So here it is, it’s the Masters, everybody’s having fun.
So said Noddy Holder, and that without realising this is the most fascinating of the recent Masters. Yeah, including that one when Tiger did the ‘impossible.’ Again.
There are pages and pages written about Augusta National, and readers will find the information in a myriad of places, including the official Masters course index.
The course has its infamous nuances – the dog-legs with reverse slopes and the ultra-fast greens, but to combat the lengthier players Augusta made significant changes over the last couple of years.
In 2022, the organisers extended the par-4 11th hole -‘Dogwood’ – by 35 yards, whilst also adding 20 yards to the par-5 15th, giving players a little more to think about when judging an aggressive second shot over Rae’s Creek.
This year they’ve made a hugely significant change to ‘Azelea’, the famous par-5 13th hole, adding 35 yards but also making the hole far more claustrophobic from the tee.
— Joe I (@TourPicks) April 1, 2023
It’s enough that we now have changes that might just stop the regular eagles, but the current weather forecast suggests the week goes from bad to worse in terms of wind and rain, though for viewers it could make this the most open of Masters. For us sadists, this is great news!
And then there is LIV.
No fewer than 18 golf ‘rebels’ tee it up against their former PGA Tour colleagues this year and they could not have timed it better.
Four-time major champ Brooks Koepka was victorious in Orlando last weekend, with Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson close behind. Although looking to carry an injury, Cam Smith, winner of The Players and The Open Championship last year, was in contention until midway through the final round. It’s certainly hotting up.
Since 2010, only Bubba Watson has won the green jacket more than once, so Masters maidens are very welcome to this year’s feast, though throughout the event’s history they will need to be almost extraordinary to counter the lack of course experience.
Best Bet – Xander Schauffele
The top of the market looks extremely strong, though I’d favour Scottie Scheffler over Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy given a stunning run of play that includes two wins in seven 2023 starts. He looks almost bombproof and but for a missed five-footer at Bay Hill and a lack of concentration when tired at the Match Play, could easily be going for a fourth consecutive win.
He can’t make a mistake at around 7/1 though and with the weather expected to be extremely influential, that is short enough.
We have to look at strong each-way payouts and that seems to limit us to just a handful. Of those, 29-year-old Xander strongly fits the bill.
The Nevada resident ranks in the top-10 of the OWGR, and will arrive at Augusta after a progressive run of form that started after his withdrawals from the opening Tournament of Champions with back pain.
Since then, Xander has gone seven from seven, with top-10s at the American Express and Pheonix, and fast-closing efforts when 13th at Torrey Pines and 19th at Sawgrass.
Last time out at the Match Play in Austin, the selection won all his group matches, beating Cam Davis 4&3, Aaron Wise 2&1 and Tom Hoge 1-up after birdie at the last hole. In the quarters, he led or tied with the in-form Rory McIlroy for 17 of the 18 holes, succumbing only to a 12-foot birdie putt by his opponent in a match that produced a better-ball 59.
Make of it what you will, but Masters winners Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and defending champ Scheffler have all won the WGC Match Play, so anything resembling a quality performance can only be a bonus.
Certainly his form this year has a better ‘feel’ than when missing the Masters cut a year ago, his first missed weekend in five starts and spoiling an Augusta record of second, 17th and third from 2019 to 2021. That said, it’s doubtful Xander will again leave himself a 50-foot putt and walk off for a rain break, as he did last season, something that seemed to put him off his game for too long. We should remember, too, that those two medal finishes were a one-shot runner-up to Tiger Woods after a final round 68, and a three shot defeat behind Hideki Matsuyama when just one hole (par-3 16th) cost him a treble bogey six and the end of any charge.
Winner of seven PGA Tour events that could have been eight bar an ironic play-off loss to Rory McIlroy when defending his WGC HSBC Champions crown in 2019, he notably has a tremendous record at nearby East Lake, home of the Tour Championship where he has figures of 6/3/1/2/7/1.
Xander is a major machine, landing nine top-10s and three further top-15 finishes in 22 starts, and whilst it was a toss-up between here and the U.S Open, he’s been a fancy for the green jacket for quite a while. He’s won each year since 2017 bar Covid year, so there is one coming, and it may as well be at Augusta. I’ve been on each of the last three years and there seems no reason to desert him yet.
Danger – Jordan Spieth
Danger – Sungjae Im
Danger – Corey Conners
Given the expected weather, it’s very hard to leave out Jordan Spieth, who has never been shy about his love of golf in difficult conditions.
In eight starts, the Texan has won once (in soft conditions), and finished second and third on four other occasions, including when dropping six shots in three holes to hand surprise winner Danny Willett the green jacket.
His positive stats have allied concerns surrounding the loss of form with the putter, showing well enough at Bay Hill, Sawgrass and Copperhead, but it’s the intelligent way he plots himself around the course that makes him the main danger this week.
A mere glance at Spieth’s best form shows a player very much at home in the wind, with the current world number 16 very much at his best at the likes of Pebble Beach, Deere Run and, of course, The Open, where in 2017 he overcame poor weather to win by three shots.
Since his win at the RBC Heritage last May, Spieth has racked up six top-10 and a further five top-20 finishes, including when having chances at the Pheonix, Arnold Palmer and Valspar.
Winner of three events in April throughout his career, the Masters has always looked to be ‘his’ tournament. He can prove that this week.
Sungjae Im is very simple to write about.
The 25-year-old Korean is put in around the same price as Will Zalatoris (price based on older majors form) and Viktor Hovland (just okay form here and a short game that is regressing from the very average) and that cannot be right.
Runner-up here in Covid year, he proved that to be nothing like a fluke when leading after the first round last year, although keeping on at just one pace to finish eighth.
Those two top-10 finishes from three starts back up an overall Georgia record that has him second, 12th and 15th at East Lake, whilst he has rarely ventured off the path of excellent tee-to-green, finding strong strokes against the field for his ball-striking in his last seven events.
Tour-tips three month tracker has the former rookie in the top-30 for ball-striking (18th) greens-in-regulation (24th) and scrambling (30th) whilst he ranks in the top five in par-5 performance, possibly the only chance of making a score this week.
In nine full-field events since the turn of the year, Sungjae missed the cut at the Sony Open, a venue he doesn’t get on well with, but has made eight cuts, including a fourth place at Torrey Pines, Scottsdale and Sawgrass.
If it becomes a grind, Sungjae is huge each-way value.
Corey Conners did nobody bar himself a favour when winning last week.
Almost certainly on the list for a good top-20 bet, his one -shot victory in Texas killed his win price by several points, yet only last year’s champ Scottie Scheffler has won the week previous to Augusta.
Still, I’d rather a player with good incoming form, as well as figures on the course, and the Canadian has those aplenty.
Form this season has been trending with just one missed-cut in eight outings spoiling a run towards that win last week.
In eighth place at halfway, the 31-year-old finished 18th at the opening Tournament of Champions, 12th at the Sony and, 21st at Bay Hill (third at halfway), before winning two of his three group games at the Match Play, losing only at the final hole to eventual runner-up Cameron Young.
Given the way Conners repeats form, it was no surprise to see him creep closer each round before eventually holding on last week, and put up yet another sterling performance for tee-to-green fans.
As at Waialae, Conners led the greens-in-regulation stats, and at both he racked up double-figures for his tee-to-green superiority, a huge factor around Augusta, where his relatively weak putting can be disguised.
Whilst he has been trending towards the victory, Conners also has progressive form here, with figures of 6/8/10/46. Should that continue, he’ll finish in fourth place, something more than possible given he is the typical horses-for-courses kind of guy.
This will go to one of the more fancied players, but I’ll be back tomorrow for the side bets.
- Xander Schauffele – WIN
- Jordan Spieth – WIN
- Sungjae Im – WIN/Top-5
- Corey Conners – WIN/Top-5
Vincenzi’s Sanderson Farms Championship betting preview: Eric Cole ready to show his class in Jackson
After a dominant performance by Europe at the Ryder Cup, the PGA TOUR heads to Mississippi for the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson.
The course is a 7,461-yard par 72 with fast Bermudagrass greens. The tournament had been an alternate-field event up until the 2019-20 season, when it was upgraded to a standalone event.
The field is largely as expected for a swing-season event, but there are some talented players teeing it up in Jackson this week looking to play their way into next season’s singature events. Some notable golfers in the 156-man field this week include Ludvig Aberg, Eric Cole, Keithy Mitchell and Emiliano Grillo.
Past Winners at Country Club of Jackson
- 2022: Mackenzie Hughes (-17)
- 2021: Sam Burns (-22)
- 2020: Sergio Garcia (-19)
- 2019: Sebastian Munoz (-18)
- 2018: Cameron Champ (-21)
- 2017: Ryan Armour (-19)
- 2016: Cody Gribble (-20)
Let’s take a look at several key metrics for the Country Club of Jackson to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.
Strokes Gained: Approach
SG: Approach will be important this week as the club was renovated in 2008 and tried to imitate some classic Donald Ross course features. This means the greens will be relatively small, and finding the right level on approach shots will be crucial.
The course will generate plenty of low scores, so it’s important that players give themselves plenty of birdie looks. Sergio Garcia gained 7.0 strokes on the field in his victory three seasons ago, which was third in the field. Sam Burns gained 8.3 in 2021, which was good for second.
Last season, Mackenzie Hughes gained 5.3 strokes on approach in his victory.
Total strokes gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:
- Chez Reavie (+26.8)
- Alex Smalley (+23.7)
- Sam Ryder (+23.1)
- Kevin Streelman (+18.1)
- Eric Cole (+17.5)
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
Placing an emphasis on who the best drivers of the golf ball is a smart strategy. This stat has driving accuracy built into it, and though the fairways are relatively easy to hit at the Country Club of Jackson, long and straight is always a big advantage.
I am looking for golfers who are going to have the shortest approach shots and are coming in from the fairway. In 2020 and 2021, respective winners Sergio Garcia and Sam Burns led the field (+5.5) and (+6.1) in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee. In 2023, Mackenzie Hughes was roughly average off the tee, but that seems to be an outlier when examining the winners in totality.
Total strokes gained: Off the Tee in past 24 rounds:
- Brent Grant (+27.0)
- Ludvig Aberg (+26.8)
- M.J. Daffue (+17.5)
- Kevin Yu (+17.1)
- Trevor Cone (+16.8)
With the rough not being a major problem this week, the bomb-and-gauge approach should be very successful.
Driving Distance gained over past 24 rounds:
- Peter Kuest (+20.9)
- Brandon Matthews (+20.3)
- M.J. Daffue (+17.2)
- Garrick Higgo (+17.2)
- Kyle Westmoreland (+15.1)
Strokes Gained: Par 5
Three of the four par 5s on the course should be reachable by the longer hitters, with the longest par 5 hole measuring 587 yards. Finding eagle and birdie opportunities on the Par 5s this week may be the difference in determining a winner.
Total Strokes Gained: Par 5 in past 24 rounds:
- Stephen Thompson (+19.3)
- Scott Harrington (+14.1)
- Stephan Jaeger (+14.0)
- Grayson Murray (+13.8)
- Jason Dufner (+12.4)
SG: Putting (Bermudagrass Greens Fast or Lightning)
Historically, SG: Putting at the Sanderson Farms Championship has weighed as the most indicative score of the tournament winner. While this isn’t necessarily rare in PGA TOUR tournaments, it was 10% more important at Country Club of Jackson than the average course on TOUR.
The greens have been either “fast” or “lightning” in every round the tournament has been played. Whoever wins this week will need to catch a hot putter, so the best putters on Bermuda should have the best chance to do that.
Total Strokes Gained: Putting (Bermuda+Fast or Lightning) past 24 rounds:
- Martin Trainer (+25.0)
- Chad Ramey (+24.3)
- Brian Gay (+22.3)
- Alex Noren (+19.8)
- Ben Taylor (+16.2)
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%) SG: OTT: (25%), Driving Distance (18%), SG: Par 5 (18%), SG: Putting (Bermuda) 14%.
- Peter Kuest (+8000)
- Stephan Jaeger (+2500)
- Kevin Yu (+6500)
- Trevor Cone (+20000)
- Callum Tarren (+6000)
- Chad Ramey (+9000)
- Scott Harrington (+30000)
- Luke List (+5500)
- Matthias Schmid (+10000)
- Joseph Bramlett (+20000)
Sanderson Farms Championship Picks
Eric Cole +2000 (DraftKings)
With the PGA Tour’s new fall format, there are a few very talented players that will be looking to parlay a strong fall into an invitation to all of the big money signature events come the beginning of 2024. Eric Cole, who’s looked excellent since his emergence on the PGA Tour, is among the players who has the skill and motivation to challenge for one of the spots up for grabs.
The Florida native is extremely comfortable playing on fast Bermudagrass greens. In the field, he ranks 14th in Strokes Gained: Putting on similar surfaces and has some strong results on Bermuda tracks to back up the statistics. Cole missed the cut at the Country Club of Jackson last year, but he’s a much different player now.
In his most recent start at the Fortinet Championship, Cole finished 4th and gained 12.4 strokes from tee to green, which led the field. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in the field in Strokes Gained: Approach.
Cole was among the most impressive performers in the fall swing’s first event. Now, he’ll have a much weaker field to grapple with and will benefit from Sahith Theegala, Max Homa and Justin Thomas not being in the field.
S.H. Kim +3300 (BetRivers)
S.H. Kim had one of the most impressive ball striking displays at the first event of the fall series. Kim finished 2nd at the Fortinet Championship and gained 11.0 strokes from tee to green, which was good for second in the field. He also gained 6.0 strokes on approach and 3.2 strokes off the tee.
If his strong performance at Silverado wasn’t enough, he also has an encouraging history at the Country Club of Jackson. Kim finished 13th at the course last season and should be much more comfortable in contention this year with some strong PGA Tour finishes under his belt.
Kim has had two runner-up finishes on the Korn Ferry Tour, both of which came on Bermudagrass greens. If he can build off the best ball striking performance of his career, he will be difficult to beat this week in Mississippi.
Sam Ryder +5000 (BetMGM)
I followed Ryder closely during the Fortinet Championship and he put on a ball striking clinic, which has been the case consistently since July. He finished 14th at Silverado and gained 6.4 strokes on approach, which was good for 2nd in the field. Over his last 24 rounds, Ryder ranks 3rd in Strokes Gained: Approach.
The 33-year-old didn’t have his best putting week in his most recent start (-2.6 strokes), which makes some sense considering the putting splits he’s shown us throughout his career. He typically putts field average on POA greens but he’s statistically a positive putter on Bermudagrass throughout his career. The fast Bermuda greens should be a welcome change for Ryder this week, who grew up playing in Florida.
Ryder’s history at the Country Club of Jackson isn’t spectacular by any means, but he’s yet to play the course when he’s in the type of form he’s in at the moment. If he continues his superb ball striking, he should have a good chance to contend this week in Mississippi.
Ben Griffin +5500 (PointsBet)
Ben Griffin is a player who loves playing on Bermudagrass greens. He has top-5 finishes in his career at the Wyndham Championship and the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. After playing in the final few groups over the weekend, I believe he’ll feel much more confident when he finds himself in that position again.
In his past 24 rounds, Griffin ranks 20th in Strokes Gained: Approach and 15th in Strokes Gained: Putting on fast Bermuda greens. Griffin is one of the better putters on Tour and can get hot in a hurry on the greens. Last year, we saw a shorter hitting good putter win this event, so the bombers can be beaten at the Country Club of Jackson, despite having an advantage.
Griffin played this event last year. He finished 24th in his first trip to the course and gained 6.2 strokes on approach, so the course layout seems to fit his eye. After making the FedEx Cup playoffs last year, the 27-year-old is ready to take the next step in his development on the PGA Tour.
The Wedge Guy: 3 surefire ways to never get better at golf
That may seem like a rather strange title for an article, but hear me out.
I’ve written this blog every week for nearly 20 years so that I can share some observations from a lifetime in this game and over 40 years in the golf equipment industry. If you read many of my posts, you know that one of my favorite areas of subject matter is the process of learning how to play this game at a higher and higher level. I can’t begin to number the hundreds of instruction books and articles I’ve digested or the innumerable hours I’ve spent watching golfers of all skill levels.
The simple fact is that the more often you hit your best shots – and the less frequently your worst ones show up – the more enjoyable the game becomes. What amazes me is how many golfers I encounter who must really not want to get better at this game. How else can you explain the fact that, in spite of all the gains in equipment technologies and the unlimited amount of instruction available (much of it free), so many golfers just cannot achieve any measurable semblance of success?
So, a bit tongue in cheek, this week I want to share what I believe are the three surefire ways to never get better at golf.
Ignore the importance of a proper grip
I was taught from the very beginning that the first fundamental of golf is learning how to hold the club properly. Doing so takes no athletic ability whatsoever, and you can practice it to perfection anywhere. I’m a firm believer that there is really only one way to do that, and close observation of elite players on the PGA and LPGA tours seems to verify that.
It doesn’t matter whether you opt for the traditional overlap (Vardon) grip, or the interlock grip, which has become increasingly more popular since the best player of the modern era made it his own. You can even choose the full-finger (not “baseball”) grip on the club, particularly if you are not as strong in the hands (ladies and seniors take note). Your grip can be rotated a bit stronger or weaker, but the fundamentals are the same:
- The club has to be controlled with the last three fingers of the upper hand, and the grip needs to be positioned under the heel pad, not across it.
- The lower hand pressure is also in the fingers, more specifically the middle two fingers – the thumb and forefinger have to be more lightly engaged, if at all.
- The upper or lead hand has to be “in control” of the movement of the club.
Very simply, if you are not holding the club in this fundamentally sound manner, the body and club just cannot move properly through the swing motion.
Disregard the importance of proper posture and setup
Likewise, it requires little to no athletic ability to “just stand there” in the proper posture for the athletic move that is a sound golf swing. And again, watch the best players in the world – there is little-to-no variance from one to the other in the way they position their body to be prepared for a fundamentally sound and powerful, repeating golf swing. I don’t need to describe it – just look at pictures and video of good players – they all start from basically the same posture and set-up. If you think you can become a solid player when you are starting from an unsound, “homemade” set up, you are sadly mistaken. The biggest mistakes I see in this area are that the hands are too high, eliminating the Secret Angle of Success, or that the hands are positioned way too far ahead of the clubhead at address.
Take instruction from your buddies
Golf instruction is part art and part science, and your buddies — even those who seem to be pretty good players — are not likely versed in either facet of golf instruction. But tips and advice are cheap, and I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve watched or heard a golfer who can’t break 80 (or even 90) try to “coach” someone who also can’t break 80. Unless your buddy has spent hours and years studying the golf swing and can play a pretty good game himself or herself, close your ears and eyes when they offer advice.
Compared to all the costs associated with golf, availing yourself of professional instruction is pretty darn cheap. My Dad had a wise saying: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” And my bet is that you have already committed to the fact that golf is certainly “worth doing.” So, please, engage a professional instructor who “gets” you and see him or her regularly.
So, there you have it. Frank Sinatra made a fortune singing “My Way,” but that certainly isn’t the pathway to better and more consistent golf.
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: My top 5 practice tips
- Wedge Guy: There’s no logic to iron fitting
- The Wedge Guy: Mind the gap
5 examples of how Lexi Thompson has been treated harsher than any of her peers
Following Lexi Thompson’s Solheim Cup post-round presser on Friday evening, the 28-year-old has been the topic of much discussion.
Golf pundits and fans alike have been weighing in with their takes after this exchange with a reporter surrounding an untimely shank on Friday afternoon went viral:
Confounding answer from Lexi and subsequent reaction from the US side. It was one of the pivotal moments of the entire day and somehow that's off limits? pic.twitter.com/9std3LFlmN
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) September 23, 2023
After the incident, LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said that Lexi has “been picked on and drug through negative comments. She is tired of it”
So has the criticism of Lexi Thompson been justified, or is this yet another example of her being unfairly treated?
Well, here are five times, in my opinion, that Lexi has been scrutinized far differently over the years than her peers.
2022 KPMG PGA Championship
At the 2022 KPMG PGA Championship, Lexi Thompson held a two-stroke lead with three holes to play. She couldn’t close the deal and lost the tournament.
Afterwards, she was fined $2k (as were the rest of the group) for slow play.
Lexi declined to speak to the media and got hammered on social media for doing so…
Lexi Thompson has declined to speak with the media here at Congressional.
Not a great look?
— Zephyr Melton (@zephyrmelton) June 26, 2022
Almost every golfer at some point has skipped a media session following disappointment on the course, and nobody has really batted an eyelid.
Tiger skipped back-to-back post-round media briefings at the 2019 WGC Mexico after being frustrated with his putting. Remember the backlash over that? Nah, me neither.
Every (or nearly every) big-name golfer under the sun has played golf with Donald Trump. Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy etc. Nobody really cared.
For whatever reason, when Lexi Thompson did, it was a story, and she took herself off social media soon after the photo was posted.
View this post on Instagram
2021 U.S. Women’s Open
In the final round of the 2021 U.S. Women’s Open, Lexi Thompson had a 6-foot eagle on her opening hole. She missed and made birdie to lead by five.
She then lost the tournament.
Following the round, Brandel Chamblee said on ‘Live From’:
“She’s got 6 feet away. Now professional golfers don’t miss the center of the face by a pinhead. Look where she hits this putt on the very 1st hole. Look where this putt comes off the face. She would have missed the center of the putter there by a half an inch. I have never — I have never — seen a professional golfer miss the center of the putter by a wider margin than that. That was at the 1st hole. “
Honest? Absolutely. Correct? Brandel usually is. Has any other LPGA golfer been handed the full-on Chamblee treatment? Not to my knowledge.
2023 Solheim Cup
Lexi Thompson spoke the words, “I don’t need to comment on that” when a reporter asked her about a failed shot, and the golf community collectively lost their minds.
Lost on many people is the fact that she literally answered the question instantly after.
Jessica Korda described the reporting of the awkward exchange with the media member as yet another example of the golf media shredding Lexi, but in reality, it was really just golf media covering the furore created by golf fans reacting to the viral clip.
So sad seeing golf media , yet again, shred Lexi. It’s easy writing about other people’s mistakes. It’s
Golf, bad shots happen- give the girl a break. She grows the game more than anyone on tour… And she’s a great player!!
— Jessica Korda (@Thejessicakorda) September 23, 2023
Lexi then won her next two matches, collecting 3 points from 4 for the U.S. team. But nobody seems to care about that.
‘yOu ShoUlD PrAcTIce puTTinG’
There’s very few golfers that have been plagued with such inane posts on their Instagram page as Lexi Thompson has.
I’ve tracked golfer’s social media accounts over the past few years (job requirement, sort of?). I can categorically say that Lexi gets some of the angriest and most aggressive responses to her posts of any golfer. Male or female. (She also gets some very nice ones too).
Despite countless posts of Thompson relentlessly practising her putting, the number of comments from dummies accusing her of neglecting that area of her game is both bizarre and alarming. Notice how the comments have been disabled on the post below? Probably not a coincidence.
View this post on Instagram
Go on any other golfer’s social account, and it will be hard to find the same dynamic.
Throw in the scandalous rules decision at the 2017 ANA Inspiration that cost her a second major title and spawned the “Lexi rule,” and it’s hard not to think Lexi has had a bit of a raw deal at times.
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