Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Puerto Rico Open Tips 2022

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It’s easy to overlook these ‘second division’ alternate PGA Tour tournaments and focus on the main event, which this week is the Arnold Palmer Invitational. However these alternate events are a massive opportunity for both players and punters alike and we’ve enjoyed plenty of success in recent seasons.

This week’s Puerto Rico Open is where the less fortunate have a huge opportunity to grab a PGA Tour victory and, more importantly, full playing privileges until the close of 2023/24. Don’t underestimate the importance of that prize!

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Before we go into the detail surrounding the Puerto Rico Open, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System. Welcome and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published every Tuesday of the golfing calendar), the Steve Bamford Golf Channel on YouTube and our hugely popular, +6,000 strong, private Group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

Course Guide: The tournament is hosted at the freshly-titled Grand Reserve Country Club in Rio Grande. It’s a booming Tom Kite-designed, Par 72 located on an exposed stretch of the island’s northern coastline.

Wind plays a serious factor in the outcome of the tournament and the winning score is pretty much defined by the severity of the breeze from the Mid-Atlantic and whether tournament organisers decide to move forward tees on a number of the par-5s.

We scored here with Chesson Hadley in 2014 when he won at -21/269 and the last renewal held here 12 months ago saw Branden Grace win with a -19/271 total. However. as we see on coastal courses when the wind blows so scores increase, with 2015 seeing Cejka triumph at -7/281 and 2016 seeing Finau capturing the title at -12/276.

Grand Reserve Country Club, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico: Designer: Tom Kite 2004 with Kite re-design 2008; Course Type: Coastal, Resort – can play more Technical in windy conditions; Par: 72; Length: 7,506 yards; Fairways: Salam Paspalum; Rough: Salam Paspalum 2.5″; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average Sea Dwarf Paspalum; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.03 (+0.03), Difficulty Rank 22 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.23 (-1.77), Difficulty Rank 38 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.79 (-1.21), Difficulty Rank 41 of 48 courses. 2015: 72.57 (+0.57), Difficulty Rank 13 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.76 (-0.24), Difficulty Rank 24 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.23 (-1.77), Difficulty Rank 46 of 50 courses. 2019: 71.97 (-0.03), Difficulty Rank 15 of 49 courses. 2020: 70.64 (-1.36), Difficulty Rank 31 of 41 courses. 2021: 71.23 (-0.77), Difficulty Rank 28 of 51 courses.

Course Overview: At 7,500 yards, Grand Reserve CC is a stretching Par 72 at sea level. As with all Par 72s, scoring well on the 4 looks at par-5s is important, especially on the back 9 here where, if played to their full length, the 15th and 18th play at 600 yards and 630 yards respectively. The key (as always) will be maximising par-5 opportunities and scoring heavily on a number of short par-4s where the players get wedge in their hands. Wind as ever here is the key to scoring, and with lighter wind in-play this year, I can see -20/268 being the target a player needs to look at shooting to be in the mix for victory.

puerto rico open tips

Winners: 2021: Branden Grace (-19); 2020: Viktor Hovland (-20); 2019: Martin Trainer (-15); 2017: D.A. Points (-20); 2016: Tony Finau (-12); 2015: Alex Cejka (-7); 2014: Chesson Hadley (-21); 2013: Scott Brown (-20); 2012: George McNeill (-16); 2011: Michael Bradley (-16); 2010: Derek Lamely (-19).

Cut Line: 2021: -1; 2020: -2; 2019: +1.

Lead Score Progression:

  • 2021: Round 1 -7; Round 2 -11; Round 3 -14; Round 4 -19.
  • 2020: Round 1 -8; Round 2 -10; Round 3 -18; Round 4 -20.
  • 2019: Round 1 -6; Round 2 -8; Round 3 -12; Round 4 -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 | Combined Stats.

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 Brice Garnett, Joseph Bramlett, Ryan Armour, Ryan Brehm, Sung Kang, Nate Lashley, Kevin Chappell, Mark Hubbard, Callum Tarren and Peter Uihlein.

Tournament Winners & Prices: 2021: Grace 20/1; 2020: Hovland 12/1F; 2019: Trainer 125/1; 2017: Points 175/1; 2016: Finau 50/1; 2015: Cejka 125/1; 2014: Hadley 50/1; 2013: Brown 50/1; 2012: McNeill 55/1; 2011: Bradley 135/1; 2010: Lamely 110/1. Past 7 Renewals Average: 80/1. Overall Average: 82/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2021: Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 83. Wind ENE 17-23 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 82. Wind ENE 17-23 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy with passing showers. High of 84. Wind ENE 18-24 mph, gusting to 30 mph. Due to a series of short, but heavy downpours, there were three suspensions, totalling 56 minutes: 3:35-3:47 p.m., 4:02-4:20 p.m. and 4:45-5:11 p.m. Players remained in place for the first two delays, but had the option to move to an indoor location for the final delay. Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 82. Wind ENE 20-25 mph, gusting to 30 mph.
  • 2020: Thursday: Partly cloudy. High of 82. E wind 15-25 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy. High of 77. Wind E 6-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind ESE 8-12 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind ENE 5-10 mph.
  • 2019: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with isolated showers. High of 84. Wind E 15-25, with gusts to 30 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy, with isolated showers. High of 84. Wind E 10-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. High of 83. Wind ENE 15-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 83. Wind ENE 10-20 mph, with gusts to 25 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Scattered showers throughout the day, with a high of 82. Wind E 7-12 mph. Due to heavy rain, round one was suspended for the day at 5:06 p.m. and resumed Friday at 7 a.m. Friday: Scattered showers throughout the day, with a high of 84. Wind E 10-15 mph. Due to heavy rain, play was suspended from 11:35 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Due to rain and impending darkness, round two was suspended for the day at 6:21 p.m. Saturday: Due to heavy rain, play was suspended for 12 minutes, from 11:51 a.m. until 12:03 p.m. Scattered showers throughout the day, with a high of 81. Wind ESE 8-12 mph. Sunday: Partly sunny in the morning, giving way to clouds and scattered showers in the afternoon. Due to expected inclement weather, round four tee times were between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. in threesomes off split tees. High of 85. Wind ESE 7-12 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Mostly sunny with highs in the mid-80s. Wind ENE at 15-25 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s. ENE wind at 15-25 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny with the high reaching the mid-80s. Wind ENE at 10-20 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-80s. ENE wind at 10-20 mph, gusting to 25 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Mostly sunny with highs in the mid-80s. Wind ENE at 15-25 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid-80s. ENE wind at 15-25 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny with the high reaching the mid-80s. Wind ENE at 10-20 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-80s. ENE wind at 10-20 mph, gusting to 25 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, is here.

We should be greeted by softer conditions at Grand Reserve CC this year, and as ever expect soft, watered, receptive greens. As ever in Puerto Rico, more rain cannot be ruled out across the week. Scoring by the coast is always dictated by wind levels, and for 2022 it looks like the levels will be down. 10-15 mph easterly winds are less than standard for the opening 36 holes here at Grand Reserve. These rise to gusting 20mph on the weekend, which is the traditional strength and direction we see here. So I think scoring will become slightly lower than we have seen in tough weather years here.

Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 25 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Sentry Tournament of Champions which includes both PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. Players’ rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Top 25 SG Off The Tee: 1) Scott Brown; 2) Ryan Armour; 3) Nick Hardy; 4) Seth Reeves; 5) Curtis Thompson; 6) Jim Herman; 7) Kyle Stanley; 8) Kiradech Aphibarnrat / Kyle Stanley; 10) Austin Smotherman; 11) Chase Seiffert / Bo Van Pelt; 13) Dawie van der Walt; 14) Cameron Percy / Callum Tarren; 16) Tyler Duncan; 17) Jim Knous; 18) Chesson Hadley; 19) Ted Potter Jnr; 20) Austin Cook / Jared Wolfe; 22) Brett Drewitt / Max McGreevy; 24) Brice Garnett / Satoshi Kodaira.
  • Top 25 SG Approach: 1) D.J. Trahan; 2) Robert Garrigus; 3) Sangmoon Bae; 4) Chris Stroud; 5) Victor Perez; 6) Luke Donald; 7) Ryan Armour; 8) Chan Kim; 9) Chase Seiffert; 10) Aaron Baddeley / Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Austin Smotherman / Callum Tarren; 14) Ted Potter Jnr / Matthias Schwab; 16) John Huh; 17) David Hearn / Jared Wolfe; 19) Kiradech Aphibarnrat; 20) Mark Hubbard / Ben Kohles / Brendon Wu; 23) Alan Morin; 24) Tyler Duncan; 25) David Lipsky / Dylan Wu.
  • Top 25 SG Around The Green: 1) Bo Van Pelt; 2) Fabian Gomez; 3) Parker McLachlin; 4) Scott Brown; 5) Ricky Barnes; 6) Robert Garrigus; 7) Ryuji Imada / Matthias Schwab; 9) Vaughn Taylor; 10) Viktor Perez; 11) David Hearn; 12) Bill Haas; 13) Satoshi Kodaira / David Lipsky; 15) Tyler Duncan; 16) Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Brett Drewitt; 18) Scott Gutschewski / Andrew Novak; 20) Aaron Baddeley / Luke Donald; 22) Mark Hubbard / William McGirt / Brian Stuard / Camilo Villegas.
  • Top 25 SG Tee to Green: 1) D.J. Trahan; 2) Robert Garrigus; 3) Scott Brown; 4) Matthias Schwab; 5) Ryan Armour; 6) Vaughn Taylor; 7) Chan Kim; 8) Tyler Duncan / Bo Van Pelt; 10) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 11) Ricky Barnes / Chris Stroud; 13) Sangmoon Bae / Camilo Villegas; 15) Victor Perez; 16) David Lipsky / Callum Tarren; 18) David Hearn / Jared Wolfe; 20) Luke Donald / Brett Drewitt; 22) Chase Seiffert; 23) Bill Haas / Scott Gutschewski / Mark Hubbard / Nate Lashley.
  • Top 25 SG Putting: 1) Parker McLachlin; 2) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 3) Kelly Kraft; 4) Sung Kang; 5) Cameron Percy; 6) Ben Crane / Bronson Burgoon; 8) Jim Knous; 9) David Hearn / Matthias Schwab / Martin Trainer; 12) Satoshi Kodaira / Chase Seiffert; 14) Brice Garnett / Bill Haas; 16) Richy Werenski; 17) John Huh; 18) Ricky Barnes / Dylan Wu; 20) Chesson Hadley; 21) Ryan Armour / Seung-yul Noh; 23) Ben Kohles; 24) Joshua Creel / Ryuji Imada.
  • Top 25 SG Total: 1) Ryan Armour; 2) Rafa Cabrera-Bello; 3) Matthias Schwab; 4) Ricky Barnes / David Hearn; 6) Chase Seiffert; 7) Bill Haas / David Lipsky; 9) Vaughn Taylor; 10) Tyler Duncan; 11) Robert Garrigus / Satoshi Kodaira / Victor Perez; 14) Bo Van Pelt / Dylan Wu; 16) Mark Hubbard / Cameron Percy; 18) John Huh / Chris Stroud; 20) Luke Donald; 21) Sung Kang; 22) Chan Kim / Jim Knous / Austin Smotherman; 25) Andrew Novak.

It’s easy to overlook these ‘second division’ alternate PGA Tour tournaments and focus on the main event which this week is the Arnold Palmer Invitational. However these alternate events are a massive opportunity for both players and punters alike and we’ve enjoyed plenty of success in recent seasons. This week’s Puerto Rico Open is where the less fortunate have a huge opportunity to grab a PGA Tour victory and, more importantly, full playing privileges until the close of 2023/24. Don’t underestimate the importance of that prize!

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the winners of the Puerto Rico Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 2021, Branden Grace (-19). 289 yards (27th), 57.1% fairways (39th), 79.2% greens in regulation (3rd), 73.3 % scrambling (22nd), 1.70 putts per GIR (18th).
  • 2020, Viktor Hovland (-20). 291 yards (14th), 71.4% fairways (23rd), 77.8% greens in regulation (8th), 81.3 % scrambling (6th), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2019, Martin Trainer (-14). 307 yards (7th), 51.8% fairways (62nd), 75.0% greens in regulation (4th), 66.7 % scrambling (32nd), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd).
  • 2017, D.A. Points (-20). 288 yards (52nd), 83.9% fairways (1st), 88.9% greens in regulation (1st), 62.5 % scrambling (52nd), 1.67 putts per GIR (9th).
  • 2016, Tony Finau (-12). 291 yards (23rd), 60.7% fairways (40th), 70.8% greens in regulation (19th), 85.0 % scrambling (1st), 1.79 putts per GIR (37th).
  • 2015, Alex Cejka (-7). 280 yards (26th), 73.2% fairways (8th), 77.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 68.8 % scrambling (16th), 1.77 putts per GIR (28th).
  • 2014, Chesson Hadley (-21). 290 yards (26th), 67.9% fairways (29th), 80.6% greens in regulation (6th), 64.3 % scrambling (45th), 1.64 putts per GIR (3rd).
  • 2013, Scott Brown (-20). 301 yards (7th), 71.4% fairways (15th), 68.1% greens in regulation (62nd), 65.2% scrambling (47th), 1.55 putts per GIR (1st).
  • 2012, George McNeill (-16). 279 yards (31st), 64.3% fairways (49th), 77.8% greens in regulation (5th), 50.0% scrambling (42nd), 1.70 putts per GIR (4th).
  • 2011, Michael Bradley (-16). 293 yards (43rd), 64.3% fairways (24th), 81.9% greens in regulation (2nd), 61.5% scrambling (22nd), 1.75 putts per GIR (20th).
  • 2010, Derek Lamely (-19). 283 yards (11th), 50.0% fairways (66th), 72.2% greens in regulation (32nd), 80.0% scrambling (6th), 1.62 putts per GIR (3rd).

Traditional Skill Set Averages:

  • Driving Distance: 22nd, Driving Accuracy: 32nd, Greens in Regulation: 14th, Scrambling: 26th, Putting Average 12th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how Grand Reserve Country Club sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Branden Grace (2021): “Coming here, I didn’t really know what to expect, but the golf course is great. I think they’ve really played it safe so far. And the wind has been consistent. But I feel, Anirban and I actually spoke on the golf course. even with this 15-20-mile-an-hour wind, it still feels like it’s gettable out there. You can make some birdies and give yourself some chances.”

And knowing what the golf course is going to offer. When I got here, it was firm, it was breezy. And that’s what the locals said it’s going to be like this the whole week. So I love playing in the windy conditions. I see the shots. I love feeding the shots, and things like that, and really moving the ball out there And I just played some flawless golf this week.

Viktor Hovland (2020): Weather’s been nice. It’s been pretty windy, which I’m kind of used to in Oklahoma. I feel like the wind is blowing out of the same direction here every day, so I think we’ll see the course playing very similar to the first couple days. I’m sure the pins are going to be a little more tucked in the corners the next two days, so it will be interesting to see how it plays.

I played really well today, kind of the same round as the last two, just been playing really solid off the tee and been hitting a lot of really good iron shots into the greens. Early on in the round I didn’t really make that many putts, but I did a really good job of just staying calm. Thankfully on the back nine I started making a couple putts and got me going.

Sunday: “Yeah, it was very up and down, like the first five, six holes we played, you know, almost like yesterday, a little less wind, it was pretty ripe for scoring. Then the wind started swirling coming out of the other direction where it was suddenly into the wind on No. 8, which makes that hole a lot harder. And then obviously from there on in you had a lot of rain, wind and it was switching back and forth. So it really, it played a lot harder than it did the other three days.”

Martin Trainer (2019): “Yeah. I mean, to a certain extent, I think you have to be able to play in the wind to make it here. But I think this course suits me more because it’s just a long bomber’s course, so I can hit a lot of drivers and try to get as far down there as I can and not worry about hitting one too far offline. So I think that’s been a big benefit

This golf course, actually I was talking about it with Ryan, my caddie, it reminds make a lot of this golf course I played at in Mexico on the Latinoamerica Tour in Mazatlan. It looks just like it. It’s wide open, windy. It really is like a replica of this golf course. So I thought about that I won at that golf course and we were talking about it all week how this is just, you know, a carbon copy of that course and how we have good vibes going into this week. I’m just happy it worked out.”

D.A. Points (2017): “You know, that was always a strong suit of my game and then when I went to try to make some changes in 2014, it went to the worst part of my game. That just goes to show how silly I felt for trying to change things, but I wanted to get better. To come back and to be so calm and comfortable, and this golf course, you have to drive it straight. It can be kind of demanding on some tee shots and to be able to hit some really quality tee shots today under the gun gives me a lot of confidence.

Ian Poulter: “I like the windy conditions. It kind of takes me back to hitting some old-school shots and I feel comfortable on the course. The ball was kind of boring through that strong wind, so you’re still able to get good distance out there. But I’m happy.

Alex Cejka: “You know, I loved it here. I’ve been coming here for many years, and I even played well here, but I kind of never, you know, played good enough, because in the past the scores were like 20 under, you know. So it’s a challenging course with the wind. So I always was playing well, but the scores were always so low, and you know, this year it was the same wind, same course, but somehow the scores are not 20 under, but 7 under. So it was a little bit tougher. Maybe the wind was maybe a little bit stronger. They didn’t move the tees up like what they normally do like on the weekends. Maybe today a couple holes. But you know, it’s just we all were playing just good golf, and you know, somebody has to win, and finally it’s me.

Chesson Hadley: “I think just the way the holes set up. It fits how far I hit the ball. Like the fairway bunkers are positioned in places where I can hit driver, hit 3 wood or hybrid or whatever and I’m not really stressing about what club to hit. Like I mean I know exactly what club I’m pulling, you know, walking to the tee. That’s what I like so much about it is just the easy decisions I feel like this course provides, me at least.

Scott Brown: “Yeah, the toughest thing about this course is it’s all cross winds, so you very rarely get any downwind or into the wind shots. It’s all quarter in or across. That’s what makes it so tough. But it’s really just guesswork. It’s guessing on how much you think it’s going to move it. The wind has been so strong that you can’t really play shots that hold up against it. You’ve just kind of got to let the wind do what it does. It suits my eye pretty well, and I think it’s a great golf course. It’s got a great mix of holes. It’s not our typical Tour course now where it’s so long. It keeps a lot of us in the game a little bit here, and I think that’s why you see that.

George McNeill: “The course and conditions reminds me of home (Florida). I play on a lot of this same grass at home. Plus I like a little bit of heat and humidity and stuff. Doesn’t bother me. So that’s really about it, and I guess for whatever reason, the golf course suits my eye.

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 11 Puerto Rico Open winners:

  • 2021 – Branden Grace: Round 1: 9th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2020 – Viktor Hovland: Round 1: 14th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2019 – Martin Trainer: Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 4th, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2017 – D.A. Points: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2016 – Tony Finau: Round 1: 16th, Round 2: 15th, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2015 – Alex Cejka: Round 1: 5th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 5th.
  • 2014 – Chesson Hadley: Round 1: 4th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2013 – Scott Brown: Round 1: 14th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2012 – George McNeill: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2011 – Michael Bradley: Round 1: 11th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 3rd.
  • 2010 – Derek Lamely: Round 1: 23rd, Round 2 35th, Round 3: 5th.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 11 Puerto Rico Open winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2021 – Branden Grace: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2020 – Viktor Hovland: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: level, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2019 – Martin Trainer: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2017 – D.A. Points: Round 1: 1 back, Round 2: Level, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2016 – Tony Finau: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 1 back.
  • 2015 – Alex Cejka: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2014 – Chesson Hadley: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2013 – Scott Brown: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2012 – George McNeill: Round 1: Level, Round 2: 3 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2011 – Michael Bradley: Round 1: 5 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2010 – Derek Lamely: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 6 back, Round 3: 4 back.

Form of Puerto Rico Open winners since 2010:

  • Branden Grace: 20th Riviera/34th Pebble/MC Waialae/8th DPWTC.
  • Viktor Hovland: 38th Pebble/MC TPC Scottsale/23rd Dubai/MC Abu Dhabi.
  • Martin Trainer: 28th Pebble/MC PGA West/MDF Waialae/MC RSM Classic.
  • D.A. Points: 39th Pebble/MC Torrey/66th PGA West/45th RSM Classic.
  • Tony Finau: 43rd Bay Hill/MC Copperhead/MC PGA National/MC Riviera/MC TPC Scottsdale.
  • Alex Cejka: MC PGA National/67th Riviera/34th Pebble/MC Torrey Pines/15th PGA West.
  • Chesson Hadley: 24th PGA National/MC Riviera/10th Pebble/MC Torrey/MC PGA West.
  • Scott Brown: 7th Colombia/3rd Panama/30th Pebble/MC Disney/20th Sea Island.
  • George McNeill: MC Honda/49th Riviera/MC Pebble/33rd TPC Scottsdale/49th PGA West.
  • Michael Bradley: MC PGA National/MC Rivera/MC Pebble/MC Torrey/15th PGA West.
  • Derek Lamely: 73rd PGA National/MC El Camaleon/MC Pebble/42nd Torrey/18th PGA West.

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

  • 1 – Scott Brown, Brice Garnett, Chesson Hadley, John Huh, George McNeill, D.A. Points, Martin Trainer.

As we can see, winners here can come from different ends of the betting market. Branden Grace was a 20/1 chance last year, as he finished delivered an eagle/birdie finish to edge out Jhonattan Vegas (40/1) by a single shot. Viktor Hovland won this in 2020 as the 12/1 favourite, beating 150/1 Josh Teater with a spectacular birdie from distance to again win by a single shot.

Prior to Branden, who captured his 14th global title here, and the prodigious young talent of Viktor, winners of the Puerto Rico Open have been from the juicy mid-price or bigger. I suppose that’s logical when you remember how hard it is to triumph on the PGA Tour, it’s hardly surprising that the market leaders, who know they are in half-decent nick form-wise, when thrust into the uncomfortable position of favouritism inevitably crack. Others though see these second-tier PGA Tour events as a real opportunity – after all, a full 2-year exemption on the Tour, a trip to the Tournament of Champions and a decent haul of OWGR points is not to be sniffed at.

Winners here have either been younger players who’ve had a solid grounding in the Korn Ferry Tour or, in the case of D.A. Points, Alex Cejka and George McNeill, experienced players who knew how to shoot low scores in warmer climes. Points won here coming off a 39th at Pebble Beach based upon limited outings. He hadn’t finished in the top 10 of a PGA Tour event for 3 and a half years. Veteran Alex Cejka in 2015 had never won on the PGA Tour and his immediate form read MC-67-34-MC. George McNeill won in 2012 and his form read MC-49-MC-33-49-19. I never told you this was going to be easy!

On the younger side, Martin Trainer in 2019, arrived off a 28th place finish at Pebble Beach. Prior to that he had finished MC-MDF in his limited 2019 outings. Tony Finau in 2016 had finished 43rd at Bay Hill the week before arriving here, which had been preceded by 4 straight Missed Cuts. But Finau in 2015 had defined himself with 4 top-10 finishes in his rookie season including 10th at the PGA Championship. Hovland and Finau undoubtedly sit in the best player in the field actually won category.

Chesson Hadley in 2014 was similar to Finau having shown a level of pedigree: in his rookie season he’d already finished 5th at the Shriners Open in only his 4th PGA Tour start and was 10th at Pebble and 24th at PGA National in the immediate build-up to his 50/1 triumph here in Puerto Rico. 2013 saw web.com player Scott Brown coming off some great early season form in Central America to take the title here on a course where he’d finished 5th 12 months earlier.

Game-wise, I’m looking for a player who gets the ball out there 295 yards minimum and who can take advantage of the birdie opportunities that are available on the short par-4s and the par-5s. A player therefore who converts when aggressively Going for the Green has always been an important part of the winners here in recent times.

My final Puerto Rico Open tips are as follows:

Nate Lashley 1.5pts EW 33/1 (7EW, 1/5) with Paddy Power

Nate Lashley is a rarity in this fielda PGA Tour winner. He won the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic at an eye-opening -25/263 total, winning by 6 shots, and leading from start to finish. That takes some doing on the PGA Tour. But the 2 year exemption from that win is over now and Nate has to earn his playing privileges this season and at 118th in the current standings he has work to do. But unlike many fellow PGA Tour journeymen who won’t play these alternate events, Lashley has a history of playing well in them, but more of that in a little while.

39 year-old Lashley, who grew up in Nebraska and went to the University of Arizona, earned his professional spurs on the Latinoamerica Tour. He won the 2016 Order of Merit landing titles in Ecuador, Mexico and Florida, but has other top 5 finishes across Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Panama and Peru. 2017 saw him promoted to the Korn Ferry Tour and he made use of his Central and South American experience, finishing 5th at the Great Exuma Classic (coastal, Paspalum greens) in the Bahamas, 8th at the El Bosque Mexico Championship and winning the Corales Puntacana Championship – which is now a fully fledged PGA Tour event. Played on a long coastal Par 72, Corales GC is a fully Paspalum-grassed golf course.

So by his minor Tour result history I’m already interested in Lashley, but I like his result pattern in PGA Tour alternate events after he was promoted to the main Tour in the 2017/18 season. 28th at Corales (2018), 8th here (2019) and 4th at Corales (2020) highlight a player who is more than motivated to play well in them. 5th at the 2021 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am again highlights his liking for coastal tracks, and despite missing the cut by a shot last week at the Honda Classic, he still ranked 21st for Tee to Green. RESULT: T7

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Kurt Kitayama 1.5pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Kurt Kitayama of course jumped to front of mind last week at the Honda Classic. 3rd there was his best ever PGA Tour finish and he now finds himself in a far healthier 84th spot in the FedEx Cup standings. But I’m still quite sweet on the Las Vegas resident.

At PGA National, Strokes Gained-wise he ranked 2nd for Approach, 5th for Tee to Green and 7th for Strokes Gained Putting. A quality all-round performance for a player whose best PGA Tour finish prior to the Honda Classic had been 17th here at the 2017 Puerto Rico Open. That particular week he finished 68-68-68 to finish at -14/274 which was a shot off the top 10. So he has previous here.

His DP World Tour experience also tells a story. A 2-time winner, he has won the 2018 Mauritius Open and the 2019 Oman Open. Both Heritage Golf Club (Mauritius) and Al Mouj Golf (Oman) courses are located by the coast and feature Paspalum greens, similar to those here in Puerto Rico.  The sort who strings contending performances together when in form and who has been ranked as high as 66th in the OWGR, I see no reason why Kitayama won’t feature on a rare course he already knows on the PGA Tour. RESULT: T28

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Kevin Chappell 1pt EW 55/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

The other player here that I have seen green shoots from recently is Kevin Chappell. A prodigious ball striker in his day, Chappell seems to be undoubtedly gaining momentum. I can also remember being on him at 33/1 when he won the 2017 Valero Texas Open, so he’s always been a player close to my heart.

Things have undoubtedly taken a turn for the worse since those halcyon days, and he just missed winning back full playing privileges for the rest of this season, after running out of Major Medical starts at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. 29th after 54 holes, the pressure told eventually as he finished 43rd, rather than the top 5 he required. So now he plays out of a lowly Former Winner status and needs to take chances like this week to claw his way back up the FedEx Cup standings.

And there have been undoubted moments of quality in 2022. An opening -7/63 at the Sony Open showed intent. He’s made 4 of 5 cuts this year and ranked 8th and 6th for Greens in Regulation across both Torrey Pines and TPC Scottsdale. That translates to 17th and 10th from a Strokes Gained Approach perspective.

The sort who has finished runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Tour Championship, the Players Championship and 3rd at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, with 4 Major top-10s to his credit as well, it would be nice to see Kevin in the mix again this week. RESULT: MC

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Kelly Kraft 1pt EW 80/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Coral

I’ll close with Kelly Kraft who’s a bit of an alternate event specialist, who doesn’t mind a Paspalum golf course either.

3rd (2018), 5th (2019) and 14th (2020) at the Corales Championship played by the coast on Paspalum greens in the Dominican Republic, Kelly was also 2nd at the 2019 Barbasol Championship played at Keene Trace Golf Club in Kentucky. 15th here in one appearance at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open, Kelly has always been the sort to pop up when he needs a result and he undoubtedly likes the humid climes of the Caribbean Sea.

14th in my Predictor Model, he was 28th three starts back at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am an event where he finished 2nd back in 2017. With Puerto Rico Open winners Chesson Hadley, Alex Cejka, D.A. Points,, Viktor Hovland and Branden Grace all having decent records at Pebble. A prodigious putter – he ranks 3rd in my Strokes Gained 8-week tracker – who plays nicely in the wind and on Paspalum greens, I like Kraft’s chances to surprise at a weak event this week. RESULT: T50

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 14:40GMT 1.3.22 but are naturally subject to fluctuation.