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Barracuda Championship Preview


The Barracuda Championship first appeared on the PGA Tour in 1999 as the Reno-Tahoe Open, an alternate event the week of the WGC-NEC Invitational. It still retains that status despite both events operating under different names now. Due to the cancellation of the Greenbrier Classic after devastating floods, this tournament offers one qualifying spot for the Open Championship.

You could search far and wide in the United States and you would struggle to find more picturesque views than those found at Montrêux Golf & Country Club. The Jack Nicklaus design in Northern Nevada is situated about twenty miles from both the city of Reno and Lake Tahoe, hence, the former name. It is hosting the Barracuda Championship for the 18th time.

The Par 72 course measures just short of 7,500 yards and is one of the easiest courses on Tour. The fairways are easy to find for even the least accurate hitters. Brendan Steele (108th on Tour in FIR) hit 53 of 56 fairways at Montrêux in 2015 on his way to a T7 finish and only one of the Top 5 hit less than 45 fairways.

The key to success at the Barracuda Championship in Montrêux is to make birdies and eagles any way you can. J.J. Henry managed to make 27 birdies on his way to victory in 2015 and Kyle Reifers made 15 birdies and 5 eagles (including three in his last six holes) in a losing playoff effort. Longer hitters certainly have an advantage but the course doesn’t seem to rule out anyone.

The Barracuda Championship switched from the Stroke Play format to Modified Stableford in 2012. It hasn’t ever made a massive amount of difference though. You can’t get too hung up on the format because, at the end of the day, the player with the best score to par will usually win. The Scoring System is: Albatross = +8, Eagle = +5, Birdie = +2, Par = 0, Bogey = -1 and Double Bogey (or Worse) = -3.

Since 2004, none of the twelve winners had more than four Top 20s in the year of their win. Will MacKenzie (2006) had a best finish of 23rd and Matt Bettencourt (2010) hadn’t managed better than T39 in the year of his win. Recent form clearly isn’t the most vital thing. How players fared in their last start, however, is pretty important. All 17 of the winners at Montrêux played on the PGA Tour within the two weeks prior, with 14 of them playing the week before their win. All of the last nine winners played the week before their win and only Scott Piercy failed to make the cut.

The only real difference that Modified Stableford makes to the scoring of the tournament is that eagles are worth even more than usual. 3 of the 4 winners finished the year of their win ranked in the Top 50 in Eagle Average. Equally, 3 of the 4 finished outside the Top 100 in Birdie Average. Even before the scoring system changed, Eagle Average was a good indicator as 10 of the last 12 winners have finished the year of their win ranked inside the Top 50 in the stat.

As you would imagine with a course with easy-to-hit fairways, longer hitters have had an advantage. 6 of the last 12 winners finished the year inside the Top 50 in Driving Distance and nobody finished worse than 115th. That doesn’t sound great but it does suggest that anyone who really struggles to get it out there off the tee will have trouble contending.

All four of the winners since the format switch have been PGA Tour winners in something of a dry spell. When Gary Woodland captured the title in 2013, it had been two years since his last win. Geoff Ogilvy hadn’t been in the winner’s circle for over four years when he won the tournament in 2014. J.J. Henry had gone six years without a victory when he first won at Montrêux in 2012 and didn’t win again until he bested the field again three years later.

Basically, I’m going to be focusing on the trends. I’ll be looking at PGA Tour winners without a recent win who played all four rounds at Congressional. Then I’ll look at Driving Distance, Eagle Average and different performances this year. I’ll also be having a brief look at the record of each player at Montrêux G&CC.

The Barracuda Championship

Brendan Steele is a deserving favourite. The Idyllwild man ranks in the Top 25 in Eagle Average, GIR, Driving Distance and Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, has made six consecutive cuts with four Top 20s and has never finished outside the Top 25 at Montrêux G&CC. In four starts, Steele has finished 4th, T7, T8 and T25. The 2011 Valero Texas Open champion hasn’t won a 2nd PGA Tour title yet but don’t be surprised if he breaks through at Montrêux. That said, I can’t quite justify putting him in at such a short price.

Gary Woodland and Jon Rahm are both more than capable of overpowering this course and claiming victory but the prices available aren’t quite to my liking and there’s another bomber at the top of the market that I have in mind.

Robert Garrigus at 28/1 (Paddy Power) is not exactly what I was hoping for but I think it’s good enough for him to merit inclusion. The big-hitting 38-Year-Old has only won once on the PGA Tour but a recent return to form suggests he could be on the cusp of a well-deserved 2nd victory. Garrigus went 46 PGA Tour starts without a Top 10 before finishing T4 finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship last month. Another Top 10 at Congressional is promising but it’s the poor run that I find interesting.

Garrigus only finished in the Top 20 twice during that run. Once at the Quicken Loans National and once at the Barracuda Championship. When Rory McIlroy blew the field away at the 2011 U.S. Open, Garrigus was T3. As I’ve mentioned, he chalked up another Top 10 at Congressional yesterday and his play at Montrêux has been very solid too. In six starts at the course, he’s never missed the cut and only finished outside of the Top 25 twice. 2nd in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green at TPC Four Seasons, 4th in Strokes Gained: Putting at Congressional, if he can bring it all together then he’ll be right in contention.

John Huh and John Senden were the next two on my list but neither really makes appeal at around 40/1-50/1.

It’s now been almost eight years since Chez Reavie’s lone PGA Tour victory but some very strong performances in 2016 have shown he’s still got another one in him. The 75/1 (Bet365) on offer seems more than fair in this field. In two starts in this event, Reavie has played well enough to make it through to the weekend without lighting up the course. He played decently to make the cut at Congressional and ended up in an acceptable T44.

Chez Reavie is at all times, a good week with the flat stick away from contending. Not the longest off the tee but he doesn’t let that hold him back, ranking 8th in Eagle Average. His only win on Tour came in the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Course, another Jack Nicklaus design. Reavie definitely seems ready to break through a win again. This could be the week.

In the 2nd Round of the 2009 U.S. Open, Amateur Nick Taylor’s 65 was only bested by eventual winner Lucas Glover. Taylor went on to earn Low Amateur honours and I started waiting for something big to come from the young Canadian. After several disappointing years on the Canadian Tour and a quiet season on the Web.com Tour, Taylor won out of nowhere on just his 8th professional start on the PGA Tour. The 28-Year-Old ranks in the Top 50 in Driving Distance and Eagle Average and even though he’s making his first start at Montrêux G&CC, I’m confident that he can go well.

A Top 5 in the Puerto Rico Open is his best effort this year and his win came in a weak field at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Coming off a solid T12 at Congressional, I think there’s every chance that he can once again pick his game up and earn a big paycheck in a weak PGA Tour field. 80/1 (Bet365) is a bit less than I was hoping for but once again, it’s big enough for me to be tempted.

Sung Kang is the only player I’m backing that is yet to win on the PGA Tour. Add to that the MC at Congressional and he seems like an odd choice. At 150/1 (Coral) though, he can’t be left out. Nobody has shot a better round on the PGA Tour in 2016 than Kang’s course record 60 at Pebble Beach in February. A poor final round left him in T17 which he then followed with Top 10s at Riviera and PGA National, another Jack Nicklaus design. Like Reavie, Kang is not the longest off the tee but ranks inside the Top 10 in Eagle Average.

In 2011, Kang managed a T15 in his first start in this event and he has drastically improved in the five years since. The Top 20 at the U.S. Open is proof enough of that and is also enough to tell me I need not worry about a missed cut on the number at Congressional. His best finish on the PGA Tour came in a fairly poor field at the 2011 Children’s Miracle Network Classic, where he finished T3. I wouldn’t be surprised if he claimed his first PGA Tour win in another second-rate field.

Camilo Villegas is an easy addition at 250/1. In this field, a four-time PGA Tour winner who has played the weekend in three consecutive events, has no business being 250/1. The Colombian is often very underrated. If the FedEx Cup operated under the same system as it does today, he would have won it in 2008. Villegas shot -5 in the first round at Congressional with a +5.262 SGP stat. If he can roll it anywhere near that well on this course then it’s tough to see him not racking up a high score.

I consider Villegas a bit of a Donald Ross specialist but he has had some incredible success at another Nicklaus design (or redesign) in PGA National. A T14 at that course is the best he’s managed in 2016 but Woodland (T16 – 2013), Ogilvy (T11 – 2014) and Henry (T11 – 2015) all had similar best efforts when they won here so it doesn’t worry me. Not one bit.

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