Barracuda Championship: Arron the Wise choice at a tasty price

Golfer Brendan Steele
Barracuda favourite - Brendan Steele

The WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational takes centre stage in the US this week but the Barracuda Championship is an interesting event with a unique format. Read Our man's comprehensive preview here...

"Aaron Wise might just thrive in a format like this and I thought 80/1 with seven places up for grabs was fair with the Sportsbook."

Tournament History

First staged in 1999 and known as the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Barracuda Championship has always been an opposite field event. It's historically been played in the same week as the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, with the exception of 2010 when it played opposite the Open Championship, so it's now played opposite the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational, the tournament that replaces the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last year, which I've previewed here.

Since 2012, the tournament has used the modified Stableford scoring system, which was also used at the now defunct International in Colorado - another event played at altitude.

Format

Points are awarded depending on a player's score on each hole thus;
Albatross: 8 points
Eagle: 5 points
Birdie: 2 points
Par: 0 points
Bogey: -1 point
Double-bogey or worse: -3 points
The player with the highest score after 72 holes will be the winner.

Venue

Old Greenwood Course, Tahoe Mountain Club, Truckee, California.

Course Details

Par 71 -7,390 yards

The Barracuda Championship is switching venues this year for the first time in its history, moving approximately 30 miles from the Jack Nicklaus designed Montreux Golf and Country Club to the Jack Nicklaus designed Old Greenwood Course at the Tahoe Mountain Club.

Like Montreux, Greenwood is at altitude, so it won't play anywhere near as long as its yardage suggests and given it's another Nicklaus design, the old venue may well prove to be the best correlating course in the fullness of time.

Old Greenwood opened in 2004 and it's largely treelined with water in play on six holes. Like the majority of Nicklaus designs, there's plenty of room off the tee and scoring should be good. All the par fives are reachable and at least two of the par fours (possibly three) are drivable.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

No coverage on Sky.

Eight Tournament Winners in this Format

2019 - Colin Morikawa 47 points
2018 - Andrew Putnam 47 points
2017 - Chris Stroud 44 points (playoff)
2016 - Greg Chalmers 43 points
2015 - J.J Henry 47 points (playoff)
2014 - Geoff Ogilvy 49 points
2013 - Gary Woodland 44 points
2012 - J.J Henry 43 points

What Will it Take to Win the Barracuda Championship?

Since the tournament switched to the modified Stableford scoring system, eight years ago, the usual tournament stats haven't been published but that hasn't proved to be too much of a problem as the tournament has basically been a low-scoring birdie-fest.

Last year's winner, Colin Morikawa, failed to make an eagle all week but nobody made fewer bogeys (three, and nobody made more birdies (25), and that's basically how it panned out in 2018 too.

Nobody made any more birdies than the first and second, Andrew Putnam and Chad Campbell, who both made 24, although both also made an eagle apiece. Putnam beat Chad by four points because he only made three bogeys (fewest in the field) whereas Campbell made seven. And it was a very similar story the year before.

Andrew Putnam (720).jpg

The 2017 winner, Chris Stroud, was aided greatly by the ten points gained thanks to two eagles but the runner-up, Greg Owen, who was beaten in a playoff, made 27 birdies during the week. That was two more than anyone else and had he managed to sneak in an eagle somewhere along the line, he'd have pipped Stroud for the title.

Steve Wheatcroft, who finished tied fifth, made more birdies than anyone else four years ago (23) but the winner, Greg Chalmers, and the third, Colt Knost, ranked tied second with 22 apiece and Gary Woodland, who finished second, fired in 21 birdies.

J.J Henry, who was winning the event for the second time in four years five years ago, ranked first for birdies made with a total of 27 and five of the first six home that year ranked inside the top-five and ties for birdies made. The exception was the beaten playoff protagonist, Kyle Reifers, who made his score courtesy of five eagles!

It's hard to gauge which stats are best to ponder but the PGA Tour's Birdie Average figures (here) is probably as good a place to start as any. https://www.pgatour.com/stats/stat.156.html

Is There an Identikit Winner?

The Barracuda field is made up of players that don't usually get a start in some of the stronger PGA Tour events. That classic blend of youth and experience, with a few players whose form has dropped off a cliff. Some of them are new to the PGA Tour and only just finding their feet (like last year's winning favourite - Colin Morikawa), some are players that have lost their form quite badly recently (Martin Kaymer and Ryan Moore for example this year) and the rest are veterans that have trickled slowly down the rankings.

PGA Tour maidens used to have a strong record in the tournament and the last four winners were all PGA Tour maidens but experience usually counts for plenty. Morikawa is straight out of the top-drawer and was only 22 when he lifted the trophy last year and Putnam was only 29 when he won in 2018 but at 35 (Stroud) and 42 (Chalmers) the 2017 and 2016 winners were certainly no spring chickens and since the format changed, the veterans have come to the fore. Chad Campbell, the 2018 runner-up, was 44.

Morikawa is clearly a high class performer and he telegraphed his victory with a playoff defeat at the 3M Open and a fourth place finish at the John Deere Classic but the other six men to win the event (JJ Henry has won it twice) since the format changed from stroke play to Stapleford have remarkably similar profiles. As already mentioned, the last four were winning on the PGA Tour for the first time but the first four winners under this format certainly weren't in-form recent winners.

When he won the first of his two titles, in 2012, Henry had been without a win in six years and he did next to nothing for three years before going in again in 2015. The 2014 champ, Geoff Ogilvy, hadn't won anywhere for four years and the 2013 winner, Gary Woodland, had been under something of a cloud and hadn't won anywhere in two and half years.

Although Chalmers was a first time PGA Tour winner in 2016, he'd won multiple times in his native Australia but he'd won just once (in 2014) in the five years preceding his success here and it had been four years in-between Stroud's playoff defeat at the Travelers Championship and his victory here.

Under this new format, players can put all their woes to one side and just go for it and see what happens and outsiders tend do well. Morikawa was a well-supported 12/1 favourite last year but he was the first well-fancied winner since the format changed although the two winners before Morikawa were at least plausible candidates. Matched at a high of [55.0] on the Monday before the off, Putnam was a well-backed [34.0] shot and Stroud was an [80.0] chance three years ago.

In-Play Tactics

Morikawa was never outside the front two places and front runners had a great record at Montreux, although the two winners before Morikawa went against the grain somewhat...

Putnam sat tied for 30th after only scoring six points on Thursday and he trailed Ollie Schniederjans by 11 points but he was up to third after round two after scoring 17 himself on Friday.

The 2017 winner, Stroud, really threw a spanner in the trend backers works, scoring a massive 20 points on Sunday to rally from tied 22nd after 54 holes to get into a playoff with Richy Werenski and Greg Owen - who had sat first and second at halfway. Obviously, Stroud has shown us that it's perfectly possible to rally from off the pace and take the title in this format (he made nine birdies in round four and eagled the last!) but had either of the other two playoff protagonists won we'd have been looking at very strong trends favouring the early pace setters.

Whether that was down to the venue (the majority of stroke play winners at Montreux were also up with the pace) or the format is debatable but I fancy that it's the format as much as the venue and concentrating on the early leaders might make sense again.

Market Leaders

This is a very open heat with the four players all trading between [26.0] and [30.0] at the head of the market holding strong claims.

Brendan Steele has twice won the Safeway Open in California and having found some form with the putter; he arrives back in the state in fine fettle. With tournament form figures reading 8-4-25-7-5-39 he's already shown a liking for the format and he's the man to beat.

Ryan Moore has been in the wilderness for some time but he finished 12th in the 3M Open last time out. That was his highest finish since he was sixth in the American Express in January but he followed that with a missed cut in Phoenix. High class on his day, Moore is unpredictable and one to fear but he hasn't played in this event since finishing 58th in 2008 in the old format and he's easier to swerve than Steele.

I quite liked Russell Henley in this on debut last year but he started very slowly (tied 64th after round one) before rallying to finish 15th.

RUSSELL HENLEY Nov 2018.jpg

Henley finished eighth at the Honda Classic (an event he's won) in his final start before the break and he's had mixed fortunes since the restart. Having missed the cut at the RBC Heritage, he finished a disappointing 32nd at the Travelers (an event he's figured at before) and after a promising seventh in the Workday Charity Open, at the Nicklaus designed Muirfield Village, he missed the cut at the 3M open last week when he putted particularly poorly. It's hard to know what to expect but he's the sort of streaky player to take to the format, and the same can be said of the next man in the list, Alex Noren.

The Swede came with a late rally to finish third at the 3M Open on Sunday so it will be interesting to see if he can carry that forward this week when he makes his tournament debut.

Selection

I'm going with just one speculative pick before the off and that's Aaron Wise.

The 24-year-old South African born American hasn't hit the heights forecast after he won the Byron Nelson following a second at the Wells Fargo in May 2018 but he still managed to finish third in the Birdie Average rankings last year. His best result since his win was a third at the Bermuda Championship last November when dropped in grade and that performance came out of the blue so his current poor form isn't a massive concern.

He might just thrive in a format like this and I thought 80/1 with seven places up for grabs was fair with the Sportsbook.

Selection:
Arron Wise 80/1 (each-way Sportsbook)

I'll be back later with my Hero Open preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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