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The Northern Trust Preview: 'Going To Be A Lot Of Fun Because So Many Of The Top Players Are On Form'

(CBSNewYork)- The PGA Tour's playoffs have begun with the Top 125 golfers in the FedEx Cup rankings descending upon Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, NJ for The Northern Trust. The course, with scenic views of the New York City skyline presents a visually stunning backdrop for the first round of the chase for the FedExCup.

"The thing that jumps out the most is the location and views because where it's situated right near the Statue of Liberty with views of Manhattan, it's just fascinating," CBS Sports golf analyst Trevor Immelman said. "It's an incredible experience to actually be on the property and from a bunch of different holes look across and see that. It's humbling really to see that kind of power, strength and size right there as you're playing on a golf course."

The field is stacked with the biggest names in the sport, all looking to chase down current standings leader Collin Morikawa and last year's champion Dustin Johnson in pursuit of a $15 million prize. The 37-year-old Johnson enters the weekend 17th in the standings but is the defending champ at The Northern Trust winning at TPC Boston in 2020 with a score of 30 under par.

The winner of the last Northern Trust to be played at Liberty National was in the field but Patrick Reed was forced to withdraw on Thursday morning due to an ankle injury. Along with Johnson, former FedExCup champions Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Billy Horschel and Brandt Snedeker will all tee off this weekend.

The field will take on a Liberty National Course designed by Tom Kite and Bob Cupp that spans 7,410 yards with 15 holes that feature those views of the Statue of Liberty that Immelman referred to. A par-71 course features bent grass fairways and greens that, in the words of its designers, is meant to test a blend of golfer's skills.

"You need to drive it fairly straight at Liberty National, and the greens are such that if you don't drive it straight it is tough to get to the pin," Kite said. "What I try to do is not have any one part of the game dominate. I don't want it to be just a putting course or just a bombers course. I want you to be rewarded for length, accuracy, iron shots, chipping and bunker shots. And, of course, putting will always be there."

There is opportunity to go low at the course Immelman notes and it's not one that plays to any particular golfer's style which leaves the door wide open as to who may be in contention come the weekend.

"Just taking a look at people who have won here in the past, you've had winners of different styles," Immelman said. "I think it leans more towards being wide open particularly when you have this high class of a field. All of these guys are so good, they're the best in the world at their craft. If they manage to catch a little fire here during the week and they time things correctly, the style of the golf course is not going to stop them."

The strength of the field is eye-catching with 44 of the Top 50 golfers in the world rankings teeing it up. Entering the weekend, Morikawa is of course among the top names to watch as his current 2021 FedExCup ranking of No. 1 marks the highest of his career, his previous best coming in 2020 when he finished sixth in the final standings. His only previous trip to Liberty National resulted in a 52nd place finish in 2019. But, Immelman points out that this season we've seen Morikawa really lock in under pressure of the brightest lights.

"Winning The Open and now at such a young age winning two majors, this guy has proven that when the stakes are the highest, he's one of the guys you have to watch out for," Immelman said. "Under the most pressure, in the biggest moments, he starts to really make those putts which is something we really don't often see from him. He's going to be a handful for more than a decade for these guys because he's shown he has the talent and guts for it."

Right behind him in the standings is Jordan Spieth who Immelman also likes heading into the weekend because he has gotten his swagger back in his game.

"Confidence is growing week after week. We saw him play well at The Open, he had a solid finish at the WGC in Memphis. I've been liking him, he's been on top of my list now for most of the season," Immelman said.

While Morikawa and Spieth are names most would expect to be in the hunt given their place in the standings, Immelman also points to Adam Scott who has won at Liberty National previously. Currently 82nd in the standings, Scott will have some work to do in order to make it to next week's BMW Championship when the field is cut to 70. And that should provide him with some extra ability to play free.

"He has that motivation. He has the form having played well last week at the Wyndham Championship," Immelman said. "And he has the good vibes and the memories as well of winning at this venue, this tournament in 2013. I feel like there's a lot going on there with the motivation, the form and the good vibes on this golf course. Quite honestly, he has nothing to lose, if he's not going to be in the Top 70 Sunday night, his season is done. I think that will free him up a little bit to be able to just let it fly."

Getting off to a win is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that the winners of the first two events of the playoffs in each of the last two years have started no worse than fourth at the Tour Championship. Since the starting position at the Tour Championship gives players staggered scores based on the first two events, a win can go a long way towards adding a significant sum to the bank account when all is said and done at East Lake in two weeks.

"Now it's down to crunch time here. The regular season is over, the playoffs are here and so time is running out for them to be able to get into that position to make a good solid run at the Tour Championship and win that pot of gold," Immelman said. "You're going to start seeing the intensity ramp up from the players. They know how important the next three weeks are for them. It's going to be a lot of fun because we have so many of the top players on form."

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