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With a feast of high-quality golf at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational this week, it would be easy to cast aside the Barracuda Championship at Montreux Golf & Country Club. However it's a betting heat that I always enjoy and we have some momentum from last week to build upon with place returns from Hoffman (25/1) and Woodland (80/1). The Barracuda for me is all about spotting players who'll arrive in Reno, Nevada with real motivation and an improving game and, for once, we also have an intriguing field with the likes of Ollie Schniederjans, Graham DeLaet, Luke List and Brandon Hagy all looking for their maiden PGA Tour titles.
Played on a pretty stock Nicklaus-designed Par 72 at altitude, the field also contains some established players, many of whom are fighting for their lucrative careers. The full 2-year PGA Tour exemption available to the winner is a huge carrot, as is the possibility of harvesting enough FedEx Cup points to grab a spot in the magical top 125 or even top 150 (partial status for 17/18).
Meanwhile, Paul Williams previews the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Montreux, at 7,472 yards, is a long Par 72 located at altitude in the high Nevada mountains where the ball travels further than normal. Montreux features runway-wide fairways but quite small 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 Montreux favours players who are decent ball-strikers and those who excel with a mid-iron in hand.
Montreux Golf & Country Club, Reno, Nevada: Designer: Jack Nicklaus 1992; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,472 yards; Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Bentgrass Ryegrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass 3.5"; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft.
Montreux Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Montreux G&CC and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Jack Nicklaus designs include:
Course Overview: Montreux G&CC is a typical Jack Nicklaus design that becomes more challenging the closer a player gets to the hole. Fairways are huge and easy to hit giving the most inaccurate a fighting chance. Played at 5,500 feet altitude where the air is dry and thin, long hitters undoubtedly have a huge advantage on a course where 400 yard drives are more than possible on some holes. Longer hitters can reach the 4 par-5s with 2 lusty blows but can also attack a couple of driveable par-4s at the 4th and 14th. They also have the advantage of being able to take 3-wood or irons off of some tees plus can attack plenty of pin locations with wedges as opposed to mid-irons. Since 2012 this event has been played utilising the Modified Stableford scoring format - you can find out more about how points are accrued here: Modified Stableford System.
Winners: 2016: Greg Chalmers (43); 2015: J.J. Henry (47); 2014: Geoff Ogilvy (49); 2013: Gary Woodland (44); 2012: J.J. Henry (43); 2011: Scott Piercy (-15); 2010: Matt Bettencourt (-11).
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 predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are J.J. Henry, Ben Martin, Robert Garrigus, Ryan Palmer and Jonathan Byrd.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to Dean & DeLuca Invitational / BMW PGA Championship and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Chalmers 300/1; 2015: Henry 80/1; 2014: Ogilvy 66/1; 2013: Woodland 40/1; 2012: Henry 40/1; 2011: Piercy 50/1; 2010: Bettencourt 200/1. Average: 105/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Reno is here. A straightforward forecast this week with clear skies and temperatures reaching 34-37 degrees Celsius in the afternoon. Morning starters will play in tranquil conditions, but as we often see in the desert 15-20 km/h winds will whip up in the afternoon.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners at Montreux 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 this track has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Greg Chalmers (2016): "No, normally you guys get like a nice little 15-mile-an-hour breeze at some point. This didn't do a lot today. I thought we were going to get some light breezes up around 14, 12. Really wasn't a factor. And when it's windy here, it's tricky and the greens are getting firmer. I think it will get trickier as the week goes on if there's no water put on it. Looking forward to that. Start slowing down a bit. When you've got all these altitude - not just the actual altitude but all the level changes you have out here going down 17 and things like that. Few other holes like that."
J.J. Henry (2015): "As I mentioned, I just love being here. It's a great place to be this time year up in the mountains, up in the trees, and it's a fun golf course to play. I think there is a lot of local knowledge. I think that's why I've played well here in the past. The fact that you're at altitude, there is some wind, some elevation. There is a lot figuring going on between Pete Jordan, my caddie, and I. We've kind of figured it out it look like, so hopefully we can do it one more time. The reason why the scores are probably a little bit lower in year's past is just the fact that we had a little bit of that rain that softened it up so the greens are a little bit more receptive. This place can get pretty tricky when the greens get firm. But, you know it you hit the ball in the fairway you're going to have some shorter irons playing at altitude. With soft greens, you know, these guys are good. Somebody is going to play well, and fortunately it's been me so far after three rounds."
Geoff Ogilvy (2014): "I mean, every week we play out here is a week of opportunity. I mean, wins go a long way. Doesn't matter which tournament you win. It's been a while since I've been here. I love playing on the West Coast. I live in Arizona, and it's high altitude but it's a similar type of air. It suits somebody traditionally like me. I've always been a birdie/bogey golfer, rather than a par every hole golfer."
Gary Woodland (2013): "You know, it helped my caddie has been here before. But the golf course suits my eye really well. I think length is a huge advantage here. With the altitude I was hitting middle irons into the par 5s today. I think I hit 2 iron up on 2; I hit 5 iron into 8; hit 6 iron into 18. So I'm hitting middle irons into these par 5s, which helps. Then a lot of the holes I can hit 2 iron off the tee box. The fairways are wide enough for me and just suits me very well."
J.J. Henry (2012): "I made three eagles throughout the week that in this format is really what it's all about, to capitalize on the aggressive play, make the occasional eagle or extra birdie, and obviously try to avoid doubles or worse. A birdie and a bogey is better than two pars. Again, it's a great golf course. A lot of risk reward. Some reachable par 5s; a driveable par 4 too based on the tees and the wind direction. So it's just a great venue. Reminds me a lot of the Stableford event we used to play outside of Denver there at Castle Pines. Just a beautiful place to be. It's one of my favourite places anywhere."
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bent/Poa mix greens PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
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. J.J. Henry averaged 311 yards from the tee here in 2015 whilst Geoff Ogilvy also topped 310 yards (30th in the field). Gary Woodland, J.J. Henry (his first triumph in 2012) and Scott Piercy all averaged over 330 yards in their wins across 2011-2014. Naturally this kind of length from the tee unlocks the par-5s here. But in a new twist, both Greg Chalmers and Colt Knost highlighted 12 months ago that short hitters who enjoy an inspired putting week can not only contend but win here at this shoot-out.
A top 125 spot in the FedEx Cup is a critical target for the vast majority in the field this week. Luke List has the highest FedEx Cup ranking in the field at 41st, however no winner has been ranked inside the Top 100 in the FedEx Cup when arriving in Nevada - indeed Scott Piercy, Geoff Ogilvy, J.J. Henry and Greg Chalmers (229th) last year were well outside the top 125 when triumphing. Another handy pointer is that no victor here has had a winner's exemption in their back pocket. For reference the following players are fully exempt through 2017-18: Aaron Baddeley, Greg Chalmers (defending), Matt Every, Smylie Kaufman, Chris Kirk, Davis Love III (Lifetime), Peter Malnati, Brian Stuard and Vaughn Taylor.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
At 110th in the FedEx Cup standings, Nick Watney could do with a decent result to boost his chances of making it through to the latter stages of the FedEx Cup PlayOffs and as we know the Sacramento-born ex-world top-10 player has always gone well in the desert. 10th here as long ago as 2003, Watney also finished 5th here in 2008 and has also had experience of the Stableford scoring when he played the Barracuda Championship on his last visit here back in 2014. Interestingly, 3 years ago Nick hadn't had a top 10 all season before arriving in Nevada where he felt right at home leading after both Thursday and Friday, plus going into Sunday in the final group with Geoff Ogilvy. Where the Australian finished strongly, Nick only made 2 points on Sunday falling back to 8th, but the 5-time PGA Tour winner undoubtedly likes the wider, tree-lined set-up at Montreux and the thinner air in this desert setting. That makes sense as Watney has also finished 5th at TPC Scottsdale (2011), 14th at PGA West (2015) plus 6th (2005), 6th (2010), 2nd (2011) and 10th (2012) at TPC Summerlin. Watney has undoubtedly had another understated season in 2016/17, but then again that looks pretty perfect for the Barracuda winner identikit profile and across TPC Potomac, Old White TPC and last week at Glen Abbey there have been signs that good things are ahead. RESULT: MC
I was very interested to see Padraig Harrington on the entry list for the Barracuda and naturally it makes sense in a couple of ways. With his exemption for his 2015 Honda Classic win coming to a close at the end of this season, it's been apparent that Padraig at 196th in the FedEx Cup standings has started to play better of late across both sides of the Atlantic. 31st at the Memorial, 17th at the Travelers and an outstanding 4th at the Scottish Open clearly highlight progress in the 3-time Major Champion. He also plays the PGA Championship next week, so Montreux fits in well on the schedule with visits to Firestone South being a thing of the past presently. Indeed he was 13th at Baltusrol last year and Harrington shows no signs of wanting to stop playing top-level golf in the States. So the Barracuda, where he's finished 19th (2012) and was 15th after 36 holes in his last visit here in 2014, offers up a huge opportunity for a confident Harrington who's really enjoying his golf at the moment. A little width off the tee and the ability to compete around Montreux for short-game specialists makes Padraig an interesting proposition this week, especially when you take on board that his recent wins in Johor (2010), Indonesia (2014) and Portugal (2016) came at -20/268, -16/268 and -23/261 respectively. He's no plodder when he wants to be and was tied 6th for birdies at Dundonald Links. Form across courses such as Kapalua, TPC Scottsdale, Copperhead, GC of Houston, Quail Hollow, Westchester and TPC Boston links well to former winners here and amongst players priced at around 40/1 his class shines like a beacon. RESULT: MC
Regulars will know that I've always liked Jonathan Byrd in low-scoring tests and the 39 year-old loves to play at Montreux. 2nd here in 2013 and 3rd here in 2014 highlight that the South Carolinian loves both the course and the scoring method and Byrd also finished 14th and 17th here in 2008 and 2009 respectively. With PGA Tour outings limited across 2016/17, Byrd sits a distant 168th in the FedEx Cup standings - but a great week in Nevada here could be just the lifeline that the 5-time PGA Tour winner needs. Interestingly his wins have come at -27/261 (2002 Callaway Gardens Resort), -20/268 (2004 En-Joie Golf Club), -18/266 (2007 Deere Run), -21/263 (2010 TPC Summerlin) and -24/268 (2011 Kapalua), highlighting that when it comes to attacking golf he's a match for most at this alternate level. 5th as recently as the John Deere Classic where rounds of 70-65-67-67 delivered a well-paced performance, Jonathan has always been a 'horse for a course' and he undoubtedly thrives in the desert. Sits atop my Greens in Regulation 10-week tracker and 5th in the published predictor model. RESULT: MC
We had success with the J.J. Henry play in 2015 when he captured this title for the 2nd time at 80/1 and as the 42 year-old sits atop this week's published predictor model it would be churlish to ignore him in 2017. Here's a player who thrives at Montreux with results of 3rd (2002), 16th (2003), 4th (2005), 9th (2009), 1st (2012) and 1st (2014) which highlight a ball-striker who feels very comfortable on Montreux's greens and that makes him a danger this week. At 130th in the FedEx Cup standings, J.J. needs a strong finish to the season to avoid the stress of the web.com Tour Finals, but 4 pay-cheques in his last 5 appearances show that he's both aware of the situation and undoubtedly improving. 3 weeks ago at the John Deere Classic Henry shot 69-64-68 to lie 5th after both 36 and 54 holes, eventually finishing 10th. 4th in my Greens in Regulation 10-week tracker is worthy of note as is his history of making these lower-grade tournaments work to his advantage - 2nd El Camaleon (2009), 2nd Atunyote (2010) and 8th at Coco Beach (2017) without his results here highlight a player who knows the opportunities these alternate events present. RESULT: MC
Rory Sabbatini sits at 150th in the FedEx Cup standings and will want to improve that significantly this week in a format where aggressive play is rewarded. A run of 14 (Old White TPC)-19 (Deere Run)-55 (RTJ)-23 (Glen Abbey) has seen the South African grab 155 FedEx Cup Points and improve his ranking, but the Texas-based 6-time PGA Tour winner still needs to keep the momentum going if he wants to grab what seemed an unlikely spot in the top 125 after the Wyndham Championship cut-off. 7th here at Montreux in his tournament debut back in 2013, Sabbatini has always liked a Nicklaus design throughout his career. 2nd PGA West (2000), 1st PGA National (2009), 2nd Muirfield Village (2010) and 6th Glen Abbey (2000) highlight that adequately and there's no doubt that Rory is enjoying his best spell on the PGA Tour since the 2014/15 season. At 9th in this week's published predictor model, the South African ticks a lot of boxes this week and his current ability to hit greens and make eagles - he's made 3 Eagles over the last 2 weeks - can only be rewarded by the Stableford scoring system. RESULT: T17