The first step in the race to raise the FedExCup Playoffs trophy begins this week in New Jersey with THE NORTHERN TRUST. Ridgewood Country Club takes its turn hosting this event after Glen Oaks Club has the honors in 2017. The par-71, 7,385-yard A.W. Tillinghast track is a composite 27-hole course with three separate nine-hole loops that will all be used in competition. Ridgewood also hosted the 1935 Ryder Cup, the 1974 U.S. Amateur, the 1990 U.S. Senior Open, and the 2001 Senior PGA Championship. Here are five things you need to know about THE NORTHERN TRUST as the first of four playoff events gets underway.

Ridgewood Country Club Hole 14
Ridgewood Country Club Hole 14

Inside the Field

Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, and Bubba Watson are the marquee names in the 122-player field this week, and the top-5 players in the rankings all control their own destinies if they maintain their spots throughout the playoffs. This week, however, the key number is 100, as only the top 100 will live to fight another day and move on to the Dell Technologies Championship. Players like Bud Cauley (121st) – who tees it up for the first time since suffering major injuries from his May car accident, Charley Hoffman (98th), and Jason Dufner (90th) will need strong performances to move on. Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, and Patrick Reed are big names sitting out this week but have already secured their spots in the next round.

Major Storylines

Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas sit atop the standings and both have won three times this season. Johnson has won four FedExCup playoff events in his career, tying him for the all-time lead with Rory McIlroy. Brooks Koepka has yet to crack the top-40 at THE NORTHERN TRUST, but no one comes in hotter – and catching fire at the right time can be the recipe for success. Just ask Billy Horschel – who came into the playoffs ranked 69th in 2014 but then went on a sizzling run to take it all. Tiger Woods meanwhile makes his first playoff start since the 2013 TOUR Championship – where he finished tied for 22nd place of the final 30 players.

U.S. Ryder Cup Spots on the Line

Ridgewood Country Club Hole 8
Ridgewood Country Club Hole 8

Official qualifying for the top eight spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team wrapped up a few weeks ago at the 2018 PGA Championship, and captain Jim Furyk says the last four spots are “wide open.” Conventional wisdom has players like Phil Mickelson (10th) and Tiger Woods (11th) as locks to make the team. However, Woods has just 14 and ½ points in 33 career matches, and if other U.S. hopefuls get hot during these playoffs Tiger’s selection isn’t a foregone conclusion.n Kevin Kisner (a tough player in match play), Tony Finau (a bomber who makes tons of birdies), Matt Kuchar (who’s been a part of every U.S. team since 2010), and Bryson DeChambeau (who barely missed on the final qualifying spot) could all fill out the remaining four spots.

Inside the Course

Ridgewood is one of the oldest courses in America, dating back to 1890, and this year marks the fourth time it has hosted THE NORTHERN TRUST. The 291-yard dogleg 12th holds the distinction of being one of golf’s first-ever drivable par-4s. Byron Nelson served as Ridgewood’s Assistant Pro from 1935-1936 and nicknamed this hole “five and dime,” because he played it with a 5-iron off the tee and a 10-wedge on approach (the 10-wedge being what today’s pitching wedge is).

Ridgewood Country Club Hole 12
Ridgewood Country Club Hole 12

Through a long-term master plan, architect Gil Hanse helped restore the course to its original A.W. Tillinghast roots. Nearly 15,000 square feet of greens were recovered, fairways were expanded approximately six acres, and bunkers were reshaped back to their Golden Age design. THE NORTHERN TRUST is being played on what’s named “The Championship Course,” which is a composite of the most difficult holes from all three nine-hole courses on the property.

Memorable Moments at Ridgewood

In 2008 Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh dueled in a spectacular three-man, sudden-death playoff. On the first playoff hole, Garcia sunk a 27-foot putt for birdie, to which Singh responded with a 26-foot birdie putt of his own. On the third playoff hole, Garcia nearly chipped in for birdie, but Singh held on for the win.

In 2014 Phil Mickelson hit his tee shot into the bleachers on the “Five and Dime” hole on back-to-back days. Walking up to the hospitality tent Phil decided to hit from the bleachers – which set off a viral #PhilWasHere meme craze that was classic “Phil the Thrill.”

Winner Prediction

Tiger Woods is the only player to win the FedExCup two times, but his most recent playoff win was nine years ago at the 2009 BMW Championship. Woods has a solid track record in this event, with two runner-ups in the four playoff-opening tournaments he’s played in. Woods also comes into Ridgewood in great form – with three top-10 finishes in his last four starts. This could be the week Tiger finally picks up that elusive 80th career Tour victory.