The Shriners Hospital For Children Open
There’s no disguising it was a poor week for us at the Sanderson Farms Championship as five of our six selections failed to stick around for the weekend and the one who did Beau Hossler never threatened the business end of proceedings.
The event in the end was won by Sergio Garcia who produced a superb display of ball striking to bounce back to form and claim his first PGA Tour title since his victory at Augusta in 2017.
So we dust ourselves down and move on and it’s time for what would normally be the annual stop in Vegas, The Shriners Hospital For Children Open.
This year however with the PGA Tour working overtime to plug any gaps created by the Covid-19 pandemic the annual Vegas stop has been turned in to a two week stop in ‘Sin City’ as next weeks CJ Cup, which would normally take place in South Korea, will now be played at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.
So with two weeks ahead of us in Vegas let’s for now focus on the regular tour stop here, The Shriners.
First held in 1983 this year will see the 37th playing of the event.
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.
After a couple of events with weaker fields as the games leading lights took a break, several big names return to the fray this week at a stop, which invariably draws a strong field.
Heading things up is newly anointed US Open Champion Bryson Dechambeau who is sure to be a warm order here as he has finished 7 1 4 on his last three visits.
Behind Bryson we then have Webb Simpson, another course specialist Patrick Cantlay, Tony Finau and Hideki Matsuyama.
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.
2019 – Kevin Na
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 [twice] & Moore all certainly falling in to this category.
In addition over the last three years the names of Gay, Dahmen, Cejka, Molinari, Glover, English, Stanley, Bradley, McGirt and Ryder have all featured in the final top 10 here.
This tells me that, while there are of course several roads to success, for example the key to Na’s second victory here last year was a hot putter, the art to conquering TPC Summerlin more often than not 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 track 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 eleven having one or more previous top ten finish 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.
In fact 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 also 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 eleven winners had a top twelve finish in their previous three starts with the odd ones out being Ben Martin and last years champion Kevin Na. It is worth noting though that Na, in addition to being a former winner here, had finished 14th two starts prior at the Greenbrier so he only just failed to meet this criteria].
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 be in the mid 90s for the week and the heat therefore could certainly be a factor.
A bigger factor however may well be the wind, which can often be an issue here, as after gusts of 15mph on Thursday and Friday, the weekend at the time of writing shows 25mph+ winds in the forecast on Saturday and 30mph plus on Sunday.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA –22-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
First cab of the rank for me this week is Hideki Matsuyama.
Looking at the top eight or so in the market it would be very easy to make a case for anyone one of them as they are all either course specialists, in great form or both, however if I am going to take a view that Bryson will surely suffer some kind of hangover from his US Open victory [which I am] then the one I like best is Hideki Matsuyama.
Backing the Japanese star at short odds when he has been winless for such a lengthy period is of course a dangerous strategy however the signs are that the next win is very close and having finished third at the BMW Championship in the penultimate Play Off event before following up with 15th and 17th place finishes the recent strong performance we are looking for is there.
So allowing for the fact that Hideki is the sort of player who will knock on the door most weeks why this week?
Firstly alongside finishes of 16th and 10th in his two previous trips to TPC Summerlin Matsuyama has shown us that he has a love for desert golf courtesy of his stellar record at TPC Scottsdale where he is a two time Waste Management Phoenix Open Champion.
Furthermore he has then shown with his performances in the CJ Cup and the WGC Mexico over the past couple of seasons that he is more than comfortable playing at altitude, which is relevant this week.
As we know Hideki’s weakness is with the putter however prior to Kevin Na’s storming performance on the greens last year, which bucked recent trends, the display with the flat stick was the least important component in the profile of the last few winners, something, which can be seen by the fact that Dechambeau, Cantlay and Pampling were all outside the top 30 for the week in putting. Instead prior to Na’s effort the key component was tee to green play and this as we know is where Matsuyama excels as shown by his second place ranking in that category last season.
Now it is of course possible we could see someone this week putt their way to victory like Na did last year, however with the wind set to blow at the weekend to a significant level my thought is that solid ball striking will be the key and if a strong effort in this department is allied to a half reasonable effort with the putter on a surface that Hideki has, it should be noted won twice on, this may well be good enough.
All in all in a week, which looks set to turn more and more in to a grind as it progresses I see every opportunity for Matsuyama to finally return to the winners circle.
HARRIS ENGLISH – 28-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up for me in a week where I am keen to stick with players I feel will be able to handle the tough conditions expected at the weekend I will chance the in form Harris English.
English as we know has been a revelation over the past twelve months and this once heralded future superstar of the game looks like he could finally fulfil his potential.
A two time PGA Tour winner the concern with taking English at these odds is similar to that with Hideki in that the last of these victories came way back in 2014 at the Mayakoba Classic.
Having said this though Harris’ levels have been so consistent of late that it is surely only a matter of time until he gets the job done again and he did very little wrong when coming home a distant second to Dustin Johnson at the Northern Trust.
Looking at English’s stats last season and he ranked in the top thirty of all bar one of the key areas and his all round game is exactly what I am looking for this week.
With regards to Harris’ form at TPC Summerlin and he has one fourth place finish to his name back in 2016. In addition he has posted three top tens, including two top fives over the years at TPC Scottsdale, so he has the requisite desert form we are looking for.
Fourth last time out at the US Open there could potentially be a danger that English might take his foot off the gas after his superb run of form however my final clincher in bringing him onside this week is the recent victory of his close friend and fellow ‘Bulldog’ Hudson Swafford. There is no doubt in my mind that this will add as a further spur to Harris to pick up that overdue next win and I see every chance of that happening this week.
JOAQUIN NIEMANN – 60 -1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
I put Niemann up in this event last year as I felt it would suit him, however perhaps in hindsight it came too soon after his maiden win at the Greenbrier and the end result was a missed cut.
Undaunted though I am going to return to the well with the young Chilean and with a chunk of my logic being the same as it was twelve months ago I will recap that.
Firstly Joaquin showed in 2018 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 in 2018, which as already noted sits nicely here.
When Niemann won the Greenbrier last year he actually lead the field for the week in SGP on his favoured Bentgrass greens and a return to those surfaces should certainly be a positive.
All of this as I say was part of my mindset of siding with the 21yr old last year however there are a couple of extra ingredients this time around, which are the clinchers for going in again.
Firstly of course we have some recent solid play, which saw him finish third at the BMW Championship three starts ago and 23rd at the US Open last time out. In addition Niemann’s strength, his tee to green play for, which he was 23rd on tour last season, and his iron play is what we are looking for this week.
Finally, Niemann, who possesses one of the lowest ball flights on tour has talked about how much he enjoys playing in the wind and if it does blow as predicted over the weekend he should relish the challenge.
All in all Niemann is as big a talent as the other young guns who are making big waves in the game at the moment and I see every chance of a second tour title this week.
RUSSELL HENLEY – 50 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 27th
Another player who has been absolutely striping the ball from tee to green of late is Russell Henley and when allied with his prowess in the wind I find it hard not to include him again in our team.
Henley who had looked set for another season of struggles came to life with a 17th place finish at the Genesis Invitational a few weeks prior to lockdown and after backing this up with an eighth place at the Honda the following week he never looked back for the remainder of the season posting three more top tens on his way to 56th place in the Fedex Cup standings.
Similarly to our other picks this week so far Henley’s prowess over the past couple of years has been from tee to green and he ranked 14th in that category last season and third in approach play, again exactly what we are looking for this week.
Significantly though Henley who was historically known as a strong putter, but has really struggled in this department over recent times, has shown some good improvement on the greens of late.
Looking at form in the desert or at altitude and there is nothing as glaringly obvious as our first few selections, however he did finish tenth here a few years back so that ticks the box on that front. In addition he finished second at the John Deere last year, which as noted before fits well here.
Like English and Matsuyama Henley looks primed to return to the winners circle soon and with his ball striking attributes perfect for the test ahead I see him having a great chance this week.
MARTIN LAIRD – 250-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 1st!!!!!
Finally with my team predominantly focusing on a mix of the ball striking prowess I expect to be required this week along with desert form, I can’t resist finishing up by taking a chance on a good old fashioned desert specialist Martin Laird.
Firstly lets get the negative out of the way, barring a sixth place finish in Puerto Rico the Scotsman had a 2019/20 season to forget and after moving his family back to Colorado during lockdown his left knee, which had been bothering him slightly for a while suddenly gave way and he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus.
All in all then a troubled 2020 for the Scotsman, which after surgery meant he could only return to the tour at the Safeway recently.
All of this of course is reflected in Laird’s price however if we move beyond this there are some chinks of light which make me feel he is worth the risk at the odds.
Firstly of course is Laird’s form in the desert over the years. A winner of this event way back in 2009 Laird also finished second here the following year. In addition Laird has posted numerous other top ten finishes across the WMPO and Barracuda over the years.
Laird originally attended college in Colorado before basing himself in Phoenix for many years so it is totally understandable that he is comfortable in both the desert and playing at altitude and now that he has returned to Colorado he will no doubt be getting plenty of opportunity to practice in the latter.
So we’ve established Laird loves the desert but what of his form since his return to the tour? Well encouragingly this showed signs of promise last week at the Sandersons where he finished 28th and significantly 14th for the week from tee to green, 16th in approach play and third in good old fashioned GIR.
There is a lot of speculation here as you would expect for a 250/1 shot, however it may just be that the return to Colorado where he spent his college days, coupled with his recovery from injury. gives Laird the change of mindset needed to kickstart his career again and at only 37yrs old there is plenty of time ahead for him to get back to the higher levels.
As I say speculative I know but enough for me to wrap things up this week by rolling the dice in Vegas on him at the huge each way odds.
UPDATED 6th OCTOBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - RUSSELL KNOX - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 39.5
For my first sub $7K DK selection this week I am going to chance Russell Knox.
The Scotsman caught the eye with a ninth place finish at the Safeway Open after opening with a day one best score of 63 and this brought him on to many people's radar for last weeks Sanderson Farms event. Unfortunately for Russell though last week didn't go to plan and he ended up missing the cut.
This week however he returns to a venue he has made the cut at on his last six visits and on this basis I am happy to overlook last weeks effort and include him in a week where his ball striking attributes could well come to the fore if the anticipated tough conditions materialise over the weekend.
PICK 2 - SCOTT PIERCY - DK VALUE $6500 - FINISHED 19th - DK POINTS TOTAL 105.5
Pick number two this week is Vegas resident Scott Piercy.
Piercy has been something of a desert specialist over the years with numerous strong performances in this event and the WMPO. In addition he bagged his maiden tour title at the Reno Tahoe Open [The old name for the Barracuda Championship when it was a stroke play event.]
Last season was a tough one for Piercy however his best finish, one of sixth place, duly came in Scottsdale and with three cuts made in his last four starts in my eyes he is worth chancing this week at $6500.