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Patience in Gary Woodland could have paid off in spades at the CJ Cup where a final round 63 put some pressure on Brooks Koepka. Level with Woodland at the turn, Brooks showed his true class on the back-nine to secure his 5th PGA Tour victory and of course the World Number 1 spot. 2018 has been some golfing year with Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and now Koepka holding the coveted top spot in World golf. I can't be too dissatisfied with a 35/1 place return and that backed-up Cameron Smith who finished 3rd at the CJ Cup 12 months ago at 45/1.
This week we move from Jeju Island, South Korea to Mississippi for the Sanderson Farms Championship with the event playing second fiddle to the HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai. These alternate, 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 2020/21. 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.
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Course Guide: Despite extending the Country Club of Jackson course by 57 yards last year, the course doesn't hold too many fears for PGA Tour pros. At 7,421 yards for a Par 72, length is pretty standard for these modern times, 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 features plenty of straight holes.
Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi: Designer: Wilson, 1962, Fought redesign, 2008; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,421 yards; Water Hazards: 11; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2.5"; Greens: 6,200 sq.ft average Champion Ultra Dwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft. Scoring Average 2014: 71.47 (-0.53), Difficulty Rank 27 of 52 courses. 2015: 70.47 (-1.53), Difficulty Rank 46 of 50 courses. 2016: 71.06 (-0.94), Difficulty Rank of 34 of 50 courses. 2017: 71.83 (-0.17), Difficulty Rank of 21 of 51 courses.
Jackson Country Club Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Jackson CC and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
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 pretty average in size - 6,200 sq.ft. average - and feature Ultradwarf Champion Bermudagrass, the likes of which were found at previous tournament host course Annandale, but also feature at TPC Southwind, RTJ Trail (Grand National - Barbasol Championship 2015 - 2017), Sedgefield (since 2012) and Quail Hollow (since the 2017 PGA Championship). Visually the course looks quite tight with Nick Taylor, Peter Malnati, Cody Gribble and Ryan Armour all ending up at least mid-division for driving accuracy when winning across the 4 tournaments hosted here in Jackson, Mississippi.
The Country Club of Jackson does present a level of challenge and interestingly we've seen relatively fast, soft conditions and cold, windy conditions across the past 4 renewals held here. 27th out of 52 courses in terms of difficulty in 2014 was followed by 46th out of 50 courses (soft), 34th out of 50 courses (humid with watered greens) and 21st of 51 courses 12 months ago, where conditions were remarkably cold and windy for Mississippi. With tough, Northern European-type conditions forecast this week in the famous southern state, this might not be the complete birdiefest we often expect.
The key to contending here seems to be to unlock a relatively difficult set of par-5s - 8th most difficult for Birdie or Better Conversion in 2016 - whilst scoring well on a set of par-4s that are far easier in comparison. Taylor, Malnati, Gribble and Armour all topped the field for birdies made on their way to victories here.
Interestingly the top 5 on the leaderboard here last year all featured in the top 11 for Strokes Gained Off the Tee. If that remains the case in 2018, power off the tee is no bad thing. Greens are easy to hit here even with fast stimp conditions, but putting on these Champion Bermudagrass greens isn't easy with Birdie or Better Conversion with the putter being the 28th, 15th and 14th most difficult on Tour across the opening 3 tournaments hosted here. So we're looking for players who are currently scoring well on par-5s, can naturally make birdies and who are confident putters on Bermudagrass.
Winners: 2017: Ryan Armour (-19); 2016: Cody Gribble (-20); 2015: Peter Malnati (-18); 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 predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Cameron Davis, Ricky Barnes, Chris Kirk, Curtis Luck, Bill Haas, Sam Saunders, Chase Wright, Jason Bohn, Sam Burns and Peter Malnati.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Northern Trust and Czech Masters includes PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Armour 125/1; 2016: Gribble 125/1; 2015: Malnati 250/1; 2014: Taylor 400/1; 2013: Austin 125/1; 2012: Stallings 100/1; 2011: Kirk 30/1; 2010: Haas 22/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 225/1. Average: 147/1. For a full summary of winner's odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Jackson, Mississippi is here. Where in the past we've seen temperatures up to 31 degrees Celsius here, 2018 is likely to see relatively inclement weather down in Mississippi. Winds gusting up to 25mph on Thursday and Saturday will negatively affect scoring, as will temperatures which will struggle to make 15 degrees Celsius across the opening 2 days of the tournament. There is a 90%+ chance of significant rain on Thursday, which will undoubtedly soften the course. Sunday should be a true birdie-fest though with warmer conditions and no significant breeze at all.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of CC of Jackson G&CC winners since 2014 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:
Ryan Armour (2017): "You just try. I mean, you're not always going to be able to, but my strength is - obviously have figured this out finally - is driving it in the fairway, hitting it on the green, and trying to make putts. You get some wedges in your hand on 14 and 15, so you're looking to make up some grouped there. 13 is a good little par-3. Just have had good numbers there the last two days. Then 16, chip-in yesterday, 60-footer today. I don't overpower a golf course. I don't go for very many par-5s. I had a chance to go for No. 11 and I laid up. It's just one of those making percentage choices for me."
Cody Gribble (2016): "Well, first, being in the South, growing up on Bermuda fairways, Bermuda greens, it's something difficult, I think. There were some places in there, I think even on 15 - I think it was 15, yeah, there's some grain running into you. It's not a comfortable feeling when you're having to hit a chip that all that grain is tight going into you. That's something I've been able to learn from a young age, and Randy has done a really good job helping me do that through the years. It goes down to just knowing where the pin is at on every green, and do you have a miss, knowing your misses, knowing where to miss the ball, knowing where you can't miss the ball. I think in the last 54 holes, I've made one bogey, and that was on 12, and the pin was front right, and you cannot miss that ball right. I looked at Bob, and I was like - I watched Andres Romero hit a shot almost in the water left, and he was in a better position than I was 20 feet right of the hole."
Peter Malnati (2015): "I mean, the course suits my strengths really well. Several of the par-4s I'm able to hit a short iron into. Because of the wetness, the softness of the conditions, I think that sort of neutralized the par-5s. Some of the longer hitters were probably able to get up there in two on the par-5s, but I'd say the majority of the field probably couldn't, so the par-5s became a bit of a wedge contest, which plays right into my hands. Like I said, several of the par-4s give you a short iron; plays right into my hands. And then the two holes that you would kind of pinpoint as being longer holes, 16 and 18, I really played well all week. I hit it in the water on 16 in the first round I remember, but outside of that, I think I made nothing but pars, maybe a birdie or two even on 16 and 18. If I have a week where I'm going to take those long par-4s and play them well, I really feel like that's the week when I'm going to be up there and be in contention, and sure enough, it was this week."
Nick Taylor (2014): "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 (2014): "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."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 4 Sanderson Farms Championship winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2013:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since the tournament moved to CC of Jackson in 2014. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
It's clear that up until this point the Sanderson Farms Championship has been volatile in terms of its winners since it moved to its autumn spot in the wraparound season format. Tour rookie Nick Taylor was a 400/1 shot in 2014 and although Peter Malnati had a season's PGA Tour experience behind him, his best main Tour finish before arriving in Mississippi had been 14th in Puerto Rico 18 months earlier. Malnati scored in Mississippi at 250/1 with a few punters stumbling on him mainly because he lived down the road in Knoxville, had won on Bermudagrass greens in Brazil on the web.com Tour earlier in the season and was known for his birdie-making style in softer conditions. Cody Gribble in 2016 was a well-backed form horse who had finished 5th in his last web.com Tour outing and a comfortable 9th on his PGA Tour debut 2 weeks prior in Napa, California. Plenty of punters scored on the Texan rookie at a rather tasty 125/1. And last year saw Ryan Armour score his maiden PGA tour victory at the Sanderson Farms - his build-up had included 4th at the Sedgefield hosted Wyndham on the PGA Tour and 2nd at Ohio State GC in the web.com Playoffs. His win was again at 125/1.
Other alternate tournament winners and odds since the new style PGA Tour season was put in place can be seen here: Putnam (28/1), Garnett (66/1), Merritt (55/1), Stroud (80/1), Murray (66/1), Points (175/1), Baddeley (55/1), Chalmers (300/1), Finau (50/1), Piercy (25/1), Henry (80/1), Cejka (125/1), Ogilvy (40/1) and Hadley (50/1). Chesson Hadley was the highest ranked of these in 2014 when he won the Puerto Rico Open at 92nd in the OWGR.
My selections are as follows:
Cameron Davis 1.5pt EW 40/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
With wind a likely factor, Aussie Cameron Davis stands out for me in this field. Davis has played some outstanding golf in the United States this season on the web.com Tour: 17th on his last visit to Mississippi back in April, he was actually 3rd after 36 holes in an event that only went 54 holes. Next event was in Knoxville, Tennessee where he finished 4th behind Stephan Jaeger at Fox Den Country Club. His liking though for the southern United States became even clearer when he took his first web.com Tour victory in Nashville, Tennessee at the Nashville Golf & Athletic Club, shooting -18/270 around a 7,600 yard, par 72. After a short lull, 39th at his first Open Championship at Royal Troon highlights a player who can hold himself in the best of company. Recently the web.com Playoffs have bolstered the confidence of the 23 year-old as he finished 3rd at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship (Ohio State GC), 16th at the DAP Championship (Canterbury Golf Club) and 3rd at the web.com Tour Championship (Atlantic Beach CC). His promotion to the PGA Tour went very smoothly at Silverado with a closing -4/68 in 25-35 mph winds on Sunday. The 2017 Australian Open winner - again in windy conditions at the Australian Golf Club - Davis beat 54-hole leader Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Cameron Smith, Jonas Blixt, Matt Jones and Lucas Herbert to win that coveted title. He's no shrinking violet and should go well this week.
Curtis Luck 1pt EW 80/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Following the Australian route in tougher conditions, Curtis Luck has been playing some very nice stuff across the late summer. 5th at the Quicken Loans National at TPC Potomac and 20th at the Greenbrier Classic both in 2017, Luck played the web.com Tour in 2018. 17th in Panama and 5th at the Savannah Golf Championship in Georgia were the only highlights across the season, but as the pressure grew, so did Luck's results: 6th at the Portland Open, 5th at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship (Ohio State GC), 24th at the Boise Open (Hillcrest CC) and 8th at the web.com Tour Championship (Atlantic Beach CC) are a consistent set of results full of low scores. Indeed -7/65 and -8/64 across Friday and Saturday in Florida put Luck into 2nd place after 54 holes. 5th, 1st and 2nd for Putts per GIR across Portland, Ohio State and Atlantic Beach highlight a player whose putter has been firing across recent outings and Luck also ranks in the top 20 of my 8-week rolling Greens in Regulation window.
Richy Werenski 1pt EW 80/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet* for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Richy Werenski is now into his 3rd season on the PGA Tour and the Jupiter, Florida resident has landed some very tasty results over that time: 2017 saw 9th at PGA West, 18th at RTJ Trail, 2nd at Montreux and 10th at Sedgefield; 2018 to date has seen 11th at TPC San Antonio, 25th at TPC Sawgrass, 4th at TPC Southwind and 2nd at Keene Trace. Undoubtedly an improving trend and I for one think Werenski is not a million miles away from a maiden PGA Tour title. Sedgefield, RTJ Trail and TPC Southwind all feature Champion Bermudagrass so we're looking at a player who clearly comes alive on these putting surfaces. It's also interesting to break down his last few outings: 33rd at Silverado featured an opening round -5/67 (tied 12th in the field), 53rd at Sedgefield saw Werenski fire a closing round -6/64 (tied 5th in the field) and his performance at Keene Trace in the alternate event in late July was superb - 66-66-68-66 saw the Georgia tech graduate finish level with Bill Horschel, just a shot back of winner Troy Merritt. Richy clearly has no issues performing at these 2nd Division PGA Tour events.
Ben Silverman 1pt EW 100/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply** (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Canadian Ben Silverman is a good fit for this week. In his debut season on the PGA Tour, Silverman finished 7th here at Jackson Country Club (Bermudagrass greens), 8th at Sea Island (Bermudagrass greens), 11th at Colonial, 12th at Keene Trace and 11th at Montreux, eventually placing a respectable 136th in the FedEx Cup standings. A return to the web.com Playoffs must have bolstered confidence again as the 30 year-old featured heavily at the web.com Tour Championship played on Bermudagrass greens at Atlantic Beach CC in Florida. In Round 1 he shot -9/63 to take hold of 2nd place and was a feature throughout shooting 68-67-68 to finish in 3rd spot. A 2nd Round -4/68 at the Safeway Open in the seasonal opener highlights that Silverman remains confident and he arrives at the Sanderson Farms with great memories from 12 months ago when he shot 68-70-69 to lay 3rd after 54 holes. The -3/69 on Saturday was played with a breeze that reached 20mph, similar to what we're going to see again this week, and although previous form at Jackson is hardly a pre-requisite for success here, it's clear that 12 months on Ben is putting very well. 2nd (Boise), 9th (web.com Tour) and 15th for Putts per GIR across his last 3 outings, if Silverman can find the dancefloor on a consistent basis then he can have an excellent week.
Wyndham Clark 1pt EW 150/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply** (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
I'll close with Wyndham Clark who showed some very positive signs at Silverado last time out. An opening -6/66 saw Clark tied for 4th after Thursday's play. He eventually finished 33rd with 3 straight 72s, but the signs are there that the 24 year-old can kick-on this week in a part of the world he seemingly thrives in. A new web.com graduate through Q-School in 2017, 2018 has already seen Clark finish 17th in Mississippi (North Mississippi Classic), with 3rd (Knoxville Open) and 11th (Nashville Golf Open) coming in neighbouring Tennessee. And that link continues when we look at the Sanderson Farms Championship 12 months ago: Clark, in only his 7th professional start, fired -6/66 to co-lead after Thursday and he was still 5th at the halfway stage - he eventually finished 17th. A 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th on the web.com Tour in 2018 suggests he might be ready for bigger things this week.
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