The PGA Tour moves to Las Vegas this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and Steve Rawlings is here with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...
"Bryson DeChambeau ranked fourth for DA last year and he was the tenth winner in-a-row to rank inside the top-18 for that stat. Even though it's a resort course with minimal rough, indiscriminately bombing it off the tee with a disregard for accuracy hasn’t got the job done here recently."
The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was first staged in 1983 and it used to be a pro-am staged over five rounds, played out on multiple courses. In 2004 they reduced the event to just 72-holes and since 2008, TPC Summerlin has hosted the event alone.
TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Par 71, 7.255 yards
Stroke index in 2018 - 69.37
Designed in 1992 by Bobby Weed (aided by Fuzzy Zoeller), TPC Summerlin is a very easy track. There's plenty of room off the tee (although fairways do need to be found), the bentgrass greens are large, receptive, and set to run at 11.5 on the stimpmeter, and it's consistently the easiest par 71 encountered on the PGA Tour.
After Ryan Moore won with a score of -24 five 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.
More changes were made before last year's renewal, with all 102 bunkers redone. The sand was replaced and in many cases they were moved to fit better with the strategy of today's game but again, it made no difference to the scoring.
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 10-under-par 61 to come from off the pace to win three years ago and Francesco Molinari climbed up in to a tie for fourth with the same score in round four three years ago.
In benign conditions, it's a very easy course indeed.
Live on Sky Sports all four days. Featured Group coverage starts at 18:00 on Thursday and the full coverage begins at 21:00.
Last Five Winners
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau -21
2017 - Patrick Cantlay -9 (playoff)
2016 - Rodney Pampling -20
2015 - Smylie Kaufman -16
2014 - Ben Martin -20
What Will it Take to Win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open?
It's probably best to largely disregard the 2017 result, when extremely windy weather kept a lid on the scoring. With fine weather and no wind forecast this week, we will get another low scoring event.
Patrick Cantlay's winning score of nine-under-par was far from typical. The eventual 10th, JJ Spaun, was on 11-under at the halfway stage and the highest winning score prior to 2017, since the event became a 72 hole event in 2008, was 16-under-par four years ago.
The Shriners is a low scoring birdie-fest and the average winning score for the other 14 editions (since it became a 72-hole event) is just a shade below 22-under-par and on average; the winners have made just under 25 birdies on route to victory.
Getting hot with the putter is clearly going to help but strangely, Driving Accuracy is now key - even though it's basically a birdie-fest.
DA used to be a completely irrelevant stat here but that's all changed of late. The fairways are wide, some of the easiest on tour, and the rough is minimal most years so it's hard to figure why accuracy is so important now but it is. 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 than any other stat.
Bryson DeChambeau ranked fourth for DA last year and he was the tenth winner in-a-row to rank inside the top-18 for that stat. The five winners prior to 2009 had an average DA ranking of 43rd so something's changed and it looks like something to be wary off. Even though it's a resort course with minimal rough, indiscriminately bombing it off the tee with a disregard for accuracy hasn't got the job done here recently.
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 three winners before Cantlay in 2017 were huge outsiders too. Ben Martin went off at [250.0] five years ago, Smylie Kaufman was matched at [300.0] before the off four years ago and very few people could have picked out [670.0] chance, Rod Pampling in 2016.
In-between 2011 and 2013 there was a three-year blip where the winners were quite well-fancied. Kevin Na was well-backed in 2011, Webb Simpson was the second favourite in 2012 and Ryan Moore went off favourite a year later. And the last two winners have been easy to pick too. Cantlay was the third favourite two years ago and DeChambeau went off second favourite at around [16.0].
It's probably worth highlighting that two of those well-fancied winners - Na and Moore - were both Vegas natives that had plenty of course experience.
PGA Tour rookies and first-time winners are commonplace at Summerlin. DeChambeau had won previously but Cantlay was the seventh first time PGA Tour winner to take the title in 11 years and its 23 years since a certain Tiger Woods broke his duck here.
The 2017 finish was very odd but it can be explained by the conditions. Alex Cejka lost in a playoff, having been matched at [1000.0] and having trailed by eight with a round to go and the other two playoff protagonists had trailed by four and five strokes through 54 holes but Cejka got lucky. He played in benign conditions before the wind buffeted the leaders and caused havoc and with the exception of another strange result, in 2015, up with the pace is the where you have needed to be here.
Smylie Kaufman was also matched at [1000.0] four years ago but his final round 61 form seven adrift and tied 28th was enough to see him win by one over a bunch of six players that included Patton Kizzire, who himself shot 62!
The 2015 and 2017 results show it's definitely possible to win from off the pace, especially if the weather has it's say, but the vast majority of winners are up with the pace throughout. DeChambeau was never outside the top-five places or three strokes adrift last year and he was tied for the lead with a round to go.
Prior to the quirky 2017 result in the wind and the 2015 aberration, every winner this century has been within five strokes of the lead after round one and six of the last 12 winners have been in front at halfway and eight of the last 13 winners have been leading or co-leading with a round to go. Other than Kaufman and Cantlay, the three that weren't leading before the final round when they won, trailed by just a single stroke.
Brooks Koepka has a boom or bust portfolio of form here so it's difficult to know what to expect on his first visit for three years. He missed the cut on debut in 2013 before finishing fourth a year later, then he again missed out on weekend employment in 2015 before finishing third in 2016.
The world number one obviously commands the utmost respect but he hasn't teed it up in more than a month and he's got a poor record in ordinary PGA Tour events so he's easy to leave out.
Patrick Cantlay's 40th placed finish at the Safeway Open last week was a poor start to the new season but given he's played here just twice and finished first and second it would be foolish to dismiss his chance lightly. If there's to be a third short-riced winner in-a-row, Cantlay is as likely a candidate as any.
The defending champion, Bryson DeChambeau led the Safeway by a couple of strokes at halfway last week but shot 76 on Saturday to blow his chance. He finished tenth. He's too classy to dismiss but I do wonder how much all the negativity surrounding his pace of play is harming him. Bryson's very different to any other pro on tour so that leads to more attention than anyone else would get and it must bother him. I'm happy to leave him out but I'd be more than happy to see him bounce back and defend the title.
Adam Scott's week was just as weird as Bryson's he led by three after day one at the Safeway and then shot a pair of 73s before clawing his way back to 17th with a 68 on Sunday. He was in really good form at the FedEx Cup playoffs and he's been putting a lot better too. His driving accuracy numbers were poor last week so that's a bit of a concern and he's never played here before either.
This is a really strong field and I've struggled to limit my selections. Webb Simpson, Collin Morikawa, Chez Reavie, Ryan Moore and Scott Piercy were all carefully considered but I'm going with just four before the off.
Brian Harman is the shortest priced of my selections and I've missed all the big prices taken but I like his chances. After finishing fourth at the Greenbrier three weeks ago, he took his time to get going at the Safeway last week but with rounds of 71-69-68-67, he improved every day to finish 14th and I can see him improving on last year's 15th. He opened up with 70 last year but his second round 63 showed he can play the course and he's one of the most accurate players in the line-up off the tee.
The Wyndham winner, J.T Poston, is a slightly bigger price than Harmon but he's my idea of the best bet in the event this week. Like Harmon, he's accurate off the tee and he has course form in the book too. He missed the cut on debut in 2016 and he did so again last year but he was fourth in 2017 and he arrives in great form.
And finally, I've thrown a few pounds at Sam Burns again and I've had a small each-way bet on two-time European Tour winner and Las Vegas graduate, Kurt Kitayama, who looked a very juicy price with the Sportsbook at 250/1 with eight places up for grabs. He'll enjoy returning to Vegas and he looks to have been overlooked at that price.
I'll kick off the In-Play Blog on Friday.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
Brian Harman @ [75.0]
J.T Poston @ [85.0]
Sam Burns @ [250.0]
Kurt Kitayama @ 250/1 (Sportsbook)