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Congratulations to Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari backers. The Swede came from off the pace to cement a spot in the European Ryder Cup team on the host course and the Italian captured his 2nd main Tour win in 4 appearances just outside of Washington DC. He also captured his first title on American soil, earning an extended 3-year exemption on the PGA Tour into the bargain, as the National title has Invitational status. The National was a blank week for me but Paul Williams landed a full 200/1 each-way place at the Open de France with Matthew Southgate.
This week sees the renamed tournament at Greenbrier: A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. It’s a huge opportunity for many in the field with Open Championship qualifying spots and much needed FedEx Cup points up for grabs. In the past this tournament has gone to bigger priced players at a tournament which has a small feel to it.
Over on the European tour, Paul Williams previews the Irish Open – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: The spa town of White Sulphur Springs – and West Virginia in general – suffered tremendous flooding on the 23rd June 2016, resulting in 23 deaths. Old White TPC, along with 3 other courses at the resort, were flooded with water covering the course up to 6 feet in depth. Naturally the 2016 Greenbrier Classic was cancelled and a whole new renovation project kicked-off to get the course ready for 2017. Architect Keith Foster led the work which saw the whole course re-seeded. Re-surfacing, re-contouring and re-seeding of all 18 green complexes took place and every bunker on the course was re-built. In essence though the course hasn’t changed much. It’s very classical in nature and tree-lined with a 34/36 front/back split – indeed the front 9 features no par-5s and the closing hole is a 179 yard par-3.
The Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: Designer: MacDonald/Raynor 1914, with PGA Tour Design renovation 2010/11, Keith Foster renovation 2016; Course Type: Classical, Mid-Score; Par: 70; Length: 7,286 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass 3″; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.78 (-0.22), Difficulty Rank 27 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.87 (-0.13), Difficulty Rank 25 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.10 (+0.10), Rank 26 of 48 courses. 2015: 69.17 (-0.83), Rank 35 of 52 courses. 2017: 69.86 (-0.14), Rank 27 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Old White TPC and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Overview: Keith Foster’s renovation is one of those PGA Tour courses where any type of player can win. Jonas Blixt and Xander Schauffele are polar opposites, as are Angel Cabrera and Ted Potter Jnr, but all have won here at Old White TPC. We wondered how the revised course would play with new green complexes and bunkers, but to all intents and purposes the challenge of this tournament remained the same. Wide fairways here give inaccurate drivers every chance, which at 34 yards wide at 300 yard carry make them far wider than recent Par 70s we have seen at Colonial, TPC Southwind, TPC River Highlands and TPC Potomac. Bentgrass green complexes at an average of 7,000 sq.ft are also large – remember this is a golf course within a popular golf resort – so it’s a little bit of a surprise that Old White very much plays as mid-score winning golf course. It’s certainly no pushover and it ranked as the 15th toughest for Par Breakers last season.
With wide fairways and large green complexes, the main defence of the course is the bunkering and greens themselves. Old White’s sand traps are some of the hardest on the PGA Tour, so bunker avoidance helps massively. The re-laid green surfaces themselves were particularly non-receptive 12 months ago, which is often the case with new greens. A year down the line they should have bedded-in far more, but traditionally the greens here always rank in the bottom 12 for Birdie or Better Conversion. Winning here is not that easy and to put the challenge into context this week, out of the 28 rounds played by the previous seven champions of this tournament, the only winner with a round in the 70s is Scott Stallings in 2011. With relatively difficult greens, traditionally this turns into a putting contest – so those with form with the flat stick tends to be vital here.
Another point to take on board is that the course and surrounding Greenbrier resort is within a National Park in the Appalachian mountain range and the track is 2,000 feet above sea level – this is a great advantage for the shorter hitters who can easily add 15 yards to their driving. Some golfers struggle with the calculations needed in thinner air where the ball travels further.
Winners: 2017: Xander Schauffele (-14); 2016: No Tournament; 2015: Danny Lee (-13); 2014: Angel Cabrera (-16); 2013: Jonas Blixt (-13); 2012: Ted Potter Jnr (-16); 2011: Scott Stallings (-10); 2010: Stuart Appleby (-22).
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 Brian Harman, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Russell Henley, J.B. Holmes, Kevin Na, Brian Gay, Peter Malnati, Tony Finau and Anirban Lahiri.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the China 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:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Schauffele 66/1; 2016: No Tournament; 2015: Danny Lee 150/1; 2014: Cabrera 100/1; 2013: Blixt 125/1; 2012: Potter Jnr 500/1; 2011: Stallings 175/1; 2010: Appleby 80/1; Average: 180/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 105/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, is here. We may well get soft conditions this week in White Sulphur Springs. 396 mm of rain in the area over the past 3 months is high and 42mm of that arrived last week up to Saturday. The prospects of rain cannot be written off either in the build-up to the tournament or across Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Wind will not be a factor, apart from around 10mph on Sunday and temperatures will climb no higher than 29 degrees Celsius on the Thursday. From there expect 27-28 degrees Celsius.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of this event since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let’s take a view from players as to how the course sets up and what specific skills it requires:
Xander Schauffele: “The greens are awesome. I mean, they were concrete and we got a ton the rain. Expect them to be much, but I guess they needed some rain because they’re absolutely perfect right now. On the 18th, it was 157 front, 162 pin, there was a little bit of altitude up here, so my caddie and I, we looked at a pitching wedge and 9-iron and, under the gun, you never want to swing something soft, so we grabbed the pitching wedge real quick.“
Danny Lee: “For some reason I just read the greens really nicely here. I feel like everywhere on the green I just feel like I can make every putt, so all I was trying to do is hit the fairway and just trying to get it on the green somehow and try to give it the best chance with my putter. I think this course really suits my game.“
Jonas Blixt: “I mean, considering last year it was quite soft, I thought the golf course just had a few holes where you needed to make pars, and the rest of the golf course was pretty much birdieable everywhere. Hitting a good shot on 16 to get a good chance to making birdie, 16, 17, the same thing. There are a bunch of birdie holes, and that’s why I was so surprised that I found myself in contention where I didn’t make any birdies the last day, a bunch of pars and maybe one or two bogeys and I was right there.“
Steve Stricker: “Yeah, it’s a good course. I was talking to somebody earlier. I don’t know if it favours any type of golfer here. I don’t think it favours a bomber. I don’t think it favours a short hitter. You’ll have to give yourself opportunities out of the fairway, for sure. The rough is just thick enough where it’s hard to control. If you’re in the rough, you can’t be as aggressive into the green. So it’s playing pretty long too. The fairways are soft, but they’ll dry out a little bit as we get going on. But it’s going to take a well rounded player playing at the top of his game this week. You’re not going to fake it around here at all, I don’t think. It’s a good course, and it’s a good test.“
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners of this event:
Incoming form of winners since 2011:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Bentgrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
So we face a tournament this week where reasonable golfing logic tends to be thrown aside. Qualification for the Open Championship is naturally a huge carrot for the PGA Tour’s rank and file and that shouldn’t be underestimated, but from a player motivation perspective it’s also worth recognising a couple of things. This tournament slots in after the recent rigours of Shinnecock, Memphis, and TPC Potomac – which last week was the 15th hardest course played on the PGA Tour this season. It’s also only 2 weeks until the Open Championship and it’s worth remembering that 4 players who haven’t already qualified and who finish in the top 12 at Old White TPC will secure places in The Open Championship. Last week it was Abraham Ancer, Ryan Armour, Bronson Burgoon and Sung Kang.
The tournament itself tends to be a putting contest where short game specialists or in-form ball-strikers can contend. Incredibly the close of the regular FedEx Cup series is also just around the corner and there are plenty of players who are fighting for their 2018/19 playing privileges. Player interviews from previous tournaments here quote that the Greenbrier has a ‘small event’ feel to it, so it’s no real surprise to see that Xander Schauffele, Danny Lee, Scott Stallings and Ted Potter Jnr all won their first ever PGA Tour titles here and that the tournament is perennially contended by a host of Tour maidens and players who are fighting for their PGA Tour futures. That’s why I’ve gone for a range of players this week with their prices allowing flexibility in the number of names in this week’s portfolio.
My selections are as follows:
Joaquin Niemann 2.5pt EW 28/1 with Boylesports
I covered off Joaquin Niemann in detail last week – it’s safe to say he’s playing outstanding golf. After 17th last week at TPC Potomac he sits at a de facto 117th in the FedEx Cup when it comes to his Special Temporary Membership and has virtually secured his full playing privileges for season 2018/19. But clearly I think he has a bit more about him and his closing -5/65 last week showed what a talent we’re dealing with here. A disappointing 75 on Saturday took him out of contention last week and the Chilean Former Amateur World Number 1 admitted that he let the Tour card status chase get to him, “I like to go out there and enjoy my round and not think about needing to play well to get status. I think that happened to me yesterday. I just tried too hard to have a good round and couldn’t make it possible.”
These talented youngsters learn quickly and Niemann is certainly one of those – if he was a full PGA Tour member he would rank 2nd for Strokes Gained Approach, 3rd for Strokes Gained Putting and 6th for Birdie Average. He grew up on tree-lined, Par 70 courses featuring Bentgrass in Santiago, Chile and naturally will be comfortable with the altitude. He also played here 12 months ago when invited to play as an amateur. Rounds of 68, 68, 65 were excellent with a Saturday 75 restricting him to a final 29th place finish. 12 months down the line and with 3 top-8 finishes on the PGA Tour to his name, I think he’ll go extremely well this week at a tournament renowned for its relaxed atmosphere. RESULT: T5
Danny Lee 1pt EW 60/1 with Unibet
The ubiquitous horse for the course. A soft course which is likely to receive more rain on Friday must sound like music in the ears of Danny Lee who loves this layout. 16th (2014), 1st (2015) and 9th (2017) at Old White TPC is solid enough form for a 60/1 chance and he’s certainly been showing signs of late. Lee has had a very slow 2017/18 season and has been working closely with both new swing and short game coaches in the form of George Gankas and Jeff Pierce – with his PGA Tour card in danger, results have started to come. A soft TPC Sawgrass saw Lee finish 7th at The Players Championship, followed by 14th at Colonial and 15th at the Travelers. Lee is beginning to find confidence again on short, scoreable set-ups as his confidence grows. We know he’s a pure Bentgrass green fan and his performance at TPC River Highlands was eye-catching: 11th for Driving Accuracy, 12th for Greens in Regulation, 2nd for Scrambling and 16th for Strokes Gained Tee to green was a tight performance and a -5/66 boosted Danny into 11th spot after 54 holes. A super sharp putter who simply loves cut in the fairways and responsive greens, at 112th in the FedEx Cup he needs to keep pressing to guarantee his card for next season. The Greenbrier could again be a catalyst for a late season charge. RESULT: MC
Anirban Lahiri 1pt EW 70/1 with Betfred
Anirban Lahiri has found some excellent form of late and I can certainly see him being a factor at the Greenbrier. A tournament debutant – that hasn’t stopped the likes of Schauffele, Cabrera, Blixt or Potter Jnr winning this – Anirban is making up for lost time on the PGA Tour, filling his satchel across recent weeks. The season started well last autumn with 10th at TPC Kuala Lumpur, 5th at Jeju Island and 14th at El Camaleon, but the Indian Number 2 then went through a fallow period at the start of 2018. That lull though is now in the rear view mirror as 26th at the Byron Nelson, 58th at the Fortworth Invitational and 37th at The Memorial boosted confidence. We then saw Anirban back in contention at The Travelers where a Saturday 65 placed him 3rd and into the 2nd-last group on Sunday with J.B. Holmes. He finished birdie-birdie to eventually finish 9th in Hartford and went on last week to piece together a strong 13th place finish at TPC Potomac. It was certainly the case of great play for 54 holes as a 74 on Friday stopped the Indian from ever getting in the mix. Despite that rounds of 67 (Thursday), 65 (Saturday) and 67 (Sunday) highlight a player who’s in great form and his eventual 13th place finish just kept him out of the odds compilers full glare this week. 6th at Colonial (2016) and 2nd at Muirfield Village (2017) highlight a player who can mix-it in invitational status PGA Tour tournaments and naturally Lahiri was 5th at the 2015 PGA Championship hosted at Whistling Straits.
73rd in Birdie Average and 65th in Strokes Gained Putting are season-long PGA Tour numbers I like this week – Lahiri ranked 1st for Strokes Gained Putting last week at TPC Potomac – and we must remember that the OWGR Number 99 has won 18 professional titles across the European, Asian and Indian Tours. At a tournament synonymous for maiden PGA Tour victories, one for Lahiri would not be a huge surprise. RESULT: T39
Stephan Jaeger 0.5pt EW 200/1 with Betfred
I’ve had to be patient with the mercurial talent of Stephan Jaeger since he was promoted to the PGA Tour last September. At free-scoring tournaments featuring Bentgrass, the 29 year-old from Munich is a real talent. Wins at the Ellie Mae Classic (2016), BMW Charity Pro-Am and Rust-Oleum Championship (both 2017) came at a combined -64 under par and Jaeger is also a winner in 2018, having dropped down to the web.com level at the Knoxville Open and winning that at -16/268. So I think the web.com feel of the Greenbrier, in tandem with larger, pure Bentgrass greens, will be right up the German’s street this week, especially as he landed his best ever PGA Tour finish at TPC Potomac. On a course which I had assumed would be too tight and too high scoring for Stephan, he pulled rounds of 67 (Thursday) and 65 (Saturday) out of the bag to sit 22nd going into Sunday. A closing 68 was also encouraging, as he finished 13th, but that could have been far stronger as he finished double bogey, bogey. As a result I will take the higher odds, but you won’t be surprised to read that Potomac again featured Bentgrass greens. Sits 6th in my 10 week rolling Putting Average tracker. RESULT: T47
Denny McCarthy 0.5pt EW 250/1 with Paddy Power
Denny McCarthy is another web.com graduate I like the look of this week. Maryland bred and University of Virginia educated, the Quicken Loans National was all too much for McCarthy who missed the cut, but prior to that 47th (22nd at 54 holes) at the Travelers and 18th (10th at 54 holes) at the FedEx St Jude Classic highlight a player who’s finding his feet on the main Tour. 26th for Stokes Gained Putting, 26th for Putting from 5-10 Feet and 75th for Putting from 15-20 Feet on the PGA Tour season to date are numbers I really like for the Greenbrier test this week and again I think the web.com feel of the event will help the likes of Denny. He was 4th at the alternate Corales Championship earlier in the season, but it’s his results at altitude affected tracks on the web.com Tour which round the circle for me this week. 8th at the Mexico Championship, 5th at the Utah Championship and 9th at the Boise Open show that Denny likes to perform in thinner air. RESULT: T39
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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