FORTINET CHAMPIONSHIP: Some people say there’s no offseason in professional golf anymore, and, well… those people are correct. That said, the PGA Tour’s brief two-week intermission has now ended and we’re ready to kick off a new season in the beautiful California wine country, where a field that’s mostly comprised of fresh faces looking to make a name for themselves and journeymen grinders trying to hang on for another year will compete for a nice, fat $8.4 million purse at the Fortinet Championship.
This event has been in existence for over 15 years but has swapped title sponsors a few times, meaning it’s had a few different names, but the venue has remained the same for the past decade: Silverado Resort’s North Course, an old Robert Trent Jones Jr. design that was renovated by Johnny Miller in 2011 but retains a classic feel. A relatively short course that tips out at just 7,166 yards, Silverado is nonetheless a challenge due to its narrow fairways and small, knobby poa annua greens, and only once in the past decade has the winner of this tournament reached the 20-under mark. Consistency off the tee, precision with the short irons, and patience around the greens are what is required this week.
One man who does all three of those things pretty darn well is Max Homa, and the native Californian is the two-time defending champion of this event. Homa simply plods his way around Silverado, hitting fairways and giving himself chances, and he’s shown throughout his career that he’s one of the very best poa annua putters in the world. It’s a tricky surface, poa annua… little sprigs sticking up through the turf… and some guys have a lot of trouble reading it. Careful observers will notice players and caddies really grinding on the greens this week.
Homa heads BETDAQ’s Win Market at 9.2 and he’s followed by Ryder Cup teammate Justin Thomas (23.0), a somewhat controversial selection for the upcoming event in Rome due to his middling form over the past year. We’ll see if Thomas can get the confidence revved up this week… I have a hunch that Zach Johnson would have preferred that he sit this one out like most of his teammates, as a poor showing would only intensify the scrutiny of Captain Zach’s selection process. Thomas wants to shake off the rust after missing the Playoffs, however, which is understandable. He’s not someone I’m looking to back this week, though I’ll be keeping an interested eye on him.
Let’s see if we can strike some early-season gold with one of these three:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Sahith Theegala (21.0)- This might be a little short for Theegala, but it sure seems like a great spot for him and unlike a couple of his peers at the top of the market he won’t have other things on the mind… this isn’t “preparation” for Theegala, it’s an opportunity to win a golf tournament. And he’s come pretty close at Silverado, finishing 6th in this event last year and T14 in 2020, so he clearly knows his way around the course and it evidently suits his game. He had a solid run towards the end of the season, finding the top-15 in both the FedEx St. Jude and the BMW Championship last month, and now the California native and Pepperdine grad returns to a place where he’s very comfortable in search of his first PGA Tour victory. I think he’s got a real shot at it this week… I’d rather be getting him at 30/1, but I’ll take my chances at the current price.
Akshay Bhatia (52.0)- The 21-year-old Bhatia has been pegged as a prodigy since his early teen years, skipping college golf after a highly decorated junior career and taking his chances in professional golf’s lower ranks, the mini tours. He took his lumps for a couple of years but we’re now starting to see his talent come to the surface, as he picked up a win on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 and had a true breakthrough victory in July’s Barracuda Championship, where he edged Patrick Rodgers in a playoff and changed the trajectory of his career. The Barracuda is a co-sanctioned PGA and DP World Tour event, which means Bhatia now has status and gets to play in tournaments like this one, though it just so happens that he’s played here before– he received a sponsor’s exemption into the field here in 2020 and acquitted himself quite well, finishing 9th after shooting 66-68 over the weekend. That means he’s someone who has both current form and course history going for him this week (not to mention the prodigious talent), which makes him an attractive option at better than 50/1.
Chez Reavie (80.0)- Short course, West Coast, autumn in the air… is that the Chez Reavie music I hear?!? Why yes it is, and we get to take the ride this week for the bargain price of 80.0. Reavie has stuck around for nearly 20 years on Tour and has racked up over $21 million in official earnings, and he’s one of the most predictable guys out there: he almost never makes the cut in certain geographic locations and always has trouble with a certain style of course (i.e. any course where length off the tee is a priority), but put this man in the Pacific time zone, give him some cooler weather and poa annua greens, and watch him work. He nearly always plays well in this tournament, making the cut in 8 of his last 9 appearances, finishing 33rd or better seven consecutive times in that span, and finding the podium in 2020 after closing with back-to-back 66s. He’s had a good year, making 9 of his last 10 cuts and finishing 4th at the Travelers back in June, but now is when Reavie shines brightest. He has three PGA Tour victories under his belt and is a genuine threat this week.