BERMUDA CHAMPIONSHIP: After back-to-back big money tournaments featuring fields that resembled a WGC event, the PGA Tour’s Fall Series returns to normalcy this week with the Bermuda Championship, part of the so-called “island circuit”, the name informally given to the handful of Tour events in tropical locations that draw the same crowd of journeymen, hangers-on, and young guys with limited status.
While every player teeing it up this week surely hope to improve their status and one day escape the Island Circuit, you can’t complain too much about spending an autumn week in Bermuda, where the sand is white, the water is turquoise, and the temperature fluctuates between “almost perfect” and “absolutely perfect”. There is one aspect of the weather that will cause the players some stress, however– the wind absolutely howls from time-to-time on the island and the players experienced it firsthand last year, as 45 mph gusts nearly forced the suspension of play. Russell Knox said it was the strongest wind he’d ever experienced… and he grew up in Scotland! Milder weather is forecasted for this week, but things change quickly on a tropical island and the players need to be prepared.
The venue, the Robert Trent Jones-designed Port Royal Golf Club, is the only course on the island capable of hosting an event of this nature, but it’s quite short by Tour standards, tipping out at just 6,828 yards. Aside from the wind, the course’s primary defenses are the narrow, difficult-to-find fairways and the small, knobby greens. Though players will have short irons and wedges in their hands for most of the day, scoring can be quite difficult at Port Royal– the cutline was even-par last year and over-par in 2020, which is quite rare for a PGA Tour event. Accuracy off the tee, precision with the short irons, and a deft touch around the greens are the traits needed to succeed this week, so it’s the type of course that could set up well for a cagey veteran like 2020 champion Brian Gay.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Patrick Rodgers (29.0)- A card-carrying member of the Island Circuit, Rodgers has experienced some considerable success at tropical venues these past couple of years, putting together strong performances in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. His best finish since 2018, however, came right here last year, when he broke par all four days in blustering winds to finish solo 4th. His excellent iron play makes him a good fit for Port Royal, and this year he comes in with a bit of form and confidence after a strong showing at the ZOZO Championship last week, where he rebounded from a 1-over par opening round by shooting 65-69-67 to tie for 16th. That came on the heels of a solid week at the Shriners (T28), so Rodgers’ game is clearly trending in the right direction. He should be considered one of the favorites this week and is worth a bet at nearly 30/1.
Kramer Hickok (78.0)- This week presents a big opportunity for players like Hickok, who finished outside the top 125 last year and therefore only has partial status this season. He’s probably made more money at Port Royal than at any other course in the world after finishing 15th, 8th, and 30th in this tournament over the past three years, so he certainly knows the best way around the course and should be plenty confident heading into the week. He struggled a bit towards the end of last season but has looked rejuvenated this Fall, improving his ball-striking stats across the board and finding the top-25 at the Fortinet Championship. All things considered– course history, current form, field strength– Hickok feels like a nice value at a price like 78.0.
Hank Lebioda (112.0)- I realize that Lebioda hasn’t played much this fall, but this feels like an awfully long price for a guy with such a demonstrated history of success at Port Royal. Despite sketchy form numbers heading into this event every year, Lebioda has cashed some fat checks here, finishing 3rd in 2019 after a final-round 63 and following that up with a T16 in 2020. Now he’s back again, and badly needing a good finish before the year’s first reshuffle. He’s not that far removed from good golf, having finished T16 in the 3M Open just three starts ago, and the strengths of his game– putting, short game, iron play– align perfectly with what is required at Port Royal. Lebioda stands out among the triple-digit longshots.