Puerto Rico Open Betting Tips: Four punts for Coco Beach
Our second PGA Tour event of the week is the alternate Puerto Rico Open, which has taken place at the Tom Kite designed Grand Reserve Country Club’s (Also known as Coco Beach) Championship Course since 2008. It will be the first time the event has played opposite another regular PGA Tour event as opposed to its usual slot opposite a WGC, most recently the WGC – Matchplay.
Puerto Rico Open Tips
Some quality players have won here before. It was the scene of Tony Finau’s solo PGA Tour victory before he won The Northern Trust last year and also the place where Viktor Hovland picked up his first PGA Tour title in 2020.
The course is a long 7569 yards and plays to a par 72, varying in difficulty depending on the weather. As a small Caribbean Island it’s susceptible to wind and if the wind blows scoring can be really tricky, shown by Alex Cejka’s winning score of -7 in 2015.
Alternatively, it possesses generous landing areas and little trouble off-the-tee, providing you don’t find water on one of the ten holes on which it’s in play. As well as large, paspalum greens that rank above average in terms of GIR on tour, meaning you can make a score here. Four times a winning score of -20 has been possible and it holds an average winning score of -16.4 over its 13 years on tour.
With the generosity off-the-tee and the length of the course, I’m inclined to favour long hitters here. Though despite distance being an advantage, there’s no one way in which players have tasted success over the last six renewals.
We’ve had the shorter accurate types of Alex Cejka and D.A Points winning in 2015 and 2017, both strong iron players at their best. Whilst Tony Finau and Viktor Hovland, in 2016 and 2020 respectively, produced excellence tee-to-green and are amongst the best all-round ball-strikers on tour, also possessing distance.
The same came said about Martin Trainer in 2019, who is much more power over accuracy and a strong putter, whilst Branden Grace last year was pretty solid across the board though particularly adept at finding these greens.
In terms of correlating courses, the most obvious one would be the Corales Puntacana that takes place in the Dominican Republic and is a similar alternate event. Another open and exposed course with paspalum greens. It possesses plenty of crossover form, with Nate Lashley, a past champion there going well here in Puerto Rico, finishing 8th. Puerto Rico’s own, Rafael Campos has three top 10s here and has finished 2nd and 3rd in the Dominican. Whilst Brice Garnett, another past winner of the Corales Puntacana, has a good record here in Puerto Rico, finishing 5th last year.
With other events, like the American Express, Sanderson Farms and Rocket Mortgage Classic offering further clues. Nate Lashley tying them together again, possessing form at all three, which includes a victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic. 2019 Puerto Rico runner-up, Roger Sloan, has finishes of 21st or better in all three events.
The Sanderson Farms and Rocket Mortgage are two events where bigger hitters have enjoyed great success over the years and though the Amex possesses more of a mix of contenders, the lack of difficulty the event possesses tee-to-green falls right in line with Puerto Rico.
Weather can be an issue here and there’s currently forecast to be stormy conditions in the build-up and during the event. If this transpires the course will be softened up and suit the bigger hitters more, though with wind also accompanying the rain in the forecast it could be a tricky event for everyone.
In contrast to the field over in Florida at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the nature of these alternate events means we have a weak field but these can often be the most intriguing, offering a great chance for breakthrough winners. As we’ve seen plenty over the years.
Chan Kim, an American plying his trade on the Japan Golf Tour, is the highest ranking player in the field at #82 in the world and is the only player from inside the top 100 in the world teeing it up in Puerto Rico.
There’s not a great deal of interest for me at the very top of the market. Austria’s Matthias Schwab heads the betting at 20/1 and whilst he’d should have taken confidence from his own performance last week, as well as that of countryman Sepp Straka, he’s had trouble getting the job done on the DP World Tour. So I’m not going to start backing him at these numbers to manage it on the PGA Tour. For all it’s a weak, alternate field event.
I’m going to start with someone who’s already been mentioned in this preview as being the player tying all that correlating course form together, Nate Lashley. Though his price has dropped a little since I first had him down, I still don’t hate this number with the amount of things in his favour.
His form this year, where he’s made just one cut in five, a 28th place finish at Pebble Beach, may appear underwhelming but it’s often wise to discount bare results when looking at this type of field, such is the drop in class of the players he’s up against here.
Amongst those missed cuts and 28th place finish have been some positive signs from Lashley. He produced some good iron play in both the missed cuts in the Sony Open on his first start of the year and then again last week at the Honda Classic, when just narrowly missing the cut by one. He’s also gained strokes around the greens in his last three starts, something which may come in handy this week if the weather gets really tough and for all he’s ranked low off-the-tee, driving accuracy is his bag and he’s performing perfectly well in that regard.
He’s played here once before, finishing 8th in 2019. As mentioned, he has a raft of appealing correlating course form. He won the Corales Puntacana in 2017 when the event still had Korn Ferry Tour status and his win in the Rocket Mortgage Classic also reads well. Amongst top 20s at both the Amex and Sanderson Farms Championship.
It’s no surprise that Lashley has performed well both in the Dominican and Puerto Rico, as he really made his name in this part of the world on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica. Winning three times there in 2016, which means he’ll not only be used to the paspalum grass on the putting surfaces but also the windy weather which can often cause havoc in events around the Americas.
With his form figures not quite telling the story about how solid his game looks and positive past experiences to draw on, not only here but in correlating events, I’ll be surprised if Lashley doesn’t make his presence felt at the top of the leaderboard this week.
In his short PGA Tour career so far, 2021 Korn Ferry Tour graduate, Austin Smotherman has already made a name for himself as a top class ball-striker. He can be forgiven a missed cut in the Honda Classic last week, such is the difficulty of that test and no real concern as that came from struggles around-the-greens, not with his ball-striking. Grand Reserve is much more forgiving in that regard.
Before the missed cut last week, Smotherman had put up a couple of really good performances back home in California. An 11th place finish in the Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines was hugely impressive and he followed that finishing 33rd at Pebble Beach. Both times producing excellent approach play.
This sees Smotherman rank 24th on tour this season not just in approach but thanks to his general quality and all-round consistency off-the-tee, ranks 24th in driving. Possessing that deadly combination of being both long and largely accurate.
Smotherman has yet to play here but like Lashley, he honed his craft on the Latinoamerica tour. Picking up a victory there in 2018. Then graduating to the Korn Ferry Tour and picked up his first title at that level last year, which earned him his spot on the main tour.
As mentioned with Lashley, I think feeling comfortable in this part of the world has to be seen as a big positive. He has indeed shown this comfort on the KFT, finishing 9th and 19th in the two events in the Bahamas. Windy, coastal Island form another huge plus.
Smotherman has a higher ceiling than many players in this field. He can go about his business in a similar fashion to the likes of Tony Finau and Viktor Hovland, who made their breakthrough in this event, ball-striking their way to victory.
Big hitting Ryan Brehm has enjoyed a good start to his year over on the Korn Ferry Tour and after finishing 11th here in Puerto Rico last year, has proven that the course suits his game.
Most important about that start to the year on the Korn Ferry Tour has been the locale of the events. As the Korn Ferry Tour usually starts with a trip around the Caribbean. In those opening four events he finished 18th in the Bahamas, 32nd in Panama and 9th in Colombia. A 38th place finish back on the US mainland in Florida his most recent start. That top 20 in the Bahamas the standout as it’s an event where Puerto Rico course horse, Rafael Campos has tasted victory.
Brehm graduated, for the 2nd time, to the PGA Tour for the 2020 season. The one thing we’ve learned about him is that his strength lies off-the-tee. Ranking 30th in 2020 and 51st last year, backing that up with serious power, ranking 3rd on tour in driving distance in 2020 and 11th last year. Something which could give him an advantage here.
This is reflected in his record in Puerto Rico, where following a missed cut on debut in 2017, Brehm finished 35th in 2020 and then 11th last year. Rather attractively trending course form.
He comes here in good form, at a course in which he has a strong record. Brehm can lean on that top class driving this week and pick up a breakthrough victory on the PGA Tour. Something which we have seen plenty of over recent weeks.
A familiar name to readers of last week’s Honda preview as I give Sung Kang another chance in these calmer waters. He only missed the cut by one there and I feel this much kinder setup tee-to-green will be to his benefit.
In last week’s missed cut, Kang actually continued to play well on and around-the-greens. With ball-striking causing the issue, though that is forgiven as the difficulty in finding these greens as opposed to PGA National contrasts greatly.
Before that, he’d produced a really good performance at the Phoenix Open, putting up those best approach numbers since 2020 in a 26th place finish. That following on from a 42nd place finish at Pebble Beach, where he once again showed that his main strength lies on the greens.
He’s played here in Puerto Rico twice, missing the cut in 2012 and then finishing 49th here in 2017, shooting two rounds of 68 in rounds 2 & 3.
Kang’s a tour winner, winning the Byron Nelson at Trinity Forest in 2019. I do think that course could be a good guide. A similarly open, exposed course with generous fairways and big greens. Peter Uihlein finished 5th there and possesses a good record here in Puerto Rico. With Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Vaughn Taylor and Nate Lashley all appearing on the leaderboard there and all possessing some decent or better form here.
Kang should appreciate this drop in class and if able to rediscover the approach performance he produced in the Phoenix Open two starts ago, can make up for the missed cut last week.