Best bets for PGA's Fortinet Championship

reynolds

The PGA Tour had a whole week off between ending one season and beginning another. The 2021-22 season starts this week at the Fortinet Championship in Napa Valley, Calif. 

World No. 1 Jon Rahm finished as runner-up to Patrick Cantlay two weeks ago at the Tour Championship but tied for the low 72-hole scorer and is a surprising entry this week. Rahm, a 9-2 favorite, looks to be using this week as a tuneup for next week’s Ryder Cup or perhaps providing himself and his wife a nice trip to wine country. 

Webb Simpson (16-1) was bypassed by Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and went winless in the 2020-21 season, as he was out of form and battled a couple of injuries. Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (22-1) has made only one appearance here, missing the cut in 2019. Kevin Na (25-1) also missed out on being named a captain’s pick but could have some motivation and did have a top-10 here in 2016. Will Zalatoris (28-1) was just named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. 

Cameron Tringale (35-1), Harold Varner III (40-1) and 2019 event champion Cameron Champ (45-1) follow on the betting board along with four players at 50-1: Marc Leishman, Charley Hoffman, Si Woo Kim and Sebastian Munoz. Defending champion Stewart Cink will not play due to his son’s wedding.

The Event

The Fortinet Championship began in 2007 and moved to its current location in Napa for the 2014 tournament. While the field quality is down due to its tough date on the schedule immediately preceding the Ryder Cup, this is an important event to many players that pays out full FedEx Cup points and provides all the perks for the winner, such as a Masters invitation and a two-year PGA Tour exemption. This provides players an opportunity to earn those perks against a weaker field and allows new PGA Tour members from the Korn Ferry Tour to get their feet wet on the big tour. Cybersecurity company Fortinet, based in nearby Sunnyvale, Calif., takes over from retail grocer Safeway (2016-20) as the title sponsor in the first of a six-year deal. 

The Course

The Silverado Country Club’s North Course in Napa, Calif., has hosted since 2014. The course was redesigned in 1966 by Robert Trent Jones Jr. and again in 2011 by Johnny Miller. It plays as a par-72 of 7,166 yards. The fairways are narrower than tour average at 27 yards and are heavily bunkered. Miller wanted to reconfigure the bunkering to create an Augusta-type feel. A strong, balanced game off the tee stressing distance and accuracy is required because the 2.5-inch bluegrass/ryegrass rough can be tricky. Players will be hitting into bentgrass/poa annua greens (11.5 Stimpmeter) that are elevated with shaved runoffs. Six years is not a huge sample size, but West Coast players have fared relatively well on these greens, with Californians Champ and Brendan Steele winning here recently. 

Recent History/Winners

2020: Stewart Cink (-21/267); 200-1

2019: Cameron Champ (-17/271); 150-1

2018: Kevin Tway (-14/274); 66-1*

2017: Brendan Steele (-15/273); 33-1

2016: Brendan Steele (-18/270); 50-1

2015: Emiliano Grillo (-15/273); 50-1**

2014: Sangmoon Bae (-15/273); 150-1

* - playoff win over Ryan Moore and Brandt Snedeker

* - playoff win over Kevin Na

Trends

Every Fortinet Championship winner at Silverado has ranked seventh or better in scrambling during their winning weeks.

2020: Cink, second

2019: Champ, first

2018: Tway, first

2017: Steele, seventh

2016: Steele, fifth

2015: Grillo, fifth 

2014: Bae, fourth

The last four Fortinet Championship winners have been third or better in strokes gained: tee to green during their winning weeks. 

2020: Cink, second

2019: Champ, first

2018: Tway, third

2017: Steele, first 

Statistical Angles

The last four winners have averaged a strokes gained: tee to green ranking of 1.75 during the week.

SG: Tee To Green (last 24 rounds)

1. Jon Rahm 39.3

2. Adam Svensson 35.8

3. Kevin Na 28.9

4. Jason Dufner 27.9

5. Chez Reavie 26.9

6. Kyle Stanley 26.6

7. Cameron Percy 26

8. Luke List 25.6

9. Sebastian Munoz 24.3

10. Will Zalatoris 23.4

11. Hideki Matsuyama 21

12. C.T. Pan 20.2

Poa annua greens can be tricky, so not only do golfers need to be on point tee to green, they also must create more birdie opportunities than normal. 

Birdies Gained (last 24 rounds)

1. Jon Rahm 21.1

2. Hank Lebioda 19.8

3. Kevin Na 15.2

4. Webb Simpson 14.9

5. Brian Stuard 13.6

6. Pat Perez 13.4

7. Emiliano Grillo 12.3

8. Charley Hoffman 11.9

9. Doug Ghim 11.5

10. Hudson Swafford 11.3

11. Danny Willett 11

12. Adam Schenk 10.7

Six of the 10 par-4s at Silverado fall into the 400- to 450-yard range.

SG: Par-4, 400-450 yards (last 24 rounds)

1. Kevin Na 18.3

2. Sebastian Munoz 12.3

3. Scott Gutschewski 11.9

4. Brendon Todd 11.6

5. Scott Stallings 11.4

6. Hank Lebioda 11.2

7. Russell Knox 10.4

8. Kramer Hickok 9.8

9. Tyler Duncan 9.3

10. Jon Rahm 8.6

11. C.T. Pan 8.5

12. Emiliano Grillo 8.4

The last five winners have averaged 11th or better in the field for strokes gained: approach.

SG: Approach (last 24 rounds)

1. Cameron Percy 23.4

2. Emiliano Grillo 20.8

3. Kyle Stanley 19.1

4. Adam Svensson 19.1

5. Bo Hoag 18

6. Sebastian Munoz 17.3

7. Harold Varner III 15.6

8. Chez Reavie 15.5

9. Talor Gooch 15.2

10. Pat Perez 13.2

11. Webb Simpson 13.1

12. Jon Rahm 12.1

Two of the last four winners, Steele in 2017 and Champ in 2019, led the field in driving distance. 

Driving Distance Gained (yards per drive, last 24 rounds)

1. Taylor Pendrith 26.3

2. Trey Mullinax 20.3

3. Joseph Bramlett 19.4

4. Seth Reeves 18.8

5. Brandon Hagy 17.8

6. Cameron Champ 15.9

7. Kevin Tway 15.8

8. Tyler McCumber 14.9

9. Luke List 14.8

10. Lucas Herbert 14.2

11. Peter Uihlein 13.9

12. Jon Rahm 13.9

Selections

Kevin Na (25-1)

Na is perhaps the “walk down Narrative Street” play this week. Last week Billy Horschel won after being snubbed for the Ryder Cup. This week it could be Na.

He has a history at Silverado, losing to Emiliano Grillo in a playoff in 2015. 

Na matched Jon Rahm as the low 72-hole scorer at the Tour Championship. And his tee-to-green, par-4 scoring and birdie numbers are at or near the top of the charts over the last 24 rounds.

Aaron Rai (100-1)

Rai made a mess of the 72nd hole at the Albertsons Boise Open in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals a few weeks ago, and it cost him a victory, but the two-time European Tour winner earned a PGA Tour card.

The Englishman rates seventh on the European Tour for scrambling, ninth for greens in regulation and 21st for strokes gained: approach.

Taylor Pendrith (105-1)

The Canadian finished fifth on the Korn Ferry Tour money list and earned a PGA Tour card for the first time.

While Rahm leads the way in many statistical categories and is No. 2 in this week’s field for strokes gained off the tee, he is topped by one player — Pendrith. 

Recent champions Brendan Steele and Cameron Champ also led the field in that category, and Pendrith could follow the same path. 

Hank Lebioda (125-1)

Lebioda is seeking the form he had during the middle of summer when he had three consecutive top-10 finishes at the Travelers, Rocket Mortgage and John Deere. 

Only Rahm has gained more birdies over the last 24 rounds than Lebioda. 

Joseph Bramlett (130-1)

Bramlett won his first event as a professional two weeks ago at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship to earn a return season on the PGA Tour. 

Like Pendrith, he is another bomber who could do well and should be acquainted with the course, having played at nearby Stanford and being born and raised in the Bay Area. 

Luke List (150-1)

List has made three straight cuts here, including a T-4 in 2018.

Another bomber with a good tee-to-green game, List’s historically shaky putting might be better suited to a putting surface that is tougher for most players.

Brandon Hagy (200-1)

Hagy posted three top-6 finishes in 2020 and kept his card with ease this time, avoiding the need to drop down and play the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. 

He was 10th on the season for driving distance and 27th for strokes gained off the tee. 

Dutch Open

Billy Horschel did not take to social media like others with his disappointment at not being selected for Team USA at the Ryder Cup. Instead he did his talking on the course, traveling to England and winning the BMW PGA Championship at 30-1 as he rose to an Official World Golf Ranking of No. 18. With Brooks Koepka’s health in question, Horschel could potentially replace him on the Ryder Cup team next week at Whistling Straits. Having won the WGC-Dell Match Play last season, he is a proven player in the format. The European Ryder Cup team is now complete with Bernd Wiesberger earning the last points spot and Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Shane Lowry selected as captain’s picks by Padraig Harrington. 

This week’s field at the Dutch Open is a bit lighter with the Ryder Cup teams now set and players unable to play their way onto the team. Nevertheless, the European Tour continues its Race to Dubai with a trip to the Netherlands. World No. 8 Louis Oosthuizen was expected to be the headliner but dropped out last week due to injury. The two Thomases from Belgium — 2015 event champion Pieters (12-1) and the still winless Detry (20-1) — are at or near the top of the odds board. Branden Grace (14-1) has worked himself near the OWGR top 50 with a victory this year in Puerto Rico (tipped in this column) and three top-10s, including a runner-up at the Wyndham, T-4 at the Memorial and T-7 at the U.S. Open. After two victories in 2020, Sam Horsfield is winless for 2021 but has four top-10 finishes. Dean Burmester (22-1) earned his first victory in continental Europe this year at the Tenerife Open. Three players are priced at 28-1, including Johannes Veerman, a first-time European Tour winner last month at the Czech Masters; Rory Sabbatini, the Olympic silver medalist in Tokyo; and Jacques Kruyswijk, who won last weekend on the Sunshine Tour in his homeland of South Africa. Joost Luiten (31-1) is a two-time event champion and is the leading native Dutch player in this field. 

The Event

The Dutch Open dates to 1912. The tournament has been part of the European Tour schedule every year, except for 2020 due to COVID-19, since the tour’s creation in 1972. The tournament has reverted to its original name this year as longtime sponsor KLM Royal Dutch Airlines dropped title-sponsor duties. A who’s who of European Tour stars and former major champions are Dutch Open winners, including Sergio Garcia (2019), Paul Casey (2014), Martin Kaymer (2010), Darren Clarke (2008), Bernhard Langer (1984, ’92, 2001), Lee Westwood (1999), Miguel Angel Jimenez (1994), Colin Montgomerie (1993), Payne Stewart (1991), Jose Maria Olazabal (1989) and Seve Ballesteros (1976, ’80, ’86). 

The Course

This year’s Dutch Open debuts a new course in the rotation at Bernardus Golf Course in Cromvoirt, Netherlands. The Kyle Phillips design opened in 2018 and is a typically flat, exposed Dutch track with generous fairways and top-class A1/A4 bentgrass greens. Thousands of heather plants and long fescue grass flank the fairways for errant tee shots, so the track has a hint of a links layout. Even with some penalty for not hitting fairways, the rough is light and the fairways are wide. 

Bernardus will play as a par-72 of 7,042 yards. 

Recent History

2019: Sergio Garcia (-18/270); 16-1; The International (Amsterdam)

2018: Ashun Wu (-16/268); 125-1; The Dutch (Spijk)

2017: Romain Wattel (-15/269); 175-1; The Dutch (Spijk)

2016: Joost Luiten (-19/265); 18-1; The Dutch (Spijk)

2015: Thomas Pieters (-19/261); 55-1; Kennemer (Zandvoort)

2014: Paul Casey (-14/266); 25-1; Kennemer (Zandvoort)

2013: Joost Luiten* (-12/268); 20-1; Kennemer (Zandvoort)

2012: Peter Hanson (-14/266); 22-1; Hilversumsche (Hilversum)

2011: Simon Dyson (-12/268); 25-1; Hilversumsche (Hilversum)

2010: Martin Kaymer (-14/266); 12-1; Hilversumsche (Hilversum)

* - playoff win over Miguel Angel Jimenez

Selections

Joost Luiten (25-1)

Luiten has two victories, a second, a fifth, a sixth and 10th in 14 appearances in his home event.

Last time this event was played in 2019, Luiten was priced at 16-1 in a field that included Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood. This time he is 25-1 in a substantially weaker field. 

The Dutchman ranks first on the European Tour for greens in regulation and 14th for strokes gained: approach. 

Shubhankar Sharma (33-1)

Sharma has two top-10s and four top-20s in his last five starts. 

Alfredo Garcia-Heredia (66-1)

Garcia-Heredia rates third on the Challenge Tour’s Road to Mallorca. 

The Spaniard won on the Challenge Tour three weeks ago at The Dutch, a previous host of this event. 

Niall Kearney (80-1)

The Irishman is a deadly accurate hitter who ranks third on the European Tour in scrambling. 

Lee Slattery (125-1)

Slattery has made four straight cuts and has rated in the top 10 for SG: approach in his last two events. Furthermore, he was second and sixth in putts per greens in regulation over the last two events.

The Englishman also has finishes of fourth and second in this event at Kennemer. 

Gavin Green (250-1)

Green has had some woes off the tee, and it has been a tough year.

However, he would have been between 40-1 and 50-1 a little over a year ago.

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