WYNDHAM CHAMPIONSHIP: Tiger’s charge and Koepka’s eventual triumph at Bellerive is a tough act to follow, and there’s no shame in looking ahead to the FedExCup Playoffs, which kick off with The Northern Trust next week, but this week’s Wyndham Championship has plenty of drama in its own right, as this is the final event to determine who gets in to the Playoffs and, more importantly, who retains full playing privileges next season. Plenty of guys who would otherwise be home resting are teeing it up on account of their shaky status, and some big names are hovering just outside the coveted Top-125 mark, including Sergio Garcia (133rd), Bill Haas (150th), Graeme McDowell (143rd), and Shane Lowry (139th), all of whom are in the field this week.
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 12th year of Wyndham’s title sponsorship and the 11th 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.
Webb Simpson, a North Carolina native who has logged five top-10s and a victory in this event, sits atop BETDAQ’s Win Market at 12.0, 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. I feel the same way about most of the names near the top of the market: Stenson (17.0), Matsuyama (19.0), Cabrera-Bello (25.0), Snedeker (29.0)… none are playing well enough to justify the price, even in a field that’s somewhat lacking in star power. Plus, Stenson’s victory last year notwithstanding, this tournament has produced some unusual results in recent 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.
Here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Joaquin Niemann (34.0)- Because of his special “temporary member” status, a victory this week is the only way Niemann qualifies for the FedExCup Playoffs, but based on what we’ve seen out of the young Chilean phenom over the past few months, I certainly wouldn’t put it past him. Niemann has been terrific since turning pro following the Masters, recording four top-10s and six top-25s in eleven PGA Tour starts. He didn’t have a great week at Bellerive, making the cut but shooting 71-72 over the weekend to tie for 71st, but he may be better suited for a course like Sedgefield, with its small greens and emphasis on precision, as he would rank in the top-5 on Tour in both Greens in Regulation and Proximity to the Hole this season if he had played enough rounds to qualify. Tournaments like this– “down weeks” on the schedule with slightly weaker fields– are often where young players break through, and you get the feeling that Niemann’s breakthrough is coming soon… he’s well worth a bet at better than 30/1.
Harold Varner III (48.0)- Varner was struggling back in the spring but he’s worked his way through it and has been playing some great golf lately, going T5-T6-T17 over his past three starts. Though he doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of someone who should succeed at Sedgefield– he’s long and not particularly straight off the tee, and he ranks a mediocre 113th in the Strokes Gained: Approach metric– he played very well in this tournament last year, opening with a 63 and going on to finish 10th. And that performance came totally out of the blue, as it was his only top-10 of the season and he had failed to find the top-20 in 25 of his previous 26 starts. What, then, can we expect out of him this time around, now that his game is in shape? Varner is a North Carolina native, so he should be comfortable this week in more ways than one, and I think he’s an interesting under-the-radar option at nearly 50/1.
William McGirt (78.0)- McGirt grew up in North Carolina, went to college in the Carolinas and spent nearly a decade playing “mini-tours” around the Southeast U.S., including the Carolina-based (and now-defunct) Tarheel Tour, so he should be as comfortable with the grasses, landscape, style and general feel of Sedgefield as anyone in the field. This will feel like a home game for him. He’s played well here in the past, finishing 8th in 2014 and 14th in 2015, and he’s been on a nice little run lately, with a T12 at the Barbasol Championship, a T29 at the RBC Canadian Open, and a 6th-place showing at the Barracuda Championship two weeks ago. McGirt isn’t particularly long off the tee and he generally plays his best on bermuda grass, so a bermuda-covered course in which length is not a requirement– a course like Sedgefield, in other words– should be right up his alley. At better than 75/1, he may be the best value on the board this week.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Russell Henley (1.76) vs. Billy Horschel (1.98)
Henley’s last good result was over a month ago, as he missed the cut at the Open and finished 50th in last week’s PGA Championship, and he doesn’t have much history at Sedgefield, playing this event just once and finishing 46th. Horschel, on the other hand, has made five cuts in six career appearances here and found the top-5 in 2016. Also, Horschel finished runner-up at the Barbasol Championship three starts ago and played well at the PGA, shooting 4-under 276 to tie for 35th. Recommendation: Horschel at 1.98
Hideki Matsuyama (1.8) vs. Rafa Cabrera-Bello (2.1)
Matsuyama has been one of the most consistent players in the world over the past few years, but he just hasn’t been able to find it this season and has now gone 12 straight events without a top-10, the longest such stretch of his career. He did finish 3rd in this tournament back in 2015, but just a shot behind him, in a tie for 5th, was Rafa Cabrera-Bello, and the Spaniard has been in fine form lately, finishing 17th at the WGC-Bridgestone and then carding a Sunday 64 at Bellerive last week that earned him a tie for 10th. I think he’s a good value here at a little better than even money. Recommendation: Cabrera-Bello at 2.1