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This week we move to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 2016 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. The PGA Tour has visited Vegas since 1983 and the tournament has had some high-class winners over the years including Tiger Woods (his first Tour victory), Jim Furyk (twice), Ryan Moore and Webb Simpson. It has to be said that this year's field is down on what we have seen in recent renewals in terms of quality, but an entry list that contains Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore, John Rahm plus European interest in the form of Graeme McDowell and Francesco Molinari is decent enough from a betting point of view.
From a bookmaker perspective, Stan James are the only firm offering 6 places each-way this week (at full 1/4 odds) - you can access this and their £/€20 in free bet for new customers here.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Turkish Airlines Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: TPC Summerlin, based in the suburbs of Las Vegas, has been the sole host of this tournament for the past 7 years. The 7,255 yard, Par 71 has a 35-36 set-up and the course is designed to produce low scores. Played at altitude, all 3 of the par-5s are reachable for the whole field and the pure Bentgrass green complexes are large, flat and receptive. Up until last year, Summerlin's only true defence seemed to be wind until tournament officials decided to not water greens and placed hard-to-access pin positions across the opening 54 holes. A revisit of course strategy on Sunday saw normal service resumed as Smylie Kaufman shot -10/61, to snatch his first PGA Tour title.
TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nevada: Designer: Weed & Zoeller, 1992, redesign, 2007; Course Type: Resort, Desert; Par: 71; Length: 7,255 yards; Water Hazards: 4; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass 2.75"; Greens: 7,570 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft; 2012: 69.71 (-1.29), Difficulty Rank 40 of 49 courses; 2013: 69.55 (-1.45), Difficulty Rank 43 of 43 courses; 2014: 69.66 (-1.34), Difficulty Rank 42 of 52 courses. 2015: 70.08 (-0.92), Difficulty Rank 34 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Summerlin and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: Part of the Tournament Players Club (TPC) Network of golf courses operated by the PGA Tour, Summerlin is a Private Club that's played regularly by Vegas-based professionals. Alex Cejka, Charley Hoffman, Ryan Moore, Kevin Na, Scott Piercy and Cameron Tringale all have residences in the area. Butch Harmon / Claude Harmon III are also based locally, hence the entries for Jimmy Walker and Nick Watney plus Lucas Glover, Brookes Koepka, Graeme McDowell and Kyle Stanley who work with Harmon III in Florida. The course itself features Bermudagrass fairways and rough with pure Bentgrass green complexes. That characteristic is shared with few courses on Tour apart from TPC Four Seasons and Colonial in Texas. The 2013 renewal saw the introduction of new bunkering on 7, 12, 13 (Par 5) and 18, but despite this Webb Simpson equalled the tournament total score record at -24/260. The course plays as a 7,255 yard, Par 71 which at above 2,000 feet above sea level can be attacked, however the greens have certain nuances where experience pays dividends.
Half of the challenge with TPC Summerlin is finding the fairway. In a PGA Tour arena where Driving Accuracy means very little most weeks, it's interesting to note that hitting fairways on this course looks a paramount skill-set when analysing previous winners statistics. Summerlin had the 11th most difficult fairways to hit in season 2015/16. Undoubtedly missing fairways adds up here as working approach shots so as to get close to pins around Summerlin is not as easy as you would think (Difficultly Rank 13 of 50) plus on a course where birdies are essential, the penalty for missing fairways is par-saving putts rather than birdie opportunities. A scrambling difficulty rank of 10 of 50 magnifies the need to hit greens, as does a sand save percentage last term which yet again was in the top 10 most difficult on Tour. TPC Summerlin in effect is a true test of tee-to-green consistency married to an unequivocal requirement for a white-hot putter.
Winners: 2015: Smylie Kaufman (-16); 2014: Ben Martin (-20); 2013: Webb Simpson (-24); 2012: Ryan Moore (-24); 2011: Kevin Na (-23); 2010: Jonathan Byrd (-24).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Shriners Hospital Open predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players in the top 5 of the Predictor are Kevin Na (Predictor number 1), Ryan Moore, Alex Cejka, Brooks Koepka and Brendan Steele.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Olympics / John Deere Classic and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Kaufman 250/1; 2014: Martin 225/1; 2013: Simpson 20/1; 2012: Moore 14/1; 2011: Na 60/1; 2010: Byrd 50/1. Average: 103/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Las Vegas is here. Unlike last year, the course has received no precipitation in the build-up to the tournament, so officials should be comfortable with setting the course as normal. Little wind and perfect temperatures, with highs up to 24 degrees Celsius, should see very low scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the last 6 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how TPC Summerlin sets-up and what skill sets the course favours:
Kevin Na (2015): "Yeah, I think this is the toughest condition I've ever seen out here. The greens are drying out. They're getting firm. You see a little bit of purple in it. I thought it would be playing easy. I was surprised that it was playing difficult. This is the most difficult I've seen it. Wednesday playing the pro-am in the morning the greens were really soft, and overnight it just firmed up. I think a little bit of breeze helped. I think they cut the water off, and they've done a good job."
Webb Simpson (2013): "I love this golf course because it reminds me of the course I grew up playing. You have a lot of options off the tee and greens are undulating and fast. So I'm just comfortable here, comfortable playing this kind of golf. The main thing is I made a lot of putts and you've got to do that this week. There's three par 5s, all reachable, and a reachable par 4. So you have to take advantage of the short holes and make putts."
Ryan Moore (2012): "On a golf course like this and playing in these conditions it is right now: no wind and perfect temperature, greens are reasonably soft and rolling nice on top of that. So it's one of those days that you just keep putting it in play. You know you're going to have a bunch of pitching wedges, 9-irons, 8-irons into these greens, and a few shorter irons, too. I know I'm going to hit the wedge and 9-iron. I'm going to have enough pretty darn good birdie chances if I'm just in the fairway. I'm not spectacular out of the rough. It's one of those courses. It's certainly not impossible if you haven't played it, but there are little quirks and subtleties to the greens. The more and more you play you get the sense of it."
Kevin Na (2011): "First of all, you know the golf course very well because guys come out here and practice and you know the greens. I think the big key is distance control here because the ball goes further out here. Some of the guys have trouble adjusting to that. But if you live out here you know how far your ball is flying, so it's easier to club yourself with the irons. That's a big edge on everybody else in the field. If I was honest put my money on the guys, if you gave me a handful of guys to pick, I would pick all the local guys."
Jonathan Byrd (2010): "I think guys play well when they hit the ball in the fairway. And I think this year the tournament being a little sooner, I think we'll have more rough, and I think that's going to make the course play more difficult. So I don't think this golf course is easy. I think there's a lot of opportunities, but I don't think it's easy. If you're not sharp by hitting the ball in the fairway, I think this course can be very difficult. And you'll see guys making a lot of birdies, and it's hard to make birdies if you're not in the fairway. So you have to place them, be strategic and you have to drive the ball well."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 Shriners winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Bobby Weed designs include:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
Birdie shootouts can often yield random results and Smylie Kaufman defied plenty of logic here 12 months ago. At an event where being close to the pace after 36 holes was set in stone, Kaufman was 48th entering Saturday and a full 7 shots behind the co-leaders. Course conditions undoubtedly helped Kaufman as the scoring was far higher than we had ever witnessed before, with greens that tournament organisers decided not to water. The field was tightly bunched as a result. Come Sunday though, organisers let the floodgates open and that allowed Smylie to shoot an incredible -10/61 from the 16th-to-last pairing. Both his final round score and the deficit he overturned were tournament records - remember this event has been on the calendar since 1983.
Smylie also smashed another recent key trend with his win - Official World Golf Ranking. Prior to Kaufman who was 226th in the OWGR, the previous 4 winners ranked 88th (Martin), 20th (Simpson), 44th (Moore) and 76th (Na) in the OWGR. Remember a place in the top 50 by close of 2016 is a really huge deal for those who have not won or qualified for the Tour Championship.
So what did Smylie and previous winners here all have in common? Well Kaufman had already highlighted in his 2015 web.com Tour season his ability to make birdies, putt well and shoot very low scores. 2nd at the Price Cutter Championship had come with a score of -21/267 and he had ranked 3rd in Birdie Average plus 5th in Putting Average during his promotional season. Importantly he had also shown the ability to be able to play at altitude, with 4th in Mexico and that aforementioned 2nd at Highland Springs CC in Missouri. It's important to note that every winner since 2009 has ranked in the top 80 for Birdie Average (with Kaufman that was obviously the web.com Tour).
Bookmaker Offers: Stan James are the only bookmaker who have extended their EW terms this week, going 6 places each-way at 1/4 odds:
My selections are as follows:
A course and desert expert is never a bad place to start at the Shriners Open, so Martin Laird makes an awful lot of sense. The Scotsman, who was educated in Colorado, has always been at ease at altitude and in the desert. A winner here in 2009, Laird backed that up with 2nd behind Jonathan Byrd when defending 12 months later - he only lost in a playoff when the South Carolinian aced the par-3 17th! Laird was also 5th here in 2015 when he led after 54 holes, so we know he can play the course exceptionally well. His CV also includes 3rd (2011) and 5th (2015) at TPC Scottsdale, 2nd (2009) and 4th (2008) within 4 top-10 finishes at Montreux, plus he was the 54 hole leader at PGA West in 2012. A confidence player, Laird has had a strong end to 2016 with 7th at Montreux, 2nd at Glen Abbey, 18th at Bethpage Black and 8th last time out at Silverado. Martin has always been the sort who can string contending performances together and, with the putter warming nicely, this tournament is a fantastic opportunity to grab his 4th PGA Tour title.
Grayson Murray was the form horse as the web.com PlayOffs came to their conclusion. 3rd at the Boise Open (played at altitude) with a -18/266 total was followed a week later by a win the Scarlett Course at Ohio State GC - a tournament that has been won by PGA Tour winners Harris English, Seung-yul Noh and Justin Thomas in recent times. Much was expected of the 23 year-old as he arrived at Silverado for his PGA Tour debut, as both Russell Henley and Emiliano Grillo had won in recent times after winning web.com season closers. Grayson promptly missed the cut. However a weaker field at the CC of Jackson last week was a chance to acclimatize and Murray shot opening rounds of 67 / 65 to lead after 36 holes. The putter went cold over the weekend, but Murray stayed resolute to finish 8th for his first PGA Tour top-10.
I will take the positives from last week as Grayson clearly favours Bentgrass over Bermudagrass greens - that much is clear as all 8 of his top-10 web.com finishes this year were on Bentgrass or Poa Annua surfaces, so I think that TPC Summerlin will feel more at home. He's attended Arizona State University and clearly can play well at altitude, plus he came to the fore at 4 tournaments this year where the winning score was -19 or lower. 1st in Birdie Average, 5th in Putting Average and 41st in Bogey Avoidance across his promotion season are stats in the mould of Blixt, Hadley, Martin, Kizzire and Kaufman - all of whom have played fantastically well at TPC Summerlin after promotion to the main Tour.
Ben Martin has a track record of coming to the top of leaderboards on resort-style courses. His desert results include his maiden PGA Tour win at TPC Summerlin in 2014 - his price pre-event was an eye-watering 225/1. 3rd at Thanksgiving Point Golf Club in 2013 plus 6th (2012) and 7th (this year) at Montreux also stand out. That 7th at the Barracuda Championship could have been much better as he entered Sunday in 2nd place, but in need of FedEx Cup points to make the PlayOffs Ben went on to finish 2nd behind the irresistible Ryan Moore at Deere Run with a -20/264 total. 18th last week at the CC of Jackson was interesting as the South Carolinian started slowly on his season debut but finished with a pair of 68s. He actually shot -8 across his closing 27 holes with 10 birdies and 2 bogeys - carry that form on at a course he clearly likes this week and things could get interesting.
Johnson Wagner is another resort course expert who enters this week in excellent form. 3rd last time out at Silverado was generated by an excellent all-round performance and, as we know with Johnson, when he's confident he's extremely dangerous on courses where low scoring is a pre-requisite. Neat and tidy of late, his putter has really warmed to the task with 5th at Deere Run and 5th at Sedgefield preceding Silverado. A winner at GC of Houston, El Camaleon and Waialae across his career, Wagner was 2nd at PGA West in 2012 - so he has desert credentials. He's also finished 2nd (2013) at Old White TPC played at altitude and has a top 10 at Montreux. He's always been the sort to follow when he's confident as he strings contending performances together on tracks that suit. Although his record here is poor, you could have said exactly the same thing before both Sedgefield and Silverado, highlighting that the Texan is at the top of his game right now.
2nd here in 2013, Ryo Ishikawa finds himself playing some top-notch golf after recovering from a back injury. Playing on a Major Medical Extension, Ishikawa arrives in Las Vegas on the back of form that reads 10-7-3-2-1 and that makes his price this week attractive. The 'Bashful Prince' is upwardly mobile again in the OWGR and he's playing some well-rounded golf, which includes making some putts, which has often been his Achilles Heel. The 25 year-old has plenty of stateside experience - he even successfully won promotion from the web.com Playoffs in 2013 - and was 8th at TPC Sawgrass only last year. Full of confidence, can Ishikawa follow in the footsteps of Matsuyama and Iwata from last week?
I will finish with Mackenzie Hughes, another web.com product who could flourish at TPC Summerlin. The 25 year-old Canadian is a relative slow burner in these days of instant success for young players, but Hughes has started well on his promotion to the full Tour. 13th at Silverado saw 4-straight rounds in the 60's and 28th in Mississippi was bookended by 68s. Jackson was never going to be ideal for Mackenzie who struggles on a Bermudagrass putting surface which is alien to him, however if you look at his web.com campaign from this year something jumps straight off the page. Hughes was 5th (-16/272) at the LECOM Health Challenge, 1st (-24/264) at the Price Cutter Championship and 5th (-16/268) at the Boise Open. That's -56 across 3 courses which are affected by altitude. The Canadian clearly loves Bentgrass greens and at a tournament where big prices have won the past 2 renewals, he could be a surprise package.
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