Original article published 17 October 2022
The regular season finale for the PGA TOUR hits Sedgefield Country Club at the Wyndham Championship. This is the last push for a place in the top 125 of the FedExCup Playoffs Eligibility List and as such is critical for many players.
It might be just as critical for our 72-hole matchup predictions after only connecting on one of three last week! Cameron Young was brilliant on the way to another podium finish at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic, taking care of Will Zalatoris comfortably in the process.
But Tony Finau performed arguably better than his win at the 3M Open on his way to another victory, which meant that Patrick Cantlay's runner-up result was not good enough for us to cash. Defending champion Cam Davis also took us down with three late birdies on Sunday stretching out his advantage over Max Homa.
But on to the next we go!
It might sound like a cliché but the approach game is critical to success at Sedgefield so you’ll hear about it being a “second shot golf course” often. Consider that defending champion Kevin Kisner ranked 12th for the week in Strokes Gained: Approach and yet that was the worst mark for a winner in the stat since Davis Love III, in his 50s, was also 12th on approach en route to winning in 2015. Each winner from 2016-2020 was inside the top four of this measure.
At Sedgefield we have a par-70 layout that features just two par fives, but those are often two of the easiest on TOUR. Par 5 Scoring must be on point as you better be ready to go low here to contend. Rounds in the 60s are going to be needed… Last year Kevin Kisner (65-68-66-66) put all four rounds in the 60s to make the six-man playoff. Branden Grace, Kevin Na and Si Woo Kim also did so. Another 17 players had four rounds in the 60s and yet didn’t feature in the playoff! For good measure let’s look at Birdie or Better Percentage also.
Sedgefield removed Bentgrass greens and replaced them with Champion Bermudagrass in 2012 and we’ve seen recent winners all do well in Strokes Gained: Putting. Kevin Kisner was eighth for the week, Jim Herman was third as he made a career high 444-feet of putts and J.T. Poston was 13th in putting to go with an approach masterclass and bogey-free tournament.
Here lies an intriguing matchup where we have a well-rested Horschel who hasn’t played since The Open Championship against a course specialist in Simpson who is having a lean season compared to previous lofty standards.
Horschel was brilliant during his win in June’s Memorial Tournament but backed it up with two missed cuts and a T21 at St. Andrews before shutting it down ahead of this playoff push. He returns to Sedgefield for first time since his runner-up result in 2020 with an impressive 20-under 260. He's now racked up four T11 or better in his last five visits to Sedgefield and holds a career scoring average of 67.38 from 34 rounds. His last 23 rounds are par or better at Sedgefield at 66.83 and the last 12 of those… well that’s a tasty 65.83!
"I've always enjoyed coming here. I play well on bermudagrass courses. Haven't crossed the finish line yet as the winner, but hopefully we can take care of it this week," Horschel said.
"The game's not bad. It's not as sharp as I would like it, but hopefully we can work our way into a little bit sharper form by the end of the week… just another day of two of hitting balls would have been nice, but that's just me and my perfectionist side. It's fine where it is, I've just got to get out of my own way and understand that I'm going to play fine this week."
As for Simpson well he was so impressed with his first TOUR win here in 2011 that his daughter is named Wyndham! He has nine top 10 results from 13 starts here. In 50 rounds his scoring average is a scalding 66.66.
But this season has yielded just one top 10 and that was a T8 back in November of last year. He’s missed three of his last five cuts but remains confident this week could be the tonic he needs.
"When I come to Greensboro, no matter how my game is, I'll always feel like I can win here," Simpson said. "I'm looking forward to being on a golf course that I know very well. That's one less thing I have to think about. I feel like I've been having to think about a lot of things. My game hasn't been great, I've been working on things really hard, but knowing that, OK, Paul (caddie) and I have been around this place a lot, we know what we're doing, that makes me feel great about the week."
Key Stat Ranks (PGA TOUR)
Strokes Gained: Approach: Horschel 125th, Simpson 69th
Par 5 Scoring: Horschel 51st, Simpson 39th
Rounds in the 60s: Horschel 111th, Simpson 96th
Birdie or Better Percentage: Horschel 47th, Simpson 50th
Strokes Gained: Putting: Horschel 13th, Simpson 103rd
It was a surprise to see Simpson ahead in three of the five key stats and perhaps just as surprising was the tone in which both players spoke pre-tournament. Horschel spoke of needing a little more time to be at his peak while Simpson was full of vigour returning to his happy place but also having the honour of being named a captain’s assistant for the upcoming Presidents Cup at his hometown Quail Hollow. So, Simpson it is.
Korean sensation Im has a pair of top 10s and a T24 from three visits to Sedgefield and yields a 66.42 scoring average. He comes into the tournament off the back of a runner up finish at the 3M Open and as such becomes a serious threat to claiming the trophy.
Zalatoris hinted at taking last week a little lighter hence us pushing for Cameron Young in their matchup but now, a little rested, yet still coming off a week where he got better with every round, Zalatoris looks primed for a big month of August. There is no better player on TOUR when it comes to the approach game leaving Zalatoris with a huge advantage should he bring his “A” game.
Key Stat Ranks (PGA TOUR)
Strokes Gained: Approach: Im 57th, Zalatoris 1st
Par 5 Scoring: Im 29th, Zalatoris 32nd
Rounds in the 60s: Im 46th, Zalatoris 77th
Birdie or Better Percentage: Im 41st, Zalatoris 17th
Strokes Gained: Putting: Im 61st, Zalatoris 125th
The huge advantage in approach stats is enough to overcome the deficit to Im on the greens and while the American lacks as many rounds in the 60s that’s as much a product of the schedules they keep as anything else. Much like the Finau, Cantlay matchup last week, this one could yield the top two placegetters in the tournament. We lean to Zalatoris.
A former Open champion against a former Masters champion brings some fun to the markets.
Lowry has quietly put up a season that includes a runner-up at the Honda Classic and third place finishes at the Masters and RBC Heritage. He’s played the Wyndham four times prior with a T7 in 2017 the best result. His scoring average at Sedgefield from 14 rounds is a tidy 67.36 with not a single round over par.
Scott was a very short putt away from victory last season but eventually settled for a playoff loss to Kisner in a frustrating finish. But his 64-65 weekend was beautiful to watch before the ugly putt in extra holes left the door open for others.
His last two results, a T15 at The Open and a T37 at last week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic mask some decent play. Scott actually made a run towards the Claret Jug on Sunday before a costly gorse ball while he opened 69-66 and closed with a 65 in Detroit… but had a diabolical 78 on Saturday. Third rounds have been a problem for the Aussie this season with a scoring average of 71.77 compared to 70.2, 69.87 and 70.23 in the other three rounds.
Key Stat Ranks (PGA TOUR)
Strokes Gained: Approach: Lowry 11th, Scott 29th
Par 5 Scoring: Lowry 64th, Scott 51st
Rounds in the 60s: Lowry 111th, Scott 111th
Birdie or Better Percentage: Lowry 89th, Scott 29th
Strokes Gained: Putting: Lowry 38th, Scott 53rd
With a shared result over the key stats, we are going to lean towards recent history at Sedgefield and say Scott’s runner-up result, and subsequent feelings of unfinished business, might just get him over the hump. The key for the Australian is quite simply eliminating any big mistakes as his birdie of better firepower should see him take it low.
Other Match Ups
Corey Conners 5/6 vs. Si Woo Kim 5/6
Brian Harman 8/11 vs. Justin Rose 1/1
Russell Henley 8/11 vs. Tyrrell Hatton 1/1
Joohyung Kim 8/11 vs. Taylor Pendrith 1/1
Kevin Kisner 5/6 vs. Denny McCarthy 5/6
J.T. Poston 4/5 vs. Christiaan Bezuidenhout 10/11
Aaron Wise 8/11 vs. Keith Mitchell 1/1