After 11 months of the 51st official season of the DP World Tour, we arrive at the finale – the DP World Championship, held at the Earth Course, Jumeirah Golf Estate in Dubai.
A genuine test of the very best, the 7600-yard course asks questions of every facet about the game, wearing players down by its length, and often asking players to battle against desert cross-winds.
Players can score well here. Indeed, every one of the 13 winners has recorded a final score well into double-figures ranging between 14-under and 25-under, with a mix of scoring well on the longer par-fours and the four par-fives, determined by quality putting on Bermuda greens.
It’s not Valderrama, the venue previously used as the season closer, but that doesn’t take away the thrilling nature of the track, one that may have not seen a play-off since 2010, but has seen five of the last seven determined by a single stroke.
In a limited elite field, often there is an option somewhere to avoid the top of the market, but here there seems little choice but to row along.
Four players have won this event twice, and three return to tee it up again this week.
Rory McIlroy is the undisputed best player in the world and victory here would wrap up the titles on both sides of the Atlantic.
He doesn’t have to win this week to do that, but Rory isn’t a player to sit in laurels and will surely attempt to continue a stunning run of form that includes giving former world number one, Scottie Scheffler, a start and beating at East Lake, sauntering home when defending the CJ Cup, and in-between having chances in Italy and at Wentworth.
However, he hasn’t played competitive golf for a few weeks and it’s worth recalling that he led after the first and third rounds last year before falling to sixth, whilst he had a chance to win in 2019 before a final round 73 saw him finish well behind this week’s market rival, Jon Rahm.
For me, the Spanish star hasn’t been at his best for a while, his only victory since May coming in a much lower-class field at his home Open.
I’m happy to leave both alone in favour of the man that says, ‘I know this one like the back of my hand and feel so comfortable here. That has to count in my favour.”
Given his course record of seven starts, two wins, one-runner-up, fourth and ninth, there is no question that Matt Fitzpatrick enjoys the trial of these four days.
Now armed with length off the tee, he has a natural ability to save par – crucial when in elite fields – whilst also ranking highly in par-five performance.
As he showed in his two course wins, both by a shot from proven links players Tyrrell Hatton and Lee Westwood, he is tenacious in battle and simply keeps grinding away, as he did when winning his first major, at Brookline in June this year.
His play-off loss to Robert McIntyre in Italy was maybe a surprise, but that player is himself a major contender of the future, something crucial to the outcome of this event, and he did have McIlroy, Hatton and Viktor Hovland behind.
Of the top trio, the 28-year-old is the least likely to spit out the dummy and keep going. He can be the first to win the DP World Championship for the third time.
The last ten champions have all been existing major champions, or (as with Fitzpatrick) future major winners and it looks likely the outcome will be the same.
Viktor Hovland hasn’t won one yet, and his last win was almost 11 months ago (although admittedly from an excellent field) at nearby Emirates Club, so at a few points bigger, take proven major winner and contender Shane Lowry.
The 35-year-old Irishman is simply a big-time player, with his victories including a six-shot Open victory in tough conditions at Royal Portrush and a win from an elite field at the WGC Bridgestone, all starting from a win at the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur.
Aside from his win at the 148th Open Championship, Lowry has six top-10s in majors through 12 years and European wins in Portugal, Abu Dhabi, and latterly Wentworth, where motivated by some LIV discussion, he beat both McIlroy and Rahm by a shot, with Hovland et al well beaten off.
Rather like the headline selection, Lowry is a big-time player that turns out against the very best and enjoys it around here, a course at which he led at halfway in 2021 before a benign back-nine caused him to drift out of contention, still finishing on the front page of the board.
Admittedly, rather like Tommy Fleetwood, Lowry would rather conditions became a tad more difficult, but he finished ninth and 12th in the past two runnings of this prestigious event despite losing shots off the tee, and any slight improvement in that, plus his standard top-grade iron play and short game, should see him stave off much of the lesser-knowns in this field. I’ll also be looking out for match-bets against Hovland.
Away from the stars, it’s very difficult to see a shock winner. Although the likes of Antoine Rozner and Eddie Pepperell are playing well, and have huge links form, it’s asking an awful lot for them to beat players they rarely finish in front of, and especially on a course proven to reward the very best.
Instead of tilting at windmills, I’m playing two names that are links-positive and who have pretensions to performing at majors, particularly at The Open.
Kiwi Ryan Fox is playing his best golf of a 10-year career.
Previously hard to win with, mainly because of a very poor short game, Fox has elevated himself to number two on the DP World Tour rankings, just behind McIlroy and in front of much of the top lot taking part here this week.
Fox has played more DP events, but his run over the past 10 months has been nothing short of sensational, taking him from a world ranking outside of the top-200, to a current place inside the top-30.
In his last 20 starts, the 35-year-old son of New Zealand rugby legend Grant, has won in Ras Al Khaimah and at the Dunhill Links, finished runner-up four times, including last weekend when one final-hole error let in course specialist Tommy Fleetwood, and posted four further to-five finishes.
Over the last three months, Fox ranks third in all-round rankings behind you-know-who and Jordan Smith, comprising 15th for driving, 34th for greens-in-regulation and top-10 for putting.
Although course form is average, Fox is on a different level now from the player seen in 2018 and proved so by finishing runner-up last week on a course he had not previously finished inside the top-50.
One of only a few that can be fancied to mix it up with the big boys, and with the motivation to challenge the big boys to the title, he admits:
“I’ll just try to do the same thing – go out and beat the golf course then see what happens. I’m looking forward to it.”
I’m struggling a little with Robert MacIntyre.
Although still believing he is capable of a big run in a big event, the Scot’s inconsistency makes him very hard to read, and punters should take care where to back him.
However, when he is right, as when beating Fitzpatrick in a play-off for the Italian Open (McIlroy behind), he looks like the player that finished tied-sixth and tied-eighth in two of the three Open Championships he has contested in a short career.
12th and 23rd at The Masters shows the 26-year-old has the class to contend in this field whilst repeat performances at the Dunhill Links, Alfred Dunhill (South Africa) and Italian Open (two different courses) suggest he can turn it on when conditions suit.
At the Earth Course, we can upgrade MacIntyre’s finishes of 4/23/14 as he was second, 12th and fourth through three rounds of the 2020 running, whilst he was never out of the top-five last season, after a run of four missed-cuts and a best of tied-24th in seven outings.
This year he comes into the event in a good frame of mind. Having made all eight cuts from all of his recent outings, his form of two top-10s and a pair of top-20 finishes, suggests he could again put in a performance that will shake-up the ante-post odds for Hoylake in July next year.
Matt Fitzpatrick Win
Shane Lowry Win
Ryan Fox Win AND Top-10
Robert MacIntyre Win AND Top-10
Vincenzi: Fortinet Championship First Round Leader picks
The PGA Tour begins its fall season with a trip to Wine Country as the world of golf patiently awaits the 2023 Ryder Cup which is just a few weeks away. Silverado is a course where plenty of players with varying skill sets can compete, but strong West Coast history tends to be a major factor.
In the past four editions of the Fortinet Championship, there have been six first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the six, three have started their rounds in the morning wave, and three started in the afternoon. The leading scores have all been between 63 and 65.
As of now, the winds look to be very docile, with speeds of 4-7 MPH throughout the day. I don’t see either the AM or PM wave as having a major advantage.
2023 Fortinet Championship First-Round Leader Picks
Zac Blair +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.22 p.m PT
A big theme for me this week is targeting players who have had success at both Silverado and the West Coast in general. Blair finished 22nd here last year, and also finished 4th back in 2019. That year, he shot 66 in rounds two and three, showing his ability to go low on this track.
In 2022, Blair gained 3.8 strokes putting and in 2019, he gained 8.6. The 33-year-old seemingly has these greens figured out.
C.T. Pan +9000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 8.23 a.m PT
At the end of the 2023 season, C.T. Pan showed flashes of what made him a good player prior to his injury struggles early in the year. He finished 4th at the AT&T Byron Nelson in May, and 3rd at the RBC Canadian Open in June. He also finished 6th at Silverado back in 2021, gaining 4.5 strokes on approach and 6.6 strokes putting.
A few weeks off may have given Pan a chance to reset and focus on the upcoming fall swing, where I believe he’ll play some good golf.
Joel Dahmen +110000 (FanDuel)
First-Round Tee Time: 7:28 a.m PT
After becoming a well-known name in golf due to his affable presence in Netflix’ “Full Swing” documentary, Dahmen had what can only be considered a disappointment of a 2023 season. I believe he’s a better player than he showed last year and is a good candidate for a bounce back fall and 2024.
Dahmen finished in a tie for 10th at the Barracuda Championship in late July, and the course is similar in agronomy and location to what he’ll see this week in Napa. He has some strong history on the West Coast including top-ten finishes at Riviera (5th, 2020), Pebble Beach (6th, 2022), Sherwood (8th, 2020), TPC Summerlin (9th, 2019) and Torrey Pines (9th, 2019).
James Hahn +125000 (Caesars)
First-Round Tee Time: 1:55 p.m PT
James Hahn absolutely loves golf on the West Coast. He’s won at Riviera and has also shown some course form with a 9th place finish at Silverado back in 2020. That week, Hahn gained 4.7 strokes putting, demonstrating his comfort level on these POA putting surfaces.
He finished T6 at the Barracuda back in July, and there’s no doubt that a return to California will be welcome for the 41-year-old.
Peter Malnati +125000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 12.27 p.m PT
Peter Malnati excels at putting on the West Coast. He ranks 3rd in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on POA and has shown in the past he’s capable of going extremely low on any given round due to his ability to catch a hot putter.
His course history isn’t spectacular, but he’s played well enough at Silverado. In his past seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-35 four times.
Harry Higgs +150000 (BetRivers)
First-Round Tee Time: 1.55 p.m PT
In what is seemingly becoming a theme in this week’s First-Round Leader column, Harry Higgs is a player that really fell out of form in 2023, but a reset and a trip to a course he’s had success at in the past may spark a resurgence.
Higgs finished 2nd at Silverado in 2020 and wasn’t in particularly great form then either. Success hasn’t come in abundance for the 31-year-old, but three of his top-10 finishes on Tour have come in this area of the country.
Higgs shot an impressive 62 here in round two in 2020, which would certainly be enough to capture the first-round lead this year.
Vincenzi’s Fortinet Championship betting preview: California native ready for breakthrough win in Napa
After a three-week break, the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season kicks off in Napa Valley at the Silverado Resort and Spa to play the Fortinet Championship.
Prior to 2021, the event was called the Safeway Open, but the tournament sponsor changed to Fortinet with contract that will last for three more seasons. Although the name has changed multiple times, Silverado’s North Course has been featured on the PGA TOUR since 1968.
The course is a par 72, measuring at 7,166 yards. Silverado features Poa annua greens that can be tricky, especially as the surface becomes bumpier in the afternoon. The tree-lined fairways aren’t easy to hit, but the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal. Shorter hitters are in play on this relatively short course, and accuracy will be at a premium.
There will be a re-routing at Silverado for this year’s Fortinet Championship. Ten holes will be played in a different order. Holes 1-7 and 18 will remain as in year’s past. The new finishing stretch – No. 14 (par 4), No. 15 (par 5), No. 16 (par 4), No. 17 (par 3) and No. 18 (par 5). The new 17th was previously the 11th, which is the signature hole on the course.
The field will consist of 155 players. Being the swing season, the field for this event is usually relatively weak. However, there are some intriguing names in the field including Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson, Sahith Theegala, Joel Dahmen, and Kevin Kisner.
- 2022: Max Homa (-22)
- 2021: Max Homa (-19)
- 2020: Stewart Cink (-21)
- 2019: Cameron Champ (-17)
- 2018: Kevin Tway (-14)
- 2017: Brendan Steele -15
- 2016: Brendan Steele -18
Let’s take a look at several key metrics for Silverado to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.
Strokes Gained: Approach
Historically, one of the North Course’s defenses will be tightly tucked pin placement, so effective shot-shaping and a higher ball flight may be an advantage this week. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa Annua greens.
Strokes Gained: Approach past 24 rounds:
- Chez Reavie (+24.7)
- Sam Ryder (+20.0)
- Mark Hubbard (+17.8)
- Kevin Streelman (+18.3)
- Doug Ghim (+17.1)
Good Drives Gained
Hitting fairways in regulation at Silverado is more difficult than TOUR average, as players have done so in the past at a rate of only 52.2%. While the rough isn’t extremely long here, controlling spin out of the thick grass is much more difficult than doing so from the fairway. In order to find success, players need to hit the correct level of the sloping Poa annua greens.
In 2021, the top eight players on the leaderboard all had a positive week in “Good Drives Gained. The winner, Max Homa was +3.3 in the category and Mito Pereira, who finished third, was +8.3.
In 2022, 12 of the top 13 players on the leaderboard gained in the category including the winner Max Homa (+6.0) and runner up Danny Willet (5.0).
Good Drives Gained past 24 rounds:
- Doug Ghim (+24.4)
- Matt NeSmith (+23.8)
- Russell Knox (+20.6)
- Brice Garnett (+19.9)
- Ryan Armour (+19.8)
Par 4: 400-450
There are six par 4’s at Silverado that are between 400 and 450-yards. It will be important to target players who excel at playing these holes. With the par 5s being fairly short and reachable, the par 4 scoring may prove to be the bigger difference-maker.
Par 4: 400-450 past 24 rounds:
- Beau Hossler (+14.7)
- Max Homa (+12.4)
- Garrick Higgo (+8.5)
- Justin Suh (+8.3)
- Stephan Jaeger (+8.2)
Birdie or Better: Gained
With scores at Silverado potentially approaching the 20 under par range, making plenty of birdies will be a requirement in order to contend this week.
Birdie or Better: Gained in past 24 rounds:
- Nick Hardy (+15.3)
- Scott Piercy (+15.2)
- Ryan Gerard (+14.9)
- Max Homa (+14.0)
- Peter Kuest (+13.5)
Strokes Gained: Putting (Poa Annua)
Poa annua greens on the West Coast can be quite difficult for golfers to adjust to if they don’t have much experience on the surface.
Prior to the 2019 Safeway Open, Phil Mickelson talked about how the type of putting surface is a major factor:
“I think a lot of guys struggle with the Poa annua greens, which is a grass that I grew up playing, so I’m very comfortable on the greens. When you grow up and spend most of your time back east in Florida on the Bermuda, this is a very awkward surface to putt on. The color looks different — it’s hard to sometimes read. But when you’re used to it, I don’t know of much better surfaces than these right here.”
This week it is important to look for the golfers who historically excel on Poa annua.
Total Strokes Gained in category in past 24 rounds:
- Kevin Kisner (+27.7)
- Max Homa (+21.2)
- Peter Malnati (+20.5)
- Justin Suh (+18.5)
- Mackenzie Hughes (+16.0)
Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.
These rankings are comprised of SG: APP (25%), Good Drives Gained: (25%), Birdie or Better (20%), Par 4: 400-450 (15%), SG: Putting (Poa annua) (15%).
- Max Homa (+750)
- Doug Ghim (+5000)
- Andrew Putnam (+4000)
- Chez Reavie (+4500)
- Kevin Streelman (+5500)
- Mark Hubbard (+5000)
- Sam Ryder (+7000)
- Brendon Todd (+3500)
- Akshay Bhatia (+6000)
- Cameron Davis (+2200)
2023 Fortinet Championship Picks
Sahith Theegala +2000 (DraftKings):
Sahith Theegala is yet to break out for his maiden PGA Tour victory but is a great candidate for a player who can have a strong fall and take advantage of some weaker fields. The 26-year-old ended his season on a positive note, finishing 13th at the FedEx St. Jude and 15th at the BMW Championship.
I’ve long believed that Theegala’s first win would come on the West Coast. He grew up in California and was a three-time All-American at Pepperdine University, where he became the fifth player to win the Jack Nicklaus Award, Haskins Award and Ben Hogan award all in the same year (2020). Sahith made his PGA Tour debut at Silverado in 2020, where he finished in a tie for 14th. Last year, he finished 6th at the Fortinet Championship.
Theegala is very comfortable playing in California. That is perhaps most noticeable on the putting surface where he gains an average of +0.44 strokes on the field per event on POA, which is more than four times what he gains on Bermudagrass or Bentgrass. The POA greens at Silverado can get especially difficult late in the day, which is a reason why players with a background on them have had so much success at the course. In the past seven years of the event, five winners have come from California.
Theegala is pricey this week and is as close to the top of the odds board as I can remember him being, but that’s the nature of the PGA Tour fall season. It’s hard to find a spot on the schedule that Sahith will have a better chance at winning than this one.
Justin Suh +5000 (PointsBet):
Consistency has been an issue early in the career of Justin Suh, but he’s shown flashes in 2023 of what made him such a highly regarded prospect to begin with. After a few top-10 finishes at the PLAYERS Championship and the Honda Classic, Suh ended the season on a bit of a sour note, failing to finish better than 34th in his last five starts of the season.
Despite the struggles, I’m optimistic about Suh as we begin the fall swing. The 26-year-old made the trip to Crans-Montana, Valais, Switzerland to play in the Omega European Masters, and finished 24th in a decent field. More encouraging than the finish was how Suh hit the ball. He gained 5.24 strokes on approach and hit plenty of fairways.
The 2018 Pac-12 Player of the Year grew up on California golf courses. Suh was a highly decorated amateur golfer with plenty of wins on the West Coast prior to attending USC, where he was one of the best players in the country.
When he’s on, Suh is one of the best putters on Tour, and he should comfortable playing in his home state in search of his first PGA Tour victory.
Akshay Bhatia +5500 (DraftKings):
Akshay Bhatia is still just 21 years old and one of the most tantalizing prospects in the world of golf. The smooth-swinging lefty was able to obtain his first PGA Tour victory at the Barracuda Championship at Tahoe Mountain Club in Truckee, California just a few months ago. The course is just a few hours ride from Silverado and the conditions and course should be very similar.
Bhatia will have no issue making birdies in bunches at Silverado, and the rough shouldn’t be exceedingly penal if he gets loose with his driver.
Bhatia made his debut at Silverado in 2020 at just 18 years old and managed to finish 9th. Since then, he’s gained a great deal of confidence and has refined his game as a professional.
Akshay got engaged this week. He can celebrate with a victory this week at the Fortinet.
Sam Ryder +8000 (FanDuel):
Statistically, Sam Ryder jumps off the page this week. In his past four measured starts, he’s gained 4.2, 5.4, 5.2 and 5.7 strokes on approach and is completely dialed in with his irons. Despite the numbers, he hasn’t managed to crack the top-30 on the leaderboard in that stretch but this is a field that is much weaker than he faced at the end of last season.
In addition to the recent stats, Ryder played some good golf on the West Coast last year. Most notably, he finished 4th at Torrey Pines in a loaded field and also finished 20th at both the Waste Managment Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational.
If Ryder continues with his hot approach play, he should be able to contend at Silverado this week.
The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 2
As promised, here is the follow-up to last week’s post about understanding iron designs. Today, I’m going to tell you what to look for as you try to figure out which iron best suits your type of play and is most likely to deliver the performance you seek. Oh, and these principles apply to wedges as well.
Let me begin with a historical observation.
Up until the introduction of the first mainstream cavity back/perimeter-weighted irons, the entire market was limited to some type of forged blade design. Across the entire spectrum of brands and models, there were only subtle nuanced differences from one to the other. Some featured some kind of “muscle back”, where the mass was concentrated low in the clubhead and the shaping formed a sort of crescent on the back of the club, the majority of mass being in the center of the clubhead (from heel to toe). Others spread that mass more evenly across the back of the clubhead (i.e. the Hogan designs), while others shaped their back to provide a bit more mass toward the toe, as in the traditional Wilson Staff models.
Then the “revolution” came with the Ping Eye 2 and all its copies. These early cavity-back designs moved much of the mass to the extreme perimeter of the clubhead, leaving a thin face, which delivered a high degree of forgiveness of off-center hits, but also deteriorated the consistent distance control delivered by the traditional forged blades. They also launched the ball much higher, making long- and mid-irons much easier to hit, but compromising the traditional precision of shorter irons.
Golfers had to make choice between shotmaking precision and forgiveness of mishits.
This design “revolution” also set in motion the continual strengthening of lofts in the shorter clubs to where we are today when “P-clubs” can be as low as 42 degrees – a far cry from what a true “pitching wedge” must be. See my post on that here.
The one thing in common with both of these approaches to iron design was that “what you see is what you get.” There were no internal technologies, so a visual examination of the clubhead could tell you pretty much how that iron was going to play.
As iron technologies have advanced, many radical designs have come and gone, but the performance of the traditional blade and the traditional cavity-back remain. Modern technologies allow much more precision in making iron heads, and multi-material construction has given club designers much more freedom to explore and refine performance, but these principles of iron head design are constant. For the most part, the golf ball will react to how a clubhead’s mass is distributed and where its CG is located. Period.
Understand that for each clubhead number or loft, the weight of the clubhead does not vary by more than a few grams from model to model to model. The designers’ challenge is to position that finite amount of mass in such a way as to achieve the performance goals for that particular model. So, here are the parameters designers have to consider, and that you can consider when looking for a new set of irons:
To begin, golf ball performance is determined by how much mass will be directly behind various points of impact on the face. The reason blade designs are still preferred by the best shotmakers is that these designs put mass directly behind the point of impact with the ball, thereby giving the golfer the maximum ability to control distance, trajectory, and shape of the shot.
Conversely, if the area behind the strike zone is thin, the club will likely be “hotter” but distance consistency will be compromised.
If a large portion of the mass is positioned lower in the clubhead, that design will launch higher, and likely with less spin. While this might be desirable in the lower lofts; high launch and low spin are probably not what you want in your higher-lofted scoring clubs, say those over 37-39 degrees, and particularly not with your wedges.
If mass is concentrated in the center of the clubhead from heel to toe, center strikes will be extremely solid and repeatable, but misses toward the toe will be more compromised than a design that has the mass more evenly distributed across the entire clubhead.
If some of the mass is distributed toward the low toe area, that club will be more forgiving of toe mis-hits.
Thin, fast faces and hollow or foam-filled construction is the rage now, but the trade-off is losing some distance precision in exchange for more distance (which comes from higher launch and less spin).
Another modern development is the use of heavy tungsten inserts low in the clubhead, which adds to the higher loft and lower spin distance formula – that might be desirable in the longer irons, but that’s exactly the opposite of what you want in the scoring clubs.
Big wide soles were more the rage a while back than they are now, but the wider the sole, the lower the mass distribution, so the higher the launch angle and the lower the spin. And these super wide sole designs are not very good for tighter turf conditions.
All golf clubhead designs are bound by two distinct principles – gear effect and smash factor.
Gear effect determines the trajectory and spin the golf ball will take. The higher the clubhead mass is distributed (i.e. blade designs), the lower the ball flight and higher the spin rates. Likewise, the more mass that is distributed toward the toe or heel from the strike point, the more likely the ball will curve back to the center.
Smash factor is the efficiency of transfer of clubhead speed to ball speed. Every club has one perfect point of impact that maximizes smash factor and that transfer of energy begins to deteriorate as impact is moved away from that point. That’s why you get occasional “heaters” off most thin-faced irons and see significant distance loss on more traditional blades. It’s also why those high-face misses with traditional wedge designs just pop-up with greatly reduced distance and spin.
I hope this has been enlightening and helpful.
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: Understanding iron designs, Part 1
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
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