While all the major stars of the golfing world are thrashing it out in Austin for the opening WGC title of the year, the lesser lights and those looking to prove themselves on the PGA Tour head to the Dominican Republic for the Corales Puntacana Championship.
Joel Dahmen didn’t care that the big guns were away last year as he landed a title which would have meant the world to him. It hasn’t propelled him deep enough in the game that he is elsewhere this week so he will attempt to defend the title.
2021 – Joel Dahmen
2020 – Hudson Swafford
2019 – Graeme McDowell
2018 – Brice Garnett
We remain at the Corales Golf Club in Punta Cana this week. To say this course is a monster would be an understatement. It is a par 72 which stretches to 7,670 yards. Wind is always a guaranteed on this coastal setup and although it isn’t expected to be too bad over the course of the four days there will always be a coastal breeze so it is still worth factoring into the equation. I definitely wouldn’t want to be on someone who hasn’t shown comfort in the wind.
There is a little more of a challenge off the tee than you might think here but the greens on the larger side so there is every reason to believe this is going to come down to a putting contest. The best putter in the field won both the first two runnings of this event as a PGA Tour tournament at this time of year and I don’t think that is a coincidence. We are basically looking for players who set up a gamut of birdie chances and who takes more than their fair share.
Clearly we are not going to get the very big guns coming here this week but those who aren’t in the top 64 in the world rankings and those with conditional status get the chance to transform their career, kick start it or repair the damage that has been done. Joel Dahmen will attempt to be the first man to successfully defend the title while the other three winners of the event in its PGA Tour history are all here in Hudson Swafford, Graeme McDowell and Brice Garnett.
There are some DP World Tour stars in the field this week in the form of Thomas Detry, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Rasmus Hojgaard and Matthias Schwab. Sahith Theegala has been making good strides on the PGA Tour this year and he is another in the field while Jhonattan Vegas, Nate Lashley, Emiliano Grillo, Doc Redman, Patrick Rodgers and Peter Uihlein are just some of the many players who will be eyeing up a big week here.
We have joint favourites in the field this week with Joel Dahmen and Jhonattan Vegas both 20/1 to land the title. I’m no fan of backing defending champions although if I was going to go against my philosophy then it might be here where I’d do it where there is no focus on the event and no TV obligations or anything to fulfil. He still looks a little short to me. Vegas opened up the Valspar with a 64 last week but couldn’t go with the pace over the final three rounds. He was T18 here last year and of the two I would favour him if I had to pick one.
Sahith Theegala showed his hand in the Phoenix Open and again at the Valspar last week and he is 25/1 to land that first PGA Tour title here. He is a debutant here though and history would suggest you need a spin or two around here before you get comfortable with the place. He has shown in other events that he can hit the ground running but with the conditions having a big say here I’m no real fan of backing a debutant at a fairly short price.
We have a trio of players who are 33/1 in the field this week. Matthias Schwab is one of those and given that he recorded top 10 finishes in The Honda Classic and at the Puerto Rico Open he should be respected especially as he has had a spin around here. His short game has been in good order so he could go well. Nate Lashley won this event when it was a Korn Ferry Tour tournament and he was fourth here two years ago and when you consider he was in the top 10 in Puerto Rico his credentials are obvious. Mark Hubbard is the other 33/1 shot this week but he is on debut here which is a negative.
Nate Lashley has form which is as good as anyone around here and with that in mind he looks a pretty obvious starter for my main bets. He won this event in 2017 when it was a Korn Ferry Tour event and he has finished fourth since then to prove that he can handle it at this level. Lashley was in the top 10 in Puerto Rico recently to further confirm that his form in conditions like this away from the main spotlight allow his game to flourish. In Puerto Rico he ranked third in driving accuracy and GIR and if his putter can be inspired on a course he knows well he shouldn’t be far away. This is a chance for a number of players to revive their career and Lashley looks just the type to do it.
Graeme McDowell has never shied away from being one of the best putters on the tour and these conditions where the wind will sort the men from the boys is right up his street. With that in mind we shouldn’t really be surprised that he already has his name on this trophy and I think he is worth supporting to get his hands on the prize once again. McDowell was fourth here last year and reminded us of his quality at Bay Hill where he was in the third to last group out on the Sunday. That didn’t go to plan but we need to remember that he was mixing it with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler, Viktor Hovland, Billy Horschel and Sam Burns among others. There is nothing like that in this field so I think the Northern Irishman is worth a go here.
Kurt Kitayama is another who has been out late on Sunday in one of the Florida events. He went out towards the end of The Honda Classic and although he didn’t get the job done there he was campaigning against Shane Lowry, Daniel Berger and Gary Woodland and again they are far above anything that is in this field. Kitayama has won in Mauritius on the DP World Tour so we know he can handle the conditions that come with island golf. You don’t finish third in The Honda Classic if you are not hitting the ball well and he has been putting so well that he led the field in putting average in Puerto Rico recently. He looks primed for a good go here.
I took Vaughn Taylor as one of my outsider picks at the Valspar Championship last week and while he missed the cut the fact he was in the top 10 in Puerto Rico in his start before and that he shot a couple of rounds under par at The Honda Classic makes me think that he isn’t one to be ignored just yet. He has had a mixed time of it here in Dominican Republic but that effort at Puerto Rico is a strong effort and there was more than enough wind at The Honda Classic to suggest he can be comfortable in these conditions. He remains a huge price so I’ll pay one last time.
Back N.Lashley to win Corales Puntacana Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 29.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)
Back V.Taylor to win Corales Puntacana Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-7)
Back them here:
Back G.McDowell to win Corales Puntacana Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 46.00 with BetVictor (1/5 1-6)
Back K.Kitayama to win Corales Puntacana Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 56.00 with BetVictor (1/5 1-6)
Back them here: