Barbasol Championship: Trust Taylor to start nicely in Kentucky

Golfer Nick Taylor
Nick Taylor after winning at Pebble Beach

The Open Championship is the main event this week but that's not the only fare on the menu. Steve Rawlings looks at the PGA Tour's side dish - the Barbasol Championship - here...

"The players need to set up as many birdie chances as possible because you just need to go low and keep going low. "

Tournament History

The Barbasol Championship was introduced to the PGA Tour schedule six years ago to fill the slot left by the Sanderson Farms Championship when it moved to it's now familiar 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 in 2018.

The Barbasol Championship was one of the few events cancelled on the PGA Tour last year.

Venue

The Champions Course, Keene Trace Golf Club, Nicholasville, Kentucky

Course Details

Par 72, 7,128 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 - 69.59

Designed by Arthur Hills 33 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 too penal. The bentgrass greens are large with some undulation and they're expected to run at around 12 on the Stimpmeter.

The two nines were reversed for the inaugural staging but they reverted back to how the members play it in 2019.

The pros have demolished the Champions Course in each of the first two editions here with plenty of low scores being posted. A ten-under-par 62 has set the early pace in both editions so it really is an easy set-up and we're going to get yet another PGA Tour birdie-fest.

26.025/1
2016 - Aaron Baddeley -18 40.039/1 (playoff)
2017 - Grayson Murray -21 55.054/1
2018 - Troy Merritt -23 50.049/1
2019 - Jim Herman -26 1000.0

What Will it Take to Win the Barbasol Championship?

Here are the top-five from the first two editions staged here with all the usual stats.

2018
Troy Merritt -23 - DD: 15, DA: 15, GIR: 5, Scr: 3, PA: 4
Billy Horschel -22 - DD: 17, DA: 8, GIR: 7, Scr: 2, PA: 29
Tom Lovelady -22 - DD: 1, DA: 34, GIR: 18, Scr: 5, PA: 42
Richy Werenski -22 - DD: 40, DA: 15, GIR: 1, Scr: 16, PA: 27
JT Poston -21 - DD: 20, DA: 45, GIR: 9, Scr: 12, PA: 7

2019
Jim Herman -26 - DD: 30, DA: 8, GIR: 1, Scr: 1, PA: 39
Kelly Kraft -25 - DD: 58, DA: 5, GIR: 13, Scr: 10, PA: 1
Sepp Straka -23 - DD: 16, DA: 1, GIR: 5, Scr: 44, PA: 5
Austin Cook -22 - DD: 21, DA: 8, GIR: 51, Scr: 18, PA: 7
Matt Jones -22 - DD: 25, DA: 42, GIR: 7, Scr: 14, PA: 14

DD - Driving Distance
DA - Driving Accuracy
GIR - Greens In Regulation
Scr - Scrambling
PA - Putting Average

Finding fairways is slightly more important than bombing it miles off the tee but finding the greens and scrambling well when they're missed is what this tournament's all about. The players need to set up as many birdie chances as possible because you just need to go low and keep going low.

Is there an Angle In?

The 2019 winner, Jim Harman, is a really difficult player to get to grips with. He won this out of the blue following a run of eight straight missed cuts and his form was not much better prior to his victory at the Wyndham Championship last year.

KEENE TRACE 2021.jpg

Grayson Murray's victory was out of the blue also 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.

Merritt had 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, 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 and I just wonder whether the Wyndham Championship could be a pointer too?

Herman won last year's Wyndham with the 2018 runner-up here, Billy Horschel, in second and the 2019 Wyndham winner, J.T Poston, led here after round one in 2019 before eventually finishing tied for 29th!

In the absence of too much to go on after just two renewals at this track, a good week in Illinois last week and/or a decent record at Sedgefield Country Club (home of the Wyndham Championship), could be noteworthy.

Is there an Identikit Winner?

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.

Grayson Murray was only 23 when he won this in 2017 but Merritt was winning for a second time on the PGA Tour at the age of 32, Piercy and Baddeley were both 36 when they took the title and Herman was 41 so although it's early days, it's the veterans that have prospered in the main at this event so far.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four at Keene Trace

2018 - Troy Merritt - tied for the lead 3.3512/5
2019 - Jim Herman - led by a stroke 2.526/4

In-Play Tactics

As is always the case when the scoring is low, making up ground here is going to be tough.

The first four home in 2018 were always inside the top-eight places throughout the week, the top-two in 2019 were never worse than fourth after any round, Merritt won wire-to-wire, and Herman was never headed after halfway.

Concentrate on the leaders from very early on.

Market Leaders

Seamus Power and Charl Schwartzel are vying for favouritism at the head of the market and of the two, I much prefer the latter.

The 31-year-old Irishman, Power, is in decent form after back-to-back eighth place finishes, but he's yet win on the PGA Tour after 102 starts and his form figures here are poor. He was 34th in 2018 and 53rd a year later and the wait for that first win could continue.

A recent playoff defeat alongside Louis Oosthuizen in the Zurich pairs and a third place finish at the Byron Nelson read quite well in the context of this event and Schwartzel played well last time out too - finishing inside the top-20 in the US Open.

CHARL SCHWARTZEL SEP 2018.jpg

Schwartzel has never played here before but he was third in the Wyndham Championship in 2015 so that could be a pointer, although his putting is a big concern.

Selections

This is a tournament that I'll look closely at after round one but I'm happy to play two before the off.

I like the look of Canada's Nick Taylor at 55.054/1, and I'll also look to play him in the first-round leader market once it's up.

Taylor won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am wire-to-wire last year and he's often a fast starter. He sat third after the first round of the Sentry TOC in January, first at halfway a week later in the Sony Open (finished 11th) and in three of his last five starts, he's sat fifth, seventh and 12th after round one. He also sat second after the opening round here two years ago before eventually finishing 15th after a poor second round.

Taylor started nicely last week (sat 10th and just three off the lead at halfway) before a lacklustre weekend saw him slip to 28th but at 33, with two PGA Tour titles already in the bag, and with an eighth placed finish at the Wyndham Championship on his CV, I thought he was interesting at the price.

J.T Poston is out of form, and he missed the cut last week, but he did shoot 67 in round two and he clearly likes this course. In addition to leading here after round one two years ago, he finished fifth in 2018 so I was happy to chance him modestly at 60.059/1

Selections:
Nick Taylor @ 55.054/1
J.T Poston @ 60.059/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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