Puerto Rico Open: Veteran outsiders the way to go in Puerto Rico
In addition to the talent-heavy WGC Mexico Championship, the PGA Tour also takes in a trip to Puerto Rico this week. Our man Steve Rawlings has the lowdown on the event here...
"This is a tournament that has never produced a winner under 50/1 so don't be afraid to take a chance or two. This is an event where an out-of-form outsider could pop up and cause a massive surprise and if they have a link with Florida then that’s all the better."
Greg Kraft won the first Puerto Rico Open in 2008 but this will be just the 11th edition after last year's renewal was postponed due to Hurricane Maria hitting in September 2017. The Puerto Rico Open has always been played opposite another event and this year it runs in the same week as the WGC Mexico Championship.
Coco Beach Golf and Country Club (Composite Course), Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
Par 72, 7,506 yards, stroke average in 2017 - 70.23
Formally called the Trump International, and sitting at the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest, Coco Beach is a diverse wind-exposed and flat composite of two courses that were originally four nine-hole courses, designed by Tom Kite in 2004. The grass is Paspalum, which is the same surface used on the PGA Tour at El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and at the Corales Golf Club, which last year hosted the inaugural Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship. Water is in play on 13 holes and the average-sized greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.
No UK coverage
Last Five Winners
2018 - Tournament Cancelled
2017 - D.A Points -20
2016 - Tony Finau -12 (playoff)
2015 - Alex Cejka -7 (playoff)
2014 - Chesson Hadley -21
What Will it Take to Win the Puerto Rico Open?
There were no stats produced for the inaugural staging of the Puerto Rico Open so I've only been able to analyse the last nine results. The last winner, Points, ranked first for Driving Accuracy and only 52nd for Driving Distance but what you do off the tee here hasn't been critical. The average Driving Accuracy ranking of the nine winners is 28.11 and the average Driving Distance ranking is 23.4.
Points also ranked first for Greens In Regulation and that's been a key stat. The 2016 winner, Tony Finau, only ranked 18th for GIR and the 2013 champ, Scott Brown, ranked a lowly 62nd but they're the only winners in the last eight years to sit outside the top-six for that stat. Putting is always key but the last three winners have had a Putting Average ranking of ninth, 28th and 37th so the best indicator is probably Par 4 Performance...
Stats for the first Puerto Rico Open were issued for par three, four and five scoring and the winner, Greg Kraft, ranked first on the par fours - as has every subsequent winner bar three. Finau ranked second in 2016, Cejka ranked eighth four years ago and Michael Bradley ranked third when he won the first of his two titles in 2009.
This is an exposed layout and the wind is nearly always a factor. The forecast suggests a fairly breezy week so expect the winner to have plenty of experience of playing in windy conditions.
Is There an Angle In?
A number of events are staged at courses similar to this. Look closely at the form of the Sony Open, the RBC Heritage, the RSM Classic, and in particular, the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
As previously mentioned, El Camaleon, home of the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and the Corales Golf Club, host venue for the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, are both wind-affected Paspalum grass tracks and the other three event venues, Waialae Country Club, Harbour Town Golf Links and Sea Island Resort are all Bermuda, which is a very similar surface to Paspalum. And all three are wind-affected coastal courses.
Current form is definitely not something to worry about here - none of the previous ten winners were setting the world alight before arriving here and a poor set of form figures is nothing to worry about at all.
Points' form figures coming in to the event read MC-MC-45-66-MC-39 and he hadn't played anywhere in six weeks. Finau had missed four cuts in-a-row before finishing 43rd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the week before, although he did finish strongly with a five-under-par 67 on the Sunday. That signalled some sort of resurgence maybe, but he was far from the first to win here with uninspiring form figures.
Kraft's read MC-MC-48-19 in 2008 and Michael Bradley hadn't played anywhere for months when he won a year later. Derek Lamely's form figures were MC-MC-MC-73 in 2010 and when Bradley doubled-up in 2011, he did so after four straight missed cuts. George McNeil had missed two of three cuts before winning here in 2012 and Scott Brown, who had two top-seven finishes on the Web.com Tour in 2013, is the only winner with any sort of clear indicators leading into the event. Chesson Hadley's form figures read MC-MC-MC-10-MC-24 in 2014 and a year later, Alex Cejka won with figures coming in that read MC-15-MC-MC-34-67-MC.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Out of form veterans seem to do really well here. Points, a [220.0] chance before the off, had just turned 40 when he won two years ago and Cejka, the only non-American to take the title, was winning on the PGA Tour for the first time at the age of 45. The first five editions went to experienced vets, although none of them were prolific, with Bradley being the only one to have won more than once on the PGA Tour. Finau, Brown and Hedley were winning on the PGA Tour for the first time too and they still haven't added any further titles. Which is hugely surprising given Finau's undoubted class.
Finau was matched at a high of [55.0], Cejka was a [100.0] chance in 2015 and Hedley traded at around [50.0] five years ago but those three were short in comparison to previous winners!
This is a tournament that has never produced a winner under 50/1 so don't be afraid to take a chance or two. This is an event where an out-of-form outsider could pop up and cause a massive surprise and if they have a link with Florida then that's all the better. Points is a resident of the Sunshine State and he's the latest to win or go very close here with a strong Floridian link.
Florida's Steve Marino lost in a playoff here in 2016, two Floridians, Jon Curran and Seb Saunders, made the playoff in 2015 and the four men that won the first five editions all live in Florida too.
And finally, there might just be a real superstar in the field somewhere - Jason Day, Jordon Spieth and Bryson DeChambeau have all finished runner-up here.
Every winner has shot a first round of 70 or below and they've all been within five strokes of the lead after round one. Finau, who sat 15th and four adrift, and Lamely, who was 35th and six off the lead, are the only winners not to be inside the top-seven at halfway and Points, who was never outside the top-two places all week, and the four winners before Finau were all first or second after 36 holes. Cejka dropped from first to fifth between rounds two and three but the three winners before him were all in front with a round to go so it's a tough place to make up ground.
Given that the event isn't on TV anywhere and that it's up against the WGC Mexico Championship (previewed here), the chances are that liquidity will be poor so it might be sensible to trade in-between rounds only.
Daniel Berger is the class act in the field, attempting to get his career back on track. The 25-year-old Floridian (big plus) won the FedEx St.Jude Classic back-to-back in 2016 and 17 but he's lost his way somewhat of late and he arrives in Puerto Rico on the back of two missed cuts.
This looks a great fit for the experienced Graeme McDowell, who won the Mayakoba Classic five years ago, but he's short enough for me and the same can be said of Peter Uihlein, who tends to disappoint frequently when in-contention.
It's almost not worth trying to pick the winner before the start. When asked after his victory as to whether he'd seen his performance coming, Points was fairly unequivocal with his response two years ago.
"You know, I didn't. I'd been playing well at home and then I kinda took a little step back right before I came but when I made a switch with my putter it allowed me to not be so hard on the rest of my game."
The winners have been nigh on impossible to spot before the off and the in-running trends are strong so it makes sense to retain at least some stakes for the in-play market but I have picked out one for a bit of fun and I'm waiting on a few others to be matched.
If and when I get matched, I'll update Twitter but for now, if you haven't already read José de Jesús Rodríguez's story, then put the kettle on, click on this link and be prepared to be amazed. The 38-year-old Mexican, who illegally entered the US at the age of 15, and who won on the Web.com Tour last year, would be a delightful winner this week around a track previous called the Trump International in a week when the best in the world are playing in Rodríguez's homeland, after the PGA Tour snubbed Trump's Doral.
He hasn't been in great form but the industry-best 150/1 with the Sportsbook is juicy enough.
José de Jesús Rodríguez each-way @ 150/1
Selections Post Initial Preview Publication:
Shawn Stefani @ [150.0]
Ben Crane @ [160.0]
Boo Weekley @ [200.0]
Will MacKenzie @ [400.0]
Troy Matteson @ [400.0]
Brian Davis @ [960.0]
Chris Smith @ [1000.0]
David Duval @ [1000.0]
Heath Slocum @ [1000.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter