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We move from Kuala Lumpur to Mississippi for the Sanderson Farms Championship. Naturally this tournament is playing second fiddle to the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai and Paul Williams' preview is available for your consumption here.
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 2016/17. 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.
This week's preview walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: Details are a little on the sketchy side as the PGA Tour visits the Country Club of Jackson for the first time, but it's crystal clear that the Sanderson Farms Championship will still be a resort scoring birdie-fest. In effect the course looks relatively easy from a PGA Tour standard perspective, set on a flat property with fairways that are wide by modern standards. Trees are a feature on most holes, but they are relatively sparse and the course design features plenty of straight holes. With winning totals of -20, -24 and -22 over the past 3 Annandale hosted renewals, the organisers aren't afraid of low scoring and forecast rain on Wednesday should make the course receptive for the start of the tournament.
Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi: Designer: Wilson, 1962, Fought redesign, 2008; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,354 yards; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 11ft. Tournament Scoring Average 2012: 70.28, Difficulty Rank 44 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.27, Difficulty Rank 37 of 43 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' work and such it's interesting to note that green complexes on the whole are raised and have run-off areas. Greens are average in size and feature Champion Bermudagrass - the likes of which were at Annandale, but also feature at TPC Southwind and Sedgefield (which is also a Donald Ross design).
Tournament Stats: We have generated 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 Model is viewable here. You can build your own model using the variables available if you prefer. Key players included in the upper reaches of the Predictor include Jonathan Byrd (Rank 1), Bo Van Pelt, Charles Howell III, Scott Brown and Carl Pettersson. Value each-way punts include Jason Gore, Jason Bohn, Chad Campbell and Tommy Gainey.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: Here we list a view of players in the Sanderson field and respective recent skill stats. These rankings are based on an 11 tournament window that stretches back to the Wyndham Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour tournaments to be included and rankings are based on average performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners Prices: 2013: Woody Austin 125/1; 2012: Scott Stallings 100/1; 2011: Chris Kirk 30/1.
Tournament Trends: With course data an unknown quantity, 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 9 separate tournaments. The lowest priced winner was John Huh at the aforementioned Mayakoba who was a 35/1 shot. Huh was a 1st season rookie who had already finished 6th at Torrey Pines (no mean feat). Chesson Hadley (66/1) at Puerto Rico this year was also a rookie who had already finished in the Top 5 at TPC Summerlin and in the Top 10 at Pebble Beach. Of course Chris Kirk won this tournament as a rookie back in 2011 at a relatively paltry 30/1. Prior to capturing his first PGA Tour title he'd finished 7th at PGA West, 2nd at GC of Houston, 8th at Congressional and 22nd at Deere Run in the week prior to his maiden victory.
Geoff Ogilvy (66/1), Gary Woodland (40/1), J.J. Henry (40/1) and George McNeill (55/1) all had smatterings of form before arriving at a venue (Montreax 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. This week's defending champion Woody Austin had waited 6 years before winning at Annandale at 125/1. 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 a hindrance 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.
This week I'm going for a value approach. Free-scoring players (in the main) who like Bermudagrass greens and who enter the fray in reasonable form. A chunky place return looks attractive at a tournament that likes to throw up shocks.
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My final selections are as follows:
Carl enters the fray with a tee-to-green game that's been strong for quite a period. On a course where his waywardness from the tee won't be overly punished, I can see the 5-time PGA Tour winner going well on Champion Bermuda carpet that he thrives upon. With his winner's exemption from Harbour Town (2013) now a memory, Carl will be taking this week's opportunity seriously, as he did in Puerto Rico in April when he finished 4th. Putted well last time out at Sea Island and in our Predictor Top 6. RESULT: T51
Texan Stefani has been upbeat on Twitter about his ball-striking for a while now, knowing that his putting stroke has been letting him down since his 13th place (-14) finish at Deere Run. Now the putter noticeably thawed a little at Sea Island and with a little breeze forecast and fast conditions expected across the weekend I can see Stefani going well on Champion Bermuda greens which he clearly likes (look at his SGP at TPC Southwind). Stefani isn't scared of contending and he won 2 web.com tournaments in 2012 on short formats with winning totals of -17 and -15 - the latter on Bermudagrass greens at Miccosukee. RESULT: T25
I'm constantly shocked by the prices of players, but for once it's positively this week with Jonathan Byrd. Number 1 in our Predictor, the Georgia-based Carolinian is showing signs of building self-confidence right now and we all know just how he thrives in resort golfing tests. Byrd, who is now confident in his ball-striking and scrambling, started to putt far better in Malaysia last week where he only made a single bogey in the closing 36 holes on a course that's logically too tight for him. The CC of Jackson will be perfect for him this week and Byrd has finished 3rd, 12th and 2nd across his last 3 second category level Tour tournaments. A real opportunity this week for a 5-time winner who currently has only part status. RESULT: T25
The talented young Aussie reminds me a little of Jordan Spieth in early 2013 when the Texan hit the PGA Tour in Puerto Rico after a number of top finishes on the web.com Tour. Smith's performance last week in Kuala Lumpur was top-notch when surrounded by a whole host of top-level performers and the Asian Tour phenomenon has been invited to Jackson to play his first PGA Tour event on U.S. soil and goes off at the same triple-digit price with Bet Victor (at time of publishing). Don't be shocked if he takes it all in his stride as he has experience of southern state golf from his amateur days in 2011 where he played in the Southern Amateur (Innisbrook, Florida) and Amateur Players tournaments. His first trip to the United States delivered Top 20 and Top 30 finishes against battle-hardened amateurs like Harris English, Max Homa, and Brooks Koepka. RESULT: MC
Another whose price delighted me this week. With no winners exemption to fall back on, Wilson's game was sure to improve this season. A streaky sort who thrives on Bermudagrass greens, Mark delivered his first Top 10 for 15 months a fortnight ago at Sea Island with a polished display of ball-striking and putting. The latter has been his Achilles heel since his multiple wins in 2011/12, so I wouldn't be surprised to see the University of North Carolina-educated 5-time Tour winner enter this week with real confidence. Wins at Waialae (-16), Scottsdale (-18) and PGA West (-24) highlight the scoring levels he can reach on short to mid-length setups. RESULT: T9
A stellar 2013 pushed D.A. Points into the OWGR Top 50. It was never going to last and 2013/14 was typically the polar opposite. However the first signs of realisation that his PGA Tour status needs to be earned this season could be seen at Sea Island where points finished 22nd. The Florida resident has always been seriously Par 72 positive and Jackson could be just the tonic this week, especially as D.A. seemingly gets on with Champion Bermuda greens. An aggressive player who can shoot low scores on Par 72s. RESULT: MC