Naturally the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone takes centre stage this week, packed full of the world’s very best players one week before the final Major of 2018. It would be easy to cast aside the Barracuda Championship at Montreux Golf & Country Club, however it’s a betting heat that I always enjoy and we’ve had winning success in the near past with J.J. Henry and Gary Woodland.
The Barracuda for me is all about spotting players who’ll arrive in Reno, Nevada with real motivation to perform this week and an improving game to boot. Played on a pretty stock Nicklaus-designed Par 72 at altitude, the field also contains some established players, many of whom are fighting for their lucrative careers. The full 2-year PGA Tour exemption available to the winner is a huge carrot, as is the possibility of harvesting enough FedEx Cup points to grab a spot in the magical top 125 or even top 150 (partial status for 17/18).
Paul Williams has previewed the WGC Bridgestone Invitational – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
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Course Guide: Montreux, at 7,472 yards, is a long Par-72 located at altitude in the high Nevada mountains where the ball travels further than normal. Montreux features runway-wide fairways but quite small 5,500 square feet average sized greens with a Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix construction running to 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Naturally aggressive players should thrive under the Stableford rules, but Montreux favours players who are decent ball-strikers and those who excel with a mid-iron in hand.
Montreux Golf & Country Club, Reno, Nevada: Designer: Jack Nicklaus 1992; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,472 yards; Water Hazards: 5; Fairways: Bentgrass Ryegrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass 3.5″; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Montreaux G&CC and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:
- Montreux G&CC : 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:41; 300:42; 325:40; 350:38
- Glen Abbey: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:31; 300:29; 325:29; 350:30.
- Carnoustie: Average 28 yards.
- TPC Deere Run: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:37; 325:33; 350:30.
- Old White TPC: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:34; 300:34; 325:35; 350:32.
- TPC Potomac: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:27; 325:23; 350:27.
- TPC River Highlands: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:28; 325:28; 350:27.
- Shinnecock Hills: Average 42 yards with 8th hole widest at 64 yards wide.
- TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.
- Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:35; 300:31; 325:26; 350:30.
- Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:27; 325:26; 350:23.
- Trinity Forest: 250 yards from the tee: 58 yards wide; 275:54; 300:56; 325:60; 350:57.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Jack Nicklaus designs include:
- Valhalla Golf Club – 2014 PGA Championship
- Muirfield Village – Memorial Tournament
- Glen Abbey – RBC Canadian Open – 2008, 2013, 2015-2018
- PGA National – Honda Classic
- Sherwood Country Club – Thousand Oaks – World Challenge through 2013
- Annandale Golf Club – Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013
- PGA West – Nicklaus Private – Humana Challenge through 2015
- PGA West – Tournament Course – CareerBuilder Challenge 2016 – 2018
Course Overview: Montreux G&CC is a typical Jack Nicklaus design that becomes more challenging the closer a player gets to the hole. Fairways are huge and easy to hit giving the most inaccurate a fighting chance. Played at 5,500 feet altitude where the air is dry and thin, long hitters undoubtedly have a huge advantage on a course where 400 yard drives are more than possible on some holes. Longer hitters can reach the 4 par-5s with 2 lusty blows but can also attack a couple of driveable par-4s at the 4th and 14th. They also have the advantage of being able to take 3-wood or irons off of some tees plus can attack plenty of pin locations with wedges as opposed to mid-irons. Since 2012 this event has been played utilising the Modified Stableford scoring format – you can find out more about how points are accrued here: Modified Stableford System.
Winners: 2017: Chris Stroud (44); 2016: Greg Chalmers (43); 2015: J.J. Henry (47); 2014: Geoff Ogilvy (49); 2013: Gary Woodland (44); 2012: J.J. Henry (43); 2011: Scott Piercy (-15); 2010: Matt Bettencourt (-11).
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 Joel Dahmen, J.J. Henry, Steve Wheatcroft, Hunter Mahan, Kevin Streelman, Cameron Percy, Richy Werenski, Hudson Swafford, Bronson Burgoon and Johnson Wagner.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Fort Worth Invitational / BMW PGA Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour 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:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Mark Wilson; 2) Ken Duke; 3) Kris Blanks; 4) Ben Silverman; 5) Conrad Shindler; 6) J.J. Henry / David Lingmerth; 8) J.J. Spaun; 9) Brian Stuard; 10) Ben Crane / Kevin Streelman; 12) Corey Conners; 13) Jason Bohn / Steve Wheatcroft; 15) Xinjun Zhang; 16) Billy Hurley III; 17) John Merrick / Michael Thompson; 19) Parker McLachlin; 20) Vaughn Taylor.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Kevin Streelman; 2) J.J. Henry; 3) Andrew Putnam; 4) John Merrick; 5) Joel Dahmen / C.T. Pan; 7) Shane Lowry; 8) Scott Stallings; 9) George McNeill / J.J. Spaun; 11) Corey Conners / MacKenzie Hughes / Richy Werenski; 14) Adam Schenk / Steve Wheatcroft; 16) Robert Streb; 17) William McGirt; 18) Bronson Burgoon; 19) Ken Duke; 20) Xinjun Zhang.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Brendon De Jonge; 2) Hunter Mahan; 3) Brandon Harkins; 4) Alex Cejka; 5) Patrick Rodgers; 6) Peter Malnati; 7) Derek Fathauer; 8) Joel Dahmen; 9) C.T. Pan / Steve Wheatcroft; 11) Tommy Gainey; 12) Mackenzie Hughes / Graeme McDowell / Andres Romero; 15) Ollie Schniederjans; 16) Jonathan Randolph; 17) Fabian Gomez; 18) Shane Lowry; 19) Parker McLachlin / Rob Oppenheim.
Winners & Prices: 2017: Stroud 80/1; 2016: Chalmers 300/1; 2015: Henry 80/1; 2014: Ogilvy 66/1; 2013: Woodland 40/1; 2012: Henry 40/1; 2011: Piercy 50/1; 2010: Bettencourt 200/1. Average: 107/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 132/1.
- 2017: Weather: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 94. Wind light and variable early and WNW 10-15 mph in the afternoon. Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 91. Wind light and variable early and WNW 10-15 mph in the afternoon, gusting to 25 mph. Due to a dangerous weather situation, play was suspended at 4:39 p.m. Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 82. Wind WNW 12-16 mph, gusting to 25 mph. Sunday: Due to anticipated weather, final-round tee times were threesomes off of both tees, from 7:39-9:40 a.m. PT. Mostly sunny. High of 80. Wind light and variable 5-10 mph.
- 2016: Thursday: Sunny, with a high of 95. Wind WSW 10-15 mph. Friday: Sunny, with highs in the upper 80s. Wind WSW 10-15 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with highs in the lower 90s. Wind WSW 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with high of 86 degrees. Wind SW 5-10 mph.
- 2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high in the low-90s. Wind WSW at 15-20 mph. Friday: Cloudy, with light showers. High of 74, with WSW wind at 10-20 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with afternoon highs in the upper-80s. Wind WSW at 7-15 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with an afternoon high of 85. Wind WSW at 7-15 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Reno, Nevada, is here: Clear skies and temperatures reaching 28-33 degrees Celsius in the afternoon. Morning starters will play in tranquil conditions, but as we often see in the desert 15-20 mph winds will whip up in the afternoon, making it a little tricky in terms of club selection, especially at altitude.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners at Montreux gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2017, Chris Stroud (44). 295 yards (60th), 80.4% fairways (23rd), 61.1% greens in regulation (50th), 1.52 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2016, Greg Chalmers (42). 297 yards (64th), 80.4% fairways (25th), 65.3% greens in regulation (20th), 1.55 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2015, J.J. Henry (47). 312 yards (23rd), 80.4% fairways (33rd), 68.1% greens in regulation (31st), 1.51 putts per GIR (1st).
- 2014, Geoff Ogilvy (49). 311 yards (30th), 82.1% fairways (14th), 75.0% greens in regulation (4th), 1.54 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2013, Gary Woodland (44). 333 yards (6th), 78.6% fairways (32nd), 65.3% greens in regulation (20th), 1.60 putts per GIR (4th).
- 2012, J.J. Henry (43). 335 yards (6th), 85.7% fairways (8th), 69.4% greens in regulation (7th), 1.58 putts per GIR (3rd).
- 2011, Scott Piercy (-15). 330 yards (13th), 73.2% fairways (56th), 72.2% greens in regulation (5th), 1.67 putts per GIR (19th).
- 2010, Matt Bettencourt (-11). 338 yards (2nd), 78.6% fairways (44th), 59.7% greens in regulation (41st), 1.56 putts per GIR (1st).
Tournament Skill Averages:
- Driving Distance: 25th, Driving Accuracy: 29th, Greens in Regulation: 22nd, Putting Average 4th.
So let’s take a view from players as to how the course sets up and what specific skills it requires:
Chris Stroud (2017): “My dad sent me a text last night, he goes, hey, I don’t want to get in your way, he said, but this is a good format for you. You’ve been making a lot of birdies. He said just go out and make as many as you can, see if you can make a couple of eagles. And sure enough I made two eagles on the weekend. So it was good. You know, I really wasn’t hitting the ball off the tee very great today. I hit it great all week, but on 18, you know, you need to turn over a driver there. A 3-wood into the wind today, I needed to hit a driver. But if you leak it to the right you can get into those trees. Tried to hit a draw, kind of fanned it out to the right. I didn’t hit a great drive. But I get up, still in the fairway. And it’s a perfect 5-wood coming in. Yesterday we looked at that pin and my caddy, Casey (phonetic), said look how firm it is in front of this green. We can run it up. Had a 5-wood in play and honestly I have not hit one good 5-wood this week on the range, on the golf course. And I get up there and I’m like, well, I’m just going to put this thing back in my stance a little bit because I gotta chase it anyway, and I hit the best 5-wood I could possibly hit. We thought I made it. When I hit it, as soon as it the bounced and started coming down, I thought it was going in the hole. I am very thankful to have that opportunity and to make a great putt at the end.“
Greg Chalmers (2016): “No, normally you guys get like a nice little 15-mile-an-hour breeze at some point. This didn’t do a lot today. I thought we were going to get some light breezes up around 14, 12. Really wasn’t a factor. And when it’s windy here, it’s tricky and the greens are getting firmer. I think it will get trickier as the week goes on if there’s no water put on it. Looking forward to that. Start slowing down a bit. When you’ve got all these altitude – not just the actual altitude but all the level changes you have out here going down 17 and things like that. Few other holes like that.“
J.J. Henry (2015): “As I mentioned, I just love being here. It’s a great place to be this time year up in the mountains, up in the trees, and it’s a fun golf course to play. I think there is a lot of local knowledge. I think that’s why I’ve played well here in the past. The fact that you’re at altitude, there is some wind, some elevation. There is a lot figuring going on between Pete Jordan, my caddie, and I. We’ve kind of figured it out it look like, so hopefully we can do it one more time. The reason why the scores are probably a little bit lower in year’s past is just the fact that we had a little bit of that rain that softened it up so the greens are a little bit more receptive. This place can get pretty tricky when the greens get firm. But, you know it you hit the ball in the fairway you’re going to have some shorter irons playing at altitude. With soft greens, you know, these guys are good. Somebody is going to play well, and fortunately it’s been me so far after three rounds.“
Geoff Ogilvy (2014): “I mean, every week we play out here is a week of opportunity. I mean, wins go a long way. Doesn’t matter which tournament you win. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I love playing on the West Coast. I live in Arizona, and it’s high altitude but it’s a similar type of air. It suits somebody traditionally like me. I’ve always been a birdie/bogey golfer, rather than a par every hole golfer.“
Gary Woodland (2013): “You know, it helped my caddie has been here before. But the golf course suits my eye really well. I think length is a huge advantage here. With the altitude I was hitting middle irons into the par 5s today. I think I hit 2 iron up on 2; I hit 5 iron into 8; hit 6 iron into 18. So I’m hitting middle irons into these par 5s, which helps. Then a lot of the holes I can hit 2 iron off the tee box. The fairways are wide enough for me and just suits me very well.“
J.J. Henry (2012): “I made three eagles throughout the week that in this format is really what it’s all about, to capitalize on the aggressive play, make the occasional eagle or extra birdie, and obviously try to avoid doubles or worse. A birdie and a bogey is better than two pars. Again, it’s a great golf course. A lot of risk reward. Some reachable par 5s; a driveable par 4 too based on the tees and the wind direction. So it’s just a great venue. Reminds me a lot of the Stableford event we used to play outside of Denver there at Castle Pines. Just a beautiful place to be. It’s one of my favourite places anywhere.“
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Chris Stroud: MC Canada/35th Barbasol/19th Deere Run/20th Greenbrier.
- Greg Chalmers: MC Air Capital Classic/MC Nashville Open/27th Rust-Oleum/MC Puntacana.
- J.J. Henry: 63rd RTJ/41st Canada/23rd Barbasol/MC Deere Run.
- Geoff Ogilvy: 34th Canada/55th Congressional/MC US Open/MC St Jude.
- Gary Woodland: 61st Canada/48th JDC/62nd Old White TPC/18th Congressional.
- J.J. Henry: 37th Canada/21st Annandale/13th Deere Run/MC Old White TPC.
- Scott Piercy: MC Old White TPC/6th Canada/18th Annandale/45th Deere Run.
- Matt Bettencourt: 49th Deere Run/MC Aronimink/MC TPC River Highlands/70th US Open.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 2 – J.J. Henry, Hunter Mahan.
- 1 – Aaron Baddeley, Jonas Blixt, Ben Crane, Bill Haas, Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Graeme McDowell, William McGirt, John Merrick, Geoff Ogilvy, D.A. Points, John Rollins, Scott Stallings, Chris Stroud, Vaughn Taylor.
This week is all about attacking golf. With eagles worth 5 points and bogeys -1 point, players who can create numerous scoring chances and convert plenty of them will gravitate to the head of the leaderboard. Such a format also rewards those who can take advantage of the altitude which, at 5,500 feet, is the highest tournament location on the PGA Tour.
This tournament and format used to be the domain of bombers. J.J. Henry averaged 311 yards from the tee here in 2015 whilst Geoff Ogilvy also topped 310 yards (30th in the field). Gary Woodland, J.J. Henry (his first triumph in 2012) and Scott Piercy all averaged over 330 yards in their wins across 2011-2014. Naturally this kind of length from the tee unlocks the par-5s here. But across the both the 2016 and 2017 renewals, Chris Stroud, Richy Werenski, Greg Chalmers and Colt Knost have won or seriously contended here. So short hitters who enjoy an inspired putting week can not only contend but win here at this shoot-out.
A top 125 spot in the FedEx Cup is a critical target for the vast majority in the field this week. J.J. Spaun has the highest FedEx Cup ranking in the field at 53rd, however no winner has been ranked inside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup when arriving in Nevada – indeed Scott Piercy (142nd), Geoff Ogilvy (151st), J.J. Henry (151st), Greg Chalmers (229th) and last year Chris Stroud (144th), were well outside the top 125 when triumphing. Another handy pointer is that no victor here has had a winner’s exemption in their back pocket. For reference the following players are fully exempt through 2018-19: Jonas Blixt, Matt Every, Cody Gribble, Mackenzie Hughes, Billy Hurley III, William McGirt, Grayson Murray, Rod Pampling, D.A. Points, Chris Stroud (defending) and Hudson Swafford.
My selections are as follows: