2021 Shriners Children’s Open Best Bets & Picks: Can Scottie Scheffler Become Next in a Long Line of First-Time Winners in Vegas?
Andrew Redington/Getty Images. Pictured: Scottie Scheffler.
- The PGA TOUR heads to Las Vegas for the 2021 Shriners Children's Open at TPC Summerlin.
- Some of the game's best are back in action this week, with Brooks Koepka topping the oddsboard.
- Jason Sobel breaks down his picks for the week below.
Well, so much for the wild, wacky, unpredictable, unstable late-year portion of the PGA TOUR schedule, when anything can happen on any given Sunday leaderboard.
We started last week with visions of triple-digit sleepers dancing in our heads, only to end it with a pre-tourney favorite leaving town with a trophy.
Sam Burns won the Sanderson Farms Championship, his journey to stardom taking a quick detour through Jackson, Miss. He’s your classic five-tool player who’s learned to win at every level; as I wrote in last week’s preview, don’t be surprised to see him representing the U.S. in the next Ryder Cup and beyond.
If you’re hoping for the circuit to return to its regularly scheduled autumn mayhem this week, it might be another wish that goes by the wayside.
They say that one night in Las Vegas isn’t enough and three is too many, but the newly created Sin City Swing will offer players a chance to spend two weeks there — and plenty of big names have accepted this mission.
Among those competing at this week’s Shriners Children’s Open are exactly half of the world’s top 30 players: Louis Oosthuizen, Brooks Koepka, Harris English, Abraham Ancer, Viktor Hovland, Burns, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Webb Simpson, Paul Casey, Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak, Sungjae Im and Joaquin Niemann.
Granted, last year’s edition of this event was won by Martin Laird in a playoff over Austin Cook and Matthew Wolff, so there still might be some roll-of-the-dice vibes, but the stronger field could eliminate the opportunity for another big longshot to pay off.
Let’s get to the picks, starting with a player who should be a popular selection based on the last time we watched him play.
One player to win the tournament.
Scottie Scheffler (+2200)
Once upon a time — 1969, to be exact — a 32-year-old named Tommy Aaron qualified for the U.S. Ryder Cup team without ever having won a PGA TOUR event. He didn’t play especially great that week, finishing with a 1-2-1 record, but contributed to the team in a tie that saw them retain the title.
By the next spring, perhaps buoyed by that Ryder Cup appearance, Aaron was a PGA TOUR champion, winning the Atlanta Classic. A few years later, he’d claim the Masters for his second (and only other) victory.
In 2010, Rickie Fowler was part of a U.S. team without a win, as well. It took another year-and-a-half, but he, too, finally triumphed. And while, no, Rickie still doesn’t have a major and his game has taken a recent downturn, he does own four other titles, including The Players Championship. (Just to show this isn’t a foolproof narrative, Jeff Overton also made that 2010 team without ever winning. He still hasn’t even competed in a PGA TOUR event in more than four-and-a-half years.)
By now, you know where I’m going with all this: Just a few weeks ago, Scheffler became the fourth such player ever to compete on a U.S. Ryder Cup team — and the most successful of the quartet, posting a 2-0-1 record in the team’s thrashing of Europe. It would be easy to maintain that he has more Aaron and Fowler in him than Overton, but that might be a disservice to his skills.
The truth is, I think we’ll someday look back at Scheffler’s performance as a catalyst to a very good career. I won’t go overboard and claim that he’s going to be No. 1 in the world or a five-time major champion someday, but he’ll be one of the world’s better players for the next decade or two, the type who can pick off a win (or more) every season.
There’s every reason to believe that success can start this week, as he’ll never have more confidence than coming straight off a(nother) match play victory over Jon Rahm. He missed the cut at this tourney last year, but scores of 69-67 should hardly be cause for concern that he can’t go low here.
At a tourney that has been a breeding ground for initial victories for great careers — the eclectic group of Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Kevin Na and Patrick Cantlay each claimed their first win at this one — Scheffler can be the latest first-timer to leave Vegas with a smile on his face.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Kevin Na (+2200) and Charley Hoffman (+5000)
Look, there’s no other way to say this, so I’ll just come right out with it: There is a slight chance that perhaps some players in this week’s field might not be fully concentrated on golf, with all those bright lights from The Strip calling their names.
This could very well be the type of week that, when some guys check into their hotels and are asked, “Are you here for business or pleasure?” they offer a little grin and answer, “A little of both, I guess.”
Nothing wrong with that, of course, as anybody who’s traveled to Vegas for a business trip can relate. But you know who isn’t traveling here with designs on enjoying all the sights? The guys who live here (or have lived here) already.
The proverbial “sleeping in his own bed” idea can often backfire when making predictions throughout the year, but I don’t believe there’s anyplace it can offer a bigger advantage than in Vegas, where Na is a current resident and Hoffman lived for some 20 years after attending UNLV.
Joaquin Niemann (+3500)
I understand if you don’t want to waste an early-season OAD pick on a guy who could have a monster campaign, but there’s value in taking Niemann at an event where he should be one of the better players in the field.
After all, a few of his best results so far — a win at the Greenbrier; runners-up at the Sony and Rocket Mortgage — have come against inferior fields, where maybe he still feels a bit more comfortable.
One player to finish top-five.
Abraham Ancer (+330 for top-five)
It should come as little surprise if Ancer chases his still-recent victory at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude with another one soon — and this would be a smart place to expect it. Instead, I’m going to be just a little cautious in playing him for a top-five this week at an event where he’s cashed top-five tickets in two of the past three years.
One player to finish top-10.
Brendan Steele (+1600 for top-10)
One of my favorite metrics to examine when doing research for my tournament previews is final-round ball-striking numbers from the previous week for those players who are competing in back-to-back events.
On Sunday at the Sanderson Farms, Steele led the field in strokes gained tee-to-green and on approach shots — and really, it wasn’t even close between him and the next player. That doesn’t automatically mean he’ll continue it this week, but it does suggest that he’s found something.
Following a T-17 result, I like him to post his best finish at a tourney where he’s never been better than T-13 in nine previous starts.
One player to finish top-20.
Maverick McNealy (+240 for top-20)
Over the past few months, I’ve probably offered a half-dozen analyses on McNealy’s impressive consistency. He’s finished top-30 in eight of his past nine starts, but was never better than T-16 in those first seven of ‘em.
A runner-up result at the season-opening Fortinet Championship makes me believe we can push the gas pedal on him just a little more, especially on courses where distance isn’t a major advantage, like this one. I don’t mind a top-10 ticket, but top-20 might be safer for the Vegas resident.
One player to finish top-30.
Anytime the PGA TOUR plays desert golf, Piercy is one of the first names I look for in the field. Much as some players only contend on short, tight courses and others only play well when there’s certain types of grass on the greens, this kind of track is Piercy’s bread and butter.
It’s an idea that was born years ago, when the Las Vegas-based mini-tour player at the time won something called The Ultimate Game in his hometown – and a cool $2 million in the process. Since 2009, he’s made a dozen starts at this event and cashed top-30 tickets in nine of those years, including a T-19 last year and four previous top-10s.
He has, of course, progressed from a mini-tour regular to a four-time PGA TOUR champion — and if you’re into patterns, his last three wins have come in 2012, 2015 and 2018, with 2021 quickly dwindling to the end.
One player to finish top-40.
Andrew Putnam (+400 for top-40)
I haven’t yet pondered my list of players who will make “The Leap,” a column I’ve written every January for years, but I have a feeling Putnam might be on it.
A winner in 2018 at the Barracuda Championship, he was once ranked as high as 43rd in the world. He’s since dropped to 151st, but I’ve always felt that he’s a high-ceiling/low-floor type of guy, capable of winning (or at least contending) without much of a hint.
I like the West Coaster more in West Coast events, so this could be a good one for him. If not, I’ll probably revisit this play when we hit mid-January.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
I’m a fan of studying player biorhythms in this game. Look, if we’re going to analyze every other aspect of a player’s performance, we might as well understand when they play their best, as opposed to just where and why.
For some players, there won’t be a definitive line of demarcation. But there are many who play their best golf at the beginning of the year, then tail off as the long summer progresses. Or those who gear up for major season, but don’t do much before or after. Or even those who play their best toward the end of the season.
Matsuyama is the rare elite-level player who — unluckily for him — finds some of his biggest successes at the wrong time of the year. Since winning in four of five global starts following the Tour Championship in 2016, Matsuyama has competed in 27 fall events, totaling 11 top-five finishes and 20 top-25s.
None of this means he can’t find success at other times of the year — that little tournament in April ring a bell? — but clearly, there’s something about competing during this time of the year that appeals to him.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
Maybe I’m wrong here, but it feels like other Korn Ferry grads — Mito Pereira, Taylor Pendrith, Stephan Jaeger among them — have garnered more attention from the public, rightly or wrongly, than Moore, who is fresh off a fantastic season.
It’s taken him a few years to reach this level and having played only two prior PGA TOUR events before earning his card, maybe we’re taking a collective wait-and-see approach here. Following last week’s T-17, though, I think he’ll have the confidence to post another strong finish.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
After ranking 23rd in R1 scoring average last season, Streelman has broken 70 in four of his last seven opening rounds. He owns a first-round average of 68.91 at this event, with nine of 11 career Thursday scores in the red.
He’s the type of guy who can get hot in a hurry and make birdies in bunches, so I don’t mind a play on him here.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Marc Leishman (+6000)
The outright price is one that stuck out to me as a massive bargain, so I expect Leishman to similarly offer value in head-to-head matchups. He hasn’t played this event since 2010, but after a somewhat disappointing season, I get the sense that he’s geared up to find some early-season momentum, as evidenced by his T-4 finish at the Fortinet just a few weeks ago.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Harris English (+2200)
The category is called The Big Fade, but I’ll adjust this one and call it The Medium Fade, because English isn’t a guy I completely hate here, but he’s not one I’ll be chasing, either. His results at this event are just OK, with a T-4 and a T-16 his lone top-30 finishes in seven career starts — not awful, but not great, either.
And his “recent” play, nothing better than T-17 in three playoff starts and a 1-2-0 Ryder Cup record, suggest his midsummer mojo is missing. At this price, I can’t justify taking him over some of the other 22-1 guys — or a bevy of players with bigger numbers.
My favorite non-PGA Tour play of the week.
Adri Arnaus to win the Open de Espana (+5500)
Let me preface this play by offering the following information, which feels somewhat relevant here: Jon Rahm is the best golfer in the world right now, and it might not be close. He’s playing this week’s event in Spain. And yes, he’s the favorite — with a mind-blowing number of +200. That’s right, after being as short as +350 for the PGA TOUR season opener just a few weeks ago, he’s now 2-1 to win this week.
Of course, he’s so talented that if he really wants to, if he’s wholly motivated to step on some throats in his native country, he’ll probably cash these tickets. But sorry, I just can’t bring myself to bet a 2-1 outright in a full-field event.
Instead, I’m going with a guy who could be the next very good player from Spain — perhaps not at a Rahm or Sergio Garcia level, but at least on-par with a Rafa Cabrera Bello. Arnaus has won on the Alps Tour and the Challenge Tour, and has seven career top-fives on the Euro circuit, but is still seeking that first victory. With a pair of top-25s in his past three starts, maybe a little home-cooking will be just what he needs.
He — and everyone else in the field — will have to overcome Rahm, but if the fave falters, I like Arnaus to finally start fulfilling some of that potential.