Frazzled previews the 2015 Greenbrier Classic with selections of Daniel Berger, Scott Piercy, Jonas Blixt, Hudson Swafford and Andres Gonzales.
Event & Venue:
After Bubba Watson secured his second Travelers title last weekend when beating Paul Casey in a playoff, we now move to West Virginia for the 6th staging of the Greenbrier Classic at The Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs. The course was designed by Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Rayner with many of the holes taking their influence from courses in MacDonald's native Scotland and opened in 1914. The course was restored in 2006 and hosted its first Greenbrier Classic in 2010.
The venue is famed as a great place for golfers to bring their families and provides a real enjoyable experience for all concerned. This may be the chief reason that some of the Top players attend this year after year, as the prize fund and Fedex Cup points are not that exciting. 6 of the Top 30 in the rankings this week, but each year we have seen that many of the top players underperform, as it seems to be as much about a social occasion for some with their families, as it does a competitive tournament. This may well be the case for Bubba Watson this week, although there are some exceptions such as Webb Simpson, who has consistently produced strong displays at this venue.
The first staging of this event proved that the course was set up too easy as Stuart Appleby charged through the field on the Sunday to shoot only the fifth 59 in PGA Tour history and claimed the title with a 22 under par total of 258. After this renewal, the course was extensively modified with all 18 greens reconstructed and reseeded, the course was lengthened by 241 yards and the fairways were made narrower.
This has had the effect of making it more of a test with the winning scores in 2011 being a much more respectable -10 by Scott Stallings. However the winning scores have been getting lower again, as although Jonas Blixt won with a -13 total in 2013, it has taken -16 to win in 2012 & 2014. Angel Cabrera simply played stunning golf last year, so a score slightly higher than -16 may win this week, but this is essentially a birdie fest and aggressive golf is what will be required to walk away with the title on Sunday.
The course is once again set to play to 7,287 Yards this year and is again a Par 70. The 2014 stroke average of 70.1 was up from 69.87 and now further amendments have been made to the course, which remained one of the easiest Par 70s on the Tour last year and the demands this week will be the same as usual; find birdies and shoot low.
It is consistently straightforward in terms of finding the fairways off the tees and the Greens In Regulation (GIR) and while many events are decided by tee to green excellence, the Greenbrier very much comes down to putting and scrambling skills. Angel Cabrera was top or near the top of most categories last year, such as Driving Accuracy (4th) GIR (1st), Average Distance of putts made (1st) and Par 4 Scoring (joint 1st), but in the previous years, it was essentially down to putting in order to win. Jonas Blixt ranked 1st in Putting Average in 2013 last year, Ted Potter ranked 2nd in 2012 and Stuart Appleby ranked 2nd in 2010. Only Scott Stallings has won the event when ranking outside the Top 5 in this category. Blixt was only 48th in Driving Distance and 48th in GIR in 2013 and really it is a case of the tournament being decided on the dance floors.
Yet again this week, with 12 Par 4s on the course, the ability to score well on these holes will be important. Course experience is obviously limited and this coupled with the relatively easy layout means that rookies have prospered here with Stallings and Potter both winning in their rookie season and Blixt and Cabrera both winning on their first visit to the venue in 2013 & 2014. The venue plays at altitude and ball control in this lighter air will be very important as the ball flight will be longer. With this in mind, it is worth looking at events such as the Shriners Open, played at TPC Summerlin and the Barracuda Championship, played at Montreux Golf Club. Both these Nevada venues are played at altitude and it was a strong performance in finishing 3rd to Ryan Moore at the Shriners, that helped us unearth Blixt at 125/1 in 2013.
With every winner so far starting at triple figure odds, this looks very much like a tournament that we can look further down the market for the winners and we have a number of selections at bigger prices in addition to some that could be considered slightly more fancied.
Dan Berger is our first selection this week and the rookie could follow the trend of debutants winning this event, given how well he matches up to the course requirements and based on a very strong season that he is currently enjoying. The 22 year old, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday on Independence Day on Saturday, currently lies 29th in the Fedex Cup rankings thanks to 5 Top 10 finishes, including a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington in the Honda Classic back in March. He has been a little inconsistent since then, which is only to be expected from a rookie, but he has produced excellent displays to finish 6th in the Zurich Classic and 10th in the Byron Nelson.
Berger is very powerful off the tee, ranking 16th in Distance and while accuracy is not necessarily his strongest attribute, this is not a big concern this week. He ranks 22nd in GIR, 29th in Birdie Average, 22nd in Scrambling, 22nd in Par 4 Scoring and 28th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green. His putting can be a little off sometimes, but it is hard to tick all the boxes and a strong week on these large greens that will run to a relatively slow 10.5 on the stimpmeter (especially with rain and thunderstorms forecast), will give him an excellent chance of contending on Sunday.
In relation to playing at altitude, Berger has shown that this does not trouble him in the past as he finished 7th in the Brasil Champions last year and also 7th in the Albertsons Boise Open. Both these Web.com events were played quite a bit above sea level and provide encouragement for this week, even if they were at a lower level. At a price of 70/1 he is worth an each way interest with Betfred.
Scott Piercy is our second pick this week, as despite the fact that he has played poorly since finishing 10th in the Houston Open, this is a venue that he could really thrive on if he finds his game. Piercy has finished 16th and 12th in four appearances here and his form at the Seth Raynor designed Waialae Country Club, when 2nd to Jimmy Walker in the Sony Open is another positive. Piercy is also very comfortable playing at altitude and he won the Barracuda Championship, when it was known as the Reno Tahoe Open in 2011, while he performed brilliantly in the World Matchplay at Dove Mountain when he narrowly lost to Steve Stricker in what was the best match of the 2013 event.
Piercy is also very effective on courses that require low winning scores as the Reno Tahoe Open proved and his very strong performances at venues such as Scottsdale for the Phoenix Open have further highlighted. He was also 7th in the Shriners last year which adds further weight to his chances this week.
Due to his inconsistency, Piercy stats do not always jump off the page when assessing an event, but he is a very powerful driver that should be able to hit short irons into many of these greens, while he ranks a solid 69th in Birdie Average, 72nd in Scrambling and 85th in Putting Average. He is a streaky player that can catch fire and he could shoot some very low scores which makes the 125/1 very much appeal in an event where we expect many of the big guns to falter.
Jonas Blixt has delivered some excellent returns for us in the past as we have selected him for both his wins, including this event in 2013. He has been pretty much out for form all season, but there are specific conditions that really suit his game. These are courses which are not too long, as his driving distance can be an issue, that have generous fairways and have large greens where putting and scrambling skills are the vital ingredients for success. This was the case at the Frys at Cordevale and was also a reason why he produced such brilliant golf at The Masters when tied for second in 2014. Once again this year he produced one of his best displays at The Masters when 28th and his recent 7th at the Nordea Masters underlines course suitability further. He can produce form from nowhere, so a 7th on his penultimate start is very encouraging and 150/1 with Coral is simply too big this week.
Hudson Swafford is not producing the results that we would have expected this season, given the qualities that he possesses, but he has finished 18th in the Shriners, 12th in the Barracuda Championship and 8th in the Sony Open in recent appearances at these venues, which is very encouraging with this week in mind. He was 52nd on his debut here last year but opening and closing rounds of 72 and 74 took away from the huge promise of 67 on the Friday and 65 on the Saturday and underlined that this is a venue that does suit his game.
He ranks 28th in Driving Distance this season, 75th in GIR, 20th in Birdie Average, 22nd in Par Breakers, 64th in Putting Average and 67th in Par 4 Scoring Average. He has produced some other very solid displays in better quality fields this season, such as his 11th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 12th place finishes in the McGladrey and Zurich Classic and 150/1 is a price worth taking, while 11/2 about a Top 20 finish makes plenty of appeal.
Our final pick is one at huge odds and is 32 year old Andres Gonzalez. He is very much under pressure to retain his card at this stage as he lies 119th in the Fedex Cup standings and he will need a very big display in one of these suitable events in the coming weeks to ensure his status for next season. He has produced some good performances this year, such as 3rd in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba and 10th at Pebble Beach, but a recent slump has seen him fall down the standings.
Gonzalez is a very good putter and a powerful driver (30th in Putting Average and 69th in Driving Distance), while 54th in Birdie Average and 63rd in Par Breakers underlines the fact that these low scoring venues should suit his game. He was a dual winner on the Web.com Tour last year and certainly has the talent to produce a big display and he is worth chancing at 14/1 for a Top 20 finish in addition to a small bet for outright glory at 500/1.
Other Advised Bets: