The Wyndham Championship marks the end of the PGA Tour regular season, and our in-form expert Ben Coley has selections from across the market.
3pts e.w. Sungjae Im 16/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Davis Riley at 55/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Adam Svensson at 70/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. CT Pan at 100/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1pt e.w. Michael Thompson at 175/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
0.5pt e.w. Charley Hoffman at 175/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
Sedgefield Country Club is the established home of the final event of the regular season, and those bidding to avoid a trip to Korn Ferry Tour Finals can have no complaints – not even James Hahn. Fields on this side of the Atlantic have been pretty weak for over a month now so while Tony Finau taking a thousand points from the FedEx Cup pot won't have helped, it's very difficult for anyone to argue that they've not had the opportunities needed to salvage their cards.
That remains true here in the Wyndham Championship, where as usual the very best players in the world are happy to step aside and prepare for the Playoffs, and while timing is the predominant factor, the course is another. Designed by Donald Ross, Sedgefield is the archetypal 'old-school' course; tree-lined, short, twisting, and with greens sloping heavily from back to front. It's not difficult, but nor is it a place where the modern, powerful golfer can hit the club they most like to hit and power their way through 72 holes.
Instead, this is more about finding fairways and setting up chances, typically with short irons across a series of stock par-fours. That explains why Kevin Kisner was very much a fitting winner, why Webb Simpson made his breakthrough here, and why it increasingly looks like the venue of Brandt Snedeker's swan song. But those classy winners shouldn't mask another truth of this tournament: its propensity for upsets. Davis Love, Camilo Villegas, Jim Herman and Arjun Atwal were all extremely difficult to find, the latter winning as a Monday qualifier, and Roger Sloan would've been the latest shock champion had he won last year's six-way play-off.
We'll come to some of the big-priced options in time but I'll start with the straightforward: SUNGJAE IM looks comfortably the most likely winner of a tournament he enjoys, and at 16/1 generally he rates a rock-solid each-way bet.
Im has endured a frustrating summer at the highest level, first missing the PGA Championship due to Covid-19 and then missing the cut in the US Open, before one of the most hopeless putting performances you're ever likely to see at St Andrews. He made the cut there but was by some distance the worst putter in the field, which is a shame as he struck the ball well enough to be challenging the top 10.
So bad was that display that he sent videos to his coach in the hope of finding a quick fix, and based on the 3M Open, where he was runner-up last time out, they have managed exactly that. Im's coach told him he needed to take the putter back more in line with the target and, returned to something far more familiar than those slow surfaces in Scotland, he putted as well as he had since the Masters, where he finished eighth.
Providing he can bring that improvement with him to Sedgefield, where he's finished sixth, ninth and 24th in three visits, never shot an over-par round, tops the three-year scoring averages with 66.42 and the adjusted equivalent with 68.26, then he should be hard to keep out of the frame. His ball-striking here has been strikingly consistent, gaining seven-plus strokes every time, and he's said before that he's keen to emulate Si Woo Kim having watched on as his compatriot won this title six years ago.
It's a great course for Im, who has won on a trickier but comparable par 70 in the Honda Classic, as well as a shootout for the Shriners that correlates well with this. His Masters second and Sanderson Farms play-off defeat have come on classical, tree-lined designs and, like Kim and KJ Choi before him, so often it's this style of course which provides a comforting familiarity for the Korean players.
Second to Finau when gaining an impressive 10.5 strokes with his ball-striking alone and back at a course where only the putter kept him from contending for the third straight year last August, everything is in place for Im. There's a strong argument that he ought to be closer to single figures than 20/1 and at the odds he's must-bet material.
There are undoubtedly a handful of likely threats around him in the market. Shane Lowry seems to have slipped into another of his putting funks but otherwise has plenty in his favour, while this is something of a home game for Wake Forest alumni Will Zalatoris. Simpson and JT Poston are recent examples of locals winning here and Carl Pettersson would be in a similar category of adopted locals to Zalatoris, he too having won this event, but I wouldn't have Sedgefield down as an ideal course for Zalatoris for many reasons.
More appealing was Russell Henley and he was the last to be dropped from the staking plan, now that 30/1 has gone and 25/1 might be under pressure. It's not surprising that punters have latched onto Henley, who led by three heading into the final round last year and returned to form last week. If bermuda greens light him up – and that is a sizeable 'if' these days – then he should be in the mix again and could well capture his fourth PGA Tour title.
But for all I respect his chances, price has to dictate selections and that's why I can't leave out DAVIS RILEY despite obvious concerns around his last couple of performances.
Riley was selected on these pages at shorter odds in stronger fields either side of an excellent US Open effort and has been popular in the betting over the past fortnight, only to disappoint backers with a pair of missed cuts.
Last week's came down to one hole as he ran up a careless nine at a par-five, when playing his third shot with a wedge from the fairway. That's the sort of ruinous error which he'll eventually cut out and again reminds me of his fellow Alabama graduate Justin Thomas, who learned to harness his talents and has since become a prolific PGA Tour champion. In time, Riley could well prove similarly capable.
For now we have to take on board that kind of volatility – it was one wild drive late in round four which cost him when we were on at 40/1 in the Charles Schwab, remember – but with it comes a lot of upside, especially in this kind of company, and this prolific birdie-maker can absolutely leave his recent efforts behind if getting off to a solid start at a course which ought to suit.
So far, his best chances to win have come in the south, on classical golf courses and under familiar conditions, most notably at the Valspar and the aforementioned Charles Schwab. He should then benefit for returning to North Carolina, scene of his first tour-level top-10 three summers ago, and bermuda greens are another potential positive given how well he putted in the Sony Open and at Copperhead.
As for the volatility, note that second place in the Valspar came after he'd shot a second-round 80 to miss the cut at Bay Hill. Later on in spring he shot another second-round 80, this time at the RBC Heritage, and then went on a run of 4-5-9-13-4-13. His first win, in Panama (not the worst form guide to this), came after a missed cut and last May he went MC-5-WD-6 on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Back under the right sort of conditions, on a course where he can keep his foot down, I could very well see Riley reigniting the rookie of the year battle and securing his Masters debut in the process. Either way, he's very quickly been moved down to what I think is the wrong section of the market. He's already a better player than those around him, and the sky's the limit.
While there's some guesswork as to how Riley will take to Sedgefield, we know already that ADAM SVENSSON can score here as he threatened to break 60 on his sole previous visit back in 2019, eventually shooting a second-round 61.
At the time, Svensson was 171st in FedEx Cup points and needed to as good as win the tournament to salvage his playing rights for the following year, something he was unable to do. Now he returns with his card for 2023 secured and having gained valuable experience in the mix in events like the Honda and the Barbasol, he ought to be ready to stay the course if finding himself in the mix.
There looks to be every chance he does feature on the leaderboard here. Svensson arrives on a run of five top-25 finishes in six starts, the best stretch of his PGA Tour career so far. He's got his irons absolutely dialled in, ranking second in strokes-gained approach last week and third in the same category at the Barbasol, while prior to a blip in Detroit he'd also shown considerable improvement with the putter, reward for focusing on that department since the spring.
His season-long approach play numbers put him among the top 15 in this field and he showed that he can put his strengths to use at this course when ranking fourth in 2019, his overall ball-striking among the best in the field only for short-game issues to prove costly as he returned to the Korn Ferry Tour.
Two more wins at that level clearly prepared him to do better on his second try at this one and as mentioned previously, the fact he has Bryson DeChambeau's former caddie working with him is testament to the potential he retains at 28. Tim Tucker will presumably have had plenty of options and he went with a player who has for a long time hinted that he has what it takes to become a fixture on the PGA Tour.
At a course we know he enjoys, siding with the in-form Svensson at around 66/1 is a straightforward decision as he seeks to make a late bid for a Presidents Cup spot.
One place ahead of Svensson in the FedEx Cup standings is Aaron Rai and I think he'll enjoy this. The measured Englishman has been one of the quiet success stories from last year's Korn Ferry Tour Finals graduates and arrives refreshed after a gruelling sequence of events which eventually led to getting into the Open Championship as an alternate when Justin Rose withdrew.
If he's back in the form which saw him finish 13th in Canada and ninth in Ireland then he'll go well, but I want to scan further down the FedEx Cup standings in the hope of unearthing a player capable of sneaking into the Playoffs.
At the moment, Webb Simpson is officially 126th, but there are eight LIV rebels ahead of him who will be removed which makes Matt Wallace and Rickie Fowler the 'bubble boys' for the week. Fowler needs to do much better but Wallace has struck gold on the greens and is a viable option here, having won at a couple of tree-lined European courses and generally looked to be heading in the right direction lately.
However, further down the market and the FedEx Cup standings is CHARLEY HOFFMAN and I can't resist backing him to extend his perfect record of reaching the Playoffs every year since their inception, which will require something like a top-five finish this week.
Hoffman's poor record here suggests he has a mountain to climb but he's been a sporadic visitor, and never when in particularly good form. That's key to giving him the benefit of the doubt as there are no such excuses after his best ball-striking display of the year last week, ranking first in strokes-gained approach and second from tee-to-green on his way to 10th place in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Prior to that he'd shown up early on in the Barracuda so things are improving and that's largely to do with his health, as he's explained a couple of times lately. "Body's starting to feel a little better and be able to swing the way I want to," he said last week. "Getting to that point in my career where if I feel good, I can compete like I am right now. I'm feeling good and hopefully I get a couple more tournaments under my belt before the year's done."
At the Barracuda, he was also asked about his FedEx Cup record and commented: "The long story short, I'm thinking about it, but I'm not stressing out about it."
That incentive and his improved form and fitness make for an interesting outsider at 150/1 and bigger, despite concerns over the course. Hoffman's approach play has been good here in recent visits and if he can drive the ball better, perhaps he does have it in him to do what Chesson Hadley did last year and salvage what's been a pretty rotten campaign, blighted by injury.
All of this is speculative on my part and stakes are kept to a minimum, an acknowledgement of the fact he's not a player who would typically be on the radar for a Wyndham Championship. Nevertheless he'll give us a good run if he hits it as well as he did just a few days ago in Detroit.
Taylor Moore is among those rookies who has got himself sorted out for next season and he arrives on the back of sixth place on a similar-ish course also designed by Ross. He could well build on that and while his season-long approach play stats are poor, note that he's been much better lately, a comment which also applies to his work on the greens.
He's on the shortlist but is overlooked in favour of CT PAN, a course specialist who I selected at shorter odds in better company around six weeks ago for the RBC Canadian Open, before he withdrew from that event prior to the start.
Pan was tied for the lead when hitting his drive out-of-bounds on the final hole here in 2018, eventually settling for second, and has broken 70 no fewer than 13 times in 16 rounds at Sedgefield. Subsequently a winner at Harbour Town, third at Colonial, fourth at Boston, seventh at Augusta, eighth at River Highlands and a bronze medalist in the Olympics, it's abundantly clear what type of course he needs and this is very much at the top of the list.
By contrast, length was clearly advantageous at last week's more open Ross design, where he's now missed the cut on both visits, so the fact he was left behind off the tee isn't too much of a worry. Judge him instead on good efforts in the 3M Open and the John Deere Classic, particularly the latter where only his around-the-green play let him down, and this very capable operator looks up to contending again in a tournament he loves.
Last year he finished 29th despite ranking 70th in putting, and that was the second time in four visits that he's produced an outstanding tee-to-green display. Indeed while it was ultimately one errant drive which cost him the title four years ago, over the course of the week he was the standout ball-striker in the field only to give the winner the best part of four shots on the greens, eventually losing by three.
Pan is a fine example of a player who can compete when his short, generally accurate driving is a help rather than a hindrance, and that's very much the Sedgefield way. It's almost exactly a year to the day since he won bronze in Tokyo and perhaps there will be further cause for celebration this weekend.
Finally, two-time PGA Tour winner MICHAEL THOMPSON looks overpriced.
Like Pan and Svensson, Thompson's Playoffs spot is secure and that's in contrast to last year, when he was 128th in FedEx Cup points coming in and opened with a round of 64 to lie second. What followed was a disastrous second-round 74 to miss the cut by one, but reading his comments on Thursday evening perhaps that's not a major surprise – Thompson confessed that making the Playoffs was dominating his thinking, adding that 'it's really hard'.
He'd made five of his previous six cuts at Sedgefield and it's a course which should suit another short, accurate driver, who won a low-scoring 3M Open as well as a high-scoring Honda Classic several years before that. Once a very capable amateur and a player who threatened to win an accuracy-first US Open which instead went to Simpson, again we're talking about a player who is best served by a certain type of golf course, and this is one of them.
Encouragingly, his form looks good as he's made seven cuts in eight and bagged his first top-10 since January in the Barracuda Championship, played on a fiddly, tree-lined course just as that fifth place at the Sony Open was. Since the Barracuda he's been 26th and 24th, latterly starting well and producing by far his best effort to date in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and throughout this run his approach work has been improving.
Another step forward in that department and Thompson, who was 11th here in 2018 having made a big Saturday move with a round of 63, ought to be competitive. The fact he can be relied upon under the gun counts for something and the beard is to be feared at massive odds.
Posted at 1135 BST on 02/08/22
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