With the world's elite lining up in the WGC Workday Championship in Florida there's a good chance for the PGA Tour's lesser lights to shine in Puerto Rico. Steve has the lowdown here...
"Hovland went of favourite 12 months ago, Finau was matched at a high of 55.054/1 and Hadley was around that price seven years ago but every other winner has been trading at a triple-figure price before the off."
Greg Kraft won the inaugural Puerto Rico Open in 2008 but this will be just the 13th edition after the 2018 renewal was postponed due to Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The Puerto Rico Open has always been played opposite another event and this year it once again plays opposite the WGC Mexico Championship.
Grand Reserve Country Club (Composite Course), Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
Par 72, 7506 yards, stroke average in 2020 - 70.64
Formally named the Coco Beach Golf Club, and sitting at the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest, the Grand Reserve 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 hosts the 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 on Sky but it will be live on the Golf Channel
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Viktor Hovland -20 18.017/1
2019 - Martin Trainer -15 120.0119/1
2018 - Tournament Cancelled
2017 - D.A Points -20 220.0219/1
2016 - Tony Finau -12 50.049/1 (playoff)
2015 - Alex Cejka -7 100.099/1 (playoff)
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 11 results and the first thing to observe is that the driving stats are irrelevant. The Driving Distance average of the last 11 winners is 20.5 and the Driving Accuracy average is 30.7 so length is arguably more important than accuracy and that was the case last year with the winner, Viktor Hovland, ranking 14th for DD and 23rd for DA.
Hovland ranked eighth for Greens In Regulation and the runner-up, Josh Teater, ranked first and that's a stat well worth perusing. 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 ten years to rank outside the top-eight for that stat.
Putting is always key and the last two winners both had a Putting Average ranking of second but the three winners before them had a PA 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 five. Hovland ranked second last year, as did Finau in 2016, Cejka ranked eighth six years ago and Michael Bradley ranked third when he won the first of his two titles in 2009 but the 2019 winner, Trainer, really bucked the trends. He played the par fours in level par, whereas joint-second, Johnson Wagner, topped the rankings in eight-under-par. Trainer topped the Par Five Scoring stats (12-under-par) but that result looks like an outlier.
This is an exposed layout and the wind is nearly always a factor, as it will be throughout the tournament this week. We can probably 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 we've recently witnessed how nicely this event and the Mayakoba link as Hovland won in Mexico in December.
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 12 winners were setting the world alight before arriving here and a poor set of form figures is nothing to worry about at all. Hovland went off favourite given his obvious class but even he had dodgy current form figures reading MC-MC-23-MC-38.
Trainer had finished tied for 28th in the AT&T Pebble Beach prior to winning two years ago but he'd missed his precious six cuts. 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...
Greg 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?
Although the last two winners were both in their 20s, out of form veterans seem to do really well here. Points had just turned 40 when he won four years ago and Cejka, the only non-American to take the title before Hovland, 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, Hadley and Trainer 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. In fact, Hovland is the only Puerto Rico Open winner to winner anywhere else subsequently.
Hovland went of favourite 12 months ago, Finau was matched at a high of 55.054/1 and Hadley was around that price seven years ago but every other winner has been trading at a triple-figure price before the off.
Hovland was the first 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 was 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 lived in Florida too.
And finally, there might just be another real superstar in the field somewhere. In addition to Hovland and Finau winning here (currently ranked 14th and 13th in the world), Jason Day, Jordon Spieth, Daniel Berger and Bryson DeChambeau have all finished runner-up here.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Viktor Hovland led by a stroke 1.784/5
2019 - Martin Trainer alone in third, trailing by two 12.011/1
2018 - Tournament Cancelled
2017 - D.A Points tied second, one off the lead 9.28/1
2016 - Tony Finau tied second, one off the lead 7.26/1
2015 - Alex Cejka tied fifth, trailing by two 21.020/1
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 Derek Lamely, who was 35th and six off the lead after 36 holes, are the only winners not to be inside the top-seven at halfway. Having sat tied for 14th after round one, Hovland was in front after rounds two and three 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 he and Lamely, who also sat fifth after three rounds, are the only winners to be outside the top-three places with a round to go so it's a tough place to make up ground.
Given that the event isn't on Sky and that it's up against the WGC Workday Championship (which I've previewed here), the chances are that liquidity will be poor so it might be sensible to trade in-between rounds only.
This is a very odd-looking market with 45-year-old Englishman, Ian Poulter, who's won just once in the last nine years (the 2018 Houston Open), currently favourite.
He's closely followed by Emiliano Grillo, Branden Grace, Thomas Pieters, Matt Wallace, Tom Lewis and Byeong Hun An so it's like looking at a European Tour event of yesteryear.
Given the tournament's record of throwing up an unexpected winner, none of the market leaders make any appeal and I wouldn't put anyone off beginning the event by laying everyone under around 60.059/1 or 70.069/1. A tactic I yet may employ.
The only one I like that's priced at less than 100.099/1 is Andrew Putnam, who's been showing signs of improvement of late (seventh in the Phoenix Open three starts ago) and he signed off at Riviera with a three-under-par 68 on Sunday, despite double-bogeying the sixth.
With a runner-up finish at the Sony Open in 2019 and a fifth placed finish at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in 2018, he has form at correlating courses and his placed efforts at the St Jude Classic (second in 2018) and the Charles Schwab (third in 2019) are also interesting efforts.
In addition, he's been placed in a Scottish Open and a WGC HSBC Champions and his sole PGA Tour win to date, at the Barracuda Championship in 2018, came in an opposite field event like this one.
Andrew Putnam @ 40.039/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my other picks in the Find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter