The QBE Shootout is thousands of miles (literally and metaphorically) away from the other big golf tournament of this week, the Presidents Cup. Whilst the players on the USA and International teams will be coping with serious competition in an intense atmosphere in Melbourne, the pairs competing in the QBE Shootout in Naples, Florida will be enjoying the chance to play in a much more relaxed tournament than is normal on the PGA Tour.
There is a real mix of youth and experience in the field for this year’s QBE Shootout and it may well be the youngest pairing who comes out on top. Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff are good friends and will enjoy their trip to Naples no matter what but look a tempting bet to win at 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
Greg Norman takes his role as tournament host of the QBE Shootout very seriously indeed. He loves the event and is rightly proud that it takes place on one of the best golf courses that he’s designed – the Gold Course at Tiburón Golf Club. Set in the beautiful surroundings of Naples, the Gold Course is always presented in tip top condition but it’s far from the toughest course found on the PGA Tour. The pairs will notch up plenty of birdies during the three days of play but that’s got as much to do with the format as the course.
Friday sees the 12 teams play in a scramble, Saturday is a greensomes before the tournament comes to a close with a round of better ball. Getting the chance to pick and choose which ball to hit and/or having two world class golfers playing a hole with only the best score counting is always going to provide low scores and birdies will very much be the order of the day(s).
|Tiburón Golf Club||Naples, Florida||7,288 Yards||$3,300,000|
As you can see from the list of recent winners, it takes a seriously low score to finish top of the leaderboard in the QBE Shootout. You rarely see winning scores in excess of -20 on the PGA Tour and this is only a three day tournament! Each of the five pairs listed below had to dovetail well. That is easier when partners have an understanding of each other’s game and have complementary strengths. It is also important they understand the mental aspect of each other’s games and can bounce off each other.
|Year||Winner||To Par||Winning Margin|
|2018||Patton Kizzire & Brian Harman||-30||1 Stroke|
|2017||Sean O’Hair & Steve Stricker||-26||2 Strokes|
|2016||Harris English & Matt Kuchar||-28||1 Stroke|
|2015||Jason Dufner & Brandt Snedeker||-30||2 Strokes|
|2014||Jason Day & Cameron Tringale||-32||1 Strokes|
Analysis: Putting to Prove Pivotal Again
The quality of the players on show in this year’s QBE Shootout and formats that encourage low scoring put a real emphasis on putting. The teams will have two cracks at it off the tee and into the greens so putting is one of the few areas they can really differentiate themselves. It’s also possible for a player to turn up out of form and still do well for their pairing with a solid three days of putting.
Youngsters Can Take the Title
The amount of hugely impressive younger talent coming through on the PGA Tour seems to increase every year. Two of the hottest young properties in the game at the moment, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff, are teaming up in the QBE Shootout.
They’ve each made a real impact on the professional ranks in a very short space of time with Hovland breaking into the world’s top 100 and Wolff winning on the PGA Tour. They’re also very well versed in one another’s game as they were university teammates at Oklahoma State. Usually, you would say that winning the QBE Shootout on debut is a tough ask but you can’t rule anything out for these two incredibly high quality players so they look well priced at nice enough odds of 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
European Pair to Enjoy the Relaxed Atmosphere
Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter know a great deal about team golf. They have each played starring roles for Europe in the Ryder Cup, the highest pressure team event in the sport. The QBE Shootout is nothing like the Ryder Cup but may still bring the best out of the experienced duo.
Both men have a myriad of skills which they have used to win some of the biggest tournaments in golf. That very much includes putting. They should hole as many putts combined as any other team so for McDowell and Poulter it is all about how good they are from tee to green. On a course that has favoured accurate, shorter hitters in the past, they offer good betting value at a price of 9/1 with Betfred.
Final Verdict: Viktor Hovland & Matthew Wolff to Win
The QBE Shootout fills a gap very nicely in the PGA Tour’s winter break. It’s a chance to see some of the best players in the world in a more relaxed mode but is still a tournament well worth winning. Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff are particularly keen to earn the win and can certainly do so at 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
About the QBE Shootout
The QBE Shootout is one of an increasing number of non-standard tournaments that feature on the golfing calendar but, dating back to 1989, it is certainly one of the older ones that falls into that category. It bills itself as the “premier PGA TOUR post-season event” and now takes place in mid-December during the break the wraparound season takes at that time of year.
The tournament is unusual in a number of ways, being a team event, featuring just 24 players and also being played over 54 rather than the customary 72 holes, from Thursday to Saturday. Although it offers a total prize fund of more than $3m, it is an unofficial money event on the Tour, a category into which tournaments such as the Hero World Challenge and the now defunct PGA Grand Slam of Golf also fall.
Greg Norman helped found the event and has now hosted it for many years. In the first ever tournament he was paired with golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, the duo finishing tied fourth. Curtis Strange and Mark O’Meara won that year and Norman would have to wait until 1998 for his one and only win when he and fellow Aussie Steve Elkington got the job done.
For many years the tournament has been known as the Shark Shootout, honouring Norman, whose nickname is the Great White Shark, or just Shark. The exact name has changed over the years, largely for sponsorship reasons and whilst some still think of it as the Shark Shootout it has been QBE Shootout since 2017.
Format & Course
As well as changing its name, the tournament has also moved around a fair bit over the years, although it has been played in Florida, where Norman has long lived, since 2000. Initially it called California home, the first 11 editions being played at Sherwood Country Club. Doral took over for one year using a course designed by the tournament host himself. In 2001 the Shootout moved to Naples in south west Florida, one of the wealthiest cities in the States.
Tiburón Golf Club has hosted this event since then, tiburón being Spanish for Shark, with the Gold Course (one of two designed by Norman at the golf club) being used. From the Championship tees the course is a fairly standard par 72 that stretches to almost 7,400 yards, closing with a tricky 493-yard par four.
As with many tournaments that don’t follow the standard 72-hole stroke play format, the structure of the event has been tweaked a number of times over the years. The 12-team, 24-player format has stayed constant but other than that pretty much everything else has changed.
ESPN outlined the current format when it was introduced in 2014, under the rather disparaging headline, “Silly-season event adjusts format”. The first round is a scramble (essentially both team members tee off, choose the best shot, both play from there and then repeat), with the second 18 played as greensomes. The decisive round is played under more conventional fourball better ball rules.
Due to the way the course is set up and the relaxed nature of the tournament, alongside the structure outlined above, scoring is invariably superb. In 2019 only one team finished with a score worse than 20 under par. Below we can see the best scores from each round/format for the 2019 edition of this fun contest.
Top 2019 Scores
|1: Scramble||55||Ryan Palmer & Harold Varner III|
|2: Greensomes||65||Graeme McDowell & Ian Poulter, and also Viktor Hovland & Matthew Wolff|
|3: Better Ball||60||Viktor Hovland & Matthew Wolff, and also Rory Sabbatini & Kevin Tway|
If that scoring sounds almost insanely good, it should be noted that Rory Sabbatini and Kevin Tway, who won that year, “only” managed to shoot a 31 under par score of 185. In 2013 Harris English and Matt Kuchar went even lower, shooting 64-60-58 (under a slightly different format) to finish on a 34 under par score of 182.
Unusual Structure Doesn’t Stop Format Specialists
A tournament like this can almost seem random in nature, with such low scoring suggesting that picking the winner may seem like something of a lottery. However, we have seen enough multiple winners here to draw on the data and have a pretty good idea of what sort of player tends to thrive. Take a look at the multiple winners of this event in the table below.
|3||Steve Elkington||1998, 1995, 1993|
|3||Scott McCarron||1997, 2000, 2001|
|3||Brad Faxon||1994, 2000, 2001|
|2||Hank Kuehne||2003, 2004|
|2||Jeff Sluman||2003, 2004|
|2||Fred Couples||1990, 1994|
|2||Tom Kite||1992, 1996|
|2||Jerry Kelly||2006, 2009|
|2||Mark Calcavecchia||1995, 2007|
|2||Kenny Perry||2008, 2012|
|2||Matt Kuchar||2013, 2016|
|2||Sean O’Hair||2012, 2017|
|2||Steve Stricker||2009, 2017|
|2||Harris English||2013, 2016|
The high number of repeat winners is indicative of the fact that 1/12th of the field wins each year (there are just 24 players and, as a team event, two winners). However, given how low scoring has to be you would expect great putters to thrive and that is borne out by the stats.
A few names on the list above leap out as great putters, with Steve Stricker always in any discussion of the best around and indeed was ranked the very best according to one analysis. Also on that top 10 were Matt Kuchar and 2015 champ Brandt Snedeker.
Brad Faxon is another player with a huge reputation as one of the best putters of all time. Indeed, in 2000 he needed just 1.704 putts on every green he made in regulation, the best stat ever recorded for that metric.
Another interesting factor to consider is that more relaxed players have tended to do well. This is a team contest and although good money is up for grabs it is also not an unofficial tour event. Looking for a duo that get along well and like each other’s company and can thrive in this sort of lower key environment is also important.