The Butterfield Bermuda Championship
It was a ‘so near yet so far’ week for us at the CJ Cup as we landed second place with our 125/1 selection Kurt Kitayama. Heading in to Sunday Kitayama sat one shot off the lead held by Rory McIlroy in a tie for second with Jon Rahm. It was therefore naturally a huge ask for him to close the event out for his first tour win, however as I expected he would, the 29yr old hung tough all day shooting a bogey free 67 before ultimately coming up one shot shy of Rory McIlroy.
As I said in my pre event preview Kitayama clearly has a type of course he is comfortable on and whenever there is some room off the tee and a links type feel he is a player to consider. He will no doubt take huge encouragement from this performance and you have to think his day will come soon.
As for McIlroy, it is fantastic to see him return to the top of the game’s rankings a full ten years after he first reached the summit and he deserves every credit for the that achievement as well as of course for posting another win. It will be fascinating to see what he can produce in 2023.
So after two limited field events we return to the relative normality of a regular tour stop, all be it one that is only being seen for the fourth time on tour this year.
The event in question is the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, which first debuted on Tour in 2019 as an opposite field event to the WGC HSBC Champions event.
For the third year running though the event will take centre stage as the only PGA Tour event this week and for the fourth year since its inception the host course will be the Port Royal GC in Southampton.
After a couple of weeks, which seen some of the games bigger names tee it up in no cut/guaranteed prize money events this week in all honesty the standard of field drops off considerably.
The market is headed up by Denny McCarthy, Thomas Detry, Seamus Power and Mark Hubbard.
Port Royal GC is a par 71 measuring just over 6800 yards.
The greens are Tiff Eagle Bermuda.
The course is a Robert Trent Jones design.
The course features a mix of tree lined holes early on before coastal holes exposed to the Atlantic Ocean take over later on in the front nine and dominate the rest of the way home.
From that point of view the wind can clearly be a factor and we should be looking towards other shorter coastal courses with obvious similarities for reference such as El Cameleon, home of the Mayakoba where last years winner Brendan Todd was also victorious a week later, Harbour Town at Hilton Head, Sea Island home of the RSM and Waialae CC home of the Sony Open.
With the event only having been on the calendar for three years we do not have too much to go on. Here though is the final top ten from those three leaderboards.
1st L Herbert -15
T2nd D Lee & P Reed -14
4th P Rodgers -13
T5th T Pendrith & S Stallings -12
T7th P Malnati, JJ Spaun, C Thompson, D Riley & V Whaley -11
1st – B Gay -15
2nd – W Clark -15
3rd – O Schneiderjans -13
T4th – D MCarthy, S Cink, M Jones, D Redman -12
T8th – D Hearn, K Hickok, R Armour
1st – B Todd -24
2nd - H Higgs -20
T3rd - H Lebioda, A Wise, B Gay, & S Scheffler -18
7th – F Gomez -17
T8th – D Hearn, W Roach & R Armour -15
As we can see from these results while the event has only been running for three years a clear pattern has emerged over the first two editions with shorter straight hitting players like Gay, Todd, Hearn, Armour, Redman and Hickok having the edge over more aggressive youngsters like Clark, Scheffler and Wise.
Last year this pattern was broken to a certain extent as PGA Tour rookie Lucas Herbert who is longer than average off the tee prevailing.
One trend that did continue last year though is that on the back of the wins for Todd & Gay another strong putter triumphed with Herbert actually topping the 21/22 PGA Tour SGP rankings.
The first two winners had both been known as players who thrived more on their favoured East Coast surfaces and while as a PGA tour rookie Herbert didn’t have this pedigree his second best result of the season came the following March at Bay Hill.
From an incoming form point of view neither winner gave us any immediate clues as both Gay and Todd had been in dreadful form to put it frankly coming in. Todd had at least given a small hint of what was to come by finishing 28th in Houston the week before after missing his first four cuts of the season however Gay had posted nothing better than 27th all calendar year amongst a swathe of missed cuts.
Herbert had missed his first two cuts on the PGA Tour however he had proven his winning pedigree for the second time on the DP World Tour only three months or so previously when triumphing in Ireland.
In relation to previous form here Todd of course triumphed in the first edition of the event, however Gay had finished third here the previous year so we at least knew he was suited to the track.
That last point leads us on to the most clear guide for this event, which is previous form at correlating courses. The obvious venues to focus are the likes of Hilton Head the home of the RBC Heritage, Sea Island the home of the RSM, Waialae CC the home of the Sony Open, The Corales Puntacana event and perhaps most significantly El Cameleon the home of the Mayakoba event.
I say most significantly for the last event as two of the winners here to date, Todd and Gay have also triumphed at the Mayakoba so the obvious links are there for all to see.
As for Herbert again as he was in his first full season Stateside there was no bank of correlating course form to compare, however with wins in Dubai and Ireland, as well as of course his Aussie background, his pedigree on links type tracks and in the wind was not in doubt and he put this to great use last year when the wind blew here strongly.
Temperatures look set to sit in the low high 70s to 80s through the week and the potential is there for storms through the week in humid conditions.
Wind as is always the case here could well play its part with the possibility of 20mph+ gusts and even stronger on Sunday in the forecast as I write.
As I always say though…this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
ADAM LONG – 50/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 44th
In an event, which has seen three players triumph to date who are renowned for their strength on the greens I will start things off this week with another strong proponent of the flat stick, Adam Long.
Long shocked the golfing world when triumphing in his maiden season on tour at the Desert Classic in 2019, an event let’s not forget that another former champion here Brian Gay triumphed in, and despite not backing that win up with another he has continued to produce some solid performances over the past three years.
21/22 was another solid if unspectacular campaign for Adam, which saw him finish 86th in the Fedex Cup standings even though he did not manage a top ten finish all season. He did however post ten top 25 finishes including a 12th place at the correlating Hilton Head and a 16th at the RSM Classic.
Moving on to this season and after missing the cut at the Fortinet Adam produced four straight rounds of 70 at the Sanderson Farms and three opening rounds of 68 at the ZOZO before faltering on Sunday. Seven of his last eight rounds then under par, once more indicating ‘solid if unspectacular’.
As we know though the margins in this game are wafer thin between 20th place or so and being right in contention and there is plenty to make me think Adam can step up a level this week on a track which should suit.
Firstly of course we have the simple fact that this weeks field is way weaker than anything he has plied his trade in over the last season or so and a 21st in Canada or a 25th at the Travelers stacks up really well in this company.
Then of course we have Adam’s eye catching form on correlating venues, which includes a runner up and third place finish at the Mayakoba, a fifth place at the Corales and the aforementioned 12th at Hilton Head.
Finally I will return to Long’s form on the greens, which sees him ranked second on the dance floor on tour so far this season and 24th last. Clearly then he is rolling his rock to the level required at the moment.
Long is teeing it up in Bermuda for the first time this week, however I expect him to be a great fit for the track and in an event, which wont take too much winning I am keen to have him on side.
ROBBY SHELTON - 50/1 – 1pt e/w 1/5 odds 1st 6 - FINISHED 23rd
Next up for me is a players who’s credentials leap off the page this week based on current form and correlating form, Robby Shelton.
After retaining his card on his debut season on tour in 19/20 Shelton lost his way in 20/21 as he searched for more distance off the tee, and ultimately lost his card.
Returning then to the Korn Ferry Tour after a slow start Robby gradually regained momentum and after posting a win at BMW Pro-Am in June a second victory at the Pinnacle Bank Championship in August wrapped up his return to the big league.
Following on from this at Shelton has maintained that momentum to make his first three cuts on tour this season, catching the eye in particular last time out at the Shriners where he finished 15th posting a second round 63 on the way.
Shorter than average off the tee Shelton is another who gets better the nearer he gets to the hole and last season he lead the Korn Ferry Tour’s putting averages.
A missed cut here in 2019 is the one down side however the following week he produced one of his best finishes of his rookie campaign, a sixth place in Mexico so we can take plenty of encouragement from that. Furthermore one of Robbie’s stronger efforts of hugely disappointing 21/22 came at Waialae where he opened up with rounds of 66 67 and 65 before stalling slightly on Sunday to finish 25th.
Shelton has spoken about how the search for extra distance saw his game go awry and having got back to basics last year he will now be clear that he needs to make hay on tracks where length is not key and his ability to score well on greens counts. Exactly what we have this week then and arriving in you would think confident mood I am happy to chance Robby this week.
CHESSON HADLEY – 60/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 17th
One player who really appeals to me at the odds this week is Chesson Hadley.
Hadley’s lone PGA Tour win came in Puerto Rico back in 2014, certainly a plus for this week from a correlation point of view, and from a winning point of view his four further triumphs on the Korn Ferry Tour show we are dealing with a player who knows how to get the job done.
Since that win early in his PGA Tour career it has been a grind for Chesson and after memorably salvaging his card at the Wyndham in 2021 he had to again put on the after burners in the second half of the 21/22 campaign to sneak in at 121st in the Fedex standings.
Clearly these struggles tell us that a lot of Hadley’s golf through the season is not great however what we do know is two things, firstly he is at his best on a shorter track, preferably with some room off the tee, and secondly he is one of the strongest putters out there, something key for this week.
With regards to the former point and as well as flourishing at Sedgefield CC the Raleigh native has performed strongly at Hilton Head, Pebble Beach and TPC River Highlands. In addition on his one previous visit here Chesson produced a solid 16th place when arriving on the back of a couple of missed cuts.
Meanwhile a look at Hadley’s putting stats shows us that he has been ranked 13th and 11th on the greens over the past two seasons on tour.
After two missed cuts to start the season Hadley played solidly at the Shriners to finish 37th rounding off the week with his best effort, a 66, and he looks good value at the odds this week to build on that effort and produce a big performance.
AARON BADDELEY – 150/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 6th
For my final plays this week I am going to throw a couple of big priced darts starting with veteran Aaron Baddeley.
In many a year gone by when ‘Badds’ first came out on tour he was heralded as the next big thing however despite notching four PGA Tour wins over the years he has never really fulfilled the potential he had and it would appear that his best days are now well and truly behind him.
Still only 41 though Aaron is caught in that wilderness period that sees him many years off from the Champions Tour while, due to consistent poor play, having no real status on tour. Over the last couple of months however there have just been some signs that Baddeley might have started to turn a corner and that there could be better days ahead.
Firstly on the Korn Ferry Tour while the Aussie didn’t do enough in the finals to regain his full PGA Tour status he made the cut in all three events and in the first two he opened each week with rounds of 65. In addition the second of those weeks at the Nationwide Childrens Hospital event Badds talked about how he had got a putting tip at the Wyndham from Justin Thomas’ putting coach, which had really helped, as while still strong on the greens he wasn’t putting to his historical levels.
Following on from this Aaron gained a start in the PGA Tour’s first event of the new season at the Fortinet where he posted a sold 36th place finish, ranking 26th for the week in GIR. Small acorns obviously but positive signs then.
While Aaron missed the cut on his only previous visit here, when he was in horrible form it must be said, a look at his historical CV brings plenty of encouragement that this should be a venue which suits him. A past champion at Hilton Head, which ties nicely with Brian Gay, Badds has finished second in Puerto Rico and seventh at the Corales over more recent years, while in more historical times he was a really strong performer as a whole on shorter coastal tracks including Pebble Beach.
In an event then, which will not take a huge amount of winning based on the quality of the field the 41yr old will see this as a great opportunity to build on some recent solid form as he plots his way back to the PGA Tour and I am happy to risk him here.
ERIC COLE – 300/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
For my final play this week I am going to chance the unheralded Eric Cole.
Cole earned his maiden PGA Tour card on the 72nd hole of the of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship after he posted a third place finish to vault up the standings.
A late bloomer at 34yrs of age it is a huge achievement for Cole just to be out here and most in all honesty will be expecting him to return to where he came from next season.
The fact that Eric produced the goods when it mattered most though in the Korn Ferry finals shows he certainly has some ‘bottle’ and having posted four other top ten finishes on the Korn Ferry last season he clearly has some game.
Moving on to this week and pertinently Cole’s best run of form came early in 2022 when he produced three straight top tens including a seventh in the windy Bahamas and a third on bermuda greens in the Lake Charles Championship. Clearly then Eric who resides on the Florida Coast at Delray Beach is more than comfortable on the Bermuda and in the wind.
Life on the PGA Tour has started slowly for Eric with three straight missed cuts however his last two efforts at the Sandersons and Shriners have seen two decent rounds alongside two poor ones so he has shown glimpses. Key to this week as well his greatest asset, his putter has, despite this missed cuts, performed well as he ranks ninth on the greens so far this season.
Focusing on that last point and Cole ranked first on the Korn Ferry Tour in putts per round last season, second in the putting averages and third in birdie or better conversion, so he clearly has the assets we are looking for this week.
Short off the tee Cole’s chances to flourish in the big league will probably be few and far between this season, however in an event that in all honesty isn’t much stronger than Korn Ferry standard he has a chance to get his season up and running in favourable conditions this week and I am happy to risk him at massive odds.