SANDERSON FARMS CHAMPIONSHIP: After an action-packed week at Quail Hollow the PGA Tour makes its return to normalcy in the great state of Mississippi, where a field that’s light on star power but heavy on young up-and-comers will compete for $7.9 million and an oversized wooden rooster in the Magnolia State’s preeminent pro golf tournament.
This event has been around in some form for over 50 years, but only recently has it become part of the Fall Series and held as a standalone tournament, with no Major Championship or WGC event being played simultaneously. While the big names generally sit this one out, it’s a great week for some of the Tour’s young, hungry talent to make a mark and start banking FedEx Cup points.
The course, the Dick Wilson-designed Country Club of Jackson, is a fairly straightforward test that generally yields lots of birdies. A par-72 that measures some 7,460 yards from all the way back, it’s tight in spots and the sticky Bermuda rough should be avoided, but the greens are large, the par-5s are easy, and there isn’t much severity off the tee. It’s a course that can be conquered by a variety of different styles, and in the last few years we’ve seen winners of this event range from short-and-straight types like Ryan Armour to bonafide bombers like Cameron Champ and last year’s champion, Sam Burns. Comfort on Bermuda greens and the ability to go low and keep going are traits we’re looking for this week, and don’t be afraid to swerve the top of the market and seek value a bit further down the board– prior to Burns’s victory last year the previous six winners of this event had all begun the week as longshots of 70/1 or greater. With that being said, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Denny McCarthy (21.0)- If someone were to ask you to name the world’s best putter, what would you say? I doubt many people would choose Denny McCarthy, but we can mostly chalk that up to ignorance and myopia, because based on the stats these past few years there is simply no one on the planet who rolls the rock any better. McCarthy finished second on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting last season, the third time in the past four years that he’s finished either first or second in that particular stat. But it’s not just about the putting– he’s also been swinging the club well lately, which is why he finished last season with three top-10s in his final eight starts and kicked off the ’22-’23 campaign with a top-25 at the Fortinet Championship. Most importantly, he’s been a moneymaker at the Country Club of Jackson, finding the top-20 in this event in each of the past four years, including a T6 in 2020. With the top players taking the week off and several wide-eyed newcomers set to make their first PGA Tour start, McCarthy is well-positioned to make a run for the trophy this week.
Austin Eckroat (74.0)- This is a good week to take a chance on young newcomers who have been hot lately, because nothing about this field is going to intimidate anybody, and everything from the size of the galleries to the course itself will be closer to what one would see at a Korn Ferry event than, say, the U.S. Open. Eckroat is a 23-year old Oklahoma native who has been making birdies in bunches these past couple of months, logging top-20 finishes in 6 of his last 9 Korn Ferry starts, including a runner-up at the KFT Tour Championship earlier this month. His game seems to be complete– he averages 315 off the tee, ranked 7th on the KFT in GIR percentage, 31st in strokes gained putting, and 9th in birdie average. That last stat is particularly important in a week like this, when the course is friendly and the tourney is essentially a sprint to 20-under. Eckroat has the game to get in the mix and is worth a shot at better than 70/1.
Chris Stroud (146.0)- Last season was a tough one for Stroud, as he missed far more cuts than he made and was never able to crack the top-10. He did begin to show signs that he was snapping out of the slump in late summer, however, finishing T27 at the Barbasol and then shooting par or better all four days at the Wyndham. He took some time off last month to work on his swing and the results have been encouraging thus far, as he shot par or better in all four rounds of the season-opening Fortinet Championship and went on to finish T43 despite a balky putter. Stroud is a streaky player who is absolutely fearless, and he’s already proven that he has what it takes to win on Tour. In a tournament like this, with a field like this, he’s got a legit chance to shock the world. You won’t find a better value in this price range.