have thrived at this course in the past with Joe Nicely's Horse For The Course.


We kick your DFS research into high gear with articles from Spencer Aguiar! Spencer will highlight his favorite DraftKings Plays of the week - an article that also includes his popular PGA DFS Rankings Wizard Model - and offer great tips with his Head-To-Head Betting Preview, while Joe Nicely drops some salary savers in his DraftKings Value Plays (Premium) article. We also have you FanDuel fans covered with free PGA DFS picks for every tournament.


Things start getting intense on Wednesday and we've got you covered! You can check out RotoBaller Staff One And Done selections and get inside the mind of our team with our PGA DFS Expert Roundtable (Premium). We also have two of the most popular articles in the PGA DFS industry with Spencer Aguiar's Vegas Report (Premium) and Joe Nicely's DraftKings Core Four (Premium). You can also check out Josh Bennett's DFS Cheat Sheet (Premium) for a quick cram session!


Tournament Overview

2021 Northern Trust

Recent Winners

  • 2020: Dustin Johnson (-30) at TPC Boston
  • 2019: Patrick Reed (-16) at Liberty National
  • 2018: Bryson DeChambeau (-18) at Ridgewood
  • 2017: Dustin Johnson (-13) at Glen Oaks
  • 2016: Patrick Reed (-9) at Bethpage Black

Event Details

  • Purse: $9,500,000 ($1,710,000 to winner)
  • FedEx Cup Points: 2,000 (Winner)
  • Field: 125 players

The PGA Tour travels to Jersey City, New Jersey this week for the Northern Trust. This is the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs, as the field is comprised of the top 125 players in the FedEx Cup standings after the completion of last week's Wyndham Championship. Now that it's playoff time, the stakes are raised. A typical PGA Tour event rewards 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner, yet the Northern Trust (and next week's BMW Championship) will reward a whopping 2,000 FedEx Cup points to the winner. Point being, each and every one of the 125 players in the field have a chance to secure the FedEx Cup title, and the $15 million bonus that comes with it.

From a fantasy standpoint, the playoffs are a lot of fun, as they boast comparable fields to WGCs, majors, and the PLAYERS. Yes, there are certainly a few big names that will be watching from home. Rickie Fowler and Will Zalatoris come to mind. Yet for the most part, all of the world's best players will be in attendance this week at Liberty National Golf Club. Historically, the Northern Trust has been won by one of the elites, and there is a compelling case to be made for each and every one of the high-end players. With that being said, contests will be won this week from getting the bottom correct. Let's get into the course breakdown, key statistics, and three players that are worthy of further attention.


Course Breakdown

Liberty National- Jersey City, New Jersey

Liberty National was designed by Tom Kite and Robert Cupp in 2006. The majestic layout plays as a Par 71 and tips out to 7,353 yards on the scorecard. The Kite and Cupp design features 37-yard wide Bent-grass fairways, Kentucky Bluegrass rough, and Bent-grass greens. Liberty National is a very open and exposed course, sitting right on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. Yes, wind will certainly be a factor, but I would push back on anyone that calls this a links course. Liberty National is extremely well manicured, filled with forced carries, and slick putting surfaces. While it will certainly be imperative that players control their ball flight if the wind picks up, this is not a British style run it up course where a ground game is preferred. Think Shadow Creek with less trees and some wind.

While there is not a ton of data at our disposal, we can definitely draw from the 2013 Northern Trust, the 2017 Presidents Cup, and the 2019 Northern Trust, which were all held at Liberty National. Liberty also hosted this tournament in 2009, but I would not recommend looking at any 2009 data, as the course received a total facelift prior to the 2013 edition. In summary, Adam Scott won here in 2013, the United States, specifically players like Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, and Spieth, dominated the 2017 Presidents Cup, and Patrick Reed won the 2019 iteration.

After rewatching highlights from all of these tournaments, as well as digging into the 2013 and 2019 numbers, Liberty National is definitively elevates elite skillsets. In 2019, top-ten finishers gained an average of over four strokes on approach, which is double what they gained off the tee, over three times what they gained around the green, and about 35% more than what they gained putting. So yes, approach is still king here, but I still believe that off the tee and short game matter as well. The fairways are certainly generous, but water comes into play often, and players will be in defense mode if they aren't driving the ball well. The greens are relatively small, and Tour pros have hit only 61% of them on average, so getting up and down will be imperative as well. I can conclusively say that this is not a "who can catch a hot putter" week.

In 2019, Patrick Reed rode an incredibly balanced attack to victory. He did putt well, but it was also one the better tee to green weeks of his career. Abraham Ancer finished second losing strokes putting, and the rest of the leaderboard was littered with all around elite tee to green players. 2013 told a similar story, as many of the world's best players found themselves towards the top of the leaderboard. Adam Scott won gaining only 1.2 strokes putting, and Justin Rose finished second losing 1.2 strokes putting. In a vacuum, you can't fake your way around Liberty National.

In conclusion, I am looking for well rounded players who tend to gain strokes in all four major categories. I do not see this as a week where you want to be looking for specialists, but if there was one ancillary skillset that I would highlight, it's long iron play. Over a two year average from 2013 and 2019, a whopping 31% of approach shots came from 200 yards plus. That does make sense given that all three par fives are reachable, five par fours measure over 450 yards, and two of the par threes measure over 195 yards. Add that all up, and there are nine holes where players might have a long iron in hand. Another 21% of approach shots come from 175-200 yards. In total, 52% of approach shots have come from over 175 yards. If players also have some good results on Bent-grass greens, and have shown an affinity for playing in the wind, that is definitely a nice bonus. Let's dig into the metrics!



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Key Statistics 

Outside of the obvious four major statistical categories (strokes gained off the tee, strokes gained approach, strokes gained around the green, and strokes gained putting), here are a few ancillary statistics that should prove pivotal, as well as the top-5 players in the field in these metrics over their last 24 rounds.

  1. Proximity from 200 yards plus 
    1. Viktor Hovland
    2. Tyrrell Hatton
    3. Jason Kokrak
    4. Sam Ryder
    5. Marc Leishman
  2. Bogey Avoidance 
    1. Louis Oosthuizen
    2. Patrick Cantlay
    3. Seamus Power
    4. Collin Morikawa
    5. Daniel Berger
  3. Greens in Regulation Gained
    1. Patrick Cantlay
    2. Collin Morikawa
    3. Jon Rahm
    4. Paul Casey
    5. Daniel Berger
  4. Proximity from 175-200 yards 
    1. Doug Ghim
    2. Daniel Berger
    3. Charley Hoffman
    4. Louis Oosthuizen
    5. Harold Varner III
  5. SG: Putting Bent-grass greens
    1. Jason Kokrak
    2. Zach Johnson
    3. Cameron Tringale
    4. Hank Lebioda
    5. Troy Merritt

While those five statistics are a great place to start, I am also looking at strokes gained: moderate to windy conditions, par four scoring (450-500 yards), and proximity from 125-150 yards.


Players To Target

High-Price Tier

Rory McIlroy   

I had no plans to back Rory McIlroy this week until I saw his ball-striking numbers from the WGC- FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The 19-time PGA Tour winner gained 12.4 strokes ball-striking in Memphis, yet only finished 12th because he lost 6.2 strokes short game and putting. I cannot tell you how good that is! For context, Rory is one of the best ball-strikers on Tour over a large sample size. He puts up gaudy totals regularly, but even for him, this was big. The last time that McIlroy has gained that many strokes ball-striking was over two years ago, at the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship.

Basically since his win at the Wells Fargo a few months ago, McIlroy's ball-striking, and specifically his iron play, have been as good as they ever have in his career. From a ball-striking perspective, peak Rory is back. Unfortunately, he hasn't been racking up wins because of mediocre putting. I believe that changes this week. Liberty National is a perfect course for McIlroy's skill-set, and he can back that up with a 19th-place finish in 2013, and a sixth-place finish in 2019. Ultimately, when a player is hitting the ball this well, wins tend to follow pretty soon. The four-time major champion is a must-play.


Mid-Price Tier

Scottie Scheffler 

I wrote up Scottie Scheffler in this column just two weeks ago for the WGC- FedEx St. Jude Invitational, and I am doubling down on my take that a win for the University of Texas product is imminent. Scheffler rewarded us with a respectable, yet unspectacular, 14th-place finish in Memphis. This was a solid result and certainly enough to pay off his price tag, but it could have been a lot better had he been able make a few putts. Scheffler gained two strokes off the tee and 2.9 strokes on approach, while losing 0.8 strokes on the greens. Another run of the mill ball-striking special for the Ryder Cup hopeful.

While there is nothing about Liberty National that screams Scottie Scheffler to me, he rates above average in nearly every metric I am weighing this week, with particular expertise on par fives and with his wedges. Ultimately, my endorsement comes down to the fact that there have been 12 WGC's, majors, and FedEx Cup playoff events in the last calendar year, and Scheffler has never finished worse than 20th in any of them. Jon Rahm is the only other player in the world to sniff that level of consistency in big events, and even he was not able to accomplish that feat. Scheffler's ball-striking is trending positively, he plays well in the wind, and he's already shown an affinity for northeast golf with a fourth-place finish at this tournament last year. I will continue to ride Scottie Scheffler in big tournaments until given reason to stop.


Value-Price Tier

Keegan Bradley  

Keegan Bradley is another friend of the column. In fact, if I could re-name this article, I would call it, "Yeah, but Could You Imagine if He Could Only Putt?!" The story is often the same with Keegan Bradley, and his most recent performance was no different. At the 3M Open, the Vermont native gained 6.5 strokes ball-striking and lost 4.5 strokes putting. Is Keegan live to hemorrhage strokes putting every time he tees it up? Absolutely, but my counter-argument would be that Liberty National has historically been a course where players can ball-strike their way to the top and get by with mediocre putting.

Speaking of ball-striking, you will be hard pressed to find anyone else with Bradley's long game chops in this price range. Over his last 36 rounds, the four-time PGA Tour winner ranks eighth in strokes gained approach, 26th in strokes gained off the tee, 26th in strokes around the green, and 11th in greens in regulation. I talked about wanting a well-rounded skill-set this week, and out of all the tee to green mavens that can't putt, Bradley may have the best short game. While I do believe that this tournament will be won by one of the world's best players, it is worth noting that three of Bradley's four career wins came at a WGC, a FedEx Cup playoff event, and a major. Of all the value priced options, Bradley will not be afraid of this stage. He's experienced success in the northeast before, and he should be right at home at Liberty National, as he played his college golf down the road at St. John's University. Bradley will be a fixture in my lineups this week.



Win Big With RotoBaller

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Our very own Joe Nicely recently took down a big DraftKings DFS tournament for the Travelers Championship. And as an encore, RotoBaller subscriber @tenndolly2 won $100K on FanDuel with the help of Joe and the rest of our Premium PGA team: Between all the incredible Premium PGA DFS content and tools we put out each week, and our Premium Slack Community where we chat with our subscribers before lineups lock, RotoBaller PGA subscribers are armed with the tools, analysis, and advice to win big.

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The 2024 offseason is still in the early stages, but it's time to check on six franchise quarterbacks who suffered major injuries during the 2023 campaign. A franchise missing its quarterback to begin a season can mightily derail its chances to win, creating a massive hole to climb out of. We have the latest injury... Read More