Without No. 1 Rahm, 3M Open field thin

By Wes Reynolds  (Point Spread Weekly) 

July 21, 2020 10:43 PM
Erik van Rooyen
© Imagn
Jon Rahm has become just the second Spanish player to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Matching what Seve Ballesteros did in 1986, Rahm did so by winning last weekend’s Memorial Tournament — and providing this column another winner at 22/1. 
Rahm held an eight-shot lead going into Sunday’s back nine before winning by three strokes at 9 under par. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty after the final round because his ball moved slightly on address before he holed a miracle chip out of thick rough for birdie at 16. The shot essentially closed the door on playing partner Ryan Palmer, who finished second. Rahm was clearly the best, leading the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green (+ 3.87 strokes/round), a career-best mark. Rahm, just 25, also becomes the third-youngest player to reach No. 1. Only Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth did it earlier.
Rahm won’t be making the trip to the Twin Cities this week, and only six of the OWGR top 30 will tee it up for the second edition of the 3M Open. Nevertheless, quality exists at the top. Dustin Johnson (12/1) won for this column four weeks ago at the Travelers Championship but shot two rounds of 80 and missed the cut at the Memorial. Fellow “Bash Brother” Brooks Koepka is the second choice at 14/1. Koepka made the cut on the number last week but never contended and started to complain about his knee injury, which he had said was fine last month at the RBC Heritage. Tony Finau was priced in the mid-60s last week but is just 16/1 here due to a weaker field and a good performance last week, having led after the first and second rounds. Finau couldn’t close the deal and faltered to tie for eighth. World No. 12 Tommy Fleetwood hasn’t played a full tournament since the Honda Classic in early March but makes his post-pandemic debut at 16/1. Defending champion Matthew Wolff and Paul Casey, priced in the 80/1 range last week, round at the top spots on the odds board at 20/1 to 25/1.
The Event
The 3M Open is in just its second year on the PGA Tour. However, it does have a lengthy history from its previous incarnation as the 3M Championship, which was held annually on the PGA Tour Champions from 1993-2018. The Champions event was played on this TPC Twin Cities course from 2001-18. 3M is headquartered just outside the Twin Cities in Maplewood, Minn. With $32.8 billion in total sales in 2018, 3M pays $16 million annually to be the title sponsor. Field quality and depth will be down this week since the 3M follows the Memorial Tournament with the WGC FedEx St. Jude and the PGA Championship in the next two weeks. 
The Course 
TPC Twin Cities is in Blaine, Minn., 13 miles north of Minneapolis and 20 miles from St. Paul. The track was designed in 2000 by Arnold Palmer with consultation from Tom Lehman. Lehman and fellow Minnesotan Tim Herron along with Steve Wenzloff, PGA Tour vice president of design services, renovated the layout in 2018. The course will play as a par-71 of 7,431 yards. It is a relatively easy and gettable Palmer design with three shorter and drivable par-4s that longer hitters can reach. Low scoring should be expected — last year the winning score was 21 under — but winds are projected to pick up Friday and Saturday, so scoring in the high teens could end up being enough to win the tournament. Paul Goydos set the course record of 60 at the 2017 3M Championship. Four rounds of 62 were shot in last year’s event — Scott Piercy in the first round, Bryson DeChambeau in the second, Matthew Wolff in the third and Lucas Glover in the fourth. The course resembles a Florida-type layout with 27 water hazards in play on 10 holes. The fairways are constructed of Bentgrass and will play hard and fast with plenty of rollout. The course is at about 900 feet altitude, so the ball will fly a bit farther than normal. The rough can be a pesky 3-inch Bluegrass/Fescue mix. The greens are large, averaging 6,500 square feet, and fast, at 12 on the Stimpmeter. The players have seen the Pure Bentgrass greens only at Colonial several weeks ago.
TPC Twin Cities is a Palmer original design, so here are some other Palmer designs played on the PGA Tour:
— PGA West, Palmer Private (2008-15 CareerBuilder Challenge)
— Bay Hill Country Club (Arnold Palmer Invitational)
— TPC Boston (Dell Technologies Championship)
— Isleworth Golf and Country Club (2014 Hero World Challenge)
— Albany (2015-18 Hero World Challenge)
Recent History/Winners
2019: Matthew Wolff (-21/263), 125/1
Angles and Stats
With only one 3M Open in the books, we have just one year of data for evaluation. Here is how the top three finishers last year measured up statistically:
1: Matthew Wolff (-21). SG Off the Tee: 21st, SG Approach: 2nd, SG Around the Green: 18th, SG Tee to Green: 1st, SG Putting: 39th.
T2: Bryson DeChambeau (-20). SG Off the Tee: 7th, SG Approach: 18th, SG Around the Green: 44th, SG Tee to Green: 15th, SG Putting: 11th.
T2: Collin Morikawa (-20). SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 1st, SG Around the Green: 59th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 47th.
A strong tee-to-green game should lead to success here, especially with approach shots. Length off the tee also helps but is not mandatory if the ball striking is on point. None of the top three putted the lights out last year.
Here are some pertinent statistical categories that could provide winning angles:
Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee
1. Jhonattan Vegas (6) 0.730
2. Paul Casey (9) 0.652
3. Matthew Wolff (12) 0.596
4. Bubba Watson (13) 0.584
5. Dustin Johnson (14) 0.556
6. Will Gordon (16) 0.515
7. Brooks Koepka (T23) 0.410
8. Harris English (25) 0.406
9. Doc Redman (26) 0.401
10. Luke List (27) 0.391
11. Sam Burns (28) 0.386
12. Tony Finau (29) 0.385
Strokes Gained: Approach
1. Paul Casey (9) 0.816
2. Russell Henley (10) 0.797
3. Doc Redman (14) 0.696
4. Cameron Percy (16) 0.659
5. Emiliano Grillo (19) 0.595
6. Erik van Rooyen (T20) 0.539
7. Chesson Hadley (T20) 0.539
8. Cameron Tringale (22) 0.534
9. Tom Hoge (24) 0.516
10. Lucas Glover (26) 0.498
11. Matthew Nesmith (27) 0.491
12. Tony Finau (28) 0.489
Driving Distance
1. Ryan Brehm (3) 314.7
2. Matthew Wolff (6) 312.8
3. Brandon Hagy (7) 312.3
4. Bubba Watson (8) 312.2
5. Sam Burns (10) 311.1
6. Tyler McCumber (13) 309.8
7. Erik van Rooyen (14) 308.7
8. Cameron Davis (15) 308.3
9. Patrick Rodgers (16) 308.1
10. Jhonattan Vegas (18) 308.0
11. Brooks Koepka (19) 307.3
12. Tony Finau (20) 307.1
(Parentheses indicate overall ranking on PGA Tour in category)
Erik van Rooyen 50/1
Van Rooyen is still looking to lock up his PGA Tour card for next season via non-member points, and the Twin Cities is as good a place as any to do so. He played college golf nearby at the University of Minnesota.
Van Rooyen finished a nondescript T-22 last week at the Memorial but was second in Strokes Gained: Approach (+ 2.08 per round) and fifth in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green (+ 2.19 per round). As usual, he lost on the greens (-0.76 strokes/round). Had he just lost or gained net zero on average, he would’ve had a top-10 finish.
The South African ranks in the top 10 in this week’s field in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green, Strokes Gained: Approach and Driving Distance. Van Rooyen is just outside the top 40 in the world, and only six players in this week’s field have higher world rankings, so 50/1 is a fair price.
Will Gordon 75/1
Last year Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa had just turned professional and were battling for the win here. This year it could be Gordon. He shot 62 last month at the Travelers Championship and led the field with 27 birdies on the way to a tie for third. That earned him unlimited sponsorship exemptions for the rest of the season as he works to accumulate points for a full PGA Tour card.
Gordon ranks in the top 10 in this week’s field for Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. He struggled to handle prosperity immediately after the Travelers by missing the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, but now he has had a couple of weeks off and should be ready to fire.
Jhonattan Vegas 80/1
Vegas is the top-ranked player in this week’s field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and is in the top 10 for Driving Distance.
He should be able to attack the shorter par-4s with short wedges and make plenty of birdies.
Troy Merritt 80/1
Merritt tied for seventh here last year and comes in with relatively solid form despite missing the cut at the Memorial. He finished 22nd at the Workday a week earlier and tied for eighth three weeks ago at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
This is also a bit of a homecoming for Merritt. He was born in Iowa but grew up in Spring Lake Park, Minn., just a six-minute drive to Blaine. He also started his college career in Minnesota at Winona State.
Keith Mitchell 110/1
Mitchell tied for 22nd at the Memorial but was third in Greens In Regulation. He also has a solid record in wind, having finished second at the 2018 Corales Championship. He has finished sixth and fifth the last two years at Bay Hill, which of course is Arnold Palmer’s signature course.
Kristoffer Ventura 115/1
Ventura was a college teammate of Wolff and Viktor Hovland at Oklahoma State, and all three were part of the Cowboys’ 2018 NCAA championship squad.
Ventura had an inauspicious start to 2020, missing four straight cuts, but went back down to the Korn Ferry Tour and has played solidly since the restart in June. He has posted two top-10s at TPC Sawgrass and TPC San Antonio and tied for 21st at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. This is a big number for a player with a lot of pedigree and potential.
Derek Ernst 300/1
It has been a long journey back for Ernst. He is actually a former winner on the PGA Tour, but you have to go back to the 2013 Wells Fargo Championship. He got into that field as the fourth alternate and was ranked 1,207th in the world at the time.
After the 2016 season, Ernst lost his PGA Tour card and has been grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour since. However, he comes into this event in good form. Ernst has finishes of 10-12-5 over the last three weeks on the Korn Ferry Tour. His most likely path back to the big tour is to get into the top 25 in earnings on the KFT, where he currently is 42nd. Nevertheless, he gets a shot back on the PGA Tour this week and comes in with some confidence.
Betfred British Masters
Frenchman Joel Stalter, a two-time All-American at California, won his maiden European Tour event last weekend in Austria at the Euram Bank Open as a 125/1 shot. The tour’s two-week stay in Austria is over, and a six-week swing through England and Wales opens, beginning with the Betfred British Masters.
After a six-year hiatus, the British Masters returned in 2015. Each year since, a British golfer has chosen the course, usually in or near his hometown, and hosted the event. This year Lee Westwood, who won the event in 2007 at The Belfry, will be the host but also will be the outright favorite at 10/1. Belgian Thomas Detry (14/1) is the second choice and has knocked at the door for his first European Tour victory for about three years with two runners-up and three third-place finishes. Eddie Pepperell (25/1) is another Brit who won this event two years ago at Walton Heath and was second to Swede Marcus Kinhult (30/1) at Hillside last year.
The Event
The Betfred British Masters was founded in 1946 as the Dunlop Masters. Dunlop’s backing ended in 1982, but the event continued until 2008 under various sponsorships. However, a loss of sponsorship put the event on hiatus from 2009-14. The tournament was put back on the European Tour schedule in 2015, with the added wrinkle of having an outstanding British golfer host at a different course each year.
Here are the previous British Masters hosts:
2015: Ian Poulter (Woburn Golf and Country Club)
2016: Luke Donald (The Grove)
2017: Lee Westwood (Close House Golf Club)
2018: Justin Rose (Walton Heath Golf Club)
2019: Tommy Fleetwood (Hillside Golf Club)
The event has lost a bit of luster over the years but does have a storied history. Several famous players are multiple winners, including Seve Ballesteros, Tony Jacklin, Bobby Locke, Greg Norman, Peter Thomson and Ian Woosnam.
The Course
Close House Golf Club is in the Heddon-on-the-Wall village in Northumberland County, the northernmost county in England. The village is about 9 miles west of Newcastle. Westwood is serving as the host here for the second time in four years and maintains residence just outside Newcastle. Close House was opened in 2011 and designed by Scott Macpherson with some input from Westwood. It measures at 6,872 yards for a par-71. It is a hilly track with several elevation changes and doglegs. The fairways are relatively wide but have some nasty fescue rough that will punish errant tee shots, especially this year with no spectators to trample the rough. Five par-4s measure less than 400 yards. The greens are Creeping Bentgrass with lots of undulation and have some shaved runoffs. It rewards more strategic play in lieu of brute force. Irishman Paul Dunne, not known for his accuracy off the tee, used great ball striking and putting to beat Rory McIlroy by three strokes and win on this course in 2017.
Recent History/Winners
2019: Marcus Kinhult (-16/272), Hillside, 175/1
2018: Eddie Pepperell (-9/279), Walton Heath, 30/1
2017: Paul Dunne (-20/260), Close House, 66/1
2016: Alex Noren (-18/266), The Grove, 18/1
2015: Matthew Fitzpatrick (-15/269), Woburn, 33/1
Tournament hosts have yet to win here, as they usually have obligations with sponsors and other duties. Those will be lessened this week with no spectators, but pressure is added since the course is usually near the player’s boyhood home or current residence. Here’s how the tournament hosts have fared:
2019: Tommy Fleetwood, eighth
2018: Justin Rose, eighth
2017: Lee Westwood, 15th
2016: Luke Donald, missed cut
2015: Ian Poulter, 33rd
Adri Arnaus 30/1
Arnaus has featured fairly regularly in this column over the last year or so. He is another player knocking at the door for a maiden European Tour win. He had three runners-up last year (Kenya Open, Andalucia Masters and Czech Masters) and tied for third in Dubai this season. Arnaus comes off a respectable T-11 last week in Austria and has shaken off the rust, having played the last two weeks.
He ranks No. 1 on the European Tour in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee (+ 1.15 strokes/round) and fourth in Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green (+ 1.86 strokes/round). Arnaus is also one of the bigger hitters on the European Tour who could take advantage of these shorter par-4s.
Arnaus’ longtime buddy and fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm became the No. 1 player in the world last weekend, so perhaps he will take a little inspiration from that.
Connor Syme 50/1
Syme started well on the restart, tying for fourth two weeks ago at the Austrian Open.
The Scot ranks second in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee (+ 1.06 strokes/round) and first in Greens In Regulation (76.62%).
Richie Ramsay 50/1
Ramsay finished eighth at Close House three years ago. Two of his three European Tour career wins have come on shorter courses in Morocco and the Swiss Alps. He was also fifth in this event last year at Hillside, so the Scotsman likes playing all over the United Kingdom.
Short game and scrambling have always been strengths for Ramsay, and this season has been no exception as he ranks 14th in Scrambling and ninth in Sand Saves.
Chris Paisley 60/1
Paisley was born in Hexham and lives in nearby Stocksfield, both in Northumberland County.
He missed the cut here in 2017 but should fit the profile for success largely due to having one of the more consistent short games on the European Tour. Paisley ranks first on tour for One Putts (8.33) and Putts Per Round (27.56). That goes along with a rank of second in Putts Per GIR (1.72), fifth in Three-Putt Avoidance and sixth for Strokes Gained: Putting (+ 1.25). He also ranks third in Sand Saves and sixth in Scrambling.
Marcus Armitage 80/1
Armitage got back on the European Tour last winter with a strong performance at the tour qualifying school. He started 2020 with a third at the South African Open and a T-12 at the Qatar Masters before the stoppage in play.
He won at Close House in 2015 in the Tree of Life Championship on the PGA EuroPro Tour, which is a level below the Challenge Tour. Armitage ranks in the top 25 on tour for Greens In Regulation, Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green and Driving Distance.
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