It's a double dose of PGA TOUR action this week.
The top 64 in the world travel to Austin Country Club for the WGC-Match Play. Dave Tindall provided an early preview for that event.
Meanwhile, a field of 132 golfers head south of the border to take on the Corales Golf Club on the East Coast of the Dominican Republic.
The top 70 and ties will make it through the 36-hole cut and the winner will walk away with 300 FedExCup Points.
This week's host venue is the Corales Golf Club. It's a Tom Fazio design that stretches to nearly 7,700 yards from the tips and plays as a par 72.
Located right on the coast, six of the holes are seaside while 12 are inland. The close proximity to the ocean makes wind the primary defense of the course. Dealing with the wind will be a big factor, even on a day where the forecast sits around 10 MPH.
We've established the course is long but many golfers still consider it a second-shot course. The main reason for that is the width of the fairways. They are extremely generous which allows for a lot of approach shots from the short grass. Last year, the field found just over 73 percent of fairways which was the second easiest on TOUR behind only Trinity Forest.
The course has been used for three years now, while two of those years came on the Web.com Tour schedule. In the past, golfers have talked about the extreme receptiveness of these paspalum grasses which deemphasizes ball-striking just a bit.
That played out in the numbers last year as Tom Lovelady was the only golfer to finish top 10 that arrived with positive form in the long-game department (SG Off-the-Tee plus Approach). It's just a one-year sample but that 9% rate (excluding Seungsu Han due to sample size) is the lowest number I've seen since I started tracking this. The TOUR average percentage is closer to 70 percent when looking at top-10 finishers.
Staying on that same narrative, 64 percent of those Corales top-10 finishers arrived with positive form in the short-game department. That's actually higher than the TOUR baseline which sits just under 60%.
Basically, this event played as a Short Game Soiree in 2018. You could even call it a third-shot course if it plays similarly this year.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Brice Garnett: "I think last year I just kind of approached the golf course wrong. Everybody’s kind of in play off the tee box. I kind of got out of my element, out of my game. To me, this is a second-shot golf course. Everybody’s in play off the tee and it comes down to a putting competition."
Keith Mitchell: "I played it two years ago and I’ve played enough on paspalum that I know that when you’re putting on paspalum, if there’s ever any doubt, it’s usually straighter than you think and usually hit it a little firmer than you think. And out here if you can just relax on these greens, they don’t do as funky things because they’re usually in pretty good shape and they’re usually straight and firm."
Nate Lashley: "I don’t think there’s any secrets out there. It’s just a good golf course, plays fairly long. You’ve got to hit some good, slide shots into the greens."
Seamus Power: "Length is a huge advantage here. Fairways are big, holes are long, so you can just send driver."
Dominic Bozzelli: "On this type of grass, the ball kind of sticks where it lands. I found it a little easier to dial-in your irons when it does that."
Overview: Golfers talk about the generous fairways. There is plenty of talk about the grasses, as well. From an approach point of view, it makes it easy to hold the greens since they are so receptive. From a putting view, they are fairly straightforward which leads to heaps and heaps of scoring chances.
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:
TPC Deere Run
Pebble Beach Pro-Am
El Camaleon GC
Coco Beach G&CC
Pumpkin Ridge GC
Deere Run and the Pebble Pro-Am find similarities in the ease of finding the fairways. From there, they become courses that you attack with wedges and short irons from the short grass.
El Camaleon and Coco Beach feature the same paspalum grasses.
The last one on the list is the course used for the Web.com Tour's Portland Open. I rarely include Web courses on this list but last year's leaderboard was too much of a coincidence to not ignore it. Looking at the 2017 Portland Open we saw Keith Mitchell and Brice Garnett play in the final group. They finished 1 and 2 at the Corales last year. Denny McCarthy and Abraham Ancer shared a piece of that 54-hole lead at the 2017 Portland Open. They finished 4th and 13th at the Corales last year.
Sam Ryder finished T2 at the 2017 Portland Open and he finished T2 at the 2016 Corales.
I don't know enough about the Witch Hollow Course at Pumpkin Ridge to say why there was so much leaderboard overlap but it's something to consider if you need a tiebreaker this week.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 82 degrees. Winds at 9-to-15 MPH.
Friday: Partly Cloudy with a chance of rain. High of 81 degrees. Winds at 7-to-13 MPH.
Weekend: Temps remain in the low-80s. Looks dry on the precipitation front and relatively calm winds in the 8-to-13 MPH range at the moment. Keep an eye on that wind forecast, though. The course is right on the coast so even the slightest breeze will make a big impact.
Golfers to Watch
The young Korean turned 21 last week and then churned out another strong finish. He was right in the mix all week and finished T4 at week's end. It was his second top 5 of the Florida Swing. He's been as steady as they come from a ball-striking perspective. Also in his favor, he converted a 54-hole lead into victory at the 2018 Portland Open. An event which I talked about briefly in the correlated courses section. It's strange to see him as a favorite but it's hard to make a case against him.
He won this event when it was on the Web.com Tour schedule. He returned last year to snag a top 30. More recently he secured a top 10 at the Puerto Rico Open. More paspalum success for his resume.
The Belgian played his golf in the States but this will be his first PGA TOUR action. He's been stringing together a lot of consistent results on the Euro Tour over the last few years. Love his upside this week but the concern would be jet lag as he just finished T55 at the Maybank Championship last week in Malaysia. He's not on the early list for next week's Valero but hopefully they've extended a sponsor's invite, as well. I would love to see what the big guy can do against PGA TOUR competition on a regular basis.
If you believe in biorhythms or something of that nature than Burns won at this same time last year (Savannah Golf Championship on the Web.com Tour). He's also just an interesting play if you believe in talent and putting performance. Burns has quickly established himself as one of the best putters on TOUR. If short game truly is a big factor here than Burns could be in for a top-heavy finish. The young LSU product has three career top 10s but his best of 2019 is a T18 at the Desert Classic. His career-best came at the Sanderson Farms last fall, another alternate-field event.
G-Mac is still trying to get his game in top form to play his way into the majors this year. Particularly Pebble Beach and Portrush where he has fond memories of both. This week's event provides a good platform for him to pick up some confidence. Early in his career he established himself as a coastal specialist and he's bringing that back recently with top 20s at the RSM and Pebble Beach Pro-Am. If short game is at a premium like last year, then it should really play into his hands from a course-fit perspective.
He poked his head into contention on Sunday last week, grabbing a T9 by week's end. If short game becomes a big deal again then Denny should benefit. He has five career starts where he's posted 5+ in the SG Putting department. He's not afraid of a putting competition. He also finished top 5 here last year.
Sticking with the theme of short game. Uihlein is one of the most consistent golfers in the field when it comes to performance on and around-the-greens. It's odd because when he made the leap from the Euro Tour to the PGA TOUR circuit I had the notion that he was a steady ball-striker. That just hasn't been the case as he misses too many fairways to contend most weeks on TOUR. However, these generous fairways at Corales should really fit his eye and allow him to excel with the shorter clubs.
Ranking the Field
1. Sungjae Im
2. Denny McCarthy
3. Joel Dahmen
4. Adam Schenk
5. Nate Lashley
6. Jhonattan Vegas
7. Dylan Frittelli
8. Trey Mullinax
9. Rory Sabbatini
10. Matt Jones
11. Corey Conners
12. Sam Burns
13. Joaquin Niemann
14. Charl Schwartzel
15. Shawn Stefani
16. Graeme McDowell
17. Aaron Baddeley
18. Peter Uihlein
19. Carlos Ortiz
20. Brian Stuard
21. Harris English
22. Jonas Blixt
23. Hudson Swafford
24. Johnson Wagner
25. Seungsu Han
Check back on Tuesday afternoon for our DFS Dish and Wednesday morning for the Expert Picks.