SHRINERS OPEN: The PGA Tour returns stateside this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, an awkwardly-named event that supports an extremely noble cause and therefore has drawn a better field than you would expect for a Fall Series tournament scheduled in the heart of the traditional offseason.
Of course, the venue doesn’t hurt– and when I refer to the “venue” in this case I’m not talking about the host course, the thoroughly unremarkable TPC Summerlin. No, I’m talking about the town– Las Vegas, Sin City USA, where you can get married by an Elvis impersonator, shoot a machine gun, party at some of the swankiest night clubs in the world, and lose your life savings, all in the span of a few hours. If you haven’t been there, take it from me: it’s every bit as glorious as it sounds. (and if you’re one of those “Vegas is horrible” people, we can’t be friends)
As for the golf course, it’s a 7,250-yard par-71 that features bermuda fairways and rough, and bentgrass greens. This will be the 11th consecutive year that TPC Summerlin has hosted this event, so there are no secrets out there, and the scores are generally quite low. A notable exception is last year’s staging, when high winds drove up the scores and 9-under played off, with Patrick Cantlay eventually outlasting Alex Cejka and Whee Kim. The winds can be a bit unpredictable in the desert, but so far the forecast calls for pleasant scoring conditions, so we should expect a winning score somewhere in the 20-under range.
Rickie Fowler (13.5) and Tony Finau (13.0) head BETDAQ’s Win Market, followed closely by Jordan Spieth (14.0) and Bryson DeChambeau (16.5). But there are several intriguing names lurking a bit further down the board, and with players like Rodney Pampling, Smylie Kaufman, and Ben Martin all winning this event over the past five years, I’d advise against top-of-the-market fixation this week.
All that being said, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Webb Simpson (20.0)- While his victory at The Players Championship was the highlight of Simpson’s 2018 season, he certainly didn’t slow down in August and September, as he followed a top-20 at the PGA Championship with a runner-up finish at the Wyndham Championship, and then closed out the FedExCup Playoffs with a T6 at the BMW Championship and a 4th-place showing at the Tour Championship. He was last seen at the Ryder Cup, where he was one of only four Americans to finish the week with a winning record. In other words, Simpson is at the absolute peak of his powers– he’s never played any better than he has over the past six months. And now he comes to one of his favorite venues on Tour: TPC Summerlin, a course that he once said reminds him of the courses he grew up on. Simpson won this event back in 2013, blitzing the field with a 4-round total of 24-under par, and he finished 4th the following year, so his history at Summerlin speaks for itself. He should be viewed as one of the clear favorites this week and is a worthwhile bet at a price like 20.0.
Chesson Hadley (66.0)- Heading into May of 2018, Hadley had already racked up five top-5 finishes on the season and was poised for a monster year. His play then tailed off a bit over the summer, as he missed the cut in the season’s final three majors and didn’t make a mark in the FedExCup Playoffs, but he flashed again in Malaysia a couple of weeks ago, finishing runner-up at the CIMB Classic after shooting 68 or better in all four rounds. He’s been a streaky player throughout his career, oftentimes heating up for three or four-week stretches and then fading away for a few months, and after a week like he had at the CIMB you have to wonder if he’s found that lightning again. He nearly got the job done in this event last year, finishing a shot out of a 3-man playoff, so he clearly feels comfortable to TPC Summerlin. If you’re looking for a live one at relatively long odds– a guy who has a legit chance to win the tournament– you could do a lot worse than Hadley.
Ryan Palmer (92.0)- When I saw Palmer’s price this week, I did a double-take. Was there some injury I didn’t know about.. or exceptionally poor course history at TPC Summerlin? I mean, after all, the guy just finished 3rd at the CJ Cup two weeks ago, closing with an eye-popping 10-under 62. It was the latest evidence that Palmer is fully on the other side of a slump that plagued him throughout much of 2018, but it wasn’t the only evidence– Palmer first served notice that his game was back in the FedExCup Playoffs, when a final-round 65 propelled him to a 5th-place finish. And his record in this event happens to be quite good– though he’s only found the top-10 once, he’s been in the mix several times and he tied for 16th in his last appearance. TPC Summerlin is a course that somewhat favors a right-to-left ball flight and doesn’t require prodigious length off the tee, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Palmer feels comfortable there. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better value this week than Palmer at 92.0.