The PGA Tour moves on to Las Vegas this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Read The Punter's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Bryson has already won back-to-back FedEx Cup events and he’s won six of his last 62 PGA Tour events. It’s a strong field but all things considered, he’s a very fair price at 9/110.0."
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. In 2004 they reduced the event to just 72-holes and since 2008, TPC Summerlin has hosted the event alone.
It used to be a fairly weak affair but the field strength has been improving of late and this year's renewal is a cracker.
TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Par 71, 7.255 yards
Stroke index in 2019 - 68.86
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 (although fairways do need to be found), the bentgrass greens are large, receptive, and set to run at 11 on the stimpmeter. It's consistently the easiest par 71 encountered on the PGA Tour (as it was again last year) and last years scoring average of 68.86 was a record low since its debuted in 1992.
After Ryan Moore had won with a score of -24 six 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 the 2018 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 five years ago.
In benign conditions, it's a very easy course indeed.
Live on Sky Sports all four days. Featured Group coverage starts at 17:45 on Thursday and the full coverage begins at 22:00.
Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2019 - Kevin Na -23 119/1120.0 (playoff)
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau -21 16.5
2017 - Patrick Cantlay -9 21/122.0 (playoff)
2016 - Rod Pampling -20 549/1550.0
2015 - Smylie Kaufman -16 299/1300.0
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. 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 five years ago.
The Shriners is a low scoring birdie-fest and the average winning score for the other 15 editions (since it became a 72-hole event) is 22-under-par and on average; the winners have made almost exactly 25 birdies on route to victory. Kevin Na's victory 12 months ago was fairly typical given he won in 22-under after making 26 birdies but his stats were quite incredible. He had a negative Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green figure and his success was solely down to some quite remarkable putting. He set a new PGA Tour record for feet of putts made at an incredible 558 feet 11" and his Strokes Gained Putting mark was +14.176!
As Na demonstrated in no uncertain terms, getting hot with the putter is clearly going to help but strangely, Driving Accuracy is fairly 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 so it's hard to figure why accuracy is so important now but it clearly is.
Na ranked only 25th for DA but Bryson DeChambeau ranked fourth in 2018 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?
Price wise, this one's very similar to the BMW PGA Championship, which I've previewed here. We've seen lots of big outsiders winning but it's far from unusual to see a well-fancied runner win.
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 249/1250.0 six years ago, Smylie Kaufman was a 299/1300.0 chance five years ago and very few people could have picked out Rod Pampling in 2016, who was matched at a high of 669/1670.0.
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. Na went off at a triple-figure price last year when winning for a second time but the two winners before him had been easy enough to pick.
It's probably worth highlighting that two of the recent 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. The last two winners, Na and DeChambeau, had both won previously but Cantlay was the seventh first time PGA Tour winner to take the title in 11 years and its 24 years since a certain Tiger Woods broke his duck here.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2019 - Kevin Na - led by two strokes 11/82.32
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau - tied for the lead 8/52.58
2017 - Patrick Cantlay T4 - trailing by four 13.5
2016 - Rod Pampling - trailing by one stroke 14.5
2015 - Smylie Kaufman T28 - trailing by seven 1000.0
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 five 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, and it very well could do this year looking at the forecast. After two benign days, the wind is due to get up on Saturday and blow even harder on Sunday so we might just get another 'quirky' result but the vast majority of winners are up with the pace throughout and even the two off the pace winners had started the tournament well.
Na trailed by five in a tie for 43rd after round one last year and that's the furthest any winners trailed after the opening round in as far back as I've checked (1996). And that's including the old five round editions, so a decent start is imperative.
Na was never headed after a 62 in round two last year and seven of the last 13 winners have been in front at halfway. Na led by two after 54 holes and nine of the last 14 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. In calm conditions, it's very hard to make up ground late on here but do check the forecast. Sunday could be blustery and that will change things.
US Open winner, Bryson DeChambeau, has drifted since the market went up and my first instinct was to think that made sense. I've had a rethink though and I've also checked how the last five US Open winners have fared in their next start. Gary Woodland, who's largely lost his form altogether since winning at Pebble Beach last year, missed his next two cuts but it goes from promising to weird after that...
Brooks Koepka finished eighth and 12th in a couple of FedEx Cup events after winning the US Open last year and he finished sixth in the Open Championship in 2017 after his first major success at Erin Hills but both the 2016 US Open winner, Dustin Johnson and the 2016 champ, Jordan Spieth, won next time out.
DJ followed up his victory at Oakmont with a win in the WGC-Bridgestone at Firestone and here's where it gets ominous for anyone looking to take on Bryson. After winning the US Open at Chambers Bay, Spieth went back to Deere Run and won the John Deere Classic - a tournament he'd won two years previously. Should DeChambeau win on Sunday, he'd be emulating Spieth by winning a tournament he'd won two years earlier in his first start since winning the US Open.
Bryson has already won back-to-back FedEx Cup events and he's won six of his last 62 PGA Tour events. It's a strong field but all things considered, he's a very fair price at 9/110.0.
Webb Simpson won here in 2013 (a year after he'd won the US Open) and he has three other top-seven finishes so he clearly loves the place. He's already won twice this year, either side of the enforced break, at the Phoenix Open and The Heritage, so I wouldn't want to put anyone off him but he's just short enough at 17/118.0 given the calibre of the field.
Patrick Cantlay has course form figures reading 1-2-2 but he traded as low as 2/131.15 last year before dunking his tee-shot in the water at the par three 17th and that isn't the first time he's been a bit quirky in-contention. He's not been at his best since the restart either so all things considered, I'm happy to swerve him.
I've had a small bet on Bryson DeChambeau at 10.5 and I've backed another five at triple-figure prices.
The defending champ, Kevin Na, is out of form but he's simply too big at 99/1100.0 given he's won here twice and finished second.
Cameron Champ is another interesting runner at 99/1100.0 - although his event form figures only read 28-MC. Last year's weekend off can be ignored given it came a week after he won the Safeway Open and he (unsurprisingly) ran out of steam on debut here in 2018, when a 73 on Sunday saw him slip from three off the lead and sixth to 28th and ten back. That effort came a week after he'd won his first PGA Tour title - the Sanderson Farms Championship. He clearly likes this time of year and he's a class act that's worth keeping the right side of.
Denny McCarthy is looking to win for the first time on the PGA Tour and this looks like as good a place and time as any for him to do so. The 27-year-old excels on the greens and he's led the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained Putting the last two seasons. He was tied for sixth at the Sanderson Farms last week and with form figures reading MC-MC-15-9, he's really starting to get to grips with this venue. He made 28 birdies here last year - two more than the winner, Na, so the slower than normal greens are to his liking.
Aaron Wise has been catching the eye of late and he too looks big at a triple-figure price. The Las Vegas resident has reasonable course form figures reading 10-32-15-MC and his sole success to date on the PGA Tour came in another birdie-fest. He won the Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest two years ago in 23-under-par.
And finally, Sam Burns was a pick here last year at 249/1250.0 and he's a pick again at only slightly shorter. He missed the cut last week when a well-supported 25/1 chance but he was in decent nick before that and the drift is too big to be ignored.
I'll be back with the In-Play Blog sometime on Thursday during the first round of the BMW-PGA Championship or very early on Friday.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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