The Shriners Hospital For Children Open
The week started well for us at The Safeway Open as our headline pick Adam Scott got out of the blocks quickly to share the round one lead. Unfortunately after that though he stalled on Friday and it was downhill for him and us from there on in and by the weekend we were never really at the races.
Congratulations though to Cameron Champ who after a tough twelve months since his victory at the Sanderson Farms this time last year landed his second PGA Tour title.
It was a particularly emotional win for Champ as his Grandfather who taught him the game is currently in Hospice Care for Cancer so all credit to Cameron for producing the goods at such a difficult time.
So moving on and it’s time for the annual stop in Vegas, The Shriners Hospital For Children Open.
The event was first held in 1983 so this year will see its 36th playing.
After being played at several different courses over the years and after sharing course duties with TPC Canyons, TPC Summerlin took over as the sole host in 2008.
This year we have a strong a field on display, which is headed up by world No 1 Brooks Koepka.
In addition Patrick Cantlay, defending champion Bryson Dechambeau, US Open champ Gary Woodland, Webb Simpson, Hideki Matsuyama and Tony Finau are in attendance.
At the time of writing Koepka is the market leader followed by Cantlay and Dechambeau.
TPC Summerlin is a par 71 measuring just over 7250yds.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was opened in 1991 and was designed by Bobby Weed.
The course is affected by altitude as it is on average 2700ft above sea level.
With fairly wide fairways, and with altitude making the three par 5s reachable for all players, if the wind doesn’t blow this is basically a birdie fest.
So lets take a look at the last ten winners of the event since TPC Summerlin became the sole host course.
2018 – Bryson Dechambeau
2017 – P Cantlay
2016 – R Pampling
2015 – S Kaufman
2014 – B Martin
2013 – W Simpson
2012 – R Moore
2011 – K Na
2010 – J Byrd
2009 – M Laird
Looking at this list of players the main thing that strikes me is that whilst perhaps you would have expected this event to be a haven for aggressive bomber types, actually the more successful player here over recent years has been ball strikers who plot their way round a course with Cantlay, Pampling, Simpson, Na & Moore all certainly falling in to this category.
In addition over the last three years the names of Cejka, Molinari, Glover, English, Stanley, Bradley, McGirt and Ryder have all featured in the final top 10 here.
This tells me that, without stating the obvious, the art to conquering TPC Summerlin is to find enough fairways and greens so that you give yourself plenty of birdie looks.
The next thing to look at is course form and it is fair to say that while previous form on this course is not a requisite if we cast the net a bit wider there is a clear correlation to be found with the recent winners here and previous form on the other events played on tour which are played at venues classed as desert tracks. These are the Desert Classic, The WM Phoenix Open and The Barracuda Championship, with eight of the past ten having one or more previous top ten finishes at one of these events prior to winning here.
The odd ones out were Kaufman who was playing in only his second PGA Tour event of his first full season, Cantlay and Byrd who although he had no top tens, had finished in the top 15 at Reno the year before.
Infact the Barracuda is an event worth paying particular attention to as a whole with Byrd, Na, Laird, Martin and Pampling all having high finishes in that event prior to winning here.
Away from desert form one other event perhaps worth cross referencing in the John Deere Classic as both events are played on par 71 tracks and three of the past ten winners here, Byrd, Moore and Dechambeau have aslso been victorious at TPC Deere Run.
In search of further clues that connected this list of names I decided to look at their recent form coming in to the event and this threw up one interesting connection.
This is the fact that nine of the past ten winners had a top twelve finish in their previous three starts [Ben Martin was the odd one out]. Furthermore, somewhat interestingly seven of these nine had delivered this high finish in their third previous start prior to their win in Vegas.
The latter detail of course is probably nothing more than a coincidence, however the fact remains that this does not appear to be an event where players find their form completely out of nowhere.
With regards to the winning score pretty much every year we have tended to see a birdie fest leading to a number somewhere between -20 & -24, although 2017 was a notable exception with stronger winds leading to Cantlay’s winning number being only -9.
As is often the case in Vegas we look set for a week of wall to wall sunshine with temperatures set to stay in the high 80s for all four tournament days.
The wind, which can be an issue here does not look to be a major factor although Thursday and Sunday could see gusts of up to 15mph.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
COLLIN MORIKAWA –30-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 42nd
With all the data noted above regarding the tie in with performance at other desert events, predominantly the Barracuda, and in addition the cross reference to the John Deere Classic, there is only one place to start this week for me and that is with Collin Morikawa.
22yr old Morikawa burst on to the professional scene earlier in the summer and wasted little time in fulfilling the undoubted potential he had shown in the amateur ranks.
The former world no one amateur finished 14th on his pro debut at the Canadian Open in June and after finishing top 40 in his next two starts including at the US Open he finished in second place on just his fourth pro start at the 3M Open.
Not content with this though the following week Collin posted a fourth place finish at the John Deere Classic before clinching his maiden PGA Tour title two weeks later at the Barracuda Championship on just his sixth start as a professional.
After this stellar run the 22yr old understandably cooled off slightly finishing 52nd and 48th in the first two Fedex Cup Play Off events to end his 18/19 campaign.
With no missed cuts and a victory in his nine PGA Tour events last season Morikawa finished 18/19 in 59th place in the Fedex Cup standings and with full playing privileges wrapped up, an incredible achievement and if there was any doubt before as to whether he is the ‘real deal’ there is certainly none now.
Moving on to 19/20 and the University of California grad appears to have started out where he left off with a tenth place finish at his seasons curtain raiser, the Safeway Open.
All of this leads us on to this week in Vegas and the case for Collin, which in my eyes is incredibly strong.
First and foremost is the fact that Morikawa posted his maiden win on tour in the desert at Reno in the Barracuda Championship earlier in the Summer and as already noted that event is a key pointer to here.
The fact that Collin was able to produce the goods in the desert of Reno should not actually come as a surprise as he was brought up in California and in fact has recently moved to live in this week’s host city Las Vegas, so he will be more than comfortable playing in desert conditions.
As well as the form in Reno the second pointer is that Collin finished fourth at The John Deere Classic in July another event, which we have already noted ties in well here. Additionally it is probably also worth noting that Collin tied for second at the 3M Open in the summer with Bryson Dechambeau and of course Dechambeau was last year’s winner here and is a former John Deere champion.
Another player who has completed the Shriners/John Deere double is Ryan Moore and it shouldn’t be lost that Morikawa’s caddy now is J.J Jakovac the former caddy of Ryan Moore and having a caddy of a former champion here on his bag has to be a plus this week, indeed Moore like Morikawa is also a resident of Vegas so there are clear similarities there.
The strength of Morikawa’s game is undoubtedly his iron play and he showed this again when finishing second in SGATTG at the Safeway last weekend and as I noted earlier this has often been the success to unlocking TPC Summerlin over the years, to me therefore even though this is Collin’s competitive debut here he is ideal for this track.
All in all this week the case for Morikawa is a compelling one and I am delighted to have him on side.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 33 -1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Backing a young player just two starts after they have grabbed their maiden PGA Tour title may seem a risky business however as we know Niemann is a special talent and I have a strong hunch that he can follow up his first win with a second one quickly.
My main logic in liking the young man from Chile this week is that he showed last year with a tenth place finish here that he can adjust to the requirements of desert golf at altitude and having been brought up in Santiago, which sits about 2000ft above sea level, [a similar level to Vegas] this makes perfect sense.
In addition Niemann also finished tenth at the John Deere last year, which as already noted sits nicely here.
When he won at the Greenbrier Niemann actually lead the field for the week in SGP on his favoured Bentgrass greens, however the week after, and no doubt understandably feeling a level of MLD, he faded down the field after a solid start on his less favoured Bermuda.
This week however he finds himself back on Bentgrass surfaces and after a week’s break to recharge the batteries following the win I expect him to be raring to go again.
Joaquin has shown in his short time on tour that he is capable of reaching the very top echelons of the game and riding the crest of the wave that he is now on I am more than happy to take the 30-1 on offer.
AARON WISE – 80 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me is another one of the new young breed Aaron Wise.
Wise who was born in South Africa but brought up in California, now basis himself in Las Vegas, so like our first selection this week, Morikawa, this is a home game for him.
Aaron showed when winning the Byron Nelson in 2018 that he has what it takes to get the job done in spades, however since then it has been fair to say it has been a fairly up and down period for the 23yr old.
After his victory in the spring of 2018 Wise missed five straight cuts before coming good at the back end of the year with a couple of top 6 finishes near the end of the 17/18 campaign, before starting the 18/19 season solidly as well.
That solid start to 18/19 included a 15th place finish in his first start of the new season and interestingly he finished that week with two rounds of 66 after starting slowly.
The reason I see this as interesting is that Wise then went on to finish 10th at the Mayakoba the following week meaning that ‘the run out’ at Vegas had obviously shaken off any rust. This time however Aaron arrives in Vegas on the back of one start already this season at the Sanderson Farms where he finished a respectable 39th so he should now be honed and ready to go.
The 18/19 campaign was a largely disappointing sophomore season for Wise and he failed to post another top ten finish all season after the aforementioned one at the Mayakoba, he did though end the season with five consecutive made cuts and if you then throw in his effort at the Sanderson Farms he is clearly getting back on track.
We saw last week with Champ’s victory a young, hugely talented player, who had burst out of the blocks with a win before losing their way, get back on track and it is just possible that Wise could follow Cameron back in to the winners enclosure on a course he is clearly comfortable on.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 60-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 18th
Next up for me this week is Andrew Putnam.
Putnam is currently in a really solid run of form, which saw him make his last nine cuts on the PGA Tour in the 18/19 season before finishing 21st on a rare foray to Europe at Wentworth a couple of weeks ago.
From this point of view Putnam would automatically come in to consideration this week based on his strength as a strong iron player, which saw him finish last season 32nd on tour in SGATG.
What makes the case for Andrew all the more compelling this week though is the fact that he posted his maiden PGA Tour win at the Barracuda Championship in 2018 so he clearly has what it takes to win in the desert and will undoubtedly be looking forward to a return to Nevada.
Putnam didn’t tee it up in Vegas last year so this will be his first trip here since missing the cut in 2017, something which obviously isn’t particularly inspiring, however if we go back further we see that lo and behold way back in 2014 when the 30yr old first had his tour card he actually co lead at halfway here with opening rounds of 67 and 65 before fading over the weekend to 33rd place so this is clearly a venue he is comfortable at.
Since returning to the PGA Tour in 2017 as well as posting a victory Putnam has notched two other runner up finishes, a third place finish and a fourth place finish at a WGC so we know he is a player who has what it takes to perform at the highest level and I am confident that in the run of form he is currently in he can produce a great week on his first return to Nevada since his victory in the state.
BRONSON BURGOON – 100-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 55th
For my next selection I am going to give another chance to a player we had onside last week for them to only disappoint with a missed cut.
The man in question is Bronson Burgoon and my logic for siding with the Texan again is a fairly simplistic one in that despite the fact that he has missed the cut here on his previous two visits he ticks all three of the statistical boxes I am looking at this week.
The first of these is that he finished fifth at the Barracuda earlier this year so he has the form in the desert we need. Next up is the fact that Bronson has the recent strong finish that I am ideally looking for with his 19th place and Sixth place finishes in his first two starts of the season, while finally the icing on the cake is the fact that he also has a runner up spot at the John Deere Classic to his name.
With the missed cut at the Safeway last week Bronson’s price has drifted slightly from what we backed him at last time around and on that basis I am happy to chance him again at a venue that despite his underwhelming performances at so far should really suit his game.
NELSON LEDESMA – 750-1 – 1/2pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
For my final selection this week I am going to take a complete and utter flyer on the Argentine Nelson Ledesma.
My notes on Ledesma after his promotion to the big league say “with two Korn Ferry tour wins in last two years the Argentine knows how to win. Victorious in Colorado and hailing from the same town as Andres Romero look out for him in the desert events or anywhere with altitude involved”.
That pretty much sums up my reasons for getting involved on the 29yr old this week.
Nelson has started his life on the PGA Tour fairly inauspiciously with three missed cuts however he finished third on the back of three MC last season and won on the back of four MC in seven starts with nothing better than a 40th place the previous season so he has previous in finding some game out of nowhere.
A win for Ledesma this week would obviously be a huge shock however a top 8 finish at a venue that should suit his game is not impossible and at the odds on offer I am happy, as we should be in Vegas, to roll the dice.
UPDATED 1st OCTOBER
TRADER - BRANDEN GRACE - FINISHED MC
For this weeks trader pick I am going to take a chance on a return to desert golf bringing about a return to form for Branden Grace.
It's been an awful 2019 for the South African' by his own standards and the only real glimmer of light came way back at the beginning of February when he finished second in the desert at the WM Phoenix Open.
Grace arrived that week in Scottsdale on the back of missed cut at Torrey Pines the week before and a generally slow start to the year so on one hand it could be said that performance came out of the blue.
From another point of view though it wasn't a complete surprise as Branden has proved to be a great exponent of desert golf over the years with two wins in Qatar to his name.
Nine months down the line and after the disappointment of this year the South African arrives in Vegas with time rapidly running out for him to prove to Ernie Els that he his worthy of a wild card pick for the Presidents Cup.
With Branden's Presidents Cup record though Ernie will be desperate to pick him if he can show him something positive and from that point of view it may just be that a trip back to the desert is the spark he needs for that one big result.
Obviously we are taking a big chance here with Grace's current form as it is, however there is that old saying 'form is temporary, class is permanent' and there is no doubt that Branden is a class act who will eventually come out of this slump and at the odds on offer I am happy to chance him as our trader this week in what should be favourable conditions.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 280+