Bermuda Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE 2020-21 PGA Tour season was the year of the comeback. It all started with 48-year-old Brian Gay winning the Bermuda Championship. And then we saw Stewart Cink and Phil Mickelson proving that you don’t need to be a bright young thing to win a golf tournament.
But Gay’s victory was perhaps the biggest surprise of all. The PGA Tour returned from lockdown in June 2020 and Gay hadn’t managed a top-25 finish in 11 starts. His last victory had come at The American Express in 2013 and he would be the first to admit that he looking ahead to the Champions Tour, for which he will be eligible in December.
Twelve months ago he carded a final-round 64 at the Bermuda Championship, capped off with a birdie at the 72nd hole, ultimately good for a playoff with Wyndham Clark at 15 under. Gay won with a birdie on the first extra hole at Port Royal GC.
With his fifth PGA Tour title, Gay became the oldest winner since Davis Love III at the 2015 Wyndham Championship and secured entry into the Tournament of Champions, Players Championship and Masters, as well as securing fully exempt status until 2023. The Champions Tour can wait. And Gay will be back to defend his title this week.
“I did wonder,” said Gay after his first victory in nearly eight years. “I’ve been quite miserable on the golf course at times. Everyone around me kept telling me, ‘You’re still going to win. My wife says, ‘You’re still going to win; do it again.’ I just kept at it. Golf is a crazy game. You never know what’s going to happen. And it’s really hard to believe right now.”
After finishing in a tie for third at the 2019 Bermuda Championship, Gay knew that the 6,828-yard, par-71 Port Royal layout suited his game well. Prodigious length off the tee is not required; the seaside venue calls for accuracy and ball control and Gay has always felt right at home there.
“It’s in the back of your mind,” said Gay when asked whether he liked his chances even before teeing it up. “I had good feelings from 2019, finishing tied for third, so I was looking forward to coming back. It’s not something you want to think about too much or have over-expectations, but just know that you’re in a good place and just do your thing and have a chance to play well.
“I love Bermuda greens. Living in Florida, the wind doesn’t bother me; I think it’s familiarity with the Bermudagrass. It’s not a long golf course. It’s a golf course where I get a lot of short clubs and you can’t really overpower a golf course. It keeps the shorter hitters in the game. Everybody has a chance here.”
In a week where 64-year-old Fred Funk made the cut averaging less than 245 yards off the tee, Gay’s 287.9-yard average was plenty long enough. He may be one of the shortest hitters on tour but he is also one of the straightest from the tee. Port Royal GC is similar to Harbour Town Golf Links, longtime host venue of the RBC Heritage, which Gay won by 10 strokes in 2009.
“I’ve always been a short hitter; short, straight, good short game,” Gay said. “The guys are young and hitting it really far, so I’ve tried to do some things in the gym and some stuff with my swing, to get some more distance to try to stay out here longer. I want to stay on the PGA Tour past turning 50. Right now, I still feel I want to play out here.”
Golf could be in the midst of a revolution. Players are attaining record-setting ball speeds and distances, seemingly by the week. 500-yard par-4s have been reduced to driver-wedge. Fewer and fewer holes play as true par-5s.
Will a player like Gay still be able to compete in 10, 20 years’ time? He is optimistic. “I certainly hope so,” he said. “It’s better when everybody in the field can compete and have a chance to win. It’s phenomenal what guys are doing to change their game and try to find advantages somewhere on the golf course to try to beat people.
“Hats off to them for going and doing the work. It’s a tough game, and we’re all trying to do the best we can at it.”
This is a golf course that is made for England’s Matt Fitzpatrick - a younger version of Gay. Fitzpatrick has long since accepted that he cannot compete with the likes of Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy when it comes to distance from the tee. He is one of the most accurate drivers of a golf ball in the professional game and possesses a deadly short game.
He was bitterly disappointed to have come away from his second Ryder Cup still looking for his first point. “I played well at Whistling Straits,” he said. “I was just unfortunate to come up against some American golfers who played that bit better. I am happy with where my game is at.” And so he should be after his victory at the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama, one of the toughest and most challenging courses on the European Tour. There are times when Fitzpatrick looks like he doesn’t enjoy playing golf for a living but he says that he is trying to enjoy the game more. He most definitely has the game to win on the PGA Tour, and this could very well be the week when he makes the breakthrough.
Patrick Reed is also in the field, still smarting from being snubbed by US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker. Reed is now fully recovered from the pneumonia that led to him spending some time in hospital recently and most definitely feels that he has a point to prove. And that makes him a highly dangerous prospect. If Fitzpatrick is to break his duck he will have to see off the challenge of Reed, a nine-time PGA Tour champion who won the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open in his 230th career start. This past season he advanced to the Tour Championship for the eighth consecutive time and finished 25thin the FexExCup standings. He won The Masters in 2018 and has recorded 54 Top-10 career finishes. Reed was a member of the Presidents Cup team in 2015, 2017, and 2019, the Ryder Cup Team in 2014, 2016, and 2018, and competed in the Olympics in 2016 and 2020.
Matt Fitzpatrick will never have a better opportunity to land his first PGA Tour title. He arrives in Bermuda full of confidence after winning the Andalucia Masters and his game is made to measure for this course. It overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, which means that wind plays a part.
It was first played in 2019 and was won by Brendon Todd, with Brian Gay securing the title last year
Port Royal was designed by Robert Trent Jones and opened in 1970. Measuring just 6,842 yards, it has recently undergone a $14.5m facelift.
Matt Fitzpatrick. Course is made for him
Patrick Reed. Back with a point to prove
Players to Follow
Matt Fitzpatrick. Confidence is sky high
Patrick Reed. As feisty as they come
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Impressie South African
Kiradech Aphibarnrat. Does it his own way
Brian Gay. Has a fabulous record here
Thomas Detry. Underachiever
Graeme McDowell. A course that should suit him
Seamus Power. Underrated
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