The PGA Tour stops off in Mississippi this week for the Sanderson farms Championship. Read Steve Rawlings' extensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"The last six winners, and seven of the last eight, were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour. This is a tough gig."
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 six 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.
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 five years between 2014 and 2018, the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China.
Last year was the first time in its entire history that the Sanderson Farms Championship wasn't playing second fiddle to another PGA Tour event.
The winner will receive 500 FedEx Cup points and an exemption into the 2021 Masters.
The Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi.
Par 72, 7,441 yards
Stroke Index in 2019 - 70.9
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. The organisers want the greens to run a bit faster than last year and they're aiming for 13.5 on the stimpmeter.
For more on the track, please see the YouTube guide below.
This is the seventh time the Country Club of Jackson has hosted the tournament and it's always averaged under-par.
Live on Sky Sports all four days - starting at 21;00 on Thursday. Live Featured Group coverage begins a bit earlier, at 18:00 behind the Red Button.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Sebastian Munoz -18 75.074/1 (playoff)
2018 - Cameron Champ -21 70.069/1
2017 - Ryan Armour -19 110.0109/1
2016 - Cody Gribble -20 110.0109/1
2015 - Peter Malnati -18 500.0499/1
What Will it Take to Win the Sanderson Farms Championship?
Although the last two winners have ranked third and first for Driving Distance, bombing it off the tee isn't essential. The 2015 winner, Peter Malnati, ranked 65th for DD and the 2017 champ, Ryan Armour, only ranked 69th.
Finding fairways isn't crucial either. The first three course winners ranked 40th, 35th and 38th for Driving Accuracy, last year's winner, Sebastian Munoz, ranked only 36th and the 2018 winner, Cameron Champ, only 65th. Champ's Driving Accuracy percentage in round three was only 42.86% but his Greens In Regulation percentage was 83.33% and it was a similar story in round four. He had a DA percentage of just 35.71% but his GIR percentage was 61.11% and that looks like an important stat.
Cody Gribble, the 2016 winner here, only ranked 29th for GIR but the other five course winners have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat.
Had Sung-Jae Im won the playoff 12 months ago, it would have only been four out of six winners ranking inside the top-ten for GIR, as he ranked 13th to Munoz's ninth, but he'd have improved the average Putting Average rankings of the winners though.
Munoz only ranked 11th for Putting Average whereas Im ranked first and that is far and away the strongest stat so far with the first five winners ranking fifth, second, first, second and first.
Another interesting little quirk had Im won, is that all six winners would have made more birdies than anyone else. Im made 24 to Munoz's 21 so the run of every winner here making more birdies than anyone else in the field came to an end. The picture's quite clear though, you need to find plenty of greens and putt the lights out to win and events like this are always hard to predict given it's almost impossible to know beforehand who's going to have a great week with the flat-stick. Which will go some way to explaining why so many outsiders have won here.
Is There an Angle In?
There are a number of course correlations to consider. Without going into great detail, form at TPC Southwind and Colonial Country Club has crossed over before but the two I quite like are Detroit Golf Club and Victoria National...
Although they fell back over the weekend, Sanderson winners, Champ, Malnati and Armour were all inside the top-ten of the inaugural Rock Mortgage Classic at the Donald Ross designed, Detroit Golf Club, last year and Armour contended there again this year.
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 three years ago.
Smylie Kaufman, who finished fourth here in 2017, won the United Leasing Championship five 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!
The last edition of the United Leasing Championship was in 2018 but the Victoria National is now the host course for the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Now that it's a stand alone event, the calibre of the winners may increase over time but so far, all six course winners have had far more experience on the Korn Ferry Tour than on the PGA Tour so whether young or old, looking to recently graduated Korn Ferry Tour players looks a good angle in.
Munoz and Luke Donald are the only players 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.
The first four course winners all went off at triple-figure prices and the last two winners have been fairly unfancied too, going off at 70.069/1 and 75.074/1, so it's been a good event for outsiders.
With form figures reading MC-MC-MC-MC-56th, it was just about impossible to pick out Malnati before the off five 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 400.0399/1 before the off, so this doesn't look like an event to put too much faith in the market leaders.
The last six winners, and seven of the last eight, were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour. This is a tough gig.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Sebastian Munoz led by one stroke 3.39/4
2018 - Cameron Champ led by four strokes 1.51/2
2017 - Ryan Armour led by five strokes 1.684/6
2016 - Cody Gribble trailed by one stroke 13.5
2015 - Peter Malnati trailed by one stroke 13.012/1
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.
Munoz sat tied for 43rd and six off the lead after round and he was tied ninth and five back at halfway but a 63 in round three saw him lead by one with a round to go.
This may not be a great event for favourites but it's hard to knock the credentials of Scottie Scheffler, who was unfortunate to miss out on a US Open debut when red-hot due to a positive COVID test.
Prior to that withdrawal, Scheffler had finished fourth in the US PGA Championship, fourth in the Northern Trust, 20th at the BMW Championship and fifth at the Tour Championship -although he'd shot the second lowest four round total of the week. In addition to that run of sparkling form, he sat second at halfway here 12 months ago before a poor weekend saw him slip to 16th.
Last year's runner-up, Sungjae Im, is easier to dismiss. He lost his way at the Tour Championship after a decent start in his penultimate start and he was 22nd at the US Open last time out so his recent form is decent and he has very obvious course form but I'm happy to leave him out at less than 14/1.
Will Zalatoris was a fast-finishing eighth last week in the Dominican Republic, a week after finishing an impressive sixth in the US Open, but he said he was tied there and he must be running on fumes. He's easy enough to leave out and so too is Sam Burns, who the market has most certainly cottoned on too.
The promising Burns has finished seventh and 28th in his last two starts but he was very disappointing at both the Safeway Open and the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, given where he was at halfway in each event.
Burns led the Safeway by two through 36 holes before he shot 72-70 over the weekend and he was tied for ninth, four back and a well-fancied 14.5 shot last week before a disastrous 78 saw him tumble down the leaderboard in round three.
Stumbling in-contention is something that will happen to the majority of promising young players but I was backing Burns at ludicrous triple-figure prices before the lockdown and I backed him at 500.0499/1 before the off at the Heritage in June, after the restart. I can't really see what he's done to be so short all of a sudden given that was only ten starts ago and his seventh in the Safeway is his only top-ten since.
Given he was second to Nate Lashley in the inaugural edition of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and that he led that event after round one this year, the in-form Doc Redman may well be suited to the course and he should improve on last year's 52nd when largely out of form.
A missed cut at the Northern Trust in is penultimate start was sandwiched between a third place at the Wyndham and a third at the Safeway and given how well he putts, I thought 40.039/1 was just about fair.
Having finished second in the WGC FedEx St Jude at TPC Southwind in August, where his 61 in round three was an incredible feat, and having won the Korn Ferry Tour Championship by five at Victoria National last year, as well as finishing 12th at the Rocket Mortgage in July, Tom Lewis has plenty of correlating course form and I was happy to take a chance on the strength of it, despite his poor recent form.
After weekend rounds of 65-69 saw him climb from 30th to fourth last week in the Dominican Republic, where he putted really nicely, I was very surprised to be able to back last year's Rocket Mortgage winner, Nate Lashley at 150.0149/1. He missed the cut here on debut back in 2017 and he could only finish 20th two years ago but I can see him making it third time lucky and that price looked huge.
Wyndham Clark led here after the first round back in 2017 so he's shown an aptitude for the venue and while he hasn't been at his best since the restart, his profile fits and he's just the sort of streaky putter that might just spark into life here. I thought he looked worth chancing at 180.0179/1 and I was also happy to take a small chance on Anirban Lahiri at 200.0199/1. he putted the lights out last week when finishing sixth at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship.
And finally, Fabian Gomez has won at TPC Southwind, he was second to Lewis at Victoria National last year, has course form figures reading 14-72-70-18 and he was third at the Barracuda Championship in early August. I've had a tiny bet on the exchange but I've also played him in the place markets with the Sportsbook, as well as each-way there at 400/1.
Doc Redman @ 40.039/1
Tom Lewis @ 80.079/1
Nate Lashley @ 150.0149/1
Wyndham Clark @ 180.0179/1
Anirban Lahiri @ 200.0199/1
Fabian Gomez @ 520.0519/1
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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