The Punter

Sanderson Farms Championship: Low-scoring Lee can go in again

Golfer Lee Hodges
Lee Hodges on his way to victory at the 3M Open

The PGA Tour returns with the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi and Steve Rawlings has the lowdown ahead of Thursday's start here...

  • Hot putting the key to victory

  • Great event for outsiders

  • Sedgefield form worth considering


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 nine 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 Open Championship, and a couple of different WGC events but it's now establishing itself as a standalone tournament and this is the fifth year in-a-row that the Sanderson Farms Championship isn't playing second fiddle to another PGA Tour event.

Venue

The Country Club of Jackson, Jackson, Mississippi.

Course Details

Par 72, 7,091 yards
Stroke Index in 2022 - 71.15

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.

JACKSON COUNTRY CLUB 4.jpgThe course is Bermuda and the greens vary in size and are often perched up with tricky looking run-off areas. They're usually set to run at 13 on the Stimpmeter.

This is the tenth time the Country Club of Jackson has hosted the tournament and it's always averaged under-par.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 21:00 on Thursday

Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices

  • 2022 - Mackenzie Hughes 150.0149/1 (playoff)
  • 2021 - Sam Burns -22 20.019/1
  • 2020 - Sergio Garcia -19 70.069/1
  • 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?

Although three of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Driving Distance, bombing it off the tee isn't essential. Last year's playoff protagonists, Mackenzie Hughes and Sepp Straka only ranked 25th and 41st for DD, the 2015 winner, Peter Malnati, ranked 65th 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 DA, the 2019 winner, Sebastian Munoz, ranked only 36th, the 2018 winner, Cameron Champ, only 65th and last year's winner, Hughes, only ranked 50th.

Champ's DA percentage in round three five years ago 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.

Hughes only ranked 37th last year but the second and third ranked second and third and Emiliano Grillo, who finished tied for fifth, topped the GIR Rankings.

Mackenzie Hughes at the Sanderson Farms.jpg

Cody Gribble, the 2016 winner here, only ranked 29th for GIR but the other seven course winners have ranked inside the top-ten and the two winners before Hughes, Sam Burns and Sergio Garcia, both hit more greens in regulation than anyone else.

Finding the greens with regularity alone is not enough, you need to putt well here to win. As many as five of the top-eight last year ranked inside the top-ten for Putting Average, the first three home in 2021 ranked 11th, first and fourth for PA and the first five winners at the track ranked fifth, second, first, second and first.

The picture's quite clear, 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 outsiders have a very fair record.

Is There an Angle In?

There are almost too many course correlations to consider here but the three strongest appear to be Detroit Golf Club, Sedgefield Country Club and Victoria National.

Although they fell back over the weekend, Sanderson winners, Cameron Champ, Peter Malnati and Ryan Armour were all inside the top-ten of the inaugural Rock Mortgage Classic at the Donald Ross designed, Detroit Golf Club, Cameron Young has finished runner-up in both events and the 2021 RMC winner, Cameron Davis, was tied for the lead here with a round to go in 2020.

And that renewal of this event provided plenty of evidence to suggest there's a strong link to another Ross-designed course - Sedgefield - home of the Wyndham Championship.

Sergio Garcia won the Wyndham 11 years ago and two other Wyndham winners pressed the Spaniard on Sunday. Brandt Snedeker, the 2018 winner, was matched at a low of 3.55/2, and J.T Poston, the 2019 Wyndham winner, hit a low of 2.526/4.

At first glance, it's perhaps odd that two Donald Ross tracks appear to link but it stands to reason considering Jackson was extensively remodelled in 2008 by the heavily Ross-influenced, John Fought.

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 there are results to suggest it does.

The 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship winner, Cody 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 five years ago.

Smylie Kaufman, who finished fourth here in 2017, won the United Leasing Championship six years ago and the 2016 SFC runner-up, Greg Owen, won the 2014 edition of the United Leasing Championship, with the 2017 SFC winner, Ryan 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, which is being played at the same time as this event this year.

And finally, the Barbasol Championship links strongly to the Wyndham so that's another event to consider.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Now that it's a standalone event, the calibre of the winners may increase over time and the last three results appear to back that up.

Prior to Sergio's success three years ago, all six course winners had - 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.

Prior to three four ago, Luke Donald had been the only player from outside the States and Canada to win this title in more than 50 years so that's something that looks to be changing but players from the southern states do particularly well in this event as a rule.

Ryan Armour comes from Ohio, so he's a bit further north but the 2021 winner, Burns, is from Louisiana, Gribble comes from Texas and the 2015 winner, Peter Malnati, is from Tennessee, where he won on the Korn Ferry Tour.

Although Burns went off favourite two years ago, this has been a good event for outsiders. The first four course winners all went off at triple-figure prices and the next three winners were fairly unfancied too, going off at around 70.069/1.

Malnati wins SFC.jpgWith form figures reading MC-MC-MC-MC-56th, it was just about impossible to pick out Malnati before the off eight years ago and in Nick 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 the Betfair Exchange maximum odds of 1000.0999/1 before the off!

Woody Austin caused a huge shock ten years ago, when he was matched at more than 400.0399/1 before the off, and with form figures reading MC-MC-MC-MC-46-58-25, Hughes was generally a 150.0149/1 chance 12 months ago, so this doesn't look like an event to put too much faith in the market leaders.

Hughes was winning for the second time on the PGA Tour, having won the RSM Classic six years earlier, but as many as seven of the last 11 victors were winning for the first time on the PGA Tour.

Winner's Position and Odds Pre-Round Four

  • 2020 - Mackenzie Hughes - trailed by one stroke 4.57/2
  • 2021 - Sam Burns - trailed by one stroke 4.216/5
  • 2020 - Sergio Garcia - tied for the lead with two others 4.94/1
  • 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

In-Play Tactics

It's been a mixed bag 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), this is definitely a venue at which a fast start isn't essential.

Hughes sat tied for 43rd and five off the lead last year but he was tied for the lead at halfway after a sensational 63 in round two, and although a slow start can be overcome, making ground up before the weekend looks key given every course winner here has been inside the top ten places through 36 holes.

Jackson has an interesting finish. The par five 14th and the drivable par four 15th were the two easiest holes on the course last year but the last three holes (all par fours) ranked second, 10th and third hardest.

Market Leaders

As highlighted in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship preview, playing the week after a successful Ryder Cup isn't necessarily a negative but I'm in no rush to side with Swedish sensation, Ludvig Aberg, who's the only Ryder Cupper in the line-up here.

Aberg was in sparkling form prior to the Ryder Cup, winning the European Masters and leading the BMW PGA Championship through 54 holes (finished 10th), and he made history at the Ryder Cup, partnering Viktor Hovland on Saturday morning to beat Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler 9&7 but he may well find it tough to raise his game here.

Koepka got revenge in the Sunday singles, beating Aberg 3&2, and while he'll no doubt brush that defeat off quickly, the Swede has had quite a month and some mental letdown has to be expected.

Aberg is also a PGA Tour maiden but that's not necessarily a negative given the stats for first time winners in this event.

Germany's Stephan Jaeger is in search of his first PGA Tour title too but he arrives in fine form having not missed a cut since April and in what is a relatively week field, he's been well-backed.

His course form figures read an underwhelming MC-51-14-MC-26-30 but his recent ninth in the Rocket Mortgage Classic and his 14th at the Wyndham suggest this is a venue that should suit his eye.

He's a consistent performer who's highly likely to contend but whether he's a value price at around 20/121.00 is debatable.

Eric Cole is another in search of his first PGA Tour title but at 35 he's playing the best golf of his career.

Eric Cole.jpg

The Californian was an unlucky loser at the Honda Classic and that's an event that may correlate with this one. The Honda Classic has been won by Sungjae Im and Sepp Straka, who have both lost playoffs here, last year's Sanderson champ, Mackenzie Hughes, was second to Im at the Honda in 2020 and the 2020 winner of this event, Sergio Garcia, has also finished runner-up at the Honda.

In addition to his playoff defeat to Chris Kirk at the Honda, Cole has finished fifth at the Mexico Open, sixth in the Canadian Open and he was fourth in the Fortinet Championship last time out.

He missed the cut here on debut 12 months ago but there was a difference of ten strokes between his two rounds. He shot 78 on Thursday and 68 on Friday so that weekend off can probably be forgiven.

The only other man trading at less than 30.029/1 is the Charles Schwab winner, Emiliano Grillo, and his claims are very solid.

With course form figures reading 39-35-39-5 and following his recent sixth placed finish at the Open Championship, the Argentine could go well after a break of five weeks.

He followed his top-ten in the year's final major with another at the 3M Open and although he finished down the field at the Tour Championship last time out, the fact that he made it all the way to East Lake demonstrates how well he's been performing this year.

My Sanderson Farms Selections

I missed the really big prices about the runaway 3M Open winner, Lee Hodges, but I'm happy to chance him at 48.047/1 on the Betfair Exchange.

In his two previous visits, he finished only 45th and 30th but he's twice shot five-under-par 67s around Jackson and he finished fourth at Victoria National in 2021 so it's a track that could suit him.

Hodges won the 3M Open wire-to-wire by seven strokes with a 24-under-par total at the end of July so he's not frightened to go low and he didn't disgrace himself in his two subsequent starts, finishing 31st at the FedEx St Jude and 45th in the BMW Championship.

We're guessing about his wellbeing after a break of six weeks but playing so close to home (Hodges lives in Alabama) is a big plus and the 28-year-old could very easily kick on again now he's had a chance to pause and reflect on his stunning victory in Minnesota.

Back Lee Hodges @ 48.047/1

Bet now

I was very tempted by the two-time winner of the Byron Nelson Championship, KH Lee, who caught the eye last time out when he finished 14th in the Fortinet Championship, where he ranked fourth for Greens In Regulation and fourth for Strokes Gained: Approach but I'm delving into the First Round Leader market for my only other selection.

Davis Riley has been well backed in the outright market but there's plenty of evidence to suggest he's far more likely to finish in front after round one than he is to win his first individual PGA Tour title.

Riley, who is playing in his home state this week, won the Zurich Classic alongside Nick Hardy in April but he's yet to taste victory in an individual event. He has however ended round one in front three times previously on the PGA Tour and he led this event 12 months ago after an opening six-under-par 66.

He's also led the Memorial Tournament after round one twice - in 2022 and again in June. As he did here last year, he fell away at the Memorial Tournament on both occasions and his finishing positions when leading on day one read a somewhat disappointing 13th, 19th (here last year), and 54th!

Back Davis Riley 1st Rnd leader @ 50/151.00

Bet now

He's a bigger price to lead after round one than he is to win and that looks worth taking. He would have been well aware that he'd gotten off to a fast start 12 months previously when he led at Muirfield Village in June and at 50/1 with the Sportsbook, he's a tasty price to repeat the feat here too.


Read Dave Tindall's each-way bets for the Sanderson Farms Championship here

*You can follow Steve on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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