Steve Bamford Golf Tips

Steve Bamford's Puerto Rico Open Tips 2020

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Congratulations if you landed Adam Scott at a juicy 33/1 last week at the Genesis Invitational. Whilst the likes of Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar went backwards on Sunday, Scott kept the ship steady to land his first PGA Tour title for almost 4 years and his 14th in total. Adam made it two wins on the trot after winning the Australian PGA Championship and Genesis Invitational in consecutive outings. The fact they were 10 weeks apart put many, including me, off the scent.

Before we talk the Puerto Rico Open, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing in the inevitable build-up to The Masters. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) the Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

It’s easy to overlook these ‘second division’ alternate PGA Tour tournaments and focus on the main event which this week is the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec. 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 2021/22. Don’t underestimate the importance of that prize!

In a strong, for Puerto Rico, field, the likes of Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Lucas Bjerregaard, Emiliano Grillo, Viktor Hovland, Tom Lewis, and Alex Noren miss-out on the World Golf Championship event, so take the opportunity to bolster their PGA Tour FedEx Cup positions this week at Coco Beach.

2020 Majors Competition Sponsored By bet365:

Following on from the success of the last 8 annual GBS Majors competitions, bet365 have kindly offered to sponsor the 2020 edition with a massive £250 CASH prize fund! Our 2020 winner will receive £150 (or currency equivalent) in cash with additional £75 and £25 prizes for 2nd and 3rd place finishers.

Basically we want you to pick a single player for each of the 4 Majors any time before the start of the 2020 Masters and get those 4 names entered into the competition by one of the methods detailed on our rules page here. Best of luck all!

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Course Guide: The tournament is hosted at Coco Beach Golf and 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 saw unfancied Martin Trainer win with a -15/273 total. However, as we see on coastal courses when the wind blows scores increase, with 2015 seeing Cejka triumph at -7/281 and 2016 seeing Finau capturing the title at -12/276.

Coco Beach Golf and 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: 6,000 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.

Course Overview: At 7,500 yards, Coco Beach 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 winds than we saw for the 2019 renewal, I’m expecting a winning score of around -20/268 being the target a player needs to look at shooting to be in the mix for victory.

puerto rico open tips

Winners: 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).

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 Patrick Rodgers, Jhonattan Vegas, Chesson Hadley, Maverick McNealy, Grayson Murray, Tyler McCumber, Xinjun Zhang, Brandon Hagy, Anirban Lahiri and Beau Hossler.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Hero World Challenge, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour (where recorded) 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) Kyle Stanley; 2) K.H. Lee; 3) Viktor Hovland; 4) Scott Brown / Martin Laird; 6) David Hearn; 7) Jhonattan Vegas; 8) Chris Baker; 9) Doug Ghim / Tim Wilkinson; 11) Michael Gellerman; 12) Fabian Gomez; 13) Henrik Norlander; 14) Robby Shelton; 15) Roger Sloan; 16) Alex Beach; 17) Zac Blair / Austin Cook / Chesson Hadley; 20) Cameron Davis / Emiliano Grillo.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Ted Potter Jnr; 2) Ryan Brehm; 3) Joseph Bramlett; 4) Michael Gellerman; 5) D.J. Trahan; 6) Jhonattan Vegas; 7) Matthew NeSmith; 8) Cameron Davis / Viktor Hovland; 10) Maverick McNealy; 11) Mark Anderson / Beau Hossler; 13) Hank Lebioda / Tom Lewis / Adam Schenk; 16) Chesson Hadley / Martin Laird; 18) Emiliano Grillo; 19) Brendon Hagy / Robby Shelton.
  • Scrambling: 1) Maverick McNealy; 2) Zac Blair / K.H. Lee; 4) Sebastian Cappelen; 5) Ted Potter Jnr; 6) Ricky Barnes; 7) Mark Anderson; 8) Kiradech Aphibarnrat; 9) Ben Martin / Matthew NeSmith; 11) Tom Lewis; 12) Cameron Davis / Alex Noren; 14) Bo Hoag; 15) Wes Roach; 16) Sam Ryder; 17) Martin Laird; 18) Kramer Hickok / Cameron Percy; 20) Patrick Rodgers.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Richy Werenski; 2) Henrik Norlander; 3) Sebastian Cappelen; 4) Chesson Hadley / Matthew NeSmith; 6) Dominic Bozzelli; 7) Viktor Hovland; 8) Zac Blair / Tom Lewis; 10) Kiradech Aphibarnrat; 11) Josh Teater / Tim Wilkinson; 13) Chris Stroud; 14) Bo Van Pelt / Vincent Whaley; 16) Ben Taylor; 17) Nelson Ledesma / Alex Noren / Chase Seiffert; 20) Patrick Rodgers.

Recent Player Strokes Gained Rankings: These top 20 in the field rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Hero World Challenge, which includes both PGA and European Tour events where recorded. 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:

  • Top 20 SG Off The Tee: 1) Grayson Murray; 2) Viktor Hovland; 3) Jhonattan Vegas; 4) Cameron Davis; 5) K.H. Lee; 6) Emiliano Grillo; 7) Alex Beach / Adam Schenk; 9) Alex Noren / D.J. Trahan / Tim Wilkinson; 12) Beau Hossler / Chase Seiffert; 14) Chesson Hadley; 15) Matthew NeSmith; 16) Matt Every; 17) Martin Laird; 18) Michael Gligic; 19) Patrick Rodgers / Kristoffer Ventura.
  • Top 20 SG Approach: 1) Cameron Percy; 2) Tyler McCumber; 3) Matthew NeSmith; 4) Emiliano Grillo; 5) Joseph Bramlett; 6) Chase Seiffert; 7) Tom Lewis; 8) Ted Potter Jnr; 9) Kiradech Aphibarnrat / Maverick McNealy; 11) D.J. Trahan; 12) Mark Anderson; 13) Ricky Barnes / Chesson Hadley; 15) Alex Noren; 16) Sam Ryder; 17) Cameron Davis / Michael Gligic / Adam Schenk; 20) Peter Uihlein.
  • Top 20 SG Around The Green: 1) Cameron Davis; 2) Bo Hoag; 3) Kramer Hickok; 4) Grayson Murray / Alex Noren; 6) Rhein Gibson; 7) Patrick Rodgers; 8) Maverick McNealy; 9) Tim Wilkinson; 10) Bill Haas / Wes Roach; 12) Martin Laird; 13) Tom Lewis / Ben Martin / Kyle Stanley; 16) Sam Ryder; 17) Roger Sloan; 18) Xinjun Zhang; 19) Brandon Hagy / Anirban Lahiri.
  • Top 20 SG Tee to Green: 1) Grayson Murray; 2) Cameron Davis; 3) Maverick McNealy; 4) Jhonattan Vegas / Tim Wilkinson; 6) Alex Noren; 7) Tyler McCumber; 8) Tom Lewis; 9) Cameron Percy; 10) Adam Schenk; 11) Chesson Hadley / Martin Laird; 13) Bo Hoag / Ted Potter Jnr; 15) Matthew NeSmith / Zack Sucher; 17) Emiliano Grillo / Sam Ryder; 19) Mark Anderson; 20) Ben Martin.
  • Top 20 SG Putting: 1) Patrick Rodgers; 2) Matthew NeSmith; 3) Sebastian Cappelen; 4) Beau Hossler; 5) Zac Blair; 6) Rhein Gibson; 7) Mark Anderson; 8) K.H. Lee / Maverick McNealy / Kristoffer Ventura; 11) Nelson Ledesma; 12) Chase Seiffert; 13) Brandon Hagy / Henrik Norlander; 15) Ben Martin; 16) Xinjun Zhang; 17) Joseph Bramlett; 18) Zack Sucher; 19) Brice Garnett; 20) David Hearn / Sam Ryder / Vincent Whaley.
  • Top 20 SG Total: 1) Matthew NeSmith; 2) Maverick McNealy; 3) Tim Wilkinson; 4) Alex Noren; 5) Patrick Rodgers; 6) Mark Anderson; 7) Cameron Davis; 8) Adam Schenk; 9) Jhonattan Vegas; 10) K.H. Lee; 11) Viktor Hovland / Martin Laird / Ted Potter Jnr; 14) Joseph Bramlett / Ben Martin / Grayson Murray / Chase Seiffert; 18) Tyler McCumber; 19) Sebastian Cappelen / Henrik Norlander.

Winners & Prices: 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 5 Renewals Average: 105/1. Overall Average: 97/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 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 a lush golf course this week in Rio Grande. 56mm of rain in pre-tournament week is a lot even in this part of the tropics and, as ever in Puerto Rico, more rain cannot be ruled out across tournament week.

Scoring by the coast is always dictated by wind levels and for 2020 it looks like the levels will be down significantly. 15-20 mph easterly wind is kind of standard for Coco Beach and we see that level of wind on Thursday. But from there it looks likely that 10 mph breeze will be as tough as we see it, which can only mean resort-level scoring.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners of the Puerto Rico Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 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).

Tournament Skill Averages:

Driving Distance: 25th, Driving Accuracy: 33rd, Greens in Regulation: 15th, Scrambling: 29th, Putting Average 12th.

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

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 9 Puerto Rico Open winners:

  • 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 9 Puerto Rico Open winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 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.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • 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, Alex Cejka, Derek Ernst, Brice Garnett, Chesson Hadley, George McNeill, D.A. Points, Ian Poulter, Martin Trainer, Johnson Wagner.

As we can see, winners here tend to be from the juicy mid-pack and below. 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 and finish top 20 or worse. 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.

Winner-wise, southern state-based players had dominated this tournament from its introduction back in 2008 until recently, Now in 3 of the past 4 renewals, California-based Martin Trainer, Las Vegas-based Alex Cejka and Salt Lake City-based Tony Finau have won. Florida-based D.A. Points redressed the balance again in 2017.

Winners have either been younger players who’ve had a solid grounding in the web.com 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, Maqrtin Trainer 12 months ago 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.

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 290 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:

Patrick Rodgers 2pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

Patrick Rodgers has been playing some very nice stuff as of late and Paul and myself have been mentioning him in most recent podcasts. A Stanford University product of some note, Patrick was awarded the 2014 Ben Hogan Award and is a former World Amateur Number 1.

Being compared with Tiger Woods before you even turn professional is probably an unfair hand to be dealt and Rodgers still remains a maiden on the PGA Tour, but in a field of weak quality it’s hard to ignore his chance this week. 9th at Torrey Pines and 16th at TPC Scottsdale, he then proceeded to MC at Pebble Beach when an incredibly popular selection. But that’s Patrick Rodgers, to an extent an enigma, who never strings good form together for long.

But off the back of 30th place last week at Riviera Country Club, where he was 11th for SG Off the Tee, 9th for Greens in Regulation and 15th for Ball Striking, I’m hopeful that Patrick won’t be feeling the expectation which so often seemingly leads to poor performances. Across my 8-week Strokes Gained trackers he ranks 19th for Off the Tee, 7th for Around the Green, 1st for Putting and 5th for Total in this week’s field.

2nd at Quail Hollow in 2015, 3rd at TPC River Highlands in 2016 and 2nd at TPC Deere Run in 2017, Rodgers has had a number of close calls over the years when it comes to capturing his first title. But his coastal form is also very eye-catching: 4th (2017) and 9th (2020) at Torrey Pines, 10th (2014) and 14th (2017) on the Paspalum greens at El Camaleon in Mexico plus 10th (2016) and 2nd (2018) at Sea Island are pretty stand-out in this quality of field. That runner-up position at the RSM Classic was the closest to this point that he has come to getting over the line with a -19/261 total, powered by a weekend 61/62 score, which saw him beat Webb Simpson by a shot and match Charles Howell III, forcing a play off. He eventually lost on the second play off hole to a birdie from Howell III, but for our notes, he went down as a player who can compete on a soft, coastal golf course when birdies are the key currency.

I also like the fact that Rodgers has played well in these alternate-level events before. 20th (2015) and 14th (2018) at the Sanderson Farms Championship, which used to run-alongside the WGC-HSBC Champions, Patrick also finished 3rd in the 2015 Barracuda Championship. 21st here in his only appearance in 2015 when Tony Finau won in a tough, wind swept affair, Rodgers has a little course experience. But 5 years on, I think both the lower scoring and soft golf course will suit Patrick perfectly. RESULT: T35

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Maverick McNealy 2pts EW 33/1 (6EW, 1/5) with Unibet

If I look at this field and try to pinpoint a player who I think undoubtedly has a very high, future elite-level ceiling to their game, I think you won’t find many better than Maverick McNealy.

In 2016 and early 2017 he was the Amateur World Number 1 and won the 2015 Harkins Award, which is presented annually to the best collegiate male golfer in the United States. In 2017 he turned professional after playing in the Walker Cup where he earned 4 points from 4 matches within the same team that featured Cameron Champ, Collin Morikawa, Doc Redman and Scottie Scheffler. Not too shabby a team I think you will agree.

But in this age where we expect talent to be landing top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour immediately, the progress of McNealy has been far slower. His 2018 Korn Ferry Tour campaign was ok, but ultimately didn’t lead to promotion to the main Tour mainly due to poor and inconsistent approach play. But 2019 proved to be much better with 15th at the Great Abaco Classic, 19th at the Panama Championship and 2nd at the Suncoast Classic, quickly establishing McNealy in the coveted top 25 positions, which he held till the close of the regular season.

His first PGA Tour season started strongly, but unspectacularly until his recent outings in his home Golden State. 9 consecutive cuts included 17th at the GC of Houston and 27th at El Camaleon, prior to 2020 where he’s finished 37th at PGA West, 15th at Torrey Pines and 5th at Pebble Beach last time out. And as we have seen from Andrew Putnam (2018 Barracuda Championship) and Collin Morikawa (2019 Barracuda Championship), talented Tour maidens at the top of their games can go on and claim victory in their next outing at these alternate events after landing a top 10 in their previous outing.

McNealy in this field really does stand out to me as my 8-week trackers indicate: 10th for Greens in Regulation, 1st for Scrambling, 9th for SG on Approach, 8th for SG Around the Green, 3rd for SG Tee to Green, 8th for SG Putting and 2nd for SG Total. I’m happy to take the 33/1 quick sharp. RESULT: T27

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Tyler McCumber 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Tyler McCumber is a big-hitter who I think will like the Coco Beach track. The 28 year-old son of Mark McCumber has been on a slow trajectory since turning professional in 2013, but his rookie season on the PGA Tour has been a success to date. 8 pay cheques from his first 11 outings has been consistent and includes top-32 finishes across the GC of Houston, Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.

21st at the Farmers Insurance Open in a stellar field was an eyebrow-raiser on the basis that McCumber shot back-to-back 68s on Friday/Saturday and went into Sunday in 7th spot. He played with Tony Finau and eventual winner Marc Leishman in the 3rd-from-last group and must have learnt a lot, mixing it with the likes of McIlroy, Reed and Watson entering the back nine on Sunday. The 313-yard McCumber clearly has some talent.

But in a way it’s Tyler’s background which draws me to him this week, more than statistics. 2014 saw him plying his trade on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica where he won events in Ecuador and the Mazatlan Open in Mexico. That’s an event where defending Puerto Rico Open champion Martin Trainer has finished 15th (2014), 13th (2015) and 1st (2016). McCumber also won the 2016 Lexus Peru Open, claiming his 3rd South American title, beating none other than Martin Trainer into runner-up spot. A look at Mark’s Korn Ferry CV also highlights excellent finishes across the Columbia Championship 5th back in 2015; with 2019’s promotion campaign also including 4th at the Great Abaco Classic (The Bahamas), 3rd at the Country Club de Bogota Championship (Columbia) and 7th at the Panama Championship.

With Puerto Rico being very similar in stature and feel to a Korn Ferry event in reality, I think McCumber will thrive in conditions that the Florida-based World Number 371 will be very accustomed to. RESULT: T20

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Xinjun Zhang 1pt EW 66/1 (6EW, 1/5) with William Hill

Xinjun Zhang is another who I think can thrive in Puerto Rico. 56th in the FedEx Cup standings, Zhang sits 50th in SG on Approach, 49th for SG Around the Green, 46th for SG Tee to Green and he sits in the top-60 for Greens in Regulation. In his second season on the PGA Tour he’s already finished 7th at Silverado, 16th at TPC Summerlin, 4th at the GC of Houston and 25th at TPC Scottsdale. Indeed he’s a totally different proposition to the player we saw make his PGA Tour debut back in 2017.

With a year’s experience on the world’s biggest golf stage, allied to a huge boost in confidence gleaned from a superb 2019 Korn Ferry campaign, Zhang is the sort who I think could use this alternate tournament as a launchpad. A 2-time Korn Ferry winner last year – interestingly his wins came with winning scores of -26/261 (Dormie Network Classic) and -25/259 (Lincoln Land Charity Championship) – Zhang collected just a smidge under $600,000 in prize money via 11 top-10 finishes. This guy can play.

The fact that Zhang is a talent in this field is clear for all to see, but I also like where he’s delivered strong performances. 20th at El Camaleon in 2017, 5th at Corales Puntacana in 2018, 2nd at the Panama Championship and 3rd at the Louisiana Championship, both in 2019, all fit nicely from a Bermudagrass or Paspalum perspective. And Zhang has thrown in some low rounds recently – shooting a -5/67 at Pebble Beach last time out and a scorching closing round -5/66 at TPC Scottsdale the outing before. Could be a huge factor this week. RESULT: T14

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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:10GMT 17.2.20 but naturally subject to fluctuation.