2023 Sanderson Farms Championship Preview, Picks & Analysis
RIGHT then, please pay attention. Mackenzie Hughes defends his title at the Sanderson Farms Championship this week as the PGA Tour resumes - with rising European superstar Ludvig Aberg also competing.
Twelve months ago this was one of the first tournaments on the 2022-23 wraparound season, but things are slightly different this time.
The 30 players who made it to East Lake for the Tour Championship are guaranteed much gold in 2024, knowing that they will all be in the fields for the PGA Tour’s designated events and all four majors.
But there is still time for others to join them before 2023 comes to an end.
Let me try to explain. We are now in the FedEx Cup Fall season. At the end of it, the top 50 will be exempt for all signature events, the top 70 will be exempt into all full-field events and The Players Championship.
There’s more…those who finish between 51st and 60th will qualify for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational, and the top 125 will be fully exempt in 2024.
So there is much to play for between now and the RSM Classic in the middle of November, and that means we are certain to see stronger than normal fields at what would normally be pretty routine tournaments.
Most of the Ryder Cup stars from the USA and Europe will be looking to put their feet up this week, but there are still going to be some household names in action.
In the field this week are Akshay Bhatia, Cameron Champ, Eric Cole, Joel Dahmen, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Lucas Herbert, Erik Van Rooyen, Alex Noren, Keith Mitchell, Webb Simpson, Ryan Palmer, Patton Kizzire and Kevin Kisner.
Bezuidenhout is a puzzle. The South African has won three times on the DP World Tour and looks to have the game to succeed on the PGA Tour but he has struggled to make an impact. In 26 starts he has made 17 cuts with a best finish of tied 19th at the RBC Heritage. I cannot help but thinking that if he can get himself into contention just once then he will start to believe he belongs at this level.
Bhatia is starting to look like a world-class golfer. He finished second at the Puerto Rico Open, fourth at the Mexico Open, tied ninth at the Barbasol and then won the Barracuda Championship. His swing has a lot of moving parts and that means he struggles for consistency - apart from the four top-10 finishes, there have been seven missed cuts.
I also look forward to seeing how Cole progresses. He began the season with four successive missed cuts before a tied 15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and a second place at the Honda Classic. And it continued. He was tied fifth at the Mexico Open, tied sixth at the Canadian Open and tied fourth at the Fortinet Championship.
He narrowly missed out on the Tour Championship and is 43rd in the FedEx standings and has risen to 62nd in the world rankings. Cole, the son of Bobby Cole and Laura Baugh, is no overnight success story - he is 35 years old and it has taken him a long time to reach this level.
It will be fascinating to see if his progress continues.
Hughes will hope to find some positive memories this week. After his victory last year, there were 11 missed cuts and a withdrawal. His only other performance of note came at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play, where he reached the last eight. He is a man in need of a confidence-boosting week.
It 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 Sebastian Munoz, in 2020 by Sergio Garcia, in 2021 by Sam Burns and last year by Mackenzie Hughes.
The Country Club of Jackson opened in 1914 and was redesigned by John Fought in 2008. It is a parkland course that measures 7,400 yards and features small, tricky greens.
Akshay Bhatia could be a superstar but needs to find some consistency. He is capable of going really low.
Akshay Bhatia. Hugely exciting talent
Eric Cole. Being rewarded for hard work
Five to Follow:
Akshay Bhatia. Just needs to find some consistency
Eric Cole. Great swing
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Impressive ball striker
Lucas Herbert. Better than he thinks he is
Harry Hall. Has had his moments
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