The Fortinet Championship
The final event of the PGA Tour season pretty much summed up our 21/22 campaign, it promised much at the halfway stage with our ’72 hole low score’ picks Rahm and Schauffele right in the hunt, but as was so often the case through the campaign, things didn’t go our way at the business end of proceedings.
Not our week then, however, despite what I still see as a flawed handicap system, we got a great finish to the event and a great champion as Rory McIlroy who has taken on the mantle of PGA Tour spokesman and talisman over the recent months, became the first player to land the Fedex Cup for the third time.
As we were unable then to add to our profits over the final few weeks what was undoubtedly a tough season fizzled out and the best I can say is that we stayed in profit, all 3pts of it!
There were of course some highlights for us such as Cameron Smith’s win at The Open and Tom Hoge’s win at Pebble Beach, as well as numerous place finishes to keep things ticking over, but ultimately we were unable to convert those one or two big priced winners that make the difference. Oh for a Sahith Theegala par on the 18th at the Travelers for example!
As we know though this is a long term game and having banked 435pts profit the previous season and with two of the three previous seasons to that also profitable we are still very healthily placed since the site started.
So with the dust barely settling on the 21/22 campaign it is all systems go for the 22/23 season as we head west to Napa for the Fortinet Championship for the opening event.
The Fortinet Championship was first staged as The Fry’s Electronics Open in 2007. The following year the event was renamed the Fry’s.com Open.
In 2010 the event then moved from its initial home in Arizona to the CordeValle Club in San Martin, California, before finally arriving at its current home, The Silverado Country Club in Napa, for the 2014-15 season.
The event was then renamed The Safeway Open for the 2016-17 season and remained so for five editions before Fortinet took over the reigns.
With the Presidents Cup only won week away the vast majority of the US have chosen to sit this one out with wildcard pick Max Homa who is defending champion here and who takes his place at the top of the market the only one to tee it up.
Homa is then joined at the top of the market by International team members Hideki Matsuyama and Corey Conners.
Silverado North Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7150yds.
The greens are Bent Grass with Poa Annua.
The course was originally opened in 1955 before being redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jnr in 1966.
In 2010 the resort was then purchased by a consortium including Johnny Miller.
At this point Miller, who’s long term goal is to attract a major championship to the venue oversaw a renovation/redesign of the course.
Silverado is a classical, tree lined set up with narrow fairways, which are tough to find. The rough historically however has not been overly penal and this making the course fairly ‘gettable’.
So let’s firstly take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to Silverado in 2014.
2021 Max Homa
2020 Stewart Cink
2019 Cameron Champ
2018 Kevin Tway
2017 Brendan Steele
2016 Brendan Steele
2015 Emiliano Grillo
2014 Sang Moon Bae
The first thing we should bear in mind when looking at this list is that with the exception of 2019 when the Greenbrier held the honour this event has been the curtain raiser for the PGA Tours new campaign.
The 2020 event as we know was won by the rejuvenated Stewart Cink however when looking at that event we need to remember that due to the impact of Covid 19 there were no fresh faced rookies arriving in Napa that September buoyed from their exploits in the Korn Ferry finals.
From that point of view we need to go back to 2018 and beyond, as well as of course to last year, to get a clear picture of the impact that the ‘new kids in town’ or indeed players who have managed to regain their cards at the Korn Ferry finals, have had on the final leaderboard here.
If we look at this in more detail then we will see that 12 of the 49 players to make the Top 7 places[& ties] over the five events from 2014 – 2018 inclusive and then in 2021, were players who had won or regained their cards through the Korn Ferry Tour. These include 2015 winner Grillo who was victorious here straight of the back of winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
2021 – 1st M Homa, 2nd Maverick McNealy, 3rd Mito Pereira, T4th Marc Leishman, Talor Gooch, T6th Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Rodgers, John Augenstein, CT Pan, Scot Stallings.
2018 1st K Tway, 2nd R Moore, B Snedeker, 4th S Im, L List, T Merritt, A Baddeley, S Ryder.
2017. 1st B Steele, 2nd T Finau, 3rd C Hadley, 4th P Mickelson, T5th G Delaet, T5th T Duncan, T7th B Cauley, T 7th A Landry.
2016. 1st B Steele, 2nd P Kizzire, T3rd P Casey, T3rd M Kim, T3rd S Piercy, T3rd J Wagner, 7th K Na.
2015. 1st E Grillo, 2nd K Na, T3rd J Bohn, T3rd J Thomas, T3rd T V Aswegen, T6th K Reifers, T6th J Rose, T6th P Rodgers, T6th C Schwartzel.
2014 1st S M Bae, 2nd S Bowditch, T3rd R Goosen, T3rd M Laird, T3rd H Matsuyama, T3rd H Mahan, T3rd B Molder.
Taking a closer look now at the winners here and we see that three of the seven winners Steele [twice] and Grillo are renowned for their ball striking prowess from tee to green.
In addition, while this is not necessarily the case for the 2018 winner Kevin Tway as a rule, he did have a great week here off the tee that week gaining more than eight strokes on the field in SGTTG and finishing the week ranked third in that category, whilst 2019 winner Cameron Champ lead the field from tee to green gaining over 11 strokes on the field in that department.
If we then look at 2020 winner Stewart Cink he also did most of his damage from tee to green while last years winner Max Homa ranked second in this department.
Looking at the eight winners at Silverado though allowing for the two successes for Steele and the wins for Champ and Homa we have had four Californian triumphs here.
Whilst as noted above this has been a solid hunting ground for Korn Ferry graduates the winners themselves with the exception of Grillo have tended to triumph here on the back of a fairly humdrum end to their previous campaigns.
Last years winner Homa had posted nothing better than 25th since a sixth place at the Memorial in June, 2020 champion Cink had only posted one top 20 finish in the whole of 2020 prior to his win here while 2019 winner Cameron Champ had struggled for the vast majority of the season since his win almost 12 months prior at the Sanderson Farms.
Back to back champion Brendan Steele ended his previous campaign with four missed cuts in seven starts and nothing better than 24th place since June when winning for the second time and had finished the previous campaign with a whimper posting nothing better than 17th place in six starts since early July the year he first tasted victory in the event.
2015 winner Sang Moon Bae had also ended his previous season with some in and out form, which had included a 14th place at the Wyndham and three missed cuts in his last four starts, however 2018 champion Kevin Tway had made his final eight cuts on tour to at least finish his 17/18 campaign solidly.
All in all though the message seems fairly clear, don’t be too concerned if your fancy here isn’t in great form coming in having ended their previous campaign slowly as it appears to be very much a case of ‘new season, new start’ here.
With current form not being a huge issue the next thing to look at is course form. Bae naturally was getting his first look at the track competitively when he won here as was Grillo the following year. Steele though having grown up in California was 21st and 17th here the two years prior to his two victories while Tway was making his second start here having finished 62nd the previous year.
Champ had finished 25th in his first start in the event the previous year and in addition as a native of nearby Sacramento he also had decent knowledge of the area, however Cink had missed the cut on his only previous start here.
Finally last year’s winner Homa was 39th here way back in 2014 but had posted nothing better than 60th in three visits since. Again then it would seem previous course form is not imperative.
One other line worth looking at though is course form elsewhere in California and particularly at Riviera, a course which several players likened to Silverado when they first got a look at this venue.
Sang Moon Bae had performed well at Riviera prior to winning here including having held the halfway lead and Brendan Steele had made his five previous cuts at Riviera including posting finishes of 14th and 10th.
2018 winner Tway has ‘no previous’ at Riviera however the two men he beat in the play-off that year Moore and Snedeker have strong records there and of course Sneds is a California specialist full stop.
Finally of course 2021 champion Homa had been victorious at Riviera earlier in the year to well and truly rubber stamp the link.
Looking at the winning score we have seen -15 get the job done on three occasions and -18 was the number for Steele in 2016 while -14 was enough to make the play off in 2018 which Tway emerged victorious from.
In 2019 Cameron Champ took victory with a total of -17, Cink triumphed with a total of -21 in 2020 while -19 was good enough for Homa to get the job done last year.
Looking at the forecast this is certainly a great week to be in Napa with wall to wall sunshine and temperatures around 80 everyday.
Wind could though be a bit of an issue as all four days show the possibility as I write for gusts of 15-20mph and possibly above.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
MAVERICK MCNEALY –25/1 – 2pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I shall start our 2022/23 season off with what to me is the obvious selection from the top end of the market this week, Maverick McNealy.
McNealy embarks on his fourth full season on the PGA Tour having posted his best ever Fedex Cup finish of 38th last campaign so he is clearly feeling more and more comfortable as time goes by in the big league with the only thing now missing from his resume that elusive first win.
Looking at the back end of Maverick’s 21/22 season and having heard him interviewed at the Barracuda where he finished ninth, talking about his desire to make the Tour Championship and how he was willing to play every week if he needed to do so to get there, it appeared to me that he was putting too much pressure on himself to achieve that goal and that is perhaps why after that strong week in the desert he stuttered slightly on the home stretch.
Having tee’d it up eight weeks out of nine then, a stretch which included a trip to Scotland and back my suspicion is Maverick was probably pretty jaded by the time he got to his final start of the season at the BMW Championship and he was well overdue the rest that followed.
Refreshed hopefully then after a three week break and hopefully having taken the positives from last season despite not making it to East Lake, the 26yr old now returns to his beloved California to start his fourth full season with his eyes no doubt firmly on bagging that first win.
Born a couple of hours away in Stanford and having attended college there, in his first full three seasons on tour Maverick has posted four top ten finishes in California, two top five’s at Pebble Beach, a seventh at the Genesis and a runner up finish here last year.
Clearly comfortable in his home state then in front of home fans McNealy returns to Silverado having narrowly missed out last time around and if you then add in his seventh at Riviera last year we have all the sign posts we need to this venue suiting him.
Longer than average off the tee, something notable for many of the recent winners here, if we look at McNealy’s stats from last years event he ranked fourth for the week from tee to green, always a key pointer here, and third off the tee and it was only the putter, normally a strong point of his, which let him down slightly on Sunday, that prevented him from at least making a play off.
In an event then, which has seen four Californian victories in the past six years I am happy to take my chances on Maverick making it five in seven this week and posting his first tour title.
JUSTIN SUH - 50/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I am going to take my chances on the hot hand in the shape of Justin Suh.
Suh who arrives on the PGA Tour full time with a big reputation from his amateur days had a really consistent season on the Korn Ferry Tour posting a host of big finishes to finish seventh in the regular tour standings to comfortably earn his playing privileges in the big league.
The one thing that was missing though from Justin’s season was a win, however he put that to right by landing the trophy at the season ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship, a result, which means he is fully exempt for the 22/23 PGA season.
Returning to Suh’s amateur days and the 25yr old Californian native attended the University of Southern California where he broke the record for the seasons scoring average, previously held by Jamie Lovemark.
A Cali guy through and through then Justin was actually brought up in San Jose an hour or so away from this weeks venue so he should feel right at home here. Furthermore he actually Monday Qualified his way in to this event last year and performed strongly for the first three days before fading with a 76 on Sunday. A slightly disappointing end to the week then however in interviews that week Justin talked about how well he knows the course having played a lot of junior events there over the years.
A look at Suh’s stats on the Korn Ferry Tour last season tell us that while he is not the longest out there he is strong from tee to green and strong on the greens and with the likes of CT Pan, Ryan Moore and Tyler Duncan having made the frame here over the last three years there is certainly room for the shorter hitter to thrive.
When backing a player in an event with strong local connections who arrives in great form there is always the risk they put too much pressure on themselves to perform and end up struggling. Suh though is certainly the ‘real deal’ and with precedent here with Grillo having gone back to back from the Korn Ferry to this event I am happy to risk Justin at the odds to repeat the feat.
MICHAEL KIM - 125/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I am going to give a chance to a player who has worked their way back to the PGA Tour after a truly horrible period in the doldrums, Michael Kim.
Kim debuted on the PGA Tour in the 15/16 campaign and after a couple of solid ‘card maintaining’ campaigns he hit pay dirt in the 17/18 season when on the back of three missed cuts he turned up at the John Deere Classic and spread eagled the field to lift the trophy with a -27 total.
Following on from this though things went horribly wrong for the 29yr old as his game fell apart and he failed to make a single cut on the PGA Tour through 2019 and 2020. Due to the rules implemented around Covid Kim kept his card for 20/21 however while he made a couple of cuts that season it was still mostly miserable stuff and he duly returned to the Korn Ferry Tour this year.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the run of form Michael went through could have ended some players careers, however it is to his credit that through this year he has pieced things back together and after some solid early year results he really found form in July finding three top fives in four weeks and as a result he secured one of the 25 PGA Tour cards on offer to return straight to the big league.
So back on the PGA Tour at the first time of asking then Kim gets to start his 22/23 campaign at the track he posted his first top ten on the PGA Tour back in 2016 when he was third.
A graduate of Cal-Berkeley some hour or so away Michael showed that week that he was more than at home playing in front of partisan crowd and with confidence now high again he should be relishing the chance to return to a venue that outside of his win at TPC Deere Run saw his best result on tour to date.
At his best Kim makes up for his lack of length off the tee with a neat and tidy tee to green game and a hot putter, something which is always critical for a low scoring event like this and this part of his game has been firing particularly strongly this year.
To sum up Kim looks to be close to back to his best and on a course he knows well and an area he is right at home in I am happy to chance him to get his season off to a flyer this week.
JAMES HAHN – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 51st
Next cab off the rank this week in what is a team of California connected players is James Hahn.
Hahn who like Michael Kim attended Cal Berkeley University less than an hour away from here has earned himself a reputation as a player who knows how to win and as someone who can find there form completely out of the blue.
Hahn highlighted the latter point most memorably when triumphing at the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow in 2016 on the back of seven straight missed cuts an event, which it should be noted has been won by last years champion here Max Homa.
A two time winner on tour James’ other triumph of course came at Riviera and with that tracks obvious links to here that gives us a clear boost to his chances around Silverado. Furthermore Hahn has a ninth place finish to his name here, which, while he has been disappointing on other occasions on this track, tells us he can handle the lay out.
Looking at James’ 21/22 campaign and it was the typical mixed bag you have come to expect from him over the years with a couple of back to back top tens out of nowhere in May and then a seasons best fourth place finish at the 3M Open, an event that correlates pretty nicely here through Cameron Champ.
If we then look at Hahn’s end of season form and while he didn’t pull up any trees at the Wyndham and the Fedex St Jude he did make the cut in both events posting a 65 in each.
Ultimately though in all honesty Hahn’s form coming in means fairly little, something shown by the fact that he was ninth here in 2020 having missed his last three cuts of the 18/19 season while last year he missed the cut here having finished the previous campaign in stronger form.
I risked Hahn in this last year only for him to miss the cut however with the undeniable links between here and Riviera. and his ability to pop up at big odds. I am happy to chance him here again.
BEAU HOSSLER – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 25th
Finally, at what I see as pretty generous odds I cant resist rounding off this week with a play on Beau Hossler.
Another Californian native Beau seems to save his best stuff for two states, his adopted home state of Texas where he attended college, and his home state by birth.
Looking at Beau’s record in California and after opening up his 21/22 season with a strong 16th place here he went on to post a third place finish at Pebble Beach in February. If we then look at his 19/20 season his best effort that campaign was a ninth place at Torrey Pines. If we then go back to 18/19 and Beau’s best effort of a disappointing season was a 15th place at Riviera, which of course links nicely.
Returning to Beau’s effort here last year and that week he lead the field on the greens but struggled from tee to green, a familiar story with his long game being statistically his weak link.
What we have come to see though with Beau is that when the long game clicks, which it has done on more regular occasions over the past 12 months he is very much a threat and having knocked at the door on tree lined classical tests like we have at the Valero Texas Open and the Charles Schwab Challenge over the past year he appears to be getting closer to that elusive first win.
Furthermore like another erratic tee to green performer Patrick Rodgers who placed here last year Beau has the extra length off the tee, which is often useful here.
To sum up there is no doubt Sundays have not been kind to Hossler over the past season however he has started to catch the eye more and more often at the higher end of leaderboards at various times of the week. Returning then to tee it up in California for the first time since last February’s near miss at Pebble and a strong first three days at Riviera I am happy to roll the dice at the odds on Beau this week.