The Shriners Children’s Open
It was a frustrating week for us in the end at the Sanderson Farms Championship as a bogey at the 72nd hole cost our 100/1 shot Troy Merritt a large chunk of place money. To be fair to Merritt his race had look pretty much run as he made the turn on Sunday however a run of eagle, birdie, birdie from 14 through 16 brought him in to the frame before the final hole disappointment. So with none of our other selections ever threatening the business end of the event it was a disappointing week.
The event itself was won somewhat unexpectedly by Luke List who benefited from the inability of those at the top of the board to close things out. The most culpable in this department was 54 hole leader Ben Griffin who having played superbly over the first three days lost his way completely on Sunday shooting 74. Meanwhile two other maidens Henrik Norlander and Mark Hubbard had superb chances to post a winning total before both made bad errors down the stretch. In the end then with no one seizing the moment List found himself in a five man play off before he drained a 45ft putt at the first extra hole to take the title.
So we roll on for the third of the Fall series events as we head for the regular Vegas stop, The Shriners Children’s Open.
The event, which long term followers will know brought us fantastic success in 2020 when landed a 250/1 winner with Martin Laird, was first held in 1983 and this year will see the 40th playing of the event.
After being played at several different courses over the years and after sharing course duties with TPC Canyons,TPC Summerlin took over as the sole host in 2008.
The event, which historically has seen one of the stronger Fall series fields has unfortunately suffered from the revised format you with the likes of Patrick Cantlay and Sungjae Im who were regular visitors in years gone by nowhere to be seen.
We do though at least have defending champion Tom Kim present and he marginally heads up the market alongside Ludvig Aberg. This duo are then followed by Cam Davis and Si Woo Kim.
TPC Summerlin is a par 71 measuring just over 7250yds.
The greens are Bentgrass.
The course was opened in 1991 and was designed by Bobby Weed.
The course is affected by altitude as it is on average 2700ft above sea level.
With fairly wide fairways, and with altitude making the three par 5s reachable for all players, if the wind doesn’t blow this is basically a birdie fest.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners of the event since TPC Summerlin became the sole host course.
2022 – T Kim
2021 – S Im
2020 – M Laird
2019 – K Na
2018 – B Dechambeau
2017 – P Cantlay
2016 – R Pampling
2015 – S Kaufman
2014 – B Martin
2013 – W Simpson
2012 – R Moore
2011 – K Na
Looking at this list of players the main thing that strikes me is that whilst perhaps you would have expected this event to be a haven for aggressive bomber types, actually the more successful player here over recent years has been ball strikers who plot their way round a course with T Kim, Laird, Cantlay, Pampling, Simpson, Na [twice] & Moore all certainly falling in to this category.
In addition over the last four years the names of Ancer, Zalatoris, Nesmith, Gay, Dahmen, Cejka, Molinari, Glover, English, Stanley, Bradley, McGirt and Ryder have all featured in the final top 10 here.
This tells me that, while there are of course several roads to success, for example the key to Na’s second victory here in 2019 was a hot putter, the art to conquering TPC Summerlin more often than not, is to find enough fairways and greens so that you give yourself plenty of birdie looks. To rubber stamp this view our hero of the hour in 2020 Martin Laird ranked second from tee to green and seventh in approach play and ninth in old fashioned driving accuracy for the week. Meanwhile last years winner Tom Kim ranked third from tee to green and fifth in approach play.
The next thing to look at is course form and it is fair to say that while previous form on this track is not a requisite if we cast the net a bit wider there is a clear correlation to be found with the recent winners here and previous form on the other events played on tour which are played at venues classed as desert tracks. These are The American Express, The WM Phoenix Open and The Barracuda Championship, with ten of the past 14 champions here having one or more previous top ten finish at one of these events prior to winning here.
The odd ones out were Kaufman who was playing in only his second PGA Tour event of his first full season, Cantlay, Byrd, who although he had no top tens, had finished in the top 15 at Reno the year before and last years winner Tom Kim who was also in the embryonic stages of his PGA Tour career..
Of these events while form across them as a whole is key the Barracuda is an event worth paying particular attention with Byrd, Na, Laird [two time winner], Martin and Pampling all having high finishes in that event prior to winning here.
To rubber stamp this and If we focus specifically on 2020 champion Martin Laird he was a perfect example of the above as with numerous top tens in the WMPO and Barracuda to his name as well as his previous win here, his desert form stood out prior to the event.
Away from desert form one other event perhaps worth cross referencing in the John Deere Classic as both events are played on par 71 tracks and three of the past eleven winners here, Byrd, Moore and Dechambeau have also been victorious at TPC Deere Run, while other names such as Adam Schenk and another former champion here Ben Martin have featured prominently at both events.
In search of further clues that connected this list of names I decided to look at their recent form coming in to the event and this threw up one interesting connection.
This is the fact that 11 of the past 14 winners had a top twelve finish in their previous three starts with the odd ones out being Ben Martin, Kevin Na and last years champion Martin Laird. It is worth noting though that Na, in addition to being a former winner here, had finished 14th two starts prior at the Greenbrier so he only just failed to meet this criteria].
Furthermore, somewhat interestingly nine of them had delivered a high finish in their third previous start prior to their win in Vegas.
The latter detail of course is probably nothing more than a coincidence, however the fact remains that this does not appear to be an event where players find their form completely out of nowhere.
With regards to the winning score pretty much every year we have tended to see a birdie fest leading to a number somewhere between -20 & -24, although 2017 was a notable exception with stronger winds leading to Cantlay’s winning number being only -9.
Nothing to see here other than wall to wall sunshine and 80 degree temperatures!
Wind could be a slight issue on Thursday at 10-15mph gusts but otherwise we look set for a calm week.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
TOM HOGE –33/1 – 2pts e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I will start this week with a fairly obvious bet from near the top end of the market in the shape of Tom Hoge.
Hoge is one of those players who with his place locked up for next year in the biggest of events, having finished in the Fedex Cup regular season top 50, is choosing to keep his momentum going in the Fall, and one would think the reason behind this is his current world ranking.
To expand further and Tom enters this week in that all important 50th place slot in the OWGR, the number on, which if he were to maintain or improve it by the end of the year, would guarantee him another trip down Magnolia Lane again next April.
One other way of course Tom could lock up his 2024 Masters spot would be to post a victory between now and the end of the year and if he is to manage that, this weeks trip to Vegas represents as good an opportunity as he is likely to have over the forthcoming weeks.
Fourth here last year, 14th the year before and seventh back in 2017 Tom has four top 25s in his last five visits to TPC Summerlin to his name.
Meanwhile Tom has a runner up and a six place on his CV over recent years at the Amex in the desert, while he has also posted a sixth place and fourth place at the Barracuda as well, so he has form at all the right places we are looking for.
A look Hoge’s recent form shows us that he is ticking along nicely as after making the trip over to Wentworth and finishing a very creditable 14th he got back in the saddle last week in Mississippi where he finished 13th and ranked fifth in approach play and seventh from tee to green.
A neat and tidy player who can be relied upon to come to the party where his tee to green strengths come to the fore as they do here we were onboard with Tom when he landed his maiden tour title at Pebble Beach last year.
Tom had telegraphed that win by playing well there the year before and by posting a top five at the Amex a fortnight previously. Let’s take the obvious clues here in front of us again then and side with Tom to strike for the second time this week.
ANDREW PUTNAM – 45/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up this week I will turn my attentions to Andrew Putnam.
Putnam produced a really solid 22-23 regular season campaign posting five top ten finishes all of, which was enough to bag him 35th place in the Fedex standings and therefore a seat at the table for the biggest events for 2024.
What is lacking from Andrew’s CV at the moment though is that elusive second PGA Tour win, with his lone success to date still being his triumph in the Barracuda Championship in 2018.
A second trophy is no doubt overdue for Putnam and if it is to come this looks the perfect event for him to strike as he seems to have a real affinity to desert golf.
To back this up firstly of course we have that win at the Barracuda in comparable altitude conditions in an event, which so often ties well here.
If we then take a further look at the 34yr old’s CV in the desert we will see that he has finished 12 and 11th in this event over the past two years while his best finish of the disrupted 19/20 season was a 10th place at the Amex. Meanwhile a look at the 20/21 season shows us that Andrew finished seventh at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, while he also added a runner up finish at the Barracuda that year to go with his previous win there. A lot of strong desert form then.
Furthermore like many PGA Tour players Putnam bases himself in the Phoenix area so that surely adds to his level of comfort in these type of conditions.
Taking a look at Putnam’s stats for the season give us an insight as to why he has had such a solid campaign as he currently ranks 27th in approach play and tenth in putting, an area, which he has always been particularly strong in.
Having made the top 50 in the regular season Andrew could now be putting his feet up until the new year, however as well as the incentive of looking to bag a second tour title Putnam currently sits 58th in the official world golf rankings meaning that a strong finish to the year could see him make the worlds top 50 and as such secure a place at Augusta, something of course a win would also see him do.
Putnam missed the cut at the Fortinet in his first start of the Fall however in conditions we know he relishes I expect him to push on from that and produce a big perform this week.
MARTIN LAIRD – 100 /1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next up I am more than happy to return to the well with our hero of 2020 here Martin Laird.
I have said on several occasions before and will do once again, that the layers consistently seem to overlook Laird’s successes in this type of event and chalk him up at what I see as more than generous odds. The obvious example of this was of course in 2020 when 250/1 was available on Martin when he arrived in Vegas and while there is nothing nearly as fancy this week, allowing for his recent improvement he still strikes me as knocking good value once more.
Focusing on Laird’s form in the desert over the years first and as well as his win here in 2020 Martin also triumphed here in 2009 while finishing second here again the following year. In addition Laird has posted numerous other top ten finishes across the WMPO and Barracuda over the years, most recently when third in the Barracuda in 2022.
Laird originally attended college in Colorado before basing himself in Phoenix for many years before more recently returning to the Colorado area, so it is totally understandable that he is comfortable in both the desert and playing at altitude.
So we’ve established Laird loves the desert but what of his form of late? Well 22/23 had undeniably been a struggle for the Scotsman however a run of nine missed cuts in 11, with nothing better than 34th was brough to an end, you guessed it…at altitude at the Barracuda where he was 20th, and he took the confidence gained from that result to finish second the following week at the 3M Open. Since then Martin has made his next three cuts as well including a 19th place at the Fortinet, so clearly there is some good golf in his locker at the moment.
If we then look at Laird’s stats over his past two starts there is more encouragement to be found. Firstly at the Fortinet he was seventh in accuracy off the tee and eighth in putting, however steady but unspectacular approach play kept him from a higher finish, meanwhile in Mississippi he ranked 11th in Driving accuracy, seventh in GIR and 16th in a approach play with the putter for, which he was 57th on the week letting him down. The thought for this week then is if he can bring that strong tee to green game to Vegas on greens he knows and love we could be in for a really big performance.
At 112th in the Fedex Martin is not completely safe yet with regards to his tour card for 2024, however he is clearly on an upward trend with his game at the moment and with it being three years now since his last triumph here it could well be time for him to strike again at his favourite event.
ERIK VAN ROOYEN – 110/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 23rd
Another player who has been catching the eye of late is Erik Van Rooyen.
Van Rooyen posted a strong 16th place finish at the Sanderson’s last week and that now gives him a run of four straight top 30 finishes in his last four outings across the PGA and DP World Tour.
Looking at the South African’s 2022/23 PGA Tour season it has undoubtedly been a struggle as a whole for him and he currently finds himself battling for his card at exactly 125th in the Fedex standings at present having finished the regular season 131st.
A tough campaign then, however Erik’s two biggest finishes have come at the Amex where he was fourth and the Barracuda where he was sixth. Add that to his win at the Barracuda in 2021 and even though he missed the cut on his only previous visit here and he leaps off the page as a someone who is comfortable in these desert altitude conditions.
As we saw from Erik at the end of 2021 after that win when he went on to make the Tour Championship he is clearly a confidence player and he does appear to be getting up a head of steam now with his long game stats of sixth in approach play and tenth from tee to green last week hugely eye catching.
At his best Van Rooyen is a class above the vast majority of this field and would be far nearer the big guns at the top end of the market, however of course he hasn’t been producing his best for a while. The clues are there though that he could be on his way back to somewhere nearing his best stuff and I’ll take the risk at the odds that this could be the week he delivers.
JOEL DAHMEN – 125/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T7th
Finally this week I will roll the dice on Joel Dahmen at generous each way odds.
The Full Swing star has struggled through 2023, however as we know at his best he is a superb tee to green proponent more than capable of mixing it in big company, something he showed when finishing tenth in the US Open last year.
Perhaps building on the confidence from that performance Joel produced a really strong run of results in the Fall events in 2022 posting three consecutive top ten finishes and it is that run in all honesty that has allowed him to cement his place in the Fedex standings where he currently sits 80th.
As noted above though 2023 has been tough for the one time tour winner and until he popped up with a tenth place at the Barracuda in July he had nothing better than 50th in a solo event this year.
A disappointing 2023 no doubt then however last week at the Sandersons Dahmen produced a strong week to finish 13th ranking 6th in old fashioned Driving Accuracy and 13th in GIR.
Positive signs then and if we then return to Joel’s desert/altitude form there is certainly plenty more encouragement to be found.
Firstly as well as that 10th at the Barracuda earlier this summer Joel was also seventh at the same event in 2021. Meanwhile Joel also has a ninth in this event in 2019 on his resume.
As a Scottsdale resident Dahmen is clearly comfortable in desert conditions then and with this being a time of year he has produced some of his most consistent golf over recent seasons, he certainly looks worth chancing at the odds this week.