The Barracuda Championship
So on to the second PGA Tour event of this week, which is the Barracuda Championship.
The Barracuda Championship was first played in 1999 and was initially known as the Reno Tahoe Open.
After moving from Montreux Golf & CC the event will be played for the second year running at the Old Greenwood , which is situated some 30 miles West of Reno in Truckee just across the border from Nevada in to California.
Barring an occasional change the event has been played early August/late July as the opposite field event to the WGC Bridgestone Invitational/Fedex St Jude for many years and this year this remains the case.
At the time of writing Maverick McNealy holds marginal favouritism from Branden Grace and Mito Pereira.
Before we move on to the course detail and the history of the event we should take a look at the format as, for those of you who don’t know, the event is played under a unique modified Stableford format.
This format was introduced in 2012 and picked up on a system, which had been previously used at the old International event, which became defunct after 2006.
For those of you with longer memories the International was the tournament won by now Sky Sports presenter Rich ‘Beemer’ Beem in 2002 directly before he went on to win the PGA Championship.
Anyway, enough of Beemer and back to the format, which is as follows;
Instead of the usual scoring system we see week in week it out in this event players are awarded or deducted points as follows;
D Bogey or worse -3pts
The winning player at the end of the week is then the one who has quite simply accumulated the most points.
As you can see from this the way the scoring system is set up rewards more aggressive players who might make the odd mistake but throw in plenty of birdies or even eagles.
Quite simply you would much rather make 1 eagle, 4 birdies & 6 bogeys than you would 18 pars.
Old Greenwood while playing as a par 72 to members will play as a par 71 this week measuring to 7390 yards.
The greens are a mix of Bentgrass and Poa annua.
The most important thing to note though is the course is situated in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and therefore is ‘at altitude’, on average 6000ft above sea level to be precise. This means the ball will fly considerably further and the course will not play to its full length.
This was also the case with the previous host course Montreux G&CC where the average elevation above sea level was 5600 ft.
The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus in 2004 [Previous host course Montreux was also a Nicklaus design]
Other Nicklaus designs used on tour are Muirfield Village, [where we were for two weeks recently for The Memorial & Workday], PGA National [Honda Classic], The Tournament Course [Careerbuilder] and Glen Abbey which has historically hosted the Canadian Open.
Other events which have been played at altitude this season on the PGA Tour are the CJ Cup and the WGC Mexico Championship. The most notable event played over the years at altitude on the European Tour is the Omega Masters played at Crans-Sur-Sierre.
Old Greenwood is a fairly typical Nicklaus design, which gives you some room off the tee even when the course runs through the forest, but tests you more the closer you get to the hole with the greens being the biggest challenge. Also in fairly typical Nicklaus fashion the bunkers by all accounts are deeper/more penal than you find week in week out on the tour.
Water is also in play on six holes most dramatically on the par 5 sixth, which runs around a lake.
So let’s take a look at the last nine winners since the event took the modified Stableford format in 2012. I have also noted by the side of these players their winning points total.
2020 R Werenski 39pts
2019 C Morikawa 47pts
2018 A Putnam 47pts
2017 C Stroud 44pts
2016 G Chalmers 43pts
2015 JJ Henry 47pts
2014 G Ogilvy 49pts
2013 G Woodland 44pts
2012 JJ Henry 43pts
As we can see from this list with the exception of Woodland’s win we historically had a combination of journeymen who finally achieved their maiden tour wins in the form of Stroud and Chalmers and older experienced past winners on the comeback trail in the form of Henry and Ogilvy. In 2019 though this all changed as young superstar Collin Morikawa made his class tell to bag his maiden tour title.
To be honest if we then look at recent form coming in the picture doesn’t get much clearer.
As for form leading in to the event it used to be case of the winners didn’t have any as none six winners through to 2017 had even notched a top 20 in their previous two starts and Chalmers won on the back of five consecutive missed cuts!
The last three years this has all changed though as last years winner Werenski triumphed on the back of some fine recent form including a third place finish in his previous start while 2018 winner Putnam finished eighth prior to winning this. Finally Morikawa had two top fives in his previous two starts prior to winning in 2019.
While we only have one year of course form to go on I predicted last year that we may well see some similarities between the new venue and the previous Nicklaus venue, which would make form on the old Montreux course of value. The fact then that the winner Werenksi had finished second here three years prior while the runner up Troy Merritt had also finished runner up the previous year certainly backed this view up.
The winning total posted by Werenski last year was 39pts. As you’ll see from above this was the first time the Champion had not posted over 40pts since the Stableford format was adopted so it may well be that the new venue plays a fraction tougher.
Not unsurprisingly for this part of California in August the forecast sunshine is the order of the day although temperatures will ‘only’ hit around the 28-30 degrees mark.
Wind could also be an issue as gusts of 30mph are possible on Thursday with 20mph + also a possibility over the rest of the week.
I have gone with six players in this event as follows;
BRANDEN GRACE –20/1 - 2pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 30th
Let’s start with the obvious selection.
Grace has been a good friend to us so far this year and while his performance last time out at the Open was undoubtedly disappointing I make no apologies for chancing him again this week.
Grace tends to produce his best on two types of track, windy coastal ones, such as in Puerto Rico where he triumphed for us earlier this year, and desert ones such as in Qatar where he has had great success or indeed TPC Scottsdale where he has performed strongly.
In addition you can add to that list this very track last year where Grace sat second at the halfway stage before unfortunately having to withdraw with a positive covid test.
The South African produced a great performance at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village recently and with unfinished business here from last year a second opposite field title is well within his compass this week.
AARON WISE – 33/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED MC
One of our ‘six to follow for 2021’ picks Cameron Champ did us proud a fortnight ago and it could well be the tur of another this week, Aaron Wise, to deliver the goods.
Wise snapped a poor run of form with an out of the blue eighth place finish here last year and it is clear that his aggressive style fits well with this format.
That result transpired to be a prelude for a far more fruitful 20/21 campaign, which has seen Aaron post seven top twenty finishes including a runner up spot in Mexico.
Wise arrives in California on the back of six straight made cuts and while his last two finishes of 66 and 69 have been slightly more disappointing he produced rounds of 64 and 65 across the two events so clearly there is still a lot of good golf there.
Back at a venue that he performed well on last year I can see Aaron building on his strong form of late and making a big push for an overdue second tour title this week.
BRANDON HAGY – 60/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 5th
Next up for us in this is Brandon Hagy.
I put Hagy up at the Memorial in June based on the liking he had shown for Jack Nicklaus designs in his career to date, however unfortunately while he did incredibly well to make the cut after a poor opening day 76 he never really threatened.
This week though in a far weaker field I am going back to the well with the same theory as despite not featuring at Muirfield Village Hagy can still boast a second at PGA National and a fifth at Glen Abbey to go with a 12th place here last year on Nicklaus layouts.
Since putting Brandon up at the Memorial he has gone on to post a sixth place at the Rocket Mortgage and an 18th at the John Deere so despite a missed cut last time out at the 3M the game is clearly in good shape still.
A native of California and a resident of Scottsdale Hagy should be comfortable in this weeks surroundings, something, which he showed here last year, and in a season where he is clearly trending towards a maiden tour win I am happy to chance him this week.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 90/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED MC
I put forward Wyndham Clark in this last year and while his 35th place finish was no disgrace it didn’t begin to tell the story.
On that week Clark, known for his aggressive play Clark made an incredible 25 birdies, however he offset this with a host of bogeys and double bogeys.
To sum up if he had made a simple average of two bogeys a day he would have won the event and in my summary of the event in the following weeks preview I wrote “Definitely one for the notebook for next year!”
Twelve months down the line and after a strong early season Wyndham struggled of late missing his last four cuts.
Something of an enigma Clark has shown in his career to date that he can find form out of nowhere on the right track and having been brought up in Colorado and living in Las Vegas this should certainly fall under that remit this week. This is also backed up by his good performance in the CJ Cup at altitude in 2019.
Throw in Clark’s strong record at PGA National and there is a lot to like about him this week and I am hopeful he can cut out the mistakes from last year and threaten that first tour win.
SCOTT PIERCY – 100/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 3rd
Regular readers will know that we reaped huge dividends last October when siding with Martin Laird in Vegas based on his previous history in desert events.
This week, while not available at the odds Laird was I am going to try a similar tactic and take my chances with Scott Piercy.
Piercy a born and bred resident of Las Vegas made his comfort in these conditions count when landing his first PGA Tour title back in 2011 in this very event under its former Reno-Tahoe Open guise.
While Scott has not actually tee’d it up in this event since that victory he has continued over the years to post big finishes in the other correlating events to this and the last three seasons have seen further top tens come in The Shriners, Phoenix and the Amex as well at altitude in the CJ Cup.
Piercy’s form this season has certainly been nothing to get excited about and at 144th in the Fedex Cup standings he is in desperate need of a big week.
His last two outings have at least seen him play all four rounds and the hope this week is that with his back against the wall the 42yr old can find a big performance in his most favoured conditions.
NICK WATNEY - 250/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 43rd
The final role of the dice in this event goes on Nick Watney.
It’s been a long time since Watney produced anything of note with his last real threat of victory coming in 2018 at the Wells Fargo.
This season Watney has again really struggled and from October through to the John Deere recently he did not make a single cut in a solo event.
Over recent weeks though the five time tour winner appears to have turned a slight corner making three cuts on the spin and posting a seasons best 34th last time out at the 3M Open.
In that performance at TPC Twin Cities Nick sat eighth in approach play and gained shots every day in this department and from tee to green.
With something seemingly clicking the Vegas resident now gets to tee it up in his neck of the woods and in event he has previously posted a top ten finish in.
Another in desperate need of a huge performance from a Fedex Cup point of view I am happy to take a risk on Watney at big each way odds.