Power Rankings: Reno-Tahoe Open

July 31, 2012
Rob Bolton, Fantasy Columnist

It's baaaack!

The Modified Stableford scoring system. That is:

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Albatross = 8 points

Eagle = 5

Birdie = 2

Par = 0

Bogey = (-1)

Double bogey or worse = (-3)

Longtime golf fans conjure images of The International contested at Castle Pines in Colorado from 1986-2006. Devotees will recall Steve Lowery's dogged chase after Rich Beem in the 2002 edition of that event. Lowery holed out for eagle on his fourth-to-last hole, and then jarred his second on the par-5 penultimate hole. Alas, he'd miss a birdie putt at the last for the victory. A visibly shaking Beemer won by one point, 44-43.

And that's the idea.

After 13 years as a stroke-play event, tournament organizers of the Reno-Tahoe Open are injecting a new dynamic into the final opposite event of the year. The scoring system encourages aggressive play. It takes two bogeys to wipe out one birdie, and you can't walk off a hole losing more than three points. It's a style of scoring featured by public and private clubs all over the country, but this time the fellas that make a living at it get a crack at it.

Like Castle Pines, this week's host course, Montreux Golf and Country Club, is a Jack Nicklaus design. Similarly, it plays at an altitude roughly a mile above sea level. Typical of Nicklaus layouts, the fairways are generous, greens require precise approaches and putting surfaces feature few gimmes.

Tee balls averaged 314.7 yards at on Montreux in 2011. Not only was that the longest on the PGA TOUR all season, but it's the highest average at any course since ShotLink data was first collected in 2001.

Now, just because the field of 132 has the freedom to mash it doesn't mean that placement isn't important. Montreux ranked 20th last year in greens in regulation with a split of 62.70 percent. (It was the first time it broke 60 percent since 2006.)

Given the new format, this tournament will likely boil down to a putting contest. That suspicion is endorsed by the fact that Montreux has ranked inside the top six most-difficult courses in putting inside 10 feet; it sat second a year ago (to Riviera Country Club). Of the eight individually measured splits from 3-10 feet, the course ranked inside the top eight in six of them. All that said, Montreux's birdie average was a beefy 3.73 last year, its highest clip since 2006 (coinciding with the last spike in GIR).

With record-breaking distance proven off the tee, room to boom it, altitude, four par 5s and the Modified Stableford scoring system in play, it's a gambler's paradise in Reno. Guys that hit a ton of greens and convert lots of eagles and birdies should flourish.

Customarily beautiful conditions will reign through Friday before a slight threat of rain and boomers enters the picture on the weekend. Highs in the 90s are expected throughout. Moderate breezes are forecast as usual.

Power Rankings: Reno-Tahoe Open
Rank Player   Comment
Seemingly no end to his groove. Riding a consecutive cuts made streak of 12, seven of which have gone for top 20s. Nineteen sub-70 scores in his last 24. Ranks 30th on TOUR in greens hit and 44th in par breakers. Also 17th in distance off the tee.
Rapidly rounded into form with a T10 at the True South and a T4 at the RBC Canadian Open. He's averaged 67.75 in his last 12 rounds. Carded just two over-par holes all week in Canada. Sits 29th on TOUR in greens hit and 31st in par breakers.
Coming off consecutive top 10s for the first time in his career. Averaged 67.75 in his last 12 rounds. Currently 27th on the PGA TOUR in greens hit, 15th in birdies or better on par 5s and 38th in par breakers. Finished T10 here last year.
Perfect fit for the format. Hit or miss all season, with nine top 25s among 10 cuts made in 18 starts. The 2009 champ of this event also shared runner-up honors in 2008. Ranks 25th on TOUR in greens in regulation and 23rd in par breakers.
Runner-up by one stroke at last year's edition. Circled an eagle and 18 birdies to erase six bogeys. Eight top 25s among 14 cuts made in 18 starts this year. Ranks fifth on TOUR in birdies or better on par 5s and 19th in par breakers.
This should be fun. First appearance at Montreux. Coming off a T15 in Canada with a bogey-free 64 in the third round. Ranks 35th on TOUR in par breakers. Flashed some mojo en route to a T13 at Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village two months ago.
In his last two starts in the U.S., he lost in a playoff at the John Deere and placed T10 in Canada. Averaged 66.75 in those eight rounds. Always streaky, he's also managed a pair of top 25s in three appearances at Montreux, including a T25 last year.
In seven trips to Reno, he has three top 10s. Recorded top 25s in two of his last three starts this season. Led the field in greens hit (60) in Canada last week but tied for last in total birdies (9). Giving benefit of the doubt at Montreux based on experience.
Making his debut in an opposite event on the PGA TOUR. Rattled off five consecutive top 20s before a T39 at the British Open. Scoring format doesn't necessarily gel with his makeup, but his recent form sets him in a class above.
Tough to omit the tournament's only two-time winner (2004, 2005) and all-time money leader. Led at the midpoint here last year before fading to finish T38. Ranks 73rd on the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation and 53rd in par breakers.

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