Formerly known as the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Barracuda Championship offers those not taking part in the elite, exclusive WGC-Bridgestone Invitational a chance to gain ground in the race for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
What makes this event unique is the modified Stableford scoring format, which rewards actual points for lower scores and subtracts points for bogeys or worse. Montreux Golf and Country Club in Reno, Nevada, should therefore provide some serious drama.
There may be only 300 FedEx Cup points on the line and a modest purse, but the reason reigning champion Gary Woodland isn't playing here this week is that he's teeing it up in Akron with the world's best. That shows how this tournament can serve as a springboard for players seeking a PGA Tour breakthrough.
Woodland weighed in on how the tournament creates a certain level of excitement, as big numbers aren't so penal, per PGATour.com:
It's fun. It's nice to change it up. You get kind of the same thing week in and week out. It's nice to have a change. I think this is a great golf course for it. With the conditions playing how they are with the wind, it allows you to still be aggressive and not have to worry about losing too much ground.
Several past major winners are in action in Reno seeking to regain their form, so they will be among the top players to watch for the first two rounds.
Here is a look at the basic information for what should be an underrated tournament that fosters extremely close competition and excitement outside the World Golf Championship theatre.
Note: Statistics and video are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, July 31 through Sunday, August 3
Where: Montreux Golf and Country Club in Reno, Nevada.
Tee Times: For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
Purse: $3,000,000; Winner's Share: $540,000
FedEx Cup Points: 300
|Thursday, July 31||6:30-9 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Friday, August 1||6:30-9 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, August 2||6:30-9:30 p.m.||Golf Channel|
|Sunday, August 3||6:30-9:30 p.m.||Golf Channel|
Analyzing Marquee Groups
David Toms, Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III
Three past PGA Championship victors occupy this threesome, so plenty of fanfare should follow them.
With the way Toms is capable of heating up on the greens, he's going to be quite a formidable threat in this modified Stableford format. A tie for fifth at the Crowne Plaza Invitational preceded two missed cuts, but Toms has had two solid finishes lately, shooting seven of eight rounds in the 60s.
Harrington is a three-time major champion but has taken quite a tumble in recent years, per The Associated Press' Doug Ferguson:
Padraig Harrington at No. 254 in the world this week. Last time he was out of the top 250, Tiger was a sophomore at Stanford.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) July 28, 2014
Missing seven of 13 cuts has caused Harrington to slide all the way to 189th in the FedEx Cup standings, so he needs something significant to happen this week. Otherwise, Harrington is in grave danger of missing out on the postseason.
Golf Channel and CBS analyst David Feherty alluded to a change in the rules that has given Harrington issues in recent years—on top of perhaps too many tweaks to his swing at this late stage in his career:
I’ve never met anyone like Padraig Harrington. He’s fighting back from the groove rule change. There’s more obsession coming on #Feherty— David Feherty (@Fehertwit) July 15, 2014
I like Padraig Harrington. If he can get his head right Ireland’s greatest ever will win again! I’m rooting for him. How about you?— David Feherty (@Fehertwit) July 15, 2014
But even Harrington's tidy short game is problematic, ranking him 115th in scrambling and 185th in total putting.
Love is 50 years old, making him eligible for the Champions Tour. However, DLIII isn't quite done teeing it up on the top circuit. Although he hasn't really contended this year, the Barracuda Championship may be a golden opportunity for him to get into the playoff picture.
While both Toms and Harrington have lost distance over the years, the same hasn't proved true in Love's case. He still cranks it off the tee, averaging 296.3 yards in driving distance. That should set up some short-iron approaches and a considerable number of birdie opportunities.
The key for Love will be capitalizing on those looks, as he ranks 110th in birdie-or-better conversion percentage.
Charlie Beljan, Nick Watney and J.J. Henry
Which group is most likely to produce the Barracuda Championship winner?
It appeared as though Beljan would be a breakout star on tour when he won in 2012 and lost in a 2013 playoff at the Northern Trust Open. Alas, he is on the verge of falling out of the FedEx Cup top 125, where he must be to qualify for The Barclays.
Beljan is squarely on the bubble at No. 125 in points, but he booms it over 300 yards on average with his driver. Thus, the scoring format this week should free him up to fire at flags and attack Montreux without any inhibitions.
The same should be true for Watney, whose game has declined this season. Even with that, the American is still 80th in the world rankings, mounting some momentum with a tie for 12th at the RBC Canadian Open last week—his second-best result of the 2013-14 campaign.
Will Gray of Golf Channel mentioned Watney among the notables in danger of a postseason snub:
Big names still in danger of missing Playoffs: Stricker (117), Westwood (122), Watney (124). Watney not in field for no-cut WGC Bridgestone.— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) July 28, 2014
Ranking 151st in total putting and 133rd in scrambling makes it pretty easy for Watney to assess what's going wrong with his golf game. It helps that he's ninth in total driving, suggesting Watney is due for a breakout week based on his talent and consistent, ideal positioning off the tee.
Henry's previous success at the Barracuda Championship is the reason why he's worth watching, as he won in 2012. Add that to the fact that Henry has the playoffs to play for as well (132nd in points), and this trio becomes quite compelling overall.
John Huh, Kyle Stanley and Y.E. Yang
The 2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in Huh has been missing throughout much of the season.
A victory in his fifth start on tour, along with ties for 11th and 17th at last year's Masters and U.S. Open, respectively, suggested that Huh was on the cusp of something big. The going has been tough for Huh, but at least he made his lone top 10 of the year count—a tie for third in April's RBC Heritage.
Stanley, another young and talented player, lost his way for quite some time before appearing in contention at the RBC Canadian Open. Although he shot a final-round 74 to fall to a tie for 12th, at least he has a chance at the playoffs, as he sits in 160th in points.
Golf Central highlighted the extent of Stanley's struggles before his season-best finish:
Once upon a time, the only man to ever beat Tiger Woods when he held the 54-hole lead in a major was Yang. That came in 2009 at the PGA Championship, where Yang battled Woods head-to-head on the final day, rallying from two strokes down to win by three.
Rory McIlroy was an afterthought in that tournament, finishing in a tie for third, but he would burst onto the scene with his maiden major at the 2011 U.S. Open. There, it was Yang's turn to be overshadowed when McIlroy won by eight, but many forget Yang placed tied for third.
That's probably because Yang hasn't been heard from much since. He has failed to notch a top-10 finish in three subsequent, successive seasons and enters the Barracuda Championship off of nine missed cuts in a row.
Yang and his playing mates have something to prove: that they weren't flashes in the pan at the highest level of golf. However, the pressure is on Yang even more, since he's 42 years old.
That happens to be the same age as Harrington. Since he and Yang are past Wanamaker Trophy bearers, they will be in the field at Valhalla next week regardless of what happens in Reno. Of course, both would love to sport better form heading into the major finale in the hopes of somehow contending and salvaging arduous seasons.
Those are just two of the numerous storylines that will be playing out at the Barracuda Championship. Expect a lot of low numbers from all different types of players. The parity on the PGA Tour should shine through when everyone is throwing caution to the wind and taking on hole locations they normally wouldn't under regular stroke-play rules.