WYNDHAM CHAMPIONSHIP: While most of the world’s top players are resting in preparation for the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which begin with next week’s Northern Trust, there will be plenty of intensity at this week’s Wyndham Championship, as this is the final opportunity for those hovering around the 125-mark in the FedEx Cup standings to solidify their playing privileges for next season. Those within the top 125 both lock up full status next year and qualify for the big-money Playoffs, while those who are left on the outside will have to suffer the indignity of competing on the Korn Ferry Tour at least a few times in 2020 (something about the new name would make relegation to that tour even more painful, wouldn’t it? Next stop: Hooters Tour).
This tournament dates back to the PGA Tour’s early days and was known as the Greater Greensboro Open for most of its existence, but this marks the 13th year of Wyndham’s title sponsorship and the 12th consecutive year that the event will be held at Sedgefield Country Club, an old Donald Ross design that was renovated and modernized in the early 2000s. Sedgefield isn’t a particularly remarkable course tee-to-green– it’s a short, tight par-70 that caters to those who can keep it out of the difficult bermuda rough– but it does include what is perhaps Ross’s signature design feature: small, knobby, undulating greens full of false-fronts and run-offs that make them play even smaller than they are. The greens keep scores honest as long as they don’t get too soft, but when the weather doesn’t cooperate and the course does get some excess moisture, Sedgefield can yield some really low numbers: Brandt Snedeker’s 21-under total last year included a 59 on Thursday, and in 2017 Henrik Stenson blitzed the field to the tune of 22-under 258. Birdies are out there, for sure.
Webb Simpson, a North Carolina native who has logged six top-10s and a victory in this event, sits atop BETDAQ’s Win Market at 10.5, and though he’s in good form and has a tremendous record here, I just have trouble with a price like that for a guy who’s won exactly once since 2013. One surprise name near the top of the market is 22-year old Collin Morikawa, who won the Barracuda Championship last week in just his sixth professional start and is now trading at 22.0 at BETDAQ. Like many who follow the sport, I had never seen Morikawa play until last week, but his talent is obvious and he clearly has the fearlessness of youth on his side. I won’t be backing him this week, but I’ll be a very interested observer.
One more thing to mention: though the last two champions, Brandt Snedeker and Henrik Stenson, are “name” guys who were among the favorites when they won, this tournament has produced some unusual results over the past few years, like Si Woo Kim coming out of nowhere to pick up his first career win in 2016, or 51-year old Davis Love III defying father time and hoisting the hardware in 2015. It may be a good week to get creative and explore some options a little further down the market.
That being said, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jordan Spieth (20.0)- Though his seemingly relentless positivity can get a little tiring at times– he’s always “getting close” and “making progress”– there’s no denying that Spieth has been a different player over the past two months, recording three top-10s and five top-20s in his last seven events after failing to log a single top-20 over his first twelve starts of the season. His comments after finishing 12th in Memphis last week were particularly optimistic, as he said he “made more strides this week in my game than I have in any week this year.” Given those words and his recent upward trend, you get the feeling that his long-awaited return to the winner’s circle is fast approaching, and he absolutely devoured Sedgefield the one and only time he saw it, shooting 14-under and losing in a playoff to Patrick Reed back in 2013. So this is a great place for Spieth to finally get back on track, and given the watered-down field, I think he’s worth a bet at a price like 20.0.
Cameron Smith (41.0)- After slumping badly earlier this season, Smith has regained his form over the past month, finishing 29th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, T20 at the Open, and T12 in Memphis last week. He’s definitely built some momentum and confidence, and it’s mostly due to improvement off the tee, an area that really gave him trouble for a few months. Like many Australians, he’s always played his best on Bermuda grass, so Sedgefield is a good fit in that regard, and Smith absolutely raved about the course last year, calling it “one of my favorites”. He’s performed well in three career appearances at this event, recording a pair of top-20s and tying for 7th in 2017, so you would certainly think that he feels like he has a great chance of continuing his recent run of good play. Though his only PGA Tour victory was a team event, he did win the Australian PGA in December of last year, so he has experience closing the deal. As talented as he is, it’s only a matter of time until he tastes victory again, and 41.0 is a very fair price. I like Smith this week.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (138.0)- There aren’t many players in the world as unpredictable as Aphibarnrat– he’ll badly miss a couple of cuts and then turn right around and post a top-5. He actually played quite well in the Open a couple of weeks ago, finishing T32 despite a 3rd-round 77, and though he’s never played Sedgefield before, it seems like a course that will suit him: it’s quite short, and Kiradech is no bomber, and the sloping, small greens and old-school quirkiness bring to mind Chapultepec in Mexico City, where he has posted back-to-back top-5s in the WGC-Mexico. Recent highlights for Aphibarnrat include a T17 at the Memorial and a 5th-place showing at the AT&T Byron Nelson, so his game has certainly shown signs of life over the past couple of months, and with some elite players sitting this week out, he could have an opportunity to make some noise. If you’re looking for a live longshot, you could do a lot worse.