Events & Reviews
The Wyndham Championship is the final tournament of the PGA Tour regular-season, and the last chance for players still scrambling for points to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs that begin next week at The Northern Trust. Ten major champions, four FedEx Cup winners, and 15 past Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team members will tee it up at Sedgefield Country Club, which hosts this championship for the 10th consecutive time. Headliners Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner, and Jason Dufner land in Greensboro, N.C. as the highest ranked players in the field, and their spots in the FedEx Cup playoffs are already secured. However others like Smylie Kaufman, Sam Saunders, and Harold Varner III are FedEx Cup bubble boys, and looking to play their way into the postseason in what’s essentially a wild-card playoff tournament for them this week.
View from the fairway of Hole No.18 at Sedgefield Country Club
Sedgefield is a classic Donald Ross course, which means this 7,127 yard, par-70 track is an excellent test of a player’s full range of shot making skills. Fairways are narrow and some are semi-blind, but hitting the fairways alone won’t guarantee success. Proper positioning off the tee is crucial for the best angles to make pins readily accessible. Generating repeated scoring opportunities will require cool headed course management and a polished short game on approach and around the greens with 48 sand bunkers and 13 water hazards rambling throughout the terrain. Hard, fast, Bermudagrass putting surfaces are severely undulating and slope from back to front, with many falling off the edges into menacing collection areas that will create a serious threat for players who don’t bring a deft touch with their putting game.
Of the four, exemplary one-shotters at Sedgefield, the 245-yard, par-3 12th hole is the bruiser of the bunch. A dramatic, two-tiered putting surface shrinks the target considerably, and anything short will roll back down the green all but eliminating any realistic hope for an up-and-down. Two bunkers stand guard on either side of the green where par is always a good score and the occasional birdie is great. Last year No.12 was the sixth-most difficult hole on the course surrendering 71 birdies while dishing out 84 bogeys or worse.
Eight of the 12 par-4s on the course measure between 400 and 450 yards and are going to offer up a lot of green-light birdie possibilities. On the behemoth, 501-yard, par-4, No. 14 however, players will happy just to escape with par. Last year the 14th played as the second-most difficult hole on the course giving up only 57 birdies while handing out 98 bogies or worse. No.14 doglegs left off the tee with a fairway bunker 275 yards out on the left to capture drives that fail to cut the corner. This hole requires two long and precise shots into a green that’s the largest on the course, but also the most difficult to putt on because of the treacherous slope from back right to front left.
GPS View of Hole No.15 from the 18Birdies App
No. 15 is a reachable but dangerous par-5 measuring 545-yards and was the more difficult of the two par-5s on the course last year. A downhill tee shot must avoid a bunker, a creek, and tall, fescue grass all on the right side of the fairway that narrows the closer you get to the green. On approach, things don’t get any easier with two deep bunkers flanking a severely undulating green and a lake on the right of the putting surface making for potentially eye-popping ruination. The 15th hole should be a birdie-fest but the possibility of disaster here is very real.
The brutal, 507-yard, par-4, closing, No. 18 is a converted par-5 that’s historically played as the most difficult hole on the course, and last year the carnage reached maximum levels. A paltry 39 birdies were recorded compared to a colossal 151 bogies or worse. A downhill tee shot to the crest of the fairway leaves players with an uphill long iron into an extremely undulating and elevated green. Trouble on approach is compounded by four perilous bunkers that guard each corner of the putting surface, and finding any of them will leave a challenging up-and-down.
Players To Watch
Since the Wyndham Championship moved to Sedgefield nine years ago, the tournament has been something of a break-out party for prodigies destined to become superstars. In 2009 Justin Thomas gave us a glimpse of things to come when he became the third-youngest player make a cut in a PGA Tour event. Little-known Patrick Reed defeated Jordan Spieth in a playoff in 2013 before the pair went on to individual and Ryder Cup stardom. And last year Si Woo Kim’s first career win thrust him into the spotlight, which grew even brighter this year when he took down the deepest field in golf and became the youngest winner in The PLAYERS Championship history.
Ollie Schniederjans isn’t an unknown. He’s already made big splashes on Tour with five top-10 finishes in his rookie campaign. But Schniederjans has also authored some big flameouts with six missed cuts this season. A trip to the winner’s circle at Wyndham would land the hatless wonder squarely that much closer to the realm of 25-and-younger elites and all but lock up Rookie of the Year honors. I’m concerned about his inconsistent Driving Accuracy Percentage (52-percent) which will be crucial this week, and Schniederjans’ ranking of 133rd in Putts Per Round doesn’t do him any favors on Sedgefield’s tricky greens. But when Ollie brings his A-game he’s proven he can contend, and he’s ranked 30th on Tour in Par 4 Birdie Or Better Leaders, which will be key especially on the shorter par-4s. I like Schniederjans to finish inside the top-10.
Which Jason Dufner shows up this week? The tamed power and precision Dufner who can be one of the best ball strikers on Tour as evidenced by his win earlier this year at The Memorial? Or the Dufner who missed cuts in events both prior to and following Jack’s tournament? Duf Daddy’s finding fairways better than most this season (35th on Tour in Driving Accuracy Percentage), and he’s the second-best player in the field in Par 4 Birdie Or Better Leaders behind Keegan Bradley. Even when Dufner struggles at times during a round he can bounce back quickly, like he did on moving day at the RBC Heritage, following up three bogeys on the front-nine with five birdies and two eagles over the last 11 holes. Dufner’s trending in the wrong direction now with finishes of T-14, T-50, and T-58 in his last three starts, and although he’s a favorite to win this week, his waggle is looking just a bit tired lately. Expect Dufner to finish outside the top-20.
Smylie Kaufman’s had a pretty underwhelming year after almost winning Rookie of the Year last season. Expectations to start the New Year were justifiably sky-high, but Kaufman has nabbed only one top-10 this season in 24 starts and at one point he missed six straight cuts. So why pick Smylie to win this week? Because he’s the only member of the #SB2K17 gang (along with Spieth, Thomas, and Rickie Fowler) to not win this season, and if you really believe Kaufman is Spieth’s spirit animal (like Jordan does), this is the week Smylie shows it off. Kaufman’s complete game was on display three months ago at the Wells Fargo Championship where he finished T-5, and coincidentally, that was also on a North Carolina track. You might be asking yourself, is this for real? I’ll tell you honestly, it is. Golf’s a funny game and Kaufman’s a competitor who’s long overdue for another solid performance. In a season where all the talk’s been about the youth movement, I have to believe Smylie desperately wants to remain part of that conversation and keep up with his crew.