The PGA Tour returns following a terrific Presidents Cup with a fun Sanderson Farms Championship to kick-start the rest of the last fall as we know it for the foreseeable future. The tournament in Jackson, Mississippi, has become a fun fall staple -- the type of throwback PGA Tour event that doesn't really define the Tour anymore but provides a great launching pad for young talent and a nice landing spot for old stalwarts.
Sam Burns, fresh off his first Team USA event, rolled in as the defending champion and he played nicely on the first day at the Country Club of Jackson. However, he still trails the leaders -- and there are a lot of them -- after 18 holes.
Let's take a look at his round as well as who else is in the hunt this week.
T1. Davis Riley, Will Gordon (-6)
Riley is somebody who has been talked about as a potential future Presidents Cup or even Ryder Cup participant, and perhaps this is the beginning of that march toward Rome next year. That sounds ridiculous given the depth the U.S. has, but Riley is a terrific talent, and we often see 3-5 players drop off year over year on these U.S. teams.
"I feel like I played really solid," Riley said. "I feel like it was hard to get really, really close to a lot of pins just because the greens were rolling out, the wind up there. It's hard to have a ton of opportunities, but yeah, I felt like I had a really solid day. The way I was playing, I feel like if I just kept going on, I would be pretty close to up there. To keep it stress-free was really nice."
One thing to keep an eye on is that though Riley hit it well, he also rode a really hot putter in Round 1 (5th in the field) to that 6-under score. He has the tee-to-green chops to back it up, but it's worth considering as we roll into the next three rounds.
T3. Andrew Putnam, Brandon Matthews, Kevin Yu, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Mark Hubbard, Thomas Detry, Trevor Cone (-5)
T10. Nick Taylor, Kevin Roy, Russell Knox, S.H. Kim (-4)
Keep an eye on Matthews. He got married on Saturday and joked that his wife always dreamed of honeymooning in Jackson. He's one of the longest good players in the world off the tee, and he gained nearly three strokes from tee to green Thursday. Matthews winning this week would be a great feel good story.
"I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world to be able to do this for a living because I love it so much," Matthews said. "To have fun over the next three days, not put a ton of pressure on myself and just go out and enjoy it."
A three-time winner a year ago, Burns is easily the class of this field, and he played well enough with a 2-under 70 on Thursday to stay in the top three of the betting odds (see below). The good news for Burns a week after he hit a bevy of long putts to help the U.S. to its win at Quail Hollow is that he didn't putt well at all and has a lot of room for improvement (and perhaps a second straight win here) over the next three days.
"This tournament means a lot to me, like you said," Burns said. "It's close to home, and I enjoy coming back here. I look forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces this week. I've gotten to know a lot of the Sanderson Farms family really well, and it's been great coming back here. I'm excited for the next few days."
2022 Sanderson Farms Championship updated odds and picks
- Davis Riley: 11/2
- Will Gordon: 10-1
- Christiaan Bezuidenhout: 11-1
- Thomas Detry: 12-1
- Sam Burns: 14-1
- Andrew Putnam: 18-1
Riley is compelling as a winner but not necessarily at this number. Bezuidenhout, on the other hand, is an interesting pick given that he's coming off a successful Presidents Cup and led this field from tee to green Thursday. Burns, too, is a nice number, given his firepower and how poorly he putted (105th in the field) on Thursday. Those are the two guys that I would be on ahead of Riley.