Under various guises over the past couple of decades, this tournament has an unhappy knack of managing to coincide with much bigger events, whether it was Majors during the nineties or more recently Ryder and Presidents Cups. Nevertheless, as the opening fixture of the Fall Series, it carries plenty of weight.
It’s not all about the betting for the Ryder Cup. The Fall Series is the final section of the PGA Tour schedule, determining the final money list standings and 2011 playing privileges. Consequently, while we may see the odd star over the next five weeks, these fields are largely made up of the middle and lower-ranking players. The name of the game in previous series has been to focus on those players currently struggling below 125th place on the money list, and therefore in need of a strong finish to retain full playing rights. Eight of the last ten Fall Series winners met that criteria.
Course and stats
Annandale GC tends to produce a low-scoring affair. The last winning total here in 2008 was -19, (the 2009 event was cancelled due to bad weather), while Fred Funk won on -22 as recently as 2004.
As Funk’s success confirms, a lack of driving distance is no handicap here. Rather, this is about hitting greens in regulation and good putting. Those two, plus birdie average and scrambling appear to be the key stats to study. While not necessarily decisive, an early first round tee time has tended to offer an advantage.
1.5pts ew JONATHAN BYRD @ 40/1 (GENERAL, 45/1 STAN JAMES)
Byrd fits the perfect profile of a Fall Series winner. A three-time PGA Tour winner with plenty of class, who finds himself down in 130th place having performed terribly in the first half of the season. His form did improve as the regular season drew to a close, making seven of his last eight cuts and registering four top 25s. Irrespective of those wider issues, Annandale presents an ideal opportunity, as Byrd’s three visits have yielded finishes of fifth, eighth and 17th. He also has an early tee time.
1.5pts ew JOHN MALLINGER @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
Though he doesn’t share Byrd’s pedigree over the longer term, similar comments apply to 128th placed Mallinger. Again, his form picked up notably as the regular season drew on, making six top 25s in his last ten PGA Tour events, finishing third in the last of them. Interestingly, whereas most players who failed to qualify for the Fedex Cup playoffs have been inactive for the past month, Mallinger kept his eye in on the Nationwide Tour, finishing third and seventh. That recent match practice could be a significant advantage.
1pt ew TROY MATTESON @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
Few players have stronger claims at this stage of the season than Matteson. Both of his titles came in the same Fall Series event, the Frys.com Open, and he he’s made eight top tens from his last four autumn campaigns. Both previous visits to Annandale yielded top 15s. Granted there is less urgency this time around as he’s inside the top 125, but from 113th place, there is still a bit of work to do, just to make sure.
0.5pt ew JOE DURANT @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
Expect to see many outsider selections like this over the next few weeks, as they have been the key to previous Fall Series. Durant is hardly a form pick from 135th place on the money list, but did show he’s not completely gone at the game with 12th last time out at the Wyndham Championship, shooting four rounds of 68 or better. Joe has registered four top 25s from his last six visits to Annandale, including as runner up in 2007.
Letzig put together a decent run when it mattered to sneak into the playoffs, and I’m expecting a similarly strong finish to the season with his card on the line. He was in fair form before the break, with three top 25s from four, and the emphasis on low scoring in these autumn events should be ideal. Amongst this field, Letzig ranks third in birdie average over the last six months. An early tee time could help too.
If the very short-hitting Funk can win at Annandale late into his forties, I see no reason why Pernice can’t transfer his excellent Champions Tour form across. Amongst the seniors, he’s made three consecutive top threes. He’s also had the occasional decent PGA Tour start this year, and finished 11th and 12th on his last two visits here.