it was a fascinating week at Hoylake for the Open Championship with American Brian Harman leading the field a merry dance as he nursed home a 36 hole five shot lead eventually winning by six.
Harman produced a superb all round display dissecting the course from tee to green and then leading the field with the flat stick. Basically he was a class above the rest as his winning margin proved.
While a runaway win for an unheralded American was not a lot of peoples idea of a captivating Open you have to hold up your hands and just admire the quality of his play, after all if Tiger in his pomp or Rory had produced such a dominating performance most people would have been drooling over it.
It must be said that the weather, which deteriorated more and more as the week progressed didn’t help as a spectacle either, nor did the lack of wind, so key to an Open, however ultimately you can only play the course in front of you, which Harman did way better than anyone else.
From our point of view it was a disappointing week on our main outright team as only Viktor Hovland ever threatened before he faltered on Sunday. Our week however at Hoylake was saved by the aforementioned Harman, as while we didn’t have him outright we were onboard him in the First Round Leader market where he bagged us a full place return. Furthermore as I was at Hoylake on Thursday I followed his round in the afternoon, in I am delighted to say, fantastic sunshine, so I can say that I got to see this years Open Champion in action!
Over at the Barracuda Championship while Martin Laird threatened to bag us a big priced place on day four he unfortunately stumbled down the stretch just when it mattered.
The event itself was won by young phenom Ashkay Bhatia who after birdieing the 72nd hole saw off the luckless Patrick Rodgers in a play -off. Rodgers it must be said could and should have won in regulation, however after missing a birdie putt to win on the final hole he can count himself hugely unlucky to find a divot off the tee in the play off.
So after it’s trip to the UK and for some to California the tour heads to Blaine, Minnesota, a suburb north of Minneapolis, for the fifth edition of the 3M Open.
Not unsurprisingly on the back of the Open the field takes a bit of hit, however with only two more regular tour events to come after this week before the play-offs the focus will turn more to those needing some big performances to make the top 70 and to cement their place in the biggest of events next season.
There is still some star power on display with the field and market headed up by defending champion Tony Finau, Cameron Young, Sungjae Im and Hideki Matsuyama. Also teeing it up is Justin Thomas who is desperately searching for form and who sits right on the cusp of the top 70.
TPC Twin Cities is a Par 71 measuring around 7450 yards.
The greens are bentgrass.
The course was designed by Arnold Palmer in consultation with Tom Lehman and was opened for play in 2000.
One possible reference here therefore could be Bay Hill, which was subject to an Arnold Palmer redesign in 2009, while it may also be worth looking at another Palmer design TPC Boston, which hosted the Dell Technologies Championship [formerly the Deutsche Bank] until 2018.
While TPC Twin Cities is only in its fifth year of hosting a PGA Tour event it was used for many years to host the 3M Champions Tour event.
It should be noted though that prior to the first staging of the 3M Open the course underwent renovation, which was overseen by Minnesotan native Tom Lehman [who will tee it up this week].
The changes made included adding trees and sand traps, enlarging lakes, particularly the one in front of the 18th green, levelling mounding and expanding the rough.
In addition and perhaps most significantly, length was added to the course and instead of a par 72 playing to just under 7000yds, which historically greeted the Champions Tour, the PGA Tour players are faced by a 7450yd par 71.
As a result of this the par 5 sixth can play to over 600yds, the par 5 18th to 597yds and what was the par 5 third will now be a par 4 playing to over 500yds.
Conversely though the course also boasts three driveable par 4s, which can be set up to play between 280 & 315yds. These are the 7th, 10th and 16th holes.
So with only four years history let’s take a look at the top ten from those first four editions.
1 T Finau
T2 S Im, E Grillo
T4 S Piercy, T Hoge, J Hahn
T7 D Willett, G Sigg, C Tarren
10 C Hadley.
1 C Champ
T2 L Oosthuizen, C Schwartzel & J Vegas
5 K Mitchell
T6 R Armour, A Hadwin, KH Lee, M Pereira, B Stuard.
1 Michael Thompson
2 Adam Long
T3 Tony Finau, Emiliano Grillo, Max Homa, Charles Howell III, Alex Noren, Charl Schwartzel, Robby Shelton, Cameron Tringale, Richie Werenski.
1 Matthew Wolff
T2 Bryson Dechambeau & Collin Morikawa
4 Adam Hadwin
T5 Carlos Ortiz & Wyndham Clark
T7 Lucas Glover, Brian Harman, Sam Burns, Joey Garber, Troy Merritt, Hideki Matsuyama.
The suspicion when the event first came on tour was that with the extra length added to the course the setup it would favour bigger hitters and with Matthew Wolff triumphing in 2019, Bryson finishing in a tie for second [he was still pretty long prior to his bulking out!], and other big hitters like Wyndham Clark and Sam Burns performing well this certainly appeared to be the case. Having said that as Harman and Merritt showed there was room for a shorter hitter to perform well here as well. All in all though length certainly appeared to be an advantage.
In 2020 however of the top dozen home only Tony Finau could be put in the ‘bomber’ category and with Michael Thompson winning it would seem that everyone has a chance here.
In 2021 however those focusing on the bigger hitters may well have landed on Cameron Champ, [as longer term readers will remember we did!!] and he duly obliged, while last year, Finau, another big hitter got his hands on the trophy with another bomber Callum Tarren making the frame. Equally though the likes of E Grillo, T Hoge, J Hahn and G Sigg made the frame so while the bombers have as a whole won the day here there is certainly room for those who are shorter off the tee but pick a course apart to thrive.
Digging a bit deeper and while we know the 2019 winner Matthew Wolff is no slouch off the tee it was his overall tee to green game that got the job done for him as he finished the week second for Strokes-Gained-Tee-To-Green and first in Strokes-Gained-Approach-To-The-Green. Meanwhile the putter seemed less important as he finished the week 39th with the flatstick, and on Sunday despite shooting 65 he lost just under two strokes to the field with the putter!
Looking at the others who finished prominently on the board in 2019 and Dechambeau produced a strong all round week both from tee to green and with the putter while Morikawa predictably lead the field in approach play but ranked only 47th for the week with the putter.
Meanwhile looking at the 2020 statistics and Michael Thompson only ranked 88th off the tee but fourth in approach play and sixth in putting while runner up Long after struggling in the opening two days caught fire with his approaches over the weekend gaining over 6.5 shots over Saturday and Sunday. It would seem then that TPC Twin Cities is very much a ‘second shot’ course.
Returning to Champ’s victory and while as you would expect for a winner he was solid in all areas he ‘only’ ranked 27th from tee to green and 19th in approach play on the week and it was actually his flat stick, for which he ranked first, which was the key to his victory.
Finally and to bring us up to date Finau produced a dominant long game display last year ranking third off the tee, third in approach and first from tee to green, however he was only 42nd in putting.
With the event taking the spot straight after the Open Championship the other obvious thing to mention is ‘Major fatigue’, with, as we regularly see, players who were in the hunt in the big event the week before struggling to perform the week after.
If we look though at the winners of events directly following a Major since the start of the 20/21 season they have been Hudson Swafford, Robert Streb, Stewart Cink, Jason Kokrak, Harris English, Cameron Champ, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Matt Fitzpatrick, Emiliano Grillo and Keegan Bradley and of these only English had been seriously in the mix the week before finishing third at Torrey Pines.
Delving further though and if we look at the last nine winners of the RBC Canadian Open when it was the most recent regular PGA Tour event to be played directly after the Open alongside Champ’s win in 2021 and Finau’s last year here we will see that of the six winners of the event to have played in the Open the week before only two of them had performed notably in the event.
Here is a list of how they fared on the Links the week before;
2022 Tony Finau 28
2021 Cameron Champ DNP
2018 Dustin Johnson MC
2017 Jhonattan Vegas MC
2016 Jhonattan Vegas DNP [Finished 4th at Barbasol]
2015 Jason Day 4th
2014 Tim Clark DNP
2013 Brandt Snedeker 11th
2012 Scott Piercy DNP
2011 Sean O’Hair MC
2010 Carl Pettersson DNP
As we can see then with only Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker having been any kind of factor at the Open it is quite possible to conclude that understandably the long week of ‘Major pressure’ on top of all the travelling it entails is not the ideal preparation. In addition this week of course those arriving in Minnesota from Hoylake who played all four days will have gone through a particularly gruelling weekend weather wise on the links.
From the point of view of form coming in to the week of the four 3M Open winners to date 2019 Champion Wolff had only very recently joined the pro ranks however while big things were expected finishes of MC and 80 at the Rocket Mortgage and Travelers over the previous weeks had hardly telegraphed a big week here.
While 2020 winner Thompson had shown a glimpse of form with an eighth place finish at the RBC Heritage a month before he arrived on the back of a run of MC 64 46 and had not posted another top 20 in the calendar year so he was certainly not arriving in strong form.
2021 winner Champ however had telegraphed a return to form with an eye catching 11th place at the John Deere a fortnight before, while Finau not having done much in his previous three starts, with a best of 13th, did at least close out his week at St Andrews with a 66 to take some positive momentum back across the Atlantic.
Finally with regards to the winning score Wolff triumphed on -21 in 2019, Thompson with -19 in 2020, Champ with -15 in 2021 and Finau with -17 last year.
As is the norm here we are set for a week of high temperatures, which could once more to the 100 mark as they did in 2021.
At the time of writing there is the possibility of a stray storm over the weekend but hopefully they will stay away.
Wind could be a slight issue as we could see some gusts of around 15-20mph across the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
LUDVIG ABERG – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 64th
I am going to start this week by jumping on the Ludvig Aberg bandwagon for the first time.
Backing a maiden who has only recently joined the pro ranks at fairly restrictive odds is of course a risky strategy, however as we know Aberg is no ordinary rookie, while in addition I am in no doubt that this week represents the Swede’s best chance so far in the limited starts he has had, from a course suitability point of view.
Since officially joining the pro ranks Aberg has made five starts on the PGA Tour and prior to missing the cut in Scotland he had played the weekend on all four.
Looking at the events he has played in the US so far though, The Canadian Open, The Travelers, The Rocket Mortgage and the John Deere, all four are tracks that required a considerable level of strategy and/or some course experience, here though as we can see from the successes of Wolff, Dechambeau, Champ and Finau, good old fashioned power will get you an awfully long way and there are certainly some parallels to be drawn in Wolff’s win here based on the fact that he triumphed shortly after joining the big league.
While Ludvig has not yet made enough starts to feature in the PGA Tour’s season long stats if we look at his stats in his four US starts of late they are pretty revealing.
He has ranked third, third, second and 12th in Driving Distance, second, 11th, first and third off the tee and tenth, 22nd, 38th and fifth from tee to green. Clearly then even in the very embryonic stages of his PGA Tour career his long game is performing really strongly.
As I say though at venues like TPC River Highlands or TPC Deere Run, while bigger hitters can of course flourish there, they are not out & out bombers paradises whereas here, as we know that is exactly the type of player who flourishes.
After finishing fourth at the John Deere, where he closed with a 63, Aberg headed over to Scotland, where it must be said he was found wanting as he missed the cut in a type of golf he will have played very little of over recent years. As mentioned earlier though the fact that he did not make it to Hoylake may well be a blessing in disguise as he arrives here with the benefit of a week off after a hectic period.
One other thing this week will also give the Swede a chance to do is catch up with his fellow countryman and house mate Vincent Norrman who is now a PGA Tour winner having triumphed at the Barbasol, and I cant help but think that he will take some inspiration from his win.
To return to where we started then, granted the odds are restrictive but on course that should allow this prodigious driver of the golf ball to flourish I find him impossible to leave out.
ADAM HADWIN – 35/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up I will stray briefly from the big hitter theme and go back to the well with a player who so nearly landed the spoils for us at the Rocket Mortgage Classic recently, Adam Hadwin.
I sided with Hadwin that week partly because his form had been trending nicely leading in and partly because I expected him to take some inspiration from his close friend Nick Taylor’s win in Canada and he so nearly delivered before losing out in the play off to Rickie Fowler.
Not quite to be then sadly, however what we clearly saw from Adam that week was a lot of really solid golf as he ranked second in putting, 10th in approach play and 19th from tee to green.
Following on from that effort I stuck with Hadwin at the John Deere, however in hindsight there was clearly some let down from the play off defeat and he found himself with a weekend off.
Having not qualified for Hoylake Adam now heads to Minnesota refreshed after two weeks break and at 37th in the Fedex Cup standings he can rest in the knowledge that his place in the top 70 is locked up, and focus on what he really wants, a second PGA win.
On that front then, while he is not a big hitter like most of the past winners here, nor do his off the tee stats leap out, there is clearly something Adam likes about TPC Twin Cities as he has finished fourth, sixth and 38th here in three visits.
One thing Adam did have in Detroit was a strong Canadian support as Michigan borders Canada and we have a similar situation this week with Minnesota sitting on the Canadian border so perhaps this is part of why Adam enjoys his time here.
Either way we know he will have strong support this week once more and with his game in great shape I can see him making another big push for that long overdue second Tour title this week.
CAMERON CHAMP – 66/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - WD BEFORE START
Next up I will return to a player who did us a massive favour when triumphing here in 2021, Cameron Champ.
The American landed in our selections for two reasons that week, one his big power game, which aligned well with Wolff and Dechambeau, and two because he had produced an 11th place finish in his previous start at the John Deere after a run of poor form.
Focusing on the latter point and there is no doubt that Cameron is an enigma of a player. A three time winner on the PGA Tour, when on song he is a consummate closer of events and possesses a game, which would not look out of place in the worlds top ten. Equally though we are lucky if we see this level from Cameron more than two or three times a season, while for the rest of the time he struggles to make the cut.
One thing that has become clear with Champ though is that he does tend to telegraph when one of these big performances is coming by putting in an eye catching week prior. We saw it with that 11th at the John Deere the week before his win here and he did the same thing when posting solid top 30 finishes in the starts prior to his wins at the Sanderson Farms and Fortinet.
On to this week then and it has been another grim season for Cameron, which has seen him miss 15 cuts while only making seven, and as a result at 150th he looks almost certain to miss the Play Off’s while also missing out on the biggest of events next season.
Of late however Champ has started to catch the eye, firstly with a closing 66 at the John Deere where he ended a run of three missed cuts and more pertinently at the Barracuda where he finished 17th, a very similar result to the one, which he posted prior to his win here in 2021. Furthermore at the Barracuda while we don’t have strokes gained data we can see that Cameron ranked 25th in Driving Accuracy and 16th in GIR so we know his tee to green game was in good shape.
After winning here in 2021 Champ started the defence of his title really poorly last year with a 75, however he picked up from there on in to post rounds of 68 67 67 on his way to a 16th place finish, a result, which came on the back of five missed cuts, so we really do know this venue fits his eye.
Returning then at ‘last chance saloon’ for this years play offs , and with his game seemingly turning around I’ll take the hint and go with Cameron to produce another big week at TPC Twin Cities.
GARRICK HIGGO – 100/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 13th
Next up I will give another chance to a second player I was onboard at the Scottish Open recently, Garrick Higgo.
I sided with Higgo in Scotland because of his recent upturn in form, which could not only be seen in his stats but was translating in to results as he arrived at the Renaissance Club on the back of four made cuts in five including an eye catching 21st in his previous outing at the John Deere.
In Scotland while Higgo didn’t quite land the big each way return for us, agonisingly one shot shy of the 12 places each way we had plumped for, he showed more than enough in finishing 19th to give the impression that he is really starting to gain some momentum again.
Looking at Garrick’s stats of late and at the John Deere he flourished off the tee ranking 1st in that department while he was also 18th from tee to green and 38th on the greens that week. Meanwhile in Scotland as well as being solid off the tee once more, his iron play, his nemesis of late, prospered as he ranked 27th in approach play. Furthermore he had a strong week on the greens there ranking 10th.
As well, as being strong off the tee ranking 18th on tour this season in that area, one other thing the South African has in common with recent winners here such as Finau, Champ and Wolff is that he is most certainly one of the longer hitters on tour, and therefore like the aforementioned trio he should certainly be able to take advantage of the driveable par fours here as well as the par fives.
With regards to course history we don’t have much to go on in that Higgo has only teed it up here once, last year, when he missed the cut. I am not overly concerned about that however as last year the 24yr old flew in on the back of a week in St Andrews, while he was also really struggling at the time having missed eight of his previous nine cuts on the PGA Tour.
This year though with his form trending and having not been involved at Hoylake last week we have a very different story.
A three time winner on the DP World Tour by the age of 22 and a winner already on the PGA Tour there is no doubting Higgo’s class and refreshed after a weeks break I can see him producing a big performance here as he looks to push in to the top 70 in the Fedex Cup.
TREVOR CONE – 400/1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 64th
Finally in week where I am happy to focus as a whole on the bigger hitters I will take a chance at huge odds that Trevor Cone can build on his recent big week at the Barbasol.
The first thing to be said about that third place finish is of course that it came in an opposite field event and there is clearly a step up in class this week.
That said this also quite clearly not the strongest field by any stretch that we will see on the PGA Tour and we are more than compensated by the increased odds.
Furthermore of course, unlike when heading in to that week in Kentucky Trevor now has the confidence in the locker from that performance.
The obvious question to ask though is why chance Cone here rather than take a view that effort in Kentucky was purely a ‘one off’ and the answer to this again comes in his profile.
One of the longest hitters on tour at sixth in Driving Distance Cone immediately has the head start here that has seen the other big hitters mentioned earlier thrive and let’s not forget we are not just talking about the likes of Finau, Champ, Dechambeau and Wolff who are all obviously class acts but we saw Callum Tarren and Scott Piercy excel here last year.
Furthermore Trevor currently sits at 13th in strokes gained off the tee on tour and fifth in GIR so we know he has the other tee to green strengths needed here.
At 155th in the Fedex Cup standings Trevor clearly has a mountain to climb to make the play offs despite the recent big week in Kentucky, however he will know that another strong week will get him inside of the top 150, which should at least then get him a seat at the table for the Fall events and something to build.
With the Barracuda at altitude not an event that I would have expected much from the North Carolinian in and only a trip to Sedgefield CC to come after this week then, which again you would hardly see as being up the bombers ally, the one time Korn Ferry winner knows this is a huge week for him, and on a course, which really should suit him I’ll risk him at big odds to put in another big week.