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Sanderson Farms Championship: Ross inspired course looks a perfect fit for Snedeker

Golfer Brandt Snedeker
Brandt Snedeker - The Punter's sole pick in the Sanderson Farms Championship
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The BMW PGA Championship is the big event this week but there's PGA Tour action from Mississippi on the menu too so read our man's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"Brandt Snedeker is a very interesting contestant and I can see why he’s here. He was a surprise entrant in last season’s opening event – the Safeway Open - and he contended all week before eventually losing in a playoff so this isn’t the first time he’s rocked up at low-grade, early season tournament and this one should suit him perfectly."

Tournament History

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 five 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.

Up until now, 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, the Presidents Cup, the WGC-American Express Championship (now known as the WGC-Mexico Championship), the Open Championship and for the last five years, the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China.

The Sanderson Farms Championship has moved forward a month in the schedule and for the first time in it's 51-year history, it's not playing second fiddle to another PGA Tour event. Although it is going to be overshadowed by the BMW PGA Championship, which I've previewed here.

Venue


The Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,440 yards
Stroke Index in 2018 - 71.25

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. There's a new tee on the par four 17th this year that has stretched the hole by 20 yards (to 436 yards), so the overall length is now 7,460 yards. That's the longest it's played to date and 106 yards longer than when it debuted in 2014.

For more on the track, please see the YouTube guide below.

This is just the sixth time the Country Club of Jackson has hosted the tournament.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting on Thursday at 19:00 and if you get bored of the BMW PGA Championship - there's Feature Group coverage on Thursday and Friday, starting at 13:00 UK time behind the Red Button on Sky Sports

Last Five Winners

2018 - Cameron Champ -21
2017 - Ryan Armour -19
2016 - Cody Gribble -20
2015 - Peter Malnati -18
2014 - Nick Taylor -16

What Will it Take to Win the Sanderson Farms Championship?

Having looked at the stats for the first five renewals held here, we're very much looking at a putting competition this week.

Last year's winner, Cameron Champ, hit it further than anyone else off the tee but he does that most weeks. He only ranked 65h for Driving Accuracy but the runner-up, Corey Conners ranked 40th for DD and third for DA and the 2017 winner, Ryan Armour, had similar stats to Connors - he ranked 69th for DD and third for DA - but we can't conclude that accuracy is more important than distance because the other three course winners, Nick Taylor, Peter Malnati and Cody Gribble, ranked only 40th, 35th and 38th for DA and the rough really isn't penal at all.

Champ's Driving Accuracy percentage on Saturday was 42.86% but his Greens In Regulation percentage was 83.33% and it was a similar story on Sunday. He had a DA percentage of just 35.71% but his GIR percentage was 61.11%.

In addition to Champ ranking first and Armour third for Driving Distance, both Taylor and Gribble ranked 11th for DD but the front three home four years ago ranked only 65th, 69th and 73rd, suggesting power off the tee isn't an essential prerequisite at all.

Although the winner, Cody Gribble, only ranked 29th for Greens In Regulation three years ago, that's been a key stat here. Champ ranked ninth last year, the second and third, Conners and Sam Burns, ranked tied fourth for GIR and Anders Albertson in fifth hit more putting surfaces than anyone else for the week. The first and second in 2017 ranked third and second for GIR, Greg Owen and Chris Kirk, who were tied for second behind Gribble in 2016, 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 2017, scrambling looked fairly key. Cody Gribble had ranked number one for Scrambling in 2016 and the number one scrambler was placed in both 2014 and 2015 but Champ only ranked 55th last year and the 2017 winner, Armour, only ranked 60th. And Smylie Kaufman in a tie for fourth, who ranked fifth for Scrambling in 2017, 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 into any of the stats because this event is basically a birdie-fest...

All five course winners have made more birdies than anyone else for the week. Champ ranked number one for Putting Average, the first and third in 2017 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 (now a WGC event), 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 three years ago and he was second at the FedEx St Jude in 2015.

Form at the Colonial Country Club, home of the Fort Worth Invitational, and TPC Southwind correlate well so it makes sense to look at form there too. Armour was 14th at Colonial in 2017 and one of the two to finish tied second here in 2016, Chris Kirk, won at Colonial in 2015. Boo Weekley, who was tied second here in 2014, also won there 12 months before Kirk and David Toms, runner-up here in 2015, has won both the Fort Worth Invitational and the FedEx St Jude.

It also looks like there's a possible link to this year's inaugural Rock Mortgage Classic venue - the Donald Ross designed, Detroit Golf Club. Although they did fall back over the weekend, Sanderson winners, Champ, Malnati and Armour were all inside the top-ten at halfway there in June.

And finally, 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 Korn Ferry Tour in May '16. Power contended at the SFC again in 2017 having been in the thick of the action early on in 2016 on debut and alongside Gribble in second in Indiana was Jonathan Randolph, who finished third here two years ago.

Smylie Kaufman, who finished fourth here in 2017, won the United Leasing Championship four years ago and the 2016 SFC runner-up, Greg Owen, won the 2014 edition of the United Leasing Championship, with the 2017 SFC winner, Armour, finishing second!

We can look at course correlations but the biggest clue appears to be which tour the winners were playing in the season before they won. The runner-up, Conners, was the only player in the top-six not to be a Korn Ferry Tour graduate last year and all five course winners had far more experience on the Korn Ferry Tour than they'd had on the PGA Tour so whether young or old, looking to recently graduated Korn Ferry Tour players looks a good angle in.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Malnati SFC.jpg

Luke Donald is the only player from outside the States and Canada to win this title in more than 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 Korn Ferry Tour.

Champ shortened up from [80.0] to [60.0] before the off last year and he's the only winner at this venue not to be a triple-figure price. The two previous winners were both matched at [120.0].

With form figures reading MC-MC-MC-MC-56th, it was just about impossible to pick out Malnati before the off four 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 five winners, and six of the last seven, were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour. Good luck!

In-Play Tactics

It's been a mixed back here so far. Both Champ and Armour won wire-to-wire 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 he was still six adrift at halfway) this is definitely a venue at which a fast start isn't essential.

Market Leaders

It was only a matter of time before hugely-talented Chilean youngster, Joaquin Niemann, would get off the mark and he won the Greenbrier with ease in the end on Sunday - thanks to some degree to his nearest challengers wilting. He eventually won by six strokes and he certainly put it to bed nicely with birdies at the last three holes but the margin of victory flattered him slightly and I'm happy to swerve him here. Although his fifth in the Rocket Mortgage Classic reads well.

At just 21, Korea's Sungjae Im is another impressive youngster and he's very consistent too. He won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last year but he's still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour and that illusive first win may not come this week if last year's missed cut on debut is anything to go by.

Byeong Hun An may take to the venue if his 13th in the Rocket Mortgage and his third at the Wyndham are anything to go by. Both tracks are Donald Ross designs, but those have been his best efforts since he finished seventh at the Texas Open and he's hard to fancy at a short price.

Scottie Scheffler is considerably shorter than he was last week when finishing tied for seventh and having watched him closely there, he makes little appeal here. He'll learn a lot from the experience of being in-the-mix on the PGA Tour for the first time but he needs to. He's clearly a very talented graduate but, having been tied for the lead at halfway, there were far too many mistakes for him to sustain a title challenge and I wouldn't be surprised to see him suffer a bit of mental letdown this week.

Brandt Snedeker is a very interesting contestant and I can see why he's here. He was a surprise entrant in last season's opening event - the Safeway Open - and he contended all week before eventually losing in a playoff so this isn't the first time he's rocked up at low-grade, early season tournament and this one should suit him perfectly given the course was extensively remodelled in 2008 by the heavily Donald Ross-influenced, John Fought. Snedeker has won at a number of Ross designs and he also finished fifth in the inaugural Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Snedeker finished a disappointing 23rd at the Tour Championship last time out but prior to that he'd finished sixth in the Northern Trust and fifth in the BMW Championship so he finished last season in decent form. Everything points to outsiders and Korn Ferry Tour graduates so backing one of the market leaders wouldn't normally appeal to me one iota but it looks like Sneds could be seriously targeting this event and anything over [20.0] could look massive come the weekend.

Like the 2015 winner, Malnati, Sneds is fairly local and from Tennessee, and he also has placed form at both TPC Southwind and Colonial. He ticks an awful lot of boxes.

Selections

I've got my eye on one or two here and I'll have another look tomorrow when there's more money in the market as we often get some big drifters on a Wednesday but for now my only play is on Brandt Snedeker.

Selection:
Brandt Snedeker @ [23.0]

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

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Steven Rawlings,

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