The Puerto Rico Open takes a seat opposite the WGC-Dell Match Play this week, with Alex Cejka returning to defend a PGA TOUR title for the first time in his career. While the name has changed, Coco Beach Golf & Country Club is the same 7,506 yard course the players have faced every year of this event, which dates back to 2008.
Opposite-field events like this present both opportunities and challenges. Looking back at the winners of this event, we see Greg Kraft (2008), Michael Bradley (2009, 2011), Derek Lamely (2010), George McNeill (2012), Scott Brown (2013), Chesson Hadley (2014) and Cejka (2015). Most of the wins for that group were career-defining at the time, if not still.
We’ve also seen guys finish second in this event right before breaking out on TOUR. Jason Day (2009), Jordan Spieth (2013) and Emiliano Grillo (2015) jump off the page in that regard. Spieth and Grillo were both in the field without any PGA TOUR status.
So what does that tell us?
Several things. For starters, there isn’t typically a lot of class in events like this for obvious reasons, but try and gravitate towards it when you can.
The other big takeaway is that, while this is a 7,506-yard layout with four par 5s, it has not really been dominated by long hitters. As parts of this course wind through what could best be described as dense forest, big numbers lurk with wayward drives. Keeping it in play is probably more important than bombing it. With two of the par 5s weighing in at 600 yards or more, most of the field can only reach two of the four in two strokes anyway.
First-time winners have also enjoyed success, so take a close look at those on the cusp of breaking through who are teeing it up.
There really is no true “chalk” in an event like this, but we’ll do our best to offer up the best of the bunch.
Let’s do it!
1. Scott Brown – He jumps off the page. Not only is he having a very solid 2015-16 season, he has gone T5-Win-64-T10 in his four trips to Coco Beach G&CC. The only time he didn’t crack the top 10 was when he had the pressure of defending. Expect him to be a very popular choice in all formats that include this event.
2. William McGirt – Certainly falls into the category of a guy knocking on the door of a breakthrough victory. While he’s yet to crack a top 10 here in two tries, seven of his eight rounds have been under par. If you want to “zag” when most of the field “zigs” with Brown, McGirt it a good option.
3. Boo Weekley – All he’s done in his last three outings in Puerto Rico is go T3-T8-T6. Anybody who knows anything about Boo’s game knows that he is an excellent ball-striker who does not hit any foul balls. If he putts, he contends.
4. Chesson Hadley – He’s here because he scored a T16 in the defense of his 2014 title. Most first-time defenders tend to finish way down the leaderboard. That Hadley didn’t is a sign that this course really fits his eye.
5. Graham DeLaet – Hasn’t played here since 2013, but each of his three entries have landed him top 25s.
6. Freddie Jacobson – Class player having a very good year, the Swede tied for 14th in his only look at Coco Beach G&CC back in 2011. Known as a magician, he should continue to do well on a course that requires some creative pars at times.
7. Alex Cejka – Decent season, but the pressure of defending is a question mark.
8. Brendon de Jonge – I know this is a boring pick, but he’s a course horse. He’s made all five of his cuts, with four going for top 15s. You know he’ll make the cut, which matters this week.
9. Luke Donald – Class player who keeps it in play and scrambles well when he’s on.
10. Jonathan Byrd – Two things to note. Has posted T13-T12-T16 finishes in his three visits to the island. Check. Perhaps more important is that he ranks ninth on the Web.com Tour money list with two top fives in three starts. One was last week.
11. Will MacKenzie – Trendy in this event, improving to the tune of T50-T32-T6 (last year).
12. Jon Curran – Backed up his T24 in the 2013 PRO with a playoff loss in 2015. Not a long player, but keeps it in play.
13. David Toms – Tossing out his WD last season, he tied for fourth in 2014 in his only event.
14. Jerry Kelly – Hard to find a player that hits it straighter or hits more greens than Kelly. He’s made five cuts in Puerto Rico, all going for top 25s and three of those top 10s.
15. George McNeill – Past champion also has a top five and another top 20 in four trips. This is his time of year, despite being well down the FedExCup leaderboard.