The PGA Tour moves on from Mississippi to Las Vegas this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open so read The Punter's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
“Erik Van Rooyen is playing in the event for the first time this week, but this place should really suit him. He’s arrow-straight off the tee and he topped the SGT2G rankings when finishing an impressive fifth in the BMW Championship two starts ago.”
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 we have a number of Ryder Cuppers returning to the fray this year with Norway's Viktor Hovland heading the market.
TPC Summerlin, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Par 71, 7.255 yards
Stroke index in 2020 - 68.34
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 ½ on the stimpmeter. It's consistently the easiest par 71 encountered on the PGA Tour and it appears to be getting even easier!
The 2019 scoring average of 68.86 was a record low since its debuted in 1992 and last year's average of just 68.34 was the lowest of all par 71s on the PGA Tour in the last 16 completed seasons.
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 six years ago and J.J. Henry in 2013 and Rod Pampling in 2016, both shot 60.
In benign conditions, it's a very easy course indeed and given the rough is cut to as short as two inches again this year, for the second year in-a-row, there's a decent chance that someone might break 60.
Live on Sky Sports all four days. Featured Group coverage starts at 14:30 on Thursday and the full coverage begins at 22:00.
Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices
2020 - Martin Laird -23 (playoff) 250.0249/1
2019 - Kevin Na -23 120.0119/1 (playoff)
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau -21 16.5
2017 - Patrick Cantlay -9 22.021/1 (playoff)
2016 - Rod Pampling -20 550.0549/1
2015 - Smylie Kaufman -16 300.0299/1
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 six years ago. And the last three winners have all got to double-digits under par.
The Shriners is a low scoring birdie-fest and if we take out the 2017 result, the average winning score for the other 16 editions (since it became a 72-hole event) is 22-under-par and on average; the winners have made 24 birdies on route to victory.
Laird only made 22 last year but Kevin Na's victory two years 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 it's certainly not the most important factor.
Although Na had a negative Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green figure (ranked 54th!), Patrick Cantlay in second ranked first and that was key stat last year. Sung-Jae Im, who ranked third for SGT2G scrambled and putted poorly so could only finish tied 13th but the other four players to rank inside the first five for SGT2G finished first, tied second, tied second and fifth so that's a great place to start.
Of the more traditional stats, Driving Accuracy has been fairly key of late- 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 Laird ranked fifth last year, 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?
We've seen a few well-fancied winners of late but lots of big outsiders have prospered here.
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. Last year's winner, Laird, was matched at a high of 400.0399/1 before the off and the three winners before Cantlay in 2017 were huge outsiders too.
Ben Martin went off at 250.0249/1 seven years ago, Smylie Kaufman was a 300.0299/1 chance six years ago and very few people could have picked out Rod Pampling in 2016, who was matched at a high of 670.0669/1.
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 in 2019, when winning for a second time but the two winners before him had been easy enough to pick.
PGA Tour rookies and first-time winners are commonplace at Summerlin too. The last three winners had all won previously but Cantlay was the seventh first time PGA Tour winner to take the title in 11 years and its 25 years since a certain Tiger Woods broke his duck here. Previous course form is a big plus though...
Laird was winning for the first time in seven years last year, but he was winning his second Shriners title, having won the 2009 edition in extra time, and he was the second two-time winner in-a-row. Na had won the title for a first time back in 2011 before doubling up in 2019 and both men have also finished second at TPC Summerlin.
It's a tricky event, that often goes the way of an outsider, so backing previous winners at triple figure prices is not a bad tactic given the last two results.
Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four
2020 - Martin Laird - tied for the lead 6.611/2
2019 - Kevin Na - led by two strokes 2.3211/8
2018 - Bryson DeChambeau - tied for the lead 2.588/5
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 where you have needed to be here.
Smylie Kaufman was also matched at 1000.0 six 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 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 in 2019 and that's the furthest any winner has 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.
Laird was inside the front four places all week last year and Na was never headed after a 62 in round two in 2019. Laird was tied for the lead at halfway and eight of the last 14 winners have been in front after 36 holes.
The last three winners have all been in front after 54 holes and ten of the last 15 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 a tight finish isn't uncommon and three of the last four renewals have gone to extra time.
So open is this event that Viktor Hovland is the narrow favourite at 25.024/1, just ahead of fellow Ryder Cuppers, Scottie Scheffler and Brooks Koepka, and last weeks' Sanderson farms Championship winner, Sam Burns.
Koepka has event form figures that read MC-4-MC-2-MC so it's a mixed bag but he's the one towards the very front of the market that I considered backing the hardest.
Abraham Ancer is in form and he's arguably the most accurate player in the field off the tee. He too has inconsistent course form figures that read MC-MC-4-MC-4 but now he's got off the mark, at the WGC - St Jude Invitational, he has to be considered a dangerous contender.
Although he missed the cut at the Fortinet Championship last time out after a decent start, course specialist, Kevin Na, has been in fine fettle of late. He shot the lowest 72-hole score at the Tour Championship, and he's finished second in two of his last seven starts - at the Wyndham Championship and the John Deere Classic.
Since publishing yesterday, Kevin Na has withdrawn from the event with a rib injury but I'm not too disappointed as it gives me the chance to add two players that I was hoping would drift enough to be included in the Find Me a 100 Winner column - Russell Henley and Erik van Rooyen.
Henley led through three rounds at both the US Open and the Wyndham Championship recently before just failing to hold on and he ended last season inside the top-20 in the Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green rankings so should have the game for TPC Summerlin. He has only ordinary course form reading MC-10-24-MC-37-27 so far but that could easily change given how well he's been playing of late.
Erik Van Rooyen is playing in the event for the first time this week, but he's held his form nicely since winning the Barracuda Championship in August and this place should really suit him. He's arrow-straight off the tee and he topped the SGT2G rankings when finishing an impressive fifth in the BMW Championship two starts ago.
I'll be back tomorrow with at least one more selection in the Find Me a 100 Winner column.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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