In one sense, this event is moving up in the world, as a new August date brings it into the Fedex Cup schedule. On the other hand, the shift from the Fall Series to a clash with the WGC-Bridgestone means the field is weaker than usual. It also should mean better weather than previously seen in autumnal New York.
 
The four past champions at this venue, either under this sponsor or the previous BC Open tag, all had some PGA Tour pedigree. Dustin Johnson was a big-priced outsider in 2008 and the only first-time winner, but has since risen further than any of the other three; Matt Kuchar, Steve Flesch and John Rollins. Johnson’s victory was also the only year when scoring was modest, with a winning total of nine-under-par. Otherwise, 17 under has been the minimum, and with the weather largely set fair, I suspect it will be even lower this time.
 
Course and stats
 
Atunyote GC is a 7,482 yard par 72, designed by Tom Fazio. The fairways are wide and rough relatively light. Big-hitters tend to enjoy an advantage, though the ultimate key is a hot putter and birdie accumulation. In other words, more of the same after two consecutive birdie-fests, albeit switching from a pair of par 70s to this longer layout, which will place a slightly greater emphasis on par-five performance.
 
The key stats to follow in my view are driving distance, putting average and birdie average.
 
Betting selections
 
2pts ew RORY SABBATINI @ 25/1 (GENERAL, 30/1 STAN JAMES)
 
It should come as something of a blow to Rory’s ego that he’s here rather than Firestone, where he would have rated at least an interesting outsider. Such is the price of chronic inconsistency and a dubious attitude. Nevertheless, there was a strong sign of improvement when finishing eighth in a much stronger field at Loch Lomond on his penultimate start, which along with last year’s 12th, adds up to a solid claim.
 
1.5pts ew CHARLEY HOFFMAN @ 30/1 (BETFRED, BLUESQ, 33/1 STAN JAMES)
 
This big-hitting, sometimes birdie machine should have ideal conditions in New York, on a course where he was fifth in 2007. Consecutive top sevens made him a fairly popular pick last week, and it could be worth forgiving that missed cut in an easy event where it didn’t take much to be left behind.
 
1.5pts ew JONATHAN BYRD @ 40/1 (STAN JAMES, CORAL)
 
Byrd’s 23rd place last year at Atunyote was about as bad as it could have been, following a poor final round. He’s taken the eye in recent weeks with three top 25s from four starts, and warrants respect as a three-time PGA Tour winner, including this tournament’s predecessor in 2004.
 
1pt ew MICHAEL LETZIG @ 60/1 (BOYLESPORTS, BLUESQ)
 
Letzig never got in a blow for us last week at 100/1, but enjoyed an impressive finish nonetheless. Having looked down and out after day one, he hit back with 65, 66, 65. That follows a low-scoring fourth in Canada, and confirms that there are few hotter putters right now.
 
1pt ew ANDRES ROMERO @ 66/1 (PADDY POWER, STAN JAMES)
 
Like Sabbatini, Romero’s extra class is interesting in what is ultimately a second-division affair. Though he hasn’t contended in a while, Romero is a player who has won on both main tours and challenged for Majors. His big-hitting, birdie-chasing style is ideal for Atunyote, and recent form is not terrible either. He’s made two top 25s from his last three, and this campaign has also produced a win in Argentina, plus high-class top tens at Sawgrass and Riviera.