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I've always found the freshly titled Barracuda Championship (formerly the Reno-Tahoe Open) a decent betting tournament. Played at the Nicklaus-designed Montreaux Golf and Country Club in Reno, Nevada, the field is the standard collection of struggling Tour professionals, many of whom are fighting for their lucrative careers. The full 2-year PGA Tour exemption available to the winner is always a huge carrot, but the fact that Montreaux expert Brendan Steele is the highest FedEx Cup ranked entrant in Reno this week at 63rd speaks volumes about the quality of the line-up.
In essence the Barracuda Championship is all about player motivation in my mind. Remember that golfers are the biggest sporting mercenaries of them all, so it's been interesting to see that Sang-moon Bae (Exempt through 2014/15), Brian Davis, Robert Garrigus, Kevin Kisner, Carl Pettersson, Andrew Svoboda and Cameron Tringale all withdrew on Monday on the basis (cynically!) that they are safe in the FedEx Cup standings and all know that they will have full status in 13/14. Some of these players had chances this week, but I'd rather see early withdrawals than almost inevitable missed cuts come Friday.
Course Guide: Montreaux, at 7,472 yards, is a long Par 72 located at altitude in the high Nevada mountains where the ball travels further than normal. Montreax features 5,500 square feet average sized greens with a bentgrass/poa annua mix construction running to 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Naturally aggressive players should thrive under the Stableford rules, but Montreaux favours players who are decent ball-strikers and those who excel with a mid-iron in hand.
Montreaux Golf & Country Club, Reno, Nevada: Designer: Jack Nicklaus 1992; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,472 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bentgrass Ryegrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass 3.5"; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft.
Winners: 2013: Gary Woodland (44); 2012: J.J. Henry (43); 2011: Scott Piercy (-15); 2010: Matt Bettencourt (-11); 2009: John Rollins (-17).
Overview: Since 2012 this event has been played utilising the Modified Stableford scoring format. J.J. Henry won here with 43 points when the new scoring system was originally launched, with Gary Woodland topping that with 44 points 12 months ago. Henry carded 3 eagles, 17 birdies and went through the week with only 6 bogeys. Woodland carded 1 eagle, 22 birdies and 5 bogeys. You can find out more about how points are accrued here: Modified Stableford System.
This week is all about attacking golf. With eagles worth 5 points and bogeys -1 point, players who can create numerous scoring chances and convert plenty of them will gravitate to the head of the leaderboard. Such a format also rewards those who can take advantage of the altitude which, at 5,500 feet, is the highest tournament location on the PGA Tour. Indeed Gary Woodland, J.J. Henry and Scott Piercy all averaged over 330 yards from off the tee. Sabbatini, Streb, Appleby and Romero all had drives of over 400 yards last year and this kind of length from the tee unlocks the Par 5s here.
A Top 125 spot in the FedEx Cup or Money List is critical for the vast majority in the field this week and although George Coetzee has real altitude golf pedigree on the European Tour and Royal Johannesburg, I have had to pass him up on this basis. Yes George has the perfect game for Montreaux, but when push comes to shove, will he be as mentally hungry as PGA Tour members who are fighting for their 14/15 cards? History would suggest possible not. Instead I've gone for a portfolio of players who all have plenty of length from the tee and have CVs that contain strong finishes at desert venues, resort courses and at altitude. This week's Predictor Model is available here. My selections are as follows:
Wagner's 2 year exemption from winning the Sony Open in 2012 ends after Sedgefield and it was noticeable that his form of late has picked up at a serious rate of knots. 12th here on debut back in 2007 and 10th here last term, which was powered by a 318 yard average driving distance, Johnson sits at 158th in the FEC and needs results now - thankfully the attacking nature of the Barracuda Championship plays to the Texan's strengths. His initial win in 2007 was at the long Par 72 Golf Club of Houston where he shot -16/272 to triumph and Wagner's CV is packed full of resort course Top 10s at Kapalua, PGA West (desert), Old White TPC, Deere Run, Annandale and Disney. Even his 2nd PGA Tour win at El Camaleon in 2011 was scored with a -17/267 winning total. So there's no doubt that Wagner is streaky enough and has plenty of motivation to go well this week. His ball-striking has been high class since Old White TPC at the turn of this month and his 34th last week at Royal Montreal included his best Stokes Gained Putting performance since Harbour Town in April. RESULT: T27
2011 Bob Hope Classic Champion Jhonattan Vegas met the terms of his Major Medical Extension at Deere Run a few weeks ago but still has to work hard to earn his full paying privileges for 2014/15. At 115th in the FEC, Johnny is still in significant danger of having to face the web.com Playoffs this summer, but a debut at Montreaux this week will no doubt have the Venezuelan chomping at the bit. It's worth remembering that Vegas beat Gary Woodland in a play-off at PGA West back in 2011 and there's no doubt that the two players play in a very similar power-packed fashion. 2013/14 has been a case of top notch ball-striking and poor putting, but his mix of Total Driving and Par 5 Birdie or Better Conversion deserves respect this week, especially as his putter seems to be defrosting. Indeed his 3rd at Deere Run 3 weeks ago included a +1.477 Strokes Gained Putting performance plus included 1 eagle and 22 birdies. 5th at TPC Summerlin in 2011 and 2nd at Willow Creek (Utah Championship) on the web.com in 2010 adds credence to his chance this week. RESULT: MC
I'm pleasantly surprised that 66/1 is still available on Kyle Stanley this week and I'm more than happy to accept. Kyle again can be categorised as a powerful ball-striker and it's been noticeable that his Total Driving and Greens in Regulation performances since Muirfield have been much improved. Indeed here's another 'recent' winner - the 2012 WM Phoenix Open in Stanley's case - who has realised that their 2 year exemption comes to an end at Sedgefield. So as Kyle's confidence with his tee-to-green strength has returned in recent outings, it's only been the putter that's been letting him down. But his performance last week at Royal Montreal, where he was 3rd across the first 54 holes, highlights that the putter is starting to fire and that makes him a hugely dangerous proposition this week on an altitude track where his strong Total Driving is going to be a huge asset. Kyle has always played well on resort courses and he's fired 1 eagle with 17 birdies at Old White TPC and 16 birdies at Royal Montreal so far in July. RESULT: T8
Arizona's Charlie Beljan is another who deserves respect this week. At 116th in the Money List and 125th in the FEC, Charlie is holding onto his full playing privileges by the skin of his teeth, but as we know that's a strangely positive point this week. 48th here in 2012 was excusable as it came just after the disappointment of a near miss at Old White TPC (altitude) but Beljan averaged 344 yards that week. Now 2012 also saw Charlie famously hold onto his PGA Tour card with a last gasp win on the twin Par 72s at Disney (-16/272) and it's true that Charlie comes to the surface, in the main, on lower-scoring events. 9th at PGA West, 12th at Riviera, 11th at TPC Four Seasons and 11th at Old White TPC have been his best finishes to date in 2014, but recent form of 64(Montreal)-23(Deere Run)-11(Old White) allied to excellent (in this field) Total Driving, Ball Striking, Fairway Proximity and Total Eagles season categories make him one to have on your side this week. He won't lack motivation. RESULT: T61
California's James Hahn is in his second PGA Tour season and at 110th in the FEC it looks like he's going to earn full playing privileges for a second consecutive season. Now I've always noted James as a west-coast positive player who has a habit of playing well at altitude and in the desert. Hahn developed across a couple of seasons on the web.com Tour and over 2011/2012 he finished 4th (2011) and 2nd (2012) at Willow Creek (4,500 feet altitude) and also finished 4th at Bogota Country Club (8,000 feet), prior to winning at TPC Wakefield Plantation. Hahn then started 2013 with a bang, finishing 4th at PGA West (-24/264) and 3rd at Pebble Beach. His 16th on debut at TPC Scottsdale was also memorable. This season looked a case of '2nd season blues' but James popped up with a 5th at TPC Four Seasons and 6th at TPC Southwind to guarantee his card. I reckon Hahn will be looking forward to a return 'out west' and his 23rd at Montreaux 12 months ago saw him average 325 yards off the tee. He was also 7th in Putts per Round last week at the 'alien' Royal Montreal. RESULT: MC
After Troy handed us a 16/1 top-20 return last week in Canada, I'm genuinely excited to see how the Floridian gets on this week at a desert/resort course that is right up his street. Troy sits 165th in the FEC so needs Top 5 results across the next 2 tournaments to keep his full Tour card. 18th (2006) and 25th (2011) show that Troy can play the course adequately and he's traditionally driving the ball circa 330 yards at Montreax so will reach a number of the Par 5s. Both of his pair of PGA Tour titles came in the desert, namely TPC Summerlin (2006 -22/265) and Greyhawk GC (2009 -19/262), and both came at the close of extremely ordinary seasons when Matteson's back was against the wall. As I mentioned last week, Troy fired a 61 at Old White TPC a few weeks back and his 12th last week included 15 birdies, but encouragingly he finished 7th in Greens in Regulation. It looks to me as if this resort course monster is peaking just at the right time, yet again. RESULT: T47
I will close with a 'saver' on Andres Romero. His price is short, but there's no doubt that the Argentinean, who sits 118th in the FEC (124th Money List), has to continue playing well across Montreaux and Sedgefield to keep his full playing privileges. Romero is an aggressive player who thrives at Montreaux because he is long off the tee and goes for all of the 4 Par 5s. Andres has been putting well for ages, but last week's 20th in Montreal was also powered by a top-notch Greens in Regulation performance. There's no doubt that he's capable of winning this week. RESULT: T27