The Northern Trust: Tiger Woods returns, Brooks Koepka leads FedEx Cup and other storylines

Tiger Woods looks at the FedEx Cup after he won the Tour Championship golf tournament at East Lake Golf Club. Justin Rose won the FedEx Cup. (John David Mercer/USA TODAY Network) John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

The Northern Trust: Tiger Woods returns, Brooks Koepka leads FedEx Cup and other storylines

PGA Tour

The Northern Trust: Tiger Woods returns, Brooks Koepka leads FedEx Cup and other storylines

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Two weeks have passed since the final major championship of the year. But it’s already time for the PGA Tour’s postseason.

The Northern Trust, the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, will be played  Thursday through Sunday at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City.

It may feel a little different this year, with the start of the playoffs being moved up as part of professional golf’s schedule overhaul. But the top 10 players in the world are all scheduled to be in attendance.

Here’s a look at three storylines to watch during The Northern Trust.

Top dogs

The two biggest names in golf right now will be in Jersey City, and both are in very different places.

Brooks Koepka is unquestionably the best player in the world, and he’s playing some of his best golf. He won last week’s WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and has finished in the top four of every major played this season, including a win at the PGA Championship on Long Island in May.

Meanwhile, Woods has struggled since his remarkable win at the Masters in April, but he’s still the most interesting golfer on the planet and moves the needle like no other. This will be only his fifth start since Augusta, and he looked unprepared two weeks ago at the British Open where he missed the cut.

Can he get his game back at Liberty National, where he’s finished in second place twice in the last decade? If he does, he’ll have a chance to tie Sam Snead with PGA Tour win No. 82.

Battle at the top of the standings

The Northern Trust will be even more important in the grand scheme of the playoffs this year, because for the first time since its inception in 2007 the battle for the FedEx Cup has been reduced to three tournaments. The top 70 in the standings after this week will move onto the BMW Championship near Chicago next week, and the top 30 after the BMW will advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta, where the winner picks up a $15 million bonus.

Koepka leads the standings heading into the playoffs, and it will be fun to watch the best in golf chase him: Woods is 27th in the standings,  Rory McIlroy is second, and Dustin Johnson is seventh.

Can someone catch Koepka? If they want to, they’ll likely have to have a big week at Liberty National.

A life-changing run

Just getting to the Tour Championship opens opportunities that can change a career: every player who makes it receives an exemption into all four 2020 majors, the 2020 WGC events and several other 2020 invitationals. And the higher a player finishes, the higher the bonus payout: second place in the standings is worth $5 million, 10th place pays out $830,00 and even the worst finisher at the Tour Championship will earn $395,000.

So pay attention to underdogs at Liberty National, one could be about to burst onto the pro golf scene in a big way.

Koepka has a habit of not playing golf when he’s not in tournaments, so the odds are he won’t have touched a club since July 28 when he shows up in Jersey City on Tuesday or Wednesday. But he’ll still be one of the favorites and he’s become fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods has struggled since his remarkable win at the Masters in April, but he’s still the most interesting golfer on the planet and moves the needle like no other. This will be only his fifth start since Augusta, and he looked unprepared two weeks ago at the British Open where he missed the cut.

Can he get his game back at Liberty National, where he’s finished in second place twice in the last decade? If he does, he’ll have a chance to tie Sam Snead with PGA Tour win No. 82.

Battle in FedEx Cup standings

The Northern Trust will be even more important in the grand scheme of the playoffs this year, because for the first time since its inception in 2007, the battle for the FedEx Cup has been reduced to three tournaments. The top 70 in the standings after this week will move onto the BMW Championship near Chicago next week, and the top 30 after the BMW will advance to the Tour Championship in Atlanta, where the winner picks up a $15 million bonus.

Koepka leads the standings heading into the playoffs, and it will be fun to watch the best in golf chase him: Woods is 27th in the standings,  Rory McIlroy is second, and Dustin Johnson is seventh.

Can someone catch Koepka? If they want to, they’ll likely have to have a big week at Liberty National.

Life-changing run

The battle at the top will be fun.  But even more interesting will be the guys near the bottom of the standings who can change their career with a few big weeks. Every year in the playoffs, there’s a lesser known player who makes a run the bottom of the standings all the way to the Tour Championship. In 2014, it was Morgan Hoffmann who went from 124th — the second-to-last man to get into the playoffs — all the way up to 26th.

Just getting to the Tour Championship opens opportunities that can change a career: every player who makes it receives an exemption into all four 2020 majors, the 2020 WGC events and several other 2020 invitationals. And the higher a player finishes, the higher the bonus payout: second place in the standings is worth $5 million, 10th place pays out $830,00 and even the worst finisher at the Tour Championship will earn $395,000.

So pay attention to underdogs at Liberty National, one could be about to burst onto the pro golf scene in a big way.

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