Fortinet Championship Betting Tips: Six picks as the PGA Tour season starts
This week the PGA Tour begins anew, as we head to Silverado Resort in Napa, California for the Fortinet Championship. An event that kicks off the start of the 2022/23 season, a role it has played for much of the previous ten years.
The Fortinet Championship has been staged every year since 2007 under various names. The inaugural event was hosted at Greyhawk Golf Club in 2007, remaining there up to and including 2009, before moving to CordeValle Golf Club from 2010-2013 and has been at its current home in Napa since 2014.
In the eight years the event has been staged at Silverado, we have generally seen winning scores in the mid to high teens, with Stewart Cink’s -21 in 2020 not just the lowest winning score here but in all renewals at all courses.
Brendan Steele is a notable two-time winner of the tournament, picking up back-to-back titles in 2016 & 2017, whilst the most recent champion is Max Homa, who triumphed over Maverick
McNealy by one-stroke last year, shooting a score of -19.
It is always an intriguing event as we get to see a whole host of new names, some for the first time on tour, others returning after a year+ long absence, as those players who earned their tour card via either the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Money List or the Korn Ferry Tour Finals look to get off to the fastest start possible.
Fortinet Championship Tips
- Tom Hoge 40/1 – 1/5 8 places (Betfair) – 1.25 pts ew
- Brendan Steele 50/1 – 1/5 8 places (BoyleSports) – 1 pt ew
- Gary Woodland 60/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Cameron Champ 66/1 – 1/5 8 places (Bet365) – 1 pt ew
- Will Gordon 125/1 – 1/5 8 places (William Hill) – 1 pt ew
- Robby Shelton 125/1 – 1/5 8 places (BoyleSports) – 1 pt ew
Silverado Resort and Spa’s North Course is a par 72, measuring 7123 yards. It was originally designed by Ben Harmon in 1952, with Robert Trent Jones having a hand in alterations in the 60s. Though the most recent and significant moderations came prior to the course hosting the event in 2014, as former Open and US Open champion, Jonny Miller, who has very close ties to the club, made changes that included a complete reworking of the bunkers and lengthening of the course by around 200 yards.
This undulating, tree-lined course has many doglegs and is tight off-the-tee, with the fairways ranking as the toughest to find on tour on average over the last six years, including last year where a lesser percentage of fairways were found than anywhere else on the PGA Tour.
Despite the fairways being hard to find, the large poa-annua/bentgrass greens are not and for all the fairways rank as the toughest to find on tour, the greens rank amongst the easiest to find when missing the fairways. Whilst it also ranks kindly in terms of difficulty in scrambling and putting.
Although most aspects of this course aren’t too demanding, it has certainly been no pushover, possessing an average winning score of -16.75 over the eight renewals. I believe this is down to the firmness the course can play to, particularly the large greens, on which there are plenty of run off areas, meaning that whilst you may be able to find them when missing the narrow fairways, it’s tough to get it close enough to create clear scoring opportunities.
However, if your ball-striking is on point, you will create birdie opportunities throughout, not least on the very scorable set of par 5s, that should be reachable in two for most, including two coming over those last three holes. Something that provides plenty of drama coming down the stretch on Sunday.
The par 3s are a mix, with two scoreable <200 yard holes to compensate for the tougher 2nd and 7th holes, which can both play to well over 200 yards. Whilst the par 4s are also attackable, with most playing under 450 yards.
All in all there are far more holes to attack around here than there are those to be conservative and I suspect that unless there’s a little help from Mother Nature in terms of the conditions, those lower winning scores of recent years will become more common.
This is a course all about ball-striking and where we’ve seen quality, long drivers thrive.
This was certainly evident last year, where each of the top 3 drove it excellently. Winner, Max Homa ranked 6th off-the-tee, runner-up Maverick McNealy ranked 3rd and third place finisher, Mito Pereira ranked 11th; each of them combining accuracy with length. Whilst they complimented the strong driving game with quality approach play, all ranking top 25.
Jump back to the 2020 edition and it’s no surprise to find that on a receptive course, iron play was key. Stewart Cink won with general all-round quality, though the irons shone through, as he ranked 1st in GIR and 8th in approach, also scrambling it excellently, ranking 2nd, with runner up Harry Higgs ranking 6th in approach and 3rd place finishers, Doc Redman and Chez Reavie ranking 1st and 3rd respectively. Though despite iron play being the key component, the driver was once again important, as none of the top 6 lost strokes off-the-tee, with each of them ranking inside the top 31.
The benefit of a high quality driving game was probably no more on show than in 2019, when huge-hitting Californian, Cameron Champ claimed the victory. As you may expect, he did this whilst leading the field in both SG: OTT and driving distance, adding to it with a strong week around the greens, ranking 1st in scrambling. He also hit his irons well, ranking 13th, something which was on show from his nearest challenger there, as runner-up Adam Hadwin ranked 2nd.
Kevin Tway won a tough edition in 2018, another player who ticks the driving distance box as he has always been far longer than he is accurate, though whilst he and the two runners-up, Ryan Moore and Brandt Snedeker drove it well, with none of them ranking worse than 22nd off-the-tee, it was strong performances with the short-game which propelled them up the leaderboard. As Tway ranked 1st in scrambling, whilst the other two excelled on the greens, Snedeker ranking 2nd and Moore 6th.
Though the first two winners of this event in 2014 & 2015, Sangmoon Bae and Emiliano Grillo were/are strong drivers of the ball, it was Brendan Steele’s back-to-back wins in 2016 & 2017 that started this trend of predominantly long hitters picking up the trophy at Silverado.
In 2017 Steele, who has been a superb ball-striker for much of his career was at his ball-striking best as he claimed a two-stroke victory over fellow strong ball-striker, Tony Finau. Steele ranked 1st off-the-tee, 3rd in driving distance and 3rd in approach that week, marrying it with good scrambling, ranking 7th. As mentioned he was most closely followed home by Finau, who drove it solidly, ranking 18th, though it was with the irons that he excelled most, ranking 5th.
Steele’s 2016 win came courtesy of a more all-round performance. He was in good form with the ball-striking again, ranking 8th in approach and 20th off-the-tee, whilst also producing an equally good scrambling performance, ranking 7th, though this time he found something extra on the greens, ranking 6th. The leaderboard that year littered with players who again packed plenty of punch with the driver, with Patton Kizzire, Paul Casey and Scott Piercy among his closest challengers.
With none of those previous six winners ranking outside the top 20 off-the-tee, the need to drive it well around Silverado is clear. Despite the narrowness of the fairways, the lack of penalty has allowed big hitters who may not always be the most accurate to also thrive, whilst quality approach play, as always, has been key. In addition to this, there’s been plenty of strong scrambling on show amongst those at the top of the leaderboards, something which could come to the fore again this week as conditions could be a little tricky and I also think we should pay attention to those who excel on the par 5s, as with two of the four coming in the final three holes on the course, that is where the event will be won and lost on Sunday.
Key Stats: SG: Off-the-Tee, SG: Approach, Driving Distance, Scrambling, Par 5 Scoring
Sanderson Farms Championship @ Country Club of Jackson
Of all the courses on the PGA Tour, I could find no better comp, statistically than the Country Club of Jackson. They match up closely in every aspect, with fairways tough to find but the difficulty eased due to not being particularly penal should you miss. Whilst scrambling isn’t too difficult here.
The biggest form-tie comes from Cameron Champ picking up the title at both courses. In addition to this we find Chesson Hadley, Kevin Streelman and Patton Kizzire with top 5s across both. Whilst past Sanderson Farms winners, Sam Burns, Cody Gribble and Nick Taylor have each recorded top 10s at Silverado.
3M Open @ TPC Twin Cities
Though the fairways at TPC Twin Cities are much easier to find, the lack of penalty here at Silverado means the courses rank closely to each other in both GIR and GIR from other than fairway. With both courses suiting top class drivers who don’t lack for power.
Cameron Champ ties the courses together again, as he’s also a past winner at Twin Cities, with that form-tie franked this year, as Tony Finau picked up the title there. Other past champions here, Emiliano Grillo and Max Homa have recorded top 3s in the 3M, with further form-ties found from Adam Hadwin, Troy Merritt and Chesson Hadley, who possess top 10s at both venues.
Rocket Mortgage Classic @ Detroit Golf Club
Detroit Golf Club is another traditional, tree-lined course that has suited bigger hitters because of the lack of real penalty off the tee. With this, some strong form-lines have appeared.
The biggest of those comes from the second of Tony Finau’s victories on the PGA Tour last season, as he won there following victory in the 3M Open. Troy Merritt possesses a runner-up finish in Detroit, whilst Adam Hadwin and last year’s Fortinet runner-up Maverick McNealy have each finished 8th in the RMC. Further encouragement for this link can be found from Doc Redman, who has a 3rd place finish here and was runner-up in the RMC in 2019 and JJ Spaun, who has top 10s at both.
Sony Open @ Waialae Country Club
As a course with relatively narrow fairways and easy to find greens, whilst possessing a lack of difficulty in scrambling, Waialae Country Club is a course which should stand up well as a comp to Silverado.
Patton Kizzire and Kevin Na have both won there and finished runner-up here. Whilst past Fortinet champions, Max Homa and Brendan Steele have recorded top 6 finishes in the Sony Open. Johnson Wagner is a past Sony Open winner and has finished 3rd at Silverado, with further ties found from Brandt Snedeker, Chez Reavie and Russell Knox, each possessing finishes of 9th or better at both venues.
Farmers Insurance Open @ Torrey Pines
Due to its narrow fairways and large poa greens, Torrey Pines has worked well as a comp to Silverado, this despite being a much tougher test on a significantly longer course.
Brandt Snedeker is a two-time winner there, whilst possessing a 2nd place finish here and it’s a similar story for Marc Leishman, who has won the Farmers whilst possessing 3rd and 4th place finishes at Silverado. Max Homa and 2020 Fortinet runner-up Harry Higgs have recorded top 10s there, with added form-ties found from Tony Finau, Patton Kizzire and Kevin Streelman, who have recorded top 8 efforts in both events.
Travelers Championship @ TPC River Highlands
TPC River Highlands is a tree-lined course that averages almost identically to Silverado’s North Course in terms of GIR and has developed strong form-ties with the Fortinet Championship.
Stewart Cink is a winner at both venues, whilst other past champions in the Fortinet, Kevin Tway and Brendan Steele, have recorded top 5s at the Travelers. Chez Reavie backs up his strong record at Silverado, where he’s finished runner-up, with victory at River Highlands, whilst Kevin Streelman is also a past champion there.
We’re currently forecast to have fine golfing conditions this week, with no rain in the forecast and warm temperatures. There is a constant breeze forecast throughout the week, which whilst nothing too severe will be enough to make the players think and should help in getting the course as firm as the organisers would like.
Though not a field littered with players atop the world rankings, this is always one of the most interesting and my personal favourite fields of the year, as we get to see for the first time what players stepping up in grade are made of.
Hideki Matsuyama is the highest ranked player in the field at #16 and joined by Max Homa and Correy Conners from inside the world’s top 25, with Tom Hoge and Harris English completing the group of just five players from inside the top 50.
They are joined by an interesting batch of KFT graduates, such as the Regular Season Money List leader, Carl Yuan, Korn Ferry Tour Championship winner and former #1 amateur Justin Suh and fellow former #1 amateur Davis Thompson, to name but three.
The trio of Max Homa, Hideki Matsuyama and Corey Conners are installed at the head of the betting. Homa is reigning champion, whilst Matsuyama and Conners have both recorded some good finishes here but with so many unknowns surrounding the event I’m not keen on getting involved right at the top of the betting this week.
Taylor Pendrith appeals, whilst I’d be surprised if Sahith Theegala is still without a victory this time next year but instead my eye is drawn to a couple of proven winners at this level, who were showing some good form at the end of the previous season, starting with Tom Hoge.
The previous campaign was a breakthrough season for Hoge, as he recorded his first victory on the PGA Tour when running out an impressive winner of the AT & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
This was part of a strong start to the year for Hoge, who finished 2nd at The AmEx two starts earlier. His form dropped off in the middle part of the year, besides the odd glimpse such as his 9th in the PGA Championship but he found form again right at the end of the 2021/22 season, with a 4th place finish at the 3M Open four starts ago his best result since that victory at Pebble Beach and last time out he was in good form at the Tour Championship, his first visit to East Lake, finishing 10th with all areas of his game looking in good condition.
The strength of Hoge’s game comes in his approach play, something that he’s maintained throughout the year, even in his down periods of form and he ranked 11th on the PGA Tour last season. The driver is solid enough, ranking 88th and he has been in good form recently in that regard, gaining strokes in three of his last four starts, whilst there’s also been a noticeable increase in his driving distance stats this year.
In addition to this he was one of the best scramblers on tour last season, ranking 16th and fares well on the par 5s, ranking 53rd in par 5 scoring. This game has translated to a solid book of results at Silverado, where Hoge has only missed one cut in his last five visits, his best effort coming when 17th in 2019. He also possesses some attractive correlating form, coming courtesy of a 3rd place finish in the Sony Open, a 5th in the Farmers Insurance Open and that 4th at the 3M Open four starts ago.
Hoge’s breakthrough win came in California last year and it’s a part of the U.S in which he’s recorded many of his best career performances. I’m hoping he can add another strong performance in the state to his C.V this week and looks a real contender if able to reproduce the type of golf he was showing at the end of the previous season.
As a two-time winner here at Silverado, this time of year has often brought the best out of Brendan Steele and coming here off the back of best ever ball-striking season, he can make it a hat-trick of victories in the Fortinet Championship this week.
After a slow start to 2022, that saw Steele miss his first five cuts of the year, he sprang into life at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, finishing 26th and maintained a good level of form from there on in, with a 9th place finish in the PGA Championship and 10th in the Memorial Tournament his best finishes of the year. Whilst last time out we saw him once again striking the ball well in his 32nd place finish at the BMW Championship.
The driver is the standout area for Steele, as he’s gained strokes in all but two starts this year and ranked 6th on the PGA Tour last season, also ranking 42nd for driving distance. His improved form after that slow start was brought on by the return of his iron play, in which he’s gained in 10 of his 12 most recent starts and ranked 43rd. This combination resulting in his best ball-striking year on the PGA Tour.
This strong ball-striking has been well on show in both of those victories here, particularly that 2017 win, where as mentioned above, he ranked 1st off-the-tee and 3rd in approach. Though correlating form shouldn’t be overly important for a player with two victories at the course, his good records at the Sony Open and Travelers Championship, where he’s recorded two top 6s in each, at least strengthens his claim for this type of test.
After a strong start to the year that saw Gary Woodland hit the top 10 three times in his first eight starts, including consecutive 5th place finishes in the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational, his results haven’t been quite as impressive over recent months. Though there has been little wrong with his game, where he’s continued to show quality in all areas, particularly with the driver and I’m taking him to take to Silverado at the first time of asking this week.
I say his results haven’t been quite as impressive recently but he did finish 10th in the US Open just five starts ago, whilst a 30th place finish in the Scottish Open and 51st in the St Jude Championship were by no means concerning performances in elite fields, especially considering he showed quality in every area across those starts.
This no more on show than with the driver, with Woodland gaining strokes in ten of his last twelves starts off the tee and saw him rank a strong 43rd for the season, whilst at 23rd in driving distance he’s one of the bigger hitters on tour. The iron play has been a little more in and out but he’s still shown plenty of quality, shown by him ranking 44th, whilst solid rankings of 54th in scrambling and 69th in par 5 scoring give the impression of a player who will suit this test.
We can find further evidence of this in some strong correlating form, particularly in Hawaii at the Sony Open, where he’s recorded finishes of 3rd, 6th and 7th, along with multiple top 10s in the Farmers Insurance Open and an 11th on his only try at the 3M Open last year.
He hasn’t tasted victory since his 2019 win in the US Open at Pebble Beach but there’s been enough signs in his game, not just early this year when in excellent form but even of late with his more subdued results that he’s not that far away.
Cameron Champ is a past winner of this event and with some more encouraging signs with the irons and putter over his last few starts of last season, he looks a decent price this week to get the 2022/23 campaign off to a fast start.
The inconsistency of Champ’s game is not just reflected in his victories, where he’s now a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, with all of them coming amongst a raft of missed cuts and underwhelming performances but we can also find it in his form this year.
After a poor start to 2022, that saw Champ miss four of his first seven cuts and finish no better than 46th, he sprung into life at Augusta in The Masters of all places, with a 10th place finish. He followed that with a 6th in the Mexico Open, though his form tailed off again with five missed cuts in a row but he once again showed a return to form three starts ago, with a 16th place finish in the 3M Open, following with a 20th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, before missing the cut in an unsuitable Wyndham Championship last time out.
Champ has been one of the best drivers on tour since he burst onto the scene and that was again on show last season, as he ranked 9th off-the-tee and 1st in driving distance, which undoubtedly helped him on his way to being a prolific par 5 scorer, ranking 17th.
Such is that quality that any improvements in other areas are often met with better results, as shown in those top 20s at the 3M Open and Rocket Mortgage Classic, where Champ found something in approach and on the greens both weeks, something I’m hoping that despite a month long absence, he’ll be able to carry over into this week.
This was certainly the case when he won here in 2019, as though he excelled with the driver, ranking 1st, he played well across the board, also ranking 1st T2G and a solid 28th in putting. However we do see how far that incredible driving ability he has can take him here, as in his 25th place finish in 2018, he lost strokes in approach, around-the-greens and in putting, showing just how big an asset that driver is for him at Silverado.
Champ may not be the most consistent player but perhaps more importantly he has that innate ability to win and if able to find anything like the approach and putting performances he found just a few starts ago, he would be a danger to all this week.
I’m going to finish with a couple of triple-figure shots who earned their way onto the PGA Tour via the Korn Ferry Tour last season. There were so many that caught my eye making that step up, Carl Yuan is an exciting player to watch and an excellent ball-striker, whilst Sweden’s Vincent Norrman is sure to start winning tournaments once he finds something on the greens, such is the quality of his game tee-to-green. Both, amongst others made plenty of appeal but I’ve decided to go with two players who have some experience at this level, which I feel will be vital now they make their return to the main tour, starting with Will Gordon.
Gordon turned pro in 2019, following a strong amateur career that saw him reach #9 in the amateur rankings. Right away he signalled his potential in the professional game, finishing a solid 31st on his first PGA Tour start in the Barracuda Championship, an event where he was in contention heading into the final round.
He then made the most of his limited starts on the PGA Tour in 2020, picking up four top 25s, including an excellent 3rd place finish in the Travelers Championship, earning enough points for a tour card in 2021.
Gordon wasn’t able to capitalise on that last year, hitting the top 25 on just two occasions and following a poor showing in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year, he was relegated to that tour for this season.
He started this year solidly on the Korn Ferry Tour, though there is no doubt that he’s found that little something extra over recent months, as he recorded five top 5s in his last 11 starts of the season, including picking up a first professional title at the Albertson Boise Open, helping him book his way back to the main tour this season.
Gordon has shown quality in every area of his game since turning pro though he undoubtedly excels with the long game. This is shown by him ranking 15th in total driving and 13th in GIR on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, also a long hitter, ranking 5th in driving distance on the tour last season. Add this to a strong scrambling game, that saw him rank 30th and a ranking of 21st in par 5 scoring, we find a player who looks well suited to this week’s event.
We saw a glimpse of that here in 2020, where he finished 61st on his one and only try at the course, though led the field off-the-tee. In addition to this, that superb 3rd in the Travelers Championship in 2020 gives me huge encouragement in his ability to perform here.
Gordon knows what this tour is all about, returning here now as a winner, albeit at a lower level, I believe he’s here to stay and I’m taking him to get his 2022/23 season off to a flying start this week in Napa.
I was rather keen on former #2 amateur, Robby Shelton when he first earned his way onto the PGA Tour in the 2019/20 season. He showed plenty of encouragement that season, hitting the top 10 three times, though struggled a little last season which resulted in him losing his tour card.
The 27-year-old once again signalled his potential this year though, as the only two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, which now takes him to four titles in total on the tour and with that valuable learning experience from his stint on the PGA Tour in 2020 & 2021, I believe he’s a player who comes back as a real one-to-watch and someone who I’m expecting to become a PGA Tour winner.
Shelton showed himself to be a good tee-to-green player during that previous spell on tour, whilst it was the putter which consistently struggled. That has been his best club this year, as he led both of the most relevant putting stats on the KFT last season, whilst he’s also a solid driver, ranking 24th in total driving and 12th in par 5 scoring signals further his potential to perform here.
Much like Gordon, he’s shown glimpses of that, finishing 52nd here on his first go at the course in 2019, looking particularly good with the driver and on the greens. We can also take confidence from one of those top 10s on the PGA Tour in 2020, which came courtesy of a 3rd place finish in the 3M Open, whilst he’s also recorded top 25s at the Farmers Insurance Open and Sony Open.
Though I think he can play well here, there are arguably others that would suit this test better, however with those two victories and that previous experience he’ll be one of the most ready of the latest batch heading to the PGA Tour this season and this formerly highly regarded amateur can replicate that further winning experience he’s gained on the Korn Ferry Tour this season, straight out of the blocks this week.