Three weeks after Viktor Hovland waltzed away with the FedExCup at East Lake to conclude the 2022/23 season, the PGA Tour returns to action this week with the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort’s North Course in California. An event that signals the start of the reimagined FedExCup Fall.
What is the FedExCup Fall?
After being announced last year that the PGA Tour would return to a calendar year schedule for the start of 2024, these end of year events that have been making up the beginning of new PGA Tour seasons since 2013 – when they switched to a wraparound schedule – were converted into the FedExCup Fall.
With the top 50 in the FedExCup standings already securing their spot in every PGA Tour event next year, including the lucrative limited-field Signature Events, this series of seven fall events has plenty at stake for those on the outside looking in.
Players ranked outside the top 50 will carry their FedEx points over into this series, with any points they gain in the fall added to their existing tally.
Though players ranked 51st-70th have locked up a PGA Tour card for next year and with that, entry into 2024’s full-field events, they must now jockey for position to get into the opening two Signature Events of next season. With players ranked 51st-60th at the culmination of the fall events eligible for said tournaments.
For those who finished the last FedExCup season outside of the top 70 there is even more on the line, as they are playing for, first and foremost, their place on the tour next season. Remaining in or ascending into the top 125 during these events will seal that deal. Or else it’s conditional status on the tour and off to Q-School later in the year.
This new system simply means that, for many, performing well at the end of the calendar year will carry more weight than before.
Much like it has done in nine of the previous ten PGA Tour seasons, the Fortinet Championship (previously the Safeway Open and Frys.com Open) kicks off the end-of-season events following the conclusion of the Tour Championship.
The tournament was established in 2007 and has always taken place at this time of year. After starting off life at Grayhawk Golf Club in Arizona and moving to CordeValle Golf Club in California in 2010, the event finally settled here at the Silverado Resort in 2014, where it has remained.
2003 Masters champion, Mike Weir won that inaugural event in 2007; a major flavour that was added to by Jimmy Walker in 2013 and Stewart Cink in 2020 – who shot the tournament record score of -21 in the process.
Two players have won the tournament twice and they did so by going back-to-back. Brendan Steele was the first to achieve this feat in 2016/2017 and he was matched by Max Homa last year. Who backed up his 2021 win with a gift of a title last year, as the usually nerveless Danny Willett inexplicably three-putted from under 4ft on the final hole, to miss out by one stroke.
As a debut Ryder Cup appearance looms for the likeable Californian, he is back to defend this week. Looking to join a relatively small and illustrious list of players, which includes Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, to win the same event three years on the spin.
Several different people have had a hand in developing the Silverado North Course that we have today. Ben Harmon originally designed the course in 1955 and it was modified by Robert Trent Jones in 1966.
Then in 2011, former golfer, Jonny Miller – who had recently taken up ownership of the resort – made his own changes to the setup. Which included the removal of some trees, widening of fairways and a complete renovation of the bunkers.
The course will this week play as a par 72, measuring 7123 yards. It has ten par 4s (360-458 yards), four par 5s (538-575 yards) and four par 3s (182-212 yards). It is worth noting that the routing of the course from holes 8-17 has altered from last year, with three of the four par 5s now coming over the last seven holes.
Though it is reasonably short in length, the course has proven to provide a good challenge since taking up hosting duties in 2014; possessing an average winning score of -16.7 over the nine renewals.
The often doglegging fairways are some of the narrowest on the PGA Tour and have ranked as the most difficult to find over recent years. Despite the removal of trees during renovations, many still remain and regularly encroach directly on your line of play, meaning approaches can be blocked out if missing (or sometimes hitting) on the wrong side. Some deep, penal bunkers and gnarly rough offer added protection to the fairways.
Tree-trouble presents itself around the small and tricky but typically receptive poa/bent greens too. With a number of holes fronted by large, overhanging trees; adding further challenges on approach. Again there are deep bunkers for protection, whilst run-offs will punish you if not hitting the right spots of the greens.
With the course ranking around average on tour for both greens-in-regulation and scrambling percentages, when added to the narrowness of the fairways, it represents a demanding exam of your tee-to-green game.
Having said that, there is nothing especially devilish or deceptive about this course. It’s a fair, honest test, with everything right out in front of you. With four reachable par 5s and several short, attackable par 4s, there are plenty of birdie chances to take advantage of if on-song with your ball striking.
- SG: Approach
- SG: Off-the-Tee
- Proximity 100-125 yards
- Par 5 Scoring
Silverado is a tricky one to pin down stats wise, as most leaderboards are littered with players showing a variety of skillsets. It usually requires a sound all-round tee-to-green performance to overcome, which has certainly been the case for Max Homa over the last two years and with likely firm(ish) and potentially breezy conditions this week, I expect this to once again be the case.
In each of his two wins, Homa has hit the ball well, ranking 6th and 9th off-the-tee, 12th and 18th in approach and 19th both times in greens-in-regulation. Whilst last year he was an excellent 4th in scrambling.
Stewart Cink shone with his play into the greens in 2020, ranking 1st in GIR and 8th in approach; complimenting with solid top 20 performances in driving and scrambling. With Cameron Champ in 2019 excelling with driver, ranking 1st but was no one-trick-pony, also ranking 10th in GIR and 13th in approach.
Kevin Tway did all of his best work around the greens in 2018, ranking 6th in scrambling. This very much the same story for Brendan Steele in 2016, who ranked 2nd in that area, though when he won the following year he was more impressive with his long game, ranking 1st OTT, 6th in GIR and 7th in approach.
Emiliano Grillo in 2015 and Sangmoon Bae in 2014 again produced positive displays in each aspect of the tee-to-green game, but particularly shone in approach, ranking 3rd and 4th respectively.
The amount of short par 4s – as well as the par 5s if needing to lay up – make Silverado a haven for strong wedge players, with those who excel in approaches between 100-125 yards of particular interest here.
Finally, with three par 5s coming over the last 1/3 or so of your round, those holes will have a big say in where the trophy ends up this week.
Correlating Events (Courses)
Travelers Championship (TPC River Highlands)
The Travelers Championship threw up as many form-ties as any event for Silverado. It’s another short, tree-lined course with similarly small bent/poa greens and ranks closely to this week’s venue in GIR and scrambling percentages; also putting importance on a strong wedge game.
Stewart Cink has won both events, whilst other former Fortinet winners, Brendan Steele and Kevin Tway have good records at River Highlands, possessing several top 6 finishes.
Marc Leishman and Chez Reavie have won the Travelers and finished 3rd here; Zac Blair has a 2nd there and a 4th here and South African, Tyrone Van Aswegen has a 5th there to go with finishes of 3rd and 9th at Silverado.
Sanderson Farms Championship (Country Club of Jackson)
Despite being a longer course, the Country Club of Jackson provides a similar ball-striking test. In particular off the tee, with its narrow, hard-to-hit fairways and calls on sharp wedge play.
Cameron Champ has won both events and 2015 Fortinet winner, Emiliano Grillo has finished 5th there.
Nick Taylor is a past Sanderson Farms winner and has three top 10s here; Chesson Hadley has a 2nd there and has finished 3rd in the Fortinet and Bryce Molder has a top 4 at both courses.
Genesis Invitational (Riviera Country Club)
Though not wholly the same test, with a comparable driving challenge and poa annua greens, there’s enough at tree-lined Riviera that has seen players carry form over between the two courses.
The most significant piece of form comes from Max Homa, who has won at both and the first Silverado winner in 2014, Sangmoon Bae, has twice finished top 10 at Riviera.
Kevin Na has finished 2nd at both; Marc Leishman has several top 5s there; Chez Reavie has finished in the top 10 at Riviera on three occasions and Bryce Molder has a finish of 6th.
Conditions should add to the challenge at Silverado this week, with each day before and during the event forecasting, warm and dry conditions. Add in a constant breeze, which could gust at over 20mph and we should get somewhat firm conditions.
World #7 and defending champion, Max Homa is the top ranked player in the field this week and is joined by just three more players from inside the top 50: Ryder Cup teammate and #24 Justin Thomas, #37 Sahith Theegala and #49 Cam Davis.
There are four further past Silverado winners in attendance: Stewart Cink, Cameron Champ, Kevin Tway and Sangmoon Bae.
Max Homa tops the betting at 7/1, with Justin Thomas next at 16s and Sahith Theegala at 18s.
Many of these haven’t played for three to six weeks, which gives the event a very open feel to it and I’m inclined steer away from the very top of the market.
There’s a rather strong middle of the board here, packed with experienced winners and younger talents and it’s here where I’ll focus most of my attention this week, starting with Chez Reavie.
1 pt Chez Reavie each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 50/1
Chez Reavie has had a good second half to the year but didn’t do enough to advance to the first playoff event and currently sat 95th in the FedExCup standings, he has plenty still to play for this year. He can go a long way to wrapping up those playing privileges for next season with a big week at Silverado.
Reavie missed six cuts on the bounce from the end of January-March though found form when 6th in the Texas Open at the start of April and has held form since. He’s missed just two cuts in his last thirteen starts and alongside a couple of other top 25s, when 11th in the RBC Heritage and 25th in the Canadian Open, he produced his best effort of the year when 4th in the Travelers Championship six starts ago.
As always, the irons are the key to Reavie’s better form and aside from ranking 33rd in approach and 32nd in proximity from 100-125 yards for the season as a whole, he is essentially the best iron player in this field when taking into account the last three months of play.
That strength in approach was evident when he finished 3rd here in 2020 – his best finish in the Fortinet Championship. This is part of a stronger overall book of form in the event, with him missing just two cuts in nine visits and finishing 33rd or better in each of the other editions.
As a past winner of the Travelers Championship and possessing multiple top 10s in the Genesis Invitational, Reavie’s correlating form is as attractive as most and offers further hope of a contending display this week.
1 pt Doug Ghim each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 55/1
Doug Ghim has had a sneaky-consistent four months, with a solo missed cut in nine starts coming in the star-studded Scottish Open. He’s been hitting the ball well over this period and if still in that same kind of form, I’m optimistic that he can get the FedExCup Fall off to a good start this week.
Amongst those recent performance are three top 20s, when 12th in the Canadian Open, 15th in the Travelers Championship and 19th in the AT&T Byron Nelson. Although he was a little underwhelming when we last saw him finishing 51st in the Wyndham Championship, it was encouraging to see him maintaining form with the long game, ranking 5th in approach and 7th off-the-tee; a poor week on the greens ultimately proving his undoing.
Ghim is rock solid in each of the stats mentioned above, which results in him ranking as the 5th-best suited player to this test in the field this week. These stats can all be upgraded when looking at his most recent form, as he ranks 4th tee-to-green, 10th in approach and 12th off-the-tee over the previous three months.
He went well here on debut in 2020, finishing 14th and though his two subsequent efforts haven’t been as good, we can take confidence from his 15th at River Highlands earlier this year.
As a former #1 amateur and winner of the prestigious Ben Hogan Award in 2018 – which is given out to the star college golfer in the US that year; boasting Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg among its recent winners – big things were expected of Ghim when turning pro. Though his pro career hasn’t quite taken off yet, recent signs have been promising and if able to recapture that form on the restart, he should go well in Napa.
1 pt Austin Eckroat each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 55/1
Back at the end of the Wyndham Championship in August, Austin Eckroat was the unlucky man who fell out of the top 70 in the FedExCup, missing out on the first playoff event (the St Jude Championship) and everything getting inside that top 70 brings with it.
However, that he was even in that spot was indicative of the form this talented youngster was showing a few months back and with a little less pressure on his shoulders in securing his tour card compared to most (sat 74th in the rankings), he’s in a position to attack over these closing events and can force his way into those first couple of Signature Events next year.
Eckroat made a promising start to the year, finishing 12th in the Sony Open but followed that by missing his next six cuts. A bounce back when 5th in the Corales Puntacana was followed by another small drop in form but an excellent 2nd in the AT&T Byron Nelson set about a strong couple of months for the Oklahoman.
He followed that with a 16th in the Charles Schwab Challenge and top 30 efforts when 24th in the Travelers Championship and 30th in the Memorial Tournament. Though no doubt his most impressive performance came when finishing 10th in the US Open; an event in which he ranked 4th tee-to-green, behind the elite trio of Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood.
Eckroat was doing most things well at that period but it is with the driver that he performs most consistently, ranking 34th off-the-tee; he’s also a solid 62nd-ranked scrambler. The quality iron play had gone cold towards the end of the season but with the benefit of a few weeks off I’m hoping he can rediscover that this week and improve markedly on a 64th-place finish here last year.
1 pt Dylan Wu each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 66/1
Dylan Wu enjoyed a super-consistent second season on the PGA Tour this year and in past years would’ve comfortably sewn up his playing rights for next year, finishing last season at #86 in the rankings. He has a good all-round skillset for this test and with his iron play a key asset, he has the ability to be strongly involved at Silverado.
Wu has only missed four cuts in twenty-two starts in 2023 and recorded seven top 25s. Though he has been consistent throughout the year, he achieved his best finish and indeed his best result on the PGA Tour to date, when 5th in the 3M Open two starts ago.
He is one of the top 15 players in this field over the last three months, ranking 13th in strokes-gained total. I’m impressed by his iron play, with him strong in wedge play from 100-125, ranking 45th; a ranking of 13th in par 5 scoring suggests he’s as likely as most in this field to get hot down this back nine.
Wu was 47th here on debut in 2021 and missed the cut last year. However, he’s improved plenty since both of those efforts; something he can demonstrate this week.
1 pt Chesson Hadley each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 66/1
Chesson Hadley had started to find a little form towards the end of last season and with him possessing a good record here, as well as some positive correlating form, I’m expecting him to continue that form this week.
He made just four cuts in his opening fourteen starts this year, with a single top 25 coming when 23rd in the Phoenix Open. Though over his last seven appearances he’s missed just one cut and recorded a first top 10 of the year, when 6th in the Barracuda Championship. Following that with a 27th in the 3M Open and 33rd in the Wyndham Championship on his two latest starts.
Hadley ranks 20th over that period in this field in strokes-gained total, much of which has been engineered by his short game. Having said that, despite that very poor form earlier this year he has largely looked competent in approach, ranking 54th and has also scrambled solidly enough.
In eight starts at Silverado, he has recorded three top 25s, including an excellent effort when 3rd in 2017.
Hadley also has some handy finishes in correlating events, with a runner-up finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship and 5th in the Travelers Championship. This strengthens his suitability to this test and as someone currently sitting precariously at 121st in the rankings, he could do with a fast start to the fall events this week.
1 pt C.T Pan each way (1/5 – 7 places) – 100/1
This more traditional, tree-lined setup is very much C.T Pan’s bag and with some excellent performances to his name this year after he returned from injury, he looks dangerous in this field.
Following over four months out due to a nagging wrist injury, Pan returned to action at the end of March this year, missing the cut on the Korn Ferry Tour. Starts were few over the next couple of months, as his lack of sharpness told in further missed cuts at the RBC Heritage and Wells Fargo Championship but he burst into form in Texas at the Byron Nelson on his next start.
There, he finished 4th in a fantastic all-round display of golf. This was very much the case on his next start, as he led by two entering the final round of the Canadian Open. Though eventually settling for 3rd, he responded to a poor start in that final round, fighting back admirably on the back nine and really looked like a player to watch over the ensuing weeks.
That didn’t quite work out, as he missed his next two cuts and though playing the weekend on his two latest starts, finishes of 70th in the 3M Open and 64th in the Wyndham Championship were underwhelming after what his earlier form promised.
Although, there were positives in that effort at the Wyndham, as he showed a return to the type of approach play that engineered those two consecutive top 4s and that he has typically produced throughout his pro career. Added to being a solid driver and scrambler, he’s the right type for this challenge.
Pan has previous here, finishing 6th in 2021 and as a past winner of the RBC Heritage, much of his best form comes on these types of courses. This includes top 10s in the Travelers and Genesis Invitational, as well as several good efforts in the Sanderson Farms and if able to get his irons as dialled as he can, he is capable of going even better than his 2021 finish, in California this week.