Sanderson Farms Championship: Thompson can make the breakthrough, says The Punter

Nicholas Thompson, one of The Punter's picks in Mississippi

It may be Open Championship week but Steve's still found time to take a good look at this week's other event, which is Live on Sky from 9.00pm on Thursday. Read his preview here...

“Nicholas Thompson really caught the eye last week when he impressed for three rounds at the John Deere Classic and I thought he was worth a small wager at 70.069/1.”

Tournament History
This will be the 45th staging of the Sanderson Farms Championship, which last year was called the True South Classic. The event was known as the Viking Classic prior to last year and before that, the Southern Farm Classic, etc, etc. Attracting a long-term sponsor hasn't been easy for this week's second-string tournament.

It's an event that has only ever stood alone once - in 2010. In every other year, it's played the supporting role to a bigger event. Originally staged in the same week as the Masters, this will be the third year in-row that it's returned to its slot alongside the Open Championship. It also ran concurrently with the Open between 1994 and 1998.

Annandale Golf Course, Madison, Mississippi

Course Details
Par 72 -7,202 yards
Stroke Index in 2012 - 69.28

Designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1981, Annandale underwent a redesign in 1998. The course has 69 bunkers, generous fairways, average sized, undulating Bermudagrass greens, which will run at around 12 on the stimpmeter, and water is in play on eight holes - most notably on the par 5 18th. It's one of the easiest tracks the pros encounter and low-scoring is very much the norm.

Useful Sites
Event Site

Course Site
Course Tour
Tee Times
Twitter Link
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 9.00pm on Thursday

Last Five Winners
2012 -Scot Stallings -24
2011 - Chris Kirk -22
2010 - Bill Haas -15
2009 - No Event -course waterlogged
2008 - Will Mackenzie -19 (Playoff)
2007 - Chad Campbell -13

What will it take to win the Sanderson Farms Championship?

It's all about making lots of birdies. Eight of the last nine winners have made at least 22 during the week and Scot Stallings set the lowest winning total at Annandale twelve months ago when he won by two when a massive 24 under-par.

When Heath Slocum won in 2005, he was the sixth winner in nine renewals to rank better for driving accuracy than distance but every winner since has ranked better for driving distance than driving accuracy and two of the last three winners, Bill Haas and Scott Stallings, ranked 3rd and 2nd respectfully for distance.

That could just be a reflection of how the game is changing and of how far the new kids on the block hit it nowadays but I wouldn't ignore it - Annandale certainly appears to be favouring the big-hitters more than it once did.

The most important stats are greens in regulation and putting. The last ten winners have all ranked no worse than 30th for greens hit and six of the last seven have ranked inside the top-12 for putting. Chad Campbell, who ranked 1st for greens in regulation in 2007, has ranked by far the worst with the flat-stick in the last ten years at tied 49th, with John Huston (tied 23rd in 2003) the only other to be ranked outside the top-20.

Is there an angle in?

There's most definitely a strong link between this event and the Humana Challenge (formally the Bob Hope), which is also played on a Jack Nicklaus-designed course - PGA West.

Last year's winner of this event, Scott Stallings, was five shots clear at the Humana with a round to go back in January before getting collared on day four and Bill Haas, D.J Trahan and Chad Campbell have all won both events. And a number of players have been placed in both too.

Is there an identikit winner?
In a weak opposite-field event, you'd expect to see plenty of maiden winners but since 2002, only DJ Trahan (2006) and Chris Kirk (2011) were winning their first PGA Tour event when they won here.

In-Play Tactics
There have been four wire-to-wire winners already this century and every winner, bar Campbell in 2005, has been within five strokes after round one and within four at halfway so you need a fast start.

The last three third round three leaders have all won and Campbell is the only winner to be any further than two back after three rounds but he was only three off the pace. Annandale isn't a catch-up course it seems and with forecasts suggesting a chance of thunder on all four days, there's a very real chance the event could get reduced to 54 -holes, rendering a slow start impossible to overcome.

Market Leaders
Chris Kirk, the 2011 winner, heads the market and although I wouldn't dream of backing him, I can see why he does. He finished inside the top-ten when defending last year and he comes here off the back of a promising effort last week when he finished tied 22nd at the John Deere Classic. Sunday's over par 72 around the easy Deere Run course wasn't too encouraging though and he's been in poor form for much of 2013.

Brendon de Jonge, who's in no more than reasonable form this term, has form here (third in 2010) and he's also played well at PGA West (see above link) but he's had umpteen opportunities to break his PGA Tour duck and backing him before the off at around 20.019/1 is not my idea of a sensible betting strategy.

Charles Howell III made the Humana Challenge playoff in January and he already has a couple of top-30 finishes here but he's been on the PGA Tour for donkey's years and considering his immense talent, just two titles to his name is a poor return. Like de Jonge he's a perfectly plausible candidate but he too represents poor value.


I thought Jonathan Byrd was a decent price in the Fixed Odds Market at 51.050/1, although he has now been cut to 41.040/1. He hit four rounds in the 60s at the John Deere Classic last week and has form figures reading 5-8-17-5 around Annandale. He hasn't been close to his best since returning to the fray following wrist surgery but this could be a great opportunity for him to bounce-back.

Nicholas Thompson really caught the eye last week when he impressed for three rounds at the John Deere Classic before a final round 70 saw him slip just outside the top-ten. That was the Web.Com graduate's best performance since his top-six finish at the Humana Challenge in January so given the obvious course link mentioned above, I thought he was worth a small wager at 70.069/1.

Rory Sabbatini is almost impossible to fathom. He misses the cut one week then finishes inside the top-ten the next. Rounds of 72 and 78 saw him take last weekend off but he was right in-the-mix at the Greenbrier Classic the week before. He finished down the field here in 2002, after a slow start when the event was reduced to 54-holes, but in his only other appearance he finished 14th in 2008, so he does have some course form.

I quite liked Chad Campbell and D.H Lee but they were just a tad short (missed the 65.064/1 on Chad). I may yet get them onside at some stage but my final pick for now is Monday qualifier, Ken Looper, who we've only seen on the PGA Tour once before - at the Zurich Classic in April.

On that occasion he climbed all the way up to 7th after three rounds having languished way down in 106th after a round one 73. Those first round nerves were understandable in his first ever event but if he can start well this week he might just contend.

Jonathan Byrd @ 51.050/1 (Fixed Odds Market)
Nicholas Thompson @ 70.069/1
Rory Sabbatini @ 75.074/1

Ken Looper @ 125.0 (Fixed Odds Market)

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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