The Fortinet Championship
It seems an eternity ago already but it is only three weeks the 2022/23 Fedex Cup campaign wrapped up at East Lake with Viktor Hovland taking down the big bucks.
From our point of view the season ended on a positive note with Xander Schauffele tying for the win in the low 72 hole score market for us while both he and Cantlay bagged full place returns for us in the overall tour Championship market for us.
In the end then we clawed back the vast majority of our negative P&L for the season meaning we finished with a loss of 10pts over the campaign. Not what we were looking for of course however in what was a very difficult season in several areas I’ll take it and move on.
There were of course some highlights for us such as Taylor Moore’s win at the Valspar as well as Brooks Koepka’s triumph in the PGA, 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.
As we know though this is a long term game and having banked 435pts profit 20/21 and with three of the four seasons either side of that also profitable we are still very healthily placed since the site started.
So with the dust barely settled it is all systems go once more as we head west to Napa for the Fortinet Championship for the opening event.
This year as a part of the PGA Tour’s revamped schedule while the events on display will look very familiar such as this weeks stop as well as the Sanderson Farms, The Shriners and the RSM Classic to name but three it is all change for the Fall series events with regards to what’s at stake.
Through this series of events there will be no Fedex Cup points up for grabs with regards to the 2024 season, which will begin fully in Hawaii in January, however the players who finished outside the top 50 will continue to earn points through the Fall with the points accrued offering both opportunity to get in to the first two Signature Events of 2024 at Pebble Beach and Riviera. In addition those who finished outside the top 70 in the Fedex rankings will be playing for a final position on the points list to secure status for 2024. In addition a win in any of the Fall events will be rewarded with the usual perks of 2yrs status and a trip to Augusta and Kapalua.
Those who finished in the top 50 are able to tee it up in any Fall events if they wish as for example defending champion Max Homa is this week but they won’t earn any Fedex Cup points.
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 Ryder Cup only three weeks away the vast majority of the US have chosen to sit this one out with just Max Homa who is going for the ‘threepeat’ here and wild card pick Justin Thomas who is searching for form, teeing it up.
In addition Sahith Theegala, Eric Cole, Cam Davis, Brendan Todd and Andrew Putnam who all finished in the top 50 on last seasons Fedex rankings are teeing it up.
The market unsurprisingly is headed up by Homa with the layers giving nothing away at single figure odds. He is then followed by Justin Thomas, Sahith Theegala and Cam Davis.
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’.
This year the players returning to Silverado will find things looking a bit different. While there have been no major changes with regards to redesigns of holes, lengthening etc, the course with a view to making it more ‘fan friendly’ has been re routed.
Holes 1-7 will play the same as will 18 however the remaining holes have been shuffled around with the signature par three 11th now the 17th. The final five holes will now run as Par 4 5 4 3 5.
So let’s firstly take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to Silverado in 2014.
2022 Max Homa
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.
Away from that year though we have seen a bunch of rookies making a big impact here over the years with the most notable being Emilliano Grillo who won here in 2015 on the back of winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
Meanwhile last year we saw Taylor Montgomery and Ben An jump straight of the Korn Ferry to post a top five finish here.
This year though with the Korn Ferry season not yet concluded and rookies not eligible once it is until 2024 we will see a very different dynamic of seasoned PGA players battling it out.
Taking a closer look now at the winners here and we see that three of the eight 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 Max Homa has ranked first and second in this department over the past two years.
Looking at the eight winners at Silverado though allowing for the two successes for Homa and Steele and the win for Champ we have had five 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.
Aside from a fifth in the handicap adjusted Tour Championship Homa triumphed last year having not had a top 15 finish since a fifth at the Memorial while the previous year he had posted nothing better than 25th since a sixth place at the Memorial. 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 ‘reset-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 in relation to Homa prior to his first win he was 39th here way back in 2014 but had posted nothing better than 60th in three visits since. Last year though he of course was defending. Again though it would seem previous course form is not imperative.
One other line naturally 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 double defending champion Homa had been victorious at Riviera earlier in 2021 prior to his first win 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. -19 was good enough for Homa to get the job done in 2021 while his total last year was 16- under.
Looking at the forecast this is certainly a great week to be in Napa with wall to wall sunshine and temperatures around 80 everyday. Basically the same as we had here last year!
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;
SAHITH THEEGALA –18/1 – 2.5pts e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 1st!!!
I shall start our Fall series with what to me, assuming we are not looking to side with Homa for the ‘threepeat’, is as confident a pick as you can have in an event like this this and the obvious selection from the top end of the market to me, Sahith Theegala.
Before moving on to Sahith a word on Homa first. He is of course the man to beat particularly as he ended the last campaign in strong form, however while I am sure he will be motivated to defend his title he will be arriving here straight on the back of a ‘team get together’ in Rome this past weekend and I can’t help but think his main focus will be on the impending Ryder Cup. Similarly Justin Thomas arrives on the back of the same ‘reccy’.
On to Theegala then and he of course has no such Ryder Cup distractions and his focus through these Fall events will be on one thing, and one thing only, bagging that first win.
Having made the top 50 Sahith is fully exempt for all of 2024’s Signature Events so there is no real pressure for him to produce or even play this Fall, although of course a win would guarantee a return to Augusta.
The fact that he is choosing to tee it up here tells us a lot then about where he feels his game is at and his liking for the course.
Starting with the former and after a tough summer, which saw him fail to post a top 20 finish from the Heritage right through to the Fedex St Jude Sahith sparked back to life in Memphis with a 13th place finish. He then added a 15th place at the BMW Championship where after a tremendous burst on the back nine on Sunday, which saw him push in to the top 30, a closing bogey saw him slip agonisingly in to 31st. A look at his stats for the week though saw that he ranked sixth from tee to green and ninth in approach, with the putter for, which he was ranked 38th out of 50 letting him down. It would seem then that Sahith has found his long game again, which certainly bodes well for this week.
On to this week then and Theegala doesn’t strike me as the type of character who would get too downhearted over his agonising near miss for the top 30 and instead I expect him to be determined to push on.
Hopefully raring to go then we come to the main positive, which is of course that Sahith is returning to his native California where we know he is completely at home.
A sixth place here last year was followed by sixth at Torrey Pines and a fourth at the correlating Riviera rubberstamping how much the Pepperdine grad is at home on the West Coast.
From that point of view as well a return to familiar greens on the West Coast, should also help sharpen things up with the flat stick and it is worth noting Sahith ranked sixth on the greens here last year.
As I said at the beginning my hunch is Sahith, buoyed by strong local support, will be a man on a mission this week and I expect him to produce a really big performance.
JUSTIN SUH - 45/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 30th
Next up this week I am going to give another chance to a player I sided with here last year, Justin Suh.
My logic for risking Justin here 12 months ago was twofold, firstly that he was arriving on the PGA Tour as the ‘hot hand’ from the Korn Ferry Tour having just won their end of season Tour Championship and secondly that he is a Californian native who attended the University of Southern California where he broke the record for the seasons scoring average, previously held by Jamie Lovemark.
Unfortunately though it wasn’t to be that week for Justin as rounds of 73 and 74 saw him miss the cut.
That performance here was a prelude to a sluggish start for Suh as a full tour member as he missed his first three cuts of the campaign, however after this he settled down making his final five cuts before the Christmas break.
It was more of the same for Suh early in the new year before he produced his first big week of the season at the Honda Classic finishing fifth, an event which ties nicely to here courtesy of Brendan Steele, before following this up with a hugely impressive sixth at Sawgrass two weeks later.
From there on through the remainder of the season Justin was often popping up on leaderboards, notably at the Charles Schwab where he was right in the hunt heading in to Sunday, however he was unable to string four rounds together to get the big breakthrough with weekends often proving difficult for him.
In the end then it was a perfectly solid if unspectacular debut season for the 26yr old and he looks primed to push on to much bigger things over the next 12 months.
Before he gets a chance to do that though Suh needs to consolidate his position on the PGA Tour as having finished 81st at the end of the main Fedex campaign he needs to ensure he doesn’t tumble down the rankings over the Fall events. In addition of course there are places up for grabs in the Signature Events if he can produce a big Fall series.
A Cali guy through and through Justin was actually brought up in San Jose an hour or so away from this weeks venue so despite having missed the cut here last year he should feel right at home here. Furthermore he actually Monday Qualified his way in to this event in 2021 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.
One concern with a large chunk of this weeks field is that they arrive here not having played any golf for several weeks with many of those in attendance not having teed it up since the Wyndham early in August. This is not the case for Suh though who decided to take a trip over to Switzerland for the Omega Masters posting a creditable 24th place finish so he should arrive here ‘game sharp’.
There is no doubt Suh is headed to much higher levels in the game than where he currently stands and I expect 23/24 to see him make the breakthrough to the winners circle. In an event then where Californian’s boast a really strong record I will take him to get off to a flyer this week.
KEVIN YU - 70/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I am going to give a chance to Kevin Yu.
After graduating on to the PGA Tour from the Korn Ferry Tour at the first attempt in 2022 Yu looked to be a player going places as he headed in to the big league this time last year.
After a solid start to the 22/23 season before Christmas, which saw him post a third place in Bermuda he then continued to play strongly in the New Year with the highlight being a seventh place finish at Pebble Beach.
Gaining momentum then it is quite possible Kevin could have gone on to have a really strong season, however we will never know as the following week, when preparing for his hometown event in Scottsdale, he felt something pop in his left knee and shortly after underwent surgery for a torn meniscus.
A tough blow for the rookie then as he had to sit out for four months before he returned at the Travelers in June.
Fair play to the 25yr old though as after a couple of weeks of getting back in to the swing of things he posted a sixth place finish at the John Deere. A missed cut in Scotland then followed before he posted a 37th at the 3M Open.
Looking at that week at the 3M and Kevin’s trademark strength his tee to green game was in full flow as he ranked second for the week in that department and it is that strength of his that leads me to him this week.
Looking more closely at Yu’s numbers in this area and he ranked seventh on tour last season from tee to green rubbing shoulders in the top ten with the likes of Scheffler, Hovland, Rahm, Cantlay, Schauffele and Morikawa! Granted Kevin sat out a decent chunk of the season but still there was a good sample size to go on and he consistently produced with his long game when teeing it up.
In an event then, which as noted earlier, has seen the winner consistently ranked in the top two or three for the week from tee to green over the years he leapt out at me as someone who should really suit this test despite having missed the cut here in his two previous visits.
Like many strong ball strikers Yu let’s himself down on the greens however he performed solidly at the Farmers and then had one of his best weeks on tour at Pebble Beach before the injury hit so there is reason to think he is comfortable on the West Coast. In addition having attended college in Arizona you would assume that he will have ventured across the border on plenty of occasions to Cali during his college career.
While I would anticipate that Kevin will benefit from a ‘Medical Extension’ in 2024 at 99th in the Fedex rankings he will hope to push on this Fall and secure his card for next year and he looks a good fit to me to produce a strong performance here this week.
CT PAN – 80/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank this week is another Chinese player who has also suffered from injury issues, CT Pan.
CT had struggled with wrist pain on and off for two to three years before finally shutting things down in the Fall of 2022 and heading back to Asia for treatment.
Returning then to the PGA Tour at the Heritage in April, the scene of his lone Tour win, CT then produced back to back top four finishes at the Byron Nelson and the RBC Canadian Open to find his momentum again. The remainder of the season then saw him struggle to make any great impact with a 64th at the Wyndham his best in his final four starts of the campaign.
So why side with Pan this week then? Well with recent form never having given much of a clue to the winner here I am more focused on profile and there is a lot to like about CT on that front.
Firstly if you look at his Riviera record, so often a pointer here, he was ninth there in 2022 and 20th there in 2021. In addition he has a runner up finish at Torrey Pines to his name, which sits very nicely with California specialist Homa. Meanwhile in this event CT has a sixth place to his name in 2022.
Not being one of the bigger hitters on tour and having posted his lone tour win at Hilton Head you would assume in general Pan would be more suited to shorter tracks however as well as those results noted above he has a top ten at Augusta to his name, which links well here with Willett, while his third place in Canada this year came on another par 72. He also has a third place at the par 70 PGA National, which as noted earlier ties well here with Steele.
All in all then CT ticks a lot of correlating boxes this week and at juicy each way odds I am happy to roll the dice.
MARTIN LAIRD – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 19th
Finally this week I will wrap things up by chancing Martin Laird.
Laird as long term readers will know is a good friend of this column having landed the spoils for us at the Shriners at a majestic 250/1 in 2020, however with three years having all but elapsed since that win there are signs Laird’s time could be coming again.
Looking at the Scotsman’s 22/23 season and there was very little to get excited about at all until the final few weeks.
Having posted a 20th when were onboard at the Barracuda though, his best finish since 15th way back at the Mayakoba the previous year Martin pushed on the following week at the3M Open to finish second, and as an event won before by a previous champion here, Cameron Champ that certainly caught the eye. Laird then finished up with a 58th at the Wyndham all of, which leaves him precariously positioned at 112th in the Fedex standings.
Known predominantly for his tee to green game Laird lead the field in Driving Accuracy at the 3M while he was fifth in this department at the Wyndham meanwhile he was 22nd from tee to green at the 3M and fourth in putting.
On to this week then and while Laird has struggled here more recently he does have a best of third here on his CV as well as an eighth place finish so we know he can handle the track. Meanwhile he has two top tens to his name at Riviera as well as an 11th place finish.
Still only 40yrs old there is a lot of golf left in Laird yet however with his exemption about to run out for his win at TPC Summerlin if he is not careful he could find himself on the outside looking in. I expect then Martin to be motivated and to have been working hard in readiness to build on the momentum he gained over his last few starts and I am happy to chance him here at the three figure odds.