Frazzled has 3 selections this week in the Barracuda Championship, formerly the Reno Tahoe Open, with Morgan Hoffman heading these picks at 66/1.
While the main action and unfortunately the only live footage will centre around events in Akron Ohio, where the WGC Bridgestone Invitational is taking place, the 16th renewal of the Barracuda Championship (formerly the Reno Tahoe Open) will take place at the Montreux Golf and Country Club in Reno, Nevada.
This Jack Nicklaus design meanders through lakes, pine forests and water falls with spectacular views of Mount Rose. It also consists of the second “Bear Trap” on the PGA Tour between holes 15 and 17 (the more famous Bear Trap is at PGA National – home of the Honda Classic). It opened in 1997, has hosted the event every year since 1999.
The course measures 7,472 yards off the back tees and plays to a Par 72, but it is nothing like the test of driving distance that these measurements suggest as it is located at 1,500 metres above sea level on average. There are numerous long Par 4s and two of the Par 5s measure in excess of 610 yards, but altitude will significantly increase the ball flight distance, possibly by as much as 10% and this makes these longer holes reachable for a large portion of the field.
The event changed to a modified stableford format for the first time in 2012 and was the first event of this kind since The International, which was played at Castle Pines Golf Club in Colorado, ceased in 2006. While The International boasted a list of winners including Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Davis Love and Jose Maria Olazabal, the position in the calendar means that the Reno Tahoe open does not attract anything like a field of the quality that used to tee it up at Castle Pines, quite simply because it is positioned both in the same week as the Bridgestone and with the PGA Championship next week at Valhalla, many other players like to leave themselves fresh for the challenge presented by the last major of the season. There has been numerous withdrawals this week in the lead up to the event, with players like Robert Garrigus and Cameron Tringale, who looked to be well suited to the demands of this event, opting to sit it out.
Regarding the Montreux course itself, the fairways are generous which will encourage aggression off the tee and the average sized (5,500 sq ft) greens are set to run to 11.5 on the stimpmeter. The weather is set to be dry and sunny, with temperatures set to be in the 90s through the 4 days, although there is always a chance of thunderstorms in this area. As is usually the case, wind is likely to be a constant factor at this elevated venue. The key to success this week will be controlled aggression as there are many birdie opportunities out there and under the Modified Stableford format, the reward for birdie and eagles is much greater than the punishment for dropping shots.
The scoring system works as follows;
Double Bogey or Worse -2
This is completely different from a conventional stroke play event. For example if a player had 6 Pars, 6 Birdies and 6 Bogeys in Strokeplay, he would return a level par score whereas under this format he would return a score of +6 as opposed to a round of 18 Pars yielding a score of 0.
With the reward for finding birdies or better more pronounced under this format, we are looking for players that rank highly in scoring average, birdie/eagle average and Par Breakers. It would be a mistake to conclude that players will adopt a very high risk strategy, aiming at every pin, but this event will be one by players who adopt controlled aggression and finding Greens In Regulation (“GIR) and having a hot putter will be the key to success.
Morgan Hoffman has not played this event to date and his season has been a disappointment, but this looks a venue and format that he could thrive in and he badly needs a big performance given that he is currently 120th in the Fedex Cup standings. He has gone very much off the boil since he let a very promising position in the Byron Nelson slip with a closing 73, eventually finishing 16th and has missed 4 of his last 7 cuts.
However this low key event and the format that rewards Par Breakers should provide him with some freedom to really attack the course. Hoffman looks to have nearly an ideal make up for this week, as he lies 18th in Strikes Gained Putting, 55th in Birdie Average, 17th in Total Birdies, 37th in Total Eagles and 50th in Par Breakers. He is also very long off the tee and can certainly attack the Par 5 holes in search of eagles, or birdies at a minimum. A possible weakness is the accuracy of his iron play, he should be making many of his approaches with shorter irons and hopefully accuracy will not be an issue. His around the green game is quite solid anyway and he ranks an excellent 16th in Sand Save percentage.
He is likely to make his share of bogeys but given the format, he looks to be overpriced at 66/1, especially given the incentive of securing his card for next season with a very prominent showing.
Despite the fact that we are not usually keen on backing players near the head of the market in events like these, Brendan Steele simply makes too much appeal to ignore at 22/1.
Steele has been 4th and 8th in the past two renewals and arrives here in better form than he was ahead of either of those renewals, even allowing for the fact that he did not perform to the level expected at the Greenbrier and missed the cut at Hoylake two weeks ago. Prior to Hoylake he was 5th in the Quicken Loans at Congressional and 5th in the Travellers Championship, building on a season when he has also been 6th in the Phoenix Open and 10th in the Northern Trust at Riviera.
Steele is a player that seems to continually perform at the same venues and with this in mind, together with a set of stats that match up so well to this event, he looks sure to go well again. He is 40th in GIR this year, 43rd in Par 5 Scoring Average, 45th in Birdie Average, 45th in Par Breakers and 69th in Strokes Gained Putting. He is also 19th in Driving Distance and 20th in Total Eagles.
All of this suggests that he can go low again this week and as a player that will be trying to take his game to the next level and be playing in WGC events rather than these second tier tournaments, he will be keen to follow in the footsteps of Gary Woodland and move significantly up the rankings with his second PGA Tour win.
Our final pick this week is a player that started the season in sensational form, but has really struggled in his past half dozen events. Brian Stuard was 15th in the Shriners Hospital for Children and followed this up with a form sequence of 2-6-5 through the Sony Open, OHL Classic and the Humana Challenge. However a 5th placing in the RBC Heritage has been his only other really solid performance since that early season burst and he badly needs a good week to restore some confidence.
Stuard played in this event last year and while 37th does not look like a brilliant finish, he had left himself with far too much to do after shooting 74 on both Thursday and Sunday. A closing 66 will serve as a perfect memory for him and he has given himself a nice break to work on his game since the John Deere Classic.
Stuard lies 29th in Birdie Average, 14th in Par 5 Scoring Average, 34th in Par Breakers and 64th in Strokes Gained Putting. He is very accurate from the tee and while he is not the longest with the driver, the increased ball flight will be a great benefit to him and he should be able to attack most of the Greens in Regulation.
He obviously comes with a risk given his current form, but at 100/1 he is included as the last part of our staking this week.
Total Advised Bets - 5.5 points