The Puerto Rico Open
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So with the PGA Tour’s elite chasing the big bucks in Florida 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 in 2018 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 in 2018 the year 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 a strong European contingent, up and coming players who are setting out on their career, players 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 Carlos Franco, Chris Couch, Mark Hensby and Daniel Chopra.
The betting market is headed up three of the Europeans, Thomas Pieters, Matt Wallace and Ian Poulter. This trio are then followed by Branden Grace and Emilliano Grillo.
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 and the Corales Puntacana event in the Dominican Republic.
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.
2020 – V Hovland
2019 M Trainer
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.
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.
Until the last couple of editions there was also one other 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 & DA Points also all at least either hail from Florida, went to college there or live there.
Of the remaining four winners up to 2017 from when the event began Brown is a Georgia man, whilst Hadley went to college there.
The odd men out were 2016 winner Tony Finau who hails from Utah and 2015 winner Cejka who is a Vegas resident.
The last couple of editions though have somewhat skewed this theory as they have seen wins for an Oklahoma based Norwegian, Viktor Hovland, who was the class act in the field and another Derek Lameleyesque skinner in the shape of Martin Trainer who hails from California.
All in all it would be fair to say the picture is 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, the 2016 & 2017 winners Points & Finau were out of touch upon arrival in Puerto Rico, while Trainer the 2019 champion had missed five if his eight cuts that season although he had posted his best result of the campaign, a 28th at the correlating Pebble Beach in his previous start.
Last years champion Hovland meanwhile had gone MC 38 his only two previous starts on tour that season.
From a course correlation point of view the obvious events to look at are the Mayakoba, The Corales Puntacana, Pebble Beach, The RSM and The Heritage.
Temperatures look set for the low 80s all week with a mix of sunshine, clouds and the possibility of a shower thrown in.
Wind looks like it could be a factor with gusts of 25mph + a possibility on all four days.
As I always say though…this could all change!
Before we head in to our picks just another reminder to take a look at what’s on offer at our partners Sounder Golf. Just copy and paste the link below and the exclusive 10% discount will automatically be applied to any purchases you make.
Having weighed everything up I have gone with four players in this event as follows;
BRANDEN GRACE – 20-1 – 1.5pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 1st!!!
I’m going to start off in this event by giving another chance to Branden Grace.
Regular readers will know that Grace featured in my ‘six to follow’ for 2021 column as I felt that this would be the year that he would bounce back to winning ways on the PGA Tour.
So far this year however on the course Grace has made just three starts as the last month or so has been overshadowed by the death of his Father who sadly passed away recently.
Branden returned to action a fortnight ago at Pebble Beach an event, which has often proved to be a good pointer to here and he produced a solid 34th place finish.
Last week Grace then moved on to Riviera where his performance was even more eye catching as he posted four rounds of par or better to notch a 20th place.
Looking at Grace’s stats for the week in LA what was particularly impressive was that his tee to green game was in solid working order as he finished the week 14th in strokes-gained-tee-to-green and 12th in approach play. Unfortunately however his putter held him back on the slick Riviera greens as he ranked only 50th in this department.
If we roll back a further seven days though to Pebble Beach Branden ranked 13th for the week for the measured rounds with the flatstick so clearly it is just a case of putting it all together.
Away from Grace’s trending form the other obvious attraction to him this week is his history on and liking for this type of venue.
A former champion at Hilton Head the South African has shown on numerous occasions on the European Tour over the years how well he is suited to coastal tracks and how comfortable he is playing in the wind so while he is making his debut in the event this week I have to think the course will be right up his alley.
Granted the fancy three figure odds that have been available on the South African over the past 12 months or so are nowhere to be seen this week however that of course is reflected in the quality of the field, one in which the depth is seriously lacking once you get down to three figures here.
We saw last year in this event with Hovland that the class can just rise to the top and I am happy to take a chance that this multiple serial winner can show that again and bounce back to winning ways this week.
ANIRBAN LAHIRI – 70-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 39th
A player who really catches my eye in this field this week at the odds is Anirban Lahiri.
Lahiri struggled hugely in his 19/20 campaign finishing way down the Fedex Cup standings in 219th place with his best finish of 44th actually coming in this event.
After a reprieve due to the Covid related rules though Anirban’s 2020/2021 campaign started much more promisingly and the Fall events saw him make four cuts in four starts including an 11th in Bermuda and tellingly a sixth at the Corales on comparable Paspalum greens.
While the new calendar year has seen a slower start by comparison with finishes of 62 MC & MC each start has seen some decent stuff mixed in with poorer stuff including rounds of 65 and 64 at the Sony and 68 in both the American Express and Farmers. Add that in with his play at the back end of last year and its clear to me that the Indian’s game is in reasonable shape.
What attracts me most to the 33yr old this week though is his form on correlating tracks and tracks with Paspulum surfaces. As noted earlier Lahiri finished 6th at the Corales last September and he has posted finishes of 10th and 14th at the Mayakoba over recent years.
Finally on this front Lahiri recorded back to back top ten finishes at the now defunct CIMB Classic out in Asia, which was played on paspalum surfaces.
Lahiri who bases himself in Florida these days has shown over the years with his international victories and with top five’s at the PGA Championship, by the coast at the Honda Classic and a sixth place at the WGC Bridgestone that he is a world class performer on his day and this looks an ideal opportunity for him to get a PGA Tour win under his belt.
SCOTT BROWN – 75 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 53rd
When scrolling down the betting I was very pleasantly surprised to see the odds on course specialist Scott Brown and based on the terms on offer I really can’t find my way to leaving him out.
For those not familiar with Brown’s form here over the years in eight starts here he has never missed a cut and he has posted five top ten finishes including two fifth place finishes and a victory.
Looking at those performances and whether Brown has been in good, bad or indifferent form coming in to the week has been fairly academic. In fact the only two times he has performed poorly here were the year he had the added pressures of being defending champion and last year when he arrived straight on the back of being in the thick of things at the Genesis where he finished second, perhaps then a case of fatigue and mental let down from the week before at a tough Riviera.
This year though Scott arrives here having not played in LA last week and interestingly his most recent result, a 30th place finish at Pebble Beach, was the exact same finish he had in his start prior to his win here in 2013, a fact, which I am sure won’t be lost on him.
Granted Brown’s form has been nothing to write home about this season however there was promise in his performance at Pebble particularly on the final day where he gained over 2.5 shots from tee to green and 2 shots in approach play so he should arrive in reasonable spirits.
At the end of the day though this is a ‘horses for courses’ pick and at the odds on offer Brown is a must play for me this week.
TED POTTER JNR - 60 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED T7th
For my final selection this week I am going to roll the dice with Ted Potter Jnr.
As most readers will know a selection on any given week of ‘the wizard’ is not for the faint hearted as a missed cut is just as likely as a strong performance.
The fact remains though that when the mood takes him the mercurial Potter Jnr is more than capable of producing a big week and, importantly in a field like this he knows how to win.
Looking at Ted’s season to date and it has been much like any other in that there have been swathes of missed cuts alongside one solid performance out of nowhere at Torrey Pines more recently.
A two time winner on tour, one of which of course came memorably at Pebble Beach which as already established sits very nicely here, the 37yr old arrived in Puerto Rico last year in the process of a very similar run of form and popped up with a sixth place finish, a result which alongside his seventh place earlier in that campaign at the Sony transpired to be one of his only two top ten’s in the year.
The fact that Ted notched his two top tens last campaign on coastal tracks coupled with his win at Pebble and other solid performances at the Heritage, the RSM and even Torrey recently tell us all we need to know about him, in that he is very much at home playing by the coast.
As noted earlier Florida native’s have historically performed well here so Potter Jnr certainly fits the profile on that front and having played solidly here on all of his three previous visits including his sixth place last year I expect another strong showing from him this week.