The Sanderson Farms Championship
It was a great week for us at The Greenbrier and a fantastic way to start the 2019/20 PGA Tour season as Joaquin Niemann showed what a class act he is by closing things out with a 64 to land his maiden PGA Tour title and undoubtedly the first of many.
Things could have been even better for us as Viktor Hovland charged through the field on Sunday to finish one shot shy of the places while our 150-1 shot Lanto Griffin had a really solid week and only finished a couple of shots out of the places. Still, you can never grumble about a week where you have the winner so I’m not complaining!
So we move on in great spirits to the Sanderson Farms Championship.
The event has been a part of the tours schedule since 1968 and during this time it has had many different title sponsors including the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, The Viking Classic and the True South Classic, before Sanderson Farms took over duties in 2013.
The tournament has always been played in Mississippi.
From inception up to 1994 it was played in Hattiesburg before then moving to Annandale Golf Club, which hosted the event up to 2013, before the Country Club of Jackson took over from the 14/15 season.
Over recent years the event has been an opposite field event running alongside the WGC HSBC Champions in China, this year however due to a change in schedule, which sees the tournament move forward to September as the second event of the new PGA Tour season it take centre stage on the PGA Tours calendar this week with full Fedex Cup points being allocated.
Despite that in all honesty the field is fairly weak one with last weeks winner Joaquin Niemman and the PGA Tour’s version of Iron Man Sungjae Im heading up the market.
The Country Club of Jackson Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7400yds.
The greens are Ultra Dwarf Bermuda, comparable to that which are found at TPC Southwind, Quail Hollow & Sedgefield CC.
The course was originally opened in 1962 before undergoing a redesign in 2008.
With reasonably wide fairways The Country Club of Jackson can’t be seen as a tough test however the main problems can be found on and around the greens with raised surfaces and run of areas proving to be challenging over the years.
As well as strong putting GIR can therefore be seen as significant as it is important to try and find the right spots on greens.
So lets take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to its current home in 2014, The Country Club of Jackson.
2018 – C Champ
2017 – R Armour
2016 – C Gribble
2015 – P Malnati
2014 – N Taylor
The first and most striking connection in these five players is that their win here was the maiden tour win for each of them.
Beyond that I will confess that there are no further completely obvious links that strike me between the five. This time last year I did note that all four of the previous course winners here could be seen as neat and tidy, ‘all rounders’, rather than aggressive bombers, however last years winner Cameron Champ literally bombed that theory out of the water as made mincemeat of the par fives on his way to victory.
Whilst all five were maiden winners Champ, Taylor & Gribble were rookies in their 20s, whilst Malnati, also in his 20s at the time of winning, was returning to the tour for a second stint after a disappointing first go in 2014.
Armour however was [and still arguably is] a journeyman of the tour in the truest sense of the word when clinching his maiden tour win here at the age of 41, after years of bouncing back and forth between the big league and the lower levels.
Two of the five, Malnati and Gribble are considered as strong putters, with Malnati in particular being known as one of the best putters on tour so this perhaps ties in to the fact that the toughest challenge at the Country Club of Jackson is to be found on and around the greens.
So having established that the five winners here were maiden winners but not too much beyond this I decided to take a look at their performances in other events as well as recent form coming in to the event to see if I could find a link their and this did throw in a couple of possible pointers.
Firstly with regards to form coming in two of the winners, Armour and Gribble, had been in good form coming in to the event.
Armour had posted three solid finishes in the Web.com finals events including a top 5 in the first one, The Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. In addition he had finished 4th in his final start of the previous season on the PGA Tour at the Wyndham.
Gribble meanwhile had finished 5th in his final start of the year on the Web.com, again at the Nationwide event, before finishing 8th in his first start on the PGA Tour at the Safeway.
On the flip side to this though the previous two winners Malnati and Taylor had been struggling for form coming in with nothing better than a 56th place between them in their previous three starts.
Finally last years winner Cameron Champ had warmed up nicely with a 25th place at the Safeway the week before however his form prior to that on the Korn Ferry Tour had been fairly uninspiring as he had managed nothing better than 16th in his last six starts of the 2018 season.
Finally in search of clues I took a look at where the recent winners hail from.
As the event has been held in Mississippi for many years prior to moving to it’s current home I stretched this back a bit further going back to 2010.
This showed that in that time we have had three winners who either hail from or are now based in Tennessee, Malnati, Stallings and Kirk, one Texan winner, Gribble, a Floridian, Woody Austin, A Canadian, Nick Taylor and a North Carolinian, Bill Haas.
Basically until last year’s win for Champ who comes originally comes from Sacramento no winner of this event had hailed from West Coast areas such as California, Nevada or Arizona. It should be noted though Champ did attend college in Texas so this connection to Southern states is not completely lost.
This is not hugely surprising baring in mind the event is held on Bermuda greens and this is certainly an important factor to consider.
So there we have it then. In all likelihood we are looking for a maiden winner, quite possibly a rookie, who hails from or has a connection to southern/eastern states!
The main talking point in this weeks weather looks set to be the heat as all four days show temperatures in the low to mid 90s.
With no rain in the forecast either leading up to the event or during the tournament days itself a firm course looks set to greet the players.
Wind doesn’t look to be much of an issue with nothing upwards of 10mph in the forecast over the four days.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
SCOTTIE SCHEFFLER – 25 -1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 16th
First up this week I cannot resist the claims of last years all round Korn Ferry tour number one ranked player Scottie Scheffler.
23yr old Scheffler looks like yet another ‘can’t miss kid’ to join up on the PGA Tour and it is surely only a matter of time before he adds his name to those of Wolff, Morikawa and now Niemann who have already bagged there first tour title.
Scheffler came straight out of the University of Texas to the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 and he wasted no time in finding his stride, bagging two top tens in his first three starts.
After a quiet three week stretch Scottie then finished second at the Savannah Golf Championship at the end of March and after this there was no stopping him as he racked up three further consecutive top seven finishes before posting a victory at the Evans Scholars Invitational at the end of May.
Another victory came at the Nationwide Childrens Hospital Championship in August, which was then followed by an 11th place and a seventh place finish at the United Leasing & Finance Korn Ferry Tour Championship an event, which former winners here Armour, Gribble and Malnati have all performed well at in the past.
Besides Scheffler’s stellar form throughout 2019 there are several other pointers that lead me to him this week.
Firstly if we look at the 23yr old’s stats for the 2019 Korn Ferry season he ranks at the top/near top of every stat I see as key to this week. He finished the season third in Ball Striking, first in Par 5 scoring and fourth in Par 4 scoring. He also showed on his run of 2 5 7 2 1 when he finished with scores of -15, -11, -17, -15 and -17 that he is more than comfortable on a low scoring par 72 test!
One other thing that draws me to Scottie this week is that hailing and having gone to college in Texas he fits the profile of past winners here who have a tie to the Lone Star state.
Now that Scheffler is on the PGA Tour full time he has shown no sign in letting up and even with a slight wobble at the weekend at the Greenbrier he posted a very creditable seventh place finish in West Virginia.
Finally unlike many of the rookies in this weeks field Scottie does have some previous experience on this weeks track having posted a solid 45th place here last year and twelve months down the line I fancy him to improve on that hugely and be right in the mix come Sunday.
ROBERTO CASTRO –80-1 - 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 52nd
Next up for me this week is a player I sided with in this event last year and who did us proud Roberto Castro.
I stated when siding with Castro last year that he repeatedly produces his best golf over and again on the same courses. Quail Hollow is one of these and Sedgefield Country Club, which certainly bears some similarities to this week’s set u and on that basis it interested me that Roberto finished 4th here in 2015, opening up with a round of 62.
Well, Roberto certainly didn’t disappoint finishing fifth to reward us with a nice e/w pay out and it is the same ‘horses for courses’ logic that leads me back to him this year.
Twelve months down the line and the Texan arrives here on the back of a steady run of form, which saw him make his last five cuts of 2018 on the PGA Tour before opening up with a 57th place finish last week.
Back on the Bermuda now, which has seen Roberto produce his best stuff on over the years I can see him springing to life this week again on one of his favourite tracks on tour.
SAM RYDER – 100 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab of the rank for us this week is Sam Ryder.
The history of this event over recent years has seen players renowned as strong ball strikers such as our last pick Castro, Lucas Glover and Corey Conners, who was runner up here last year, perform well here and Ryder is another fairways and greens machine out of the same mould who I can see taking to the CC of Jackson, despite the fact that he missed the cut here on his only previous visit.
Those with longer memories may well remember that I included Ryder in my ‘six to follow’ for the year at the start of 2019 based on his strong start to the 18/19 campaign last fall.
Unfortunately though the early part of 2019 never really got going for Ryder and at the back end of April he was forced to withdraw from the RBC Heritage with a wrist injury, which kept him out of action for six weeks.
Returning at the Memorial it took the Floridian until the middle of July to find any real traction again and in all honesty his season then fizzled out somewhat tamely.
With a large chunk of 2019 basically written of it was therefore interesting to see Sam jump out of the blocks reasonably strongly at the Greenbrier to post a solid 31st place finish, a venue, which he had missed the cut at when he pitched up there before.
Ryder came out of the blocks quickly for the 2018/19 campaign to post two top five finishes in his first three starts so he clearly likes to play when fresh at this time of year and I can see him building on that showing with a strong performance this week.
SEPP STRAKA – 100-1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Another strong ball striker who catches my eye and who I am happy to give a chance to this week is Sepp Straka.
The Austrian who finished seventh on tour in ball striking last season took his time to get going in his debut PGA Tour campaign last season however there were two main highlights, a strong showing at the US Open at Pebble Beach, which ultimately saw him finish 28th and a third place finish at the Barbasol, which saw him post a -25 total on the steamy in the steamy Kentucky conditions, conditions not unlike those the players will face this week.
Straka’s 2019/20 campaign started slowly at the Greenbrier with a missed cut however if we look more closely we see that after an opening 71 he posted a second round of 66, which saw him only just miss the cut on the number so his game is clearly in reasonable shape.
The adoptive Georgian has shown he has what it takes to get the job done in a low scoring event when he won the KC Golf Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018 and having done enough to keep his card by finishing 115th in the Fedex Cup standings on his debut PGA Tour season I would now anticipate that he will push on to challenge for a maiden tour win this season and I am confident that this week is an event which gives him a great opportunity to do that.
ROBBY SHELTON – 80-1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 28th
The second rookie to make my team this week is 24yr old Robbie Shelton
Shelton like our first pick Scheffler finished seventh last week at the Greenbrier in his first start on tour as a full PGA Tour member and like Scheffler he was also a two time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last season.
Apart from the fact that Shelton has shown that he has what it takes to win with these victories one other point that leaps of the page about them for me is the fact that they both came in the neighbouring state of Tennessee.
The significance here of course is that as noted earlier players from Tennessee have a fantastic record in this event. Now obviously Shelton is not from Tennessee, however he does hail from another state, Alabama, which borders both Tennessee and Mississippi and was brought up only three and a half hours away from this weeks venue, so this is clearly a part of the world he is hugely comfortable in.
Another player who performs well on the par fives Robby looks very much to me the type of player capable of pushing straight on to victory on the PGA Tour and while the early 125s and indeed 100s have understandably already been taken in a weak field like this I am more than happy to still roll the dice at the 80-1 odds on offer.