Sanderson Farms Championship: Fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

Scottie Scheffler is back in action at the Sanderson Farms Championship this week after missing the U.S. Open due to a positive COVID-19 test. Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

After a week to reboot the systems, we’re back to break down the field of the Sanderson Farms Championship, the fourth event of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, which begins Thursday at the Country Club of Jackson.

The course features thick Bermuda rough and smallish, slick greens, renovated by former U.S. Amateur champion and PGA Tour player John Fought prior to 2015 when the CC of Jackson became the tournament’s home.

As it pertains to distance, both ends of the spectrum have thrived here in recent years; Cameron Champ, one of the game’s longest hitters, and Ryan Armour, one of the shortest, claimed their first Tour title here. Sebastian Munoz’s playoff victory over Sungjae Im last fall extended the streak to six consecutive first-time winners and 13 overall in the tournament’s history.

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A hot putter is what the last four winners had in common, each gaining between 6.2 and 9.1 strokes on the field on the greens.

The winning score projects in the 18-to-21 under range and players probably need to reach the teens to secure a top 10. Players hit 69.3 percent of the greens at Jackson compared to 65.4 percent at the average Tour event yet only 54 percent of the fairways (compared to the average of 62 percent). The pros must handle approach shots of 200 yards or farther on the 7,400-yard layout.

Weather can start to be a factor this time of the year but won’t be this week – highs ranging from 71 to 80, sunny skies, winds less than 10 mph. Perfect fall days in the South.

As always, good luck.

Golfer power rankings

25. Davis Riley – The Mississippi native and former University of Alabama star has won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour this season to rank third on the money list. He’s top 20 on the KFT in ballstriking and putting. His roommate is Will Zalatoris, so Riley should feel confident he can compete on golf’s premier Tour.

24. Chez Reavie – Making his CC of Jackson debut. He should feel comfortable from the outset. Iron game has been elite since the restart: he gained 7.4 strokes on approach en route to finishing third at Safeway. Bermuda is his worst putting surface or I’d rank him higher this week.

23. Denny McCarthy – He’s a cool 24 under the last two years at CC of Jackson, finishing T-18 and T-7 and to no one’s surprise leads the field in SG: Putting on this layout over the last 16 rounds. Has made six of the last seven cuts.

22. William McGirt – Finally healthy after hip surgery kept him for 22 months, he made the cut but finished near the bottom at Memorial and Safeway. The 41-year-old has 27 starts remaining on his medical exemption and he and his banker have loved Jackson more than Johnny and June did. Finished seventh in 2015 and T-2 the following year.

21. Luke List – Could envision List taking apart CC of Jackson with his driver a la Cam Champ. Would feel much better about his chances if not for such an uncooperative putter (133rd in field SG over last 50 rounds). Maybe the top 10 at Punta Cana boosted his confidence on the greens.

20. Bud Cauley – Last time Cauley stepped on Bermuda greens, at the Wyndham in August, he gained 5.4 strokes with the putter and finished T-15. Also finished T-14 in his last start, two weeks ago at Safeway. His recent form, paired with usually reliable iron play and short-game skill, make him a smart play in Mississippi. First appearance here since 2016 (MC).

19. Corey Conners – Good news: Leads the field in SG: Ballstriking over the last 50 rounds. Bad news: Ranks near dead last (147th) in putting. Has rolled the rock reasonably well here before, however, gaining 1.5 strokes in runner-up effort in fall 2018. Seeking first top 10 since the Zozo, last October.

18. Zach Johnson – The two-time major champ’s partnership with veteran caddie Brian Smith is working nicely (T-8 at the U.S. Open and T-7 at Wyndham in his last three starts). Shot 13 under in his first stab at the CC of Jackson last year to finish T-14. Enjoying a resurgence with the putter and his iron play remains solid.

17. Lucas Glover – Missed the cut here last year but has three top 25s, including a T-5 in 2017. After a poor month in late summer, perhaps a T-17 in the U.S. Open indicates he’s back on track. Gained seven strokes on the greens at Winged Foot, which is a personal best in the last three years.

16. Cameron Percy – He’s 34 under over his last 16 rounds at the CC of Jackson with a pair of top-20 finishes in the span. A streaky player, he started strong in 2020-21, finishing T-23 at Safeway and T-8 in Punta Cana.

15. Talor Gooch – Solid track record at the CC of Jackson with a T-30 and T-14 in two appearances. Made it to BMW in the playoffs, missed the cut at the Safeway. He’ll be hungry for FedEx points this week on a course that fits his eye tee-to-green, based on past ballstriking.

14. Si Woo Kim – Missed cut at Winged Foot is the only blemish on a remarkable record since the restart, including four top 25s. Traditionally not a great putter on Bermuda greens, but gained 2.7 strokes in a T-3 at the Wyndham. So solid throughout the bag.

13. Carlos Ortiz – Colder than a Bismarck winter since the Tour resumed (one top 25 in 10 starts), he’s happy to return to the tournament formerly referred to as the Mississippi Masters. He’s enjoyed major paydays here the last two years (T-4 and T-3), firing a combined 31 under.

12. Byeong Hun An – With three top 25s in his last five events, one of the game’s premier ballstrikers is trending upward. The putting can be atrocious (176th on PGA Tour last season) but at least he has a sense of humor about it. Crushed the par 4s to 14 under at CC of Jackson last year to finish third.

11. Sungjae Im – Made 24 birdies and shot in the 60s all four rounds a year ago, losing in sudden death. Bermuda is his best putting surface and his iron game returned to form on demanding layouts in his last two starts, gaining more than four shots on the field at the Tour Championship and U.S. Open.

10. Brian Harman – Tied for 14th in his first look at CC of Jackson last year and the Georgian has been super steady over the last six starts with a trio of top 25s and no missed cuts. Short game is brilliant and has gained strokes on the greens the last four weeks. If he can find a rhythm with his irons, he’ll contend for the title.

9. Louis Oosthuizen – Seems like an odd addition to his schedule, however, when you’re playing well, keep playing. Excellent putter on fast greens and doesn’t take a swing guru to appreciate the beauty in his action. Finished third at Winged Foot of course, his fourth top 25 in five starts. Hasn’t missed a cut since mid-June. First appearance at CC of Jackson.

8. Doc Redman – Finished T-7 in proximity to the hole last season, bettering the Tour average by nearly four feet. Last time out, he closed with 62 for his second top-3 in three starts. Currently the third best active pro from Raleigh, N.C. (behind Webb Simpson and Brendon Todd) but rising fast. T-52 in Sanderson Farms debut last year.

7. Pat Perez – Notched his third consecutive top 25 finishing 9-under at Punta Cana thanks to a closing 68. Making his maiden voyage around the CC of Jackson, but the small greens should suit his accurate iron game (T-15 on the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole in ‘19-20) and fast Bermuda is his favorite putting surface.

6. Brian Stuard – Finished third at Safeway, gaining 4.1 strokes on the greens which bodes well for this week because he’s historically good on Bermuda. His approach game and putting are top 40 in the field over the last 50 rounds and he’s had success at CC of Jackson before, tying for fourth in 2018.

5. Sam Burns – Tied for 13th in the 2018 Sanderson Farms despite losing 2.1 strokes on the greens. Ballstriking was dominant that week (13.2 SG: Tee-to-Green). Iron game has been pure over the last five starts, gaining an average of 1.8 strokes and the results are there: T-7 at Safeway and T-28 at Punta Cana.

4. Adam Long – After finishing in the painful position of 31st in last season’s FedEx Cup race, Long has continued to play well in the first events of 2020-21, posting a 13th at the U.S. Open and fifth at Punta Cana despite a disappointing Sunday. Feels like he’s finally realizing how good he can be.

3. Sebastian Munoz – The Sanderson Farms defending champion Closed strong last season with top 10s in the last two playoff events and survived until the weekend at the U.S. Open. Putts great on Bermuda (6.2 strokes gained at CCJ in last year’s win).

2. Cameron Davis – Finished top 25 on the PGA Tour last season in driving distance, birdie average and eagles. Has played in 14 tournaments in 2020, recording four top-15 finishes. The lanky 25-year-old Aussie has enormous talent. Entering his third season on the Tour, he’s poised to take a big step forward.

1. Scottie Scheffler – Making his first start since the Tour Championship. Missed the U.S. Open due to a positive COVID-19 test. He was red-hot when he went away with three top 5s in four starts and six top 25s in a row. He continues the run of first-time winners this week in Jackson.

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