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We’re onto the 2021-22 season on the PGA Tour as players are set to tee it up on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa. Formerly known as the Safeway Open, the new title sponsor, Fortinet, takes the reigns this year as the fall swing presents a great opportunity to accumulate FedEx Cup points.
As players have slowly begun to learn, those points earned in the fall are just as valuable as those captured in the spring and summer. As such, you have world No. 1 Jon Rahm and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama headlining this year’s season opener.
Playing host since 2014, this par-72 is one of those courses where any type of player can compete. From plotters to bombers, ball-striking Jesse’s to short-game wizards, the season opener tends to be a bit of a crapshoot when identifying potential winners.
The oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced full-tournament head-to-head matchups ahead of the Fortinet Championship. Only a couple caught my eye as we will try to pick and choose our spots effectively. Having written up Billy Horschel in last week’s BMW PGA Championship article, let’s hope the good vibes from England can make their way across the pond.
Head-to-Head Matchups (Odds Via PointsBet):
It’s never ideal to wager against a previous champion, but the way Champ finished his 2020-21 season has me concerned. Posting –7.7 Strokes Gained: Approach at Caves Valley for the BMW Championship, the Tom Fazio design was laid out right in front of the three-time PGA Tour winner. On a course suited to his game to a tee, he faltered, finishing in a tie for last.
While the irons weren’t fantastic leading up to his 2019 victory here, the driver was on a completely different level. Posting +5.4 and +7.9 SG: Off-the-Tee in the two events leading up to Napa, Champ rode the hot hand and gained +6.7 strokes off-the-tee for his second career victory. That’s not the case this year for Champ, and while he is consistently making strides in said category, they are not big enough, having had only one performance of more than six-strokes gained off-the-tee in 2021.
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While those are lofty numbers to try to attain, those are the numbers Champ needs in order to contend. Always struggling around-the-green and volatile on them, this slight regression with the big stick should leave the door open for Varner. As the East Carolina product finished last season on a high note, connecting for three top-20 finishes in his final five starts.
Riding hot iron play, Varner posted +3.5 and +5.1 SG: Approach in the two FedEx Cup playoff events he qualified for. While the off-the-tee numbers look up-and-down, he has been fairly accurate outside of his outing at Liberty National. Arriving to his seventh appearance in Napa, Varner has yet to miss the weekend in wine country. With half of those starts resulting in a top-20 finish, I expect a similar performance out of Varner this week given his current form.
A matchup between two players who could very well find their way into the winner’s circle this season, this one will tell the tale of which skillset will win out by week’s end. In the off-the-tee corner, you have Ghim who had a fantastic sophomore campaign, gaining strokes off-the-tee more times than not, including in his last start at The Northern Trust where he posted +5.3 SG: Off-the-Tee.
Making his second start at Silverado, the former Texas Longhorn finished in a tie for 14th in his debut shooting 15-under for the week. While a strong finish, I believe there is room for Ghim to improve as he actually lost strokes to the field off-the-tee.
In the approach corner lies Gooch, whose iron-play saw major improvement in the middle of the summer. Posting strong performances for nearly three months straight, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy slipped up at the BMW Championship.
Posting –3.3 SG: Approach at Caves Valley, it was a week to forget in Baltimore as he lost more than seven total strokes gained to the field. Perhaps overreacting perhaps not, if Gooch’s strength doesn’t show up in Napa, he’ll likely have a repeat of his previous three appearances. With a 10-round scoring average of 71.50, Gooch has gone T-54, T-56, MC at Silverado.
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