- 2018: Kevin Na (-19)
- 2017: Xander Schauffele (-14)
- 2016: No tournament
- 2015: Danny Lee (-13)
- 2014: Angel Cabrera (-16)
- 2013: Jonas Blixt (-13)
The manner in which the recent winners won the Greenbrier is a bit of a mixed bag. Kevin Na did it primarily on the strength of his irons, scrambling and putting. Schauffele had an excellent week off the tee and with his putter. Danny Lee wasn’t elite in any one category but solid in almost every aspect. Angel Cabrera had a great week tee-to-green and got hot with his putter at the right time. And Jonas Blixt relied on the bread and butter of his game – scrambling and putting.
What is consistent is that the Old White TPC brought out the very best aspects of each, as all of them won because of what they’re known for. The Old White TPC isn’t a place where one specific style of golf has an advantage over another, which happens far too often on these long, soft golf courses so prevalent on the PGA Tour. It’s a golf course where strategy and thoughtfulness tee-to-green is paramount. A player can step up to the Old White TPC and form a solid game plan that matches the strengths of their game, and after that it just comes down to execution.
In terms of players to target for a futures bet, accuracy off the tee and good iron play are prevailing traits of most contenders late on Sunday at the Greenbrier. The one thing every player must do is to hit the correct side of the fairway on the Par 4’s and Par 5’s (even if it doesn’t land in the short grass), and the green complexes on the Par 3’s are so quirky that players must be precise with their irons.
Here’s who I like to win the first event of the 2019-2020 PGA Tour season (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):
Viktor Hovland – 16/1: To pull back the curtain, I tried looking for a reason not to pick him this week. Everyone is picking Hovland, and as our degenerate uncle told all of us at the Thanksgiving table when we were young that when everyone agrees something is a good bet, it isn’t.
But I can’t do it. He’s simply too good. I can’t just ignore that if Hovland had enough starts to qualify, he would have finished 3rd in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green after he began to play on the PGA Tour. Or that he averages over 300 yards off the tee, had a 75% driving accuracy and hit 73% of his greens in regulation. Admittedly, he needs work with his scrambling and putting. But he could manage just an average week in those departments and still come home with a win if he’s hitting the ball that well.
Hovland is going to be a winner very, very soon on the PGA Tour. It’s just a matter of when. And with the weak fields that he’ll be playing against in the Fall this might be the best price you can get on him pre-tournament before the books start to adjust his odds. Once he works out the kinks in the short game he has the tools to win multiple times per year on the PGA Tour, and this week might be his break through.
Joaquin Niemann – 22/1: A year ago, Niemann had similar hype that Hovland had in that it was a matter of when he’ll collect his first victory on the PGA Tour, not if. But Niemann’s 2018-2019 season might be a cautionary tale for young Viktor Hovland in that a poor putter sabotaged his game, and he struggled for the first half of his season.
Since the summer, he’s worked out the kinks with the flat stick and it’s shown in the results on the leaderboard. Since the PGA Championship, Niemann has registered positive Strokes Gained – Putting performances in six of 10 tournaments to pair with over a stroke gained per round tee-to-green in that stretch. That’s yielded 11 out of 12 cuts made, three Top 10’s and a finish no lower than T31 in any event he made the weekend at.
Niemann finished T5 in last year’s event at the Greenbrier, and like Hovland he’ll be a winner very soon on the PGA Tour. This could be his week.
Cameron Tringale – 80/1: After being in the wilderness with his game, Tringale has quietly enjoyed a very solid stretch of golf. Since the RBC Canadian Open he’s gained just under 0.9 strokes per round on the field tee-to-green – and that includes the disastrous performance at the Northern Trust. Tringale also had his best putting year since 2014 and was able to marry these two areas for five Top 20 finishes over his last 10 starts.
While not statistically strong off the tee, he did rank 44th in Good Drive % on the PGA Tour in 2018-2019, meaning that he doesn’t get in too much trouble off the tee where he can’t hit the green in regulation. He’s playing some of the best golf of his professional life at the moment, and if his performance at the Northern Trust was an aberration he’s a nice dark horse candidate to claim a surprise victory.
Matchups and Props
Joaquin Niemann -110 over Marc Leishman: The reasons I like Niemann this week are above. As for Leishman, he’s been very flat with his game over the last few months. All of his problems have been off the tee, especially with his accuracy. That’s a huge no-no this week at a place like the Old White where you must hit the correct side of each fairway to get a good look at the pin. He’s also struggled with his irons over the last three tournaments, and while he’s talented enough to turn that around there’s not much there right that gives me faith in him. MyBookie also offers Sungjae Im -120 over Marc Leishman this week as well, and that’s another opportunity to fade Leishman in another matchup prop.
Denny McCarthy -115 over Austin Cook: While neither is hitting the ball all that well tee-to-green, McCarthy’s results are kept afloat thanks to tremendous scrambling and putting. He has a huge edge over Austin Cook in those department, and while Cook’s T4 at the Barbasol is a bright spot he’s missed nine cuts in his last 15 starts. Cook hasn’t shown much to suggest he’ll make much noise anytime soon, and McCarthy should best him one-on-one.
Russell Henley Top 20 – +180: In his career, Henley has gained over 1.8 strokes per round at the Greenbrier and comes into this year’s tournament in good form. After a stretch where he missed four straight cuts, Henley has made four straight and has a pair of Top 20 finishes under his belt. Over his last five tournaments he’s gained over 1.4 strokes per round tee-to-green on the field, but his struggles putting has held him back. While I think that will keep him from the win, his great ball striking and his history at the Greenbrier makes a Top 20 finish at plus odds a good bet.