The Puerto Rico Open
So with the PGA Tour’s elite chasing the big bucks in Mexico the rank and file of the tour have a chance to take a trip to Puerto Rico and register a potentially career changing week.
The event was first played in 2008 and has been held regularly on the tour ever since.
The only exception to this was last year when the event had to be cancelled due to the tragic effects of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the area.
Although there was no official tour event last year 2018 did instead see a fundraising pro am event take place at a different course.
The tournament has been held since inception at Cocoa Beach Golf Course [formerly known as Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico]
The field is made up of up and coming players who are setting out on their PGA Tour career, journeymen who have fallen on harder times and some names that we haven’t seen on the regular tour for a very long time,…step forward the likes of Charlie Wi, Cameron Beckman and Daniel Chopra.
The betting market is headed up by Daniel Berger who is still looking for reps following a comeback from injury, Peter Uihlein and Gmac.
Other notables near the front of the market include course specialist Scott Brown, a desperately searching for something Charl Schwartzel and Aaron Baddeley.
Cocoa Beach Golf Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7500yds.
The greens are Sea Dwarf Papsulum, similar to those used for the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
The course opened in 2004 and was designed by Tom Kite. Kite then also oversaw a redesign in 2008.
The course is a coastal lay out running along the Atlantic Ocean and with reasonably wide fairways and four reachable par 5s to go at the key defence of the course is the wind.
So lets take a look at the winners of the event since inception.
2017 – DA Points
2016 – T Finau
2015 – A Cejka
2014 – C Hadley
2013 – S Brown
2012 – G McNeil
2011 – M Bradley
2010 – D Lameley
2009 – M Bradley
2008 – G Kraft
So what does this list tell us?…Well first of all take a gold star if you even remember Derek Lamely and his PGA Tour career….
For those that don’t I can tell you he played three full seasons on the tour from 2009 to 2012 and posted one top 10 finish, his victory here, and has made no starts since March 2014.
Interestingly though, still only 38yrs of age he gets a chance to reprise his career this week as he makes his first start since 2014 back in Puerto Rico.
Joking aside though, and with no disrespect to Lamely, who after all has achieved way more in his time in the game than 99.99% of people who play golf around the world, his victory does tell you a lot of what you need to know about the history of this event, that it is littered with shock winners and players producing big performances out of nowhere.
If we dig a bit deeper though we do find one interesting connection.
This is that, unsurprisingly for a coastal event, players with connections to the South Eastern states and particularly Florida and Georgia have performed well here.
Lamely himself resides and went to college in the Sunshine state whilst two time champion Michael Bradley is a Florida man through and through.
The Florida connection doesn’t end there as George McNeil, Greg Kraft & most recent winner DA Points also all at least either hail from Florida, went to college there or live there.
Of the remaining four winners since the event began Brown is a Georgia man, whilst Hadley went to college there.
The odd men out are 2016 winner Tony Finau who hails from Utah and 15 winner Cejka who is a Vegas resident.
Beyond this the picture gets rather blurred. Finau one of the longest hitters on tour won the year after Cejka one of the shortest hitters on tour. Other shorter hitters such as Bradley and Points have triumphed but equally in his day McNeil was one of the longest of the tee.
Form coming in does not appear to be hugely relevant with both of the two most recent winners Points & Finau out of touch upon arrival in Puerto Rico.
From a course correlation point of view the obvious events to look at are the Mayakoba, Pebble Beach, The RSM and other Coastal tracks particularly those in Florida.
In addition from the point of view of players coming from the Web.com over the past couple of years I cant help thinking the events played on the coast in the Bahamas at the start of the season could be a good pointer.
Temperatures look set for the low 80s all week with a mix of sunshine, clouds and some possible rain or even a storm thrown in.
Wind looks like it could be a factor with gusts of 15-20mph + a possibility on all four days.
As I always say though…this could all change!
Having weighed everything up I have gone with four players in this event as follows;
ADAM SVENSSON – 66-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED MC
Allowing for the Florida connection and my thoughts that form on the coast and potentially in the Bahamas is significant the man that leaps of the page this week to me is Canadian Adam Svensson.
Having attended University in Miami the 25yr old put his experience of golf in windy coastal conditions to good use when landing the 2018 Great Abaco Classic in the Bahamas.
He also finished 13th the week before at the Great Exuma Classic, again on the coast in the Bahamas.
Now in his first full season on the PGA Tour Adam has shown glimpses of form most noticeably when opening up at the Sony Open in Hawaii with a round of 61 before fading to 48th place.
Since then Svensson has played solidly at the Desert Classic and at the Farmers before missing the cut at Pebble Beach.
It’s also worth noting that Adam performed well at the Corales Puntacana event in the Dominical Republic in 2017 to finish 6th when it was still part of the Web.com tour and this is also played on the coast.
Finally after a quiet summer Adam popped up by the coast again to finish 8th in Jacksonville at the Web.com Tour Championship.
Having attended college in Florida Adam now resides in Palm Beach Gardens so he will have had plenty of time to hone his game by the coast further over the recent years.
The one slight negative is that Adam missed the cut at the Mayakoba last autumn however his total of -3 was hardly a disgrace so I am happy to overlook that performance.
In an event that is more often than not won by players with Florida/coastal connections Adam seems a perfect fit for me this week and I can see him putting in a big push for his maiden PGA Tour title.
HANK LEBIODA – 100 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED MC
The second Florida man to make the team this week is 25yr old Hank Lebioda.
The case for Lebioda is pretty similar to that of Svensson in that aside for the obvious Florida connection he performed really well in the two Bahamas events in the wind on the Web.com tour last year to finish 9th & 4th.
The Orlando resident has started his maiden season on the PGA Tour fairly quietly however there have been signs over the recent weeks that he is beginning to find some momentum.
Firstly he played very nicely at the Farmers for the first three rounds to find himself in contention for a serious prize before fading on Sunday and eventually finish 29th.
He then followed this up with a solid 38th place finish at Pebble Beach.
In fact if we look at Hank’s first seven starts on the PGA Tour all of the four cuts he has made have all been in coastal events, finishing no worse than 43rd, and of course the company he has been keeping in these events is far stronger than what he is faced with this week.
Whilst distance of the tee is not critical this week it is always useful and Lebioda is no slouch in that department so he should be able to take advantage of the par 5s.
Clearly Hank is another player comfortable on the coast and I am hopeful for a strong performance from him this week.
KYOUNG – HOON - LEE 80 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 35th
The final rookie to make our team this week is Korean Kyoung-Hoon-Lee.
Whilst Lee does not tick any boxes as far as Florida goes he makes my team this week based on a combination of his eye catching performance in Mexico last fall and his solid weeks work at Riviera last time out.
Firstly at the Mayakoba last year the 27yr old opened up with two rounds of 66 to be right in the thick of things halfway before fading slightly over the weekend to finish 29th.
Last week meanwhile at Riviera Lee surpassed this finish to post his best PGA Tour result to date when finishing 25th so he should arrive here in great spirits.
It’s also worth noting that over the week in LA he ranked 9th for SGTTG and 4th for GIR so if he could have got a few more putts to drop he could have finished much higher up the board.
Whilst the Korean was winless on the Web.com tour last year he did post four top 5 finishes to earn his card, so he certainly threatened to get over the line, in addition he does also have three international wins to his name so he certainly does know how to get the job done.
In a week where inevitably there will be some level of speculation involved I am happy to chance the 27yr old to build on last weeks solid showing and deliver a big week.
ROBERT STREB – 50-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 FINISHED 59th
Finally In an event where current form historically hasn’t counted for too much coming in I am keen to have a player onside who is a proven winner on the PGA Tour under similar conditions, and that man for me is Robert Streb.
Since winning on the coast at the RSM Classic back in 2015 Streb’s career has gradually gone in the wrong direction to the extent that he needed a trip to the Web.com finals last fall to retain his card.
This he duly did in emphatic fashion as he won the first event of the Finals, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.
Since then Robert has posted one notable finish of 4th place at the Shriners however it has been fairly disappointing since.
We saw with Streb’s win in the fall that he can find his touch out of nowhere as he had finished MC 58 MC in his previous three starts, so his current form does not concern me too much coming in to this week.
Instead I am more keen to focus on the fact that in addition to his win on the Coast at the RSM Streb has made two previous starts in this event and has finished 14th & 11th.
At his best Streb is a player who has competed at the business end of Major Championships & WGC’s and one who knows how to get the job done, and at the price on offer I am happy to complete our team with him this week.