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From one birdie-fest to another, the PGA TOUR heads from Cali to the Caribbean for this week's Bermuda Championship. Okay, not quite. I always thought Bermuda was located in the Caribbean but it's 900 miles north of the Caribbean Sea and the closest landmass is actually North Carolina, 640 miles from Bermuda.
Most of you probably already knew that but I had to go through that little geography lesson this morning so I figured I would share in case anyone else was uninformed like I was.
Getting back to the golf tournament, a field of 132 golfers will head to Southampton this week to do battle with Port Royal Golf Course.
This event is going to be the first PGA TOUR event to welcome back fans but it will do so in a limited fashion. Autographs will be prohibited so there won't be any face-to-face, fan-to-player interaction. Also, the field will see an increase in COVID-19 testing this week due to the local government policy. Golfers will have pre-testing as well as testing on days 4 and 8 while being on the island, as pointed out by Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel.
Despite this event getting a bump up to full status (500 FedExCup Points to the winner, a 2021 Masters invite, etc.) most of the stars are leaving this off their schedule. We are just a few weeks out from playing the Masters so many golfers are avoiding the extra travel hassle. Will that open the door for a first-time winner or will we see another veteran lift the trophy this week?
This week's host venue is Port Royal Golf Course.
It's a Robert Trent Jones design that was pieced together and opened in 1970 and then underwent a $14.5 million renovation in 2008. That was in anticipation of hosting the 2009 Grand Slam of Golf which was played annually until 2014.
Very short by PGA TOUR standards, this coastal course is a par 71 that will play just over 6,800 yards (6,828). It has the traditional par-71 setup of three par 5s and four par 3s.
As you'd expect from a sub-6,900 yard layout, the driver is not a key weapon this week. There are cross bunkers and other hazards that often take the driver out of hand and turn it into a second-shot course.
As a comparison, Boo Weekley said it's like Harbour Town without all the trees. Brian Gay did not share the same thoughts on the course comp because Port Royal is so hilly. He claimed it was closer to Kapalua where they play the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Nice humblebrag there.
Last year was the first year hosting this event so how did it play? The field averaged 54.28 percent in terms of fairways hit. A bit lower than I expected when you consider golfers are clubbing down on many of the holes. From there, golfers were able to land 66.67% of greens in regulation. That is a high clip which tells us that playing from the rough is not a problem here. They will be attacking with short irons and wedges on a lot of the holes.
For turf, golfers will see wall-to-wall bermudagrass with some zoysia mixed in the rough, as well. There is no target stimp rating listed but golfers last year talked about the greens rolling slower than TOUR average. That makes perfect sense when you consider this is a coastal course and if heavy wind rolls through then you don't want to be stuck with unplayable conditions.
Speaking of wind, that will definitely be a big factor to watch this week. The course got hit by Hurricane Paulette just six weeks ago. It's going to be rare to find a calm day when you are playing right next to the Atlantic Ocean. Golfers with comfort adapting to changing winds should really like the conditions this week. Texans and members of the Sea Island Mafia are two groups that come to mind in that regard.
Other than the wind, the course doesn't have much else to defend against the top golfers in the world. There were 55 sub-70 rounds during opening-round action last year and 10 sub-65 rounds by week's end. We should expect a similar scoring environment as we saw last week at the ZOZO.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Aaron Wise: "It’s definitely not a bomber’s golf course, and the crazy part is how much it changes because the wind’s blowing 30 miles an hour. All of a sudden, if the wind switches to the dead opposite way, a ball goes 50 yards shorter or longer than it did the day before... I hit a lot of shorter clubs off the tee and there’s a hole on the back side where I’m playing it 7-iron, 7-iron today. "
Boo Weekley: "you ain’t overpowering the golf course. You can bunt it around here and kind of get away with the roughs. Bermuda rough, I kind of grew up on it, and the greens are Bermuda."
Scottie Scheffler: "I think we play in a lot more wind than guys expect and this is definitely one of those places. I guess definitely the experience from Texas will definitely help here... It’s very hilly. The green speeds are a little slower than what we’re used to, but that’s kind of what you have to do on a piece of property like this because if the wind picks up and the greens are too quick, then all of a sudden we can’t play golf. "
Russell Knox: "There’s a lot of shorter holes where if you drive it well, you can have wedges and even some chip shots in. But it’s windy and the par 3s are very difficult if played all the way back. The par 5s, three par 5s are reachable."
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Harbour Town (Heritage)
El Camaleon (Mayakoba)
Waialae CC (Sony Open)
Sea Island (RSM Classic)
Sedgefield CC (Wyndham)
Corales GC (Corales)
Coco Beach (Puerto Rico)
We have just one year of data to lean on but all of these venues popped as potential pointers. You could aggregate results from all of them or pick and choose the ones that make the most sense to you. Overall, it's a list of coastal courses and/or less-than-driver venues.
Thursday: Partly Sunny with a high of 79 degrees. A chance of showers all day. Winds at 6 to 10 MPH with afternoon gusts up to 25 MPH.
Friday: Parly Sunny with a high of 81 degrees. A chance of showers all day. Winds at 20 to 25 MPH with gusts up to 30 MPH.
It's a little early to lock in a forecast but early signs suggest that wind could be a big deal for at least a couple rounds this week. The threat of showers remains a constant variable but not one that seems likely to disrupt play.
Golfers to Watch
He's back! He was unable to crack the field for the limited CJ CUP and ZOZO but his top-10 finish from the Shriners carried over to earn him a spot this week. The same can be said for Peter Malnati and Justin Suh who earned their spot the same way. As for Zalatoris, the rising star has top 10s in three of his four PGA TOUR starts this season and is inching closer to Special Temporary Membership. Unlike his stock ahead of the U.S. Open, he is attracting a lot more attention from gamers and bookmakers, starting the week as an 11/1 favorite on the betting board.
The only golfer to make the trek from Sherwood Country Club to Port Royal. Todd is the defending champ this week. The course clearly fits his game which is more about course management and short game. That plays well on a 6,828-yard layout.
Still trying to get his career back on track, the youngster has missed cuts in six of his last eight starts. Top 20s in the other two. He posted a pair of 65s at Port Royal last year so this might be another spot for a top 20.
One of my favorite comp courses this week is Sea Island Resort. Host of The RSM Classic. Norlander has three career top 5s and two have come at the RSM. He also posted a T9 at the Sony Open this January, another coastal track. Arrives with two missed cuts, a T4, and T58 in four starts this season.
People will talk about him being the class of the field this week but that is only true if you are looking a couple of years back or speaking of his complete body of work over the course of a career. If you hone in on 6-month or 1-year metrics then you likely lands somewhere outside of the top 15 in this week's field. In reality, he probably falls somewhere in the middle of those two spectrums which is why he lands at 10th in my rankings this week.
What is it about playing by the coast that gets his game in gear? If you look at his five best finishes on the PGA TOUR, four of them have come on coastal courses. That includes a career-best runner-up finish just last month at the Corales. He was T20 here last year through 54 holes before settling for a Sunday 72 (T41). From a course-fit perspective, this looks like the type of course that allows him to pop.
Zalatoris is the young gun getting all of the market love this week but Suh is no slouch himself. He was the World No. 1 amateur during his time at USC but struggled with injury right when turning pro. He's healthy again and the results are showing. He arrives with three straight top 25s on the PGA TOUR, dating back to a T21 at the Barracuda Championship in August. He was one of the first names off my list in terms of top 20 rankings.
Ranking the Field
1. Will Zalatoris
2. Brendon Todd
3. Doc Redman
4. Rasmus Hojgaard
5. Harold Varner III
6. Emiliano Grillo
7. Henrik Norlander
8. Cameron Tringale
9. Denny McCarthy
10. Henrik Stenson
11. Tom Lewis
12. Charley Hoffman
13. Scott Stallings
14. Stewart Cink
15. Pat Perez
16. Wesley Bryan
17. Jhonattan Vegas
18. Sepp Straka
19. Kristoffer Ventura
20. Jason Dufner