Enjoy the PGA Tour while you can, New York metropolitan area golf fans, because this week’s Northern Trust at Liberty National is the last time the world’s best players will compete in our backyard for at least the next year-plus.
Inexplicably, the PGA Tour has left the New York market without an event on its 2022 schedule with this leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs moving to Memphis, Tenn.
What we have this week, though, is something to embrace with storylines that run as long as rush-hour traffic at the nearby Holland Tunnel.
The Northern Trust features the top 125 players on the regular-season FedEx points list. There’s a weekend cut to the top 65 and ties, and the top 70 in points following the tournament will advance to next week’s BMW Championship.
This all leads to the season-ending Tour Championship, where the top 30 players will compete and the winner will receive $15 million.
Among the litany of storylines is the return of world No. 1 Jon Rahm, who was forced to sit out the Olympics after testing positive for COVID-19 for the second time.
Rahm hasn’t played since he won the U.S. Open in June at Torrey Pines. Before the U.S. Open, he was forced to withdraw from the Memorial with a six-shot lead after the third round when he had a positive COVID-19 test. After the U.S. Open, he was forced out of the Olympics for the same reason.
“[It] makes me a little sad, I’m not going to lie,’’ Rahm said. “It really is unfortunate. It sucked because I wanted to represent Spain. I wanted to play that one. I wanted to hopefully give Spain a medal. I was wishing for a gold medal, but just being part of that medal count for the country would have been huge. It was more devastating in that sense. I was more in the mindset of playing for them more than me.
“I’m going to have to wait three more years hopefully to qualify for the Olympics, but I was really ready for this one. [The Olympics] was a little harder to digest than Memorial because I’ve done everything the system tells me to do.’’
Dustin Johnson is the defending champion, yet hasn’t had a particularly strong 2021.
“I’m looking forward to the playoffs,’’ Johnson said. “I feel like I’m in a good spot. Obviously, I need a good couple of weeks here, first and foremost here at the Northern Trust, and then next week at the BMW just to improve my position going into Atlanta.’’
Collin Morikawa is the latest major champion, having won the British Open last month in England. Morikawa enters the week leading the FedEx Cup standings, but he leads Jordan Spieth by a mere 32 points.
“Obviously, it’s great to start out number one going into the playoffs,’’ Morikawa said. “It means I was doing something right throughout the regular season. My game feels good, and I think the way I looked into the playoffs last year, I was so focused — especially after that PGA [Championship] win — ‘Let’s go win, win, win,’ and I think I was almost burnt out by the time I got to that third week knowing I’d be here.
“When you have the playoffs, this is everything. This is the finals for us. I think I’m going to kind of look at this a little differently throughout these next couple weeks leading up to the Tour Championship and just see if I can plot my way to really peak in that third week rather than burn myself out in the first few.’’
Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau are here at Liberty, the place where their ongoing public feud began when Koepka chided DeChambeau for slow play at the 2019 Northern Trust.
Then there’s Phil Mickelson, the 51-year-old PGA champion who’s on the outside of the Ryder Cup team looking in. Mickelson’s form since his win in May at the PGA Championship has been inconsistent, and he knows he needs a big couple of weeks in these playoffs to sway U.S. captain Steve Stricker to pick him.
Mickelson is 58th in FedEx Cup points, which essentially assures him of qualifying for the first two playoff events, but he will have to play well to get to the Tour Championship.
Mickelson is one of only six players who have qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs in each season since the inception in 2007, joining Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker and Matt Kuchar.
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