The Butterfield Bermuda Championship is the penultimate event of the FedEx Cup Fall seven tournament run. Last week, the PGA TOUR annihilated scoring records on Tiger's course in Mexico and now they head across the continental United States to another coastal course, Port Royal Golf Course. The host venue is on the island of Bermuda, and many will remember the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The four major winners played a season ending cash grab at Port Royal from 2009-2014.
When Brain Gay is your lock placement bet of the week, you're struggling to build a deep field. Of the 132 players in the field, only 11 are ranked in the Top 100 in the OWGR. I will say this much, outside of Adam Scott, those who are here will be focused on their FedEx Cup points. Much is still up for grabs as the "Next Ten" (51-60) get in two signature events next season (Pebble Beach, Riviera), and those inside the top 125 will earn their TOUR card for 2024.
The field is competing for more than just $6.5 million dollars ($1.17M for first). The winner gets 500 points and a trip to the Masters. As we saw last week in Cabo, a simple top 10 at this point can secure your status for next year. Three of the four past champions are present. Last year, Seamus Power won with a 19 under par total. The wind was calm enough to allow the field to get some scoring done. That's the weather key this week. If the wind remains in the mid-teens, these guys can score and get to the high teens under par.
There's a significant chance of a storm coming on Sunday and if that's the case, get as much scoring done by Saturday as you can. Then hold on Sunday much like Lucas Herbert did in 2021 to win. Temperatures are forecasted in the mid-70s all four days and if the rain comes, it will be significant on Sunday. In four editions of the Butterfield, the average pre-tournament odds for the winner are +9000. Once again Brian Gay isn't coming in at the top of the odds board!
Port Royal Golf Course has always been a stern test of wedge accuracy and Bermudagrass putting. PRGC is short by PGA Tour standards. With a par of 71, the scorecard only stretches to 6,828 yards.
- Eight of the par 4s measure under 415 yards.
- The average par 4 length is only 402 yards!
- All three par 5s are reachable and have higher than a 35% birdie rate.
- The long par 3s (8, 13, 16) are the three toughest holes relative to par on the course.
- Holes 13 -16 play seven tenths (.69) of a shot over par, the toughest stretch on the course.
The first seven holes are where most of the scoring takes place. They are routed away from the water and somewhat protected from the elements. If a player wants to go low, they should get started right away. Overall, the course design will make you dizzy. No two holes play in the same direction back-to-back. Therefore, on every hole, for every single shot, you are constantly managing the wind and lie. Eleven of the holes have a significant elevation change to incorporate into your decision making. Outside of the wind, Port Royal does have some interesting challenges to catch your attention.
- Every green complex is dotted with bunkers. All eighteen of them.
- All fourteen of the tee shots face bunkers as well.
- Seven holes have water in play and again the closing stretch of holes 14-18 are all unprotected from the wind.
Even though Port Royal is a tough test in the wind, you can score here especially in the opening stretch. You'll need to accumulate about twenty birdies to get in the mid-teens come Sunday afternoon. Birdie or better statistics and creating opportunities are important. When calm, Brendan Todd won here with a 24 under the total. It is a nice mix of paradise and pain. Approach shots stretch from the mid 200s on the longer par 3s to flip wedges on the short par 4s. That balance alongside controlling contact and trajectory will dictate our contenders.
Butterfield Bermuda starts in...
Putting - wedge - Bermuda triangle
Look at the past champions: Brendan Todd, Brian Gay, Lucas Herbert, and Seamus Power. Their path to success was ultimately simple. Find the fairway, wedge it close, and putt the lights out. Historically, players have only managed to hit 54% of the fairways (tour average 62%). The first key to contention is solid driving. Much like The Sony in Hawaii or RBC in Hilton Head, I love the good drives gained stat on the island. When you miss the fairway, how close are your misses. It really doesn't matter if you are long or short, just get it in position to attack these hole locations with your scoring clubs.
The crucial approach shots for scoring are short. Most get distracted by the par 3s over 215 yards and the reachable par 5s. They will take a long iron or two to remain competitive. I'm focused on the wedge game. Six of the par 4s are under 400 yards. Those are pitch shots for the second swing. Elite wedge players score at Port Royal. Between all of the elevation changes and green quadrants, you have to be accurate. I referenced all PGA TOUR players are good wedge players, but not all are great. Our list below can get the job done from inside 125 yards.
The prevailing wind comes out of the south at PRGC. This means eight of the holes play into the wind. In the closing of the back nine, players will be tested with several cross and downwind conditions. Trajectory control isn't a statistic. You must know who plays well in the wind. Managing the height of a five-iron isn't nearly as much of a skill as doing it with your wedge. We know the recipe to score, so alongside a great short game I want players with spin and trajectory control alongside accuracy in the wedge game.
If the wind gets sketchy, there's a bunch of sand at Port Royal that can come into play. Unfortunately, it is not the pleasant pink beach sand. Rather it comes in the form of penalty areas around all the landing zones. The course has more than forty fairway bunkers and another forty-four of the greenside variety. Sand will play a role come Sunday if we get some weather or maybe even sooner. Those four past champions are also solid short-game players.
With 11 par 4s averaging just over 400 yards, par 4 scoring is a key analytic to consider. Again, don't be distracted by the 3s. The contenders will make their pars and birdie the par 5s. The 4s are where the field can differentiate themselves with those wedges and the PUTTER. Look again at the list of past champions and their contenders. Putting on Bermudagrass is the ultimate skill for the Butterfield. In Mexico, I made a big deal about green size, and Port Royal's putting surfaces are almost as big. Players must knock it close on approach to make putts on these grainy greens.
The average cutline in four championships is -1.75 under par. Based upon the weather for the first 36-holes, it will probably be twice that (-4). Much like each round, you'll need a good start on Thursday and Friday to survive and make the weekend. A solid BoB% performance is needed just like last week. Fourteen holes at Port Royal have a birdie rate over 15%. With only eight holes possessing a bogey rate over 15% it is time to take dead aim. Let's be honest, when isn't it time to go low on the PGA TOUR. It just becomes a matter of how you do it? This week, sharpen those wedges, and hole some putts, and you won't come up short in Bermuda.
Outright winners - Butterfield Bermuda Championship
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The LPGA returns to Belleair, Florida and the Pelican Golf Club. The posh coastal course is an elite haven on the west coast of Florida for golf's elite in the greater Tampa/St. Petersburg region. Need some evidence? Fred Ridley, Masters Chairman, is a member here. Those Augusta influences have given the event a serious upgrade in its fourth edition. What was a regular tour stop on the LPGA calendar is now one of the premiere non-majors.
The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge @ Pelican sounds as important as it is. Gainbridge has thrown a bunch of money at this event, and they have brought the game's best modern woman player on board as the host. What worked for Jack's Memorial, Arnold's API, and Tiger's Genesis is now being implemented on the world's number one women's tour. With Annika on board, the event is truly elevated.
- Pelican Golf Club is a Par 70 scorecard measuring 6,341 yards for the world's best women.
- There are 10 holes where water comes into play. Both nines wrap up with three consecutive water holes.
- The course has twelve par 4s, four par 3s and two par 5s.
The LPGA course yardage preview showed four holes with multiple yardages. Two, twelve, thirteen, and seventeen will be played from significantly different tee boxes. Multiple options only increase the need for these ladies to adapt. At this point in the season, there's a reason why the best are here getting ready for next week's CME Group Tour Championship.
- Eight of the Top 10 in the Rolex world rankings are playing along with 19 of the top 30.
- They are playing for a $3.25 million dollar purse.
- The field has 120 players and the top 65 and ties will advance to the weekend.
- Fifteen of the 23 winners on tour this season are competing.
Speaking of advancing, the top 60 in the CME season-long points list are the only ones who get to compete next week for the $7 million dollar purse at the CME Group Tour Championship. Next week offers one last chance to win and one of the richest first-place checks in women's golf. Add it all up and we have an anxious week ahead of us. For many of these players, qualifying for the season-ending tournament is a significant goal.
We haven't felt any rain in Tampa for a couple of weeks. The course will be playing in perfect condition. Temperatures are forecasted in the mid 80s and the breeze will be calm remaining in the single digits. Belleair is right off the Gulf of Mexico. If the conditions remain calm this will be a scoring frenzy. Two years ago, Nelly Korda won a four way playoff at 17 under par. Last year, the event was shortened to 54-holes and she defended her title with a 14 under par total.
The average cutline over three editions is 1.7 over par. Yes, players can make birdies and bogeys here. The course is wall to wall Bermudagrass just like the men are facing in... Bermuda! The women haven't played in Florida since January when Brooke Henderson won the season opener in Orlando. Now they will play two weeks in a row to close the season. Grainy greens await the women and there are “Florida” players on tour. Positive experience in the Sunshine State makes a big difference when it only takes one stroke to win.
The heightened atmosphere of Annika hosting and the last week for a full field really will have the players anxious. Can you get into the top 60? Two stars like Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko sit well outside the cutoff. Ko won the tour championship a year ago. Just twelve months later she is fighting to get back in. Atthaya Thitikul and Nelly Korda have not won this year. How motivated will they be? You better believe Nelly would love to three-peat in front of Sorenstam. Either one could close out the year with two wins and completely transform their season.
We will have drama in Florida for the next two weeks and I cannot wait to predict both winners and finish this 2023 LPGA season off in RTL style. 😎
The ANNIKA starts in...
Whole lot to gain
The two previous winners at Pelican Golf Club are Sei Young Kim (2020) and Nelly Korda (2021, 2022). Both are major champions and elite stars of the LPGA. Throw Annika's presence into the mix and I think we have set the stage for the cream to rise above the rest.
PGC is a ball strikers golf course. Ten holes have penalty areas in play and the course displays 50+ bunkers. Looking back a year ago, we see what it takes to win on this golf course. Remember the nine-hole match last December between Tiger-Rory and Jordan-JT? This is the same golf course. Although they only played a selection of holes under the lights, one could see through the television what Thomas and Spieth did as well to be successful.
Making birdies starts with the approach game. Players have got to hit the ball close and convert. The Donald Ross design style of Pelican really moves with the ground. This is coastal Florida, so we aren't going to see elevation changes. Players will be tested by the wind and approach angles. Twelve women finished in the top 10 a year ago. They gained an average of 4.2 strokes on the field with their iron game. This was the largest gain. Our outrights have been excellent attacking the pin over their last 24 rounds.
The second largest average gain came on the putting greens. Those 12 women averaged nearly four strokes (3.7) better than their competitors with the flatstick. The green complexes here are... complex. It takes a good putter to score and convert birdie chances. Don't forget, they must be good Bermudagrass putters. Florida winners and contenders cover our card this week. With only one event on the schedule in 2023, I had to go back a couple years and find all the ladies who contend in the Sunshine State consistently.
Those same women hit and average of 85.7% of their fairways and 71.3% of their GIRs. Accuracy counts and the betting card displays players who can reach those levels. I know because they have been consistent recently and in this event. Course history alongside recent form really plays a role. Kim lost in a playoff the year after she won, and Nelly won back-to-back. If you can play well at PGC, history favors you.
We saw some serious scrambling last year in the weather. I won't favor around the green play as much this year. Instead, scrambling will be important when it comes to scoring. Four different holes can be modified by the Tournament Committee. When the holes get shorter, those scrambling skills across this subtle landscape will give certain players an edge. PGC has lots of closely mown areas for chipping and pitching. Master those and you can more than contend come Sunday afternoon.
Only eleven of the driving holes present fairway bunkers, so power over accuracy off the tee is preferred. Par 4 scoring will be huge on this Ross original design. The course has twelve of them. Looking at the top 10 from a year ago, the 12 players ranked tenth in par 4 scoring. Comparatively they ranked twenty-third in par 3 and twenty-second in par 5 scoring (on average). The close of the course is a perfect microcosm for this point. Three varied par 4 tests face the players on 16, 17, and 18. Play those holes under par each day and you will find yourself on top of the leaderboard.
Is it any wonder why Annika chose this LPGA venue for her invitational? Accuracy on approach, killer putting, and small subtleties all define this layout. Annika would have been the perfect player to compete here year after year. Nelly seems to possess those Sorenstam skills at Pelican Golf Club. Can she shake a mediocre season off and win? Or will another Florida finisher take the title. Either way, I love how this event has been elevated and built a playoff style atmosphere. It's going to be a vanguard week in Belleair, and I believe one of these women will take home the title.
Outright winners - The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge @ Pelican
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