It was fantastic to see Brooks Koepka deliver a 20/1 win return for this column last week. Landing a Major Championship is always hugely satisfying and Justin Thomas also gave us a slightly reduced each-way return. I know both were popular with readers so congratulations to all who backed them. Bellerive was a typical PGA Championship venue where power ultimately won out, but you have to say that yet again the PGA of America fashioned an exciting finish with Brooks holding off the revitalised forms of Adam Scott and Tiger Woods. You get the feeling that the likes of Spieth, Scott and Woods are looking forward to the FedEx Cup Playoffs which start next week.
This week we travel to the Wyndham Championship, played at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro in North Carolina. It’s a milestone for the Tour as it signifies the final tournament of the regular season. That means that the Wyndham is critical for a couple of key reasons:
- Firstly, any non-exempt player outside of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings will lose their full playing privileges for 2018/19, requiring their participation in the web.com Tour Finals (players ranked from 126-200 if they so wish to compete). Naturally this will be a huge motivator for a large number of players in this week’s field. Noteworthy is that Shane Lowry is in serious danger with his 3-year exemption for winning the 2015 WGC Bridgestone Invitational ending this week.
- Secondly, improvement of their FedEx Cup standing will be important for a number of players like Daniel Berger, Jason Dufner, Sergio Garcia, Bill Haas, Russell Henley, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker and Jhonattan Vegas. Both Garcia and McDowell are outside of the PlayOff positions right now. Remember the money and prestige available to those who progress to East Lake is tempting for any professional and Sergio finds himself in a tough spot right now when it comes down to qualification for the Ryder Cup.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Nordea Masters – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Course Guide: Sedgefield is an original Donald Ross design which has typical Carolina course overtures. A short par-70 by modern standards, the course still favours longer hitters with accuracy from the tee also being rewarded. Ultimately streaky scorers have got the job done here, with scoring being dictated solely by the firmness of the greens when wind isn’t a factor. Champion Bermudagrass greens were laid for the 2012 renewal and they undoubtedly run faster than the tired Bentgrass putting surfaces they replaced, particularly if conditions remain dry. But as the greens have settled, scoring continues to improve with -21/259 and -22/258 being the latest winning totals.
Sedgefield Country Club, Greensboro, North Carolina: Designer: Donald Ross 1926, with Kris Spence renovation 2007; Course Type: Carolina, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,127 yards; Water Hazards: 12 creeks, 1 pond; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass 2″; Greens: 6,500 sq.ft average featuring Champion Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.37 (-0.63), Difficulty Rank 35 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.97 (-0.03), Difficulty Rank 23 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.21 (-0.79), Rank 38 of 48 courses. 2015: 68.86 (-1.14), Rank 40 of 52 courses. 2016: 68.97 (-1.03), Rank 37 of 50 courses. 2017: 68.81 (-1.19), Rank of 37 of 50 courses.
Sedgefield Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Sedgefield CC and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:
- Sedgefield: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:22; 350:22.
- Bellerive CC: 250 yards from the tee: 31 yards wide; 275:29; 300:26; 325:27; 350:29.
- Firestone South: 250 yards from the tee: 25 yards wide; 275:26; 300:25; 325:25; 350:24.
- Montreux G&CC : 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:41; 300:42; 325:40; 350:38.
- Glen Abbey: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:31; 300:29; 325:29; 350:30.
- Carnoustie: Average 28 yards.
- TPC Deere Run: 250 yards from the tee: 42 yards wide; 275:40; 300:37; 325:33; 350:30.
- Old White TPC: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:34; 300:34; 325:35; 350:32.
- TPC Potomac: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:27; 325:23; 350:27.
- TPC River Highlands: 250 yards from the tee: 37 yards wide; 275:35; 300:28; 325:28; 350:27.
- Shinnecock Hills: Average 42 yards with 8th hole widest at 64 yards wide.
- TPC Southwind: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:29; 300:28; 325:31; 350:25.
- Muirfield Village: 250 yards from the tee: 36 yards wide; 275:35; 300:31; 325:26; 350:30.
- Colonial: 250 yards from tee: 28 yards wide; 275:26; 300:27; 325:26; 350:23.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Donald Ross designs include:
- Aronimink – 2010/11 AT&T National
- Pinehurst Number 2 – 2014 US Open
- East Course at Oak Hill – 2013 PGA Championship
- Plainfield – 2011 & 2015 Barclays
- East Lake – Tour Championship
Course Overview: Sedgefield CC is perennially one the two easiest Par-70s on the PGA Tour alongside Waialae CC (Sony Open). Take 2017 when with 25 players finishing double-digits under Par. Set to the south-east of Greensboro, the course has a typical Carolina feel with tree-lined fairways, pine straw and Bermudagrass throughout. Fairways are quite tight, but relatively easy to find if conditions are soft. Driving accuracy helps, but the key to the course, which measures just over 7,200 yards, are Ross’s green complexes which although undulating and surrounded by shaved run-off areas, are actually large for the length of the course. If the Champion Bermuda greens are receptive (as they were in 2017), that’s the green light for low scoring. Winners here year-in, year-out, must hit a minimum 13 greens per round and invariably break par every 1 in 3 holes. A fast start, excellent and consistent approach play and a reasonably hot putter are they keys to victory, plus it’s noteworthy that the front 9 plays far easier and has to be capitalised upon.
Winners: 2017: Henrik Stenson (-22); 2016: Si-Woo Kim (-21); 2015: Davis Love III (-17); 2014: Camilo Villegas (-17); 2013: Patrick Reed (-14); 2012: Sergio Garcia (-18); 2011: Webb Simpson (-18); 2010: Arjun Atwal (-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 Webb Simpson, Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama, Danny Lee, Billy Horschel, Ricky Barnes, Brandt Snedeker, Chesson Hadley, Whee Kim and Si Woo Kim.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the FedEx St Jude Classic 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) Kris Blanks; 3) Henrik Stenson; 4) Russell Henley; 5) Brian Gay; 6) David Lingmerth / Ben Silverman; 8) Daniel Berger / J.J. Henry / Conrad Shindler; 11) Ryan Moore; 12) Ben Crane / Steve Stricker; 14) Ryan Armour; 15) Jason Dufner; 16) Tyler Duncan; 17) John Merrick / Sam Ryder / Michael Thompson / Xin-Jun Zhang.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Tyler Duncan; 2) Henrik Stenson; 3) J.J. Henry; 4) Billy Horschel; 5) John Merrick; 6) Scott Stallings; 7) Shane Lowry; 8) Joaquin Niemann / Sam Ryder; 10) Steve Marino / Brendan Steele; 12) C.T. Pan / Julian Suri; 14) Harold Varner III; 15) Russell Henley / Mackenzie Hughes / Chris Kirk / Webb Simpson; 19) Blayne Barber / Jason Kokrak / Steve Wheatcroft.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Hunter Mahan; 2) Whee Kim; 3) Brendon De Jonge; 4) Brandon Harkins / Andres Romero; 6) Brian Gay; 7) Joaquin Niemann; 8) Tommy Gainey / Carl Pettersson; 10) Derek Fathauer; 11) Patrick Rodgers; 12) Webb Simpson; 13) Alex Cejka; 14) Sam Saunders; 15) Stuart Appleby / Parker McLachlin / Rod Pampling / C.T. Pan; 19) Peter Malnati / Chris Stroud.
Winners & Prices: 2017: Stenson 14/1; 2016: S.W. Kim 150/1; 2015: Love III 500/1; 2014: Villegas 125/1; 2013: Reed 80/1; 2012: Garcia 40/1; 2011: Simpson 20/1; 2010: Atwal 200/1. Average: 141/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 197/1.
- 2017: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with an afternoon high of 90. Wind SSW 4-8 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 92. Wind SW 6-12 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 89. Wind WNW 4-8 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 91. Wind ESE 5 mph.
- 2016: Thursday: Mostly sunny, with an afternoon high of 90. Wind NNW 6-12 mph. Friday: Mostly cloudy, with an afternoon high of 88. Wind WNW 5-10 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy. High of 85. Wind 5-10 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy. High of 89. Wind W 10-15 mph with gusts of 20 mph.
- 2015: Thursday: Mostly overcast, with highs in the mid-80s. Winds SW at 10-20 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny, with an afternoon high of 85. Wind NNE at 5-10 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny, with afternoon highs in the mid-80s. Winds NNE at 4-8 mph. Sunday: Mostly cloudy. High of 86. Wind SW at 5-10 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Greensboro, North Carolina, is here. I’m expecting soft conditions again this week in North Carolina. 26mm of rain fell last week and in total there’s been 133mm in early August so I’d expect at least Thursday and Friday’s action to feature receptive conditions. There’s a 50% chance of thunderstorms across Friday and Saturday evening. Winds in general will be light with the potential for 15mph breeze on Saturday, but with 33-34 degree Celsius temperatures forecast the 2018 Wyndham Championship will be another birdie-fest.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the past 6 winners here since the green complexes were changed to Champion Bermudagrass in 2012 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2017, Henrik Stenson (-22). 294 yards (71st), 75.0% fairways (8th), 87.5% greens in regulation (3rd), proximity to hole 25’9″ (1st), 44.4 % scrambling (67th), 1.62 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2016, Si-Woo Kim (-21). 307 yards (51st), 73.2% fairways (6th), 83.3% greens in regulation (8th), proximity to hole 24’11” (1st), 81.5 % scrambling (1st), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd).
- 2015, Davis Love III (-17). 298 yards (33rd), 71.4% fairways (10th), 77.8% greens in regulation (18th), proximity to hole 29’1″ (7th), 75.0 % scrambling (9th), 1.71 putts per GIR (11th).
- 2014, Camilo Villegas (-17). 301 yards (39th), 76.8% fairways (6th), 77.8% greens in regulation (8th), 29’5″ proximity to hole (6th), 87.5 % scrambling (1st), 1.75 putts per GIR (24th).
- 2013, Patrick Reed (-14). 298 yards (11th), 64.3% fairways (42nd), 83.3% greens in regulation (1st), 29″6″ proximity to hole (2nd), 58.3% scrambling (56th), 1.72 putts per GIR (14th).
- 2012, Sergio Garcia (-18). 302 yards (26th), 73.2% fairways (13th), 72.2% greens in regulation (26th), 32″2″ proximity to hole (29th), 80.0% scrambling (1st), 1.63 putts per GIR (2nd).
Tournament Skill Averages:
- Driving Distance: 39th, Driving Accuracy: 14th, Greens in Regulation: 8th, Proximity to Hole: 8th, Scrambling: 23rd, Putting Average 9th.
So let’s take a view from players as to how Sedgefield Country Club since the introduction of Bermudagrass greens has set up in the past and what specific skills it requires:
Henrik Stenson: “I think whenever you play a week after a Major championship, which isn’t all the time for me I found in the past you can find the golf courses quite easy when you play the tougher course the week before and you still kind of keep a strong mindset in terms of one shot at a time which, again, you always want to have but probably even more so at the Majors. It’s crucial. I’ve had some good success in particular playing in Germany the week after the U.S. Open a lot of times and done well.
Have left the driver out this week. Strong 3-wood, 4-wood and 2-iron. Putting myself in position and trying to stay out of that bermuda rough. If you do that you got pretty short clubs and you can be accurate with your second shots. Plenty more of the same tomorrow. I’m trying to be kind of offensive to defensive spots, if you know, off the tee on a few of holes but then you get a lot of 8, 9 irons, wedges into these greens and they’re pretty receptive. You can be pretty aggressive if you’re feeling you got good numbers and feels right, go for it. We’ll produce a lot of birdie chances the first two days. My putting has been excellent. I’ve seen the lines nicely. Hit a lot of good putts and I’ve been hitting a lot of good iron shots as well, some wedges and some mid to short irons, and that’s kind of what I keep on doing and trying to hit a lot of fairways with the 3-wood and trying to attacking the hole and that’s been working nicely so far. No need to change that for tomorrow.“
Luke Donald: “It’s a course I really enjoy. I love the design of this course. The greens are very true, very fast, quite undulating. You have to have some imagination. And nice to get off to a solid start. Conditions were nice out there. The greens are holding for the most part and not too much wind. So, you’re playing well there’s some opportunities out there. I struggled a little bit visualizing that tee shot. It was a couple tee shots you don’t see them land and 18 is one of them. I hit a poor tee shot left and had to chip out. I had a good number with a little wedge, stick it to that pin. Would have been disappointing to drop one there after playing so well for the rest of the round.“
Webb Simpson: “It goes back to the point of the golf course. Bay Hill, Tiger won so many times. Akron produces long hitters winning there. Depending on the golf course you kind of create your own pool of winners that are usually going to win there, whereas this course, like I said, it favours nobody. So I think that’s what makes it hard to repeat, that if you have a field of whatever, what did we have, 156 players, that most everybody in the field has a legitimate chance to win whereas, you know, maybe you go to San Diego, I can’t remember the last time somebody who didn’t bomb it winning there. That’s a place where you take out 50 percent of the field from the start of the week. like I said earlier about the golf course, I don’t think it’s one where you have to play many years to learn it, where a lot of courses you do. Like Augusta is a good example whereas this golf course is more straight in front of you and, again, it’s a level playing field for everyone which I wish we played more like these.“
Tiger Woods: “The golf course is tricky. I know it’s wet and the fairways, ball in hand but the greens are so fast. They’re so speedy. Hideki, myself, even Brooks, we ripped a couple putts down there probably 10, 15 feet past the hole and even though as wet as they are, they’re still that fast downhill, down-grain and got to respect it and it puts such a premium on iron play to put the ball in the right spot and give yourself putts. For the majority of the day I was putting myself in perfect spots where I can be aggressive.“
Carl Pettersson: “Well, it’s changed slightly. When they changed the greens from Bent to Bermuda, but it’s still a scorable golf course if you’re playing well. If you’re not playing well, it’s difficult because the rough is thick, the ball really sits down in the Bermudagrass, so that part of it is difficult, and if you don’t hit the greens, it’s difficult to get it up and down. But definitely if you’re on your game, you feel like you can shoot a fairly low round here for sure.“
Padraig Harrington: “The greens are quite fast, to be honest, and undulating, so a lot of the difficulty is getting yourself in position on the greens, and by necessity then you have to be in position on the fairway to get into position on the greens. So it’s a lot about strategy, what pins to go at, making sure you don’t short side yourself because of the speed of the greens and the undulation.“
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners of this event:
- 2017 – Henrik Stenson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2:3rd, Round 3: 2nd.
- 2016 – Si-Woo Kim: Round 1: 41st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2015 – Davis Love III: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 10th.
- 2014 – Camilo Villegas: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 7th, Round 3: 8th.
- 2013 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 3rd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2012 – Sergio Garcia: Round 1: 20th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
- Henrik Stenson: 13th PGA/17th Bridgestone/11th Open/ 26th Scottish Open.
- Si-Woo Kim: 25th Travelers/MC PGA/23rd Canada/2nd Barbasol.
- Davis Love III: MC PGA/MC Canada/54th Greenbrier/MC Travelers.
- Camilo Villegas: WD Canada/45th JDC/26th Greenbrier/MC Quicken National.
- Patrick Reed: 9th Canada/7th JDC/MC Greenbrier/34th Quicken National.
- Sergio Garcia: MC PGA/29th Bridgestone/MC Open/29th BMW Intl.
- Webb Simpson: MC PGA/9th Greenbrier/16th Open/8th AT&T National
- Arjun Atwal: MC Price Cutter/17th Witchita/68th Greenbrier/74th Canada.
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
- 2017 – Every – AM -9/61 – 200/1.
- 2016 – Cabrera-Bello/Na – Both AM -7/63.
- 2015 – Compton/Hoge/McGirt – 2AM/1PM -8/62.
- 2014 – Villegas – PM -7/63.
- 2013 – Fisher/Stroud – AM/PM Split -6/64.
- 2012 – Pettersson – AM -8/62.
- 2011 – Gainey/Quinney – AM/PM Split -7/63.
- 2010 – Atwal – PM -9/61.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass green PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 4 – Jim Furyk, Bill Haas.
- 3 – Ernie Els, Brian Gay, Billy Horschel, Henrik Stenson.
- 2 – Daniel Berger, Ben Crane, Jason Dufner, Matt Every, Sergio Garcia, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Davis Love III, Scott Piercy, Adam Scott, Brandt Snedeker.
- 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Jonas Blixt, Jason Bohn, Wesley Bryan, Jonathan Byrd, Harris English, Tommy Gainey, Robert Garrigus, Fabian Gomez, Retief Goosen, Cody Gribble, Padraig Harrington, Mackenzie Hughes, Satoshi Kodaira, Martin Laird, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Grayson Murray, Sean O’Hair, Carl Pettersson, Rory Sabbatini, Webb Simpson, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Steve Stricker, Brian Stuard; Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Jhonattan Vegas, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney.
Recent winning totals of -22, -21, -17, -17, -14 and -18 highlight that the key to success in Greensboro is two-fold: make plenty of eagles and birdies plus minimise dropped shots. It’s also worth noting that we’re returning to a Champion Bermudagrass greened golf course this week – naturally many have played months of Bentgrass and Poa Annua grasses. On the current PGA schedule the only courses with Champion Bermudagrass greens feature at TPC Southwind, Quail Hollow (since the 2017 PGA Championship) and the Country Club of Jackson.
It won’t surprise in a tournament where 4 straight rounds of 65/66 is the target that streaky scorers dominate the contending positions. However game-wise since the swap to Champion Bermudagrass greens, it’s safe to say that Garcia, Reed, Villegas, Love III, Si Woo Kim and Henrik Stenson all primarily won through their ability to create enough birdie opportunities with neat tee-to-green play which they then converted with a ‘Bermuda-positive’ putter. Those looking for Donald Ross-positive players should look no further than PGA Tour tracks Aronimink (AT&T National 2009/10), East Lake (Tour Championship) as well as Oak Hill (2013 PGA Championship) and Pinehurst No2 (2014 U.S. Open).
Sedgefield has a habit of producing 1st time PGA Tour winners with Si-Woo Kim, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Arjun Atwal and Ryan Moore all recording their first main-Tour victories here since 2008. FedEx Cup standings-wise, Webb Simpson was 12th in the standings when he captured his first title here at 20/1 in 2011. Since then 102nd, 78th, 105th, 187th, 44th and 75th suggest that we should certainly look a little deeper than the very obvious candidates this week.
My selections are as follows: