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2023 Grant Thornton Invitational: Mix and Match
Let’s have some fun for the Grant Thornton Invitational this week. You all have read a ton in 2023, and I have sure written a bunch as well. So, for the last narrative of the year, here’s the facts.
The Shark Shootout began in 1989. In 2001, it moved to the Tiburon Golf Club’s Gold Course. The par 72 layout covers 7,382 yards. Since 2014, the LPGA has played their tour championship at Tiburon’s Gold Course as well. What can we say, it is southwest Florida in December. The weather should be pretty predictable. Tiburon is also a Ritz Carlton resort. World class players love on-site world class accommodations. If you are going to host an annual late season cash grab, might as well do it at the Ritz!
The LPGA scorecard is approximately 800 yards less than the TOUR (6,595). The course is Florida golf at its finest. Sixteen holes have water in play, amongst the sandy run off areas, there are also 50 bunkers. The greens are above average in size at 7,200 sq/ft and covered in Bermudagrass. The course is flat and sits just a couple of miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
In nine editions of the LPGA’s season ending event the average winning score is 17 under par. The Grant Thornton takes scoring to another level. In the past decade, the winning score is 33 under par (average) and the event is only three rounds (54-holes)! There are 16 teams and due to the field size, betting odds are short. The average winner’s pre-tournament odds are +1000. Only three winners in the past ten years have had odds over +1000.
It’s easy to think, then take the favorites, but with just 32 players in the field – almost everyone is a favorite. Eleven of the top 30 in the Rolex women’s world rankings are playing alongside 11 of the top 50 men in the OWGR. The original format of this event was teams of two men competing. In 2019, Lexi Thompson joined the field. Nelly Korda became the second women in the field last year. The field for 2023 consists of 16 PGA TOUR men paired with 16 LPGA women.
Play begins on Friday with a scramble format. Each player hits a tee shot and then the team selects the ball to be used for the next stroke. From there, both players hit their next shots from that spot. This process continues until the ball is holed. Saturday, the teams will compete in an alternate shot or foursomes format. Each player on a team alternate hitting shots with the same ball until the ball is holed. One player tees off on the odd-numbered holes, and the other tees off on the even-numbered holes.
Play concludes on Sunday with a new modified better ball format. Both players tee off, and then they switch balls for their second shots and play that same ball until it is holed. The lower score of the partners is then counted as the team score for the hole. The team with the lowest three round total will win.
The last time it rained at Tiburon was the Wednesday before the LPGA played (a month ago). Players can expect temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s all three days. Even with the proximity to the Gulf, the wind will only get to 10-12 mph coming out of the south and east. That direction is good for the field, that means the majority of holes will play downwind; two in particular with a tailwind are 17 and 18.
There’s a 60% chance of rain predicted for Sunday afternoon. The amount is significant at .33″. The Superintendent’s report did share that Naples had a significant drought this summer. Areas of the fairway and around the greens have yet to come back. This shouldn’t affect play, but you will see it on television. Speaking of the coverage, take a look below.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
The race to 30-under-par across three varying formats is entertaining. The contending teams will all be 13-15 under par by the end of round one’s scramble. Add another seven or eight more birdies during the foursomes (alternate shot) format and then close with 10 more birdies on Sunday. Sounds simple?
In team events, we are always looking for very complimentary pairings. In this mixed format, the two partners really have to positively influence each other’s skill sets. The Gold Course is generous off the tee. Miss the grass and you will be in native areas or water, but the landing zones are all 40 to 50 yards wide. Length is an advantage as it will bring teams closer to the green, especially on the par 5s.
Approach play becomes a priority as you must birdie (eagle) more than half of the holes to contend and ultimately win. Teams are looking to land inside 20′ on every approach shot over three days. Considering the format(s), this isn’t an outrageous goal. Almost every approach shot on a par 4 will be with a wedge or scoring iron. The men average a six or seven iron on the 3s and the ladies will use the same. The only long approach shots will come on the par 5s. In two rounds, there will be multiple chances to make birdie so even those approaches aren’t that anxious.
I’m not favoring much if any around the green skill in this one. If you’re chipping (other than a par 5 for eagle) than you are losing ground. Putting, is the most important team characteristic. Both players must be able to roll the rock. If a team has one good ball striker and one good putter, I had to eliminate them from my betting card. C’mon folks, there’s only 16 teams. How many are betting? Looking back, Harris English and Matt Kuchar have won this event three times in the last 10 years. They both can putt!
Two great ball strikers alone aren’t even considered. To put it in perspective, go to your favorite tee box at your home course. Now imagine you are playing a team event with your club champion of the opposite gender. You would feel pretty comfortable about your partner, but how many birdie chances would you convert? The team must be able to putt. Hell, you need almost 10 birdies in alternate shot. My final consideration for predicting the winner is course experience. The women are the wild card. Most have played here several times in tour championship conditions.
Combine a fantastic fall player from the men and a woman with proven scoring on the Gold Course and you have our outright blueprint for the Grant Thornton.
2023 Grant Thornton Invitational: Outright Winners
Ludvig Aberg and Madelene Sagstrom (+750)
The hottest player in the world is Aberg. His partner provides the perfect scoring complement to his skill set. Sagstrom is an incredible driver of the golf ball and can putt! Åberg has no current weakness and Sagstrom struggles with long approaches. With Ludvig’s tee shots she won’t have any of those. Madelene has four straight top 16 finishes on the Gold Course and gained five strokes against the field last month with her putter. Ludvig’s last event ended with 61-61 and a win. The combination of these two is too good to pass up at any odds.
Justin Rose and Charley Hull (+1100)
Most handicappers are going to get distracted by the bigger LPGA names. They will see Lydia, Lexi, and Nelly. Instead I want Hull. Long off the tee, Hull’s best attribute is her flatstick. She’s won on the Gold Course (2016) and has a couple more top 15 finishes. Rose led the Hero field in putting. One of the best approach players in the field, combined with Charley’s driving these two complement each other in so many positive ways. Last month Hull finished sixteenth and gained four strokes with the flat stick. Rose finished eighth in the Bahamas with a 10 under par weekend.
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