The Fortinet Championship
The final event of the PGA season the Tour Championship took a fairly predictable direction as the player who headed in to the week on the -10 under first place, handicapped total, Patrick Cantlay, followed up his win at the BMW Championship by nursing his lead to the Tour Championship title.
With three years data in the books now, the past two editions have both been won by the man in the box seat coming in and you would have to think that if we see one more year of this the powers that be will start to consider another tinkering of the format.
From our point of view we had focused on the 72 hole non-handicap market and after a promising start for one of our two picks, Rory McIlroy, things fizzled out over the weekend as Rory struggled on Saturday. Moving forward if this format does continue it may well be that lumping on the 10- under starter in the tournament winner market, all be it at short odds, becomes the way forward!
While we were unable to add to it at the Tour Championship with a final profit of over 435pts our 2020/21 PGA Season will live long in the memory.
A journey through over 50 tournaments saw a highlight of landing the ‘big fish’ with Martin Laird at the Shriners at 250/1 and another juicy winner Cameron Champ at the 3M Open at 125/1. In addition alongside great each way returns there were victories for us with Si Woo Kim at the Amex, Justin Thomas at The Players, Branden Grace in Puerto Rico, Jon Rahm at the US Open and most recently Patrick Cantlay at the BMW.
As we know this is a long term game and the aim now is to keep the profits ticking over as after a brief rest we kick off again with the start of the 2021/22 PGA season.
So with the dust barely settling on the 20/21 campaign we go from Atlanta, Georgia approximately 2500 miles west to Napa for the newly titled Fortinet Championship and the opening event of the 2021-22 season.
The Fortinet Championship was first staged as The Fry’s Electronics Open in 2007. The following year the event was renamed the Fry’s.com Open.
In 2010 the event then moved from its initial home in Arizona to the CordeValle Club in San Martin, California, before finally arriving at its current home, The Silverado Country Club in Napa, for the 2014-15 season.
The event was then renamed The Safeway Open for the 2016-17 season and remained so for five editions before Fortinet took over the reigns.
With the Ryder Cup only won week away the vast majority of American and European big names have chosen to sit this one out leaving the field clear for a host of rookies and the PGA Tour’s rank and file to look to make an impact.
There is one notable exception on this front though as world number one Jon Rahm as teeing things up and he understandably is a strong market leader. Behind Rahm in the market we then have Webb Simpson, Hideki Matsuyama and Kevin Na.
Silverado North Course is a par 72 measuring just over 7150yds.
The greens are Bent Grass with Poa Annua.
The course was originally opened in 1955 before being redesigned by Robert Trent Jones Jnr in 1966.
In 2010 the resort was then purchased by a consortium including Johnny Miller.
At this point Miller, who’s long term goal is to attract a major championship to the venue oversaw a renovation/redesign of the course.
Silverado is a classical, tree lined set up with narrow fairways, which are tough to find. The rough historically however has not been overly penal and this making the course fairly ‘gettable’.
So let’s firstly take a look at the winners of the event since it moved to Silverado in 2014.
2020 Stewart Cink
2019 Cameron Champ
2018 Kevin Tway
2017 Brendan Steele
2016 Brendan Steele
2015 Emilliano Grillo
2014 Sang Moon Bae
The first thing we should bear in mind when looking at this list is that with the exception of 2019 when the Greenbrier held the honour this event has been the curtain raiser for the PGA Tours new campaign.
Last years event as we know was won by the rejuvenated Stewart Cink however we do need to bear in mind that due to the impact of Covid 19 there was no fresh faced rookies arriving in Napa last September buoyed from their exploits in the Korn Ferry finals. From that point of view we need to go back to 2018 and beyond to get a clear picture of the impact that the ‘new kids in town’ or indeed players who have managed to regain their cards at the Korn Ferry finals have had on the final leaderboard here.
If we look at this in more detail then we will see that ten of the 39 players to make the Top 7 places[& ties] over the five events from 2014 – 2018 inclusive were players who had won or regained their cards through the Korn Ferry Tour. These include 2015 winner Grillo who was victorious here straight of the back of winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
2018 1st K Tway, 2nd R Moore, B Snedeker, 4th S Im, L List, T Merritt, A Baddeley, S Ryder.
2017. 1st B Steele, 2nd T Finau, 3rd C Hadley, 4th P Mickelson, T5th G Delaet, T5th T Duncan, T7th B Cauley, T 7th A Landry.
2016. 1st B Steele, 2nd P Kizzire, T3rd P Casey, T3rd M Kim, T3rd S Piercy, T3rd J Wagner, 7th K Na.
2015. 1st E Grillo, 2nd K Na, T3rd J Bohn, T3rd J Thomas, T3rd T V Aswegen, T6th K Reifers, T6th J Rose, T6th P Rodgers, T6th C Schwartzel.
2014 1st S M Bae, 2nd S Bowditch, T3rd R Goosen, T3rd M Laird, T3rd H Matsuyama, T3rd H Mahan, T3rd B Molder.
Taking a closer look now at the winners here and we see that three of the seven winners Steele [twice] and Grillo are renowned for their ball striking prowess from tee to green.
In addition, while this is not necessarily the case for the 2018 winner Kevin Tway as a rule, he did have a great week here off the tee that week gaining more than eight strokes on the field in SGTTG and finishing the week ranked third in that category, whilst 2019 winner Cameron Champ lead the field from tee to green gaining over 11 strokes on the field in that department. Finally last years winner Cink also did most of his damage from tee to green.
Whilst as noted above this has been a solid hunting ground for Korn Ferry graduates the winners themselves with the exception of Grillo have tended to triumph here on the back of a fairly humdrum end to their previous campaigns.
Last years winner Cink had only posted one top 20 finish in the whole of 2020 prior to his win here while 2019 winner Cameron Champ had struggled for the vast majority of the season since his win almost 12 months prior at the Sanderson Farms.
Back to back champion Brendan Steele ended his previous campaign with four missed cuts in seven starts and nothing better than 24th place since June when winning for the second time and had finished the previous campaign with a whimper posting nothing better than 17th place in six starts since early July the year he first tasted victory in the event.
2015 winner Sang Moon Bae had also ended his previous season with some in and out form, which had included a 14th place at the Wyndham and three missed cuts in his last four starts, however 2018 champion Kevin Tway had made his final eight cuts on tour to at least finish his 17/18 campaign solidly.
All in all though the message seems fairly clear, don’t be too concerned if your fancy here isn’t in great form coming in having ended their previous campaign slowly.
With current form not being a huge issue the next thing to look at is course form. Bae naturally was getting his first look at the track competitively when he won here as was Grillo the following year. Steele though having grown up in California was 21st and 17th here the two years prior to his two victories while Tway was making his second start here having finished 62nd the previous year.
Champ had finished 25th in his first start in the event the previous year and in addition as a native of nearby Sacramento he also had decent knowledge of the area however Cink had missed the cut on his only previous start here . Again then it would seem previous course form is not imperative.
One other line worth looking at though is course form elsewhere in California and particularly at Riviera, a course which several players likened to Silverado when they first got a look at this venue.
Sang Moon Bae had performed well at Riviera prior to winning here including having held the halfway lead and Brendan Steele had made his five previous cuts at Riviera including posting finishes of 14th and 10th.
2018 winner Tway has ‘no previous’ at Riviera however the two men he beat in the play-off that year Moore and Snedeker have strong records there and of course Sneds is a California specialist full stop.
Looking at the winning score we have seen -15 get the job done on three occasions and -18 was the number for Steele in 2016 while -14 was enough to make the play off in 2018 which Tway emerged victorious from.
In 2019 Cameron Champ took victory with a total of -17 while finally last years winner triumphed with a total of -21.
Looking at the forecast this is certainly a great week to be in Napa with wall to wall sunshine and temperatures around 80 everyday.
Wind could though be a bit of an issue as all four days show the possibility as I write for gusts of 15-20mph and possibly above.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
HARRY HIGGS –100/1 – 1pt e/w - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
I shall start our 2021/22 season off by siding with a pretty straightforward case of course form meets current form at solid each way odds in the shape of Harry Higgs.
Higgs’ sophomore season was in all honesty for the most part pretty disappointing as with the exception of two top four finishes he really struggled to put any kind of run together missing 15 cuts in the campaign and only managing one other top 20 until August to go with his two big performances.
Although not his highest finish of the season Higgs’ most noteworthy was a fourth place finish at Kiawah Island in the PGA Championship in May however after this result he lost his way missing five cuts in six starts.
At The Wyndham Championship though Harry snapped this run with a 15th place finish and he then followed this up with a 16th place at the Northern Trust to ensure he made it through to the following week at the BMW.
Unfortunately for Harry he was then unable to make the big charge he would have needed in Baltimore to go all the way to East Lake however a 38th place finish in a 70 runner field of the games biggest names was certainly no disgrace and he should have finished his campaign in a good frame of mind and content with his play off efforts.
So hopefully buoyed by his end of season form Harry returns this week to a venue that saw him post his second runner up finish on the PGA Tour and his best result of last season as he tried to chase down Stewart Cink.
Higgs, who made a walk off albatross that week in Friday’s round of 62, spoke after the final round about how although he ‘had a blast’ trying to reel in Cink that he was disappointed that it wasn’t his day and having shot 68 on that Sunday, including making an eagle at the 16th, when it really mattered, he certainly looked like a player who is ready to take his chance when it comes.
As well as finishing second here last year Harry also finished 23rd here on his only previous start on this track so clearly it is a venue, which fits his eye.
As well as finishing runner up here last year Higgs has one other runner up finish to his name, which came in Bermuda in 2019 in the Fall so this would appear to be a time of year he performs strongly in.
A winner on the Latino Tour in 2018 and on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019 Harry clearly knows how to get the job done and at decent each way odds I am happy to take a chance that he will build on his strong finish to last season and make a big push for his first win on the PGA Tour this week.
SAHITH THEEGALA - 100/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 47th
Next up this week I am going to include my one rookie selection for the week, Sahith Theegala.
Theegala’s is a name that not all of my readership may be familiar with at this stage however rest assured it is one that in the course of time will become very familiar to all.
Now twenty three years of age as an amateur Theegala reached number three in the world and became only the fifth player in history to win the Nicklaus, Haskins and Hogan awards representative of college’s top player.
Sahith turned pro in the summer of 2020 however he was unable to make any real impact in the initial sponsor exemptions he received as he missed three cuts on the spin before posting a 41st at the Barracuda. In this event last year however he found his straps and produced what is still his best finish to date on the PGA Tour, a 14th place result.
Following on from there Theegala did enough through the year to earn a spot in the Korn Ferry finals and it was there that he really took his chance posting fourth and sixth place finishes across the last two weeks to wrap up his card in his most recent two starts.
So going from zero status to full playing privileges in just over twelve months shows us Sahith has the potential to fulfil his promise however what really leads me to him this week is his affinity to California and the fact that, if he is going to make an impact on his debut season it will mostly likely be in his home state.
Born and bred in California, Theegala attended Pepperdine University in his home state and still lives in California so clearly he is a Cali guy through and through. In addition of course a large chunk of his best amateur and college golf was produced in his home state.
On this basis it is probably no surprise that Theegala’s best PGA Tour finish to date came in one of his three starts in his home state to date on tour and it is noteworthy that alongside a MC at Torrey Pines his only other start in California was way back in 2017 was when he finished 49th at Riviera as an amateur.
Furthermore with the correlation between Riviera and Silverado it is significant to me that Sahith lists Riviera as one of his three favourite courses.
Whether Theegala can win this early in his career is obviously debatable but he certainly has the pedigree to do so and arriving in his home state with a ‘hot hand’ from the play offs, to play a track , which appears to suit him well I am happy to take a risk on him at the odds on offer.
SCOTT PIERCY - 100/1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 11th
Next up this week I am going to return to a player who did us a good turn towards the end of last season at the Barracuda, Scot Piercy.
Piercy struggled throughout much of the 2020/21 season, with only four top 20s and no top tens to his name, when he arrived at the Stableford event with only two weeks of the campaign to go.
Always a specialist in the desert though Scott produced the goods for himself and us that week to finish third in Truckee and a week later after another strong showing at the Wyndham where he opened up with a 64 and went on to finish 16th his card was secure for another year.
Looking at Scott’s stats for the last campaign and it is easy to see why he struggled as he was poor in most areas, particularly on the greens where he ranked a lowly 182nd.
Significantly though things took a decent upturn with the flat stick over the last few weeks as he ranked eighth on the greens in the Barracuda and then 12th at the Wyndham.
Piercy has always in my mind been a confidence player who can get on a roll and produce a string of good results in a row and having scraped in to the play offs at the eleventh hour you would have to think he will be keen to build on his strong end to last season and get off to a good start this time around.
Back in 2016 Scott did that very thing here opening up his new season with a round of 62 on Thursday at Silverado before going on to finish third and if we add that to a 17th place here the following year we certainly know he can handle the track even if he has played poorly here more recently.
Ultimately Piercy, similarly it must be said to the bulk of our team this week, is a tough man to catch right but when his tail is up he knows how to win and I am happy to risk him this week.
PATRICK RODGERS – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED T6th
Next up this week I am going to start the new season with a familiar name from the last one, Patrick Rodgers.
There’s no denying that the Stanford superstar has been an expensive follow for us over the past year as despite some promising showings he was unable to put four rounds together to make it pay for him and us.
Looking back over Patrick’s 20/21 campaign and after a sluggish start, which included four straight missed cuts to start the 2021 calendar year he found himself right in the hunt at the halfway stage at Quail Hollow when were onboard before a Saturday 79 derailed his challenge.
That Saturday disappointment in Charlotte proved to be a prelude for the remainder of Rodgers’ season as strong Thursday, Friday efforts would be negated by flat weekends with Saturday’s proving particularly frustrating as shown by rounds of 77, 74 and 70 respectively at the US Open, The Travelers and the John Deere.
As the weeks ticked by with Patrick unable to notch that one really big finish he needed his card started to look more and more in jeopardy and a MC at the Wyndham saw him fall out of the top 125 and head to the Korn Ferry finals.
At the finals though Patrick finally found the results when it really mattered and a final day 67 at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship saw him push himself in to the top 25 and regain his card.
So, armed with a huge shot of confidence the 29yr old heads to Silverado with the pressure off and a clean slate to embark on the new season and this in my opinion could make him a dangerous animal on a course, which really suits him.
Sixth here in 2015 Patrick has made the cut here in five of his seven visits, which for a player who is known for bouts of inconsistency is a solid track record. Furthermore Rodgers has a really strong record at Riviera, which as noted earlier correlates well here and he showed that again this year with a 12th place finish when in no form whatsoever on arrival. This also sits alongside a great body of work as a whole in California, which is of course where he attended college, just a couple of hours away from this weeks venue.
So then in an event, which has seen players come off the Korn Ferry finals and jump straight in and perform strongly over the years I am happy to jump back on board with Rodgers in the hope that he can ride the wave and finally land that first win.
JAMES HAHN – 200/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally In an event that has seen three victories for Californian natives over the past three years I will wrap up our team this week with a roll of the dice at big odds on another who has connections to the area, James Hahn.
Hahn who attended Cal Berkeley University less than an hour away from here has earned himself a reputation as a player who knows how to win and as someone who can find there form completely out of the blue.
Hahn highlighted the latter point most memorably when triumphing at the Wells Fargo in 2016 on the back of seven straight missed cuts and he nearly repeated the feat a couple of months ago when, after arriving at the Barbasol on a similarly miserable run of form he shot 60 on Saturday before eventually having to settle for fifth place.
Although James will have been disappointed not to close things out that week the fifth place finish was enough to just about sneak the 39yr old in to the top 125 for the season, as despite his really poor 2021 form he had opened up the campaign with a run of three straight top tens this time last year.
With regards to this week the most significant of those top tens was of course his ninth place here last year, which shows us that he can handle the track. While away from Silverado from a course correlation point of view the other thing that draws me to Hahn this week is that his maiden tour triumph came at Riviera, which as already noted seems to fit well here.
Catching Hahn right as we know is not an easy thing to do however with some glimpses of recent form combining with a return to a course and area he knows well I am happy to chance my arm at big odds that he can get his new season off to a flyer this week.
UPDATED 14th SEPTEMBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - MICHAEL GLIGIC - DK VALUE $6500 - FINISHED 66th - DK POINTS 69.5
For our first sub $7K DK pick of the new season I am going to roll the dice with Michael Gligic.
Gligic had a solid end to his 20/21 PGA campaign making his last four cuts however he had left himself too much to do to make the 125 so a trip to the Korn Ferry finals was required to retain his card.
Fortunately the Canadian was able to keep his momentum going though and a tenth and 20th place finish in the last two events got the job done.
Returning now to a course that he finished 14th on last fall and you would think would suit the 31yr olds strong approach game I expect him to start the new season solidly and be here for the weekend.
PICK 2 - JJ SPAUN - DK VALUE $6400 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 27.5
Another player who produced the goods to wrap up his card in the Korn Ferry finals was JJ Spaun.
The Californian native got the job done with a second place finish at the Albertson Boise event and now returns to a track, which he was ninth on last year.
Spaun has produced most of his best golf on the PGA Tour in the Fall events and he could well be a man to watch over the forthcoming weeks and I am happy to chance him to get off to a strong start in his home state.