The WGC-HSBC Champions event is the star attraction this week but the Sanderson Farms Championship is live on Sky at a more sociable time and there are a few trends worth pursuing, says Steve in his comprehensive preview of the event...
“It’s a speculative play but Ben Crane has popped up out of the blue before and he’s a fabulous putter when he’s on. I thought he was fairly priced at 110.0109/1 in what isn’t a strong field.”
The Sanderson Farms Championship was first staged at the Hattiesburg Country Club in 1968. In 1994 it moved to the Annandale Country Club and then two years ago it moved to the Country Club of Jackson. The event also changed its position in the PGA Tour schedule two years ago, moving to November from the July slot it had occupied over the previous three years.
It's been a low-grade, opposite field event all its life. Originally played opposite the US Masters in April, it's also been played opposite the Tour Championship, the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup, the WGC - American Express Championship (now known as the Cadillac) and the Open Championship. This year, as it has for the last two years, it plays opposite the WGC - HSBC Champions tournament which I've previewed here.
The Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi.
Par 72, 7,354 yards
Stroke Index in 2015 - 70.47
The Country Club of Jackson was founded over 100 years ago but this week's host course only opened in 1962. It's a composite of two Dick Wilson-designed nines called Dogwood and Azalea and the 18 holes have been extensively remodelled a number of times. The last occasion by the heavily Donald Ross-influenced, John Fought, in 2008.
The course is Bermuda and the greens vary in size and are often perched up with tricky looking run-off areas. For more on the track, please see the YouTube guide and the various links below.
This is just the third time the Country Club of Jackson has hosted the tournament.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2015 - Peter Malnati -18
2014 - Nick Taylor -16
2013 - Woody Austin -20
2012 - Scott Stallings -24
2011 - Chris Kirk -22
What Will it Take to Win the Sanderson Farms Championship?
With just two years course form to ponder we're up against it a bit but there are already a few patterns emerging. Driving Accuracy has been slightly more important than Driving Distance but neither stat has been relevant. The 2014 winner, Nick Taylor, ranked 11th for DD but Peter Malnati only ranked 65th last year and the pair ranked 40th and 35th for DA but both ranked highly in a number of other categories.
Taylor ranked third for Greens In Regulation two years ago and Jason Bohn, who was tied second, ranked first and Malnati, along with joint runner-up, William McGirt, ranked fourth for GIR last year.
Both winners made more birdies than anyone else and they both putted brilliantly. Taylor's Putting Average ranking was sixth and he ranked seventh for Strokes Gained Putting, and Malnati ranked second and first for those two stats. They also both played the par fives in an impressive nine-under-par.
Is There an Angle In?
Luke Donald is the only player from outside the States and Canada to win this title in it's 48 year history and players from the southern states do particularly well in the tournament.
Last year's victor, Malnati, won twice on the Web.Com Tour and the first of those wins came in his home state of Tennessee. And although he lost his PGA Tour card in 2014, he contended well at the St. Jude Classic in Tennessee, where he was beaten by just six strokes. That was as close as he came to victory that year.
Before last year's event I felt there might be a possible course correlation between this venue and the Colonial Country Club, home of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, and so it wasn't a surprise to see TPC Southwind form stand up as those two venues correlate nicely.
Again, we're only looking at form over two years so it's not easy, but I'd suggest good results at TPC Southwind and the Colonial Country Club could be a good pointer.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
With form figures reading MC-MC-MC-MC-56th, it was just about impossible to pick out Malnati before the off last year and in Taylor's first three PGA Tour events in 2014, he'd finished MC-56-MC before winning, so it's perhaps not that surprising that they were both matched at 1000.0 before the off.
Woody Austin caused a huge shock in 2013, when he was matched at more than 400.0399/1 before the off so this doesn't look like an event to put too much faith in the market leaders.
Three of the last five winners were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour - the last two and the 2011 winner, Chris Kirk.
After the drivable par four 15th, which produced three eagles on day four last year, and two in 2014, the finish to the course is fairly tough with the signature hole, the par four 16th, ranking as the hardest on the course 12 months ago. A swamp is in play all the way up the left-hand side of the 16th and although the par four 17th isn't especially challenging (averaged 3.94 last year), the final hole, another par four, is over 500 yards long and last year it ranked as the third hardest on the course, averaging 4.06.
The 15th looks the last really good chance to make a birdie or better so anyone trying to catch someone in the clubhouse with three holes to play will probably be worth taking on.
Malnati overcame a slow start last year (sat tied 42nd and seven off the pace) and he was still six adrift at halfway, whereas Taylor sat second after round one and was always on the premises so we can't draw any conclusions there at all.
At number 74 in the world rankings, the 2011 winner, Chris Kirk, who won at the old venue, Annandale Golf Club, is the highest ranked in the field and the man the market considers most likely to prevail. In his last two starts he's finished 10th at the BMW Championship and eighth at the Safeway Open so he comes into the event in decent form but I'm loath to get involved with the short-priced runners given the events limited history at this venue.
Having made all 56 putts faced from eight feet and in and having been matched at just 1.68/13, second favourite, Patton Kizzire, will feel he should have won the Safeway Open a fortnight ago. If he putts that well again he's sure to contend but can he win if he does? Nerves appeared to get the better of him in California as he struggled to find a fairway on the back-nine on Sunday and I suspect his inevitable first victory may well come from off the pace.
I wasn't prepared to take less than triple-figures about anyone here. It looks like a minefield. I've tried to find a Web.com graduate that I like but to no avail and I've finished up with just one selection - Ben Crane.
The 40-year-old Texas based Crane, who hasn't played since he missed the cut at The Barclays in August, is playing the course for the first time this week but I can see why he is. Three of his five PGA Tour titles have come at venues in the south eastern states and the last of his five wins came at the aforementioned TPC Southwind in the FedEx St Jude two years ago. His form at the other course I fancy should correlate nicely - Colonial Country Club - isn't bad either. He's played what is now called the Dean & DeLuca seven times and he's finished inside the top-ten on three occasions (twice in the top-five).
It's a speculative play but he's popped up out of the blue before and he's a fabulous putter when he's on. I thought he was fairly priced at 110.0109/1 in what isn't a strong field.
Ben Crane @ 110.0109/1
I'll be back on Thursday with the In-Play blog after the first round of the WGC - HSBC Champions.
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