Sobel’s Northern Trust Notebook: Collin Morikawa’s Name Keeps Popping Up

Sobel’s Northern Trust Notebook: Collin Morikawa’s Name Keeps Popping Up article feature image

Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Collin Morikawa

  • The 2019 Northern Trust -- the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs -- begins on Thursday, August 8 at Liberty National Golf Course in New Jersey.
  • Jason Sobel shares his thoughts on the tournament including why Collin Morikawa could be worth a punt in a loaded field.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – As you make your betting decisions entering this week’s Northern Trust, here are some news and notes from around Liberty National which could help that process.

Bryson DeChambeau Tuesday and admitted it feels a little weird to be the defending champion on a course he’s never seen before. Despite that, don’t immediately write him off this week.

I spoke with a source close to Bryson who said he spent three days testing clubs and ball in all sorts of manufactured conditions in Carlsbad, Calif., last week – and as you can imagine, his testing is unlike anyone else’s testing.

The byproduct, though, is that DeChambeau is now dialed in, especially with his driver. And as that source said, “When he’s hitting the driver well, everything else usually falls into place for him.”

The Weather at Liberty National

The wind on Tuesday at Liberty National was forecasted at 6 mph with gusts up to 14 mph.

Just a little light breeze that once in a while could turn into a one-club adjustment … right?

Well, here’s the problem with that forecast: On this property, which sits adjacent to the New York Harbor, the wind is always going to howl a bit more than it’s projected for the rest of this area.

Top gusts for the tournament rounds are forecasted for 12 mph, which might not sound like much of an issue if you’re checking the weather from Nebraska and making your bets accordingly.

I’m telling you, though, whatever is expected will be less than the actual wind here on site. It’s going to play a factor, even if it’s not a major factor.

As longtime readers already know, whenever the wind is an issue, I’m partial to players such as Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood and Rickie Fowler, each of whom is extremely gifted at flighting the ball low to minimize the impact.

DJ’s Putting Woes

I didn’t see this with my own eyes, but a colleague told me that Dustin Johnson was on the Liberty National practice green Tuesday morning trying out at least four different putters, a situation which has become the norm for him lately.

Johnson has finished 20-51-MC-35-20 in his last five starts.

In the four of those events which offer strokes gained analytics (it wasn’t available for The Open Championship), DJ finished negative strokes gained putting each time. Clearly, he’s still searching for an answer.

This one I saw for myself: While on the practice green a few hours later, I stood near Keegan Bradley while he worked on his putting. Right from the start, from about 10 feet away, he hit every single putt in about an eight-minute span.

Sure, he was following a chalk line on the green, but that’s still impressive.

He then started hitting longer putts – 20- and 30-footers – and either made or just barely missed every single one that I watched.

For a guy who ranks 185th in strokes gained putting this season, the action sure looked solid on Tuesday.

The Data Backs Morikawa’s Rise

Using our FantasyLabs data, I’ve looked at other available models for this tournament and created one specific to what I believe will be most important at Liberty National. (Namely, strokes gained approach shots and GIR, especially from further than 150 yards out.)

No matter which model I check, though, no matter how the other names change, Collin Morikawa’s name remains a constant near the top.

Granted, some of this has to do with his small sample size; basically, he hasn’t been playing long enough to have any data that negatively affects him yet.

But that small sample size also shows that his skill-set is popping off the charts as to what’s needed on this track.

I think there will be a reluctance to bet Morikawa or roster him in DFS with so many other big-name options, but the numbers are showing that he may actually be undervalued at 50-1.

A Late Addition to the Card

Allow me to pull back the curtain a little bit: Every week, I file my lengthy tournament preview to our editors either late-Monday or early-Tuesday. This is to give you, the readers, enough time to digest the info and react accordingly, should you so choose.

I rarely back off anything that I’ve written, but there are times when, over the course of 48-plus hours between filing the piece and Thursday’s first tee time, I see some additional plays that I like.

Last week, that play happened to be J.T. Poston.

This isn’t just me trying to sound smart after the fact, either. There’s proof: Toward the end of our Action Network Podcast, which was recorded late Tuesday night, I picked Poston for our DraftKings lineup and talked briefly about how much I’d started liking him for the Wyndham.

Anyway, there’s often a player whom I either decide too late that I like or couldn’t somehow squeeze into the preview. This week, that player is Patrick Reed, fresh off a final-round 63 in Greensboro and committed to causing a little stir over the next three weeks.

I stand by my picks in that column, but don’t be afraid to add Reed to your card at 45-1, too.

Speaking of Poston, as if it wasn’t cool enough that he won his first PGA Tour title in his home state, with friends and relatives watching outside the ropes, he unwittingly received another perk for that victory this week.

By moving from 83rd to 27th on the FedEx Cup points list, Poston leapfrogged Tiger Woods, who moved down to 28th.

Since the PGA Tour groups players in threesomes based on FedEx ranking, that means Poston will follow his win by being paired with Tiger (and Scott Piercy) for the first time in his career.

Another thought on Poston: I’ve done a few radio interviews and pods in the last couple of days during which I’ve been asked about his potential ceiling. I don’t think he’ll be a top-10 type of player, but he does have some staying power, especially on courses with Bermuda greens that suit his style.

If I could liken him to one other player, it would be Kevin Kisner – a guy who consistently “punches above his weight.” (And I don’t mean that in anything but complimentary terms.)

Matsuyama’s Camp

I watched Hideki Matsuyama play the 18th hole late Monday afternoon by himself.

Well, he was “by himself” in that he wasn’t joined by any other players. But I counted 11 total advisors tailing Hideki, each one with a specific job, from carrying a club to a swing trainer to a bag of (I assume) range balls. These weren’t just buddies out for a walk; these were guys on the clock.

Plenty of PGA Tour pros can suffer paralysis by analysis. I’m not saying Matsuyama is dealing with that, but man, that seems like an awful lot of mouths to feed, let alone mouths whispering into his ear.

For what it’s worth, Hideki hit a long iron into the green and knocked it to about two feet, then tapped in for birdie. All 11 of his advisors seemed very pleased.

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