Sanderson Farms Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
SERGIO GARCIA will head to Jackson, Mississippi, after his efforts at Whistling Straits to defend the Sanderson Farms Championship title he won last year.
The Spaniard had not won on the PGA Tour since his glorious success at The Masters in 2017 but he closed the deal in some style, striking an eight iron to 30 inches at the 72nd hole for a birdie and a one-stroke victory.
Garcia closed with a 5-under 67 to win for the 10th consecutive year worldwide. Peter Malnati, whose lone PGA Tour victory came at this tournament six years ago, closed with a career-best 63 and waited nearly two hours to see if it would hold up.
Garcia was two shots behind when he hit a five-wood on the par-five 14th that narrowly cleared a bunker, hitting the top collar, onto the fringe and rolling out to just inside four feet to set up a fortunate eagle that allowed him to tie for the lead.
He had to save par from a bunker with a five-foot putt on the 15th after a poor tee shot, and then he delivered the winner with a huge drive on the 18th and an eight-iron from 171 yards. Garcia immediately began walking after the shot, and it dropped down next to the hole and settled right behind it.
Closing his eyes right before the stroke, he made the putt and clenched his fist with a wide grin on his face. One week after tumbling out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since 2011, Garcia won for the 11th time on the PGA Tour and the 31st time worldwide. The former winner of The Players Championship finished at 19-under 269 and he moved to fourth in the FedExCup standings. He would go on to make it to the 30-man field at the season-ending Tour Championship and received a Ryder Cup wildcard from Padraig Harrington.
J.T. Poston, who started the final round in at three-way tie with Garcia and Cameron Davis of Australia, was one shot behind when he missed the 16th fairway to the right, went into a bunker and failed to save par. He finished with two pars for a 70 to finish alone in third. Davis had three bogeys on the front nine and was never a factor, closing with a 72.
Garcia is one of a number of major winners in the field. The others include Gary Woodland (U.S. Open 2019), Zach Johnson (Masters 2007, The Open 2015), Jimmy Walker (PGA Championship 2016) and Lucas Glover (U.S. Open 2009). It will be Woodland’s first visit to the tournament and Simpson’s first since 2010.
And they will be joined by former winners Sebastián Muñoz (2019) Ryan Armour (2017), Cody Gribble (2016), Peter Malnati (2015), Nick Taylor (2014), Scott Stallings (2012), Chris Kirk (2011) and Bill Haas (2010, FedExCup 2011) among the early commits.
Also expected to compete are 2012 FedExCup Champion Brandt Snedeker, 2017 Players Champion Si Woo Kim, and 2021 PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Will Zalatoris. Zalatoris, 25, finished the season with eight top 10 finishes, including a runner-up finish at the Masters. Garcia (2008) and Simpson (2018) are also Players Champions. In total, the current field has 159 victories on the PGA TOUR.
Joining with a special tournament exemption is 2019 U.S. Amateur Champion Andy Ogletree. Andy, who hails from Union, MS, graduated Georgia Tech in 2020, was low amateur at the 2020 Masters, and was a member of the victorious 2019 Walker Cup Team.
“We’re amazed at the strength of our field in just our third year as a stand-alone event,” said executive director Steve Jent. “When you combine our position as the second event of the new FedExCup season, along with the golf course’s reputation, especially the greens, and the hospitality the players experience, there’s now a buzz that this is an event players need to add to their schedule.”
Pat Busby, President of Century Club Charities, Inc. added, “The Sanderson Farms Championship continues to grow in popularity with the purse for this year’s play at $7 million, with $1,260,000 going to the winner along with 500 FedExCup points and a Masters invitation. We will announce additional player commitments and the final field next week.”
With many of the game’s leading lights choosing to sit it out after their Ryder Cup exertions, this week provides a terrific opportunity for some lesser-known players to make a name for themselves.
England’s Aaron Rai falls into that category. After a successful season on the European Tour last year, the Englishman who is known for wearing a glove on both hands has secured full playing rights on the PGA Tour and admits that he faces a difficult balancing act as he divides his time between America and Europe in the year ahead. Many golfers before him have found this to be a task that was beyond them but Rai is a ferociously committed young man and a decent performance this week would make like so much easier for him. In an era when the game is dominated by big hitters, Rai is reminiscent of Luke Donald - and he didn’t do too badly, did he? Rai has a wonderful short game and it is vital that he sticks with what he knows and doesn’t fall into the trap of changing his swing in a search for extra distance.
Another Englishman, Matt Wallace, is also in the field. Wallace has had a disappointing season. He narrowly missed out on a wildcard at the 2018 Ryder Cup and was regarded as a certainty for the 2021 match at Whistling Straits but he never looked like making the team. Wallace is his own worst critic. He sets very high standards for himself and possesses a volcanic temper but needs to find a way to get it under control if he is to fulfil his undoubted potential.
Will Zalatoris is the 2021 PGA Tour rookie of the year. He was runner-up at The Masters, one of eight top-10 finishes, and he was 11th at the recent Fortinet Championship. Like Zalatoris, Corey Conners, 29, also enjoyed eight top-10 finishes in 2021 and missed just four cuts in 29 starts. He is one of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour but has a wonderful touch on the greens.
The Country Club of Jackson opened in 1914 and was redesigned by John Fought in 2008. Measuring 7,400 yards, it is a parkland layout that features some of the smallest greens on the PGA Tour. It is a course that calls for a strategic approach.
The tournament was won in 2015 by Peter Malnati, in 2016 by Cody Gribble, in 2017 by Ryan Armour, in 2018 by Cameron Champ, in 2019 by Sebastián Muñoz and last year by Sergio Garcia.
Will Zalatoris. A win is the next step
Corey Conners. Model of consistency
Players to Follow:
Will Zalatoris. Impressive young talent
Corey Conners. Languid power, great short game
Matt Wallace. Needs to keep a lid on his emotions
Sergio Garcia. Returns with good memories
Aaron Rai. Is he up to the challenge?
Seamus Power. Irish golfer who is now a PGA Tour winner
Matthew Wolff. Struggling to find his best
Rory Sabbatini. Still capable of performing at the highest level
Luke List. Big hitter
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