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Dominican PGA event draws weaker field

By Wes Reynolds  () 

Bryson DeChambeau (25-1) bombed and gouged his way to his first major championship, finishing as the only player under par at -6 en route to a six-stroke victory in the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot. DeChambeau gained + 7.9 strokes on the field in Sunday’s final round, the best since Johnny Miller’s + 10.77 in 1973 in his famous 63 at Oakmont. 
 
DeChambeau also became just the third player in history to win the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and NCAA championship. The other two? Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. DeChambeau hit only 22 of 56 fairways (39.3%), the fewest by any U.S. Open champ. However, he did lead the field in driving distance (325.6 yards), highest ever by a U.S. Open champion. DeChambeau led the field in shots gained: tee to green (+ 4.48) and shots gained: approach (+ 1.90), was second in shots gained: off the tee (+ 1.33) and was third in shots gained: around the green (+ 1.24). 
 
The 54-hole leader, Matthew Wolff, finished second at even par. Wolff, 21, has played just two majors in his young career, tying for fourth at the PGA before this. Most players have to go through some pain and get close in a major before breaking through, so it seems only a matter of time for Wolff. Louis Oosthuizen finished third, his sixth top-3 finish in a major. Harris English’s fourth marked his best finish in a major. Xander Schauffele came in fifth, so his career U.S. Open form now reads as follows: T5, T6, T3, 5. It also appears to be a matter of time for Schauffele to notch his first major. Rounding out the top 10 were Dustin Johnson and Will Zalatoris (T6), along with Tony Finau (seven top-10s in last 10 majors), Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson and Rory McIlroy (T8).
 
After absorbing such a beating at Winged Foot, many top players are taking this week off and bypassing the trip to the Dominican Republic for the Corales Puntacana Resort and Golf Club Championship. The only top-10 finisher from the Open in the field is Zalatoris, who is favored at 12-1. Zalatoris doesn’t even have full status on the PGA Tour, but he is in good form and won his first event as a professional in July at the TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes on the Korn Ferry Tour. He has eight finishes of sixth or better in 11 events on the Korn Ferry Tour this year and has a 12-event streak, including last week at Winged Foot, of top-20 finishes. Mackenzie Hughes (14-1) was the runner-up in this event last year to Graeme McDowell. Hughes is arguably playing the best golf of his career, with four top-10 finishes since the restart, including the last two FedEx Cup playoff events. Corey Conners (18-1) is always tops in ball-striking statistics, and Sam Burns (18-1) tied for seventh at the Safeway Open in his last event two weeks ago. Henrik Stenson is the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 43, and he is joined at 25-1 by Emiliano Grillo, Adam Long (off a good T13 finish at the Open) and Charles Howell III. 
 
The Event
 
The Corales Puntacana Resort and Golf Club Championship began as a Web.com (now Korn Ferry) Tour event in 2016. The event was promoted and transitioned to the PGA Tour as an alternate event in 2018. It is usually held in March as the alternative to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which includes only the top 64 players and alternates in the Official World Golf Ranking. The 2020 tournament will be a full FedEx Cup points event, with the winner earning a 2021 Masters invitation and a two-year PGA Tour exemption before it returns to alternate-event status again in March. Only three of the top 60 OWGR players are entered: No. 43 Stenson, No. 54 Hughes and No. 59 McDowell.
 
The Course
 
The Corales Golf Club in Punta Cana is on the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The course was designed in 2010 by Tom Fazio and plays as a par-72 of 7,670 yards. It is a fairly easy, flat track with inland and coastal sections. The wind can blow and keep scoring somewhat under control, but Corales is plenty scorable and birdies should be plentiful. The portion of the course away from the shore has four holes with water hazards. Six holes play along the coast, including Nos. 16-18, known as “The Devil’s Elbow.” Supreme Paspalum, a turf that is becoming more common on courses in the South due to its low maintenance and irrigation requirements, is used throughout the course. The fairways are fairly wide and forgiving, and the greens roll relatively slowly at 11 on the Stimpmeter. This course really doesn’t favor any player. It is gettable for bombers as well as superior ball strikers, but it will largely be decided by who gets hot at the right time with the putter.
 
Recent History
2019: Graeme McDowell (-18-270), 40-1
2018: Brice Garnett (-18-270), 66-1
2017: Nate Lashley (-20-268), 28-1*
2016: Dominic Bozzelli (-24-264), 90-1*
 
* - Web.com events
 
Trends and angles
 
With such a small sample size, it is difficult to find any long-term statistical angles to pinpoint a potential winner. The best gauge of who could take home the hardware might entail finding players who have had success on other Tom Fazio designs or renovations. Here are some of those designs and how some of the players in this week’s field have fared on them:
 
Original:
Atunyote GC — Turning Stone Championship 2007-10 (Vaughn Taylor runner-up ’09; J.J. Henry runner-up ’10)
Conway Farms GC — BMW Championship 2013, ’15, ’17
Eagle Point — Wells Fargo Championship 2017 (Pat Perez runner-up)
Raptor Course Grayhawk GC — Fry’s.com Open 2007-09 (Jamie Lovemark runner-up ’09)
Redesigns and renovations:
Riviera Country Club — Genesis Invitational (James Hahn winner ’15; John Merrick winner ’13; Bill Haas winner ’12; Scott Brown runner-up ’17, ’20)
Quail Hollow — Wells Fargo Championship 2016, ’18, ’19 and 2017 PGA Championship (James Hahn winner ’16)
Merion — 2013 U.S. Open
Oakmont — 2016 U.S. Open
Seaside Course at Sea Island — RSM Classic (former winners Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Robert Streb, Chris Kirk, Tommy Gainey, Ben Crane; former runners-up Patrick Rodgers, J.J. Spaun, Henrik Norlander, Kevin Chappell, Brendon de Jonge, Bill Haas)
Selections
 
Pat Perez 35-1
 
Perez didn’t play in the U.S. Open, so he wasn’t getting beat up at Winged Foot last week and comes in fairly well rested. In his last event two weeks ago, Perez, 44, tied for ninth at the Safeway Open, where he ranked second in strokes gained: putting (+ 1.82 per round). 
That hot putting could carry over to the Supreme Paspalum surface, on which he has two of his three PGA Tour wins — the 2016 OHL Classic at Mayakoba and the 2017 CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Perez has always been a bit of a horse for the course at Mayakoba in Mexico, and this is a similar course with an easier field. 
 
Perez saw Stewart Cink win the Safeway two weeks ago at 47, and that has to give him confidence that he can still win in certain spots on the PGA Tour and earn that Masters invitation plus another two-year stay on the tour.
 
Kristoffer Ventura 35-1
 
Ventura will try to duplicate the feat of Viktor Hovland, his teammate at Oklahoma State, and win what is essentially an alternate event (although this year’s Corales Puntacana is designated as a full event). Hovland did so in getting his first PGA Tour win at the Puerto Rico Open.
 
Ventura finished T7 at the Safeway Open and was only one stroke off the lead going into Sunday. He finished sixth for the week in Napa Valley for strokes gained: putting. 
 
Will Gordon 60-1
 
Gordon earned enough non-member points this summer to gain his PGA Tour card for this season. Now he can focus on winning and earning FedEx Cup points to stay on the tour for years.
He finished top 10 at the RSM Classic last fall on a course at Sea Island that was a Fazio redesign.
 
Chris Kirk 80-1
 
Kirk broke a five-year victory drought this summer with a win on the Korn Ferry Tour. However, the bigger victory for Kirk is to be back on tour again after leaving the game in May 2019 to deal with alcoholism and depression.
Kirk does have a win on a Fazio redesign at the 2013 McGladrey Classic at Sea Island and has shown well at alternate events, including a win at the 2011 Viking Classic (now Sanderson Farms Championship). 
 
J.J. Spaun 100-1
 
Spaun is looking to take advantage of his reprieve for this season. Under normal circumstances, he’d have had to go through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals to keep his PGA Tour card. But those events were canceled this year, and Spaun gets another year on the tour.
He has always been a coastal-course specialist, and his T9 at the Safeway was his best finish in almost two calendar years. Spaun was second in the Safeway field for driving accuracy, fifth in strokes gained: tee to green and ninth in strokes gained: approach.
 
James Hahn 110-1
 
Hahn hasn’t had much form over the last couple of seasons but did finish T9 last time out at the Safeway.
 
He’s a bit of a boom-or-bust play this week, but he fits the Fazio course-correlation angle. Hahn has won at Riviera and Quail Hollow against big-time fields. Both courses involved Fazio redesigns. In a wide-open event like this in which the field quality is down, sometimes you have to dig a little deeper for an angle. It could work out with a long shot like Hahn.
 
Scott Brown 200-1
 
Brown has missed six of eight cuts since the summer restart, so the form has not been good. 
 
Nevertheless, his best finish this season was a T2 at Riviera, which is a Fazio redesign. Brown has done well in alternate events. He won the Puerto Rico Open in 2013 and always is near the top of the leaderboard in that event. 
 
Dubai Duty Free Irish Open
 
While 21-year-old Matthew Wolff was in the final pairing at the U.S. Open, another 21-year-old, South African Garrick Higgo (16-1), was winning his maiden European Tour event at the Open de Portugal at Royal Obidos. Higgo, who played at UNLV, returns this week for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at the price of 25-1. 
 
The field headliner is Irishman Shane Lowry (8-1), who returns home from a made cut at Winged Foot (43rd). Lowry won the Irish Open in 2009 in his first event on the European Tour, prevailing as an amateur before turning professional two weeks later. No pro in the world is in better recent form than South African George Coetzee, who finished T2 and first in back-to-back Sunshine Tour events in his homeland, then followed with his first European Tour win at the Portugal Masters. Coetzee (10-1) also finished T3 last week at the Open de Portugal. New Zealander Ryan Fox’s (20-1) consistent play during the UK swing got him into the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut, but he is playing on a course on which he earned a Challenge Tour win in 2016. Connor Syme’s three straight top-10s during that swing also got him into the U.S. Open, but he also missed the cut. Scotsman Syme, along with Aussie Jason Scrivener and South African Wilco Nienaber, are priced at 25-1. 
 
The Irish Open has a long and rich history, but the field depth and quality is down this year. The event was moved, sandwiched between the U.S. Open and the two Rolex Series events the next two weeks on the European Tour. The scheduling change will not allow 2019 champion and world No. 2, Jon Rahm, to defend his title. 
 
The Event
 
The Irish Open’s history dates to 1927. The tournament rotates among courses throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. Dubai Duty Free, which manages duty-free shops at the Dubai International and Al Maktoum international airports, took over sponsorship in 2015. The event lost its status as a Rolex Series event and took a substantial drop in prize money for 2020 when it was moved from late May to late September. It is expected to be provided a better spot on the 2021 European Tour schedule with its Rolex Series status restored. An event that boasts winners such as Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Shane Lowry, Padraig Harrington, Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo has too much history not to be elevated to higher status. 
 
The Course 
 
The Irish Open’s original plans to be hosted at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny in May were abandoned. Galgorm Castle Golf Club in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, was named as the replacement for this year. Galgorm Castle is a short, parkland course that has hosted eight events on the Challenge Tour since 2013. Listed as a 7,087-yard par-70, the course features just two par-5s, both on the back nine, and two short par-4s within the first four holes. The undulating greens are of excellent quality and annually overseeded with Creeping Bentgrass to help keep them smooth and true. Water hazards are in play on nine holes, and the track is tree-lined. This layout seems to favor neither bombers nor ball strikers.
 
Recent History
 
2019: Jon Rahm (-16-264), Lahinch,  8-1
2018: Russell Knox (-14-274), Ballyliffin, 28-1*
2017: Jon Rahm (-24-264), Portstewart, 14-1
2016: Rory McIlroy (-12-276), The K Club, 4-1
2015: Soren Kjeldsen (-2-282), Royal County Down, 150-1**
2014: Mikko Ilonen (-13-271), Fota Island, 80-1
2013: Paul Casey (14-274), Carton House, 50-1
2012: Jamie Donaldson (-18-270), Royal Portrush, 66-1
2011: Simon Dyson (-15-269), Killarney, 25-1
2010: Ross Fisher (-18-266), Killarney, 20-1
 
* - playoff win over Ryan Fox
** - playoff win over Eddie Pepperell and Bernd Wiesberger
 
Galgorm Castle has annually hosted the Northern Ireland Open on the Challenge Tour (the Korn Ferry Tour of Europe) since 2013. The 2020 event was held here just three weeks ago, so here are the results of those events:
 
2020: Tyler Koivisto, -13-267
2019: Jack Senior, -11-269
2018: Calum Hill, -19-261
2017: Robin Sciot-Siegrist, -6-274
2016: Ryan Fox, -19-261
2015: Clement Sordet, -17-263
2014: Joakim Lagergren, -13-267
2013: Daan Huizing, -13-267
 
All of these Challenge Tour winners are in this week’s field. The 2017 event used a Super 6-style format before being changed back to stroke play.
 
Selections
 
Joakim Lagergren 35-1
 
The Swede is a former winner at Galgorm Castle, having taken the 2014 Northern Ireland Open on the Challenge Tour. Lagergren also has three top-4 finishes in five starts at the Dunhill Links, so he is comfortable with links golf in the UK. 
 
Calum Hill 40-1
 
Hill comes in off two missed cuts but had two top-10 finishes before that. He won on this course in 2018 and finished seventh here last year.
 
Sebastian Soderberg 50-1
Soderberg should look forward to going back to the UK as he posted back-to-back finishes of fifth and 10th at Celtic Manor in Wales a few weeks ago. He actually had a chance for the win four weeks ago, but he lost on the 72nd hole and it cost him a spot in the U.S. Open. That should be behind him now. 
 
Clement Sordet 60-1
Another former winner on this course (2015), the Frenchman has missed only one of 10 cuts this season and should relish the opportunity to return where he has had success. 
 
Julian Suri 100-1
The New York native was on the brink of being a top-50 player just three years ago before injuries set him back. He missed four straight cuts in the restart but has made three in a row and looks as if he is finding his form.
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