First staged in 1983, the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open used to be a pro-am staged over five rounds, played out on multiple courses, but in 2004 they reduced the event to just 72-holes and since 2008, TPC Summerlin has hosted the event alone.
With the tournament moving back in the calendar to November, we were supposed to have a field consisting of 132 players but a clerical error by the PGA means we've got a bumper line-up of 144 so it's highly likely that the first and second rounds will run into the following day and it's going to be even tougher than expected to pick the winner.
TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Par 71, 7.233 yards
Stroke index in 2015 - 70.08
Designed in 1992 by Bobby Weed (and aided by Fuzzy Zoeller) TPC Summerlin is a very easy track. There's plenty of room off the tee, the bentgrass greens are large and receptive, running at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter, and it's consistently the easiest par 71 encountered on the PGA Tour.
After Ryan Moore had won with a score of -24 four years ago, a few changes were made to the course ahead of the 2013 renewal. Bunkering was tweaked on three holes (12th, 13th and 18th) but it didn't make any difference as the winner, Webb Simpson, matched Moore's score.
TPC Summerlin is at altitude so it doesn't play anywhere near as far as the yardage suggests and it's a very easy track for the world's best players. As an indication of how easy the course is, Smylie Kaufman shot a ten-under-par 61 to come from off the pace to win 12 months ago.
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Last Five Winners
2015 - Smylie Kaufman -16
2014 - Ben Martin -20
2013 - Webb Simpson -24
2012 - Ryan Moore -24
2011 - Kevin Na -23
What Will it Take to Win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open?
The Shriners is a low scoring birdie fest. The average winning score for the last 12 editions is 22-under-par and on average, the winners have made 25 birdies on route to victory. Nobody made more than last year's winner, Smylie Kaufman, and nine of the last 10 winners have ranked first or second for birdies made. The odd man out is Martin Laird who only ranked fourth when he won in 2009.
To make so many birdies, hitting greens with regularity and good scrambling are key but a hot putter is essential. Kaufman had a Putting Average ranking of third and a Strokes Gained Putting ranking of 8th and he's the first winner in four years, since that stat began, not to rank first or second for SGP.
Driving Accuracy used to be completely irrelevant here and that stands to reason. The fairways are wide and the rough minimal but that's all changed of late. The course hasn't narrowed so maybe the Bermuda rough has been kept fractionally higher, and it can be tough to play from, even when fairly short, because DA has been of more importance of late...
Kaufman ranked seventh for DA last year and he was the seventh winner to rank inside the top-18 for that stat. The five previous winners had an average DA ranking of 43rd.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
In the old five-round, multiple-course format, outsiders went in year after year and between 2004 and 2010 every winner went off at a triple-figure price. The likes of Phil Tataurangi, Andre Stolz and Wes Short Jr, to name but three, were almost impossible to spot before the off and the last two winners have been outsiders too. Ben martin went off at 250.0249/1 two years ago and Kaufman was matched at 300.0299/1 before the off 12 months ago.
In-between 2010 and 2014 there was a strange three year blip where the winners were quite well-fancied. Na was well-backed in 2011, Webb Simpson was the second favourite in 2012 and Ryan Moore went off favourite a year later. And it's worth highlighting that two of those three - Na and Moore - are both Vegas natives that have plenty of course experience.
PGA Tour rookies and first time winners are commonplace at Summerlin and its 20 years since a certain Tiger Woods broke his duck here.
Results don't come much stranger than last year's renewal. Kaufman was matched at 1000.0 before round four and he came from a whooping seven strokes behind with a round to go. That's the furthest back any winner has won from in the last four years on the PGA Tour and his 62 was also the lowest winning final round score over that period.
Kaufman has now played 106 rounds on the PGA Tour and that remarkable 61 is the only time he's bettered 66. It may well have been something of a fluke result and although it may sound a bit daft after last year's finish, I shall be focussing on the leaders in-running.
Prior to last year's aberration, every winner this century had been within five strokes of the lead after round one and five of the previous eight winners had been in front at halfway. Two of the three that weren't in front had trailed by a solitary stroke. The exception was Martin in 2014 who was still only tied for fifth and two off the lead through 36 holes.
Martin was in front with a round to go though and seven of the last ten winners have been leading or co-leading with a round to go and other than Kaufman, the two that weren't, trailed by just a single stroke.
Last year's result really does look like a very odd one-off and concentrating on the leaders looks the way to go.
If you're planning to trade in-running, the par four 11th was the second hardest hole on the course for the third year in-a row last year and the 12th hole average over-par but after that the players have an easy run of four holes.
The par five 13th averaged 4.67 last year, the 14th is a straight forward par three, the drivable par four 15th averaged just 3.62 12 months ago and par five 16th is the easiest hole on the course. The 17th is a tough par three and the par four 18th is no cakewalk either.
As a demonstration of how competitive an event this is, local resident, course winner and brand new Ryder Cupper, Ryan Moore, heads the market at over 20/1.
Currently trading at 22.021/1, Moore will have his supporters after his determined effort at the Tour Championship and his brilliant performance in the Ryder Cup but his subsequent outings have produced a 17th at the CIMB Classic (an event he's won twice previously) and a tied 23rd at the WGC-HSBC and those efforts suggests his bright purple patch may be over.
Second favourite, Brooks Koepka, finished fourth here in 2014 but that solid effort is sandwiched by two missed cuts and he doesn't appear to be in scintillating form with figures reading 70-57-32-40 since he finished inside the top-ten at the Travelers Championship in August and he looks plenty short enough to me.
The only other player trading at below 30.029/1 is the rapidly rising Spanish star, Jon Rahm, who's making his event debut this week. The 21-year-old burst on to the scene at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last February, when finishing tied for fifth as an amateur. He's yet to win on the PGA Tour but it looks only a matter of time before he gets off the mark and this looks like an ideal opportunity.
Rahm has ranked number one for Birdie Average on the PGA Tour over the last six months (averaging an impressive 4.62) and this set-up looks absolutely perfect for such a talented and aggressive birdie machine. Rahm may be playing the event for the first time but his new caddie, Adam Hayes, knows the venue well. He was on Jonathan Byrd's bag when he won here in 2010 in dramatic style.
This is an extremely competitive and tricky heat and I've had to reign in my enthusiasm as I fancied quite a few. I like the look of Scott Piercy, Kevin Streelman and last year's runner-up, Patton Kizzire, to name but three, but I'm going to begin the tournament with just two serious selections - Jon Rahm and Jimmy Walker - and two outsiders for tiny stakes - Ryan Blaum and Ben Crane.
Rahm's not a massive price at around 30.029/1 but if he kicks on this year it will look huge in the fullness of time because on all known evidence to date he looks like a future star and this course looks absolutely ideal for him.
Walker's course form is even better than his figures of MC-MC-MC-10-12-4-50 suggest. It clearly took him a few years to take to the gaff but since 2012 he's always contended. His 50th placed finish last year doesn't look as though he did but he went into the final round just two off the lead before a bizarre and disastrous 78 in round four, which began with three straight bogeys, derailed any chance he had.
I'm not going to pretend he's played well in his last two starts given he finished only 28th at the Tour Championship and 77th at the WGC-HSBC Championship but his 72 in round four on Sunday suggests he may have found something and the 50.049/1 just looks too big for a recent major winner with such strong course form.
At 33, Blaum is old enough for a PGA Tour rookie and I can't help wondering where he's been but he made more birdies than anyone else on the Web.Com Tour last year and with recent form figures reading 5-18-26-11, I thought he was a fair price to emulate last week's winner and fellow graduate, Cody Gribble.
And finally, I've thrown a few pounds at last week's sole selection, Ben Crane, who had a great chance to win here ten years ago when he finished second to Troy Matteson. He putted well last week when finishing tied for 23rd and I thought he was worth another chance at a huge price.
Jon Rahm @ 29.028/1
Jimmy Walker @ 50.049/1
Ryan Blaum @ 160.0159/1
Ben Crane @ 200.0199/1
I'll be back with the In-Play Blog on Thursday or Friday.
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