The PGA Tour heads off from a star-studded CJ Cup to a not-even-twinkling Bermuda Championship this week.
In 2019, the inaugural event took place opposite the HSBC Champions (won by Rory McIlroy from Xander Schauffele), but with that elite event being affected by the Covid years, Port Royal then hosted an elevated tournament with an increased purse and extra FedEx points.
2020 winner Brian Gay (200-1) flummoxed punters by winning out of nowhere, but 2021 saw Aussie Lucas Herbert land the valuable prize, taking his world ranking from outside to just inside the world’s top 50.
Herbert was easier to find that either Gay or Brendon Todd before him, but came off a pair of missed-cuts immediately before his 80-1 victory – it’s unnecessary to be in flying form to win here.
Gay was on a run of four missed-cuts prior to his play-off victory over Wyndham Clark, whilst Todd had at least shown something earlier in the season, but only a T28 had stopped the rot of a quartet of missed weekends.
Short-hitters and bombers seem to perform alike, but there is one connection – all winners had previously good form in windy, linksy conditions, with the various U.K Opens, RBC Heritage and St. Jude linking at least two.
With both Todd and Gay also victorious at Mayakoba, another tournament with recently enhanced status, and one that appears in the records of several contenders including last year’s runner-up Danny Lee, there is a method to what looks like a bit of madness.
Those getting into contention often mention that playing to the elevated greens is difficult from the rough and, with the sometimes swirling coastal winds, judging distances becomes an extra factor to consider.
Add the overall ‘quality’ of the field and, in a tough week, here is the best of what we have.
As I write, Peter Malnati has withdrawn from this week’s event, a real shame as he was my best of the week on the PGA Tour.
We now go with just three off-the-tee, and while tempted by the improving Stephen Jaeger, I’ll row with Callum Tarren, a player that knows what grinding means having worked his way from the EuroPro tour through to the big stage via China and Korn Ferry tours.
Feature of the 32-year-old’s play is his length off the tee, sometimes wayward, but an asset that has led him to rank in the top-20 for tee-to-green at this year’s U.S Open, John Deere, 3M Open and Sanderson Farms, all better quality events than facing him this week.
Of course, that means little if the rest of the game is off and whilst he flits between the good, bad, and ugly, fifth at Puerto Rico in March was followed this year by a top six finish at Deere Run, seventh at Twin Cities and 13th in Mississippi – all reading well in context. In between those, three top-27 finishes show his ability to compete in this grade.
The Englishman was well off the pace when disqualified from this event last year for signing an incorrect card, but he certainly seems to have improved a lot over the past year and can start to take another step up from last season’s 105th on the FedEx standings.
Four-time PGA Tour winner Scott Piercy was ranked just outside the world’s top-100 at the end of 2019, when he made a fatal faux pas.
In March 2020, Piercy posted an inappropriate meme on his Instagram page, resulting in mass controversy and losing several of his main sponsors as well as receiving the wrath of the PGA Tour.
For a player that finished runner-up in the 2016 U.S Open at Oakmont, and with top finishes at the PGA Championship and at WGC Bridgestone, it was not surely not going to be too long before his natural talent took over the shame, and efforts over the past 18 months show he still has it. Certainly enough to get in the mix on a course on which he finished 14th on his only try in 2020, that time with both shoes on.
Since May last year, the 43-year-old has finished 11th at Wells Fargo (top-10 into Sunday), third at Barracuda, 15th at the Wyndham (in third into Sunday), top-12 at the Fortinet and at Harbour Town, and top-20 at the Sanderson Farms at the beginning of the month.
In between, Piercy led the 3M Open into the last day after setting a tournament 54-hole record.
Form at the higher class events already mentioned sits alongside top finishes in Hawaii, Pheonix and John Deere, as well as many of the traditional ‘opposite’ events.
Reminiscent of Gay and Todd who won this event after a seven and five-year hiatus, Piercy doesn’t need much more to be a potent factor this week.
Finally, nab a bit of three-figure fun with Arizona native Nate Lashley at 100/1.
There is a bit of a theme with the 39-year-old and Piercy in that they have both shown form at the right places, even if the Rocket Mortgage winner is far more inconsistent.
Lashley’s recent form has been less than satisfactory, but you don’t have to go back that far to see a closing top-10 finish at Puerto Rico and top-20s at Corales, Texas, Mexico and Craig Ranch – all courses that are affected by wind.
His lack of length off the tee should be of little penalty around here, and again he fits that profile – a player that isn’t doing an awful lot coming into the event, but with back-form in this grade, and with wins in these conditions and in this class – that all-the-way six-shot victory in Detroit is still fresh enough in the mind.