This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
SANDERSON FARMS CHAMPIONSHIP
Winner's Share: $1.188M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Jackson, Miss.
Course: The Country Club of Jackson
2018 champion: Cameron Champ
It's taken more than 50 years, but the biggest professional sporting event in Mississippi has finally reached the big time. For the first time since the inception of the Sanderson Farms Championship in 1968, it is now a standalone, full-fledged PGA Tour event. For many years it wasn't even an official tournament, but now, as part of the revamped fall season, it takes a more prominent position on the golf calendar. We've seen a huge jump in the purse, a full 50 percent, and the winner now gets an invite to the Masters. You'd think that would give the field a big boost... but, um, no. That's because the Little Tournament That Could still can't fully catch a break. It is up against one of the signature tournaments on the European Tour calendar, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and the field there is absolutely loaded, with even some top Americans on hand. It's just par for the course for this event, which has run into road blocks all throughout its mind-boggling history.
The tournament has been known by many names through the years, but it had always been an opposite-field event, even before it became an official PGA Tour event more than halfway through its existence, in 1994. Before that it was embarrassingly considered a "satellite" tournament – the money was real but the results were "unofficial." Get this: It's been played in seven different months: April, May, July, August, September, October and November. Along the way, it has been played opposite – and how's this for a heavyweight lineup of tournaments – the Masters, the Open Championship, the Tour Championship, what is now the WGC-Mexico, even the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Holy moly, the only entity with tougher opponents than the Sanderson Farms Championship has been the Washington Generals. For the four previous years, the tourney was played the same week as the WGC-HSBC Champions, which really was the best position it had ever been in. The HSBC is in China, so the Sanderson Farms event got plenty of face time on the Golf Channel during what would be considered "normal" golf-viewing hours. At least it has that going for it again this year. Among the former champions are Craig Stadler (1978), Payne Stewart (1982) and Luke Donald (2002). Even NBC's lovable Roger Maltbie won it back in 1980, when he shot an opening 65 and then saw the final three rounds rained out. He earned $4,500 and reportedly cracked that it might not even cover his bar tab.
Okay, now for the field, which has jumped from 132 to 156. Last year, the big names were, um, Lucas Glover; 2010 winner Bill Haas; Retief Goosen, who is almost as old as the actual tournament; and Dylan Frittelli, who was the highest ranked player in the field at No. 73 in the OWGR. That's not exactly Mount Rushmore. As for this year, it's far better but still incredibly underwhelming for a standalone event. While there are 11 guys ranked 73rd or higher this time around, the highest is only No. 41 Brandt Snedeker. As was the the case last week in West Virginia, the big attractions in the field are the youngsters: No. 50-ranked and last week's winner Joaquin Niemann, No. 54 Sungjae Im and No. 84 Scottie Scheffler. There's even a new kid on the block, 17-year-old amateur sensation Akshay Bhatia, who will bypass a college career to turn pro this week. The left-hander just competed quite capably on the U.S. Walker Cup team. He's made one PGA Tour start, a missed cut earlier this year at the Valspar Championship, but he did tie for 42nd at a Korn Ferry event four weeks later. Bhatia is a microscopic $6,100 on the DraftKings board.
This will be the sixth year this tournament is held at the Country Club of Jackson, and the 105-year-old track has actually proved to be a bit formidable. It ranked middle-of-the-road on the difficulty meter last year, the 26th hardest track out of 49. It's a decent length for a par-72, though it oddly closes with four par-4s. Many holes feature wide and straight fairways, allowing everyone to let fly. The tournament will be decided from the second shot on in, which we'll delve into in the Key Stats and Champion's Profile below.
Weather-wise, it has been incredibly hot in Jackson, with temperatures approaching 100. They should settle into the low to mid-90s by the time Thursday rolls around. There's a chance of some afternoon rain for the first round, but not enough right now to affect your lineup. Winds are forecast to be light.
A fun Sanderson Farms Championship factoid: The tournament has had a half-dozen names through the years. It was the Magnolia State Classic (1968-85), the Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic (1986-98), the Southern Farm Bureau Classic (1999-2006), the Viking Classic (2007-2011), the True South Classic for one year only (2012), and now, the Sanderson Farms Championship (2013-present).
Key Stats to Winning at The Country Club of Jackson
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Putting average/strokes gained: putting
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Strokes gained: tee to green
• Birdie or better percentage/birdie average
2018 - Cameron Champ (CC of Jackson)
2017 - Ryan Armour (CC of Jackson)
2016 - Cody Gribble (CC of Jackson)
2015 - Peter Malnati (CC of Jackson)
2014 - Nick Taylor (CC of Jackson)
2013 - Woody Austin (Annandale GC)
2012 - Scott Stallings (Annandale GC)
2011 - Chris Kirk (Annandale GC)
2010 - Bill Haas (Annandale GC)
2009 - No tournament
We look back at only the past five years, when the tournament was played at the Country Club of Jackson. On the bermuda grass greens, Champ and Armour finished second in the field in strokes gained: putting, Gribble and Malnati were both first and Taylor was seventh. That's a pretty strong indicator that putting will be important. All of them but Gribble were top-10 in the field in greens in regulation – and Gribble countered that by ranking first in scrambling. There doesn't seem to be much connection between driving distance and winning at the CC of Jackson. Malnati and Armour are really short hitters, while Champ is the longest of the long. Champ led the field in distance off the tee but was only 65th in accuracy. It didn't hurt him one bit. The past four years the winning scores have been 18-, 19-, 20- and 21-under.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Sungjae Im - $10,500 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 20-1)
It takes a little getting used to seeing some guys in this field in the $9,000 or even $10,000 range, but not Im. He has been the top youngster dating back to last season, but has seen others, including Joaquin Niemann last week, beat him to the winner's circle. Im's time is coming. He was sixth in strokes gained: putting last week and 39th last season, when he was also ranked 22nd in birdie or better percentage.
Lucas Glover - $10,200 (25-1)
Glover has done well at this course through the years, tying for 14th last year, tying for fifth three years ago and also adding another top-25. Glover ranked 25th on Tour in strokes gained: Tee-to-Green last season and 57th in Birdie-or-Better Percentage. He is making his first start since impressively playing in the Tour Championship.
Scottie Scheffler - $9,900 (25-1)
It would surprise no one if the top player coming off the Korn Ferry Tour last season won a PGA Tour event, and soon. Scheffler tied for seventh last week in West Virginia, where he topped the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He led the KF Tour in birdie average last year.
Cameron Smith - $9,800 (30-1)
Smith showed signs of coming out of a season-long funk late last season. He then opened this season with a top-25, thanks in large part to outstanding putting. Smith last played the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2016, when he tied for 11th.
Tier 2 Values
Vaughn Taylor - $9,300 (40-1)
Taylor carries some terrific course history into this week, with three top-20s through the years, one of which was a tie for 10th. He was T26 here a year ago. Taylor, who is making his season debut this week, was ninth on Tour in SG: Putting last season and was tied for 39th in BOB percentage.
Denny McCarthy - $8,900 (60-1)
McCarthy is one of the better putters around. He led the Tour in SG: Putting last season and was second in the field last week. It's a big part of why he was 13th in BOB percentage last season. McCarthy finished T7 here a year ago.
Wyndham Clark - $8,400 (60-1)
Clark had a terrific season in 2018-19, as he made it to the second playoff event after finishing top-20 in the first one. Clark is the rare bomber who also has a deft touch on the greens. He ranked 14th on Tour in BOB percentage last season. Clark made the cut here the past two years, with a top-20 in 2017.
Nick Taylor - $8,300 (60-1)
We now turn to another Taylor – apologies to the third Taylor on Tour, Ben, whom we are not picking. Nick Taylor won this tournament back in 2014 and has tacked on two more top-20s since. He was T26 last year. Taylor tied for 24th last week at the Greenbrier event.
Tier 3 Values
Bronson Burgoon - $8,200 (60-1)
Burgoon got his card back with a top-20 and a top-5 in two Korn Ferry playoff events, then continued his strong play with a top-20 last week at the Greenbrier. He also notched a top-20 at this event back in 2015, then withdrew in his only other visit in 2017.
Roberto Castro - $7,400 (80-1)
Castro sure does love this track. He owns the course record, shooting a 10-under 62 in the first round in 2015, when he wound up tied for fourth. He was also T5 last year, as well. For some reason, Castro blew off the Korn Ferry playoffs, so getting starts could be an issue. A good showing this week would surely help.
Robby Shelton - $7,200 (100-1)
The 24-year-old Alabaman is another young Korn Ferry grad with a lot of game. He tied for seventh last week in West Virginia, on the heels of a two-win KF season. He also had a runner-up there, and he ranked fifth in birdie average.
Doc Redman - $7,200 (80-1)
Redman opened the season with a top-25 at the Greenbrier event, where he ranked 16th in the field in greens in regulation. The former amateur star turned in top-25s in half of his six starts on the PGA Tour last season, including a runner-up at Detroit. That allowed him to bypass the Korn Ferry Tour and secure his card for this season.
Harry Higgs - $7,000 (100-1)
The 27-year-old Korn Ferry grad showed great poise his first-ever PGA Tour event last week, tying for 19th. Higgs is coming off a great season in which he had a win, a runner-up and a third among five top-10s. Higgs ranked fourth on the KF Tour in birdie average last season.
Brandon Hagy - $6,800 (125-1)
Hagy did not get off to a good start last week, missing the cut in West Virginia. His 2018-19 campaign was cut short by injury in June, but he showed he was healthy with a pair of top-5s in the Korn Ferry playoffs. Hagy had a pair of Sanderson Farms top-20s in 2016 and 2017.
Rob Oppenheim - $6,500 (200-1)
The Korn Ferry grad is back on the PGA Tour. He has three previous starts at the Sanderson Farms event, making the cut every time, with a top-20 two years ago. Oppenheim kicked off the 2019-20 season with a top-25 last week. He was one of the better putters on the Korn Ferry Tour a year ago, ranking 30th in putting average.
Billy Hurley III - $6,200 (250-1)
We're going to take a deep dive with the veteran Hurley, who is 3-for-3 in cuts at the Country Club of Jackson, with a top-25 two years ago.