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I enjoyed the Quicken Loans National last week from TPC Potomac which made a stunning debut on the PGA Tour. On a course where plodders undoubtedly prospered - a rare opportunity in the United States - 45/1 shot Kyle Stanley used his ball-striking prowess to grab an emotional 2nd Tour title from none other than Charles Howell III. My pick David Lingmerth played a blinder for 36 holes and eventually held on for a slither of the each way place return. Undoubtedly another case of what could have been, but a late pairing in the final round with Daniel Summerhays is always a challenging test for any professional.
The Greenbrier Classic returns this week - a tournament we never saw in 2016. Flooded by some of the highest levels of precipitation that West Virginia has ever seen in June, Old White TPC fell victim to over 6 feet of water across the course. 12 months on from that, a renovated course awaits a reasonable quality field 2 weeks before the Open Championship.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Irish Open - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Greenbrier Classic - Featured Bookmaker
For the fifth consecutive week on a PGA Tour event, Betfair Sportsbook have gone 7 places each-way at 1/5 odds at the Greenbrier Classic. They have also gone 7 places each way 1/5 odds at the Irish Open at the time of writing. Betfair have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £100 Welcome Bonus (UK only) or Bet £/€10, Get £/€30. T&Cs apply:
Course Guide: The spa town of White Sulphur Springs and West Virginia in general suffered tremendous flooding on the 23rd June 2016, resulting in 23 deaths. Old White TPC along with 3 other courses at the resort were flooded with water covering the course up to 6 feet in depth. Naturally the 2016 Greenbrier Classic was cancelled and a whole new renovation project kicked-off to get the course ready for 2017. Architect Keith Foster has led the work which has seen the whole course re-seeded. Re-surfacing, re-contouring and re-seeding of all 18 green complexes has taken place and every bunker on the course has also been re-built. Expect a new Old White TPC, but in effect the course is still very classical in nature and tree-lined with a 34/36 front/back split - indeed the front 9 features no par-5s and the closing hole is a 179 yard par-3.
Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: Designer: MacDonald/Raynor 1914, with PGA Tour Design renovation 2010/11; Course Type: Classical, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,286 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass 3"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.78 (-0.22), Difficulty Rank 27 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.87 (-0.13), Difficulty Rank 25 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.10 (+0.10), Rank 26 of 48 courses. 2015: 69.17 (-0.83), Rank 35 of 52 courses.
Old White TPC Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Old White TPC and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: Keith Foster's renovation will see new green complexes and bunkers awaiting at Old White TPC. To all intents and purposes though, greens remain Bentgrass and despite some re-contouring they remain very large for the circa 7,300 yard course length. Interestingly most greens have actually been softened to accommodate more pin positions. At an average of 7,000 sq.ft, they are much larger than the complexes we've witnessed at TPC Potomac and TPC River Highlands across the past 2 weeks. Another huge factor this week is the width of fairways which at 35 yards at the 300 yard drive landing point makes them luxurious compared to other recent Par 70 set-ups like TPC River Highlands, TPC Southwind and Colonial. Inaccurate drivers definitely have a chance on a set-up which ranked 44th from 52 courses last time we were here in terms of difficulty in finding the fairway.
At 7,286 yards in length, Old White TPC will still be a scoreable Par 70 where every type of player can contend. In total 5 holes have new yardages compared to 2015, but overall the layout is down just one yard in length. The course and surrounding Greenbrier resort is within a National Park in the Appalachian mountain range and the track is 2,000 feet above sea level which is a great advantage for the shorter hitters who can easily add 15 yards to their driving. But to put the challenge into context this week, out of the 24 rounds played by the previous six champions of The Greenbrier Classic, the only winner with a round in the 70s is Scott Stallings in 2011. With rain in the forecast and little wind, I'm expecting this to be a low-scoring affair again on a course which up until this point has always favoured a very hot putter. par-3 and par-4 scoring always pays dividends here as with only 2 par-5s, one of which is a 3-shot affair at 616 yards, scoring opportunities on the easiest holes is always restricted even for the bombers.
Winners: 2016: No Tournament; 2015: Danny Lee (-13); 2014: Angel Cabrera (-16); 2013: Jonas Blixt (-13); 2012: Ted Potter Jnr (-16); 2011: Scott Stallings (-10); 2010: Stuart Appleby (-22).
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 Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas and David Lingmerth.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Volvo China Open 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: No Tournament; 2015: Danny Lee 150/1; 2014: Cabrera 100/1; 2013: Blixt 125/1; 2012: Potter Jnr 500/1; 2011: Stallings 175/1; 2010: Appleby 80/1; Average: 188/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia is here. The course should be in perfect condition after a wet May and dry end to June. Rain across Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week is more than possible, so I'm expecting a nice soft course for players to attack. Wind will reach 10-12 mph across Friday and Saturday, so a light breeze at worst. There may be a small advantage for PM/AM tee times overall.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of this event 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 this track has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Danny Lee: “For some reason I just read the greens really nicely here. I feel like everywhere on the green I just feel like I can make every putt, so all I was trying to do is hit the fairway and just trying to get it on the green somehow and try to give it the best chance with my putter. I think this course really suits my game.”
Jonas Blixt: "I mean, considering last year it was quite soft, I thought the golf course just had a few holes where you needed to make pars, and the rest of the golf course was pretty much birdieable everywhere. Hitting a good shot on 16 to get a good chance to making birdie, 16, 17, the same thing. There are a bunch of birdie holes, and that's why I was so surprised that I found myself in contention where I didn't make any birdies the last day, a bunch of pars and maybe one or two bogeys and I was right there.."
Steve Stricker: "Yeah, it's a good course. I was talking to somebody earlier. I don't know if it favours any type of golfer here. I don't think it favours a bomber. I don't think it favours a short hitter. You'll have to give yourself opportunities out of the fairway, for sure. The rough is just thick enough where it's hard to control. If you're in the rough, you can't be as aggressive into the green. So it's playing pretty long too. The fairways are soft, but they'll dry out a little bit as we get going on. But it's going to take a well rounded player playing at the top of his game this week. You're not going to fake it around here at all, I don't think. It's a good course, and it's a good test."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2011:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bentgrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
So we face a tournament this week where reasonable golfing logic tends to be thrown aside. Qualification for the Open Championship is naturally a huge carrot for the PGA Tour's rank and file and that shouldn't be underestimated, but from a player motivation perspective it's also worth recognising a couple of things. This tournament slots in after the recent rigours of Colonial, Memphis, Erin Hills and TPC Potomac - which last week was the 2nd hardest course played on the PGA Tour in 2017, tougher than both TPC Sawgrass and Erin Hills, sitting only behind Augusta National. It's also only 2 weeks until the Open Championship and it's worth remembering that 4 players who haven't already qualified and who finish in the top 12 at Old White TPC will secure places in The Open Championship. Last week it was Kyle Stanley, Charles Howell III, Martin Laird and Sung Kang.
The tournament itself tends to be a putting contest where short-game specialists or in-form ball-strikers can contend. Incredibly the close of the regular FedEx Cup series is also just around the corner and there are plenty of players who are fighting for their 2017/18 playing privileges. Player interviews from previous tournaments here quote that the Greenbrier Classic has a 'small event' feel to it, so it's no real surprise to see that Danny Lee, Scott Stallings and Ted Potter Jnr all won their first ever PGA Tour titles here and that the tournament is perennially contended by a host of Tour maidens and players who are fighting for their PGA Tour futures. That's why I've gone for a range of players this week with their prices allowing flexibility in the number of names in this week's portfolio.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
Kevin Streelman is always a dangerous player on any low scoring course where outright power is not the be-all and end-all. On a great run of form across his past 4 events which reads 18(Colonial)-13(Muirfield)-8(TPC River Highlands)-17(TPC Potomac), Streelman has a host of top results across resort-level scoring assignments. 3rd at Kapalua in 2015 (-17/275), 1st at TPC River Highlands in 2014 (-15/265), a couple of 8th place finishes at the John Deere Classic (2009/2012), 2nd at TPC Summerlin in 2014 (-18/266) and 4th at El Camaleon this season (-17/267) jump off the page. Comfortable on short set-ups, Streelman is an arch plotter who is certainly one to follow when his putter warms. So positive Strokes Gained Putting performances over his past 4 events is a definite warning to follow the 38 year-old who attended Duke University and who has 2 PGA Tour victories. 3 visits here have brought a couple of low-key pay cheques, but they were at points where Kevin's putter was in deep-freeze. With the last 3 winners here entering the tournament with reasonable but not spectacular form allied to a hot putter, Streelman fits the bill perfectly this week. From an altitude perspective the $954,297 dollars earned at TPC Summerlin linked to his Scottsdale, Arizona residence highlights a player more than capable in thin air surroundings. Result: T29
Sung Kang continues to press for an International Team Presidents Cup spot and his 5th place last week at TPC Potomac certainly helped with the cause. He still has a way to go if he wants to reach Nick Price's team, but unlike others above him in the rankings he has real momentum in 2017 and at a course where web.com graduates have had much success in the past - Scott Stallings, Ted Potter Jnr, Jonas Blixt and Danny Lee were all grads - I think Kang can follow in their footsteps this week. A disappointing finish at TPC Potomac saw Kang slip to an eventual 5th place. However he had a real shot at victory coming down the stretch with a short putt to get to -7 - a score that would have eventually got him into a playoff - when the heavens opened. Stuck without an umbrella or any rain gear, Kang was literally soaked through and he missed the 4 foot putt for birdie and doubled the 17th. Take nothing away from the South Korean though, he's playing career-best golf right now and as we've seen in the past he can string contending performances together.
I've always liked Kang on more resort-level scoring tests. Indeed when he hit the Tour back in 2011 (yes, 6 years ago) he finished 15th at Montreux, 12th at Deere Run, 7th at Annandale and 3rd at Disney. His best result on Tour came at the GC of Houston the week before The Masters when he shot -17/271 to finish 2nd to Russell Henley. So I've been impressed with his contending performances across Riviera, PGA National, Harbour Town and TPC San Antonio since the start of 2016. From an altitude golf perspective, Sung has a great record at the web.com Utah Championship - finishing 2nd at Willow Creek Country Club (-17/271) in 2014 and 2nd at Thanks Giving Point Golf Club (-19/269) in 2015, with a top-7 at Boise confirming that he can handle approach distance mathematics. Kang also sits 65th in Strokes Gained Putting, 59th for Birdie Average and 1st for Total Birdies across the PGA Tour this season. Result: MC
Harris English fits the profile of winner here quite well in my eyes. A Par-70 positive player whose form is just bubbling under the surface. 22nd last week at TPC Potomac - 8th after 36 holes - followed on from Erin Hills, where again the University of Georgia product played nicely to be 13th after 36 holes. A 7,900 yard, Par 72 is definitely not English's cup of tea, so he slipped to 46th by the close of Sunday, but Erin Hills followed on from 10th at TPC Southwind and 29th at Colonial. All grinding assignments, so the more open set-up of Old White TPC should be just what Harris is looking for. With rain softened, wide fairways, English will see the short stuff more often and that makes him a huge danger on the greens as the 2-time PGA Tour winner ranks 43rd for Strokes Gained Putting, 22nd for Putting from 5-10 feet and 39th for Putting from 15-20 feet season long skill-set categories. He's also in the top 60 for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion, always a key statistic on any Par 70.
English has only played Greenbrier once in his rookie year of 2012 when he had just made it through Open Championship qualifying. He missed the cut, but I can see enough correlating course form with the likes of Danny Lee and Jonas Blixt to suggest that he'll love the test this week. A web.com Tour runner-up finish in 2011 at Midland Country Club in Texas at altitude was behind the New Zealander and English has finished 3rd at TPC Scottsdale in 2016 where he beat Danny Lee into 4th spot. It's also worth remembering that Harris has a 5th (2012) and 2nd (2016) to his name at Colonial and won the 2013 OHL Classic at El Camaleon - 2 courses where Lee has also finished 6th (Colonial 2017) and 3rd (El Camaleon 2014). English's altitude golf credentials are completed by a 4th earlier this season at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas, a course where Jonas Blixt finished 3rd in 2012 prior to winning here in 2013. Result: T29
At a tournament where web.com graduates have had so much success, I'm keeping Ollie Schniederjans on side this week. In his rookie season 6th at Sea Island, 9th at Torrey Pines, 8th at Riviera and a sparkling 3rd at Harbour Town highlight a talented player who's settled well on the premier Tour. Since that 3rd in South Carolina things have settled down a little for the Georgia Tech product - but he's still to miss an individual event cut since the start of April and his putting has been positive across both of his recent Bentgrass outings at Colonial and TPC Potomac last week. What I love though about Ollie this week is his web.com background and strong results at altitude: 5th on his web.com debut at Crestview Country Club (Kansas) was at -13/267 back in 2014. He returned to the same course last year and on the 7,000 yard Par 70 featuring Bentgrass greens shot an impressive -17/263 total to capture the title. From there a trip to Thanks Giving Point Golf Club for the Utah Championship also delivered a 6th spot, when he was 3rd after 54 holes. 95th in Strokes Gained Putting, 85th for Putting from 5-10 feet and 64th for Putting from 15-20 feet season long skill-set categories, the Texan also ranks 32nd for par-4 Birdie or Better Conversion, 44th for Birdie Average and 46th for Scoring Average. These large and relatively flat Bentgrass greens could be the spark which ignites another challenge for his maiden PGA Tour success this week. Result: DQ
Bryson DeChambeau is a little like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you are going to get. However, this is the kind of low-key tournament where a talent like DeChambeau could fire, challenge and more than likely take the title. If we're looking for a motive, it appears that Bryson has noticed that he's outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings and clearly he doesn't want to go through the stress of the web.com Playoffs again. So we've seen an uplift in results with 26th at TPC River Highlands and 17th last week at TPC Potomac. In general DeChambeau is hitting the ball very nicely at the moment with his 300 yard driving game finding plenty of fairways. Ball-striking has also been strong across both of his last appearances. Scoring wise, rounds of 66 and 67 were strong in Hartford with an opening 67 and closing 66 catching the eye last week at the Quicken Loans. Clearly, as ever, consistency across all 4 rounds is always key and that goes for Bryson who could have contended for the victory at TPC Potomac last week without his Saturday 74. But we need a hot putter this week and the Californian was 6th for Total Putting in Maryland.
At a tournament which undoubtedly has a small town feel to it - that's why the lower league break through so often here - it's worth remembering that DeChambeau won his first ever web.com Tour tournament last year at the DAP Championship, guaranteeing full playing privileges on the main Tour this season. He also went down to the alternate event in Puerto Rico in late March where he fired -18/270 to finish 2nd behind D.A. Points. Look at previous winners here and it's noticeable that Danny Lee was a runner-up in Puerto Rico back in 2014 and Angel Cabrera finished 7th there in 2011. If the confidence continues with the flat stick there's no reason why DeChambeau doesn't feature this week. Result: T14
5th as recently as Eagle Point, I also think that Smylie Kaufman is worth a speculative punt at a big price, especially at a tournament where shock results seem normal. Forget season-long stats with Smylie who started this season with 7 missed cuts from 11 tournaments and a best of 45th in Malaysia. But since those dark days, things have picked up and Kaufman has definitely been on an upward trend. He started to find greens on a more consistent basis at TPC San Antonio where he finished 37th and then his short game came to the fore at a soft Eagle Point where he shot a -4/68 to grab a top 5 finish behind Brian Harman. Eagle Point featured Bentgrass greens. 12th at TPC Sawgrass, 35th at TPC Four Seasons and 35th at TPC River Highlands have followed, the latter of which was interesting as he was 8th after 36 holes and also had his best Greens in Regulation performance of the season to date. TPC Potomac was never going to suit on the basis that missing a fairway was such a huge penalty, but on a far easier driving course, in soft conditions, I can see the Alabama-born 25 year-old actually troubling the scorers. Far more comfortable on shoot-out courses, Smylie won the 2015 Shriners at TPC Summerlin with a -16/268 total and his liking for thin air surroundings can also be seen in his 2015 web.com campaign when he was 4th at El Bosque Golf Club, 18th at Thanks Giving Point Golf Club and 2nd at Highland Springs Country Club, where he shot -21/267 into the bargain. Result: T37
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