2019 Northern Trust picks: Why our PGA Tour caddie thinks Dustin Johnson will surprise this week
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Don’t think for a second that golf’s biggest names won’t be motivated this week. Even if you've made a ton of cash in your career, FedEx Cup money is on another level. The first-place prize money of $15 million is up for grabs—and though it's a different motivation than playing for a major championship, these guys are going to bring it.
Our experts' full attention is devoted to ending the season making some more money, as we bring back our impressive panel of handicappers, includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green at Liberty National Golf Club, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network; picks from senior golf writer Jason Sobel from The Action Network, which is becoming the leader in sports betting and handicapping analysis, and it's growing its presence in golf; two of the most respected experts in the daily-fantasy community, Pat Mayo of DraftKings and Brandon Gdula of FanDuel; Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports, which tracks DFS ownership and sentiment; and Columbia University senior lecturer and Ph.D. Lou Riccio, who uses predictive analysis and modeling to forecast winners in golf.
Who will kick off the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs with a strong start? Read on for the bold takes and predictions from the best golf gambling round-up in the industry.
2019 Northern Trust Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Dustin Johnson (16-1) — For the first time in a while, DJ is flying under the radar. It's weird to say for a guy who’s the No. 2-ranked player in the world, but it’s true. Take advantage of that. I think he embraces that N.Y. crowd . . . remember the late rally at Bethpage at the PGA Championship? I also think Liberty National suits him. I personally witnessed him shoot the easiest final-round 64 I’ve ever seen when the Barclays was here in 2009. Every club we laid up with on a par 5, he hit into the green. The cream rises to the top in these events, and you actually have a little value here for the World No. 2 golfer.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Patrick Cantlay (22-1) — Like the past four winners of the Northern Trust, Cantlay enters the playoffs inside the Top 10 in FedEx Cup points, and gets a course perfectly tailored to his skills. Ball Strikers dominate Liberty National, and Cantlay is about as elite of a ball striker as it gets this year. Per Fantasy National, over the last 24 rounds, he ranks top 10 in approach, off-the-tee, Par 4s between 450-500 yards, sand saves and Par 5s gained.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Justin Thomas (20-1) — I want great ball-striking numbers for Liberty National GC, and that’s what Thomas has been for a long time, and he’s third in the field in strokes gained/approach over the past 75 rounds, according to Fantasy National, and has gained strokes via approach play in 74 of his past 100 rounds. The putting hasn’t been there, but this course has shown a bit of a de-emphasis on putting in the past.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (16-1) — The narrative is that DJ is struggling hard right now. And it's true: He hasn't had a top 10 since his runner-up at the PGA Championship in May. But we're still talking about one of the top three or four best players in the world. And given the fact nobody wants to back him at low odds, we're getting a bit of a value at a regular tour event on DJ. My model indicates he should be 9-1 to win this week, but oddsmakers are giving you a break because no one would bet him at 9-1. At nearly double those odds, pounce on DJ, the leading points-earner for Team USA at the 2017 Presidents Cup.
Jason Sobel, Action Network golf handicapper: Brooks Koepka (9-1) — Yup, that’s right. In a short two-week span, I’ve gone from Brooks is a fade-until-he-proves-he-cares-about-non-majors to all-aboard-the-Koepka-train. There’s a unique reason I like Koepka here—and it has everything to do with two of his four majors. Even though he’s a South Florida native, I’ve often felt like Koepka is a New York kind of guy. He’s no-nonsense, hates bull-crap, doesn’t pull any punches. If he wasn’t the world’s best golfer, you could see him being at peace outside the ropes at a New York-based event, chugging Mich Ultras and laughing at buddies when they yell, “Mashed Potatoes!” at the players. I won’t say that it’s a coincidence two of his major wins came on courses in this area, only that it’s a confluence of events.
Golf Digest editors: Brooks Koepka (9-1) — This isn't an exciting pick or a hot take. This is meant to make us some money. It's an incredibly tough field, but Koepka is going to be motivated. $15 million is a ton of money to anybody—even someone who has made as much money as he has the past two years. We've often see the best players in the world capture these FedEx Cup events. And Koepka's No. 1 in strokes gained in this field over the 36 rounds, according to Fantasy National. He's so good off the tee and on his approach shots—it would be a shock to us if he's not contending on Sunday. For the complete analysis from The Action Network's team of golf handicappers, click here.
Lee Aldrick, FanShare Sports golf expert: __Rory McIlroy (11-1) — Rory ranks first in the field in strokes gained/tee-to-green over the past two months and sixth for Opportunities Gained over the same period. The four-time major champion also ranks 2nd in our course suitability metric. McIlroy has a lot to prove this week and is desperate to give something back to his loyal fans.
(Results on the season: We’ve correctly predicted seven of the season’s 34 events—Brandon Gdula hit Rory McIlroy (9-1) at the Canadian Open, and our Golf Digest Editors predicted Patrick Cantlay (16-1) the previous week at the Memorial. Pat Mayo has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix and had a runner-up (Dustin Johnson) at the PGA. And our Golf Digest editors also correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1, Safeway Open) earlier in the season.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win the 2019 Northern Trust (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Pat Perez (320-1) — I’m picking Mr. No. 125 in the FedEx Cup standings in the spirit of Heath Slocum. Back in 2009, Heath missed the cut at the Wyndham and was No. 124 going into the Barclays at Liberty National … then he won the damn thing, finishing one stroke ahead of Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. Ever heard of those guys? I have a feeling about Pat this week. He might do something like that.
Mayo: Billy Horschel (60-1) — Check the calendar and you’ll see it’s once again the Billy Horschel gets hot time of year. Always a better putter on Bentgrass, after a Top 6 at the Wyndham, the 2014 FedEx Cup champ ha snow posted consecutive Top 10s to close the season with his five Top 20 results in his past seven starts.
Gdula: Joaquin Niemann (90-1) — Niemann ranks top-25 in strokes gained/off the tee and strokes gained/approach over the past 75 rounds. He’s, simply put, an elite ball-striker. He struggles with the short game, but his putting is trending up, and he’s actually a plus putter on bent grass.
Riccio: Joaquin Niemann (90-1) — My model has been in love with Niemann since he burst on the scene last year. He struggled in the early part of the season, but he has been remarkably consistent over the past two months. His approach stats and driving stats are elite enough to score well at Liberty National and give him a chance on Sunday. My model is very bullish on him—making him the second most likely player to win this week with projected odds of 20-1. He will be an auto play for me until he earns his first win.
Sobel, Action Network: Emiliano Grillo (130-1) — According to our FantasyLabs models, the highest-rated player at this value (sub-$7,500 on DK; sub $8,500 on FD) is Grillo. Grillo has been a bit inconsistent lately, but he’s still a world-class ball-striker. I’m surprised he hasn't elevated himself into the next tier of players this season, but I’m still bullish on it happening in the not-too-distant future. Also receiving votes in this category: Jason Kokrak, Bud Cauley, Corey Conners, Andrew Putnam and (if you’re going really cheap) Carlos Ortiz.
Golf Digest editors: Aaron Wise (120-1) — The young bomber Aaron Wise ranks well in a couple key stats, per Fantasy National. He's 16th in opportunities gained, 20th in birdies gained and 23rd in birdies or better gained. This is a longshot, but one worth a couple quarter or half units at this big price.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Russell Henley (150-1) — Henley ranks second for DraftKings Points Gained on seaside/exposed, long courses played on Bentgrass greens. How's that for a stat? Henley has also found a bit of form of late. Henley is 24th in the field in Opportunities Gained over the last two months. With a hot putter, Henley could pop at this big number.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: J.T. Poston (100-1) — These are the same odds he was at the Wyndham ... in a WAY weaker field. Now he'll be thrown into an unfamiliar position after his win: paired alongside Tiger Woods in the first two rounds. Obviously, he’s playing well, but there is always that chance of a letdown after winning. Couple that with being thrown right into the real circus of being paired with Tiger—especially right outside NYC—it’s going to be wild and crazy in that group.
Mayo: Jon Rahm (14-1) — I love Jon Rahm, but I looked at a map and this event isn’t being played in Europe or the Pacific time zone, like all of his real wins (sorry Hero and Zurich), so it’s pretty unlikely he wins. Finish strong, sure. Win? Nahhhhh.
Gdula: Rickie Fowler (22-1) — Fowler’s ball-striking is above-average for the field, but at a course that requires it, that's not enough for me to want to back him at such a low number. Fowler’s name value has him overpriced, and his putter probably can’t carry him to a win at Liberty National.
Riccio: Gary Woodland (45-1) — There are just too many other golfers in this range to back Woodland at this price.
Sobel, Action Network: Tiger Woods (31-1) — Tiger has seemed physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted ever since winning the Masters four months ago. And that’s perfectly fine. No matter what happens over the next few weeks, this year has been a success for Woods after claiming his 15th major. But I also think he’s lost a lot of motivation, too. Think about it: After getting that fired up to win the Masters, it’s hard to refocus for things like the Northern Trust, especially for a guy who readily admits he wants his game to peak four times each year. I'd stay away from someone who looks tired and unmotivated.
Golf Digest editors: Tiger Woods (31-1) — First off, it's almost unthinkable that you're getting over 30-1 on Tiger Woods in a year when he won the Masters. But you can't ignore the injury concerns. Reports from the grounds at Liberty National are that Tiger has been grimacing after making swings on Wednesday. We can't blame the guy: It's been a long year for someone with an injured back. Tiger has the best history of anyone in this field at Liberty National, but the physical limitations lead us to be out on him.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Dustin Johnson (16-1) — Could Dustin Johnson turn it around? Sure. But his putting on Bentgrass greens is so brutal—I would look elsewhere.
2019 Northern Trust picks: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Rory Sabbatini (+105) over Marc Leishman (Sportbet) — Sabbatini is on a heater right now. I hope that he sees he’s an underdog in this match up. He feasts on things like that. He’s probably playing some of the best golf of his career, and he’s got nothing to lose. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in contention.
Mayo: Bubba Watson (-105) over Sergio Garcia (Sportsbook) — On paper, this course is a dream for Sergio: A ball strikers paradise. Problem is, the Spaniard has been absolutely brutal with his irons over the past few months. He’s lost on approaches in three of past four starts, including a disastrous -5.4 SG: APP at the WGC two weeks ago. Bubba meanwhile, has casually been playing good golf. With a T-=13 in 2013 at Liberty National, Watson’s off the tee game in combination with his suddenly solid iron play should have him lapping El Nino.
Gdula: Patrick Cantlay (-126) over Rickie Fowler (FanDuel) — Cantlay’s stats always stand out, and he’s like a better version of Fowler, who always has a balanced profile. More importantly, Cantlay ranks eighth in strokes gained/ball-striking over the past 50 rounds. Fowler is 40th.
Riccio: Hideki Matsuyama (-115) over Gary Woodland (Bovada) — Hideki Matsuyama should really excel at Liberty National. Few golfers are as precise as Hideki is with his irons. He's struggled a bit lately, which is creating a bit of value here. On the other hand, you have Gary Woodland, who has been with home with his family after the birth of his twin babies. I'd favor Hideki's strengths in this matchup.
Sobel, Action Network: Patrick Reed (-130) over Shane Lowry (Bovada) — Reed has been dialed in lately. He’s fresh off a Sunday 63 in Greensboro and owns seven finishes of 32nd-or-better, dating back to the U.S. Open. More importantly, he’s motivated at a time when many aren’t. Without a win since last year’s Masters, you know Reed desperately wants to impress Presidents Cup captain Tiger Woods with a few virtuoso performances down the stretch.
Speaking of motivated, it’s tough to believe that Lowry is anything close to that right now — and deservedly so. Still riding the high from his Open Championship victory, we can assume that Lowry hasn’t exactly been grinding on the practice range after his pub crawl victory lap.
My favorite head-to-head bets are those where I want to back one player while fading the other; this one fits perfectly.
Golf Digest editors: Patrick Cantlay (-140) over Tiger Woods (Bovada) — Our rule of thumb is never to take someone in a match-up who's a heavy favorite. We're going to make an exception here. Cantlay is playing as good as anyone in the world right now, and Tiger looks like he's playing hurt. We're pretty confident in this one—it's worth laying a little more to ensure a profit.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Justin Rose (+110) over Dustin Johnson (Sportsbook) — Dustin Johnson's putting woes are alarming and worth fading. He's been especially bad on Bentgrass greens—whereas Justin Rose ranks third in this field on Bentgrass greens. I favor J-Rose hard here
Matchup results last week: PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Sungjae Im (-110) over Abraham Ancer); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Daniel Berger (-106) over Alex Noren); Lee Aldrick, FanShare: 1 for 1 (Collin Morikawa (-110) over Jordan Spieth); Everyone else: 0 for 1
Matchup results for the year: GD Editors: 17 wins, 11 losses, two pushes; PGA Tour Caddie: 17-13; Action Network: 9-12; Riccio: 13-14; FanShare Sports guest picker: 3 for 4; Mayo: 11-15-2; Gdula: 10-17-2
Top 10 picks (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Ryan Armour (+2600) — Starting the week at No. 108 in the FedEx standings, Ryan will need a big week to advance to the BMW. I think he’s played some really good golf lately, but just hasn’t been able to piece together four good rounds. He’s one round away from a top 10. Last week at Wyndham is a perfect example of that. He went 64-66-65 before a final-round 72 to finish T-22.
Mayo: Corey Conners (+1900) — The Canadian sits top 10 in strokes gained/approach, strokes gained/approaches, strokes gained/off-the-tee and greens in regulation gained over the past 50 rounds, and in this odds range, you’re not going to find a better ball-striker. In 18 starts in 2019, Conners has gained strokes on the greens just three times, and two were on Bentgrass, one of those, Valero, he actually won. If Conners can hang around field average in putting (a big ask), the rest of his game can spit out a top 10.
Gdula: Tyrrell Hatton (+1000) — Hatton’s tee-to-green game is actually trending up, and he’s gained strokes tee to green in 75% of his past 36 rounds — 83% of his past 24. That puts him on par with the top ball-strikers in this field. We know his putter can get hot, and he sets up for a run at a top 10 at good odds on FanDuel Sportsbook.
Riccio: Tony Finau (+470) — Tony Finau has been plagued by some inconsistency of late: As evidenced by the 3M Open, where he opened with a hot round before fading to a 23rd place finish. His strokes gained numbers are there: He gained a whopping 13.2 strokes off the tee at the Open and 4.3 strokes/tee-to-green in his last start at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude. If Finau can fix those consistency issues, his length and approach strengths are too good for him not to contend—making nearly 5-to-1 odds for a top-10 finish very enticing.
Sobel, Action Network: Patrick Cantlay (+260) — One of my favorite recurring bets has taken a turn for the worse lately. After cashing on four straight occasions, Cantlay has now failed to finish in the top-10 on four straight. That’s still a pretty nice overall percentage, but it’s time for this one to pay out again. In those last four starts, he’s missed a top-10 by one shot, two shots and three shots, meaning he’s only a few burnt edges from going 7-for-8. For a guy who consistently shows up and rarely struggles, I’m sticking with this wager.
Golf Digest editors: Joaquin Niemann (+700) — The 20-year-old hasn't finished outside the top 25 in a PGA Tour on U.S. soil since mid-June. He's been incredibly good, and though this field is probably too strong for him to break through for his first win, we expect him to continue his strong play. We like him for a top-10, or even more safe, a top-20 bet.
Aldrick, FanShare Sports: Patrick Reed (+500) — Captain America is playing some excellent golf right now. In his past seven starts, Reed has five top-25 finishes and three top-12s. The stats are really good over the past two months, too: He's 12th in Opportunities Gained and seventh in strokes gained/tee-to-green—huge necessities to play well at Liberty National.
Top 10 results last week: Aldrick: 1 for 1 (Brian Harman (+800); Mayo: 1 for 1 (Viktor Hovland (+350); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Webb Simpson (+150); Everyone else: 0 for 1
Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 9 for 28; GD Editors: 8 for 27; Gdula: 6 for 26; Riccio: 5 for 27; PGA Tour Caddie: 6 for 28; Action Network: 3 for 10; FanShare: 1 for 4
Mayo: Pray JT can rediscover his putter and make enough 10-footers to coast to the top of the leaderboard. Per Fantasy National, JT is averaging +5.3 SG: Approach over his past three starts and long term is the best Par 4 player in the world. Just make a putt, guy… Willett’s irons failed him at the WGC, but previous to that head posted a T6, T12, and T8; two of those being Majors. He’s quietly driving the ball at an elite level the past few months and Liberty
National is just tough enough to put the winning score into Willett’s range. He’s unlikely to go out and win a birdiefest against the world’s best players, but ratchet up the difficulty, just a tad, and he’s very live.
Justin Thomas ($10,000); Patrick Cantlay ($9,200); Billy Horschel ($8,000); Danny Willett ($7,200); Corey Conners ($6,500)
Riccio: My model gives Tiger the third-best chance of winning this week, so I'm including him in both my DraftKings and FanDuel lineups. Joaquin Niemann, who will be a popular sleeper pick this week, is second in my model: Which means at $7,500, he presents great value. Even Jordan Spieth, whose recent struggles are well-documented, makes enough birdies to make this price fine to stomach. It's all about eliminating those bogeys, but in DFS, that doesn't hurt us all too much (as long as he makes the cut).
Dustin Johnson ($10,700); Tiger Woods ($9,000); Tony Finau ($8,300); Jordan Spieth ($8,000); Joaquin Niemann ($7,500); Kevin Tway ($6,200)
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: There are strong plays all across the board this week, so I’m more than happy to fit McIlroy in at $11,400. The remainder of the team all have a good combination of recent form and course fit.
Rory McIlroy ($11,400); Hideki Matsuyama ($8,400); Patrick Reed ($8,100); Chez Reavie ($7,600); Jim Furyk ($7,100); Adam Hadwin ($7,100)
FanShare Sports' Under The Radar DFS Pick of the Week — Hideki Matsuyama (41-1) — Matsuyama ranks just outside the top 10 players for FanShare Tags this week, meaning the experts are favoring other players, mainly due to his two recent missed cuts. But look at the bigger sample size: Matsuyama ranks first in the field for Opportunities Gained over the last two months and 20th for strokes gained/tee-to-green. Perhaps surprising is that he ranks 17th in the field in strokes gained/putting on Bentgrass greens.
Gdula: This week, Brooks Koepka ($12,200) stands out as my top cash-game (head-to-head, 50/50) play and will anchor my lineups. Your studs of choice are in play, but I’m focused on Justin Thomas ($11,400) as my second option.
Cheaper plays who are great ball-strikers for the course include Jason Kokrak ($9,200), Joaquin Niemann ($9,100), and Emiliano Grillo ($8,300).
Riccio: Same strategy as above: Give me the strongest player in the field according to my model, DJ, and round it out with guys who should make a ton of birdies this week.
Dustin Johnson ($11,900); Rickie Fowler ($11,100); Tiger Woods ($10,900); Jordan Spieth ($10,000); Joaquin Niemann ($9,100); Kevin Tway ($7,000).
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 17-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, the most of any writer this decade, and Mayo won the 2019 Fantasy Sports Writing Association Daily Fantasy Writer of the Year and Podcast of the Year awards, along with the Fantasy Sports Trade Association Best Video award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the 2019 Wyndham Championship.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.
Jason Sobel is a senior writer for The Action Network. To read The Action Network's full betting breakdown for the Northern Trust, click here.
Lee Alldrick of FanShare Sports started out writing an article highlighting the best bargain plays for fantasy golf under his twitter handle @DKGolfBargains. His success at this prompted FanShare Sports to enlist him as a guest writer, which evolved into him writing the weekly Under The Radar article. As a UK based expert, Alldrick’s insight into European Tour regulars and low priced, low owned plays has provided an invaluable edge for readers when it comes to DFS GPPs.
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