Following a gruelling US Open at Winged Foot, the PGA Tour stops off in the Dominican Republic for the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. Steve Rawlings has the lowdown...
"He hasn't been playing brilliantly of late but I see absolutely no reason not to back Graeme McDowell to defend at 119/1120.0 given he’s successfully defended an Open de France title."
Last staged in March 2019, the Corales Puntacana R & C Championship was originally scheduled to again play alongside the cancelled WGC Match Play in March this year, but due to the pandemic, it didn't feature at all on the 2019-20 schedule and was instead moved to this stand alone slot in the 2020-21 schedule.
This will be the fifth edition of the Corales Puntacana R & C Championship but it's only the third time it will feature on the PGA Tour. The first two editions, won by Dominic Bozzelli and Nate Lashley, were held on the Korn Ferry Tour.
The Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, Corales Golf Club, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Par 72, 7,670 yards
Stroke Average in 2019 - 71.07
The 2010 Tom Fazio designed Corales Course is set among natural cliffs, coralina quarries and ocean coves, adjacent to the Caribbean Sea.
Six holes play alongside the Caribbean, culminating in the three-hole "Devil's Elbow" finishing stretch that showcases a dramatic forced carry over the Bay of Corales at No.18. Each of the three holes averaged over par last year but only just. Collectively they only totalled +0.1 of a stroke over-par.
The Corales Course is a very long Paspalum course with wide, flat, generous fairways and despite its length, it's an easy course for touring professionals. The greens will be slow (no more than 11 on stimpmeter) because of the course's proximity to the coast and its only real defence is the wind.
Three players shot ten-under-par 62s in the inaugural edition and the winner, Brice Garnett, opened up with a nine-under-par 63 in 2018. Graeme McDowell fired back-to-back 64s in rounds two and three last year and with fairly light winds forecasted, scoring should be low again. It's all very different to last week's test at Winged Foot.
Live Sky Sports all four days at 20:00, beginning on Thursday.
First Four Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Graeme McDowell -18 79/180.0
2018 - Brice Garnett -18 79/180.0
2017 - Nate Lashley -20
2016 - Dominic Bozzelli -24
What Will it Take to Win the Corales Puntacana R & C Championship?
There are no stats from the first two editions so evidence is limited but for hwat it's worth, neither driving metric looks especially relevant here. Graeme McDowell ranked 53rd for Driving Distance and 31st for Driving Accuracy last year and it was a similar story in 2018 when the winner, Brice Garnett, ranked only 51st for DD and 20th for DA, but that isn't surprising. The fairways are very wide and the rough is far from penal so forget about trawling through the driving stats.
G-Mac ranked 16th for Greens In Regulation and 47th for Scrambling and again, Garnett had similar figures - ranking only ranked 24th for GIR and 15th for Scrambling - but both winners putted really well - ranking first for Putting Average. Both winners made more birdies than anyone else too so the last two editions have been basically putting contests.
Is There an Angle In?
A number of PGA Tour events are staged at courses similar to this. The Sony Open, the RBC Heritage and the RSM Classic are all held on coastal, wind-affected tracks but the tournaments that correlate the best are the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the Puerto Rico Open.
El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico, and the Coco Beach Golf Course, the host course in Puerto Rico, like this venue, are both wind-affected Paspalum grass tracks whereas the other three tournament venues, Waialae Country Club (Sony Open), Harbour Town Golf Links (RBC Heritage) and Sea Island Resort (RSM Classic) are all Bermuda.
Last year's winner, McDowell, in addition to his US Open win in 2010, at another coastal course, Pebble Beach, has only won two other PGA Tour events - the RBC Heritage and the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
If you fancy digging even deeper, Garnett's two Web.com Tour wins came at the Utah Championship and the Portland Open and looking at the top-tens at those two events, plenty of the same names keep appearing, so they look like worth checking out too.
Finally, the Honda Classic is a far stronger event than this so there won't be too much crossover form but it's well worth noting that Mackenzie Hughes was second there behind Sungjae Im in the final event before lockdown. He was second here last year and Im finished seventh but he was in front at halfway. Last year's Honda winner, Keith Mitchell, was second here in 2018 and last year's winner of this event, G-Mac, has four top-tens at PGA National.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
The inaugural winner, Dominic Bozzelli, was in his mid-20s but the last three have been in their mid to late 30s and the last two winners, since the tournament was elevated to a PGA Tour event, have both been 79/180.0 chances before the off.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Graeme McDowell - led by one 11/53.15
2018 - Brice Garnett - led by two 10/111.93
2017 - Nate Lashley - trailed by two
2016 - Dominic Bozzelli - tied for the lead
Garnett shot the lowest round of the week on Thursday and he was never headed after that in 2018 but a slow start has been overcome in all of the other three editions.
Dominic Bozzelli sat tied for 45th after the opening round, Nate Lashley was tied 53rd, and G-Mac was matched at a high of 229/1230.0 after his first round 73 had seen him trailing by seven in a tie for 81st! So a slow start is clearly not the end of the world and I wouldn't get too alarmed if your picks aren't right up with the pace straight away.
Bozzelli was still four back at halfway but he'd moved up to fifth and Lashley was eighth and still five adrift through 36 holes in 2017 but G-Mac moved all the way up to seventh and only three off the lead after the first of two back-to-back 64s in round two. Bozzelli was tied for the lead through 54 holes, before going on to win by four, Lashley won by a solitary stroke having trailed by two with a round to go, and G-Mac went on to win by a stroke, having led by a stroke, but it was far from plain sailing...
G-Mac birdied three of the first four holes before adding a fourth at the par five seventh and his price plunged to less than 30/1001.3 but victory wasn't as straightforward is it looked like it might be.
A bogey followed at the par three ninth before he parred the next seven holes in-a-row and all of a sudden, it looked like he was going to get beat. Canada's Mackenzie Hughes, who's well-fancied this year, threatened to post a score from off the pace but he bogeyed the last, and it was left to Chris Stroud, a pre-tournament 159/1160.0 shot, to push McDowell the hardest.
Back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15 saw the 37-year-old Texan hit the front and he was matched at a low of 1/31.34 but he bogeyed the last two holes as McDowell finished birdie-par to win by one.
Korn Ferry Tour sensation, Will Zalatoris, who finished tied for sixth at the US Open on Sunday, heads the market and I can see why. In addition to winning his first tournament in July - the TPC Colorado Championship - he's been in terrific form all year and he has top-six finishes at the two events mentioned above - the Utah Championship and the Portland Open.
As gifted as he is, 14/1 looks short enough in an event where his monstrous length off the tee shouldn't give him a huge advantage. There's also the very strong possibility that he'll be mentally drained after four days at Winged Foot and I'm happy to swerve him.
Last year's runner-up, Mackenzie Hughes, is next up and up until last week's missed cut at Winged foot, he'd been playing some of the best golf of his career. His FedEx Cup playoff figures read an impressive 13-10-7 and if he can move on from last week's blip, he looks sure to contend.
Sam Burns and Corey Conners both have form here and at other corelating courses but I'm happy to leave them both out at around 20/1. Burns was seventh in the Safeway Open last time out but that was a disappointing result in the end given he led by two at halfway and Conners isn't the best man to have onside in a putting contest, although the track does suit him. He sat second with a round to go two years ago before shooting 76 in round four to finish 13th.
I thought 25-year-old Mexican-born Norwegian, Kristoffer Ventura, looked worth chancing modestly at 41/142.0 given he won the aforementioned Utah Championship and that he finished third in the Portland Open last year. He finished alongside Burns when putting nicely at the Safeway last time out so he's in form but that was slightly disappointing given he was tied for fourth and just one off the lead with a round to go.
James Hahn caught the eye at the Safeway Open last time out where he putted well. He's three time PGA Tour winner and he has bits of form to suggest he'll like it here. He had a couple of top-tens at the CIMB Classic when the greens were still Paspalum at Kuala Lumper Country Club, he has Utah Championship figures of 24-4-2 and he lost a playoff at the Sony Open.
He hasn't been playing brilliantly of late but I see absolutely no reason not to back Graeme McDowell to defend at 119/1120.0 given he's successfully defended an Open de France title and my final pick is 40-year-old, Rob Oppenheim, whose name kept cropping up at all the right courses. He's been in-contention in each of his last two starts and although he's yet to win on the PGA Tour, I thought 149/1150.0 was big enough and he's drifted since I backed him.
Kristoffer Ventura @ 41/142.0
James Hahn @ 109/1110.0
Graeme McDowell @ 119/1120.0
Rob Oppenheim @ 149/1150.0
I'll be back on Friday with the in-play blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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