From the sheer ecstacy of the Ryder Cup win for Europe, now we move on to the meat and gravy of the PGA Tour and the Sanderson Farms Championship. As always, golf expert Jamie Worsley is back with another comprehensive preview and six more selections for you.

Sanderson Farms Championship Betting Tips

  • 1.25 pts Davis Thompson each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 45/1 
  • 1 pt Kevin Yu each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1 
  • 1 pt Nick Hardy each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 55/1 
  • 1 pt Erik Van Rooyen each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 90/1
  • 1 pt Will Gordon each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 90/1
  • 0.75 pts Ryan Brehm each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 400/1

Following a magnificent victory in Italy for Team Europe at last week’s Ryder Cup, the PGA Tour gets back to the important matter of the FedExCup Fall series this week, with the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson in Mississippi.

The first event of this series – the Fortinet Championship – took place three weeks ago, which was won by Sahith Theegala. This week’s event is the first of six over the next seven weeks that will help decide the PGA Tour fields for next year.

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 have carried 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 – the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational. 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.

Tournament History

The tournament began life in 1968 as the Magnolia Classic and has gone by many other titles in the following years; the Sanderson Farms Championship since 2013. It has taken place every year since debuting, though the 2009 renewal was cancelled due to rain making the course unplayable.

For much of its history the Sanderson Farms Championship was an alternate event, giving the chance for lower ranked players to play when the top players were off in a major or another high calibre competition. However, since 2019 it has been flying solo and makes up an important part of the fall events at the end of the year.

Due to the past nature of the event, it has typically attracted a weaker field, meaning the winners’ list isn’t packed with star names. Though notable winners do include three-time major winner, Payne Stewart (1982), last week’s magnificent Team Europe captain, Luke Donald (2002) and 2017 Masters champ, Sergio Garcia (2020).

Last year’s event went the way of Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes, who rode his luck during the final round to get himself into a playoff with Sepp Straka; then beating the imposing Austrian with an excellent birdie on the second playoff hole. Hughes is back to defend this week.

The Course

The Sanderson Farms Championship has been staged at the Country Club of Jackson since 2014. A course was originally designed here by Dick Wilson in the 1960s, though after several unsuccessful renovation projects in the intervening years, a complete redesign was finished in 2008 under the watchful eye of John Fought, who incorporated Donald Ross-style features to the course.

It will play as a par 72, measuring 7461 yards; with ten par 4s (330-505 yards), four par 5s (554-612 yards) and four par 3s (168-223 yards). Scoring is usually good, with three winning scores of -20 or lower in nine renewals and it averages a winning score just shy of 19-under-par. It can play a touch trickier if able to get the intended firm conditions.

Most aspects of play at the CCoJ are reasonably straightforward, particularly off-the-tee. The course is loosely tree-lined, with little in the way of elevation changes and though many holes dogleg, they are not severe. There are some narrow landing areas in the fairways but they aren’t too penal should you miss due to the sparse bunkering and lack of punishing rough, whilst of the five water holes on the course, only one of those is a threat to your tee shot. This is why the course has a been a haven for bombers.

The questions asked do start to get a little more demanding into and on the greens, with many crowned and tough to hold if firm and fast, as we saw in last year’s renewal. Mackenzie Hughes’ -17 winning score there was the second-highest since the event moved here and the relatively large and gently sloped bermudagrass greens had a much lower GIR% than usual – 51% in comparison to 56%, 59% and 60% in the previous three years. Though it is worth noting that the CCoJ is one of the easiest scrambling courses on tour.

There’s an element of risk/reward about the opening two holes; two shortish par 4s on which the greens are protected to the left by water. The course then finishes with a quartet of par 4s, with the drivable 330-yard 15th leading into three more demanding holes, including the strong 505-yard 18th.

Barring an out-of-bounds area to the left on the 14th, the four par 5s aren’t littered with penalty, though are home to some of the tighter driving holes; the 616-yard 5th is the lengthiest hole on the course and has one of the narrowest fairways.

The par 3s aren’t overly daunting and plays into the profile of a course that can be got at, particularly by the strongest ball-strikers.

The Stats  

Key Stats:

  • SG: Off-the-Tee
  • Driving Distance
  • SG: Approach
  • Greens-in-Regulation

This is a place where you can and should take driver on a lot of holes, which has made SG: off-the-tee a standout stat of winners of this event since moving to the CCoJ in 2014. Though last year’s winner, Mackenzie Hughes moved away from that last year, the top of the leaderboard still contained many who drove the ball well.

In the four renewals leading up to last year, all of the winners excelled off-the-tee. Sam Burns and Sergio Garcia ranked 1st in their respective 2021 and 2020 victories; 2018 winner, Cameron Champ ranked 3rd and 2019 champion, Sebastian Munoz ranked 4th. Each of them also ranked top 10 in driving distance, with Garcia and Champ the biggest hitters the week they won.

Though Mackenzie Hughes ranked 59th off-the-tee when winning last year, he was still longer than he was accurate. He was followed by Sepp Straka in 2nd, who ranked 13th off-the-tee; the South African duo of Garrick Higgo and Dean Burmester in 3rd and 4th ranked 8th and 3rd respectively, whilst also hitting it far.

This combination is further on show with the likes of Cam Young and Byeong Hun An contending; both players who are strong (and long) with the driver.

Many of those impressive driving displays have been combined with quality in approach.

Each of last year’s top 3 ranked top 10 in approach, whilst Straka and Higgo in 2nd and 3rd also ranked 2nd and 4th in greens-in-regulation.

Sam Burns produced a superb all-round ball-striking display in ‘21, ranking 2nd in both approach and GIR; Sergio ranked 1st in GIR and 3rd in approach in 2020; Sebastian Munoz and Cam Champ were both top 10 in greens hit in ‘19/’18 and if we go back a little further, we find Ryan Armour in 2017, ranking 3rd in GIR and 4th in approach on his way to victory.

Secondary Stats:

  • Scrambling
  • SG: Putting (on speedy bermuda)
  • Par 5 Scoring

With the firmer conditions causing that fall in GIR percentages last year, it’s no surprise to see strong scrambling play a part; indeed winner, Mackenzie Hughes excelled in this area, ranking 1st. As firm conditions are likely again this year it seems sensible to weigh in some level of scrambling ability. Other past winners, such as Sebastian Munoz and Cody Gribble also ranked top 3 in this area.

The putter hasn’t been absolutely vital over the last three years but it was historically important previously, with each winner from Peter Malnati in 2015 to Sebastian Munoz in 2019 ranking top 5 on the greens. Therefore, anybody with quality experience on firm bermudagrass greens should be respected.

Correlating Events (Courses)

Fortinet Championship (Silverado Resort)

The first correlating event I’ve chosen this week is the Fortinet Championship at Silverado Resort. Whilst the poa/bent greens there are swapped for bermuda here, there are other similarities between the courses. Both are tree-lined and though possessing fairways that are tough to find, they are not overly punishing when you miss; thus resulting in big hitters enjoying a good record at the two events.

Cam Champ has won both events; other past Sanderson Farms winners, Cody Gribble and Nick Taylor, have recorded top 10s in the Fortinet.

Patton Kizzire has finished 2nd there and has several top 10s here, including a 4th-place finish; Jason Bohn and Chesson Hadley have finished 2nd at the CCoJ and 3rd in the Fortinet; Kevin Streelman and Luke List have top 5s in both events.

Houston Open (Memorial Park Golf Course)

The Houston Open at Memorial Park is a tougher challenge, but as a loosely tree-lined course where fairways are tough to find, with similar bermudagrass throughout the course, it has developed some notable form-ties with this event in just a short time.

Jason Kokrak and Carlos Ortiz won the first two editions of the event at Memorial Park in 2020 and 2021, and have good records here; with Ortiz twice finishing inside the top 5 and Kokrak a 7th amongst a strong book of form.

The last two winners here, Mackenzie Hughes and Sam Burns have finished top 10 in Houston; last year’s runner-up, Sepp Straka has finished 5th and Trey Mullinax has a 4th in each tournament.

Wyndham Championship (Sedgefield CC)

Sedgefield CC is a good bit shorter than this week’s course but stands out particularly on the greens. Where it’s champion bermudagrass putting surfaces – the exact same as this week – are almost identical in average size and designed by Donald Ross, many take a comparable form to the green complexes at this week’s venue.

Sergio Garcia has won at both courses, whilst Nick Taylor and Ryan Armour have won the Sanderson Farms and have multiple top 10s in the Wyndham.

JT Poston has won there and finished 3rd here, Jason Bohn has finished 2nd at Sedgefield and Kevin Streelman has several top 10s there.

Mayakoba Classic/World Wide Technology Championship (El Camaleon)

A couple of courses from outside of the US had a similar look statistically, starting with former WWT Championship host, El Camaleon in Mexico. A tree-lined course that compares very closely to this week’s host from a tee-to-green perspective, particularly in average GIR and scrambling percentages.

Former Sanderson Farms winners, Cam Champ and Ryan Armour have finished inside the top 10 in there. Others with strong form here to go well there include Patton Kizzire, who is a past winner of the Mayakoba; Carlos Ortiz has two runner-up finishes there, Jason Bohn has also finished 2nd and Kevin Streelman has multiple top 5s.

Puerto Rico Open (Grand Reserve CC)

Grand Reserve Country Club is a more exposed course but is a similar length to this week’s venue and has typically suited long drivers of the ball. Also possessing tough-to-find fairways, easier-to-hit greens and a similar scrambling difficulty, there are some solid form-ties between these two events.

Nick Taylor and Cody Gribble have finished inside the top 7 in Puerto Rico, whilst 2017 Sanderson Farms runner-up, Chesson Hadley, has won there.

Emiliano Grillo has several top 5s at Grand Reserve and a top 5 here; Kevin Streelman has finished 3rd there; Peter Uihlein, Shawn Stefani and D.J Trahan have top 10s across both tournaments.

The Weather

The firm course conditions of last year should make another appearance this week, with dry and warm weather predicted before and throughout the event.

Wind shouldn’t be too much of a factor, with around an 8mph breeze forecast, though it could gust at up to 16mph.

The Field

We initially had two of last week’s victorious European Ryder Cup side stated to appear this week, though Nicolai Hojgaard has withdrawn. That leaves Ludvig Aberg flying solo as he chases full status on the PGA Tour for next year. However it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise should he also withdraw at some point if the celebrations take their toll.

The field is a relatively weak one, headed by world #35 Emiliano Grillo; Tom Hoge at #50 is the only other player from inside that world’s top 50. Though there is some reasonable depth a little further down, with a further sixteen of the top 100, including last year’s winner and world #96, Mackenzie Hughes.

Hughes is one of five players to have won here, joined by Peter Malnati (2015), Cody Gribble (2016), Ryan Armour (2017) and Cameron Champ (2018).

Hayden Buckley has a good record in Jackson and makes just his second start in three months this week. There is also a spot for Sam Bennett, the former star amateur who contended in this year’s Masters before finishing in 16th place.

Selections

Coming in off the back of a memorable Ryder Cup debut, Ludvig Aberg is this week’s clear 10/1 favourite. Whilst impressive, he wouldn’t have been of any interest at that price to me here, with or without the potential for a Ryder Cup come-down.

This is an extremely open field and with so many unknowns – with players arriving here off three week, six week and even some close to a two month absence – it feels like a week to go searching a little down the betting. I start with a pair of hugely talented former #1 amateurs who can take advantage of this field and suitable course setup to claim a first PGA Tour title, starting with Davis Thompson.

1.25 pts Davis Thompson each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 45/1 

Thompson hails from across the border in Alabama and turned pro in 2021 after a five-year amateur career that saw him win countless high profile events, including the 2019 Western Amateur Stroke Play and the 2020 Jones Invitational Cup.

He initially impressed after turning pro, making four of his first six PGA Tour cuts and won for the first time last year when on the Korn Ferry Tour, in the Rex Hospital Open. Which went a long way in helping him earn a first full stab at the PGA Tour last season.

Thompson made an impressive start to that 2022/23 season, finishing 9th in the Fortinet Championship and 12th in the Shriners Open in two of his first three starts at the back end of last year. Though he went even better when running Jon Rahm close in The American Express on his second start of 2023, finishing 2nd to the major-winning Spaniard by one shot.

His form largely stuttered following that narrow defeat until finally starting to find his feet again over his last five starts. Where he’s recorded two top 25s – his first since January – in the Wyndham Championship and Rocket Mortgage Classic, whilst when we last saw him he was a solid 30th in the Fortinet Championship.

Thompson is at his best with the driver, ranking 23rd on the PGA Tour last season and is one of the longest, ranking 20th in driving distance. His suitability for this test is enhanced by his ranking of 5th in par 5 scoring and though his irons have been inconsistent, he has gained strokes in approach in three of his five most recent starts.

He has finished 35th and 67th here on two starts, generally looking good tee-to-green but struggling to get going on the greens, though I’m not concerned by that, as he has some good putting performances to his name on bermuda.

Thompson is the type of power-packed ball-striker that I want on side this week and with a ceiling higher than many in this field, I think he can capitalise on the recent upturn in form by taking down this weak field to win a first PGA Tour title.

1 pt Kevin Yu each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 55/1 

Kevin Yu is another player who turned pro just two years ago following a stellar amateur career and as one of the very best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour in his first season, he has the skillset to take on the Country Club of Jackson this week.

Yu also earned his way onto the tour via the Korn Ferry Tour last year, twice finishing 2nd and gained his card thanks to finishing 20th on the regular-season money list.

He made an instant impact and went close to winning in the wraparound events last year, finishing 3rd in the Bermuda Championship. Then carrying that form over into this year with two top 25s in his first four starts, including a top 10 when 7th at Pebble Beach in February. Unfortunately, that was to be his last start in nearly five months as he underwent surgery on a knee injury.

Yu returned at the end of June in the Travelers Championship, sitting inside the top 10 at the half-way stage before dropping to 49th over the weekend. Still, it was a hugely encouraging display after such a lengthy absence.

He then finished 6th in the John Deere Classic two starts later but hasn’t been able to build on that, with three missed cuts and a 37th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic over his last four starts. Having said that, he’s continued to look good tee-to-green; he just needs to find a little something on the greens.

The quality tee-to-green is very much what Yu is all about but it’s with the driver that he excels most, ranking 4th and is also top 25 in driving distance. A ranking of 2nd in greens-in-regulation completes a superb all-round ball-striking profile and enables him to score well on the par 5s, where he ranks 23rd.

The Taiwanese star was 19th here on debut last season, where he ranked as the fourth-best driver in the field and 10th tee-to-green. A 7th in Puerto Rico last year is an added positive and suggests that he’s a player well-suited to this test.

1 pt Nick Hardy each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 55/1 

Nick Hardy is himself a former amateur star and is looking forward to a third season on the PGA Tour next year. Currently sitting 52nd in the FedExCup Fall standings, he’s in position to gain entry into those first two Signature Events next year and will be hoping to solidify that position this week.

Hardy technically claimed a first PGA Tour win this year, in the Zurich Classic team competition, though outside of that his form in early 2023 wasn’t all that positive. However, since that Zurich Classic win alongside Davis Riley, he has started to look a little better. With a 20th-place finish in the US Open a standout performance and four starts ago he finished 13th in the 3M Open, tying his best effort this year outside of that Zurich Classic win.

He’s a solid ball-striker, ranking 38th in GIR, 68th in approach and 76th OTT. Whilst at 33rd, he’s also highly ranked in driving distance. Combine this powerful ball-striking game with his strong putting ability on bermuda and he looks a good fit for the CCoJ.

This has certainly been evident on Hardy’s two previous visits here, as he followed up a 26th on debut in 2021 to finish 5th last year; ranking as the strongest iron player in the field and 2nd T2G.

1 pt Erik Van Rooyen each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 90/1

Erik Van Rooyen should be one of the sharper players in this field after his recent trip to Europe and with his game much improved over the last two months, this strong ball-striker can make a good impression on his first start in the event this week.

Quality performances had been few and far between for Van Rooyen earlier this year, though he did record two top 10s amongst a sea of more underwhelming results, when 6th in the American Express and 10th in the Valspar.

However, after finishing 6th in the Barracuda Championship at the end of July, he has maintained his form. First in Europe, when finishing 8th in the European Masters and 16th in the Irish Open. This continued when 30th in the Fortinet Championship on his latest start, where he was the best ball-striker in the field; ranking 4th OTT, 5th in approach and 6th in GIR, but struggled with the short game.

The strong ball-striking is no surprise for the South African, as it’s very much the long game which has engineered the highest points of his career, though as someone who can look a little lost on the greens, it is a positive here that his better PGA Tour putting performances have come on bermuda.

Van Rooyen hasn’t played here before and has little correlating form, although a quality putting performance when 20th in the 2020 Houston Open on similar greens to this offers promise. He looks a decent price in this field with the standard of his ball-striking over those recent starts and sitting outside the important 125, he needs a good week at some point over the next seven weeks.

1 pt Will Gordon each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 90/1

Will Gordon’s recent form is a tad uninspiring but with a power-based ball-striking game and some handy correlating form, he can spring into life this week.

Gordon earned his return to the PGA Tour thanks to an excellent finish to 2022 on the Korn Ferry Tour, as he won a first pro title in the Albertson Boise Open and recorded a further four top 5s over the course of his final eleven starts.

He enjoyed some early success back up in grade at the end of that year, making every cut in the wraparound events and finished 3rd in the World Wide Technology Championship at the correlating Mayakoba; a result which is the biggest factor in him still sitting inside the top 125 on the standings despite a lacklustre 2023.

Gordon had to wait until the Mexico Open at the end of April to record his first top 25 finish this year, though he has followed up with two more, when 18th in the Canadian Open in June and he was an impressive 25th in the elite-level Scottish Open four starts ago; ranking as the eighth-best ball-striker in the field.

He’s missed his next three cuts following that but the driver has continued to fire and it’s this club that he does most of his best work with, ranking 32nd and is 22nd in driving distance. He hits plenty of greens too, ranking 9th in GIR.

This quality ball-striking has aided Gordon in amassing an ever-improving record in this event. He missed the cut in 2019 but has responded by finishing 53rd on his next visit in 2020 and was 30th last year, which doesn’t quite do justice to his overall performance as he shot a really poor 76 in round two.

Importantly, Gordon has putted the greens well on those last two visits and if able to combine that with the best of his ball-striking he can put up yet another improved result this week.

0.75 pts Ryan Brehm each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 400/1

My last player is a huge outsider but as a big hitter with two top 25s in his last four starts, a previous top 20 here and a PGA Tour win to his name at a correlating course, Ryan Brehm looks a player well worth rolling the dice with this week.

Brehm’s only previous top 25 in 2023 prior to his last four starts was an excellent 14th in the Honda Classic in February, where he putted the bermuda greens well. Though he has added to that with a 24th in the Barbasol Championship and 22nd in the Wyndham Championship over that recent quartet of appearances; again putting well on the similar champion bermuda greens he’ll face here.

He is the 33rd longest hitter on tour and has looked good with the putter over recent months. Whilst his approach play has also showed signs of improvement over those latest starts.

Brehm was 18th on his debut here in 2016 and though he has missed two cuts at the CCoJ since then, he showed an ability to putt these greens well last year. His hugely impressive six-stroke win in the Puerto Rico Open in 2022 came in another weakened field – albeit it was weaker than this week – and you’ll fail to find many other players at this sort of price who tick as many boxes as Brehm does.

 

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