What happens in Vegas...
LAS VEGAS, NV - Since when did Las Vegas become the center of the sporting world? Monday Night Football kicks off Shriners Children’s Open week at TPC Summerlin. Following the tournament Vegas is going to host NASCAR next weekend. The simple reason all these events are coming to Vegas in the fall is the weather. The forecast for the tournament is picture perfect. Temperatures will reside in the high 80s low 90s Thursday through Sunday, no wind is predicted, and of course this is the desert so leave the umbrella at home.
Every year since 2008, the PGA TOUR has been coming to TPC Summerlin for their Las Vegas event. The FedEx Cup Fall series continues with the third of seven autumn tournaments. Sanderson Farms did not disappoint with a five-player sudden death playoff. Congrats to Luke List and all his backers for a nice +5000 win.
Las Vegas is known for extreme highs and lows. Low scoring is where the Shriners starts. The average winning score over the past five years is 23 under par. Go back a full decade and the number drops to 20 under par. Longshots sometimes win in Vegas and when you compare the pre-tournament odds of the winners, we get polar opposites. Of the last ten champions, five held pre-tourney odds of +3300 or less. Conversely, the other five all had odds greater than +7000.
Four winners of the last ten came in with pre-tournament odds greater than +22500. Speaking of long odds, Lexi Thompson received a sponsor’s exemption. She will be the seventh woman to play in a PGA TOUR event. Her odds of winning are +250000 (2500-1)! The timing of her exemption is interesting. Lexi is nearing the end of her worst season as a professional. She’s missed eight cuts in 12 events and her scoring average is ranked one hundred and fifth on tour.
The remainder of the 132-person field is once again light in the OWGR. Tom Kim, the defending champion, is the only male player ranked under top 20 in the world. The top 65 and ties play the weekend for $8.4 million dollars and a first-place check of $1.512 million. TPC Summerlin is a unique test. The par 71 scorecard measures 7,255 yards. That’s short by TOUR standards and at 2,000 feet above sea level, the course gets even shorter!
Nine of the 11 par 4s are under 450 yards in length. The average par 3 is 200 yards and the three par 5s are reachable in two. Players who contend here can score on par 4s. Recent champions like Kim, Webb Simpson, and Kevin Na truly depict what it takes to grab the trophy. Although don’t be fooled, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay have had great success as well. Even Tiger Woods had his first win in Las Vegas.
Fourteen holes have a birdie rate over 15%. That means 20 or more players per round are birdieing the hole. In comparison, only four holes have a bogey rate over 15%. Tom Kim’s total last year (-24) tied the tournament record. Scoring conditions are perfect on the grounds. Players had a nice warmup last week at the Country Club of Jackson, another birdiefest layout.
I expect a cutline in the four under par range. Lexi will need to strike it solid. Even at elevation, this is still going to be a long test for her. She and the rest of the field will need to avoid the 92 bunkers throughout and a couple of well-placed penalty areas. Each of the three finishing holes has water to contend with. Who could forget Cantlay’s shot in the water on 18 last year. Hats off to the rest of the field for coming to sin city. We saw an incredible finish in Mississippi on Sunday, and I expect another fantastic final round. I doubt Lexi will be in it, but there’s four names below I’m sure will be.
Shriners starts in...
Live under par
Desert golf is a thing. I’m not 100% sure why, but certain players play well in Arizona, Nevada, and the Palm Desert of California. Each course has dry air, firm conditions, and well-defined targets. Then again so do most courses these guys play throughout the season. Be that as it may, when it comes to handicapping the Shriners, it is a consideration even more than course history.
Success at Summerlin starts off the tee. Accurate drivers give themselves opportunities. The fairways are generous but miss them and the desert is soon to follow. TPC Summerlin does not allow much room for error when you miss the fairway or a green. Martin Laird, Kevin Na, Webb Simpson, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau are all accurate drivers of the golf ball. The analytics can be deceiving. The winners don’t gain a ton of strokes on the field with their driver but lose strokes and you’ll miss the cut.
The approach game comes down to wedges on par 4s and long irons on par 5s. The greens at TPC Summerlin are large. They average 7,400 sq/ft. Covered in Bentgrass, the challenge is to hit the correct section. Proximity is important in creating those birdie looks. Remember the breakdown to finish 20 under par. Each player will need 32+ opportunities inside 25’. Convert 65% of those chances and you get to 20+ under par.
Scoring on the par 5s is imperative. There are only three per round and they average a 46% birdie rate. Our winners gain an average of five strokes on the field with their approach game. That’s also important because missing those large greens comes with a heavy price. TPC Summerlin is one of the toughest around the green courses on the PGA TOUR. Don’t derail a good scoring round with an average pitch or chip. Bogey avoidance is a pivotal factor even for this scoring showdown.
Luke List stole the show on Sunday in the playoff with his putter. Chances are another player will do the same at Summerlin. The largest gains annually by the leaders are with the flatstick. The last five champions have gained an average of six strokes on the greens. Walking around this week you can easily see why. If you can hit the correct section of the green your putt will be relatively flat. If you are putting well, you can make a bunch of them.
Filling out my research and watching the players during their practice rounds, I’m also favoring good drives gained (how little you miss the fairway), birdies gained on the field, BoB%, par 4 scoring, and pure ball striking. This is a “flushers” golf course. The last 10 winners have gained nearly nine strokes T2G against the field. Only one winner in the last ten gained less than six strokes T2G and he won with his putter.
The fall has a little buzz out here. I know it pales in comparison to Saturday and Sunday football, but the guys are fired up. I see and feel a serious sense of urgency. Middle tier players won signature events last year. That’s a life changing event. Positioning yourself for 2024 is important and there are only five events left including this week. I think the cut will be low and the tournament record will be challenged. Conditions are excellent and I know these four players have the game required to go all-in and win.
Outright winners - Shriners Children's Open
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Back to the Buick
After six weeks in North America, the LPGA is off to Asia for four weeks of tournament play. Only five events remain to get inside the top 60 and play in the CME Group Tour Championship. Cash in those frequent flyer miles ladies if you are on the outside looking in. We have not played the Buick LPGA Shanghai since 2019. Two-time defending champion Danielle Kang must have been quite upset when it was cancelled 2020 through 2022 since she is the only player to have ever won.
In the inaugural event, she shot 13 under par. A year later it was 16 under par and her second trophy in Shanghai. Covid gave the event a pause and now we return in 2023 to Qizhong Garden Golf Club. The par 72 target rich course measures 6,672 yards. It is your stereotypical scorecard with four par 3s, four par 5s and 10 par 4s.
Qizhong Garden has well over one hundred bunkers. Twelve holes have water in play and all but one of the fairways bend from off the tee. This is a target specific layout and the best players T2G have an advantage. That’s another very important key this week in Shanghai. The field is 81 players and there is no 36-hole cut. Make the trip to the Buick and you play all four days. Give the best in the world a Friday pass on the cut and see what happens. Water will find its level. Eight of the top 30 in the world are competing and their chances of winning are higher than the rest.
The field of 81 breaks down further to favor the elite entrants. Of the 81 competitors, only 62 are LPGA players. The remaining 19 are filled out with players from the CGA and sponsor invites. This gives a considerable advantage to the top of the betting board. Not only do you give them 72 holes, but only 75% of the field is from the world’s best women’s tour.
The LPGA picked a good week of weather for their return to Shanghai. The forecast calls for little to no rain and wind under 10 mph all four days. The temperatures will be in the 70s and with reasonable humidity. The GCSAA report is positive predicting great course conditions. We already mentioned the two winning scores at Qizhong Garden. Danielle Kang averaged 15 under par.
Five events remain before the top 60 CME cutline happens. I expect to see a sense of urgency across the Pacific in the next four weeks. This has been an interesting season and looking ahead in Asia it should really continue to get even better.
Buick LPGA starts in...
Don't get Shanghai'd
With those 10 par 4s, my instinct was to dive into par 4 scoring to find an edge. Fact is that Kang’s path to victory was more about the par 5s when it came to scoring. In 2018, Danielle was nine under on the par 5s and 13 under total for the tournament. Similarly, she was 10 under par on the par 5s in 2019 and finished at 16 under par. Tackling the par 5s takes a combination of skills. The first is length and accuracy off the tee.
Our outrights in Shanghai need to put the ball in play. Two-time winner Kang is not long, but instead very accurate. I’m interested in the combination Danielle doesn’t have. There’s an edge for a player who can it hit far and find fairways. There’s trouble everywhere on this layout. In my research, I looked at the other women who are in the field and have had great success at Qizhong Garden.
There are a couple women with previous positive experiences. Their comfort on the course is extremely valuable. The players get four rounds. The more you can embrace the layout, the better your score will be. There’s seems to be an infinite number of bunkers across these 18-holes. When players miss their target, skill from the sand will come in handy. Not to mention, acumen around the green to help stay close to the Sunday contenders.
Since bogeys are lurking and we’re looking at short game success, if a player is going to score in the mid-teens, they will need more than 15 birdies to win. Scoring on holes other than the par 5s is crucial. I tracked GIR% and proximity to the hole. For those approaches that are in birdie range, the putter better have made it through customs. You can’t leave that scoring tool at home and hope to win against this field.
Since the players get four rounds, another angle I considered was top 10%. Any player who has a high top 10 conversion rate is a great pick. With a weaker than average LPGA field, those who do tend to contend will have less competition to fight. Much like the PGA TOUR, the LPGA is the premiere women’s tour. Start watering down the competition and the elite just have an easier path to victory. Based upon the field and the format, I selected a smaller card than usual. Lower odds give us far less flexibility to pick a bunch of players and still have a profitable week. Look at this trio I believe have a great chance to be the best at the Buick.
Outright winners - Buick LPGA Shanghai
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