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This week we move to Las Vegas, Nevada for the 2014 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) and the defending champion Webb Simpson. The tournament started life as a Pro-Am and even though that element has now been dropped, the resort nature of host course TPC Summerlin means that the Shriners becomes a true festival of birdies. A field of 144 players, including last week's winner Sang-moon Bae, are all in the desert looking for a slice of the $6.1 million prize fund on offer, making this the richest tournament played in the United States this side of the Waste Management Phoenix Open next January.
The Shriners Open is always an interesting tournament for punters with elite players often rising to the top in a tournament where low scoring is key, as is minimising mistakes. This week's preview walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: TPC Summerlin has been the sole host of this tournament for the past 6 years. The 7,255 yard, Par 71 has a 35-36 setup and the course is designed to produce low scores. Played at altitude, 2 of the 3 Par 5s are reachable for the whole field and rough length is negligible for Tour professionals. The pure Bentgrass green complexes are large, flat and receptive. Summerlin's only true defence is wind and with a tranquil forecast it looks like we will be seeing some low scoring. Indeed TPC Summerlin was the easiest course on the whole of the 2013/14 PGA Tour Season. Go low, or go home.
TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nevada: Designer: Weed & Zoeller, 1992, redesign, 2007; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 71; Length: 7,255 yards; Water Hazards:4; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2.75"; Greens: 7,570 sq.ft average Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 11ft. Course Scoring Averages: 2012: 69.71, Difficulty Rank 40 of 49 courses; 2013: 69.55, Difficulty Rank 43 of 43 courses.
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 Las Vegas-based professionals. Alex Cejka, Ryo Ishikawa, Bill Lunde, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Na, Scott Piercy, Alex Prugh, Cameron Tringale and Nick Watney all have residences in the area. 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. Last year's 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. For this year the Par 3 14th has been lengthened by 12 yards.
Tournament Stats: We have generated some key player statistics for this week's Shriners Open that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Player Tournament Form | First Round Leader History
Published Predictor Model: Our published Predictor Model is viewable here. You can build your own model using the variables available. Key players included in the upper reaches of the Predictor include Kevin Na (Rank 1), Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson (defending Champion), Ryan Moore, Hideki Matsuyama, Charles Howell III, Jason Gore and Charley Hoffman. Tour rookies Zac Blair, Blayne Barber, Andrew Putnam and Justin Thomas are also prominent.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: Here we list a view of players in the Shriners Open field and respective recent skill stats. These rankings are based on an 11 tournament window that stretched back to the Canadian Open and include both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 tournaments to be included and rankings are based on average performance relative to the rest of the field:
Driving Accuracy: 1) Ryan Moore; 2) Justin Hicks; 3) Mark Wilson; 4) Cameron Tringale; 5) Tim Clark; 6) Jason Bohn; 7) Brian Stuard; 8) Kevin Streelman; 9) Jim Herman; 10) William McGirt/Ken Duke.
Greens in Regulation: 1) Martin Laird; 2) Justin Hicks; 3) Billy Horschel; 4) Nick Watney; 5) Graham Delaet/Kevin Stadler; 7) Hudson Swafford; 8) J.J. Henry; 9) John Senden; 10) Lucas Glover/Robert Allenby/Chad Campbell.
Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) David Lingmerth; 2) Sang-moon Bae; 3) Ryo Ishikawa 4) Brooks Koepka/ Andres Romero; 6) Jimmy Walker; 7) William McGirt; 8) Morgan Hoffmann; 9) Retief Goosen; 10) Cameron Tringale.
Tournament Trends: Birdie shootouts can often yield random results, but the Shriners Open at TPC Summerlin has a few key trends worth noting. As you would expect at a true resort scoring test, a fast start is essential. Webb Simpson won at a canter here 12 months ago and indeed led after 36 holes as did Kevin Na (2011) and Jonathan Byrd (2010). Ryan Moore (2012) led after Round 1 before slipping back to 3rd after 36 holes and Martin Laird (2009) was also 3rd after 36 holes. If you want a view of traditional fast starters our Shriners First Round leader stats are here.
Course experience here is an important factor but course debutants shouldn't be overlooked either. All winners here going back to Marin Laird in 2009 have made at least a single appearance prior to capturing the Shriners title, but it's also worth recognising that both Marc Turnesa (2008) and George McNeill (2007) won the tournament on debut. Indeed, since 2011, Tommy Gainey (3rd), Jonas Blixt (3rd), Ryo Ishikawa (2nd), Luke Guthrie (5th) and Chesson Hadley (5th) have all finished in the each-way places on course debut.
The largest priced winner here since 2010 has been Kevin Na at 60/1. Before him Jonathan Byrd captured the title at 50/1, but Ryan Moore (14/1) and Webb Simpson (16/1) have won the past 2 renewals as favourite and second favourite respectively fresh from top-3 finishes.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Fancy doubling the odds on any player in this week's Frys.com field? Betfred have launched a new promotion giving new customers double the odds on their first bet (up to £10 stake) plus a £/€25 free bet on their second bet. Full details here: Betfred Double Odds.
My final selections are as follows:
Hideki may be making his course debut, but of the tournament favourites he's arguably (with Koepka and Laird) in the best form and loves playing on Bentgrass greens. Matsuyama is a winning machine: 4 Japan Tour wins in 7 months last season were obviously at a lower level, but Hideki's victory at Muirfield Village (huge course form link) in June was against some of the very best that the PGA Tour has to offer. Last week's 3rd at Silverado was his first Top 10 since then and all of Matsuyama's wins since turning professional have followed on directly from a Top 15 finish (10th-1st; 2nd-1st; 15th-1st; 6th-1st; 10th-1st). Now result sequences on their own aren't enough of a factor to justify the backing of any player, but Matsuyama thrives on Bentgrass greens and was 10th in Birdie or Better Conversion last season. Silverado saw the Japanese sensation finish 3rd in Greens in Regulation and 3rd in Approach Shot Proximity whilst only squandering a field best 5 bogeys. His putter is warming, he'll thrive on the pure bentgrass greens and was 4th in his only other desert/altitude outing at TPC Scottsdale back in February. RESULT: T10
Glaswegian Martin Laird is another 'must back' for me this week as the Colorado State University man always comes to the fore when the air is thin and the birdies start flying. A 3-time PGA Tour winner across Bay Hill (2011), TPC San Antonio (2013) and here in 2009, Laird has fantastic linkable resort course form across Kapalua, PGA West, TPC Scottsdale, Montreux, Sedgefield plus The Mines at the CIMB Classic. Laird's ball-striking has improved immeasurably from Royal Montreal onwards (he tops our rolling GIR% Tracker) across a period that has delivered form of 29-6(Montreux)-14(Sedgefield)-3(Silverado). As Martin's core playing strength has returned so has his confidence, and it was noticeable that he had a huge 4 days with the putter (8th in SGP) last week at the Frys.com. That sounded alarm bells for me as that performance was his best with the flat stick since TPC Sawgrass/TPC San Antonio back in 2012 and Laird has always been the sort to link strong results together when at his best. RESULT: T18
At a bigger price, Brendan Steele is another Bentgrass-positive player who comes into his own when birdies are required. Californian Steele is fairly easy to read: He performs well at TPC Scottsdale (6th, 2014, 6th 2013, 5th 2012), TPC San Antonio (4th 2012, 1st 2011), TPC River Highlands (5th 2014, 13th 2013/2011), Montreux (4th 2013, 8th 2012) and here at TPC Summerlin (13th 2012, 16th 2011). He also has Top 10s at Riviera, CordeValle and TPC Boston to his credit. To summarise, that's a slant for the West Coast, low-scoring events and a total results focus from Bentgrass or Bent mix greens (San Antonio and Scottsdale are Bermuda overseeded with Bent). He loves desert golf and will want to make the most of this week which will be the last Bentgrass-based greens he will see on Tour before 2015. RESULT: T33