GREENBRIER CLASSIC: The PGA Tour returns to the beautiful Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia this week for the Greenbrier Classic, an event that was rained out last year after some of the worst flooding the area had seen in decades. This tournament has only been around since 2010 and it’s at an awkward place on the schedule– a time when many players are either in Europe or taking time off to prepare for the Open– so it has yet to really gain traction on Tour, and last year’s rainout certainly didn’t help that. As such, the field is relatively weak this year, with all the top players either staying home or playing the Irish Open (previewed yesterday).
This is despite the fact that the course, TPC Old White, is almost universally loved by those who have seen it, and the resort itself is truly a splendid place– I went for a wedding some years back and was just blown away. You can see why people go there and just never want to leave, and several players, including Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, have bought property in the area over the past few years.
The course was lengthened five years ago and is now a healthy 7,287-yard par-70 that features thick rough and significant elevation change. The greens are fast and undulating, though they were apparently re-contoured somewhat after last year’s flooding and are allegedly not quite as severe. And the greens aren’t the only part of the course that needed a little work after the devastation– several bunkers have been moved and/or altered, the rough line has been changed in a few places, a couple of tee boxes had to be rebuilt, and the entire premises was reseeded and re-sodded. The basic layout of the course remains unchanged, but it will certainly have a different feel than it did before the flood.
Glancing at the list of players who have triumphed at Old White since this event’s inception in 2010, it’s clear that good iron play will be more important than length off the tee this week, so I’d take a hard look at quality iron players who are coming off a good performance or two. Old White is difficult enough to ensure that everyone will run into a little trouble at some point during their rounds, so offense in the form of birdies is required. And as tricky as the greens are, you’ll need to stuff it in there close if you want to make birdies. Remember: there are only two par-5s on the course and no drivable par-4s, so scoring opportunities will have to be generated the old-fashioned way.
With no elite players boasting super-short odds this week, Kevin Kisner tops BETDAQ’s Win Market at 18.5, followed by Patrick Reed (19.5) and Phil Mickelson (23.0). None of those guys are in my plans, though worthy cases could be made for each and Kisner in particular seems like an obvious bet to contend. But a tournament like this– with a field like this– often produces a surprise winner, and the market is full of capable players who are much more attractively-priced than Kisner. Here are three such names:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Russell Henley (34.0)– Henley has been relatively quiet since he won the Shell Houston Open back in April, failing to find the top-10 in his last seven events. He did make the cut in five of them, however, and he finished 35th or better in four of them, including a T11 at the Masters. In other words, there’s not much wrong with Henley’s game that a couple of dropped putts won’t fix. And this week he’ll be playing a course that suits his eye– Henley has played this event twice, finishing 30th back in 2013 and then coming through with a T5 in 2015, the last year that this tournament was held. He closed with a scintillating 63 that year, so he certainly knows his way around the course and is capable of doing some serious damage. And the bookend 67s at the Quicken Loans National last week are a positive sign that his game is in good shape, despite the fact that we haven’t seen his name on leaderboards much over the past few weeks.
Graham DeLaet (70.0)- It’s sort of been feast or famine for DeLaet lately, as he’s missed the cut in five of his past nine events but also has two top-10s and three finishes of 26th or better in that stretch. An excellent ball-striker who thrives on courses that prioritize iron play, it is perhaps unsurprising that the rock-solid Canadian has fared well at Old White, making the cut in all three of his appearances at this tournament (best finish- T12) and shooting par or better in all 12 competitive rounds. Will he make enough putts to get the job done? That’s always the question with DeLaet, but at a price like 70.0 I’m willing to pay to find out.
David Hearn (92.0)- We round it out this week with another Canadian, David Hearn, who, while not quite as accomplished as DeLaet, has been playing some great golf recently, finishing 10th at the St. Jude Classic last month and following that up with an 8th-place showing at the Travelers Championship. He seems to have finally adjusted to the conventional putter after briefly taking a nosedive following the anchoring ban, and while he’s still not quite as good with the putter as he was when he anchored it, he’s now back in the same neighborhood, anyway. Critically, Hearn has shown the ability to master Old White, finishing runner-up in this tournament in 2012 after losing in a playoff. He’s playing better golf now than he was back then, so there’s no reason to think he can’t contend once again. It’s similar to DeLaet’s situation: the putts must fall, but if they do… look out.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Bill Haas (1.91) vs. Phil Mickelson (1.91)
Mickelson is far from a West Virginia boy but he’s become something of a hometown favorite here, as he now owns property in the area and acts as one of the resort’s global ambassadors. That’s all fine and good, but it doesn’t mean much once you put your tee in the ground, and Mickelson has struggled mightily with Old White, missing the cut in all three of his appearances at this tournament. He’s coming off his first top-10 since the first week of March, but he’s not the only one who should have a bit of confidence this week: Haas has been playing beautifully, going T12-25-T5-T13 in his last four starts. And unlike Mickelson, he’s actually experienced some success at Old White, picking up three top-25s in five career appearances, including a runner-up finish in 2011. Recommendation: Haas at 1.91
Patrick Reed (1.8) vs. Kevin Kisner (2.0)
The market leaders are both coming into the week playing good golf, with Reed having finished 17th or better in each of his past three events and Kisner just two starts removed from his win at the Dean & Deluca, which he followed with a 6th-place showing at the Memorial. The difference here is course history– Reed has never found the top-25 in three career appearances at the Greenbrier, while Kisner finished runner-up in 2015 after coming up short in a 4-man playoff. That would tip most people towards Kisner, but I’m a little concerned about the fact that he hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, where he finished an uninspiring 58th. Reed has played twice since then, and as we said, he’s been playing very well. Something tells me he’ll be the sharper man this week. Recommendation: Reed at 1.8