While the elites of the world descend upon Austin, TX this week for the WGC – Dell Match Play, the Tour’s minor leaguers take to Coco Beach Golf Club for the Puerto Rico Open. Last year’s champion Tony Finau has chosen to head to Austin as the first alternate instead of defending his title at Coco Beach, leaving world number 72, Wes Bryan, as the top ranked golfer in the field. The field for this tournament last year was the fourth weakest of the entire season and this year’s strength of field rating is even lower. This is a prime spot for someone to pick up their first career win much like Finau did last year.
Finau needed extra holes to bring home the title in 2016, defeating Steve Marino on the third sudden death playoff hole. For the tournament Finau ranked fourth in Driving Distance and only carded three bogeys all week. Finau became the eighth American to win in nine installments of this event, Alex Cejka being the only international player to win the title in 2015.
Coco Beach Golf Club is a 7,506 yard Par-72 course located directly on the Atlantic Ocean, bringing water into play on 12 of the 18 holes. Last year the course scoring average was 71.764 (-.236) which ranked 24th out of the 50 the Tour faced on the season. Both the fairways and greens are easy to hit, relative to Tour average, coming in at 64 and 67 percent respectively. Despite being easy to hit, missing the greens and finding one of the 33 greenside bunkers can be very penal. The greens are slower than average, running at between 10.5-11 on the stimpmeter; this will be a big adjustment for anyone coming from Bay Hill where they were running at 13.
The 29 eagles the course surrendered last year were the 20th most of any course on Tour, the majority of which coming on the par-5 2nd; the 2nd’s scoring average of -.559 ranked as the 16th easiest hole of the entire season. While the par-5s are inviting for scoring opportunities, the par-3s are anything but. The four par-3s average 208 yards in length and all have scoring averages above par. Long approaches to the par-5s and lengthy tee shots to the par-3s will force a focus to players who are proficient with their long irons.
- Par 5 Scoring
- Driving Distance
- Strokes Gained: Approach
- Bogey Avoidance
Par 5 Scoring
While both of the par-5s on the front are getable, scoring on either of the back nine’s 600 yard par-5s will be an advantage on the field. Of the 166 par-5s the Tour faced last year, holes 15 and 18 ranked inside the top 34 in terms of difficulty.
If the current forecast holds up then it will be a wet weekend in Puerto Rico. Players who can bomb the ball will find themselves at an advantage if the course softens up, limiting roll from the tee box. Finau finished fourth in Driving Distance last year on his way to the title.
Strokes Gained: Approach
While Greens In Regulation is mightily important, it’s pivotal for golfers to find themselves on the correct tier of these undulated greens as well. There are plenty of three putts waiting to be discovered on some of these large greens, so proximity will be more important than simply GIR.
On his way to victory Finau showed the importance of maintaining any strokes picked up over the course of the week, carding only three bogeys throughout the entire tournament. With the forecast looking similar to that of 2015 when the winning score was only -7, avoiding big numbers will be as important as ever.
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