Deutsche Bank Championship
Last week was a very exciting one and things continue to heat up as we are down to the last 100 players in the Fed Ex Series. As expected it was a ball-striker’s paradise last week and Bethpage Black lived up to its reputation playing long and tough. Unfortunately Matsuyama couldn’t get it done but it was another proven, classy winner in the shape of Patrick Reed that lifted the trophy. It just so happens there are a lot of them around at the moment! Reed was a deserving winner though and will arrive in Boston full of confidence. Doubling up in the play-offs is something that has happened several times already in the Fed Ex Series so he must be respected. He will also have an extra day to recover this week as the Deutsche Bank sits in its now custom Friday to Monday slot rather than the normal Thursday to Sunday we see elsewhere on Tour.
The Course - TPC Boston.
TPC Boston usually yields plenty of birdies and also a high-class winner with Rory Mcilroy, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson, VJ Singh, Steve Stricker and a certain Tiger Woods all having won here in recent times. At 7214 yards the Par 71 is of average length with a good mix of holes. The course was originally designed by Arnold Palmer in 2003 before the Olympics’ very own Gil Hanse undertook some renovations alongside Brad Faxon in 2007. It has been the host course since the inception of the Fed Ex Series so there is a lot of course form to look at. It is also worthwhile looking at other Arnold Palmer courses although there aren’t too many on rotation in the PGA Tour right now. With Hanse having reworked the course though the Olympic leaderboard wouldn’t be a bad starting point given it was held just three weeks ago.
The course is a striking one with lush green fairways and rough and tree-lined fairways. There is still a bit of room off the tee on most holes however and while driving accuracy isn’t normally too crucial, if you go too far off direction then the trees will gladly block out approach shots to the green which brings water into play. The rough hasn't been too penal however the last few years and that means a lot of the game's bigger hitters feel quite comfortable around the track.
The course boasts average sized bent grass greens but they are very well protected and feature some subtle undulations so the right portions need to be hit to allow easier birdie putts. They also usually firm up making them tougher to hold for the shorter hitters as the week goes on.
As is the case with most winners of Fed Ex play off events, the winners usually arrive here in great form with either a recent win or some high-placed finishes. The winning total is always towards -20 so the putter must be fairly hot and given the amount of water around the greens, iron accuracy is at more of a premium than off the tee. Looking at the winners they are all fairly long off the tee, feature high in Par 5 Scoring and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green. But the one thing that has struck me about the last three winners in particular, Fowler, Kirk and Stenson is that they are all brilliant from 150-175 yards. The last three winners have finished 1st, 6th and 1st in the all-round ranking though so above all else, to win this week will require every aspect of the game to be in fine working order.
The year 2016 has been a fairly out of sorts year for Rickie Fowler since winning in Abu Dhabi in January. I, along with many others, have been waiting for a return to form for him but it never really came through the summer during golf's biggest events. But after last week it looks like he might have timed his run perfectly for a shot at the biggest cheque of all – the $10m Fed Ex Cup bonus.
Opening last week at 51.0 there were a lot of punters feeling rather foolish as he made his way to towards the top of the leaderboard on Saturday but their anguish was short lived as he shot a closing round of 3 over par to drop down to 7th. There is no doubt that has left him at a backable price on a course where he returns this year to defend the trophy. It is never an easy thing to do but given that virtually every department of his game was working well last week he has to be the bet at 28.0.
While arguments can well be made for different aspects being more important at TPC Boston, generally it requires the players to do everything well and Rickie ranked 5th in the all-round ranking last week at Bethpage Black. He also led the field in scrambling which has been very important in recent times with the winners ranking 1st, 4th and 6th in that department over the last three years.
Patrick Reed confirmed last week that class usually tells at the play-off events and with the bit between his teeth and a big month ahead of him, I expect a very good defence from the likeable young American. Winning isn't an issue for him any more and I'm sure last week it was just rust from having not properly contended for a few months. Despite how difficult it can be to defend a title, Rickie looks the man to beat this week and the 28.0 still looks more than fair for a player who has the game to compete with the very best.