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Northern Trust Course 'Keeps You A Little Bit Off-Balance,' Says Dottie Pepper About TPC Boston

Boston (CBS) -- The Northern Trust opens up the FedExCup Playoffs this week at TPC Boston. The field, finalized at the Wyndham Championship last weekend, includes the top 125 players in the FedExCup standings, determined by points earned at tournaments throughout the PGA Tour's 2019-2020 regular season. Not coincidentally, the field also includes most of the world's top players.

The Field

All but one of the world's top 25 players will be in action, including top-ranked Jon Rahm and recent number ones Justin Thomas (2nd) and Rory McIlroy (3rd). Thomas last won the FedExCup in 2017. McIlroy, the defending champion, also won in 2016. Many other past champions will also join the field, including Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, and Tiger Woods.

Sliced another way, the field includes all but two of The Northern Trust's winners from the last decade. This event will be played at TPC Boston this year for the first time. So, perhaps it's more relevant to look at past champions from the Dell Technologies Championship, which called the course home from 2003 to 2018. From that perspective, six champions since 2010 will be on hand.

The long and short of it is that this field is stacked, as much as any event since June.

>>STREAM: The Northern Trust

The FedExCup Playoffs

Before moving ahead to some of the big story lines, let's have a little refresher on the FedExCup. PGA Tour players amass points for placing well in events throughout the season. Majors and The Players award 600 points to the winners. WGC events award 550 points. Regular season events are worth 500, and additional events played opposite other tournaments are worth 300. Decreasing points are awarded to players down through 70th place of an event.

The Northern Trust is open to the regular season's top 125 point-earners. The winner (this year) will receive 1,500 points, with lesser awards down the standings (it's the only event of the playoffs to have a cut after 36 holes). The top 70 advance to the BMW Championship, where the same point system will apply. The top 30 then advance to the Tour Championship. The player with the best point total going in starts the event at 10-under par, with scores increasing through the 30th player. The winner over 72 holes takes home the FedExCup and $15 million of the $60 million in bonus money.

Thomas (2,458) tops the point totals going into The Northern Trust. He's one of only five players with more points than the winner will pocket this week. The others are Collin Morikawa (1,902), Webb Simpson (1,878), Bryson DeChambeau (1,657), and Sungjae Im (1,633). The second of the top 10 includes Patrick Reed (1,426), McIlroy (1,327) and Rahm (1,295). Expect the point-leaders list to look a lot different coming out of the weekend.

Just as interesting as the players atop the points list are the players bringing up the rear. Justin Rose (313), who's ranked 17th in the world but has also missed four cuts since the break, sits at 109th. Jordan Spieth (354), who won it in 2015, is only marginally better at 100th. Brooks Koepka (360) is ranked seventh in the world, but is only a few spots above Spieth in the points standings. While Koepka has withdrawn from The Northern Trust due to injury, ending his season, the others will need a good showing this week to head to Chicago next week. Who might be able to make a move?

"Jordan Spieth is just gutting it out every week," says CBS Sports on-course reporter Dottie Pepper. "And if he can somehow get the ball in play better, he will definitely be a factor. And he's had good tournaments at TPC Boston. Tommy Fleetwood, he might be 89th right now, but he's just waiting to spring. And he had that long break where he was in Europe and didn't play. That's a guy I would keep an eye on, because he only needs to move up less than 20 spots to get to Chicago. And he's played good golf. I think he's just rounding into form. He's only been in the United States for a month. Mickelson is just inside the top 70. He hasn't put four (rounds) together, but there's a chance. And it's a golf course that's interesting enough for him, with sort of a shot-maker's artistry, reward, that he might do something."

>>READ: DeChambeau, Rahm, Morikawa, Thomas Share Insight On TPC Boston's Challenging Back-Nine Stretch

Tiger Woods

Woods (604) will advance if he maintains his standing, which is currently 49th. Advancing would mean playing twice in a row and twice in the same calendar month, two things he's yet to do this year. And he could, theoretically, play well enough to move on to the Tour Championship. Where would three consecutive tournaments leave him with regard to the U.S. Open in the middle of September?

"I think this is where he's been putting his focus for the year," says Pepper. "I think his body responded really well at the PGA Championship in very trying conditions for somebody who fights a balky back. And the cold weather wasn't advantageous. I think he's just fine."

The Course

TPC Boston will be free of spectators, who would have certainly followed Tiger's every move. The course is a par-71 that measures 7,342 yards. It was designed by Arnold Palmer on land once used to produce charcoal and mine gravel for the nearby highway. TPC Boston opened for play in 2002 and became a regular stop on the PGA Tour the following year. It hosted the Deutsche Bank Championship, which became the Dell Technologies Championship, through 2018.

TPC Boston has been refined over the last two decades to better fit the natural landscape of the surrounding area. Changes have included reshaped rough on multiple holes, along with additional bunkers and shifted greens.

According to Pepper, "It's a golf course that keeps you a little bit off-balance, because the course goes in both directions. The par-3s are really difficult, especially 11. You've got a drive-able par-4, potentially two drive-able par-4s, depending on how they set up 17. One of the things that's really nice about, especially the par-3s, is that they're all very different. It's a golf course where you remember every hole. But it does keep you off-balance."

The course can challenge players but also yield its share of low scores. Vijay Singh (2006) and Mike Weir (2008) both shot 61s, the course record for a single round. The winning score for the tournament averages 17.4-under par.

"If you look over the winners there in the past, there's pretty good balance," says Pepper. "And, most times I've been there, there's been a reward for keeping the ball in play and a reward for taking advantage of the par-5s. The last hole creates a lot of excitement. And there's also the par-5 seventh that creates a lot of buzz at the end of the front nine. It's a golf course that can have big highs, big lows. You can hit it out of play and make an enormous number, or you can go super low there. So I think it's a great way to kick off the playoffs."

>>READ: TPC Boston Profile: PGA Tour Returns With The Northern Trust

The Favorites

Here are the favorites for The Northern Trust:

Justin Thomas (12-1)

Thomas is ranked second in the world and leads the FedExCup points standings. He's chalked up four top 10s since the break, including a win at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He won the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston in 2017.

Bryson DeChambeau (12-1)

DeChambeau, ranked eighth in the world and fourth in points, is coming off a tie for fourth at the PGA Championship and turned in four top-10 finishes coming out of the break. One of them was a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. He also won at TPC Boston in 2018, the final year of the Dell Technologies Championship.

Jon Rahm (14-1)

Rahm has reclaimed the top spot in the world, but he's only 10th in points going into The Northern Trust. He won the Memorial Tournament a month ago, but otherwise hasn't cracked the top 10 since the break. His best finish at TPC Boston was fourth, three years ago.

Rory McIlroy (14-1)

McIlroy has been inconsistent since returning in June, failing to find the top 10 in his six events. The former number one has a strong history at TPC Boston over the years, with two wins and a fifth-place finish.

Watch The Northern Trust, Saturday, August 22, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, August 23, 3:00 – 7:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

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