Sobel’s 2020 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open Preview and Betting Picks: Expect Putters to Compete in a Stacked Field
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images. Pictured: Maverick McNealy.
The PGA TOUR begins its first-ever two-week Vegas Swing this week, just in case you ever wanted to see a bunch of sweet-swinging multi-millionaires audition for The Hangover IV. (That would be “4,” but I figured the producers could use the “IV” double entendre, free of charge.)
This week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open will precede the CJ Cup, which is being played at Shadow Creek for one time only.
I’ve often written that we can find an edge in the annual Vegas-based event by fading the guys who, well, enjoy a little bit of the nightlife (good luck finding that in the analytics.) This year, though, that means a lot less, with bubble nightlife theoretically consisting of room service filet mignon while staring wistfully out the hotel room window on the Strip.
Then again, an entire fortnight of pro golfers trying their hardest to stay in a pandemic-induced bubble for a fortnight in Sin City could a good film, too. It just might have to be a documentary instead.
Based on that aforementioned edge we often seek here, it’s either very surprising or not very surprising whatsoever that young players have often used this event at TPC Summerlin as a first-victory launching pad in their careers, though I’ll readily admit that Tiger Woods (’96), Kevin Na (’11), Smylie Kaufman (’15) and Patrick Cantlay (’17) have enjoyed, uh, let’s say “varying degrees of success” since their titles.
Three years ago, I wrote about Tiger’s famous Scotty Cameron putter for ESPN. The one he used for that first win in Vegas isn’t the same 14-time major championship winner still in the bag today, but it helped launch the company as much as it did the player. How much? This much:
Cameron arrived at the Las Vegas Invitational with an arsenal of putters. Together, he and Woods produced a putter that immediately went into Woods’ bag that week. Needing a victory to ensure his PGA Tour playing privileges for the next year and to avoid Q School, he defeated Davis Love III in a playoff to capture the title at TPC Summerlin.
It was a monstrous win for Woods, but the exposure made it an even bigger win for his putter maker. When Cameron’s first daughter was born soon after, he and wife Kathy picked a name that in part honored the milestone: Summer Lynne.
That gets me to another point about this week’s tournament in general: Putting is more of a key stat here than at most other events.
The model at Data Golf shows that the usual standbys like driving distance and ball-striking aren’t any more advantageous here than anywhere else, but this is a track where guys wielding hot flatsticks can climb the board in a hurry. If we needed further proof, simply look back to last year, when Na won this event for a second time with the best recorded four-round strokes gained putting number in PGA TOUR history.
With that in mind, let’s get to the picks — and yes, I’ll start it off with a good young player who putts well seeking his first career win.
One player to win the tournament.
Maverick McNealy (+12500)
No, I didn’t “need” to pick a player who fit the criteria from the above intro. It could easily be Patrick Cantlay or Bryson DeChambeau or Webb Simpson or Tony Finau, each of whom finished top-10 on this track last year (and the first three have won this event previously). In fact, it’s been a minute since I last picked a player with triple-digit odds to win a tourney, but that’s how well McNealy rolled his rock last week, leading the Sanderson Farms field in putting — and how much of a factor that could be this week. If anything, we can at least conclude that he’s underpriced for his potential upside. Even if you don’t want to hop aboard this outright play, McNealy should work for props and in DFS lineups, as well.
Potential selections for one-and-done options.
Bryson DeChambeau (+700)
Patrick Cantlay (+1800)
Look, if you’ve somehow successfully managed to hang on to each of these guys in OADs and somehow don’t want to save either one for the upcoming Masters or either of the next two weeks, well, this should be a good one for each, as they’ve both won here in the past. That’s a lot of variables at play, but if you’ve got ‘em and want to use ‘em, it could be a rewarding zig-when-they-zag play.
Joaquin Niemann (+6600)
There have been way too many times over the past couple of years when I’ve played Niemann, only to watch his Shot Tracker tell me something like “Shot 2 177 yds to green, 6 ft 3 in. to hole” only to then see a par pop up on his scorecard. But there’s some newfound hope. Two seasons ago, Niemann ranked 144th in strokes gained putting. Last season, 146th. Granted, he’s only played four rounds this season, but Niemann is already sixth, which could portend big things moving forward.
Jason Day (+5000)
Full disclosure: While I do try to list sensible OAD plays in this section, I’ll sometimes use this as simply “Guy I Like Who Doesn’t Fit Into Any Other Category.” I’m not sure Day makes a ton of sense as an OAD selection because there are plenty of other good places to use him, especially if you’re in the front end of your 2020-21 pool rather than the back end of a 2020 calendar-year pool. But I couldn’t not write something on Day at 50/1 this week, higher odds than the likes of Zach Johnson and Russell Henley, and the same as Cameron Davis, for some reason. Day hasn’t played here since a fourth-place finish eight years ago, but in very much the same way that Sergio Garcia was priced too high (66/1) prior to last week’s Sanderson Farms Championship, even if you didn’t like his recent record, Day fits that profile this week.
One player to finish top-five.
Abraham Ancer (+1100)
My original pick here was Tony Finau, but a positive COVID-19 test announced Tuesday by the PGA TOUR led to his withdrawal from this event.
Instead, I’ll go with Ancer, who has shown a propensity for playing well during the late-summer/early-fall time of year. His results at this one have been all-or-nothing, with three MCs, but a T-4 two years ago that I’m banking on repeating here.
One player to finish top-10.
Denny McCarthy (+750)
The next time your uncle holes a five-footer for 6-for-5 and yells, “Drive for show, putt for dough!” at you, ask him whether he’d rather have the career of DeChambeau or McCarthy right now. The best putter statistically on the PGA TOUR, McCarthy is still seeking his first career win, though he is becoming more consistent, with two top-10 finishes in his last five starts.
One player to finish top-20.
Kristoffer Ventura (+450)
The secret is out. After bouncing back and forth between the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour, Ventura is showing that he belongs on the highest level, with three top-15 finishes in his last four starts. Throw in the fact that he was T-18 at this event last year — back when he wasn’t playing nearly as well — and this feels like it could be another big week for the Norway native.
One player to finish top-30.
Doc Redman (+150)
I just can’t quit the Doctor. My pick to win last week, he finished a meager T-28, never really getting anything going in the right direction, though hardly looking lost, either. I’m going to go the other way with him this week, as this is an ultra-conservative play instead, but he’s been very strong in this category, finishing top-30 in four of his last five starts and seven of his last 10.
One player to finish top-40.
Martin Laird (+250)
The original play here was Ryan Moore, but he WD’d with a lingering back injury, so I’ll pivot to Laird, who tends to also play well in desert golf setups. After an extended break following the restart, he finished 65-MC-65, but a T-28 in his most recent start two weeks ago has him trending in the right direction.
DFS Free Bingo Square
A safe plug-and-play option for DFS.
In simpler times, I’m often looking for players who can ignore the trappings of Vegas and instead be tucked into their beds by 10 p.m. with a warm glass of milk. That’s how I imagine Webb spending his time in this city — and whether it’s right or wrong, he’s proven that whatever he’s doing works here, with six top-20s in nine starts, including a win in 2014 and a T-7 last year. Throw in the fact that he’s putting as well as he ever has, and Simpson will be a staple for me at the top of lineups.
A lower-priced option for DFS.
The heralded Class of ’19, with four big talents emerging from the college ranks last summer, has left a man behind. While Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland have already fast-tracked themselves to super-stardom, Suh is mired as the world’s 740th-ranked player. But there are signs that he’s on the verge of changing that. The USC product finished T-21 and T-14 in his last two PGA TOUR starts, and in between, had a trio of top-10 results on the LocaliQ series. I don’t mind him for top-20/30 props, but he should hold tons of value in DFS lineups.
One player to post the low score Thursday.
Scott Piercy (+12500)
In 14 career starts at this event, Piercy owns seven top-25 finishes and just three missed cuts. The numbers most relevant for this wager, though, are mostly red, as he’s broken par at TPC Summerlin on 10 different Thursdays, with a career first-round scoring average of 69.00. A native of Vegas who traditionally plays desert courses really well, he’s the type of guy who also starts stronger than he finishes, as evidenced by his scoring average ranks per round last season. (He was 66th in R1 and 44th R2 but 187th in R3 and 174th in R4.) It’s very conceivable that Piercy gets off to a hot start at this one, too.
One player who should beat comparable players.
Maybe I’m just pandering here to my podcast partner Peter Jennings, who has an ongoing Wise infatuation, but I think there should be plenty of value here in matchups, as well as other props. He’s struggled for much of the past year but posted a T-17 last week, which could signify good things coming. He also owns a record of 10-32-15-MC at this event — and that MC last year wasn’t so bad, as he broke par in those two rounds, but didn’t go low enough.
The Big Fade
One top player to avoid at this tournament.
Scottie Scheffler (+2200)
One week after opening as the pre-tournament favorite and finishing T-37, Scheffler opens here as the sixth-highest on the board, somehow ahead of guys like Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa. I’ll give him a one-week reprieve after missing time due to a positive COVID-19 test, but on a course where he was just T-74 last year, this feels like too big of a number against too strong of a field this week.
My favorite non-PGA TOUR play of the week.
Brooke Henderson to win the Women’s PGA Championship (+1400)
Brittany Altomare to top-10 at the Women’s PGA Championship (+450)
Even before Henderson and Altomare finished T-6 and T-10, respectively, at last week’s Shoprite LPGA Classic, I had the Person Who Knows Things telling me that both are primed for a deep run at Aronimink this week. Those results should only strengthen that notion. Henderson has been running hot, with a runner-up finish at the ANA Inspiration prior to this past week. Meanwhile, Altomare is a native of the Northeast (Massachusetts, with the tourney being played in Philly) who isn’t afraid of the major spotlight, having reached a playoff at the Evian Championship three years ago. I’m not sure either one will be as popular a winner as Mel Reid, who celebrated after her Shoprite victory in New Jersey, but put enough cash on ‘em this week and maybe you’ll be the one celebrating instead.