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PGA Tour: Fortinet Championship 72-Hole Match Bet preview

Original article published 17 October 2022

The PGA Tour's Ben Everill previews the opening tournament of the 2022/23 season, and has three picks from bet365's 72-Hole Match Bets.

After a monster off-season of two weeks the PGA Tour is back with the start of the 2022/23 season at the Fortinet Championship on the North Course of Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, California.

It will be the last of the wraparound seasons as the Tour takes new shape this season and beyond. But first let’s look for an edge in the first 72-hole match ups of the season.

The field is full of new faces as recent graduates from the Korn Ferry Tour move on up and five players due to play in the Presidents Cup next week are also in the field, led by defending champion Max Homa.

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Silverado North plays 7,123 yards so get prepared to see low scores. The last three winners finished -19, -21 and -17 giving us our first stat to highlight in birdie or better percentage. Both Homa and Stewart Cink the year prior posted scores of 14 under over the weekend to get it done.

Homa was able to respond to some mistakes but he is the only winner from the past eight who didn’t finish inside the top three for bogey avoidance. Obviously when players go low, mistakes can prove more costly.

The previous eight winners were all inside the top 17 in ball-striking on the way to victory at Fortinet and we can take great stock in the fact that a huge part of victory for Homa, Cink and Cameron Champ over the last three years was big efforts in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Multiple winners led the field in that metric.

A huge 72% of Homa’s total strokes gained during his win were a result of his tee to green play. His +10.54 was a career best performance on Tour. Cink put up a +5.315 in the stat in his final round heading to his win and a mind-blowing 85% of Champ’s total strokes gained for his win came tee-to-green.

Barely a week goes by on Tour without the need to check on Strokes Gained: Approach and with six par-4s on the course sitting at 400-450 yards it’s worth looking at how a player performed on similar holes last season. All four par-5s are relatively short so while contenders will need to go low on those holes, it is less likely to be a separating factor, while the longer par 4s could well be.

Hideki Matsuyama 10/11 vs. Max Homa 4/5

Here lies a fascinating match up. A week before they come up against each other in the Presidents Cup the key stats all point the way of the Japanese superstar. But as much as we lean on the numbers in this column, one can’t forget the simple fact it is Homa who is the defending champion.

There is a danger both players could be thinking a week ahead, much like Jon Rahm a year ago at Silverado. In the week before the Ryder Cup heavy tournament favorite Rahm failed to make it to the weekend as his focus drifted.

Matsuyama was brilliant on the longer par 4s last season, leading the Tour and his birdie or better percentage and bogey avoidance stats were also excellent. He was T6 in this event a year ago.

But he will need to prove the niggling issues of a neck and left wrist complaint are past him. While Matsuyama returned for the BMW Championship (T35) and the Tour Championship (T11) in the FedExCup Playoffs, he also sought specialist treatment back in Japan after East Lake. Fortinet will serve as a testing ground for his fitness once more.

Key Stat Ranks (PGA Tour 2021-22 season)

Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: Matsuyama 19th; Homa 24th
Strokes Gained: Approach: Matsuyama 6th; Homa 36th
Ball Striking: Matsuyama 40th; Homa 66th
Birdie or Better Percentage: Matsuyama 14th; Homa 35th
Bogey Avoidance: Matsuyama 15th; Homa 69th
Par 4s 400-450 yards: Matsuyama 1st; Homa 91st

Do we go with the numbers or conservatively stay off Matsuyama until he proves his fitness? As much as it pains to say it, we think the latter is wise. Homa in a coin flip.

Taylor Pendrith 4/5 vs. Cam Davis 10/11

As above we have two players heading to the Presidents Cup next week pitted against each other. Both are captains picks from Trevor Immelman for the International Team and will be on debut in the team competition.

The confidence boost injected into Canadian Pendrith and Australian Davis is an intangible we need to consider as is the aforementioned possibility of thinking ahead. Both fit the prototype of a potential Silverado winner so they would be wise to stay in the present and try to boost their resume heading to Quail Hollow.

Pendrith returned from a rib fracture after a four month break in July and rattled off finishes of T13-T11-T2-T13-68-T8 on his way to Immelman’s good graces. Was 10th in GIR over the season and hits it long.

Of course Davis, who can also bomb it out there, was no slouch from July onwards either. T8-6-T16-T14-T13-T35 to finish his season showed he’s knocking on the door of a second Tour win. In that stretch Davis was one of the best on Tour at birdies or better.

Key Stat Ranks (PGA Tour 2021-22 season)

Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: Pendrith 36th; Davis 54th
Strokes Gained: Approach: Pendrith 89th; Davis 50th
Ball Striking: Pendrith 16th; Davis 109th
Birdie or Better Percentage: Pendrith 28th; Davis 27th
Bogey Avoidance: Pendrith 49th; Davis 93rd
Par 4s 400-450 yards: Pendrith 71st; Davis 58th

Look to the Canadian in this one as he stays grounded ahead of his International Team debut. Davis will hit peak confidence post Quail Hollow.

Davis Riley 8/11 vs. Brendan Steele 1/1

Here we have the tempting odds offered for two-time tournament winner (2016, 2017) Steele who happens to also be the all-time earnings leader at Silverado. Steele has made the cut in all eight attempts at the course with four top 25s since 2015. He’s a long-hitting sharpshooter who comes off four top 15s in 2022 and actually led the tour over the last few months of the season in Strokes Gained: Approach (43rd over entire season).

The favored Riley is no slouch. Coming off a FedExCup season just short of the Tour Championship (36th) thanks to six top 10s there is a feeling the new season will bring even more improvement.

But it’s hard to look past the juicy odds for Steele when Riley’s only previous Silverado effort resulted in a missed cut last year.

One basis for the Steele snub could be his inability to make multiple birdies most weeks. He was 166th in birdie or better last season. But Silverado is one place that changes. He’s 66 under over the last seven seasons on the track and shot 18 and 15 under on the way to his wins here.

Key Stat Ranks (PGA Tour 2021-22 season)

Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green: Riley 50th; Steele 26th
Strokes Gained: Approach: Riley 71st; Steele 43rd
Ball Striking: Riley 35th; Steele 8th
Birdie or Better Percentage: Riley 18th; Steele 166th
Bogey Avoidance: Riley 92nd; Steele 53rd
Par 4s 400-450 yards: Riley 93rd; Steele 63rd

Riley is an up-and-coming star on the Tour who cannot be discounted but the odds on offer for course specialist Steele seem too good to pass up.

OTHER MATCH UPS

Emiliano Grillo 10/11 vs. Tom Hoge 4/5
Denny McCarthy 5/6 vs. Trey Mullinax 5/6
Maverick McNealy 5/6 vs. Sahith Theegala 5/6
Troy Merritt 5/6 vs. Wyndham Clark 5/6
Andrew Putnam 5/6 vs. Chez Reavie 5/6

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