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This week we move from Kuala Lumpur to Mississippi for the Sanderson Farms Championship with the tournament playing second fiddle to the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai that's also running this week - Paul Williams' preview for that event is available for you here. Nick Taylor came from total obscurity 12 months ago to capture the title as the tournament made its first visit to the Country Club of Jackson; Taylor was a 400/1 shot who beat the experienced pairing of Jason Bohn (70/1) and Boo Weekley (125/1) by 2 shots to grab an unlikely victory and fill the bookies' satchels that week.
These second category PGA Tour events really fascinate me. With only 300 FedEx Cup points up for grabs - and no Masters invite for the winner - the fields are always weak. However rookies, veterans and PGA Tour journeymen flying into Jackson this week all have the opportunity to grab a PGA Tour victory and, more importantly, full playing privileges until the close of 2017/18. It's a huge prize for plenty of players but equally a pressure that a large number of the rank-and-file in attendance will struggle to handle mentally if and when they hit the front.
Course Guide: Feedback from the players after their first visit to the Country Club of Jackson last term was genuinely positive. The course played firm with fast stimp greens keeping scoring relatively high for a tournament that's traditionally a low scorer. At 7,364 yards the course is not overly long for a par 72, especially as it's set on a flat property with fairways that are wide by modern standards. Trees are a feature on most holes but they're relatively sparse and the course design features plenty of straight holes. Faster conditions kept scoring higher 12 months ago whilst the set of par 5s were particularly difficult to overpower. With plenty of rain pre-event the course is set to play far longer in 2015.
Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi: Designer: Wilson, 1962, Fought redesign, 2008; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,364 yards; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft. Scoring Average 2014: 71.47 (-0.53), Difficulty Rank 27 of 52 courses.
Course Overview: The course is a mixture of 2 sets of 9 holes, namely Azalea and Dogwood. John Fought, who re-modelled the course in 2008, is an admirer of Donald Ross's work and as such it's interesting to note that green complexes on the whole are raised and have run-off areas similar to many a Ross design. Greens are average in size and feature Champion Bermudagrass - the likes of which were at Annandale, but also feature at TPC Southwind and Sedgefield (since 2012). Visually the course looks quite tight, but inaccuracy from the tee didn't stop Nick Taylor or Peter Uihlein from being at the top of the leaderboard last term. So with softer conditions this year, power players may have more of an advantage with the course playing longer.
It's difficult to draw conclusions from the single tournament that was played here in 2014, especially as course conditions will be the polar opposite this week. Observationally, greens were easy to hit even with fast stimp conditions, so the power-bombers are likely to have more of an advantage this week with little roll on the fairways and far more receptive greens. An average driving distance of 282 yards clearly indicated that players gave the CC of Jackson respect from the tee 12 months go, with plenty of holes looking visually tight. However Taylor, who is a decent putter by trade, won this event with consistent approach play allied to a -9 score across the par 5s. Only Justin Thomas (-10) scored better across the 16 par 5s highlighting just how difficult the 500+ yard holes played (4th most difficult for Birdie or Better on Tour). With softer conditions making the course softer and more receptive, expect lower scoring but the par 5s are again likely to be key.
Winners: 2014: Nick Taylor (-16); 2013: Woody Austin (-20); 2012: Scott Stallings (-24); 2011: Chris Kirk (-22); 2010: Bill Haas (-15).
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 Sanderson Farms 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 Jason Bohn (No.1), Graham DeLaet, Carl Pettersson, Boo Weekley and Jonathan Byrd.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to The Barclays / Czech Masters and includes both 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: 2014: Taylor 400/1; 2013: Austin 125/1; 2012: Stallings 100/1; 2011: Kirk 30/1; 2010: Haas 22/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Jackson is here. We're in for a really mixed bag in Mississippi this week. Thunderstorms and rain on Friday and Saturday will moisten a course that has been deluged in the week leading up to the tournament. Expect soft conditions and receptive greens - a definite change from 12 months ago. Thursday will have an autumnal feel with an accompanying breeze, whilst Friday will be hot and typically humid, with the threat of thunderstorms potentially ending play early. Temperatures drop over the weekend, with in play rain a threat on Saturday, all accompanied by an ever stronger northerly wind for the leaders.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winner Nick Taylor and runners-up Jason Bohn and Boo Weekley here 12 months ago 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 the Country Club of Jackson sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Nick Taylor: "Yeah, the finishing holes 16, 17, 18, it was a good finish. But there were some tougher holes, I think. Some scoring holes on the back nine, both par‑5s you can get to the front of the green or around them. 15, I did, and I hit it 20 yards from the green. So I'm not sure if it opened the tee up, but a lot of guys hit driver into that. There were some scoring holes, but you have to hit the fairways on all the par‑4s to have a chance to go at the pins because if you have the wet Bermuda, it's tough to judge coming out of there, and the greens are so quick. So fairways are key for sure, but they're definitely scoring."
David Toms: "I'm keeping the ball in play off the tee, which is a big deal. Obviously on a golf course like this, it's pretty tight. I've been real patient with my iron shots. When I have a good number and feel good about the club and where the pin is, I'm pretty aggressive, but when I'm in between clubs or the pin is in a spot where I don't feel good, then I'm backing off and hitting to the middle of the green and just taking my two‑putt and getting out. I think having a pretty good game plan, not necessarily before I start but once you're into the round and really picking the spots to be aggressive."
Woody Austin: "Well, it may be tighter as far as fairway goes. But there's not enough trees out there to really make you feel‑‑ they're really, so far, like I said, I didn't play the front. The only difficult, what I would say is really narrow from a standpoint of being penalty‑wise, would be 16. 16 is a very hard tee shot. There is no question. As far as the other one, I would say 11, you can hit it in the rough, and you still have all the openings. 12 you still have openings into the green. 14, it's narrow, but, again, it's a par‑5, and you've got plenty of room. There's nothing on 15. 17 there's nothing to stop it. And 18, although there are some trees, they really don't‑‑ unless you hit it right up against the trees, they don't cover the area that goes towards the green. So you're always going to have an opening to the green. It's not like you're going to be blocked out. So there is just not enough as far as to make it feel tight, I guess you'd say."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 4 Sanderson Farms Championship winners:
With course data sparse and difficult to draw any real conclusions from, it's interesting to look at the trends that can be associated with these second-tier PGA Tour events. Going back to the Mayakoba Classic in 2012 we can look at 12 separate tournaments. The lowest priced winner was Scott Piercy who won the Barbasol Championship in neighbouring Alabama at 25/1 in July. Rookies John Huh (35/1) at El Camaleon, Chesson Hadley (66/1) at Puerto Rico plus Chris Kirk (30/1) and Nick Taylor (400/1) at the Sanderson Farms have all captured first titles at varying prices. All bar Taylor had already registered Top 10 finishes on the main Tour prior to their victories.
Geoff Ogilvy (66/1), Gary Woodland (40/1), J.J. Henry (40/1 + 66/1) and George McNeill (55/1) all had smatterings of form before arriving at a venue (Montreux in the case of the first 3 named) which suited their free-scoring game. Naturally all were proven PGA Tour winners, but interestingly Woodland's 2013 Reno-Tahoe Open triumph featured the shortest winless gap of 30 months. Woody Austin had waited 6 years before winning at Annandale at 125/1 in 2013. Only Scott Brown (50/1) at the Puerto Rico Open in 2013 entered the tournament off of a Top 10 finish - and that was in a web.com event in Columbia. Strong form seems to be of little consequence to winning in most cases (apart from non-PGA Tour winners) and that links in well to the psyche of players who enter these second tier tournaments knowing they can win. A pressure that they certainly aren't comfortable with.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Paddy Power are offering a new angle for punters this week at the Sanderson Farms. They are paying 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds - check out their current prices here: Paddy Power 7 Places EW
My selections are as follows:
In the crazy golf betting times in which we live, 40/1 about perennial bridesmaid Graham Delaet almost smacks of a reasonable bet. Yes, he's yet to get over the finish line on the PGA Tour, but as talented youngsters Justin Thomas and Emiliano Grillo have proven in recent weeks, as well as experienced players like Danny Lee and Troy Merritt prior to them, it is possible to win after a catalogue of near misses. The fact that Delaet, who's now over his thumb injury sustained back in July, returns to secondary-level PGA Tour action this week for the first time since 2013 is a statement of intent and it's worth recognising that the talented Canadian has had excellent results at this lower level in the past.
Delaet has always liked to hit the ball long and straight - a formula that works well in soft conditions - and for 54 holes at Silverado 3 weeks ago he was right in the mix. Strong results across Puerto Rico, Copperhead, TPC Louisiana, Kuala Lumpur and a 5th at this tournament hosted at Annandale in 2010 stack up nicely. 2nd in this weeks Predictor Model and will be arriving in Mississippi with the dangerous cocktail of a strong underlying game but with no massive expectations. RESULT: T33
There's no doubt in my mind that Lucas Glover is playing some excellent all-round golf right now and results since the Wyndham Championship back in August have been much better. Since then a form-line that reads 18-22-25-9-12-17-MC shows progress and that missed cut at the Shriners Open has only livened up his price this week. It's worth remembering that Glover arrived in Mississippi at this exact time 12 months ago with form of MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-78 and went on to shoot 71-67-67 to sit 3rd after 54 holes. The drop to the web.com PlayOffs has undoubtedly boosted the 2009 US Open Champion's confidence levels and his all-round game, including his putting believe it or not, looks in far better shape right now. His first of 3 PGA Tour wins was on the Bermudagrass at Disney in 2005 (-23/265) and the Sea Island, Georgia resident must be looking forward to the opportunity this week presents. RESULT: T39
Knoxville, Tennessee's Scott Stallings is notoriously difficult to call, but in a tournament like the Sanderson Farms Championship he's got to be considered on the basis that he's a proven winner of 3 PGA Tour titles in 5 years and tends to hang around when he gets into contention. Back from a 3 month doping ban imposed by the PGA Tour in July for taking a performance-enhancing supplement, the 30 year-old played very nicely last time out at TPC Summerlin where he finished 16th in Las Vegas which was a career best. That makes him a dangerous proposition coming into the CC of Jackson this week as Stallings loves to putt on Champion Bermudagrass - a fact that can be seen from results he has had at Sedgefield (14th 2012), Southwind (2nd 2013) and Annandale (1st 2012). If the putter warms this week then he can go low and contend here. RESULT: T28
I often turn to Johnson Wagner on Bermudagrass greens and rightly so as the Texan always serves up his best performances on the surface. Go back in the 35 year-old's early career and strong web.com performances across Panama, Arkansas and Tennessee abound - indeed it's worth recognising that his first 2nd Division win came at Le Triomphe Country Club in Louisiana in 2006. Johnson has always played better on resort scoring golf courses and main Tour wins at GC of Houston (2008), Mayakoba (2011) and Waialae (2012) top a pile of results which include Top 10 finishes across PGA West, Deere Run, RTJ Golf Trail, Disney and interestingly Annandale. Back in 2007 as a Tour rookie Wagner arrived in Mississippi fighting for his card and delivered a fantastic 2nd behind Chad Campbell and he backed that up with 8th there in 2010. Johnson clearly gets on with Champion Bermudagrass putting surfaces and I think the softer conditions in 2015 will suit him down to the ground. RESULT: T15
I will close with a win-only cover bet on Patrick Rodgers who must be inspired right now by recent performances of the new breed both sides of the Atlantic. Thomas Pieters, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufmann and close buddy Justin Thomas (they share a house in Jupiter, Florida) have all captured maiden main Tour victories since the last week of August and for me Rodgers is playing well enough to grab his first PGA Tour title in Mississippi in a weak tournament where his talent shines like a beacon.
23 year-old Rodgers has always been in the golf spotlight since he equalled the number of wins acquired by Tiger Woods when studying at Stanford University. A Ben Hogan Award winner and 2-time Walker Cup team member, Rodgers was the Number 1 ranked golfer in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 16 weeks in early 2014. 2015 has seen Rodgers capture his first professional title in only his second web.com Tour appearance in the heat and humidity of Columbia, with 2nd at Quail Hollow (in soft conditions) and 3rd at Montreux on the main Tour marking him out as a par 72 specialist who goes well on low scoring ball-strikers tracks. 6th at Silverado and 13th at TPC Summerlin highlight a confident young talent who can follow the recent precedent set by Brown, Hadley, Huh, Kirk and Taylor to use a second-tier Tour event to capture their first title. RESULT: T20
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