Wednesday, March 11, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 The PLAYERS Championship

Tyrell Hatton won the Arnold Palmer Invitational:


The past couple of weeks have seen high scores on Tour and it made me think of the issues the USGA and the PGA Championship have had over the past few years whether it be super low scores or the 3rd round debacle at Shinnecock.

By looking at these courses and the data it's pretty simple to see...scores rise when the course is firm and there is an ample supply of rough.  But in order to not make the course a debacle like Shinnecock and Chambers Bay were, there's an issue...particularly with the USGA...in getting the course to play firm, but fair.

Usually what occurs in the US Open is that the course plays way too firm and then almost nothing holds the greens, even quality strikes from the fairway or tee box.  The other issue with the US Open is that since it is a big field, firm greens tend to get very bumpy due to the foot traffic.  I think in this case the USGA may be better served narrowing the fairways, lengthening the rough and firming up the fairways while keeping some softness of the greens.


***

This week the Tour plays their largest purse event of the year, The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.


I was just at TPC Sawgrass today.  As a fan (and golf statistician), I tend to prefer the experience at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as that is the ultimate in fan-friendly tournaments outside of The Masters.  API is a very casual experience where you can get right close to the players and can easily walk to different holes and watch tee shots and incoming approach shots.  It's sorta like going to Wrigley Field and Sawgrass is more like going to Dodgers Stadium.

The best thing that happened to The PLAYERS Championship was moving it from May to March.  Moving it to March means more ideal weather where it can easily get into the 90's in May.  The course is more difficult to keep in tip-top shape in May (many of the greens get killed by the heat) and it's unlikely that there will be significant rainfall in March whereas May is when those infamous summer Florida storms of the century tend to occur.

The course is in immaculate condition.  It's playing much softer than Bay Hill and PGA National.  I'm sure that people will give the Tour flak for 'softening up the course', but with some rain the past couple of days and then the humidity being at 70-80% and the winds under 12 mph there's not much that could be done.

TPC Sawgrass is a unique design because almost every tee shot is a dogleg and they have an equal amount of dogleg rights as they have dogleg lefts.  I'm not a big fan of players trying to actively work the ball both ways on their shots and in reality it does not occur that often.  But the doglegs both right and left mean that the players have to hit it very straight.  This is not a course for the Bubba Watson's and Brendon de Jonge's of the world that hit large curving tee shots.

The other unique part of the design is that the front nine is very driving oriented with difficult drives on #2, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #9.  But the back nine is more approach shot oriented with difficult approaches on #11, #13, #14, #17 and #18.  To win at Sawgrass, the player is going to have to drive it effectively and do it more with accuracy than power and be able to hit long approach shots well and make some putts and save themselves from disaster.

The final critical hole on the course is the 18th, but everybody wants to talk about the famous 17th hole.


What's interesting about 17 is that it has the closest proximity to the cut on any par-4 or par-3 on the course. But it's the most difficult approach on the course in terms of strokes lost due to the high frequency of shots that end up in the water. typically, about 10% of the shots for the event will end up in the water. However, I did get to witness Tommy Fleetwood have ace the 17th today.

Projected Winning Score: -11


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Rory McIlroy +750
Jon Rahm +1,200
Bryson DeChambeau +2,000
Tommy Fleetwood +2,200
Patrick Cantlay +2,200
Sung-Jae Im +2,500


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Tyrrell Hatton +4,000
Daniel Berger +6,000
Billy Horschel +8,000
Shane Lowry +9,000




3JACK

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational

Sung-Jae Im gets his first Tour victory at the Honda Classic:



Im was the #4 player on my rankings to win and was one of my favorites to win at 28/1 odds.  He played more events than anybody on Tour last season and continues to play a heavy schedule.  it's probably not a bad move for him given that he's young and he can determine what courses suit his game and eye the best, but he should want to cut back his schedule a bit in the near future.


***

This week the Tour comes back to the homeland...the Arnold Palmer Invitation at Bay Hill.


The predecessor to the API was the Citrus Open and that used to be held at Rio Pinar Country Club.  I was a former member at Rio Pinar.  They moved the event to Bay Hill and Mr. Palmer re-designed the course while Rio Pinar became frozen in time and now the Rio Pinar area has fallen on hard times while Bay Hill is in the trendy Dr. Phillips neighborhood of Orlando.

This is still a popular stop with Tour players as they generally like the course and so many players either live in Orlando (or used to live in Orlando) or they live in Jupiter which is about a little over two hours away.  Now that the event is the week prior to Sawgrass and has a fairly large purse ($9.3 million) it's kind of a no-brainer to play the event.

The weather and conditions can dramatically change the course.  If it's soft, it plays really soft because much of the course sits in a bowl.  And when that happens it greatly fits bombers because the course is fairly long and they can keep more tee shots in the fairway.  But, if it's crusty the course starts to sway more towards shorter and more accurate players.

Last year the course played moderately soft until the last day where it became very firm and Francesco Molinari, a shorter but accurate driver of the ball who greatly improved his short game put up a stellar final round to win the event.


At its heart, Bay Hill is still a fairly long iron course and the 3-wood certainly comes into play quite often.

This week it is supposed to get breezy and the course is already playing a bit firm to begin with.  So I expect scores to rise and more shorter hitters to get into contention. 

ON a side note, I always recommend people that have never been to a Tour event or had a bad experience going to a Tour event to give Bay Hill a try as outside of the majors and Sawgrass, it's arguably the best even to go to on Tour from a fan-friendly experience.  Scottsdale has its own carzy experience and that looks incredible.  But from a fan friendly experience Bay Hill is as good as it gets with easy parking during practice rounds, the bleachers and chair seating right behind the driving range, the practice green so close that you can almost touch the players, the great merchandise booths and the course is quite easy to walk thru and go to different holes.

The final critical hole on the course is the par-4 18th. 


It plays to 460 yards.  The fairway is pretty wide (35 yards wide) which is a smart design with form following function because not only is the approach shot difficult, but the tee shot is blind and it's often difficult to get a good target to aim at thus the wider fairway suits the hole nicely.  Missing the fairway to the right can be death about 50% of the time.  Missing it left and there are still a lot of shots available.

It has led to a lot of incredible winning shots over the years from Robert Gamez's eagle, to all of the crazy putts Tiger has made on the hole over the years to Matt Every's big putt in 2015, Rory's big putt in 2018 and Molinari's monster putt last year.

Projected Winning Score: -8


3JACK'S FAVORITES
Rory McIlroy +500
Tommy Fleetwood +1,400
Bryson DeChambeau +1,800
Hideki Matsuyama +2,200
Sung-Jae Im +2,800
Jason Day +2,800


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS
Collin Morikawa +5,000
Billy Horschel +6,600
Kevin Kisner +8,000
Joel Dahmen +10,000





3JACK

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Honda Classic

Patrick Reed won in Mexico City last week:



Reed won at 40/1 odds.  And WGC-Mexico is quickly becoming one of my favorite events on Tour as between the high altitude at the trickiness of the course with great crowds, it's making for a great event to watch every year.  Unfortunately, Reed was ranked 12th on my list of players in the field that could win at Golf de Chapultec.


***


This week the Tour comes to south Florida for the Honda Classic.



The Honda Classic started as the Jackie Gleason tournament in 1972.  From 1972 to 2007 the Honda Classic changed venues from the Inverrary Club (excellent), to TPC Eagle Trace (now a dump) to Weston Hills and then CC Mirasol.  Due to those clubs being private at the time (Eagle Trace is open to the public) and the event drawing more fans they could never quite find the venue they wanted until PGA National came along.

The course is a Nicklaus design and it's always in fantastic shape.  It is difficult because it is long, often windy and often very soft which is an odd combination to see.

The course usually gets fair reviews from the players.  They like the fact that it's usually in pristine condition, but it's a lot of 'Florida Golf' with water coming in to play on a lot of holes and if the winds kick into action and your game isn't really top notch, it can make for an un-fun experience.

This is strictly a long iron play golf course.  The rest of the game, outside of performing poorly at them, will likely not play a large role which is very typical from a Nicklaus design.

The final critical hole of the event is the par-5 18th.


It plays to about 555 yards.  The key is for the player to hit a good drive about 290+ yards in the fairway.  And if the wind is cooperating (or not interfering), then to go for the green because it's reachable.  What's interesting is players are better off missing the fairway left, even if it ends up in the bunker, than they are missing right off the tee.

The green is much more difficult to hit wedge shots into than it looks and it's a difficult green to putt on.  Especially that Sunday center right location as that is one of the very toughest putting locations on the entire course.

Projected Winning Score: -9


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Brooks Koepka +1,000
Rickie Fowler +1,200
Tommy Fleetwood +2,000
Justin Rose +2,500
Victor Hovland +2,800
Sung-Jae Im +2,800
Shane Lowry +3,300


3JACK'S DARKHORSE PICKS

Joaquin Niemann +5,000
Harris English +6,000
Tom Hoge +12,500





3JACK

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 WGC Mexico

Adam Scott won last week's Genesis Open.



Riviera played a little more difficult towards the weekend that originally thought.  Scott was ranked my 18th best player to win in the field.  I considered taking him, but fell in love with taking long shots like Sepp Stracka (MC'd), Corey Conners (MC'd) and Joaquin Niemann (MC'd).

There's a decent correlation between performance at Riviera and subsequent performance at Augusta in April, so that bodes well for Scott.  Also will be interesting to see what Bryson DeChambeau will do at August with his work on club speed training as DeChambeau finished 5th at Riviera and was the second most effective driver last week.  He was also 3rd in driving distance.


***

This week the Tour heads to Mexico City for WGC-Mexico tournament.




The event is played at Club de Golf Chapultepec which is at 7,800 feet above sea level.  It was designed by Willie and Alex Smith with a re-design by Percy Clifford in 1972. 

It's certainly a ballstriker's golf course and plays to those that hit it long and strike their irons well.  Most Tour players I've talked to like the course, but you would like it as well with no cut and drives easily carrying 300 yards.

I wrote about the findings and the radar data of the altitude changes in 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis.  In essence, the altitude causes the ball to not only fly longer, but flatter.  And players started to put more spin and launch on the ball.  I can understand that on approach shots and trying to get greens to hold, but off the tee the increased spin was counterproductive.

Here's a look at the weather this week:



Projected Winning Score: -17


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Rory McIlroy +600
Dustin Johnson +800
Jon Rahm +1,000
Justin Thomas +1,100
Adam Scott +2,000
Hideki Matsuyama +2,000
Tommy Fleetwood +2,200
Bryson DeChambeau +2,500




3JACK

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Genesis Open

Nick Taylor had a wire-to-wire victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.


Taylor was at 200/1 odds and was ranked 43rd on my list of probable winners. But Pebble Beach once again proved that it’s still very much a putter’s course. Taylor ranked 38th in Strokes Gained – Putting last year and is currently 60th this year.


***

Now the Tour returns to one of my favorite Tour stops, The Genesis Open at Riviera CC.


LA has so many incredible private clubs with not only Riviera, but the newly renovated Hillcrest CC, Bel-Air, Sherwood, Virginia, MountainGate, Wood Ranch, Wilshire and numerous others. The signature of private golf in LA is these big, broad elevated tees right near the clubhouse on the first tee and it just never seems to get old for me.

The courses are very much like the vibe of the city, very laid back and informal. You’re not sweating out drives that could easily end up in a hazard like you do in Florida, nor are you dealing with ferocious winds of Texas or the waste areas of Arizona. And even though the clubs are built with housing surrounding it, it’s usually amazingly peaceful as people have other things going on besides blaring music and swimming in their pools while you’re out golfing.

The city is eclectic as well. I find it fascinating of the vastly different cultures that reside in the LA metropolitan area. People from the valley are vastly different from people living on the beach. And even people on the beach, in say Venice are very different from people living in say Manhattan Beach. And all of those people are very different from people living in Hollywood and Burbank which is a different group of people from those living in Beverly Hills who are extremely different from those living in say, Pasadena.

Pacific Palisades is usually very quiet and looks much like small town, upper middle class America although most of the residents make very high incomes. It’s the type of place where you could park your car and take a nice casual walk thru the area on the sidewalk and it be very peaceful.

That’s one of the reasons why I usually take a vacation to LA almost every Spring. It’s fairly cheap airfare at usually $200 roundtrip. LAX probably has the most inexpensive car rentals of any airport in the country and I can stay over in South Bay which is only 15 minutes from LAX. And there’s always things to do besides play golf. I plan on getting over there in May and work with my man, George Gankas, on my golf swing.


***

Riviera is great event because there’s a good correlation between winners at Riviera and how well they perform at The Masters. There’s some similarities between the two courses in that there’s a high 3-putt percentage and much of the strokes gained/lost are on long approach shots. And it also helps to have some distance at Riviera.

The 3-putt percentage is due Riviera having a low make % in general due to the old school greens with large slopes, but being much larger than your typical old school greens. And given the difficulty of the approaches, it often means a lot of long birdie putts.

While the final critical hole on the golf course is the 18th, the hole that will get the most attention is the short par-4 10th hole.



It only plays to 315 yards, but it really plays more like 290 yards with the elevated tee. In the past, the green was so firm that the best play was to go for the green when the pin was in the middle or in the front left location and then lay-up left if the pin was in the back right.

In recent years the green has softened considerably and now the best play is to aim for the left front edge of the green with a driver regardless of pin location. If the golfer goes long and doesn’t feel comfortable hitting a flop to the back right pin location, they can simply chip to the center-front of the green and try to 2-putt from 50+ feet.

There is no chance of rain this week with winds projected to be under 7 mph. Temperatures should have highs of 70 degrees which is very typical in LA this time of the year.

PROJECTED WINNING SCORE: -15


3JACK’S FAVORITES

Rory McIlroy +800
Justin Thomas +1,000
Jon Rahm +1,000
Patrick Cantlay +2,000
Xander Schauffele +2,200
Hideki Matsuyama +2,800


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Bryson DeChambeau +5,000
Joaquin Niemann +8,000
Corey Conners +10,000
Sepp Straka +40,000




3JACK

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Webb Simpson won the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week:




Simpson was one of my projected winner’s picks at 14/1 odds. It goes to show how the changes to the design of TPC Scottsdale have allowed shorter hitters to have a chance to win there. I also projected the winning score as well (-17)

While Simpson has excellent performance metrics, he is usually the one guy on Tour that I find consistently utilizes the best on-course strategy and playing holes that are in line with what the numbers project. He’s a fascinating player given his swing with a severely cupped (left wrist extension) at the top of the swing and an open club face at p6 and can still strike the ball extremely well.



***

This week the Tour returns to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.




Pebble Beach Golf Links was designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant in 1919 and then extensively re-designed by H. Chandler Egan. It was also renovated and re-designed by Alister MacKenzie, Robert Hunter, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer over the decades.

This is the last of the multiple course events on Tour for the time being (thank god). The cut will be after 54-holes as each player will play Pebble, Spyglass and Monterey Peninsula in the first three rounds. Those that make the cut will then play Pebble again on Sunday.


In general, the feedback I get from Tour players is that they enjoy the courses, but the Pro-Am makes for a giant cluster and super long rounds. The TV footage is usually horrible because of players playing the three different courses and inevitably a few players will get in contention and you never get to see them hit a shot until Sunday.


The real allure of the event on TV is Pebble itself (although the other courses are beautiful, you just don’t get to see them that much). The secondary allure was the celebrity amateurs playing the event. Most notably Jack Lemmon and Clint Eastwood. Now, the Pro-Am is mostly filled with corporate executives that most people could not pick out of a lineup and are about as personable as learning about corporate stock derivatives.


Anyway, putting is a big deal at Pebble Beach. It usually has the lowest make percentages on Tour and has the slowest greens as well. So much for the theory that slower greens mean better putting. The 3-putt percentage is not that high there because the greens are about half the size of the modern Tour course designs.


The greens have steep slopes and thus they need to be made slow in order to keep the ball on the green, particularly when the famous Pebble wind comes around. Thus, this is the course that many good putters have an advantage at.


The make %’s have improved on the course in recent years. This is due to better ownership that has done a much better job with the conditioning of the course. It’s in its best shape in decades.


Here’s a look at the weather forecast for the week.



So it will be dry, but cool. As I’ve explained in previous versions of Pro Golf Synopsis, my research shows that scores start to rise when the winds get 12 mph or faster. My guess is that the winner will likely come from playing Monterey on Saturday as that is the easiest course of the three courses to play.

Projected Winning Score: -17


The final critical hole at Pebble is the 575 yard par-5 14th hole.




The diagram doesn’t do the hole justice as you’re hitting to an elevated fairway that makes for a blind tee shot.

There’s also trees up by the green and they reek havoc on approach wedge shots.

This is a severely sloped green and they usually have a Sunday flag location front left. It not only makes for a difficult approach, but a very fast putt as it slopes very downward from there.



The winner could very well be the player that can manage to make 2 birdies on this hole.

3JACK’S FAVORITES

Dustin Johnson +600
Patrick Cantlay +1,000
Brandt Snedeker +2,200
Matt Kuchar +2,500
Graeme McDowell +3,300


3JACK’S DARK HORSE PICKS

Adam Hadwin +6,600
Vaughn Taylor +8,000
Nick Watney +10,000
Brian Stuard +20,000
Peter Malnati +40,000






3JACK

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

What To Look For: 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open

Last week, Marc Leishman found his way back to the winner's circle with a victory at Torrey Pines:



Leishman was at 50/1 odds to win and ranked 31st in my list of probable winners.  If you read 2019 Pro Golf Synopsis you would know that Leishman ranked 1st in Red Zone Play (175-225 yards) in the 2018-2019 season.  His struggles off the tee were due to his strong right miss bias and it appears he has worked that out. 

Jon Rahm was at 8/1 odds and finished in second place.  I had him at 18th in my picks list.  I was rooting for Ryan Palmer who was one of my picks at 50/1 odds, but a final day 77 blew him out of the water.


***

This week the Tour comes to stadium golf with the famous 16th hole:



Personally, I love the scene.  It goes against golf's nature, but the scene is something to behold and there's nothing wrong with it happening once a year.  

In fact, if every tournament had this...while against golf's nature...it would be good for golf in the long run because it means more people are watching golf and more people will get interested in the game and supply their discretionary income towards the game.

But, what's funny about the tournament is that the 16th hole is a very bland hole and the course isn't very well liked by Tour players.  But the atmosphere is off the charts and that makes Tour players want to play the event.  

The old design greatly favored bombers and players that hit it long could just bomb it anywhere with little recourse.  The re-design got a bit goofy for my tastes, but it took the reckless bombers advantage from them and made it more of an irons play golf course

You may also recall from 2019 Pro Golf Synopsis that TPC Scottsdale is one of the courses where players playing the event from the previous week have one of the largest drop-offs in Strokes Gained - Putting.  Thus, I would be a little averse to taking a player that played Torrey Pines last week.

Here's a look at the weather this week:


Projected Winning Score: -17


While the 16th hole gets all of the attention, the 17th hole is far more critical in separating the contenders from the rest of the field.


Only about 2-4% of the field will lay-up off the tee.  About 10% will find the water.  Usually though they find the water left.  Rarely will a player find the water behind the green.

The most difficult location will be the back left location.  


However, it's still a very low scoring hole and the back left location is only slightly more difficult than the other pin locations.


3JACK'S FAVORITES

Justin Thomas +900
Hideki Matsuyama +1,400
Webb Simpson +1,400
Rickie Fowler +1,600
Xander Schauffele +1,800


3JACK'S DARK HORSE PICKS

Collin Morikawa +3,300
Victor Hovland +5,000
Byeong-Hun An +6,600
Corey Conners +8,000
Andrew Landry +10,000




3JACK