Erik Van Rooyen secured his PGA Tour card with a sensational birdie-birdie-eagle finish to win the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico last week.
As the tour rolls on to Bermuda for the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course – one of two official events left on the 2023 calendar – a host of players will be looking to have their own Van Rooyen moment, with PGA Tour cards and starts in next year’s opening Signature Events still to be decided.
The Bermuda Championship was established in 2019 and has taken place every year since, with each renewal held at the Robert Trent Jones designed Port Royal Golf Course.
The inaugural edition of this event in 2019 helped in kick-starting the career of Brendon Todd, whose four-stroke success over Harry Higgs – with a record winning score of -24 – gave him a first PGA Tour title in four years. He followed with a win the next week in the Mayakoba and finished 4th in the RSM Classic in his final event of that year; continuing to play to a good level over subsequent years.
Two windier affairs followed Todd’s, which resulted in much tougher scoring. A then 48-year-old Brian Gay beat off 2023 US Open winner, Wyndham Clark in a playoff in 2020, after both players finished tied on -15. This was once again the winning score in 2021 as Australia’s Lucas Herbert won his first PGA Tour title by one shot over the now LIV Golf duo of Patrick Reed and Danny Lee.
Conditions were a little kinder again last year, which resulted in some better scoring. It was an all-European top two there, as Ireland’s Seamus Power shot -19 to get the better of Thomas Detry of Belgium by a shot. Unfortunately, a hip injury keeps the Irishman away from defending his title at Port Royal this week.
Robert Trent Jones (Snr) designed Port Royal Golf Course in 1971, though it was extensively renovated by Roger Rulewich in 2008, with the aim of getting the course fit to host the now discontinued PGA Grand Slam of Golf. It indeed hosted that event from 2009 up until its final staging in 2014.
The largely exposed course is one of the shortest on the PGA Tour, as a par 71, measuring 6828 yards. There are eleven par 4s (350-458 yards), four par 3s (148-235 yards) and three par 5s (507-553 yards).
It has a pretty even split of seaside holes and parkland, with several holes on a cliff edge coming with spectacular views overlooking the Atlantic. As with many venues by the coast, the difficulty of the test is largely dependent on the elements, something we’ve witnessed with that varied scoring over the four renewals so far.
The terrain is rather sloped and hilly in places, with fairways that are predominantly wide. Though due to the abundance of strategically placed bunkers encroaching on the landing areas, they often prove tough to find; ranking as the 6th-most difficult course on which to find fairways on the PGA Tour over the last four years.
Bermudagrass aptly covers the course from head-to-toe, from the typically non-penal rough to the large, slowish and gently undulating greens. Many of the putting surfaces eliminate play along the ground and encourage you to fly your ball directly onto the green; possessing protection with the plethora of false fronts and further strong bunkering.
Water comes into play on seven holes, incorporating man-made ponds as well as ocean itself. This is no more memorable than on the signature hole, the brutal 235-yard par 3 16th. The hole sits right on the coast and requires you to hit an approach over the cliff edge into a long, narrow green; which is well protected by sand. Even without wind this is a hugely challenging hole; factor that in, along with the pressure of trying to win a golf tournament and this hole does and will again see big numbers by the bucket load.
The par 3s in general are quite tricky, with three at 210 yards+ and two over 230. However, the rest of the course is there to be got at. The par 5s are very short by any standards, with two coming in at under 520 yards and the par 4s – of which there are six under 400 yards – will be a playground for strong wedge players. Wind is the only thing that can stop the players running riot.
SG: Putting (Bermudagrass)
SG: Off-the-Tee and/or Driving Accuracy
Proximity from <125 yards
This is another event without shot-tracker, which means it’s a little tougher to get a precise idea of the statistical performances of past winners/contenders. Having said that, we can look at the players that have gone well here for clues from what they typically do well, which leads me to lean on those who excel on and around the greens this week.
Each of the four winners here can be described as players who know how to get the ball rolling on the greens. Last year’s winner, Seamus Power ranked 40th on the greens in 2022, whilst Lucas Herbert was the leading putter on tour. Brendon Todd routinely ranks as one of the best putters and it has very much been an asset to Brian Gay throughout his long career, with him gaining strokes on the greens every year since the introduction of strokes-gained data.
Even when we go down a step on the leaderboards, to the likes of runners-up Harry Higgs, Wyndham Clark and Patrick Reed, we find that this event is littered with strong-putting contenders.
With wind set to play its part again this year, these large greens won’t be as easy to find on the correct number and players will likely need to scramble well, as many have done in the past to go well in Bermuda. 2019 winner, Brendon Todd and 2021 champion, Lucas Herbert both ranked 4th in scrambling when winning; runners-up, Thomas Detry (2022) and Harry Higgs (2019) ranked as the best scramblers in the field in those years.
There have been many strong drivers go well at Port Royal, including 2021 winner, Lucas Herbert; along with top 3 finishers, Thomas Detry, Patrick Rodgers, Kevin Yu and Wyndham Clark. If you’re not someone who can take it to a course with this club like those longer hitters, you will have to find fairways and follow the Brendon Todd/Brian Gay straight-and-steady route off-the-tee.
As for approach play, it’s wedges that will be key here, with players who excel in approaches below 125 yards holding particular appeal.
CORRELATING EVENTS (COURSES)
RSM Classic (Sea Island Resort)
I’ve gone down a few different avenues with the comp courses this week, starting with three short coastal tracks. First up is the RSM Classic at the Sea Island Resort; as an exposed course with large bermudagrass greens and positioned close to the Atlantic Ocean on St Simons Island in Georgia, it has much in common with this week’s venue.
Notable Correlating Form:
Bermuda (1st) / RSM (4th, 5th)
Bermuda (1st, 3rd) / RSM (3rd, 4th)
Bermuda (1st) / RSM (4th)
Bermuda (2nd, 3rd) / RSM (2nd, 10th, 10th)
Bermuda (4th, 6th) / RSM (8th, 10th)
Sony Open (Waialae Country Club)
Waialae Country Club is another short course by the coast, that uses bermudagrass throughout. It features wide fairways, large greens and is well bunkered, whilst being situated in Hawaii, it is always susceptible to wind.
Notable Correlating Form:
Bermuda (1st) / Sony (3rd)
Bermuda (1st, 3rd) / Sony (5th, 6th)
Bermuda (7th, 17th) / Sony (1st)
Bermuda (4th) / Sony (5th, 10th)
Bermuda (3rd) / Sony (7th)
Bermuda (11th, 12th, 16th) / Sony (7th, 10th, 11)
World Wide Technology Championship/Mayakoba Classic (El Camaleon Golf Club)
El Camaleon hosted the WWTC since the event’s inception up until last year. Though more densely tree-lined than Port Royal, this coastal course provides a comparable ball-striking test, with driving accuracy and GIR percentages similar to this week’s course.
Notable Correlating Form:
Bermuda (1st, 3rd) / WWTC (1st, 5th)
Bermuda (1st) / WWTC (1st, 8th, 11th)
Bermuda (1st) / WWTC (3rd)
Bermuda (2nd) / WWTC (2nd, 3rd, 7th)
Bermuda (8th, 8th) / WWTC (4th)
Bermuda (3rd) / WWTC (2nd)
Sanderson Farms Championship (Country Club of Jackson)
The Country Club of Jackson is long and more inland than this week’s host but looks a strong statistical match. Driving accuracy numbers are almost identical and it has similarly short, non-penal bermudagrass rough aside the fairways, meaning a higher percentage of greens are found here when missing fairways, much like Port Royal.
Notable Correlating Form:
Bermuda (3rd) / Sanderson Farms (2nd)
Bermuda (4th, 6th) / Sanderson Farms (6th, 7th)
Bermuda (5th) / Sanderson Farms (2nd, 6th)
Bermuda (7th) / Sanderson Farms (1st, 2nd)
Bermuda (8th, 8th) / Sanderson Farms (1st)
Bermuda (2nd) / Sanderson Farms (9th)
Fortinet Championship (Silverado Resort)
The Silverado Resort is a densely tree-lined course in California with completely different grass types. However, it has strikingly similar tee-to-green numbers to Port Royal; from driving accuracy and scrambling percentages to the lack of penalty for missing fairways, and can act as a good comp course this week.
Notable Correlating Form:
Bermuda (1st) / Fortinet (6th, 9th)
Bermuda (2nd) / Fortinet (2nd)
Bermuda (2nd, 3rd) / Fortinet (6th, 6th)
Bermuda (4th) / Fortinet (3rd)
Bermuda (8th, 17th) / Fortinet (4th)
Bermuda (5th) / Fortinet (6th)
There are some storms and rain forecast before the start of the event but fortunately it looks set to be warm and clear in time for the tournament itself.
Wind will get gradually stronger over the course of the week, with a constant 10mph breeze over the first two rounds upped to 17mph over the weekend. Whilst those winds could gust at upwards of 25mph.
This already weak field is getting weaker by the hour but that doesn’t decrease the intrigue, nor the importance of this event for players who are yet to wrap up a card for next year.
World #31, Lucas Glover is the top-ranked player in the field and one of only two from inside the top 50 along with Adam Scott, who makes his Bermuda Championship debut. Though this place won’t be unfamiliar for the Aussie, as he won the 2013 Grand Slam of Golf here.
There are only a further seven players from inside the world’s top 100 in attendance, this includes former winners Brendon Todd and Lucas Herbert; whilst 2020 champion Brian Gay makes it three of the four past winners teeing it up.
We are also joined by the 3rd-best amateur in the world and this year’s US Amateur champion, Nick Dunlap; who will be hoping to give a good account of himself in his first PGA Tour-sanctioned start.
Adam Scott is our 14/1 favourite this week, with 2019 winner Brendon Todd and Akshay Bhatia next at 16s. Bhatia was available at over 300/1 for this event last year, which tells you not only about how he’s impressed this year, but also just how weak this field is.
None of these appeal at the prices, which is the same just outside those top few, where we have non-PGA Tour winners such as Taylor Pendrith, Alex Smalley and Mark Hubbard at under 30/1. For all these players are entitled to go well, they can do so without my money on them. Instead I’d much prefer to take my chances further down the betting in this wide open contest.
I kick off with a tour winner at around that all-important #125 position in the FedExCup rankings, Patton Kizzire.
1 pt Patton Kizzire each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 60/1
Two-time PGA Tour winner, Kizzire sits just outside the top 125 at #126, moving up four spots thanks to a 15th-place finish in Mexico last week. Though his overall form this year leaves much to be desired, he is a lover of this type of golf and can take advantage of the weak field to add another coastal win to his collection this week.
Prior to his effort at El Cardonal, he had recorded just three prior top 20s on the PGA Tour this season. The first of them came at the end of 2022, when 10th in the World Wide Technology Championship at El Camaleon and the other two came over the first quarter of this year, finishing 11th in the AmEx and 10th in the Valspar.
Kizzire’s underwhelming results after the Valspar – where he missed eight of sixteen cuts and finished no better than 31st, before last week – was largely due to a loss of form with the putter; something that has been an asset throughout his pro career.
However, he looked better on the greens two starts ago at the Shriners and was solid again last week. As someone who always looks a danger with wedge in hand – shown by his ranking of 24th on tour this season in approaches under 125 yards – he has the game to put up a strong effort here on debut.
Kizzire’s two tour wins have come at correlating courses mentioned above, winning the then Mayakoba Classic at El Camaleon in 2017 and a few months later taking the Sony Open in Hawaii. When added to finishes of 2nd at the Fortinet and 4th in the Sanderson Farms, we find a player with one of the strongest books of comp form in the field.
1 pt Sam Bennett each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 70/1
I was very tempted by star amateur, Nick Dunlap but have opted for another player who was still an amateur at the start of this year, Sam Bennett. Who despite not quite achieving the results he’d have hoped to since turning pro, hasn’t been playing all that badly of late and should relish these much calmer waters.
Bennett reached as high as #2 in the amateur rankings and won the US Amateur last year. Though it was at Augusta this year where this confident youngster really captured everyone’s attention, finishing 16th whilst still an amateur.
In fact he sat no worse than 7th at the end of each of the opening three rounds, even entering the weekend in 3rd place, with just Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm in front of him; wowing everybody with his all-round quality. Though he stumbled a touch over the weekend, particularly with his third-round 76, he looked a very exciting player for when he finally decided to make the jump to professional golfer.
Bennett indeed did this at the beginning of June and made his professional debut in the Memorial Tournament, finishing 63rd. Starts have been sparring since then and whilst he hasn’t quite managed to hit the heights he showed in his Masters appearance, there have been plenty of positive signs.
He finished 20th in the Canadian Open and made the cut in the US Open, finishing 43rd; both times excelling with driver and on the greens. Though he has missed four of his last six cuts, he has continued to drive and putt well, ranking 6th off-the-tee and 28th in putting in this field over the last fifty rounds.
Those qualities should serve Bennett well this week and with him no doubt possessing a ceiling higher than most in this field, I felt he was well worth chancing at an attractive price.
1 pt Henrik Norlander each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 70/1
Ranked #121 in the FedExCup, Henrik Norlander is sat in a nervy position in the standings. His game has looked in a good place over recent weeks, finishing 2nd in the Sanderson Farms Championship after losing a playoff three starts ago and he can produce a similar standard of performance at Port Royal; a course that should suit.
Norlander’s 2023 has been a bit of a miss, with ten missed cuts in twenty-two starts and prior to his 2nd in Jackson, he had only recorded two other top 25s this season; when finishing 15th in Puerto Rico and 22nd in the Corales Puntacana.
However, he’s maintained solid form since that runner-up finish, finishing 35th in the Shriners Open two starts ago and though missing the cut in Mexico last week, he did so narrowly, by just the one stroke.
The Swede is a strong scrambler, ranking 38th this season and though the putter has been lacking for much of this year he putted well in Jackson, ranking 4th and maintained it at the Shriners.
Norlander finished 28th on debut here in 2019 but has missed his following two cuts. Having said that, finishes of 2nd, 4th and 4th at the Sanderson Farms; 2nd and 5th at the RSM Classic and a top 10 in the Sony Open – where he’s putted well on the bermuda greens each time – suggests he’s capable of much better here.
1 pt Peter Malnati each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 80/1
Peter Malnati sits one place below Norlander in the FedEx, at #122. He can lean on the strength of his short game to put up a good performance this week and make certain of his spot on the tour next year.
Malnati had a promising start to the year, with three top 20s over his first six starts, including a still best-of-the-year 4th at Pebble Beach. He has been inconsistent since, but there have been bright points, with a 9th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July and four starts ago he finished 11th in the Fortinet. Though his efforts in recent weeks haven’t been overly impressive he’s been solid enough, making two of his last three cuts.
For what he lacks in his ball-striking he makes up for with the short game, ranking 18th in putting and 21st around-the-greens on the PGA Tour this season. This excellence on the greens often shines on bermudagrass, something we saw with that solo tour win in the Sanderson Farms in 2015, when ranking 2nd; he replicated that when finishing 2nd to Sergio Garcia in 2020.
With the quality of his results in Jackson, along with several top 20s across the Sony Open, WWTC and Fortinet, it’s no surprise to see Malnati go well on both previous visits to Bermuda, finishing 21st in 2020 and returning to finish 7th in 2021. Hopefully he can improve his result once again at Port Royal and earn himself a second PGA Tour win this week.
1 pt Scott Piercy each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 90/1
There’s a running theme among my selections this week and Scott Piercy very much fits the bill. At #131 on the FedExCup he needs a strong finish to the year and as someone with plenty of form in the right places, he can make a big move in Bermuda.
Piercy’s year has been a mix of withdrawals, missed cuts and low finishes, with just three top 25s to his name. However one of them did come last week in Mexico, where he finished 23rd; entering the final round in 7th before a lacklustre 2-under 70 saw him tumble down the leaderboard in round four.
Though that was much improved on recent results and it was promising to see him carry on what he showed in his 42nd-place finish in the Shriners Open, where he was playing his best golf over the weekend.
With the putter starting to behave and him continuing to look solid off-the-tee – ranking 30th in this field with that club over the last fifty rounds – he looks a player slowly coming into some form.
Piercy showed potential here on debut in 2020, finishing 14th and with bags of encouraging correlating form – including a 2nd in the Sony Open, 3rd in the Fortinet and two top 6s at El Camaleon – he looks well suited to the test thrown up at Port Royal.
1 pt Hank Lebioda each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 100/1
At #181 in the FedExCup, Hank Lebioda needs to find a huge performance over these next two weeks. He looked good in the opening two events of the FedEx Fall and with some positive past form in Bermuda, he can find that huge performance here.
Lebioda generated a couple of eye-catching performances earlier in the year, finishing 15th at Pebble Beach and 21st in the Puerto Rico Open, though really struggled for form thereafter; missing eight of his next eleven PGA Tour cuts and failing to finish any higher than 58th over those starts.
He showed life in the first event of the fall, finishing 19th in the Fortinet Championship and following that with a 35th in the Sanderson Farms on his next start a month ago, we have a player whose form is going in the right direction.
The putter has looked good over those starts but it’s the elite wedge game that appeals hugely here, where he ranks 2nd on tour this season in approaches under 125 yards.
Lebioda put this wedge game to good use when finishing 3rd here in 2019 on debut, following that with a 16th in 2020. If able to maintain that recent upturn in form with the putter and dial in those wedges as strongly as he has all year, he can achieve another impressive result at Port Royal this week.