The lid gets lifted on the FedExCup Playoffs this week.
Under the new schedule, the Playoffs are now a three-event race to the finish line. It was previously four events and TPC Boston was the biggest loser of this change. They were previously an annual stop but now they've been relegated to a rotational role. They will jump back into the mix next year at this event but this week it's Liberty National doing the hosting.
The field is maxed out at 125 golfers but there are three no-shows this week. Sam Burns is nursing an injury. Paul Casey is choosing to rest. Henrik Stenson is turning his attention toward the European Tour for the foreseeable future. We should expect to see him peg it in Asia for some PGA TOUR events this fall but we likely won't see him in the States again until next March for the Florida Swing.
The cut line will fall at top 70 and ties and there will be no MDF regardless of how many golfers are tied for that number. In fact, we've seen the last MDF on the PGA TOUR since they will be removing that rule for the upcoming season.
Liberty National is hosting this week's event. It's was designed by Bob Cupp and Tom Kite in 2006. The course was built on a landfill and many of the players were saying it should have been left that way after their first visit for the 2009 Barclays. It's a par 71 that plays at nearly 7,400 yards.
It was the 8th hardest course on TOUR that season with 176 double bogeys recorded and 40 triples or worse.
It returned in 2013 with some changes after receiving golfer feedback. The course played as the 22nd hardest course on TOUR that season with 170 double bogeys and 24 triples or worse.
The 2013 edition seems to have played much easier but really it was aided by some soft conditions until the weekend hit and the course firmed up. The median score in 2009 was 71.48 while it dropped to just 71.21 in 2013. A slightly easier test but overall it was still no cakewalk.
On the bright side, golfers enjoyed the changes made the course. Most important was the decision to trim the rough. In 2009 it was prepped at 4 inches but they went the Augusta National route in 2013 to allow golfers an easier chance at recovery if their ball was in the first cut.
It turns out that brutal rough was not needed when you factor in the 10 water hazards, 90 bunkers, and heavily undulating (and fast) greens.
It's easy to see those water hazards come into play frequently. Just look at the rate of doubles or worse, 2.08 per 72 holes, which sits right around The Honda Classic, THE PLAYERS, The Memorial, and FedEx St. Jude when it comes to the rate of big numbers. All of those courses are known for the number of water hazards in play.
For the turf, golfers will see bentgrass on the fairways and greens while the rough is kentucky bluegrass. They prepped them to run at 12.6 feet on the stimp in 2013 so look for fast greens this week, barring any major precipitation concerns.
Some of the golfers also saw this course in action during the 2017 Presidents Cup.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Charl Schwartzel: "I like the way it always challenges you, there’s always a little bit of wind. The greens have got a lot of contours, so you got to be accurate with your irons, you got to leave the ball in the right places, so it always makes you think. It’s not just a straightforward course where you can hit it and you’re going to be fine. You got to think around it."
Gary Woodland: "You get in the right spot, you can make putts. I feel like I putt fast greens pretty well but off the tee box, I can really use my length to my advantage. I can hit irons off a lot of holes where guys are hitting driver, 3‑wood, I can get the ball in play with iron. And when I do hit driver, the par 5s, I can get to all of them, which I think is a huge advantage out here. "
Phil Mickelson: "I love this golf course. I think it’s very well done, and without the rough, it plays‑‑ I would equate it to like Augusta National."
Webb Simpson: "the greens remind me of Donald Ross greens. I grew up in Raleigh playing on Pinehurst and playing a lot of Donald Ross courses. They are undulating; the putts break a lot and you have to use a lot of imagination around the greens."
Jason Dufner: "they made some changes since we were here last, I think for the better. I love the routing of the golf course. Obviously the venue and the surrounding areas are great. I think the green complexes and the approaches are very, very challenging. I think at times you can hit good shots and end up 40, 50, 60 feet away, or sometimes in a bunker off the green, which can be very frustrating for us at times, but I think the changes are for the better."
Overview: Golfers talk a lot about the slopes on the greens. That puts a premium on ball-striking because errant approaches will be repelled off the greens or into tougher-to-putt sections of the green.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invite)
Torrey Pines (The Farmers)
Muirfield Village (The Memorial)
Sheshan International (WGC-HSBC)
Augusta National (The Masters)
Riviera (Genesis Open)
We're primarily looking for fast greens, preferably cool-season grasses, with lots of big numbers in play. Combine that with the over- and under-performance of golfers at each event and these are the courses that popped.
Thursday: Mostly Cloudy with a high near 86 degrees. Winds at 8 to 15 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high near 81 degrees. Winds at 7 to 12 MPH.
Some good golfing weather on tap this week. Temps that in the low-80s for most of the week. Can't rule out some gusts of wind to toughen the test. We'll revisit tomorrow in the DFS Dish.