By Lewis Pacelli + Andy Taylor
The second WGC event takes place this week, as the top golfers in the world bombard Doral Golf Resort in Florida.
The tournament used to fluctuate between different courses around the World, however since 2007, Doral has taken the reigns, making it just that tad easier to take a look at who could be challenging come Sunday.
Justin Rose walked away with the title last year, having overturned a 3-shot lead held by Bubba Watson going into the final day. It was great seeing that smiling face of Rose lifting a trophy, that for us, started his fantastic assault on the worlds top 10.
As for the course, it is a 7,334-yard par 72, named The Blue Monster Course. Let’s be brutally honest, that is an outstanding name for a crazy golf course let alone a WGC one and we are all over it. We warn you now; puns will come into play on our twitter throughout the week…
It may not be the longest on Tour, however with four par 5’s you could certainly argue that longer hitters will have a major say in what happens this week. They will be the obvious scoring opportunities. Although fairways are relatively wide, there are plenty of obstructions along the way, with bunkers and 11 water hazards aptly arranged everywhere, meaning accuracy will be important from tee to green – especially on the infamous par 4 18th, which is widely regarded as one of the toughest closing holes in golf. If you shank it – water, if you slice it – trees. Really could make that last day very interesting. Putting will also be imperative with Bermuda grass giving it a quick edge.
Ultimately this course could be an absolute breeze, however if wind decides to turn up, then anything is possible. Therefore our first selection this week is the weather. Take a constant look at the forecast in Doral, as things are likely to constantly change. We expect wind to play a part on Thursday and Sunday, but all in all, it SHOULD be a delightful 4 days of golf.
72° C 55° F 74° C 58° F
Mostly Sunny, Chance of rain: 0% Sunny, chances of rain: 0%
Wind: NNW at 11 mph Wind: N at 9mph
In terms of choosing our own selections, it was a difficult task, with all the best (barring Snedeker) being here. Our long list got cut down to 6, with a very tough call between two. We took into account the fact that the last 5-winners have had at least one top-10 in their last two strokeplay starts and interestingly, a top 20 in the previous years Tour Championship final leg…
Matt Kuchar (21/1 SkyBet)
It’s hard to ignore Kuch right now. We backed him for the match play and he duly delivered so it’s only right we stay faithful. In pretty much all aspects of the game, Kuchar is up there with the best. 19th in strokes gained through putting, 2nd in sand save %, 22nd in scrambling and 3rd in putting from 10-15’ (much needed for those nervy putts). With 4 par 5’s out there, taking advantage of them will be key. The American is 1st par5 scoring average, 3rd in par5 birdie or better, 4th in birdie or better conversion and 4th in eagles. Course form also shouts out, 8th, 5th and 3rd in is only 3 appearances here, and Kuchar is a different animal now. His recent form doesn’t need to be expanded on, 1st at the WGC Match Play says what kind of golf he is playing at the moment. In stroke play events before that he was a respectable 38th, 16th, 5th and 9th. The wind could pick up here in the early rounds, and at the match plays he showed he could cope with bad weather. He also finished T10 at the Tour Championship. He ticks every box. We expect a place minimum from him this week!
Webb Simpson (30/1 PaddyPower)
Webb Simpson may have only played here once, but his game seems “taylor-made” for this course. Don’t forget, he shot two 66’s in between two over par rounds in his very first appearance last year. If he had managed even pars on those days he would of ended in T6…And since that he went on to win a cheeky little trophy in San Francisco…He has the ability in the wind if needed and has the perfect temperament for big tournaments – it takes big balls winning the US Open under the conditions he faced.
His ability and stardom has subsequently risen to new heights and rightly so, but what is exciting is how he has started the new 2013 season. T5 at the Matchplay 2 weeks ago, whilst he fits into the “top 10” mould of recent winners, with a T6 at The Northern Trust Open the week before and to top it off a T5 finish at the season ending Tour Championship last year.
His stats prove how remarkable he is with his irons and we are sure he can avoid all the obstacles on this course. 9th in GIR and 19th in proximity to the hole show he can attack pins with deadly efficiency. With the various bunkers dotted around the course, he lies in 7th for sand saves, which may not be of prominent importance, but there will be players who find the beaches and will need a big shot to recover. Webb can certainly do this. As we all know on the greens he is superb and that is backed up being 21st for strokes gained in putting.
Even though his distances off the tee don’t encourage, he does lie 58th for par 5 average scoring, which could be useful on those 4 holes where scoring is crucial. If he can spin his webb around the monster, we are confident he can deliver a stunning performance.
Jason Day (45/1 Bet365)
The Australian has caught our eye once more this season after a year of complete ups and downs. His 2nd place at the US Open, T4 at the WGC Bridgestone and T6 at the Tour Championship in 2011 gave the impression that this is an outstanding player. However he does seem to suffer from certain problems with temperament at times, as shown on the last day of the Matchplay when he told journalists I’m not winning today, I wanted to stay in bed. (He then ended up beating Ian Poulter in the 3rd place play-off) But you cannot say that affects him when his game is on song. He has the natural ability to challenge at any tournament, in any field. And with his start to the year, he looks to be on the up. Before the Matchplay, he came 6th at Pebble Beach, which is no mean feat. While he began his season with a T9 at The Farmers Insurance, showing he has the sort of form that challenges in this tournament
He has appeared at Doral the last two years, coming 45th in 2011 and 20th in 2012, where he was relatively consistent throughout the week, barring a +1 over round on the first DAY… (That is an awful pun)
Whilst looking at him, it became too good to be true once the stats kept on singing at us.
17th in driving distance means he can battle with the meatheads and 4th in par 5 scoring average show those 4 key scoring holes will be attacked by the Australian. What is even more interesting is how consistent he has been with his irons this year. 16th in GIR will prove how he can avoid all the obstacles but if he does fly into the sand his beachplay is phenomenal. We were impressed with his touch in the sand at the Matchplay and he currently lies 2nd in sand saves. And the importance of work on the green cannot be underestimated at this tournament and with Day lying in 22nd for strokes gained in putting, it gives another indication towards the big man pushing for victory.
It really could be his Jason Day. (Not sure which pun is worse)
Keegan Bradley (28/1 Bet365)
At 4 p.m. G.M.T on Monday, we were caught in a debate regarding this slot for over an hour. The two in question were Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan. It was almost impossible to decipher who had the edge and you may argue, why not have them both? But at similar odds, it only seemed right to choose one. Hence the final decision in the awkward customer that is Keegan Bradley. He has become one of the top golfers in the world in recent years and has this workman-like attitude about him that could be considered arrogant. He could even be compared to marmite. It’s either love or hate… Here at DownThe18th, we will not disclose whether we would spread him on our toast or not.
As for the WGC though, he does seem like another perfect fit. We may of always considered him, but it was the performance last week that really stood out for us. To work the ball around the course as he did in conditions similar to The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was very impressive. He battled his way to a T4 and if the wind does pick up over the four days this week, he will have the confidence to compete. Last year was his first appearance here and he delivered a very respectable T8 finish. The first 3 round brought about 3 scores in the 60’s and he could certainly have challenged, had he not shot 75 on the final day.
His driving is long enough to hit low scores if and when the wind dies down, lying 23rd in distance off the tee, whilst he is 26th for accumulated total driving (distance + accuracy). With his GIR very inconsistent this season, he may find himself in the bunker on a couple of occasions and he lies 44th for sand saves. Yet those four par 5’s could be where he targets, as he is 11th in par 5 scoring average.
This could be the start of a major push for Bradley…
No, actually YOU WATCH Hunter Mahan win it…
Robert Garrigus (50/1 Paddy Power)
If the conditions are right this week, Garrigus could storm this. It’s a relatively long course and in good conditions, the big hitters will thrive here. And of course the American is right up there, 6th in driving distance. But he’s got a lot of class around the greens too, 6th in GIR % which could be vital if there’s a bit of bad weather, 7th in sand save % and 1st in par3 performance. One stat that really impressed us was Garrigus being 1st in all round ranking which takes into account all 8 main aspects of the game. For a 50/1 shot, you can’t ask for more than that! Now Garrigus has not played here which is the only negative we can find, but people like Kuchar and Bradley have both performed on their 1st try here so it can be done. He’s been one of the most consistent people so far this year without recording that big performance, 8th, 22nd, 11th, 6th and 16th have been his last 5 performances. Garrigus also finished T10 in the Tour Championship which we highlighted as a big factor. But this is his time to record that big result. Interestingly, Robert Garrigus is 150/1 with SkyBet for the Masters in a few weeks, we think that is definitely worth an e/w punt!
Russell Henley (100/1 Bet365)
If any young player has a big future in the game, we can see it being this guy, even if he does have a suspect swing. Henley became the 1st rookie in 12 years to win on his PGA Tour debut at the Sony Open in January, breaking the tournament record by 4 shots with a fabulous -24. Add that to 3 Web.com Tour wins, he certainly knows how to win and all at just 23 years of age. After his success in Hawaii, he had a couple of average performances before a 32nd and then a really solid 13th at last week’s Honda Classic, which shows he knows how to grind it out. At 100/1 his statistics are hard to ignore as well. We have highlighted the par 5’s as a must to take advantage of and Henley is 8th in par5 scoring average, 7th in eagles, 7th in birdie average and 7th in scoring average. And the stats keep on coming. 9th in strokes gained through putting, 16th in total driving, 24th in GIR %, 3rd in FedEx Cup standings and just like Garrigus was up there, Henley is 3rd in all round ranking. We really can’t see us backing many better 100/1 shots this year than Henley!