Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship
It was a hard week for us at Winged Foot for the first Major Championship of the 2020/21 season and in the end I was happy to salvage some place money courtesy of Tony Finau’s gritty Sunday performance, which saw him creep in to a share of eighth place.
The tournament itself of course was won by Bryson Dechambeau who bagged his first Major Championship and in doing so put a big two fingers up to everyone who said he couldn’t overpower Winged Foot.
Basically it was a superb performance from Bryson particularly on Sunday and whatever you think of him and his methods there is no doubt this win gives him 100% validation for everything he has implemented and worked towards.
So with the dust settling on the US Open the 20/21 wraparound season moves on this week to the Dominican Republic and the Corales Puntacana Championship.
With the Fedex Cup Play Off’s only finishing three weeks ago and with a Major having been played hot on their heels as you can imagine the field this week is very much ‘second tier’ stuff, as most of the leading lights will now take a few weeks off before gearing up again for the Masters in November.
As such the market is headed up by recent Korn Ferry Tour sensation Will Zalatoris who rubber stamped his potential with a top 5 finish at the US Open on Sunday.
Behind Zalatoris in the market then comes Mackenzie Hughes, Corey Conners, Sam Burns and Adam Long.
The Corales course, which opened in 2010 is a Tom Fazio design.
The course is a par 72 stretching to 7600 yds plus.
The greens are Papsalum. Other events to feature Papsulum greens include the OHL Classic, The Puerto Rico open and the CIMB Classic.
The course plays along the cliffs, bays and coves of the Caribbean so should very much have a links feel to it.
The last three holes are known as ‘The Devils Elbow’ and they culminate in the 501 yd par 4, which apparently requires you to “blast one over waves breaking against the ocean if you want to reach the green in regulation”.
This is the third year the event will have been staged on the PGA Tour Schedule with the two winners to date being Brice Garnett in 2018 and Graeme McDowell last year. Here are the top five from both events;
1 G McDowell -18
T2 M Hughes & C Stroud -17
4 J Byrd -16
T5 K Kraft & C McDaniel – 15
1 B Garnett -18
2 K Mitchell -14
3 K Kraft -13
4 D McCarthy -12
T5th Eight players at -11 - H English, P Dunne, KJ Choi, A Putnam, X Zhang, T Lovelady, S Power & S Han.
In addition the event was held as a Korn Ferry Tour event in 2016 and 2017 with Dominic Bozzelli and Nate Lashley coming out on top.
As noted earlier the event has been held as an opposite field event for the past two years thus giving the lesser names a chance to shine.
This year while the event has a slot in its own right with it following straight after the US Open and only three weeks after the Fedex Cup concluded the field is inevitably week as the leading lights take a break before the build up begins for the Masters. In essence therefore the strength here this week is no greater than over the past couple of years.
Looking at the leaderboards from the past two years and it is clear that the type of player we need to be focusing on are those who are comfortable on and perform well at the other [usually shorter] coastal tracks used on tour such as the El Camaleon home of the Mayakoba, Coco Beach GC [Puerto Rico Open], Hilton Head, [RBC Heritage] Waialae CC [Sony Open], Sea Island [RSM Classic], Pebble Beach and the Bermuda Championship.
With regards to form on this course with only two years to go on obviously this is fairly sparse with McDowell winning here after missing the cut the previous year and Garnett had missed the cut here when playing the Korn Ferry event the year before his win.
McDowell though as we know is a master of this type of track having won the RBC Heritage, The Mayakoba and the US Open at Pebble Beach while Garnett had produced his best two performances in the previous two seasons at the Mayakoba when finishing seventh and sixth.
In relation to form coming in McDowell arrived here on a solid run of form having made his previous five cuts on the PGA Tour and of course was on a mission to qualify for Portrush and the US Open at Pebble Beach. Garnett though other than the link with the Mayakoba would have been less easy to find as he had missed two of his previous three cuts although he did finish 35th last time out at the Valspar.
With regards to a winning total the two PGA Tour events were both won with totals of -18 while two Korn Ferry events were won with totals of -24 and -20.
Looking at the forecast and unfortunately all four days show the possibility of some thunderstorms so we could be in for some interruptions.
Temperatures look set to sit in the high 80s to low 90s all week.
Wind, which is always a factor here doesn’t look to be too big any issue with nothing more that 12-15mph forecast.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players as follows;
JJ SPAUN – 100-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 56th
There’s a clear path for me this week and that is to side with players who have a history of strong form on coastal tracks potentially allied to some recent form and from that point of view the first name that leaps off the page to me at the odds this week is JJ Spaun.
This season represents Spaun’s fifth campaign on the PGA Tour however were it not for the change in rules due to the Covid-19 pandemic JJ would have been relying on the Korn Ferry finals to ensure that he was still in the big league this time around.
The reason for the predicament he would have been in is down to a 19/20 season, which saw him post nothing better than 30th place all campaign.
Looking at JJ’s stats for last year and it was tough in all honesty to find anything positive to note as of the main categories his best finish was 119th in Strokes-Gained-Off-The-Tee!
Granted a stay of execution however JJ begun his 2020/21 season by posting a ninth place finish at the Safeway Open, his best result since his third place at the Mayakoba just under two years ago.
Particularly encouraging at Silverado was Spaun’s long game stats, which saw him second for the week in DA, fifth from tee to green and ninth in approach play.
So we’ve established that Spaun appears to have turned a corner but what makes him of particular interest to me this week is his habit of finding his form at this time of year allied with his history on this type of track.
With regards to the latter firstly if we look at JJ’s efforts over his first four full years on tour he has posted a sixth place at the Heritage, a second place at the RSM and a third, tenth and fourteenth at the Mayakoba. In addition he has another top ten by the coast at Torrey Pines to his name along with a top 20 in Puerto Rico, so that’s quite a body of work when he tee’s it up by the sea.
If we then look at these results further we see that the three Mayakoba efforts and the runner up finish at the RSM have all come in the ‘fall series’ events, in fact across the 2017 and 2018 Fall events JJ tee’d it up eleven times in total posting six top fifteen finishes.
The one slight negative is that Spaun missed the cut on his only previous visit here in 2016 back when the event was held on the Korn Ferry Tour, however both Garnett and McDowell had missed the cut here prior to winning so I’m not going to get too hung up on that.
With his poor form over the past year Spaun has fallen somewhat off the radar however go back 18 months plus and he was on most people’s ‘winner waiting to happen’ on the PGA Tour. Having recently turned thirty however it would appear that he has rediscovered his game at his favourite time of year and I am happy to have him on side at juicy odds on a track that should really be to his liking.
XINJUN ZHANG – 60-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED 11th
Next up for me this week is another player who clearly appears best suited to this type of test, Xinjun Zhang.
At 130th in driving distance on the tour last season Zhang clearly is going to struggle in a ‘bomb and gouge’ type event however he has shown in his time in the big league that he is at his best in this type of test.
To back this up all we really need to do is look back at Xinjun’s first and largely unsuccessful campaign on the PGA Tour in 2017/18 when his three best finishes were a 25th in Hawaii at the Sony, a 20th at the Mayakoba and most pertinently a fifth in this event.
Based on his poor showing that season the Chinese player returned to the Korn Ferry Tour in 18/19 where after posting two victories he returned straight to the big league.
2019/20 was a far more successful effort second time around on tour from Zhang as he posted six top twenty finishes, one of which came on the papsulum greens in Puerto Rico, to finish a comfortable 78th in the Fedex Cup.
Zhang has shown in his short time on tour that one good finish tends to follow another and having finished an eye catching 14th at the Safeway a couple of weeks ago he is primed to perform well again at a venue that he finished fifth at previously when he was badly out of form on arrival.
BO HOAG – 80-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 7 - FINISHED MC
Next cab of the rank for me this week is Bo Hoag.
Hoag, is probably most well known on tour for his association with Jack Nicklaus via his Grandfather’s legacy at Muirfield Village, however he quietly put together a maiden campaign, which saw him creep in at 125th in the Fedex Cup and make the Play Off’s.
The cornerstone of his season came with three top twelve finishes with his best two results being an 11th place in Bermuda and a ninth place in Hawaii, which immediately make him of interest here. In addition I also like the fact that he finished 35th at Puerto Rico on the back of a run of a WD and two missed cuts.
Short off the tee Hoag was in the top 25 in both old fashioned stats of driving accuracy and greens in regulation last season so he certainly fits the mould of the shorter accurate hitters that have been triumphant here over the past two years.
Hoag started his sophomore campaign with a bang opening up with 64 at Silverado and while he was unable to maintain that level over the next three days a 29th place finish represented a solid start to the season for him.
Fourth in strokes-gained-tee-to-green at the Safeway Hoag arrives here with his long game in fine fettle and on a course, which should suit his style I can see this one time Korn Ferry Tour winner making a push for his maiden PGA Tour title this week.
MATTHEW NESMITH – 100-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 41st
Another who leaps off the page as a perfect fit for this trip to the Dominican Republic is Matthew NeSmith.
NeSmith’s form tailed off in the latter part of the 19/20 season however he had produced enough early on to finish his debut season a solid 100th in the Fedex Cup standings.
A strong ball striker Matthew’s favourite track on tour is undoubtedly Harbour Town at Hilton Head, where in addition to proposing to his wife on the 18th green, as a native of South Carolina he has played numerous rounds.
On this basis it was no surprise to see NeSmith figuring prominently on the leaderboard at the RBC Heritage in the summer and although he struggled in the spotlight on Saturday he finished well on Sunday to post a 33rd place.
More pertinently though while this was one of NeSmith’s better performances last season it was overshadowed by a 14th place at the RSM an 11th place at Pebble Beach and his best effort, a sixth on the papsulum in Puerto Rico. Clearly therefore it is right in front of us to see that all of Matthew’s rounds on the windy coast of South Carolina over the years have left him feeling most comfortable on this type of test.
As mentioned earlier the last few events of last season saw NeSmith struggled somewhat as he missed five of his last seven cuts. Clearly though venues like Muirfield Village and TPC Boston don’t play to his strengths and I am confident that on a much more favourable test this week he can deliver a big performance.
CT PAN – 100-1 - 1pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 61st
For my final selection this week I am going to take my chances that another specialist in this type of event CT Pan can bounce back to form here.
CT posted his maiden tour win at Hilton Head back in 2019, when it should be noted he was badly out of form on arrival, and his victory on that track automatically makes him of interest this week.
If we then delve further we see that CT has posted a sixth and a 13th in two of his three visits to the RSM and an 11th and 16th in his last two visits to the Mayakoba. Finally he has another second place by the coast at Torrey Pines to his name since he joined the tour.
Pan started his 20/21 campaign at the Safeway with a 61st place finish and while this was nothing spectacular of course it meant that he had made the cut in five of his past six starts on tour only missing the weekend at the PGA Championship, thus improving on a run previous to that of six missed cuts in seven.
As we know with the PGA Tour there are very fine margins between what’s required for a 50th place and a top ten finish and I am hopeful Pan can push on this week on a track, which should very much suit his game.
UPDATED 22nd SEPTEMBER
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - VINCENT WHALEY - DK VALUE - $6900 - FINISHED 28th - DK POINTS 72.5
For my first pick this week I am going to run with Vincent Whaley who is just embarking on his sophomore season on the PGA Tour.
Whaley had a pretty underwhelming debut campaign, however courtesy of the covid related suspension of 'tour relegation' he gets a second bite at the cherry and judging by his first start of the new season, a solid 23rd place at the Safeway he could well make a better fist of things this time around.
Aside from his promising showing last time out however, what makes Whaley of interest to me this week is that his three of his four best finishes came last season at the Wyndham Championship, Pebble Beach and most pertinently Puerto Rico, where he produced a seasons best of ninth place.
Whaley graduated to the PGA Tour after just one season on the Korn Ferry and with further evidence that he is comfortable by the coast came in that campaign from his seasons best, a second place in the Bahamas, I am happy to cance him at $6900 this week.
PICK 2 - JAMIE LOVEMARK - DK VALUE - $6300 - FINISHED 65th - DK POINTS 64
For my second pick this week I am going to chance Jamie Lovemark who sits down at an eye catching $6300.
Lovemark has been battling to regain form after he was sidelined for a lengthy period with a shoulder injury in 2019.
Again due to the revised covid related rules though Lovemark gets to restart his Major Medical Exemption from the beginning of this season and after missing his last four cuts in 19/20 he started with a solid 56th place at the Safeway Open.
Lovemark who possesses a really strong touch around the greens has often popped up with strong performances by the coast something borne out by the fact that he has posted two top ten finishes at both the Sony Open and the RSM Classic over the years. In addition he has a really strong record at PGA National home of the Honda Classic.
My hope is therefore that a return to a coastal track will help Jamie build on his solid season opener and deliver a strong performance this week.