As last week, when the CJ Cup was moved from South Korea to Las Vegas, this week we have another event hosted by an unscheduled course.
Last year the Zozo Championship debuted in Japan and it turned into quite an occasion with Tiger Woods thrilling everyone with a pair of 64s to start and ultimately a three-shot victory over Hideki Matsuyama at Narashino CC.
Like everything else, the tournament has been hit by Covid disruption and so this week it will be played at Sherwood Country Club in California.
The good news is that, unlike last week, the (hopefully) temporary host is not a mystery to punters because it hosted the first 14 editions of the Hero World Challenge from 2000.
The track is a Jack Nicklaus design with bent grass on the greens and, at 7,073 yards with a par of 72, it would appear to be vulnerable to low scoring.
That notion is further fuelled by the presence of five par-5s on the card, three of them closer to 500 yards than 600.
Three times the winner of the World Challenge got it to 20-under and better, whilst 11 of 14 made it to 17-under.
Remember that event has a very small field and whilst this week’s is only 78, that’s enough extra to suggest the winner will need to go deep.
We’ll utilise a few quotes below, but Woods makes a general point about Nicklaus’ design strategies which he felt ists right with the Sherwood test: “On virtually every Nicklaus golf course, you better be dialed in on your distance control. He gives you small targets to hit to, and the misses are very penal.”
Angles to consider
1/ Nicklaus designs
If we take Woods out of the equation (since he’s so damn good he could win anywhere) the other seven men to win the World Challenge at Sherwood (Graeme McDowell and Davis Love III did so twice) all boasted excellent records on Nicklaus courses. McDowell, Love and Jim Furyk were winners at Harbour Town, Luke Donald did all but win there (seven top three finishes) and Zach Johnson was also a runner-up on that course. Vijay Singh had a win at Muirfield Village and Padraig Harrington at PGA National. Clearly Harbour Town stands out among the three and Rory McIlroy’s words might explain why. “It’s fiddly,” he said of Sherwood, “and not many drivers.” And for what it's worth? Woods was damn good at Muirfield Village too.
2/ Par 5s
Woods said of strategy here: “The only way to shoot low here: you have to take care of the par-5s.”
It will not only be needed on the long holes. McDowell explained: “I’m a pretty aggressive medium and short iron play ... that’s why the golf course sets up well for me: good wedge playing.” It makes sense. There are not only five par-5s, but five par-3s and the first par-4 of each nine is short.
The above angles have been used to create a shortlist from which the following players are selected.
He’s a winner at Harbour Town this year and the stats like him. Quality approach work? He ranked sixth for SG: Approach last season. Aggression? He ranked 25th for Going for the Green % made last season and is eighth this. Par-5s? He ranks seventh in the field over the last year. He’s also played the course three times and is trending in the right direction: 13-7-5. Form? He’s a two-time winner in 2020, has eight top three finishes in his last 24 starts, and has been a top 20 finisher in his last five starts.
A winner at Muirfield Village and second in this “home” event last year. The latter point is not entirely moot – he’ll feel some responsibility to perform for the sponsors and the fans, and he coped with that ably last year. He ranked fifth for SG Approach last season, is aggressive with his long game and ranks tenth in the field for Par-5s.
2pt e.w. Webb Simpson at 20/1 (Betfair Sportsbook, PaddyPower, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1pt e.w. Hideki Matsuyama at 30/1 (William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)