The First Tee – Shriners Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly September 30, 2019 20:47

The First Tee – Shriners Open

This Week

The Course

The Shriners Hospital for Children’s Open takes place in lovely Las Vegas at TPC Summerlin, another run-of-the-mill golf course where the golfers have to be the attraction, because the course sure isn’t. TPC Summerlin is a 7255 yard par-71, and it usually sees some low scores: going back to 2004, the winning score has been worse than -20 only TWICE (Cantlay in 2018 at -9 and Kaufman at -16 in 2016) and the cut coming below par every year except 2018.

There’s so much scoring thanks to the shortness of the course, because although it’s listed at 7255 yards, the altitude has it play about 10% shorter than it actually is. There are officially only three par-4s that play outside 450 yards, two of the three par-5s are around 560 yards, and three of the four par-3s are below 200 yards; when accounting for the altitude change, that scorecard looks even easier.

The fairways here narrow after the 300-yard mark, but golfers can uncork off the tee here without much concern – the only real hazards off the tee are some tough fairway bunkers and some loose trees. There is some desert foliage and sand on the course, but golfers would have to get very wild to hit into it. TPC Summerlin sees the second-longest average drives on tour most years (after Mexico and Waialae), with an average distance of 310.

Because of the long drives, scoring here is pretty easy – 53 combined eagles last year, a birdie average of 4.33, and birdie or better on a whopping 24.78% of holes. Beyond last year’s low-scoring, those numbers have stayed pretty consistent over the past six years, so there’s no reason to expect anything out of the ordinary unless weather gets wild; it’s imperative to get 6/6 through the cut this week because scores will be extremely high with all the scoring.

On approach, golfers will be hitting into large greens and there really won’t be much to contend with in terms of greenside hazards; water comes into play around four greens so that’s a concern, but typically golfers can go pin-seeking here. Approach dispersions are pretty well separated evenly so there’s no one approach bucket to target, but looking at golfers with good proximity from the rough and good proximity from 50-125 are good ideas here.

The greens themselves are bentgrass and relatively slow (~11 on the stimp) and will be a different experience from the poa of last week; there’s a lot of undulation in these greens which can make reading them a little tough, but there aren’t many three-putts made here.

Comparable courses/events:

El Camaleon GC (Mayakoba Golf Classic) – When accounting for altitude, the distance at both courses is comparable (7255 here and 6987 at El Camaleon) and both are very easy par-71s with tons of eagles. Comparable greens in terms of setup – the slow bent here is very close to the seashore paspalum at the Mayakoba. Different in terms of coastal vs. desert, but a calm week at El Camaleon is very similar.

TPC Twin Cities (3M Open) – Large bentgrass greens, easy in terms of scoring, and a course where golfers can unload driver off the tee. Twin Cities is longer than Summerlin, but the two TPC tracks share enough characteristics to consider it.

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off the Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Birdie or Better %
  • Par-4 Scoring
  • Carry Efficiency
  • Approach Shots: 50-125 Yards
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Rough

Top-Tier Golfers

Tony Finau ($9800): He’s coming over from Europe where he finished T10 in the Alfred Dunhills Championship, but Finau’s had loads of success at fall swing season events: a T16 at the Mayakoba last year, a T36 here last year, and overall he has finishes of T36, T16, T41, T16, T7 here. He also finished T23 at the comparable 3M Open this year.

Last season, Finau used his length to great success as he finished in the top-10 six times, and in the top-25 11 times. He ranked 23rd in SG: Off the Tee thanks to his distance off the tee (309.5, 9th), but he was also strong on approach (38th); better still for this week, his proximity from the rough was a stellar 18th, his par-4 scoring was a fine 4.01 (61st), and although his birdie average was 3.9/rd, some improved putting would make a world of difference – he converted only 31.7% of birdie putts.

Putting is Finau’s big issue typically, but with slow bentgrass and based on his prior success here, he could overcome that easily.

Matthew Wolff ($8200): He hasn’t played anywhere since the NORTHERN TRUST so he may yet be rusty, but he won at the 3M Open last season (which is a comp. course for TPC Summerlin) thanks to his absurdly-strong play off the tee which will be his main advantage here.

When mentioning Wolff’s stats, it’s important to note he only played 29 measured rounds so the sample size is small, but very impressive:

  • 10th in Driving Distance (309.1)
  • 46th in SG: Tee to Green (+.531)
  • T4 in Proximity from 50-125 Yards (16’2”) / -0.279 relative to par
  • 3rd in Par-4 Scoring (3.96) / 1st in Par-4 Birdie or Better % (22.56%)

It’s the scoring that jumps out when looking at Wolff, as he made birdie or better on a huge 25.1% of his holes last year (keeping in mind small sample and this stat isn’t adjusted for strength of fields/courses) and his par-4 scoring is a great feature at a course that isn’t a par-72.

Wolff’s putting was fine – 75th in SG: Putting but 11th in Putting Average – although coming out of college that was neither a huge positive or negative in his game, he should be about average in that area. At his pricetag, his big-hitting and scoring upside mean he’ll probably see loads of ownership, but he should reward eating the chalk.

Value Golfer (below $8000)

Harold Varner III ($7600): Coming off a T17 at the Safeway and T19 at the Greenbrier, HV3 has strong form entering the week and showed last year that he can succeed here (T15) as well as at Mayakoba (T6) which is a comp. course.

Varner can accomplish all that thanks to his play off the tee, because the rest of his play is good-but-not great:

  • 89th in SG: Approach / 77th in Greens in Regulation (67.2%)
  • 146th in SG: Putting (-0.202)
  • 60th in SG: Tee to Green (+0.429)
  • 111th in Proximity from 50-125 Yards
  • 78th in Par-4 Birdie or Better %

The reason to buy shares of Varner this week (beyond his history) is that his play off the tee will be so much more impactful here than a regular week on tour, which has led to boosted birdie numbers: he made 19 birdies here last year, and only needs to make the cut to repeat.

Sebastian Munoz ($7400): In what can only be described as a mis-price, Munoz is extremely affordable this week and is sure to be chalky given his recent form: he played in the final group at the Safeway (although shot a 76 to finish 33), won at Sanderson Farms and finished T7 at the Greenbrier to open the fall season. He also made the cut at the 3M Open this year, made the cut at the Mayakoba last year, and finished T41 here a year ago.

Statistically, Munoz doesn’t look like much, as last season he was a horrible 77th from tee to green and was dismal off the tee (mostly thanks to his accuracy or lack thereof). Even still, he managed to hit 68% of greens and was above-average on par-4s; looking at the 12 rounds he’s played this year, he’s continued to be a strong par-4 player who hits greens, and has uncorked driver a bit more than he had last season. A large part of that is the sample size and the courses that he’s played aren’t exactly in the Open rotation, but given this is another easy track, he should be able to take advantage.

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly September 30, 2019 20:47

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