FORTINET CHAMPIONSHIP: A new era of PGA Tour golf kicks off this week in lovely Napa Valley, California, where a fresh crop of Korn Ferry graduates will tee it up with some familiar vets in the season-opening Fortinet Championship.
These Fall Series tournaments are more important than ever now that the Tour has decided to stage several limited-field events which feature big money and inflated FedEx Cup points, as the young guys and low-status types will need to get off to a fast start if they want to give themselves a chance to qualify for the “premium” circuit. This is the first taste of the big stage for several young guns who seem to possess all the tools for stardom, and you can rest assured that some of these unfamiliar names won’t be unfamiliar for long… something to keep in mind when handicapping the field this week.
The course, Silverado Resort’s North Course, has played host to this tournament across 10 years and several name changes– first the Frys.com Open and then the Safeway Open before Fortinet took its turn as title sponsor– and it generally provides a fairly stern test, as only once in the past decade has the winner of this event reached the 20-under mark. An old Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that was renovated by Johnny Miller, the course has retained a classic feel, with narrow fairways and small, knobby, poa annua greens. Measuring just 7,166 yards from the tips, it’s a short layout by Tour standards, but like most good designs it doesn’t necessarily favor one style of play, with recent champions ranging from old-school vet Stewart Cink (2020) to new-school bomber Cameron Champ (2019).
Max Homa got the job done last year and will look to defend, and with most of the top names skipping this week, Homa is priced as the favorite at BETDAQ (16.5), followed closely by Hideki Matsuyama (21.0), Corey Conners (25.0), and Maverick McNealy (28.0), among others. That said, avoiding the top of the market and seeking value further down the board is generally a good idea in this tournament, as you have to go all the way back to Brendan Steele’s victory here in 2017 to find a champion who began the week at shorter than 50/1. Here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Cam Davis (34.0)- Davis quietly got hot this summer and has been enjoying the finest stretch of play of his career, finishing 16th or better in 5 of his last 6 starts, with three of those starts coming in the FedEx Cup Playoffs against the best players in the world. His tee-to-green game has generally been ahead of his short game and putting, but he’s had the flat stick working these past couple of months and over the course of his career he’s logged some terrific results on the West Coast poa annua greens like the ones he’ll see this week. He’s had spurts of success at Silverado, finishing T17 and T36 in his last two appearances here, and he’s never come into this event riding such a wave of excellent form. Davis has proven that he can win on Tour, hoisting the trophy at the 2021 Rocket Mortgage Classic, and he seems primed for a run at a second title this week, making him well worth a bet at a price like 34.0.
Justin Suh (45.0)- For my money, Suh tops the list of players whose relative anonymity is likely to be short-lived. In other words: you may not know the name now, but you will very soon. A standout amateur who was the first-ever four-time All American at the University of Southern California, Suh was expected by many to be an immediate Tour star, but a wrist injury forced him to miss some time and he’s had to grind his way through pro golf’s lower ranks these past couple of years. Now, though, he’s officially back, logging ten top-10s on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 and winning the season-ending Tour Championship a couple of weeks ago, where he posted a blistering 21-under in a pressure-packed environment. A San Jose native who grew up on Northern California poa annua, Suh will feel right at home at Silverado and is a great bet to start fast in his first season on Tour.
Chez Reavie (94.0)- Certain players make most of their money on the same courses every year, and Silverado has played a big part in the 40-year old Reavie keeping his Tour card despite missing at least nine cuts in 7 of his past 8 seasons. He thrives on shorter courses in general and has always played his best golf out West, but only at Silverado has he experienced such sustained success, finishing 33rd or better in this event in each of the past five years and nearly winning in 2020 before settling for 3rd. He’s only five starts removed from his victory at the Barracuda Championship, so the taste of winning golf is still fresh, and his entire body of work these past few months has been pretty impressive– 9 made cuts in his last 11 starts, including five top-25s and the aforementioned victory. At a price like 94.0, Reavie may be the best value on the board this week.