Koepka kicks off PGA Tour season in Vegas

October 2, 2019
Justin Ray

Playing for the first time since being passed over for PGA Tour Player of the Year, world number one Brooks Koepka begins his 2019-2020 PGA Tour season this week in Las Vegas.

Where the ‘chip on his shoulder’ cliché might seem to fit this week – maybe chips in Brooks’ pocket are more appropriate when it comes to opening a season.

Koepka has gotten out of the blocks quickly in his young career: in his six starts that kicked off full PGA Tour seasons, he’s racked up a win (last year at the CJ Cup), three additional top-ten finishes, and a scoring average of 69.2.

And while we continued to marvel at his play in the major championships – it was truly historic in 2019Koepka has become a more consistent performer in the ‘regular’ events, too. He had nine top-ten finishes last season on the PGA Tour, a career-high. He had more wins last season (three) than missed cuts (one), and finished fourth in scoring average, his best-ever season ranking.

The betting favorite to win this week, Brooks is currently ranked fourth in the 15th Club Performance Index.

COURSE TRENDS TO WATCH

TPC Summerlin will feature more wedge shots into greens than is typical on the PGA Tour. Last year, there were more than 1,700 approach shots hit for the week from the fairway 100-150 yards away – fifth-most of any course on Tour last season.

This is also a difficult course to scramble on: last year, the field had a scrambling percentage of just 53.0%, 2nd-toughest among non-majors, and fifth-toughest on the Tour overall.

NOTES ON PLAYERS COMPETING THIS WEEK

– Since the European Tour began in 1972, there have only been two instances of a Spanish player successfully defending a title on home soil: Miguel Angel Jimenez at the Turespana Masters (1997-1998) and Sergio Garcia at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters (2017-2018). Jon Rahm, defending his title at the Open de Espana this week, can join them with a victory on Sunday. After nine consecutive top-15 finishes worldwide, Rahm missed the cut last week at the Alfred Dunhill Links.

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Garcia, who won his previous start (KLM Open), is assembling a remarkable ball-striking season statistically on the European Tour. Garcia not only leads the Tour in strokes gained tee-to-green per round (+2.64), he’s nearly seven-tenths of a shot per round better than second place (Thomas Pieters, +1.97).

– One player with strong recent history in Las Vegas is Ryan Palmer. Since 2010, Palmer has averaged 5.33 birdies/eagles per round at TPC Summerlin, tied with Aaron Wise for the best average in that span. Palmer has finished in the top-20 in his previous two starts in this event, including a tie for seventh last year.

Phil Mickelson will make his first start in the Shriners in 14 years this week. Mickelson made his tournament debut here in 1992, three years before last week’s winner Cameron Champ was born. Lefty was wild off the tee even by his standards last week in Napa, hitting only 5 of 28 fairways en route to a missed cut. Mickelson will try to avoid doing something for the first time in his PGA Tour career this week: miss the cut in each of his first two starts of a new season.

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– Death, taxes and Charles Howell III crushing the early part of the PGA Tour schedule: Howell got his new campaign off to a good start in Napa, tying for fourth place. Should Howell earn $1 million or more this season on the PGA Tour (he’s already 28 percent of the way there), he would join Mickelson as the only players in history to pass $1M in official earnings for 20 consecutive seasons. Howell has earned nearly $1 million in his career in this event alone, racking up nine top-25s in 16 starts.

Bryson DeChambeau is your defending champion in the desert, looking to join Jim Furyk as the only multiple winners in this tournament’s history. In Bryson’s victory here last year, 97 percent of the strokes he gained against the field were from tee to green. That fits the profile of recent winners at TPC Summerlin: the average field rank in strokes gained tee to green since 2009 (6.5) far exceeds that in putting (16.0).

Scott Piercy is a combined 51-under-par at TPC Summerlin over the last five years, best of any player during that span. Making his 14th career start in this event, Piercy has missed the cut just twice in his career in Las Vegas.

Adam Scott, who spent a little over a year playing college golf for UNLV, returns to Vegas for his first career start in the Shriners. Scott is coming off a sneaky-strong ’18-19 PGA Tour season – he ranked third on Tour in strokes gained total, trailing only Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay. We mentioned a couple of course trends earlier – Scott has some numbers that make him intriguing in that regard: last season, Adam ranked in the top-10 on Tour in strokes gained around the green, proximity from 100-125 yards and proximity from 125-150.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

In the last 35 years, there have been five instances of a player beating the field by an average of 3 or more strokes per round over the course of an entire PGA Tour season. All five of those instances were Tiger Woods (2000, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2009).