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The First Look: Preview the storylines for Sanderson Farms Championship

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The First Look

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    Written by Adam Stanley @adam_stanley

    After a successful Ryder Cup debut, Ludvig Åberg will fly across the Atlantic to continue his rookie season on the PGA TOUR.

    Åberg was the first player to earn PGA TOUR status via PGA TOUR University after finishing atop the rankings this year, and has quickly shown he was deserving of the honor.

    The 23-year-old Swede made the cut in six of seven TOUR events after turning pro in June, including a fourth-place finish in the John Deere Classic. He then won the DP World Tour’s Omega European Masters in just his ninth event as a pro to cement his position on Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team.

    Åberg shined at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, going undefeated alongside Viktor Hovland in two Foursomes matches, including a record-setting, 9-and-7 victory over Brooks Koepka and Scottie Scheffler.

    Åberg already is ranked 80th in the world and is ensured PGA TOUR status for 2024 via PGA TOUR U. He has a lot to play for in the FedExCup Fall, however.

    Finishing in the top 125 of the FedExCup – he currently ranks 136th – will improve his status for next season and earn him a spot in THE PLAYERS Championship. He could also earn spots in two Signature Events – the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational – if he finishes between Nos. 51-60 in the FedExCup.

    Winning in the FedExCup Fall, or cracking the top 50 in the world ranking at year’s end, also would earn Åberg a spot in the Masters (his first PGA TOUR victory also would get him into The Sentry).

    The Sanderson Farms Championship will mark the eighth TOUR event for Åberg since he turned pro and made his debut at the RBC Canadian Open. He was grouped with Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick to start the week in Toronto – two of his would-be Ryder Cup teammates.

    “It was cool to meet those guys and talk to them and just hang around … because those are the people that I grew up watching on TV and that kind of stuff, too,” Åberg said in Canada. “So it's just cool to be a part of it now and hopefully I'll be able to continue to play some good golf.”

    With the FedExCup Fall hitting its stride – and as a reminder, if you’re looking for more information on how the FedExCup Fall works, click here – Åberg will look to keep the momentum going from the team room back to the TOUR.

    FIELD NOTES: Five golfers who finished in the top 50 of this year’s FedExCup are teeing it up in the Sanderson Farms Championship: Eric Cole, Lee Hodges, Tom Hoge, Adam Svensson and Emiliano Grillo, who finished tied for fifth at the Sanderson Farms last year. The top 50 in the FedExCup – all of whom qualified for 2024’s Signature Events – were locked after the TOUR Championship. Their position in the standings cannot change but they still have plenty to play for in the FedExCup Fall. … Mackenzie Hughes looks to successfully defend his title. There has been just one back-to-back winner in Mississippi – Dwight Nevil in 1973-74. Hughes is currently No. 51 in the FedExCup standings as he looks to hold onto his spot in The Next 10 (Nos. 51-60 in the FedExCup at season’s end will qualify for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational). … Kevin Kisner is back in action. Kisner took three months off after struggling through the early part of 2023 but made the cut at the Fortinet Championship and will look to improve on his FedExCup Fall standings again this week. … Lucas Herbert, ranked inside the top 60 in the world after winning his third career DP World Tour title earlier this season, is in action again on the PGA TOUR. … Grayson Murray, who won the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation on the Korn Ferry Tour for his second win of the season, will tee it up on TOUR this week after clinching his 2024 card via the Korn Ferry Tour. … Other notables heading to Jackson, Mississippi, include recent TOUR winner Akshay Bhatia, past PLAYERS champion Webb Simpson, S.H. Kim and Eric Cole, Keith Mitchell and Mississippi’s own Davis Riley.

    HIGHEST-RANKED PLAYERS IN THE FIELD
    World RankingFedExCup
    36. Emiliano GrilloT29. Emiliano Grillo
    50. Tom Hoge37. Adam Svensson
    53. Lee Hodges40. Lee Hodges
    57. Lucas Herbert43. Eric Cole
    62. Eric Cole46. Tom Hoge
    63. Adam Svensson51. Mackenzie Hughes
    65. Keith Mitchell52. Nick Hardy
    66. K.H. Lee54. Alex Smalley
    68. Alex Noren56. Stephan Jaegar
    71. Alex Smalley57. S.H. Kim

    SPONSOR EXEMPTIONS: Fred Biondi, the 2023 NCAA champion, is in action in Jackson. Biondi teed it up nine times on the Korn Ferry Tour this summer with his best result being a T31 at the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by TD SYNNEX. His Sanderson Farms Championship start will be his second on TOUR as a pro after he missed the cut at the Fortinet Championship. … Sam Bennett, the 2022 U.S. Amateur champion, will play on the PGA TOUR for the first time since the Wyndham Championship, where he finished tied for 38th. Bennett was the low amateur at this year’s U.S. Open. … Mississippi State star Ford Clegg will make his PGA TOUR debut. In his final year at school he became the program leader in career rounds of par-or-better with 80. He was named the 2023 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year. … Ross Steelman, who finished second to Biondi at the NCAA Championship and finished fourth on the PGA TOUR U ranking, has played eight Korn Ferry Tour events this summer. This is his third TOUR start since turning pro (he missed the cut at the Rocket Mortgage Classic and John Deere Classic). … Ben Crane and D.J. Trahan also received sponsor invites.

    STORYLINES:

    1. HAVEN FOR FIRST TIMERS

    Six of the last nine winners at the Sanderson Farms Championship have been first-time TOUR winners. There are plenty of guys chomping at the bit to find the winner’s circle on TOUR for the first time through the FedExCup Fall and the Country Club of Jackson has been a solid spot for that over the last decade. The first event of the FedExCup Fall, the Fortinet Championship, saw Sahith Theegala break through for his maiden TOUR title.

    2. TIGHT SCORING

    There have been two playoffs in the last four years in Mississippi, and the two events that didn’t go to extra holes featuring winning margins of just one shot. Look for some Sunday drama to unfold once again this year.

    3. FEDEXCUP FALL CONTINUES

    This is the second of seven FedExCup Fall events that will determine PGA TOUR status for the 2023-24 campaign. Troy Merritt made the most significant leap at the Fortinet Championship, jumping from 133 to 118 on the FedExCup standings thanks to his tie for seventh. He’s back in action this week. Marty Dou is now sitting at No. 125. The top 125 after The RSM Classic retain their status for the 2024 season.

    FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 500 FedExCup points.

    COURSE: Country Club of Jackson, par 72, 7,461 yards. This marks the 10th year this Mississippi beauty will host the Sanderson Farms Championship. The course, whose origin dates back to 1914, was redesigned in 2008 (the tournament routing includes the Azalea and Dogwood nines) by John Fought and incorporating some Donald Ross signatures around the greens. The course sets up for a solid ball-striker, as all of Hughes (who won the event last year), Straka and Higgo were inside the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, while they were also inside the top 15 in Strokes Gained: Putting.

    72-HOLE RECORD: 263, Dan Halldorson (1986 at Hattiesburg GC); CC of Jackson record: 266, Sam Burns (2021)

    18-HOLE RECORD: 18-HOLE RECORD: 61, Keith Clearwater (second round, 1996 at Annandale GC); CC of Jackson record: 62, Roberto Castro (first round, 2015).

    LAST TIME: Mackenzie Hughes defeated Sepp Straka on the second playoff hole to win for the second time in his PGA TOUR career. Hughes leaned on a hot putter in the final round including on the 18th hole in regulation – draining a heart-pumping par-saver after rolling in a near 100-foot putt to gimmie distance – and again on that same hole in the playoff. Straka took the lead late Sunday after making birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 but couldn’t add any more circles to his scorecard. Both Hughes, who closed with a 69, and Straka, who shot a Sunday 67, finished at 17 under for the week. Garrick Higgo finished third, a shot out of the playoff, while Dean Burmester finished fourth.

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