Playoff StorylinesAugust 9, 2019

Northern Trust 2019: 7 of the biggest takeaways from the second round

The Northern Trust - Round Two
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)Dustin Johnson putts out during the second round of The Northern Trust.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Spectators murmured to one another in disappointed tones as the news of Tiger Woods' WD spread around Liberty National Golf Club on Friday morning. Though it was a rough start for anybody hoping to watch the 15-time major champion in the second round of the Northern Trust, golf fans were still treated to some great golf throughout the day. Here were the biggest happenings around Liberty National on Friday.

1. Yes, Tiger Woods' oblique injury caused him to WD before he started his second round.

Tiger was scheduled to tee off in the afternoon wave, but tournament officials confirmed Tiger's WD around 10 a.m. Tiger's longtime agent, Mark Steinberg, said the move was mostly a precaution, implying this isn't a long-term injury.

"I know he wants to play. But he also wants to do the smart thing," Steinberg said. "In the past he would just fight through it, and that's what led to all the surgeries. He's clearly learned he needs to do what’s best for his life and not just for his golf life."

In a statement, Tiger says he remains "hopeful" that he'll be able to play in next week's BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club, site of his 1999 and 2006 PGA Championship victories.

2. Jordan Spieth's strange season continues.

After a second-round 64, the three-time major champion will try to reverse what has become a troubling trend this season. He hasn't backed up his early-round success, at all, on the weekend, as these stats indicate:

Round 1 scoring average: 69.35 (10th on tour, entering this week) .
Round 2 scoring average: 68.40 (second on tour) .
Round 3 scoring average: 71.19 (172nd on tour) .
Round 4 scoring average: 73.00 (195th on tour)

Spieth made eight birdies to go with one bogey Friday morning, putting him in the lead after the morning wave. Spieth ended the day one shot back of Dustin Johnson, which means they'll be in the final group on Saturday. Now, Spieth gets another chance to figure out the weekend struggles.

"The important thing for me is not to get ahead of myself," he said. "I mean, it's to just continue to try and be consistent. I'm just trying to get—historically, I'm a very consistent player. I've lost a bit of that. I still have the firepower but that consistency is what I'm trying to get back."

3. Dustin Johnson is also looking to reverse some trends.

Johnson backed up his opening-round eight-under-par 63 with a 67 on Friday, which gives him a one-shot lead after 36 holes. Like Spieth, DJ hopes to buck some recent trends—he hasn't finished better than 20th on the PGA Tour since May. DJ is still just 37th in strokes gained/putting for the week, but he's second in sg/off the tee and fourth in strokes gained/tee to green, so if he rolls in a few more putts combined with how well he's striking the ball, he'll have a chance for his first win since February (WGC-Mexico).

4. Rory McIlroy was originally assessed a two-shot penalty for testing a hazard when he touched some sand in a bunker, but decision was reversed.

At the par-3 14th hole, Rory thought there was a stone behind his ball in the bunker, and he reached down to remove it only to realize it was sand. Initially, a rules official told McIlroy he'd be penalized two strokes for testing a bunker, but it was decided that his intent was not to test the bunker, but to remove the stone. Officials decided then to reverse their decision and take away the two-stroke penalty.

The PGA Tour's VP of rules and competition consulted with rules official Dave Donnelly, who was called to the 14th hole to assess the situation, and deemed that Rory's intent was not to improve his lie.

With a par instead of a double bogey on No. 14, Rory sits at nine under for the week, just three shots back of Johnson's lead. McIlroy is among a group of talented players in contention (Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed are 10 under and two back, Justin Rose is at nine under and three back).

(Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Troy Merritt plays from the bunker on the 18th hole during the second round of the Northern Trust.

5. Troy Merritt led for most of the afternoon at Liberty National.

Thursday's surprise leader at the Northern Trust fought hard to keep his lead for most of Friday afternoon, and did so until he drew a really bad lie for his third shot at the par-4 15th hole. The resulting double bogey knocked him out of the lead, and a finishing bogey after finding the left fairway bunker at the home hole, then missing a six-footer for par, put him two back.

Merritt, 33, looked tough for most of Friday—scrambling for pars on holes 10 through 12 after a hot start, before dropping a few shots coming in. The two-time tour winner said his ball-striking was shaky on the back nine compared to Thursday, so he'll need to figure that out if he wants to secure the biggest win of his career.

RELATED: Northern Trust 2019: Troy Merritt can thank a strong gust of wind for one of the most fortunate birdies of the week

6. Patrick Reed might be channeling Captain America.

The Presidents Cup is coming up, with Tiger Woods making his captain's picks after the FedEx Cup. Patrick Reed is currently not on the team via points, and with a number of talented players looking for a spot, he's not guaranteed a captain's pick. Winning this week at Liberty National—site of the most recent Presidents Cup, where Reed helped guide Team USA to a commanding victory—would all but ensure Reed is a member of Tiger's squad.

You know that'll motivate Captain America this weekend, and he's done well so far, shooting back-to-back 66s to trail DJ by just two shots.

RELATED: Northern Trust 2019: Being a past FedEx Cup champion affords you some nice luxuries, as Justin Rose can explain

7. The FedEx Cup volatility should be strong come Sunday.

Twenty players made the cut on the number (one under), and only 33 players were sent home (plus three WDs), giving us a large group of 88 golfers playing the weekend at Liberty National. Players will be fighting to make it inside the top 70 to advance to the BMW Championship with the new format (previously, with four events in the playoffs, the field was cut from 125 players to 100 after the Northern Trust—but after this week, the field will be cut to 70).

Some intriguing names who will be fighting on the bubble this weekend:

• Collin Morikawa (-1, T-66), projected 59th, looks to be in;

• Joaquin Niemann (-1, T-66) is projected 80th, so he'll need a strong weekend to make it to Medinah;

• Matthew Wolff (-2, T-60) is projected 73rd, so he'll need to move a couple more spots up the leader board to advance;

• Harold Varner III (-8, T-12) is projected 67th, moving up 35 spots after entering the week at No. 102. He'll have to avoid giving up much ground to make it to Chicago.

• Cameron Champ (-1, T-66) is projected as the last man out—ranking 71st if all results held up. He'll need to make a bit of a move to earn a spot at Medinah.

• And obviously Jordan Spieth (-11, second), was right on the bubble entering the week (69th place), but he's projected to move to ninth with a runner-up finish.

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