Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Corales Puntacana Championship Tips

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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2018 Corales Championship. Follow Steve on twitter: @bamfordgolf

We take a step into the unknown this week as the PGA Tour ventures to the Dominican Republic and the Corales Golf Club. The PGA Tour has signed a 4-year contract with Grupo Puntacana, the owner of the Puntacana Resort & Club, which will see this tournament on the schedule through the 2020/21 season. An alternate event alongside the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as per all alternate events it offers a $3million prize fund (the same as the prestigious Abu Dhabi and Dubai Desert Classic events on the European Tour) and 300 FedEx Cup points to the winner. However rookies, veterans and PGA Tour journeymen flying into Punta Cana this week all have the opportunity to grab a PGA Tour victory and, more importantly, full playing privileges until the close of 2019/20. 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.

Course Guide: Corales Golf Club has played host to a couple of events, although no player statistics were recorded which isn’t most helpful. Set by the coast, it plays to a long 7,668 yards and is a Par 72, but with temperatures pushing 30 degrees Celsius each day, the ball travels a mile in these parts. As part of the Puntacana Resort, the course is not the most difficult even at Tour level, so expect plenty of attacking play this week. The inland front-9 is where the heavy scoring happens, with the back-9 featuring plenty of coast-lined holes and some long par-3s, par-4s and par-5s.

Corales Golf Club, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic: Designer: Tom Fazio 2010; Course Type: Resort, Coastal; Par: 72; Length: 7,668 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 4; Fairways: Supreme Paspalum; Rough: Supreme Paspalum 2″; Greens: Supreme Paspalum; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2016: 69.67 (-2.33), Difficulty Rank 25 of 26 courses. 2017: 70.34 (-1.66), Difficulty Rank 22 of 28 courses.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:

  • Atunyote GC – Turning Stone Championship 2007-10
  • Eagle Point – Wells Fargo Championship 2017
  • Raptor Course Greyhawk GC – Fry’ Open 2008/09

Fazio has also had re-design input into:

  • Conway Farms GC- BMW Championship 2013, 2015 & 2017.
  • Seaside Course at Sea Island – RSM Classic
  • Quail Hollow – Wells Fargo Championship to 2016 & 2017 PGA Championship.
  • Riviera Country Club – Genesis Open 2009 onwards.

Course Overview: Unless you’re a keen viewer of the Tour, the Corales Golf Club is probably a total step into the unknown, so let’s try to establish what we’re dealing with as the PGA Tour makes its first ever trip to the Dominican Republic. The Corales course opened in 2010 and is a Tom Fazio design. A little like El Camaleon which hosts the OHL Classic in the autumn, the Corales is split between inland and coastal sections. Away from the shore, the course features a number of water hazards and fairways marked with coconut trees, but in the main, the inland section is more than scoreable. 6 holes play along the coast, including the home stretch across holes 16 to 18, known as the Devils Elbow. From a grass perspective this week we are dealing with Paspalum greens, so for PGA Tour stop-offs think again about El Camaleon, Coco Beach G&CC host of the Puerto Rico Open and TPC Kuala Lumpur which has hosted the CIMB Classic since 2013.

As part of the Corales Puntacana Resort complex, the course is clearly designed around the needs of amateur golfers, so this isn’t a hard test. The outbound set of 9 holes is where some serious scoring is essential. With the longest par-4 measuring 465 yards and 2 par-5s which only measure 563 yards (4th) and 515 yards (7th), the front side of the golf course is there for the taking. Indeed it averaged 1.50 (2016) and 1.66 (2017) shots below par across the 2 renewals hosted here. The inward 9 is more stringent with both par-5s playing over 600 yards and the closing Devils Elbow putting up far sterner resistance.

Winning scores here so far have been -20/268 and -24/264. The par-3, par-4, par-5 split was -2 -9 -13 for Bozzelli in 2016 and a more level -5 -8 -7 split for Lashley in 2017. With a slightly stronger field playing this week, but a split weather forecast, I’m thinking the strong wind over the weekend might bring the scoring down a tad on what we saw here in 2016 and 2017. Winners: 2017: Nate Lashley (-20); 2016: Dominic Bozzelli (-24).

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 Harris English, Rory Sabbatini, Emiliano Grillo, Graeme McDowell, Jim Furyk, Scott Piercy, Alex Cejka, Kelly Kraft, Jason Bohn and D.A. Points.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Sony Open 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) Ken Duke; 2) Emiliano Grillo; 3) Jim Furyk; 4) Johnson Wagner / Xin-Jun Zhang; 6) Kyle Thompson; 7) David Lingmerth; 8) K.J. Choi; 9) Fabian Gomez; 10) Richy Werenski; 11) Brice Garnett / Graeme McDowell / Rory Sabbatini; 14) Tim Herron; 15) Ben Crane; 16) Scott Piercy; 17) Alex Cejka / Joel Dahmen / Tyler Duncan; 20) Davis Love III.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Scott Piercy; 2) Sam Ryder; 3) Emiliano Grillo; 4) Corey Conners; 5) J.J. Henry; 6) Denny McCarthy / Rory Sabbatini; 8) Kevin Tway; 9) Andrew Putnam; 10) Nate Lashley; 11) Davis Love III; 12) Tyler Duncan / Xin-Jun Zhang; 14) Jonathan Byrd; 15) Brett Stegmaier; 16) Tim Herron / Adam Schenk; 18) Martin Flores / Keith Mitchell; 20) Harris English.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Ricky Barnes; 2) Emiliano Grillo; 3) Lanto Griffin; 4) Andres Romero; 5) Greg Chalmers / Michael Kim; 7) Scott Piercy; 8) David Lingmerth; 9) Troy Merritt; 10) Harris English / Trey Mullinax; 12) Jim Furyk / Tom Lovelady; 14) Fabian Gomez / Mike Weir; 16) Martin Flores / Ethan Tracy; 18) Robert Garrigus / Ricky Werenski; 20) Johnson Wagner.

Historical Weather:

2017: Thursday: Light rain shower early AM. Dry rest of day. High of 85. Winds out of the E-E/SE 8-16 mph with 0.05 inches of rain. Friday: Dry. High of 85. Winds coming out of the E/SE 7-14 mph. Saturday: Dry. High of 84. Winds coming out of the E-SE 7-15 mph. Sunday: Very light rain shower AM. Dry rest of day. High of 85 with winds coming out of the ESE-SE 7-15 mph.

2016: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 85 degrees. Wind WSW 7-12 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 88 degrees. Winds SSW 7-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. Afternoon gave way to scattered showers totalling 0.25” of rainfall. High of 82. Wind SW 10-15. Sunday: Scattered showers in the morning followed by partly cloudy and breezy conditions in the afternoon. High of 80. Wind WNW 10-15.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, is here. I’m expecting typical equatorial conditions with temperatures approaching 28 degrees Celsius. It will be calm over the opening 36 holes so expect low scoring. A front though arriving during play on Saturday will see rain and wind, with Sunday looking particularly gnarly. Here’s hoping for a Sunday finish.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 2 Tour Corales Championship winners:

  • 2017 – Nate Lashley: Round 1: 53rd, Round 2: 8th, Round 3: 5th.
  • 2016 – Dominic Bozzelli: Round 1: 45th, Round 2: 5th, Round 3: 1st.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of Paspalum PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 1 – Alex Cejka, Harris English, Graeme McDowell, D.A. Points, Johnson Wagner, Mark Wilson.

I would preach being sensible this week at a course we know very little about and with a field quality the likes of which I cannot recall being so poor on the PGA Tour. Yes the Corales Golf Club has hosted a couple of tournaments across 2016 and 2017, but apart from the leaderboards there were no additional player statistics captured whatsoever. Reading names like Cameron Beckman, Michael Bradley, Robert Gamez, Jonathan Kaye, Len Mattiace, Parker McLachlin, Shaun Micheel, Chris Smith, Marc Turnesa, Omar Uresti and Mike Weir in the field also does little to quicken the pulse. NFL superstar and respected TV analyst Tony Romo also makes his PGA Tour debut. Naturally though despite the tournaments clear frailties, this, as ever with these alternate events, is a huge opportunity for many in the field who can use this as a springboard to bigger and better things.

Recent alternate tournament winners and odds since the new style wrap-around PGA Tour season was put in place can be seen here: Armour (100/1), Stroud (80/1), Murray (66/1), Points (175/1), Gribble (125/1), 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.

Since 2010, only Cody Gribble (125/1) at the 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship and Scott Brown (50/1) at the 2013 Puerto Rico Open have won one of these alternate events after entering the tournament off the back of a top-10 finish. So selecting a player based purely on strong immediate form has not been the differentiator across the vast majority of the events. That philosophy links in well to the psyche of players who enter these second tier tournaments knowing they can win – a pressure that they generally aren’t comfortable with.

My selections are as follows:

Harris English 1.5pts EW 33/1 with Coral

Harris English looks a must-back for me this week. Clear at the top of my published predictor model, there’s enough about him recently to suggest that a contending performance is imminent, but just enough ambiguity to protect his price to make him a decent proposition. Direct form of 22(Bay Hill)-MC-MC-33(PGA National)-MC-MC-8(Torrey Pines)-11(PGA West), keeps him a little under the radar, which has to be a good thing given the overriding form profile of alternate winners. But within his appearances since January there’s real positivity. He finished with a final round -7/65 at PGA West to finish 11th, contended as he often does at Torrey Pines finishing 8th in a stellar field and shot -3/67 in 25 mph gusting winds at PGA National. 15th for Greens in Regulation last week at Bay Hill, Harris has always taken a liking to coastal challenges. The 2014 OHL Classic winner at El Camaleon on Paspalum greens, English has putted positively across his past 3 appearances. 2016 winner here Dominic Bozzelli’s 3 best PGA Tour finishes have been at PGA West, Copperhead and St Jude and they tie-in nicely with English who was 11th at PGA West this term, has 2 top 10s at Copperhead and was a winner at St Jude also in 2014. RESULT: T5

Kelly Kraft 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral

Kelly Kraft is another I like on the basis that he’s been showing some decent enough form which hasn’t scared the odds compilers too much and has a nice habit of late of playing well in the wind. Many may well remember Kraft from the 2011 U.S. Amateur hosted on the astronomically long Erin Hills. He won the title beating the favourite in the final – one Patrick Cantlay. That final was played in windy conditions and one look at Kraft’s professional CV tells you he has no issues in technical conditions or by the coast. So if this gets pretty gnarly across the weekend I can see Kelly progressing along ok, especially if my assumption of a -17/18 winning total is correct. Since Kraft gained promotion to the PGA Tour via a 2015 campaign which saw him win the Louisiana Open (-14/272) on Bermudagrass greens and finish 2nd at the BMW Pro-Am (-23/263), his steady progress is clear to see. 5th at the 2016 John Deere Classic in a largely disappointing rookie campaign was then followed by a runner-up finish to Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach National in 2017. 3rd at the pairs Zurich Classic of New Orleans (when partnered with Kevin Tway) on Bermudagrass again shows he can deliver birdies when required and Kraft was also right in the mix at the Greenbrier Classic where he finished 5th. Fired into life last month with 8th at the Honda Classic and 31st on his last outing at Copperhead where he was tied for 7th after 54 holes. 15th on his only other alternate event start at the 2015 Puerto Rico Open is also encouraging. RESULT: 3rd

Derek Fathauer 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral

I like the look of Derek Fathauer for this assignment who’s always played his best stuff in warmer, tropical climes. 3rd and 9th in Panama, 8th in Colombia and the winner of the 2014 Tour Championship at TPC Sawgrass; on the PGA Tour that trend has continued for Derek who’s finished 4th at the 2015 OHL Classic in Cancun, Mexico and 3rd at the 2016 CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, both played on scoreable courses featuring Paspalum greens. He’s certainly not the longest off the tee, but looking at the previous contenders here, short hitters can compete – especially as the par-5s on the back 9 tend to be 3 shot approaches for all. For experienced players I always like to see Tour pros who take these alternate events seriously, so 7th (2015) and 6th (2017) at the Barracuda plus 10th this season at the Sandersons Farms Championship tick those boxes. He’s also in excellent nick right now: 16th at the star-studded Genesis Open saw Fathauer 7th after 54 holes and he followed that up with a positive 13th at the Honda Classic where he finished with a -5/65 finishing round which was the best of the day. This level of tournament will be right up Derek’s street and assignments where birdies are key is always a positive for the Florida-based 32 year-old who can putt with the best of them. RESULT: MC

Rafael Campos 1pt EW 80/1 with Betfred

The 125/1 and 100/1 may have gone about Rafael Campos but I will follow in at 80/1 about the 29 year-old Puerto Rican, who will see this week as a huge opportunity to enhance his credentials further. A Latinoamerica Tour stalwart for many a year, Campos came to our attention at his home open in 2016 when he led after 36 holes, eventually finishing 8th. That led to an extended campaign on the Tour where little happened for the rest of the year. However it was 12 months ago where Campos’ ascendancy really started. 4th at 36 and 54 holes at the Puerto Rico Open was the launchpad and although Rafael finished 10th, that was enough to earn a further main-Tour start at the Houston Open. The trip to Texas again saw Campos in contention and he earned a lot of respect that week, taking a great each-way return with 7th spot. 32nd at The Heritage then followed and from there he went on to again tackle the Tour for a second time. His first event was here at Corales Golf Club where 67-64-69 saw him in the lead after 54 holes. He failed to convert, finishing tied for 3rd, but a further 3 consecutive top-11 finishes on mainland U.S. soil saw him grab full playing privileges for this year, which has started well. A return to equatorial climes in January and February saw Rafael finish 3rd at the Great Exuma Classic in the Bahamas and then 2nd at the Panama Championship. So we know he can play by the coast, he also seems very comfortable on par-72s and is no stranger to contending on the PGA Tour. After shaking the rust off last week, I can see him having another big week on a course he clearly likes. RESULT: MC

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 10:30GMT 20.3.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.

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