Puerto Rico Open: Kitayama worth chancing

Grace wins in Puerto Rico.jpg

Arnold Palmer Invitational is the main event on the PGA Tour this week but the Puerto Rico Open makes for a tasty side dish. Steve Rawlings takes a good look at the event here…

Tournament History

Greg Kraft won the inaugural Puerto Rico Open in 2008 but this will be just the 14th edition after the 2018 renewal was postponed due to Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

The Puerto Rico Open has always been played opposite another event and this year it plays second fiddle to the Arnold Palmer Invitational (previewed here).

Venue

Grand Reserve Country Club (Composite Course), Rio Grande, Puerto Rico

Course Details

Par 72, 7506 yards, stroke average in 2021 – 71.23

Sitting at the foothills of the El Yunque Rainforest and formally named the Coco Beach Golf Club, the Grand Reserve is a diverse wind-exposed and flat composite of two courses that were originally four nine-hole courses, designed by Tom Kite in 2004.

The grass is Paspalum, which is the same surface used on the PGA Tour at El Camaleon, home of the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, and at the Corales Golf Club, which hosts the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Water is in play on 13 holes and the average-sized greens usually run at around 11 on the Stimpmeter.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

No UK coverage on Sky but it will be live on the Golf Channel

Last Six Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2021 – Branden Grace -19 21.020/1
2020 – Viktor Hovland -20 18.017/1
2019 – Martin Trainer -15 120.0119/1
2018 – Tournament Cancelled
2017 – D.A Points -20 220.0219/1
2016 – Tony Finau -12 50.049/1 (playoff)
2015 – Alex Cejka -7 100.099/1 (playoff)

What Will it Take to Win the Puerto Rico Open?

No Strokes Gained data has been produced for this event and there were no stats at all for the inaugural staging so I’ve only been able to analyse the last 12 results.

The driving metrics appear largely irrelevant with neither length nor accuracy being close to crucial and the main stat to consider is Greens In Regulation.

The first and second last year, Branden Grace and Jhonattan Vegas, ranked third and seventh and a year earlier, the winner, Viktor Hovland, ranked eighth and the runner-up, Josh Teater, ranked first.

Grace wins in Puerto Rico.jpg

The 2016 winner, Tony Finau, only ranked 18th for GIR and the 2013 champ, Scott Brown, ranked a lowly 62nd but they’re the only winners in the last 12 years to rank outside the top-eight for that stat.

This is an exposed layout and the wind is nearly always a factor, as it will be throughout the tournament this week. We can probably expect the winner to have plenty of experience of playing in windy conditions.

Is There an Angle In?

A number of events are staged at courses similar to this. Look closely at the form of the Sony Open, the RBC Heritage, the RSM Classic, and in particular, the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba and the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

As previously mentioned, El Camaleon, home of the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, and the Corales Golf Club, host venue for the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, are both wind-affected Paspalum grass tracks and we’ve recently witnessed how nicely this event and the Mayakoba link as the 2020 winner, Hovland, has won the last two editions of the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico.

The other three event venues, Waialae Country Club, Harbour Town Golf Links and Sea Island Resort are all Bermuda, which is a very similar surface to Paspalum, and all three are wind-affected coastal courses.

Grace’s only other PGA Tour victory was the 2016 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town.

Current form is definitely not something to worry about here – none of the previous 13 winners were setting the world alight before arriving here and a poor set of form figures is nothing to worry about at all.

Is There an Identikit Winner?

Out of form veterans seem to do really well here. DA Points had just turned 40 when he won five years ago and the 2015 champ, Alex Cejka, was winning on the PGA Tour for the first time at the age of 45.

The first five editions went to experienced vets, although none of them were prolific, and the top-class Finau and Hovland are the only Puerto Rico Open winners to win anywhere else subsequently.

Grace was very well backed last year, Hovland went of favourite two years ago, Finau was matched at a high of 55.054/1 and Hadley was around that price eight years ago too, but every other winner has been trading at a triple-figure price before the off.

Hovland was the first winner under 50/1 so don’t be afraid to take a chance or two. This is an event where an out-of-form outsider could pop up and cause a massive surprise.

And finally, there might just be another real superstar in the field somewhere. In addition to Hovland and Finau winning here, Jason Day, Jordon Spieth, Daniel Berger and Bryson DeChambeau have all finished runner-up here.

Winner’s Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2021 – Branden Grace tied third, trailing by one 5.49/2
2020 – Viktor Hovland led by a stroke 1.784/5
2019 – Martin Trainer alone in third, trailing by two 12.011/1
2018 – Tournament Cancelled
2017 – D.A Points tied second, one off the lead 9.28/1
2016 – Tony Finau tied second, one off the lead 7.26/1
2015 – Alex Cejka tied fifth, trailing by two 21.020/1

In-Play Tactics

Every winner has shot a first round of 70 or below and they’ve all been within five strokes of the lead after round one.

Finau, who sat 15th and four adrift, and Derek Lamely, who was 35th and six off the lead after 36 holes, are the only winners not to be inside the top-seven at halfway.

Grace was tied for ninth and two back after round one and tied third and two back at halfway. Having sat tied for 14th after round one, Hovland was in front after rounds two and three and Points, who was never outside the top-two places all week, and the four winners before Finau were all first or second after 36 holes.

Cejka dropped from first to fifth between rounds two and three but he and Derek Lamely, who also sat fifth after three rounds are the only winners to be outside the top-three places with a round to go so it’s a tough place to make up ground.

Given that the event isn’t on Sky and that it’s up against the Arnold Palmer (which I’ve previewed here), the chances are that liquidity will be poor so it might be sensible to trade in-between rounds only.

Market Leaders

As it so often is, this is very odd-looking market.

We witnessed the first ever victory for an Austrian on the PGA Tour on Sunday when Sepp Straka pounced late on to win the Honda Classic and yet Matthias Schwab is the favourite here to follow him in and make it back-to-back Austrian winners.

Schwab is yet to win on the DP World Tour and he’s not been brilliant in-contention whenever a chance to break his duck has materialised so I’m more than happy to swerve him and the same goes for the others at the head of the market.

Mark Hubbard was mentioned in my Find Me a 100 Winner piece last week and I did in fact have a small bet at 240.0239/1 but he was very disappointing over the weekend, dropping down from fourth to 15th.

This venue is perfect for him but course form figures reading 27-15-MC aren’t overly inspiring.

Selections

There was an awful lot to like about Kurt Kitayama’s performance at the Honda Classic last week.

Having led after round one, following a six-under-par 64 opening, he hung around impressively all week to finish third and I thought he’d be slightly shorter than he is here.

The 29-year-old Californian has twice won on the DP World Tour at exposed venues like this one – at the Oman Open and the Mauritius Open – and on his only previous visit here he finished a respectable 17th in 2017.

He ranked fourth for Driving Distance and Greens In Regulation last week, as well as a decent 15th for Putting Average so he’s found his game in style and this event couldn’t have come at a better time.

Selection:
Kurt Kitayama @ 34.033/1

I’ll be back tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

Author: Ellen Garcia