Greenbrier Classic: Outsiders and course debutants worth chancing in West Virginia

Luke Donald, one of two Punter’s picks in West Virginia
Luke Donald, one of two Punter’s picks in West Virginia

The PGA Tour returns to West Virginia for the Greenbrier Classic where our man fancies another surprise winner. Read Steve's in-depth preview here...

“It's very straightforward - outsiders have owned this event so far so forget the favourites this week. All six winners of this event were matched at triple-figure prices before the off and five of the six were playing in the event for the first time.”

Tournament History

Rainfall of biblical proportions put pidy to last year's renewal of the Greenbrier Classic and the event was called off more than a week in advance of its scheduled start date after 14 inches of rain fell in just 12 hours to completely flood the Greenbrier Valley. This article here provides more reading on the state of the course after the floods.

The course needed a lot of work to be ready in time for this year's renewal and by all accounts they've made a cracking job of it but with so many quality tournaments coming thick and fast at this time of the year, the field isn't as strong as organisers would have hoped for and none of the world's top-20 are in the line-up.

The Greenbrier Classic is a fairly new event and this will be the seventh edition.


Venue

The Old White TPC Course at The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia


Course Details

Par 70, 7,287 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 69.17

The Greenbrier is one of the oldest resorts in America, dating right back to 1778 when travellers were attracted to the hot sulphur springs.

Designed by Charles Blair McDonald and Seth Raynor, the golf course opened in 1914 and it's been enjoyed by the rich and famous ever since. The course was restored by Lester George in 2006 and while the players enjoyed themselves in the inaugural event, with low scores all over the place (Stuart Appleby won the event after shooting 59 on the Sunday with a 22 under-par total), the event committee decided it was just too easy and extensive changes were made before the 2012 renewal.

All the greens were reseeded with Bentgrass and 16 holes were changed, with 241 yards added. It worked - the field found less fairways and greens and when Bill Haas, Bob Estes and eventual winner, Scott Stallings, fought out a playoff to decide the title, -10 was as low as they got.

The scoring has crept up again since but it's no pushover and the fact that it plays at altitude doesn't help. Clubbing is very hard and the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in their pomp have been left bemused and missed out on weekend employment here.

After the course was completely devastated by the rain, Keith Foster was brought in to reseed and rebuild it, although Seth Raynor's original design has been largely maintained and it shouldn't play too differently.

Nevertheless, 20 bunkers have been repositioned and the undulations on the greens have been softened to allow for more pin positions. The greens are expected to run at 12 on the stimpmeter by Sunday.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 20:00 UK and Ireland time on Thursday


First Six Tournament Winners

2015 - Danny Lee -13 (playoff)
2014 - Angel Cabrera -16
2013 - Jonas Blixt -13
2012 - Ted Potter Jr -16 (playoff)
2011 - Scott Stallings -10 (playoff)
2010 - Stuart Appleby -22


What Will it Take to Win the Greenbrier Classic?

The 2013 winner, Jonas Blixt, ranked 60th for Driving Accuracy and 48th for Driving Distance so if he can win being far from straight or long, what you do off the tee really doesn't look overly important here and last year's result backed that up. The four playoff protagonists - eventual winner Danny Lee, Kevin Kisner, David Hearn and Robert Streb - ranked 54th, 53rd, 56th and 31st for Driving Distance and they ranked 21st, 34th, 17th and 36th for Driving Accuracy.

Streb ranked seventh for Greens In Regulation but the other three ranked 23rd (Hearn), 42rd (Lee) and 65th! (Kisner) for Greens In Regulation, so on that evidence, hitting lots of greens isn't imperative as long as you scramble and putt well. Danny Lee ranked first for Putting Average and Kisner third.

Angel Cabrera's stats were impressive across the board in 2014. He ranked 11th for DD, 4th for DA and number one for Par 4 Scoring and Greens In Regulation and he ranked 4th for Putting Average. Nobody hit more greens than El Pato but in addition to Lee, others have won without hitting lots of greens.

Appleby only ranked 40th when he won the inaugural event and Blixt ranked 48th so GIR isn't the be all and end all stat either. It's excellent putting that's the key to success at the Greenbrier.

When Scott Stallings took the title in 2011 his PA ranking was just 19th and he ranked 16th for Strokes Gained Putting but the other five winners have ranked second, second, first, fourth and first for PA and third, first, second, fifth and seventh for Strokes Gained Putting.

Trying to work out who might have a great week with the putter on any given week is never easy and that may explain why so many outsiders have won here. What you do on the greens here is clearly vital and I'd shy away from anyone that has been putting consistently poorly. It's a shortfall in your game that's impossible to overcome here.


Is There an Angle In?

Form at the Sony Open might be worth looking at. The host course in Hawaii, Waialae Country Club, is another par 70 Seth Raynor design and a number of players with form at Waialae have played well here too.

Justin Thomas, who hacked up in Hawaii in January, hit the front here two years ago and was matched at just 2.26/5 on the front-nine but he collapsed in spectacular fashion to finish 54th and runner-up, Kisner, also gives the form a boost. He's finished fifth and fourth in the last two editions of the Sony.

Jimmy Walker, who won back-to-back Sonys, has finished 4th here twice and he was runner-up to Blixt in 2013. The 2013 Sony winner, Russell Henley, led this event at halfway four years ago and he finished fifth, just one shot off the playoff, two years ago and the man that led after three rounds in 2013, Johnson Wagner, won the Sony Open the year before.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

It's very straightforward - outsiders have owned this event so far so forget the favourites this week. All six winners of this event were matched at triple-figure prices before the off and five of the six were playing in the event for the first time.

Danny Lee, who is the only winner to have played in the event before he won it, was matched at 170.0169/1 before the off two years ago, Angel Cabrera was matched at 160.0159/1 in 2015, Blixt was tipped up by Paul Krishnamurty in his Find Me a 100 Winner column at 130.0129/1 in 2014, and the two playoff protagonists in 2012 both went off at 1000.0!

The inaugural winner, Stuart Appleby would have been the most fancied of the six winners to date but even he touched triple-figures before the off.

Don't be afraid to back an outsider or two and don't worry if this is their first visit to the Old White.


In-Play Tactics

Danny Lee sat second and a stroke out of the lead after the opening round in 2015 and he trailed by just a stroke after rounds two and three too but he was the exception rather than the rule. Hearn sat 48th after round one before sitting alongside Lee after rounds two and three but the other two playoff protagonists were never really in it until the end. Streb sat 48th, 26th and 12th after rounds one, two and three; Kisner sat 27th, 40th and 17th.

This is hard place to lead and no third round leader or co-leader has ever won. There were four men tied at the top with a round to go last time and none of them made the top-five.

The lead tends to chop and change and coming from off the pace to win is perfectly possible. One year after Appleby fired 59 to come from seven back to win the inaugural event, Bob Estes came from six back to get into a playoff (won by Stallings) with a final round of 64. And both the 2012 and 2013 winners, Ted Potter Jr and Jonas Blixt, trailed by four with a round to go.

Cabrera was only two back in 2014 but it's definitely a course where you can come from way off the pace. With the knowledge that his sister was gravely ill and dying from cancer, George McNeill shot 61 to finish second to Cabrera. That moved him up 17 places on the leaderboard and he finished four clear of Webb Simpson in third. The poor man then had to wait around for hours to see if he'd be required for a playoff, having been told after his round that his sister Michelle had died.

Not only has nobody successfully converted a third round lead, nobody leading at the end of any round has won. All the leaders or co-leaders after rounds one, two and three over the first six years here have been beaten.

With six out of six winners trading at over 100.099/1 before the off, and with all the winners coming from off the pace, this looks like a dream event for the layers.


Market Leaders

Patrick Reed has been in great form for a while now but he keeps throwing in a poor round at just the wrong time. His course form figures read MC-26-29, so he hasn't played spectacularly here yet and I'm more than happy to pass him over.

Kevin Kisner has course and current form, as well as form at Waialae Country Club, and I fancy he should be the favourite. He finished down the field in the US Open but Erin Hills was plenty long enough and he's better judged on his win in the Dean & Deluca Invitational three starts ago and his sixth at the Memorial Tournament in his penultimate start.

I backed Bill Haas last week at a course I thought would really suit so I was disappointed by his 13th placed finish. Haas was second here back in 2011 but his subsequent efforts haven't been anywhere near as good and his course form figures read 2-33-9-23-MC. I can see his putting holding him back and he's one I'm happy to oppose.

Phil Mickelson
hasn't won in almost four years and he hasn't got any course form to boast, having missed the cut here on all three previous visits, but this is his first start with Bones on the bag and the change might do him some good.

For Danny Lee, see Bill Haas. Lee has the pressure of defending the title and he performed even worse than Haas last week, where he was one of my disappointing pre-event picks and talking of last week, how will David Lingmerth recover from his collapse over the weekend? I'm happy to swerve them both.


Selections

As I did at the Travelers Championship a fortnight ago (see In-Play Blog here) I'm going to be laying the fancied runners before the off and I'm going to be laying throughout the tournament but I've still backed two before the off...

Morgan Hoffman started with a pair of sevens last week so was always up against it. He missed the cut at TPC Potomac but he's been playing OK of late, has a bit of course form, was 13th at the Sony Open in 2016 and he's putting well. I thought he was worth chancing a few pounds on and the same goes for course debutant, Luke Donald.

Donald really should have won the Sony ten years ago when he was pipped at the post by Paul Goydos and he's another that's putting quite well.


Selections:
Morgan Hoffman @ 140.0139/1
Luke Donald @ 180.0179/1

I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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