Sanderson Farms Championship: Massive outsiders chanced in Mississippi
The WGC-HSBC Champions is the big event this week but the PGA Tour's second-string tournament is an interesting heat where outsiders have won each of the last six renewals. Read our man's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"All four course winners have made more birdies than anyone else for the week. The first and third last year ranked second and first for both Strokes Gained Putting and Putting Average, the previous two winners both ranked number one for SGP and the first course winner, Nick Taylor, ranked seventh. Putting well here is absolutely essential."
The Sanderson Farms Championship was first staged at the Hattiesburg Country Club 50 years ago in 1968. In 1994 it moved to the Annandale Country Club and then four years ago it moved to the Country Club of Jackson. The event also changed its position in the PGA Tour schedule in 2014, moving to the autumn 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 WGC-Mexico Championship) and the Open Championship. This year, as it has for the last four years, it plays opposite the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament which I've previewed here.
The Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi.
Par 72, 7,421 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 71.83
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. On the last occasion, in 2008, by the heavily Donald Ross-influenced, John Fought.
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 below.
This is just the fifth time the Country Club of Jackson has hosted the tournament.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting on Thursday at 19:30
Last Five Winners
2017 - Ryan Armour -19
2016 - Cody Gribble -20
2015 - Peter Malnati -18
2014 - Nick Taylor -16
2013 - Woody Austin -20
What Will it Take to Win the Sanderson Farms Championship?
Having looked at the stats for the four renewals held to date at this venue, we're very much looking at a putting competition this week.
Neither driving stat has been important so far. The first and third course winners, Nick Taylor and Cody Gribble, both ranked 11th for Driving Distance but the front three home three years ago ranked 65th, 69th and 73rd for DD and last year's winner, Ryan Armour, ranked 69th, suggesting power off the tee isn't an essential prerequisite at all. Armour did rank third for Driving Accuracy but how relevant that is - is debatable given the first three course winners ranked 40th, 35th and 38th for DA.
Although the winner, Cody Gribble, only ranked 29th for Greens In Regulation two years ago, that's a key stat. The first and second last year ranked third and second for GIR, Greg Owen and Chris Kirk, who were tied for second behind Gribble, ranked fourth and sixth for GIR and Lucas Glover in fifth hit more greens than anyone else. The first three home in 2014 ranked third, first and tenth and the front three in 2015 ranked tied fourth, tied fourth and 11th.
Prior to last year, scrambling looked fairly key. Cody Gribble ranked number one for Scrambling in 2016 and the number one scrambler was placed in both 2014 and 2015 but last year's winner only ranked 60th and Smylie Kaufman in a tie for fourth, who ranked fifth for Scrambling, was the only player in the top-six to rank inside the top-ten for that stat. I don't really think we can look too deeply in to any of the stats because this event is basically a birdie-fest...
All four course winners have made more birdies than anyone else for the week. The first and third last year ranked second and first for both Strokes Gained Putting and Putting Average, the previous two winners both ranked number one for SGP and the first course winner, Nick Taylor, ranked seventh. Putting well here is absolutely essential.
Is There an Angle In?
The 2015 winner, Pater Malnati, lost his PGA Tour card in 2014 but he contended well at the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind, where he was beaten by just six strokes. That was as close as he came to winning that year and veteran PGA Tour maiden, Greg Owen, very rarely figures anywhere but he was tied for second here two years ago and he was second at the FedEx St Jude in 2015.
I'm really not sure how much use this is but Malnati led the Wells Fargo at halfway last year and that's of note given this course and Quail Hollow share the same grass type on their greens now.
Form at the Colonial Country Club, home of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, and TPC Southwind correlate well so it makes sense to look at form there too. Armour was 14th at Colonial last year and one of the two to finish tied second here in 2016, Chris Kirk, won the Dean & DeLuca there in 2015. Boo Weekley, who was tied second here in 2014, also won the Dean & DeLuca 12 months before Kirk and David Toms, runner-up here in 2015, has won both the Dean & DeLuca and the FedEx St Jude.
They look like fair course correlations to explore but I have to thank Ben Coley for spotting the best one. Quite why the Bentgrass Tom Fazio designed Victoria National in Indiana should correlate with the Bermuda grass Country Club of Jackson in Mississippi is a bit of a mystery but the results certainly suggest it does.
The 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship winner, Gribble, finished second to Seamus Power in the United Leasing Championship at Victoria National on the Web.com Tour in May '16. Power contended at the SFC again last year having been in the thick of the action early on in 2016 on debut and alongside Gribble in second in Indiana was Jackson member Jonathan Randolph, who finished third here 12 months ago.
Smylie Kaufman, who finished fourth last year, won the United Leasing Championship three years ago and the 2016 SFC runner-up, Greg Owen, won the 2014 edition of the United Leasing Championship. And last year's SFC winner, Ryan Armour, finished second!
It looks like a cracking link and one I've used for a number of picks below.
All four course winners had far more experience on the Web.com Tour than they had on the PGA Tour and whether young or old, looking to recently graduated Web.com Tour players looks a good angle in.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Luke Donald is the only player from outside the States and Canada to win this title in 50 years and players from the southern states do particularly well.
Armour comes from Ohio, so he's a bit further north but Gribble comes from Texas and the 2015 winner, Peter Malnati, is from Tennessee, where he won on the Web.Com Tour.
Please do make sure you check out Dave Tindall's preview here because he's somehow managed to pick out the last two winners of this event and that really does take some doing given what an incredibly good event it is for outsiders.
The last two winners were both matched at [120.0] and they've been the shortest priced winners in the last five years! This is a tournament in which to expect the unexpected...
With form figures reading MC-MC-MC-MC-56th, it was just about impossible to pick out Malnati before the off three years ago and in Taylor's first three PGA Tour events in 2014, he'd finished MC-56-MC before winning. 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 too, when he was matched at more than [400.0] before the off, so this doesn't look like an event to put too much faith in the market leaders.
The last four winners, and five of the last six, were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour. Good luck!
Armour won wire-to-wire last year and the very first course winner, Taylor, sat second after round one and he was always on the premises thereafter but given Gribble sat ten off the lead and outside the top-100 places after round one in 2016, and that Malnati overcame a slow start in 2015 (sat tied 42nd and seven off the pace after day one and was still six adrift at halfway) this is definitely a venue at which a fast start isn't essential.
I can't back any of the market leaders given the events history and I may yet get laying them before the off but Korea's Sungjae Im commands respect. The 20 year-old won twice on the Web.Com Tour last year and he's the second youngest (behind Jason Day) to win on that Tour. He was 19 years and 292 days old when he won the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic in January.
This is an event in which caution is most definitely advised but I've thrown a few pounds at a plethora of outsiders - most of which have form at the aforementioned Victoria National.
Roberto Castro @ [100.0]
Scott Stallings @ [120.0]
Roberto Diaz @ 125/1 (Sportsbook)
Wyndham Clark @ [150.0]
Jonathan Randolph @ [200.0]
Kyoung-Hoon Lee @ [270.0]
Scott Langley @ [350.0]
Maverick McNealy @ [400.0]
Jose de Jesus Rodriguez @ [1000.0]
I'll be back on Thursday with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter