Some folk absolutely love Las Vegas; others don’t quite get it.
But in terms of trying to find the winner of the annual Shriners Children’s Open at TPC Summerlin, it certainly pays to look at those who walked away with big profits previously.
Take the last two winners: Martin Laird (2020) and Kevin Na (2019). Both men had already enjoyed a win and a runners-up finish before hoisting the trophy for a second time.
Strong course form is certainly a theme and Ryder Cup hero Patrick Cantlay (absent this week) would surely have been the clear favourite given his TPC Summerlin record of 1-2-2-8.
Traditionally, strong tee-to-green numbers show the way to success but Na flipped it completely, recording average TTG figures but putting like a god.
While Cantlay rests up, two Whistling Straits heroes do tee it up: Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler.
Both could ride the wave but I’m going to lean on that course form angle and go for last year’s runner-up, Matthew Wolff, as my main pick.
Since July 2019, the American has shown his prodigious talent by winning the 3M Open (with 21-under) on just his third pro start and finishing tied fourth and runner-up in two of his first three majors.
He rather lost his way over the last 12 months but there are some very promising signs again, more of which shortly.
As for this course and tournament, he’s already taken a real shine to it.
On debut in 2019, Wolff fired 67-69-68-65 to finish tied 18th. And last year he carded 68-66-61-66 to shoot 23-under before losing a three-way play-off to Laird.
He had three eagles in his 10-under 61 and left putts hanging on 17 and 18 so went mighty close to a 59.
“I think this course you just have so many birdie opportunities if you hit the ball in the fairway. It’s not long. The pins were in pretty favorable spots,” said Wolff of the 7,255-yard par 71 where birdies and eagles are required to stay up with the pace.
As for recent form, he was 17th in the WGC-St Jude Invitational in early August and matched that finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship last week.
He needed to drain a 30-footer to make the cut (68-71) but then shot 65-68 to climb the leaderboard at the weekend.
“I feel like my game’s finally starting to come around and I’m working on the right things and not only that but I just feel like I’m in a better, happier spot than I was last year,” said Wolff after his 65.
And the words are backed up by him finishing 12th in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green at the Sanderson Farms, his best numbers in that category since this very tournament last year where he was fifth TTG.
His improved mental state is hugely encouraging to hear about and hopefully he can have another great week in Vegas. Take the 40/1.
My second bet is another with strong course form and you’d expect that as he’s a Las Vegas resident.
Scott Piercy has been playing this event since 2005 and, totting up his finishes, he’s racked up eight top 25s in his last 12 appearances.
That run includes top 10s in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2018.
With two 65s in his last seven laps, Piercy continues to excel on his local track and, like Laird and Na, he definitely has a long history of success in desert events.
That includes a win here in Nevada at the 2011 Reno-Tahoe Open and five top 10s in the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Arizona. The most recent of those, tied sixth, came on his last appearance in 2020.
Instinctively, the 125/1 looks big so, although it’s not everything this week, his current form needs a check. Is it dreadful? Far from it.
True, he missed the cut in the Sanderson Farms last week but a fortnight earlier he’d kicked the new campaign off with tied 11th in the Fortinet Championship.
There’s no sense that it came out of the blue as, in August, he was third in the Barracuda Championship (now held in California) and tied 15th in the Wyndham Championship.
On all that evidence, Piercy could easily be 80/1 had he posted a decent finish last week.
The other two 125/1 shots I looked at were last week’s runner-up Nick Watney and Joel Dahmen, who made the top 10 here in 2019.
However, it’s Piercy who has the most robust case.
For my final pick, I’ll go for another player at a three-figure price in Ryan Palmer.
With a bit more current form he could easily be half the 100/1 quoted so, potentially, Palmer represents real value.
The term ‘current form’ needs a slight qualification anyway as we have to go back to August to find him last playing an event.
That was the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, where he went out after finishing tied 57th. The week before he’d missed the cut at The Northern Trust.
But his round scores were hardly terrible. He had a second-round 69 in the latter and posted a 68 and a 69 at the BMW so three of his last five rounds were in the 60s.
Rewind a little further in August and he was tied 26th at the WGC-St Jude where he shot middle rounds of 64-68. Two starts earlier he was fourth at the Scottish Open.
The gap since he last played certainly isn’t a worry.
Palmer has often started a new year fast and showed it again at the beginning of 2021 when opening his campaign with a top four in January’s Sentry Tournament of Champions. That was his first event since late October.
Now for the fun bit: listing all his desert form.
Palmer has a seventh, an eighth and a tied 16th in his last seven starts here. The seventh came in 2018 when he fired 65-65 in the middle two rounds.
Elsewhere in Nevada, he has three top 10s at Montreux in the Reno-Tahoe Open/Barracuda and was 17th in last year’s CJ Cup.
Moving south east to Arizona and Palmer is a two-time runner-up in the Phoenix Open while he has three top sixes in the Desert Classic in California.
History says there’s a good chance he gets in the mix.
As for an even bigger price, take a look at Robert Streb at 250s. He’s made the top four in his last two desert starts and has form at Summerlin of 4-MC-36-10.
Pat Perez (100/1) is another with good desert credentials.