Ben Coley is taking on the market leaders in the Sanderson Farms Championship, with selections ranging from 66/1 to 200/1.
On Sunday, the new PGA Tour season began with a reminder of the new PGA Tour rules: age, or more specifically youth, is no barrier to success. You can be 20 years old, like Joaquin Niemann, and win your first tournament like it's your 21st. This is the age of innocence, where those without significant scar tissue are ready to ruthlessly consume those who are defined by it.
Niemann now starts favourite for the Sanderson Farms Championship, and who can argue? He's followed by the 2019 Rookie of the Year, Sungjae Im, a whole year older, and you don't have to scroll much further down the market for Scottie Scheffler, who at 23 is the least experienced of the trio. All arrive in peak condition and at the right sort of price: picking holes in them requires a persnickety approach.
As the youngsters take centre stage, so too does the tournament, one which has previously been a so-called opposite event with limited points and prizes available but now stands alone on the schedule. It means that we've a couple of debutants who might otherwise have been elsewhere in Ben An and Brandt Snedeker, but this remains an opportunity for those who aren't yet household names the world over.
Last year, Cameron Champ took that opportunity in style, overpowering a par 72 which doesn't come with a playbook. Champ dominated through his power off the tee and a hot putter, whereas a year earlier it was Ryan Armour's approach play which opened up the required opportunities. Nick Taylor, Peter Malnati and Cody Gribble are the other three winners since the event moved back to a late-year slot and the only way to tie these players together is in the fact that they were all winning for the first time on the circuit.
That speaks to the nature of the event and its field, but with 500 FedEx Cup points on offer to the champion, the market here is in fact dominated by those who have been there and done it before, Im and Scheffler the most notable exceptions. The message is that there's no set formula: this is a fair golf course which provides good scoring opportunities, wherever a player makes their money.
As such, my selections cover a few bases but the main message is that, despite Niemann, Im and Scheffler and all that they will go on to achieve, this still feels like a week - indeed, a time of year - where rolling the dice is the best approach. At around the 66/1 mark, Champ was the shortest-priced winner of this event since 2011 and there will be other weeks to get stuck into the top of the market.
Top of my list are Grayson Murray and Wyndham Clark, two players who might be able to follow the Champ route to victory at the Country Club of Jackson.
Murray was eighth here on debut, just his second PGA Tour start and a fortnight after he'd missed the cut in his first.
His approach was to go out and attack, taking driver at every opportunity, and for two rounds it paid off. He was in fact two shots clear at the halfway stage before stalling as he tasted the unique pressure of the sport's elite circuit for the first time.
Murray's only other start during the fall of 2016 came at the Shriners, where he also missed the cut, so it's clear that he took to Jackson and its familiar, southern surroundings.
"I think I see these holes very well," he said. "They set up to my eye. This one just kind of lets me unleash my driver, and that's really my best club in the bag right now."
Murray went on to win the Barbasol Championship in 2017, shooting the kind of score which will be required here on another low-scoring par 72, and it's reasonable to think the 25-year-old would've gone on to further success by now but for a series of injury setbacks.
Since returning from the latest of them in the summer, he's quickly found his feet with form figures of 2-29-23-11-7 on the Korn Ferry Tour before a solid 36th in last week's Greenbrier, where he ranked fifth in strokes-gained off-the-tee to suggest that the driver is where it needs to be.
That par 70 wouldn't have suited him as well as Jackson and its four par-fives, and any improvement on the greens should make him a big player in this company. He's really not far behind the market leaders in the potential stakes and can show it, hopefully over the course of the next four rounds but, if not, certainly over the course of the next year.
Clark meanwhile has been excellent since the height of summer, finishing fifth behind Matthew Wolff in the 3M Open when he had an excellent chance to win, and then going on to finish 18th and 31st in two world-class fields in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Like Murray, he has some course experience having in fact played the event twice, first leading after the opening round on his way to 17th in 2017 and then finishing down the field on his return last year.
Clark ranked third and sixth in distance across those two starts and having been fifth on the PGA Tour charts last year, hitting the ball a long way is his primary strength, one which we've seen put to use here. In fact, while Champ is the only player to have gripped and ripped his way to the title at Jackson, the leader in distance has hit the frame in four of the last five years, the exception being when Jason Kokrak just missed out on the top 10.
Should Clark drive the ball as well as he did when last seen at Medinah a month ago, he'll have plenty of opportunities to score and at around the same price as Murray he looks a strong each-way contender.
Continuing in price order and sticking with the profile, Peter Uihlein is next.
This former amateur star clearly hasn't kicked on from an excellent education on the European Tour, where six years ago he so nearly won the valuable Dunhill Links only to lose to David Howell in a play-off.
However, turning 30 last month might just stoke the fire a little and this is a good course for him, as demonstrated when he finished fourth in 2014 despite hitting around a third of fairways to further underline that an aggressive approach can pay dividends.
Uihlein's form isn't as impressive as the top two selections, but 15th place in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship was solid and so too was last week's 36th in the Greenbrier, where he finished firmly on the front foot having made one bad mistake during the third round which cost him the chance to contend.
It was off a similar run that Uihlein finished seventh at Sea Island late last year and I'm hopeful that his occasionally wild driving isn't too much of an issue here. That was the case in 2014 and, five years on, this underachiever is worth chancing to spring to life.
Brandon Hagy is another prodigious hitter with course form courtesy of two top-20 finishes and he's respected as a result, but next on the list is D.J. Trahan.
A former winner of this event when it was the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, the Georgia man will relish a return to the south and the move to Jackson has proved suitable with a pair of top-10 finishes to his name already.
Given that Trahan's career came under threat when he suffered a back injury when fishing in 2013, his performances here strongly suggest a liking for the layout and it's worth noting that both came despite poor putting weeks as he struck the ball exceptionally well.
The putter remains a worry - it cost him something better than 36th last week - but the positives vastly outweigh the negatives as this 38-year-old consistently hints that he's close to completing his recovery by contending for silverware.
"When I got hurt, it derailed me a little bit," Trahan told Golf Digest before the Greenbrier. "It actually affected me as much or more mentally than it did physically. Mentally, I went into a dark place. Then I woke up one day and said it’s time to quit the damn pity party, get back to being positive, get back to to the PGA Tour.”
"I had a very solid season this year," he added. "It’s difficult to get points accumulated in opposite-field events. But I’m excited where my game is trending.
"I feel like I’ve underachieved in my career. I hope this is an incredible comeback for me. I’m in the best shape of my life, and I feel capable of playing the best golf of my life. Definitely I’m excited about it."
As for the courage he showed at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, where a closing birdie saw him earn back his playing rights on the PGA Tour, Trahan added: "It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever done, getting my card back, but I’m very proud that I’m back."
And so he should be. This is a fantastic chance to celebrate in style by contending and he's dramatically overpriced at the standout 200/1, with anything three-figures worth snapping up.
At five on my list of each-way hopefuls is a player who wasn't in the field 24 hours ago in Adam Svensson.
Long-suffering Twitter followers may have cottoned onto the fact that I think Svensson is capable of establishing himself on the PGA Tour, but opportunities to do so this season may be limited given that he narrowly failed to keep his card both at the end of the season and in the Korn Ferry Finals.
Still, he need not look far for what can be achieved from a standing start. Last year, in this very event, Svensson's compatriot and former team-mate Corey Conners finished second to Champ, playing without full status. By the end of the season, he'd won his first PGA Tour event, and next April he'll return to the Masters having made it all the way to the TOUR Championship.
Conners won the Byron Nelson as a Monday qualifier, and that's a feat Svensson will attempt to emulate this week having carded a six-under 66 before surviving a play-off to earn a place in the field. Plus, in this event two years ago, Monday qualifier Scott Strohmeyer contended to the end while last year's Safeway Open saw Aaron Baddeley place having also gained late entry.
In other words, in these events it's vital to look closely at every player - those who were in the initial field, qualifiers and sponsors' invites - and in Svensson we have a quality ball-striker who is a good putting week away from justifying the faith some have shown in him.
A former runaway Q School winner, Svensson has twice shot 61 on the PGA Tour to demonstrate his low-scoring credentials when everything does click, and while he was a little disappointing in the Korn Ferry Finals he did rally manfully in the final round of the Tour Championship to so nearly get his card back.
At 17th in strokes-gained tee-to-green last season, this young Canadian is a putting stroke away from being so much better than he's so far shown, and at prices in the region of 200/1 I've no hesitation in taking a chance on him in this company.
Finally, heading back up the market there's enough juice in the price of Harris English to speculate that he can back up from last week's top-five finish.
At 80/1 in places and 66/1 generally, English is only a shade shorter than Robby Shelton, a player who I really like but one who was behind English last week and doesn't yet deserve to be so close to him in the market.
That alone doesn't make English a bet, of course, but now that his driver is a strength again this dynamite putter should be capable of climbing back towards the heights scaled when he won twice and looked as promising as anyone back in 2013.
English has modest course form of MC-39, but on both occasions he arrived in pretty desperate form whereas this time, fourth place in West Virginia was the culmination of a string of solid performances as he limits the missed cuts and rebuilds his game.
At his best, English is an excellent putter and it's significant that he's started to drive the ball really well. In 2017, he ranked 177th off the tee, in 2018 he was 153rd, and even last season he was 116th, but since May he's started to consistently pick up shots with last week's figures as good as he's produced in quite some time.
On a course which should suit him nicely, English gets the vote ahead of Scott Stallings, a player with a similar profile but less compelling form and, arguably, a little less class.
Posted at 1200 BST on 17/09/19
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