The Barbasol Championship is very much the second-string event on the PGA Tour this week but it's live on Sky. Read our man's preview on it...
“Merritt did everything well 12 months ago, ranking 15th for both Driving Accuracy and Driving Distance, fifth for Greens In Regulation and third for Scrambling and I’d suggest those last two stats are the best place to start.”
The Barbasol Championship was introduced to the PGA Tour schedule just four years ago to fill the slot left blank when the Sanderson Farms Championship moved to a new autumnal slot.
The tournament was staged on the Lakes Course at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama for the first three years but it switched to the Champions Course at the Keene Trace club in Kentucky last year.
The Champions Course, Keene Trace Golf Club, Nicholasville, Kentucky
Par 72, 7,328 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 69.91
Designed by Arthur Hills 31 years ago, the Champions Course is one of two courses at the Keene Trace Club.
The bentgrass fairways are generous and the bluegrass/bentgrass rough is not to be too penal. The bentgrass greens are large with some undulation and they're expected to run at around 11 ½ on the Stimpmeter.
The two nines were reversed for last year's event but they've decided to revert back to how the members play it and that makes sense. Last year's par four ninth was the hardest on the course (although it still only averaged 4.12) and the par three seventh hole ranked as the second hardest, averaging 3.07. They're not tough by any stretch of the imagination but having the tournament end with two of the hardest holes on the course in the last three holes could lead to a bit of drama.
The pros demolished the Champions Course last year, with Troy Merritt winning by a stroke over three players, Billy Horschel, Richy Werenski and Tom Lovelady, in 23-under-par. Only seven holes averaged over-par 12 months ago (and only just over-par too) so this really is an easy set-up and we're going to get yet another PGA Tour birdie-fest.
The tournament is covered on Sky all four days, beginning at 23:00 on Thursday.
First Four Winners
2015 - Scott Piercy -19
2016 - Aaron Baddeley -18
2017 - Grayson Murray -21
2018 - Troy Merritt -23
What Will it Take to Win the Barbasol Championship?
A hot putter is going to help greatly given how low the scoring is going to be but that wasn't the key to victory last year. Brian Gay, alone in sixth and beaten by three strokes, ranked number one for all the putting metrics and J.T Poston, who finished a shot ahead of Gay and alone in fifth place, ranked third for Strokes Gained Putting but Merritt got across the line ranking just 51st for that stat - although he was the only player in the top-four to rank inside the top-25 for Putting Average. He ranked fourth.
Merritt did everything well 12 months ago, ranking 15th for both Driving Accuracy and Driving Distance, fifth for Greens In Regulation and third for Scrambling and I'd suggest those last two stats are the best place to start.
Of the four players to finish first or second last year, three of them ranked inside the top-five for Scrambling and Gay, who's tee-to-green stats were poor, ranked sixth. Of the 11 players to finish inside the top-ten and ties, eight ranked inside the top-ten for GIR.
Is There an Angle In?
Grayson Murray's victory was out of the blue in 2017 but Troy Merritt had shown signs of form with a 17th placed-finish in the Quicken Loans National before a 43rd in the John Deere Classic, where he improved his position daily.
He'd been on the fringes of contention at the Quicken Loans before a poor final round and he was slow off the mark in the John Deere Classic, firing 72. He sat 112th as a missed cut beckoned after round one but rounds of 67, 69 and 67 saw him climb to 43rd. Nothing spectacular, granted but it was fair form and that mirrored the form of the first two event winners.
Scott Piercy had been 29th at the Greenbrier Classic and 14th at the John Deere Classic in the two weeks prior to winning the inaugural Barbasol Championship and Aaron Baddeley had finished 12th at the Quicken Loans National and 17th at the Barracuda Championship, so, like Merritt, they too had signalled something.
Last week's event, the John Deere Classic, is a low-scoring birdie-fest on bentgrass greens so a decent warm up there should be ideal for this week in theory. In the absence of much to go on after just one renewal at this track, a good week in Illinois could be a strong pointer.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Two experienced players won the first two editions but that trend, if it can be described as one, was halted two years ago when 23 year-old Grayson Murray took the title. These opposite field events are very tricky to weigh up as they represent a great chance for struggling older pros to get back on track as well as being an opportunity for up-and-coming players looking to earn the stability of a two-year exemption. Merritt was winning for a second time on the PGA Tour at the age of 32, and Piercy and Baddeley were both 36 when they took the title.
Price wise, Piercy was a 25/1 chance, Baddeley was 40/1, Murray was trading at around 60/1 and Merritt was a 40/1 shot so we're yet to see a huge outsider win.
As already mentioned, the finish is slightly taxing, suggesting in the clubhouse could be the place to be on Sunday, especially given the strength of the field. Anyone trying to catch or pass someone safely in the clubhouse isn't going to find it easy given what's at stake for players of this quality. A PGA Tour win is a big deal.
Merritt opened up with a 62 to lead by three last year, he was two in front at halfway and tied for the lead through 54-holes and the three men to finish tied for second were all on the premises throughout. They'd sat tied second and tied fifth, three and four back, after round one and they never trailed by any more than four at any stage thereafter. It's notoriously tough to make ground up in easy conditions where low scores are common and I suspect concentrating on the early leaders will be the way to go again this year.
After the withdrawals of both Russell Henley and Bronson Burgoon, defending champ, Troy Merritt, just heads the market. He's missed four of his last six cuts, including last week at the John Deere Classic but he was seventh at the inaugural 3M Open in his penultimate start and his 17th at the Memorial last month reads well too. He miss the cut when defending his only other title, the Quicken Loans National in 2015, and I'm more than happy to look elsewhere.
Jhonattan Vegas is an interesting candidate. He blew up at the John Deere Classic last week having led at halfway, shooting a disastrous 76 in round three but he did something similar in the inaugural staging of this event.
In fact, it was a lot worse. On that occasion he managed to get beat having led by six at halfway but before you write hm off this week, on account of last week's weekend flop, be aware that he rebounded from the disappointment of squandering such a big lead in this event by winning the Canadian Open the following week. Vegas is playing the course for the first time this week but he should be able to dominate the par fives and he's a big contender.
This event looks perfectly timed for Canada's Adam Svensson, who's in a rich vein of form all of a sudden. After a run of six missed cuts in-a-row and eight weekends off in nine, a much-improved 15th place at the 3M Open was followed by an 18th at the John Deere Classic. All his stats are solid but his ranking of fifth for Greens In Regulation in Illinois last week is especially encouraging.
Robert Streb isn't in sparkling form but he's in better form than he was last year when he sat tied for the lead with a round to go before a poor Sunday saw him slip back to 10th. Coming into last year's renewal he'd missed five of his previous six cuts and the only highlight was an 11th place finish at the Greenbrier, and that's a good pointer for this week.
Streb had finished runner-up at that event in both of the two previous renewals, highlighting the fact that he 's capable of playing well again at a course he's previously enjoyed. I thought [75.0] was big enough for a small wager.
Adam Svensson @ [55.0]
Robert Streb @ [75.0]
I'll be back later with a roundup of the Open Championship side markets.
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