Underdog
Network

;

The Starter - Fortinet Championship

Sep 13th 2022

Nick DeMott

Updated throughout each tournament week, 'The Starter' will provide key news, notes, and other nuggets prior to the first tee time on Thursday morning. Think of it as an all-in-one resource to help guide you in the days leading up to the start of the tournament, as you prepare your fantasy golf lineups and entries. As soon as we receive valuable news updates on things such as tee times, featured groups, withdrawals and other course reports we’ll be sure to post them all here.

Fortinet Championship (September 15-18, 2022)

  • Silverado Resort & Spa (North Course) - Napa, California

  • Event #1 of 2022-2023 FedExCup regular season

Silverado Resort and Spa has hosted this event since the 2014-2015 PGA season, under various sponsored names. The North Course tends to lean towards easier scoring conditions. Last year, the course played to a scoring average of nearly a full stroke under par (-0.95). Max Homa won at -19 in 2021; Stewart Cink at -21 in 2020 and Cameron Champ at -17 in 2019.

The par 3’s at the North Course have historically played just slightly over par (+0.11 scoring average relative to par in 2021). Conversely, the par 5’s have yielded the most friendly scoring (-0.36 scoring average relative to par in 2021 and -0.42 in 2020). Last year's champion, Max Homa, played the par 5's at -12 over the four days of the event.

Winner’s Profile - How Max Homa gained strokes on the field in 2021:

  • SG Total: +14.74

  • SG T2G: +10.548 (2nd)

  • SG OTT: +3.454 (6th)

  • SG APP: +4.359 (12th)

  • SG ARG: +2.737 (15th)

  • SG PUTT: +4.185 (13th)

Homa played exceptional golf throughout the bag on route to winning last year’s Fortinet Championship. Strong tee-to-green is often an indicator of a golfer playing well, so it’s no surprise to see that Homa finished 6th off the tee, 12th on approach, and 15th around the green.

  • Greens-in-Regulation (GIR%): 75% (54/72)

  • Fairways hit (driving accuracy): 64.2%

Homa’s 75% greens hit was about 5% better than field average at last year's Fortinet Championship, and his driving accuracy was about 9% better than field average.

Coming into last year’s Fortinet Championship, Homa was the 44th ranked golfer in the world and has since risen to number 20. His stats, particularly in the strokes gained department, became more consistent during the 2021-22 season (reflected in Homa missing just 3 total cuts). Homa obviously reaped the rewards of his improved play, winning again later on in the season at the Wells Fargo Championship, finishing T5 at the Tour Championship, and being selected onto the U.S. Presidents Cup team.

The Field

Hideki Matsuyama and Corey Conners headline the rest of the field this week as the two other OWGR Top-25 golfers (along with Max Homa) that are competing in Napa.

As highlighted above, Dean Burmester pulled out of the field over the weekend (no reason given); he's been replaced by Kevin Chappell.

Additionally, Rickie Fowler will tee it up this week after just sneaking into the FedExCup Playoffs last season. He recently parted ways with both his caddie and swing coach, so it’ll be interesting to track Rickie’s play in the Fall . Other notable golfers competing this week--who are also looking to bounce back and regain their past form--include Webb Simpson, Jason Day, and Harris English.

A number of emerging talents from the 2021-22 season such as Sahith Theegala and Davis Riley are in the Fortinet Championship field too. Although he was unable to earn his Tour Card through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, Haskins Award winner Chris Gotterup has an opportunity to tee it up in another PGA Tour event here as well.

Speaking of the Korn Ferry Tour, a new crop of talented golfers (or in some cases, golfers we've very much seen before but were unable to retain their PGA Tour membership) get to fill vacant PGA Tour spots. 50 PGA Tour cards for the 2022-23 season were awarded through performance on the Korn Ferry Tour.

25 Korn Ferry Tour graduates–golfers that finished in the Top 25 of the KFT’s regular season eligibility points list–received membership onto the PGA Tour.

25 additional PGA Tour cards were awarded through the Korn Ferry Tour Finals–essentially the KFT’s playoff events. All of these names are listed below:

The vast majority of these Korn Ferry tour graduates (47/50) will play in the Fortinet Championship this week. Although it's only a piece of the puzzle, it could be helpful to check out how these golfers have played in recent events--to that end, I've linked the results pages from the Korn Ferry Tour finals that took place over the past month below:

Players departing for LIV Golf have created a downstream effect for the PGA Tour, which immediately impacts who gets into PGA events starting this week.

Following the Tour Championship, Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Harold Varner III, Cameron Tringale, Marc Leishman, and Anirban Lahiri signed with LIV golf, and they were suspended from the PGA Tour upon hitting their first shots in the LIV Boston event.

Their departure allowed six golfers previously outside of the top 125 eligibility points list (from this past season) to retain their PGA Tour cards for the 2022-23 season. All six (listed below) are teeing it up at the Fortinet Championship:

  • Justin Lower

  • Matt Wallace

  • Austin Smotherman

  • Doc Redman

  • Danny Willett

  • Kelly Kraft

As a refresher, 31 PGA Tour members in total signed with upstart rival tour LIV Golf. Here are the golfers who have taken that leap over the past few months (as of 9/12/22):

Joined August 30th

  • Cameron Smith (OWGR 3rd)

  • Joaquin Niemann (OWGR 20th)

  • Harold Varner III (OWGR 44th)

  • Cameron Tringale (OWGR 56th)

  • Marc Leishman (OWGR 62nd)

  • Anirban Lahiri (OWGR 89th)

Joined July 20th

  • Jason Kokrak (OWGR 42nd)

  • Henrik Stenson (OWGR 184th)

  • Charles Howell III (OWGR 200th)

Joined July 2nd

  • Paul Casey (OWGR 34th)

Joined June 26th

  • Matthew Wolff (OWGR 104th)

  • Carlos Ortiz (OWGR 154th)

Joined June 22nd

  • Brooks Koepka (OWGR 27th)

Joined June 21st

  • Abraham Ancer (OWGR 24th)

Joined June 11th

  • Patrick Reed (OWGR 50th)

  • Pat Perez (OWGR 197th)

Joined June 10th

  • Bryson DeChambeau (OWGR 43rd)

Joined June 6th

  • Phil Mickelson (OWGR 120th)

Joined May 31st

  • Dustin Johnson (OWGR 23rd)

  • Louis Oosthuizen (OWGR 33rd)

  • Kevin Na (OWGR 31st)

  • Talor Gooch (OWGR 35th)

  • Sergio Garcia (OWGR 77th)

  • Matt Jones (OWGR 87th)

  • Lee Westwood (OWGR 96th)

  • Ian Poulter (OWGR 121st)

  • Hudson Swafford (OWGR 106th)

  • Charl Schwartzel (OWGR 128th)

  • Branden Grace (OWGR 155th)

  • Peter Uihlein (OWGR 372nd)

  • Graeme McDowell (OWGR 406th)

LIV Golf is just 4 events into its existence, with 4 more events scheduled in the Fall: 

Rich Harvest Farms (Chicago, IL) from September 16-18

Pathum Thani (Bangkok, Thailand) from October 7-9

Royal Greens Golf & Country Club (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia) from October 14-16

Blue Monster at Trump National Doral (Miami, FL) from October 27-30

While the fields for LIV Golf invitationals have continued to get stronger, these 54-hole events do not yet award official world golf ranking points. This creates a potential roadblock for LIV golfers seeking entry into the major championships in 2023 based on world rank.

It’s unclear at this point whether other exemptions–such as being a past champion at Augusta National–will allow golfers to compete in majors in 2023. That said, it’ll certainly be a battle worth keeping our eye on.

Which other golfers are expected to join LIV?

Mito Pereira (OWGR 49th)

Pereira’s name has been linked to reports in recent weeks of golfers expected to sign with LIV Golf. Somewhat surprisingly, he did not follow the wave of golfers–including his good friend and countryman Joaquin Niemann–who joined LIV for the Boston invitational event (September 2nd-4th). 

This decision has left some believing that Pereira will compete for the International Team in the Presidents Cup (September 22nd-25th) before making the leap.

Which golfers are expected to stay on the PGA Tour?

Hideki Matsuyama (OWGR 16th)

Some reports in recent months indicated that the Japanese star could be heading to LIV Golf, but Hideki Matsuyama is staying with the PGA Tour for now. According to an August 30th report from the New York Post’s Brian Wacker, Matsuyama was torn between money and his legacy in golf, but will stick with the PGA Tour. Currently Matsuyama is committed to playing in the Fortinet Championship (September 15th-18th), as well as the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP (October 13th-16th) in Japan.

Cameron Young (OWGR 17th)

During the Tour Championship, Cameron Young told Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner that he had decided to stay on the PGA Tour.

“Frankly. Throughout the whole process with [LIV Golf] I was very interested,” Young said. “I wish it hadn’t come along at this specific place in my career.”

Young was a rumored defector to LIV in recent weeks, who evidently did have some genuine interest in joining.  Ultimately though, the presumed 2021-22 Rookie of the Year has decided to continue his upward trajectory on the PGA Tour.

Will there be any negotiations between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf?

For now, seemingly no. They’ve decided to settle things in court.

On August 3rd, 11 LIV golfers filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour. In other words, they're trying to claim that the PGA Tour is operating as a monopoly over professional golf. The golfers involved in that lawsuit initially included: Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Ian Poulter, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Peter Uihlein, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Pat Perez, and Jason Kokrak.

Ancer, Ortiz, Perez, and Kokrak have since removed their names from the LIV lawsuit.

A summary judgment hearing is set for July 23rd, 2023, with a tentative trial date set for January 8th, 2024. We appear to be a long ways away from resolution.

Big Picture Changes for the PGA Tour 2022-23 Season:

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan held a press conference on August 24th where he announced a number of significant changes that would go into effect immediately for the upcoming season. A players-only meeting–hosted by Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and other top players a week prior–was the catalyst for these changes.

Change #1: 12 Elevated Events

What does it mean?

Bigger prize purses for bigger name events. This change appeals to upper tier PGA Tour golfers who receive spots in these elevated events–invitationals, world golf championships, and playoff events.

Additionally, the hope is that more elevated events will facilitate the top players on the PGA Tour playing in the same events more often.

8 out of the 12 elevated events are already set on the schedule: Sentry Tournament of Championship, WGC-Dell Match Play Championship, The Memorial Tournament, Arnold Palmer Invitational, The Genesis Invitational, FedEx St. Jude Championship, BMW Championship, and the TOUR Championship.

The other 4 elevated, higher prize purse events for the 2022-23 season are expected to be announced soon.

Change #2: Earnings Assurance Program

What does it mean?

Every golfer makes a league minimum of $500,000. This will mainly impact lower tier PGA Tour golfers who struggle to make cuts and cash checks over the course of a season. It could also relieve some pressure from rookies, or younger golfers, who are just getting started on tour and trying to find their footing.

The 500k will run up against what a player earns on tour. In other words, only a golfer who earns less than 500k next season will be compensated by the PGA Tour to ensure they reach the league minimum.

Change #3: Expansion of the Player Impact Program (PIP)

What does it mean?

The 20 most influential–most popular–golfers will receive a share of the $100 million bonus pool, often referred to as 'The PIP'. Both of these numbers are being doubled from the previous year. This change clearly favors the more talented and/or more popular golfers on the PGA Tour.

Bonus Future Change: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are Starting a New League called TGL

Expected to kickoff in January 2024, TGL is being advertised as a high-tech golf league to be played in a custom-built arena.

TGL is working in conjunction with the PGA Tour, with six teams of 3 golfers expected to compete head-to-head against each other over the course of 15 regular season matches.

In a press release published on August 24th, Tiger Woods highlighted the excitement that he hopes TGL brings to fans through the team aspect:

“As a big sports fan myself, I’m excited about blending golf with technology and team elements common in other sports. We all know what it’s like to be in a football stadium or a basketball arena where you can watch every play, every minute of action unfold right in front of you. It’s something that inherently isn’t possible in traditional golf–and an aspect of TGL that will set it apart and appeal to a new generation of fans.”

While a lot of details about the project are still developing, the prospect of Tiger Woods playing golf more–even if it’s simulator golf–is nonetheless exciting.

Injury Report

Here are the injuries to monitor heading into the 2022-23 PGA Tour season:

John Huh (OWGR 152nd)

John Huh withdrew during round 2 of the FedEx St. Jude Championship on August 12th, citing a lower back injury. Huh was 5-over par through 9 holes and on track to miss the cut. 

Huh is listed in the field for this week's Fortinet Championship, meaning the injury is likely not a concern.

Taylor Pendrith (OWGR 107th)

Taylor Pendrith suffered a fractured rib during The Players Championship in March, which caused him to miss about 3 months of the season. Pendrith appears to be completely over the injury given his recent results: runner-up at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, tied 13th at the Barbasol Championship, tied 11th at the Barracuda Championship, and most recently a tied 8th at the BMW Championship during the playoffs.

Erik van Rooyen (OWGR 86th)

Erik van Rooyen announced on August 11th–via his social media–that he would take some time off due to a minor back injury. EVR noted that he would return to compete on the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour at some point next season.

Alex Noren (OWGR 54th)

Alex Noren withdrew during round 2 of the FedEx St. Jude Championship on August 12th, citing a neck injury. After starting his round 5-over par through 4 holes, Noren hit his next tee shot into the water–at which point he called it quits, knowing he would not make the cut.

Noren returned the next week at the BMW Championship, where he finished in a tie for 52nd. His injury is likely not one of long-term concern.

Harris English (OWGR 46th)

Harris English missed over four months of the past season due to a hip injury (torn labrum) that required surgery. English returned at the end of May for the Memorial Tournament. He played 7 events upon returning, making the cut in just 3 of them.

English is seemingly in good health following the surgery, having played several events with no set-backs. He's in the field for this week's Fortinet Championhip and looking to have a bounce back season.

Daniel Berger (OWGR 32nd)

Daniel Berger last played at the U.S. Open (June 16th-19th), where he missed the cut. Berger battled with a back injury on-and-off during the past season, which caused him to withdraw from a couple of events. After the U.S. Open, Berger pulled out prior to the John Deere Classic (June 30th-July 3rd), and then also did not take part in The Open Championship or the FedExCup Playoffs at the end of the season.

Any sort of timeline for his return is currently unknown.

Tommy Fleetwood (OWGR 29th)

Tommy Fleetwood decided to take time off at the end of the season due to the passing of his Mom. Though he did not play in the FedExCup Playoffs, Fleetwood is expected to return to the PGA Tour for the 2022-23 season. Fleetwood is already committed to the ZOZO Championship; he also competed in last week's BMW PGA Championship (on the DP World Tour), where he finished T57.

Will Zalatoris (OWGR 8th)

On August 20th, Will Zalatoris withdrew during the 3rd round of the BMW Championship. A few days later Zalatoris withdrew from the Tour Championship. In an announcement from Zaltoris’ manager on August 23rd, we learned that Zalatoris suffered two herniated discs in his back. In this announcement we also learned that Zalatoris would miss the 2022 Presidents Cup (scheduled to take place September 22nd-25th).

While there’s no clear timeline for Zalatoris to return, the severity of the injury was enough for Zalatoris to remove himself from the U.S. team a month out from the Presidents Cup.

Lastly, some key stats from the 2021-22 season.

Strokes Gained Leaders from 2021-22 Season (Per DataGolf):

*Denotes golfer has signed with LIV Golf.

Strokes Gained Total Leaders from the Past 3 Seasons (Per DataGolf):

*Denotes golfer has signed with LIV Golf.