Barracuda Championship to begin
RENO – A new champion and a new title sponsor.
That is what greeted the 132-player field at the Barracuda Championship, which gets under way today (7 a.m.) at Montreux Golf & Country Club.
Gary Woodland, the 2013 champion, is playing in the World Golf Classic this week in Akron, Ohio. He won by nine points over Jonathan Byrd and Andres Romero.
Barracuda, a data security company, has taken ownership of the tournament for the next several years.
Only five players – J.J. Henry (2012), John Rollins (2009), Parker McLachlin (2008), Vaughn Taylor (2004) and Will McKenzie (2006) – have returned to defend their titles. Taylor won in 2004 and 2005, the only back-to-back champion in the history of the event.
Past champions Chris Riley, Steve Flesch, Rollins, Henry, and Byrd are entered in this year’s tournament, but if you look at Montreux success, you have to like Romero, Brendan Steele, Kevin Chappell or Nick Watney as much as anybody.
Steele, who is 66th on the money list, has a tie for eighth in 2012 and a fourth-place finish in 2013. Romero, who missed the cut here in 2009, was third in 2012 and tied for second in 2013. Watney has two top-10 finishes in his previous four trips to Reno. Chappell has five top-25 finishes this year, including a 10th at the Crowne Plaza event.
Steele tied for fifth at the Traveler and Quicken Loan events before finishing 88th at Greenbrier. He missed the cut at the British Open.
“It is certainly a course that suits my eye,” the 31-year-old Steele said during Wednesday’s weather delay. “I grew up in Idllywild, Ca., where the elevation was 5,600 feet, so this has the same feel.
“When I like a course it’s usually a course where I hit a ton of drivers, but I don’t hit that many drivers here. I know how to shape my shots here; where to aim and what shape a shot calls for. There are 132 players out here, and any one of them can win this tournament. That’s why we tee it up on Thursday.”
Romero is certainly on Steele’s radar.
“He (Romero) has played well here the last couple of years,” Steele said. “He gets a lot of birdies. Obviously he loves the golf course.”
Davis Love III says the course favors long hitters.
“Generally this week you’re going to take someone that’s a good ball striker, hits it a long way,” said the former PGA champ. “Seems like they have an advantage. But then you’ve got to get hot with the putter on top of that.
“David Toms has been playing really well. He’s such a good putter and hits the ball straight. Didn’t seem like yesterday it was running very much. If he (Romero) gets hot…we were at John Deere and he made a lot of birdies for sure. Justin Hicks played well last week.”
Even though Montreux is a generous driving course, Steele said he picks his spots on where he is going to be aggressive off the tee.
“I’ll lay back in the middle (most of the time) and there are a few holes where I’ll try to squeeze it up further. I try to be more aggressive on second shots.”
That aggressiveness in last year’s third round helped him string together five birdies and an eagle in a six-hole stretch which put him into contention.
“Most of the time I’m hitting 8 and 9-irons into the greens here no matter what I hit off the tee,” Steele said.
Steele said the toughest thing about Montreux is dealing with the elements.
“There is a lot of altitude change, the elevation and the wind if it comes up,” he said. “There are a lot of variables. Your math has to be correct.”
Watney has struggled most of the year. His best finishes have been a tie for 11th and a tie for 12th last week at the Canadian Open.
“Yeah, definitely hasn’t been the results I was looking for this year,” he said. “Been some things going on off the course that maybe affected that. Had a baby and had some back issues earlier this year.
“But, yeah, you know, I would love to be in Akron, but I’m here. I’m going to enjoy it and hopefully make the most of it. Well, it’s (finish at Canadian Open) just a step in the right direction. I mean, 12th was a good result, but not great. Yeah, I think things are going in a really good direction. I mean, just keep trying to improve and building and see what happens.
“I actually hit the ball really well all year. I haven’t putted well at all. That’s the main glaring thing. But it’s getting better, and the more you make, the more you feel like you can make. If I can putt well, I think I’ll have a good finish.”
Both Steele and Watney enjoy the Stableford format. Steele especially thinks the last three holes make for an interesting finish.
“Well, I think it will be fun,” Watney said. “It’s the only one that we play for the year. I think the course lends itself perfect to it. Just a lot of chances, but also chances to, if you get too far off the fairways, you get in the forest. It seems like a course you could make a big number, but once you get to double (bogey) you pick it up.”
“The 18th has great potential,” Steele said. “It’s risk-reward. An eagle is a real possibility, but you could even get a double-bogey. You could have an eight-point swing on the last hole.”