WYNDHAM CHAMPIONSHIP: The PGA Tour has made an annual stop in Greensboro, North Carolina for some 85 years, and though the tournament isn’t quite as prestigious as it was when Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player were roaming the fairways, it is the last event before the FedEx Cup Playoffs begin in Memphis next week, so it’s crunch time for those on the top-70 bubble.
One of those players, surprisingly, is Justin Thomas, who has slumped badly this season and currently sits at 79th in the standings. He needs some magic– according to the PGA Tour stat geeks, Thomas must finish in the top-5 this week to secure his spot in the Playoffs, and if he finishes worse than 18th he’s definitely eliminated. A result that falls between 5th and 18th would lead to some scoreboard watching for the 2017 FedEx Cup champ, with his Playoff fate in the balance. There are others in a similar situation– Adam Scott, Shane Lowry, K.H. Lee, and Cam Davis to name a few– and this “tournament within a tournament” should definitely add some drama to the proceedings this week.
The course, Sedgefield Country Club, is a classic Donald Ross design that was lengthened and modernized in the early 2000s and has played host to this event since 2008. A par-70 that measures just 7,127 yards, it’s still rather short by Tour standards and isn’t terribly penal off the tee, but the sticky Bermuda rough must be avoided if the players hope to keep pace in what is always a green-light birdie fest. If you’re putting the ball in the fairway Sedgefield is pretty much target practice with wedges and short irons, and though the green complexes do have some Ross-inspired trickiness and subtlety, they aren’t able to provide a stern enough defense against the world’s best players. The winner of this tournament has reached 20-under or better in 6 of the past 7 years, including last year, when young Tom Kim earned his first PGA Tour victory after a memorable Sunday 61.
Somewhat surprisingly, Kim is not here to defend this week, as he’s apparently still recovering from an ankle injury he sustained after Round 1 of the Open. While this isn’t a first-class field by any means, there are some prominent players in attendance, including market leaders Russell Henley (22.0), Hideki Matsuyama (23.0), and Sungjae Im (25.0). That said, I believe the value this week can be found near the middle of the market, where several viable contenders are priced attractively. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Sam Burns (36.0)- It’s been a breakthrough season for Burns, with ten top-15 finishes and a victory at the WGC Match Play back in March. Though he hasn’t hoisted any trophies since that triumph in Austin, he’s quietly been playing some good golf these past couple of months, finishing 6th at the Charles Schwab, 16th at the Memorial, 32nd in the U.S. Open, and 19th in the Scottish Open before missing the cut at Hoylake. He now returns stateside to a course that should be right up his alley, with slick Bermuda greens and an emphasis on driving the ball well. Burns had a good showing in his only previous appearance at this event, in 2020, finishing 13th after back-to-back 65s over the weekend. He’s a strong bet to contend this week and is a good value at a price like 36.0.
Byeong Hun An (64.0)- After a bumpy couple of years that included an extended stop on the Korn Ferry Tour, Benny An is back in business, with seven top-25 finishes since April, including a 3rd-place showing at the Scottish Open a couple of weeks ago and a T23 at Hoylake. His ball-striking has been typically pristine, as he ranks 24th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green, and though he will never be mistaken for Ben Crenshaw with the putter in his hand, his short game overall has been quite tidy this season– good enough to rank 4th on Tour in strokes gained around the green. He should be brimming with confidence after his recent play, and he has a nice history at this tournament that includes three made cuts in four career starts and a 3rd-place finish in 2019. He’s a terrific value this week at better than 60/1.
Alex Noren (88.0)- Though Noren has notched 11 worldwide victories and once cracked the top-10 in the World Golf Rankings, he hasn’t found the winner’s circle on any Tour since 2018 and endured a very poor stretch a couple of years back. He’s battled back since 2021, however, and has come close to victory a few times, with two runner-up finishes over the second half of 2022 to go along with some scattered top-5s. He’s been playing quite well lately, finding the top-25 in 3 of his past 4 starts, including a T13 at last week’s 3M Open, where he closed with rounds of 66-68-66 after a disappointing Thursday 71. A win this week would be a validation of Noren’s nose-to-the-grindstone approach these past couple of years… he definitely went the “play your way out of it” route when faced with some serious struggles, and now, it seems, he’s finally “out of it”. He doesn’t have much of a history at Sedgefield but did make the cut in his only appearance here, and after his recent stretch of good play I’m sure he’s focused on making some noise this time around. He’s one to watch this week and is most definitely worth a bet at nearly 90/1.