A new season of the PGA Tour gets underway this week and what is potentially the most important campaign in this part of the world starts with the traditional curtain raiser of the Fortinet Championship in California.
Max Homa opened his season with a win here a year or so ago and the American star will be looking to open up the final wraparound season by making a successful defence of the title. Some good players will be out to deny him though.
2021 – Max Homa
2020 – Stewart Cink
2019 – Cameron Champ
2018 – Kevin Tway
2017 – Brendan Steele
2016 – Brendan Steele
2015 – Emiliano Grillo
2014 – Sangmoon Bae
2013 – Jimmy Walker
2012 – Jonas Blixt
The venue hasn’t changed from last year. Silverado Spa and Resort’s North Course graces the field again this year. The course is a par 72 which measures 7,123 yards which doesn’t sound long, and in the dry and humid air it isn’t long but they grow the rough here making these fairways harder to find. The greens here are pretty small too so accuracy is still important but if you look at the recent winners, length is certainly no detriment given that not many will hit too many fairways.
I like the accuracy players with a good long game around here. If you want the cherry on top in terms of players that we’re looking for then ones who score well on par 5s would be it but this is very much one for pure ball striking. Those who can get hot with the putter are never a bad thing so it might be worth checking the all-around statistic to see who is doing everything well. It is expected to be a little cooler this week which should see the event avoiding the rain.
This tournament always has an intriguing field to it as it is the first chance for the new graduates to the tour to tee it up. They get to go in with some of the big boys of the PGA Tour, although with the Presidents Cup coming along next week a number of the better players are keeping their powder dry here. One man who will tee it up at Quail Hollow next week who is in the field this week though is the defending champion Max Homa.
Corey Conners, Hideki Matsuyama, Taylor Pendrith and Cameron Davis will all tee it up for their respective international team next week and they are in the field with a tee time here. The former champions Stewart Cink and Cameron Champ are also in Napa this week as are seasoned campaigners such as Tom Hoge, Matt Kuchar, Gary Woodland, Webb Simpson, Jason Day, Brendan Steele and Emiliano Grillo.
Max Homa is the tournament favourite this week. It has been five years since anyone made a successful defence of this title so history is a little against him but there is no doubt Homa is the class act of the field. He came from the clouds to finish third at the Tour Championship last time out but he has now gone six tournaments without gaining on the field on strokes gained into the green and that doesn’t strike me as a positive. I don’t back defending champions as a rule anyway but especially when they have a big week in front of them like Homa does. He isn’t for me.
Corey Conners and Hideki Matsuyama will be teammates next week but they are 18/1 joint favourites to win this tournament. If accuracy is rewarded this week you would imagine the Canadian will have every chance here. Matsuyama had a terrible season last term and will be looking for a confidence boost this week both to ignite the new season and give him some confidence for the Presidents Cup. Both are a bit short for me.
Maverick McNealy is the only other player in the field who is shorter than 30/1 on the best prices. He will go off as a 25/1 shot to claim his first win on the PGA Tour. He has been around long enough now and hasn’t really threatened that often in a main field tournament so that is a negative but he certainly has the skillset to go well here as he showed a year ago when he was the closest challenger to Homa without being able to overhaul him.
Tom Hoge was competing in the Tour Championship a couple of weeks ago and although his form heading there wasn’t the best he put up the sort of showing which should give him the confidence to deliver his best golf this week. Hoge was a winner in California last season so he’ll have good memories of this part of the world and that bodes well. Hoge has a very accurate long game and he looked like he had found his short game at East Lake. If he puts the two together he should be very competitive in this company.
I always like a Korn Ferry Tour graduate on my side in this tournament and this week that is going to be Justin Suh, the man who had the second best stroke average on that tour last season and who finished it with five top 10s in his last six starts including the win at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship. Emiliano Grillo won that tournament and then a couple of weeks later won this and a player, who like the Argentine, hits fairways and greens like they are going out of fashion has to be considered here. Suh qualified for this event last year via a Monday qualifier and made the cut and with a season of good golf on the second tier behind him he looks in good shape to contend here.
I’ll go with a pair of outsiders this week with the first of those being another man who won in California last season in the form of Chez Reavie. Reavie won the Barracuda Championship and although he hasn’t won since then, or even done much of note, you probably wouldn’t have expected him to given that a couple of them were deep field events and a couple of them were on courses just too long for him. Reavie showed in 2020 when he was third to Stewart Cink that this course isn’t too long. He opened with a 65 here last season too on his way to a top 30 finish and has had a number of other decent outings here. He looks a big price at 66/1.
Lee Hodges ended last season with a top 20 at the 3M Open and another in the first of the FedExCup play-off tournaments at TPC Southwind where only an indifferent third round stopped him from really contending after bookending the week with a pair of 65s. At the 3M Open he gained more than 11 shots from tee to green, almost nine of which were on approach and he picked up almost six shots on a decent field in the St Jude in the long game. If he hits the ball like that here and can get a few putts to drop he might force his way into the reckoning in a wide open contest.
Back T.Hoge to win Fortinet Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with Boylesports (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back Justin Suh to win Fortinet Championship (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 51.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)
Back C.Reavie to win Fortinet Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 67.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back L.Hodges to win Fortinet Championship (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Betfair (1/5 1-8)