The Sanderson Farms Championship
It was a great start to our 23/24 campaign as Sahith Theegala rewarded our strong confidence in him at the Fortinet Championship to bag his maiden PGA Tour trophy in dominant style.
There is no doubt that the win had been coming and the event in Napa Valley offered an ideal opportunity for him to deliver in his home state in front of family and friends.
Since that win a few weeks back the PGA Tour has of course taken a back seat with the Ryder Cup dominating our thoughts and a fantastic event saw the Europeans produce a masterfull performance and regain the trophy from a perhaps rusty team USA, most of whom had not played competitively since the Tour Championships.
The USA will no doubt now begin their internal inquest and we shall leave that to them while we head onwards we go to the second event of the Fall schedule, the Sanderson Farms Championship.
The event has been a part of the tours calendar since 1968 and during this time it has had many different title sponsors including the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, The Viking Classic and the True South Classic, before Sanderson Farms took over duties in 2013.
The tournament has always been played in Mississippi.
From inception up to 1994 it was played in Hattiesburg before then moving to Annandale Golf Club, which hosted the event up to 2013, before the Country Club of Jackson took over from the 14/15 season.
Up until 2019 the event had been an opposite field event running alongside the WGC HSBC Champions in China, however 2019 saw the tournament move forward to September as the second event of the new PGA Tour season and it keeps this slot in the new Fall format.
With the event following straight on from the Ryder Cup there is no surprise that with the exception of Ludvig Aberg who arrives here surely running on fumes in a quest to climb the Fedex rankings, there is no sign of any of the games big names.
It is the young superstar Swede then who is a clear market leader followed by the inform Eric Cole, Stephan Jaeger and Emiliano Grillo.
The Country Club of Jackson Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7400yds.
The greens are Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermuda, comparable to that which are found at TPC Southwind, Sedgefield CC, Quail Hollow since 2017 and the Robert Trent Jones Trail host of the Barbasol from 2015-17.
The course was originally opened in 1962 before undergoing a redesign in 2008 under the guidance of John Fought.
With reasonably wide fairways The Country Club of Jackson can’t be seen as a tough test however the main problems can be found on and around the greens with raised surfaces and run of areas proving to be challenging over the years.
As well as strong putting GIR can therefore be seen as significant as it is important to try and find the right spots on greens.
So lets take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to its current home in 2014, The Country Club of Jackson.
2022 – M Hughes
2021 - S Burns
2020 – S Garcia
2019 – S Munoz
2018 – C Champ
2017 – R Armour
2016 – C Gribble
2015 – P Malnati
2014 – N Taylor
Until Garcia’s triumph in 2020 the most striking thing about the previous six winners is that their win here was the maiden tour win for each of them.
Looking at the overall profile of the nine champions here and seven of them can be seen as neat and tidy, ‘all rounders’, rather than aggressive bombers, however 2018 winner Cameron Champ literally bombed that theory out of the water as he made mincemeat of the par fives on his way to victory.
Of the six maiden winners Champ, Taylor & Gribble were rookies in their 20s, while Malnati, also in his 20s at the time of winning, was returning to the tour for a second stint after a disappointing first go in 2014. 2019 winner Munoz, who was also in his twenties, meanwhile was in his third full season on tour.
Armour however was [and still arguably is] a journeyman of the tour in the truest sense of the word when clinching his maiden tour win here at the age of 41, after years of bouncing back and forth between the big league and the lower levels.
If we then look at the form coming in to the event of these winners Armour, Gribble and Munoz, had been in good form coming in to the event.
Armour had posted three solid finishes in the Web.com finals events including a top 5 in the first one, The Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. In addition he had finished 4th in his final start of the previous season on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham.
Gribble had finished 5th in his final start of the year on the Korn Ferry again at the Nationwide event, before finishing 8th in his first start on the PGA Tour at the Safeway while Munoz had finished seventh at the Greenbrier the week before triumphing here.
On the flip side to this though the previous two winners Malnati and Taylor had been struggling for form coming in with nothing better than a 56th place between them in their previous three starts.
Cameron Champ had warmed up nicely with a 25th place at the Safeway the week before however his form prior to that on the Korn Ferry Tour had been fairly uninspiring as he had managed nothing better than 16th in his last six starts of the 2018 season.
2020 champion Garcia had missed his two previous cuts to start the new PGA Tour season including shooting 81 in his previous round at the US Open. Obviously though he is a class act and in this level of event he showed that cream often rises to the top.
2022 champion Burns was making his first start of the new campaign however he had finished off 20/21 really strongly posting nothing worse than 21st in his final four starts, a run, which included four top tens.
Finally last years winner Mackenzie Hughes had played solidly at the Fortinet to finish 25th, however perhaps more pertinently he arrived with something of a point to prove having been left off the previous weeks Presidents Cup team.
If we then look at previous course form this does not give us too much to go on either I’m afraid. Taylor naturally was making his course debut here when winning the first outing at Jackson CC and this was also the case for the 2015, 16 & 18 winners Malnati, Gribble & Champ and 2020 winner Garcia.
2017 victor Ryan Armour meanwhile had played here on two previous occasions and had missed the cut on both while Munoz had played here twice before finishing 50th and 30th.
Burns though was playing at The CC of Jackson for the fifth time when winning here and having finished third here in 2018 he had clearly shown he was comfortable on the course.
Finally Hughes had nothing of note on his resume here with just a top 30 and top 40 to his name.
From a correlating course point of view the last two champions Burns and Garcia are both winners at Colonial over the years while last years champion Hughes has a top ten their while another former champ here Munoz has finished third at Colonial as well so this is certainly worth noting, however in addition for whatever reason there is a link, between some of the past winners/strong performers who have also played well in the United Leasing event on the Korn Ferry Tour [now the Korn Ferry Tour Championship], which is held at Victoria National in Indiana. Armour, Gribble, Power and Randolph have all performed well in both events while in past years we latched on to Hayden Buckley here partly due to his strong performance in that event and he duly rewarded us with a full place at big odds.
Meanwhile this link struck yet again in 2022 as Dean Burmester posted a top five at Victoria National before finishing fourth here a few weeks later.
in search of further clues I then took a look at where the recent winners hail from.
As the event has been held in Mississippi for many years prior to moving to its current home I stretched this back a bit further going back to 2010.
This showed that in that time we have had three winners who either hail from or are now based in Tennessee,
Malnati, Stallings and Kirk, one Texan winner, Gribble and a Texas based Spaniard in Garcia , a Louisiana native in Burns, a Floridian, Woody Austin, two Canadians, Nick Taylor and Hughes and a North Carolinian, Bill Haas.
Basically until Champ’s victory in 2018 who comes originally comes from Sacramento, no winner of this event had hailed from West Coast areas such as California, Nevada or Arizona. It should be noted though Champ did attend college in Texas so this connection to Southern states was not completely lost.
In addition 2019 winner Munoz, while hailing from Colombia, also attended college in Texas so this again gives us that link. In fact the 2019 final leaderboard saw four players with Texas connections, Munoz, Ortiz, Burgoon & Frittelli finish in the top six and ties. Furthermore that gives us four winners out of the last seven with clear Texas connections.
This is not hugely surprising bearing in mind the event is held on Bermuda greens and this is certainly an important factor to consider.
So there we have it then. In all likelihood we are looking for a maiden winner, quite possibly in their 20s, who hails from or has a connection to southern/eastern states!
By and large we look set for a warm dry week with temperatures starting off in the high 80s before dropping slightly over the weekend. As is always the case though in this part of the world there is the potential for the odd storm.
Wind does not look like to be too much of an issue although there is the potential for some gusts of 15mph – 20mph across the week.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with six players this week as follows;
ERIC COLE – 20/1 – 2pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 35th
I’ll start things off this week with a fairly predictable pick from the top of the market in the shape of Eric Cole.
With the Fall series taking on a new format this year and missing the influx of hungry Korn Ferry rookies we have seen over previous years, there is a certain amount of speculation as to which players will thrive in these events.
What we saw at the Fortinet though was the very beginnings potentially of a pattern of the highest ranked players who already have their top 50 status and are therefore playing for nothing more than the fun, the trophy and of course the dollars, coming to the fore.
It could of course be as simple that these are the best/most inform players in this bunch, however it was noticeable that alongside Theegala the names who thrived in Napa were the likes of Davis, Homa [of course] and Cole himself.
On to this week then and if we take a view that market leader Ludvig Aberg will be running on empty in his quest to climb the Fedex rankings then we are left with Emiliano Grillo, Lee Hodges, Adam Svensson and Cole from that top 50 and allowing for potential rustiness from the first three it is Cole who appeals.
Heading surely for rookie of the year honours the 35yr old mini tour legend has been a revelation on the PGA Tour this year and as someone who has always teed it up as much as possible he is quite happy to continue hoovering up in these Fall events as he looks to rubber stamp the year and earn a place at Augusta.
Eric made his big mark on the Tour at the Honda Classic in the spring when just losing out to Chris Kirk in a play-off and after a slight lull following this he has made every cut since the Memorial while most recently finishing fourth at the Fortinet.
Based out in Florida Cole is clearly comfortable on Bermuda greens as we saw at the Honda, while his ranking of 12th on tour with the flat stick combined with his solid tee to green stats make his profile sit very nicely with the neat and tidy past winners here who are strong on the greens like Hughes, Gribble, Malnati and Armour.
A 14th place at the Wyndham on comparable greens and a third place at the correlating Korn Ferry Tour Championship at the back end of 2022 also gives further encouragement.
The one down side is Eric missed the cut here last year, however he is clearly far more comfortable on the PGA Tour now than he was 12 months ago and he certainly looks more than capable of winning in this company.
Similarly to Theegala at the Fortinet Eric is here for one reason only, to bag a trophy and I’ll take him to do that this week.
SEONG-HYEON KIM – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I will hitch my colours again to a player I backed here last year SH Kim.
Kim arrived on the PGA Tour last season slightly under the radar even though he had earned himself a PGA Tour card at the first time of asking in 2022 after a successful Korn Ferry campaign.
As a result we were onboard at three figure odds 12 months ago and while he unfortunately didn’t reward us there was certainly an awful lot of promise in his 13th place that week.
Following on from that S.H posted a fourth place finish the very next week at the Shriners, which transpired to be his best result of the regular season.
Roll on 12 months and after a steady but unspectacular debut campaign Kim finished 83rd in the regular season rankings, however a runner up finish, his best result on tour to date, at the Fortinet last time out has seen him vault to 57th and in prime position to bag a place in the ‘next ten’.
Arriving here then on the back of a performance in Napa, which saw him rank second from tee to green and third in approach play not unsurprisingly there are no fancy three figure odds on offer for the 25yr old this week, however regardless there is a lot to like about his chances.
Firstly of course we have that strong 13th place in the bank from last year to go with his effort at the Fortinet, however in addition S.H’s closest brush with victory on the Korn Ferry came in the Lake Charles Championship in neighbouring Louisiana to Mississippi, this weeks host state, where he lost out in a play off, while his other runner up finish also came on Bermuda greens in Florida at the Lecom Classic and I have to think he is most at home on the surfaces he will face this week.
Furthermore like many of the Korean contingent S.H bases himself in Dallas, Texas in the US thus giving us the Texas connection that many past winners have had here.
Further encouragement can then be found by the fact that before he withdrew prior to the final round SH was sat in sixth place at the season ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship in 2022 at the correlating Victoria National.
A neat and tidy player best known for his strength on the greens Kim fits the profile of maiden winners we have had here over the years nicely and I am happy to stick with him in the event for the second year running.
TROY MERRITT – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 9th
Next cab off the rank this week is Troy Merritt.
Merritt as longer term followers of the PGA Tour will know is something of a mercurial character who can very much blow hot and cold, however at his best as a two time PGA Tour winner he is more than capable of getting the job done.
Unfortunately though 2023 has not by and large seen Troy anywhere near his best predominantly as he admitted over the summer because he had been basically suffering with the yips with his putter.
Slowly but surely though Troy appears to have worked his way through that bleak spell and after a run of 14 straight solo missed cuts from January through to July he posted back to back top 20 finishes at the Rocket Mortgage and John Deere.
Following on from this while Merritt didn’t really push on from there he rounded out the regular 22/23 season with two further cuts made in four starts, all of, which saw him finish 133rd in the regular season rankings.
With work to do in the Fall then to keep his card Troy came flying out of the blocks at the Fortinet posting a seventh place finish, his best result since a third place at the Mayakoba last Fall.
As a player known to go on hot streaks then the finish in Napa very much caught the eye particularly as Troy ranked fifth in Driving Accuracy, eighth off the tee and ninth from tee to green for the week, while the putter also behaved reasonably well ranking 44th.
In addition though we have some eye catching correlating event links to this week, which also has Troy on my radar. Firstly he has a top ten to his name at Colonial, which we know links well here however in addition his most recent win came at the Barbasol an event, which significantly not only features the same UltraDwarf Bermuda greens that we have this week but also has a lot of the same names popping up on leaderboards as have done here. Notably Mullinax who triumphed at the Barbasol was top five here in 2021 while Armour another former winner here, Norlander and Bozzelli have featured at both venues.
A look at Troy’s record in this event, in keeping with his career as a whole is patchy with three missed cuts in his last four visits. Interestingly though he finished 11th here in 2016 on the back of 15th place at the Fortinet in his previous start showing again that he can ride the hot hand.
In an event then, which is lacking hugely in star power I am happy to take a proven winner to build on his strong showing last time out.
HARRY HALL – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Moving on and I will next take a chance on Harry Hall.
At first glance it must be said that as an Englishman who basis himself in the Las Vegas area Harry doesn’t fit the Southern States connected profile we are really looking for however there are several other things that leapt out to me from a correlation point of view that made me feel I couldn’t ignore him.
Firstly by far Hall’s most notable success in what was a pretty inconsistent maiden season on the PGA Tour was a third place finish in Texas at the Charles Schwab Challenge and as noted earlier Colonial CC has proven a strong pointer to this event over the years. Not only do we have Sam Burns and Sergio Garcia who have triumphed in both events but Sebastian Munoz another former champion here has finished third at Colonial while this years Charle Schwab Challenge winner Emilliano Grillo was fifth here last year. From that point of view then that big performance from Hall at Hogan’s Alley puts him firmly on the radar for this week.
Going back further on Harry’s resume and things get even more interesting if we look at his results on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022, which helped him secure his PGA Tour card, as aside from his win at the NV5 Invitational his best finish came in the season ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship at Victoria National where he was third. We therefore have two really strong efforts at two events, which link hugely here.
Looking at Harry’s 22/23 season and largely due to that big result at Colonial and two further top tens in Puerto Rico and Mexico he finished a solid 88th in the Fedex Cup rankings, so a satisfactory debut season and his card is basically locked up for next year now. Like all of those players who finished in the top 100 or so though Hall will know that one really big week in the Fall could well be enough to see him climb in to the ‘next 10’ who will get in to the first two Designated Events next year.
Looking at Hall’s stats and one other thing that draws me to him this week is that the strongest club in his bag is clearly his putter, he ranks fifth on tour with the flat stick through 22/23, and this ties very nicely with former champions here Hughes, Burns, Armour, Gribble and Malnati who all excel strongly on the ‘dance floor’ when on song.
The back end of Harry’s regular season 22/23 campaign was pretty disappointing as he missed his last three cuts, however he played solidly at the Fortinet recently, finishing 45th, where not only did his putter thrive as normal but he ranked 27th in Driving Accuracy.
Harry missed the cut here on debut last year and of course allowing for his inconsistency a similar performance this year would not be a surprise. With all the noted strands in his favour though and as a player capable of winning and popping up with a big performance, I am happy to chance him, and who knows he may even take that bit of extra inspiration he needs from Europe’s performance last week.
TREVOR CONE – 250/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 73rd
Next up this week I will roll the dice at big odds on Trevor Cone.
Cone’s maiden season on the PGA Tour has offered little to get excited about and at 163rd in the Fedex Cup rankings heading in to this week he is heading back to the Korn Ferry Tour unless he produces something special over these final few events.
While it has been a hugely underwhelming season for Trevor then his one big week came at the Barbasol in July where he posted an out of the blue third place finish. Allowing then for the links between that event and here he immediately popped on to my radar for this week.
Looking at Cone’s stats and his strength is undoubtedly off the tee, an area he ranks 12th in on tour and that profile sits very nicely alongside players like Trey Mullinax who landed the Barbasol in 2022 and has a top five here, as well as big hitting Cameron Champ, another former champion here.
When Cone arrived on the PGA Tour last Fall he struggled to make any impact whatsoever in those end of year events, however interestingly his best effort and indeed his best finish on tour right up to the Byron Nelson in May this year, came when he was 45th in this event, one of only two cuts he made in his first eight starts in the big league.
With trips to venues like Vegas, Bermuda, Sea Island and Mexico to come over the next few weeks this event clearly stands out as the one, which will be best suited to Trevor’s game and I’ll chance him to make an impact at big odds this week.
PAUL HALEY II – 500/1 – 1/2pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally this week at massive odds I will take a huge flyer and chuck some loose change at Paul Haley II.
My reasons for siding with Haley can really be noted in two brief sentences, one he hails from Texas giving us the link with the Lone Star State so often seen here and two he produced by far his best effort of a very poor season at the correlating Charles Schwab Challenge in the spring where he finished fifth.
At 35yrs old Haley is clearly a journeyman of the game most likely headed back to the Korn Ferry Tour where he is most comfortable, however that week in Fort Worth showed us he does have big performance in his locker while his two wins on the Korn Ferry Tour, the most recent of, which came in 2022 tell us he does now how to get the job done.
We can also take some encouragement from the fact that Paul finished 54th here last year posting four consistent rounds of par or better.
Allowing for the odds we are looking at here of course we don’t need Paul to win and if he can repeat his Colonial feats in what is far weaker company, and leave his recent poor form behind him I will be more than happy.