The Texan swing begins at the TPC Four Seasons this week as a field without Tiger will attempt to hit the ground running as we enter the first stages on the road to the US Open. The course is widely regarded as a masterpiece after its 2008 remodel, featuring large undulating greens, several ponds, high and strategically placed bunkers and tight tree-lined fairways. All these components add together to make a ball striker’s paradise and the best “plotters” will end up conquering come Sunday. It is a 7,166-yard par 70 that will test the abilities of the pros to the extreme. You are looking for driving accuracy, GIR and someone with a hot putter, but the most accurate with an iron, attacking pins will have the best chance. Jason Dufner won last year hitting over 80% of the greens and he was 1st in proximity to the hole. It is forecast that there will be winds between 15 – 20 mph, which will heavily effect the scoring and make conditions even tougher, so birdies will be hard to come by!
Our disappointing run has continued after horrendous conditions cost us last week (Westwood, Johnson etc) but all we can do is keep plugging away as our purple patch must surely be over!
Charl Schwartzel (22/1 StanJames)
Schwartzel is one of those players we have backed a few times this year and he has produced absolutely nothing for us. He is still one of our favourite players on tour and we are so sure this is the week he will give us a return. He is too good not to. It has been a very solid season for the South African, yet to miss a cut, with the lowest finish of T55 at The Players last week. He may not have recorded a top 10 since Malaysia at the end of March, but this is a course that seems to have been built for him, which makes it surprising he has yet to play here. He is one of the best strikers of the ball on tour and he has the ability to overcome and conditions that are in front of him. He stands at 54th for ball striking, 70th for GIR (fallen since the Players) 6th in birdie or better % from the fairway and 4th in going for the green – you will need to be courageous on this course in order to find the birdies and Schwartzel is what we would call an aggressive tactician. More importantly he is very consistent with the short stick. There will be many long putts on such large greens and he is 4th in putting from outside 20 ft, which could prove vital, whilst he is 1st for 3-putt avoidance and 43rd for putts per round. This combination of stats only underlines what we already knew but we hope he finally makes us all proud and gets his first PGA victory of the year.
Marc Leishman (25/1 PaddyPower)
The Australian has been in outstanding form of late, recording 3 top 10s in a row, started off by that courageous performance at Augusta. In those 12 rounds he has only hit over par once and looks to be striking the ball with real elegance at the moment. This seems like the perfect moment to jump on the Leishman bandwagon because it is also a course he has played well at in the past. T3 last year when he shot a 65 and 66 to finish only 2 shots off Dufner, whilst a 63 in 2009 was enough for a T8 – astonishingly he didn’t even shoot over par in those four rounds, eventual winner Sabbatini was just very consistent. When you think how high his confidence will be going into the first day, he must be sure of producing a quality display. Stats wise he does not impress but his early season form was beyond woeful, so it is in no way a true reflection of how he is playing. Trust us.
Ryan Palmer (28/1 Coral)
Another one of our favourite players, Palmer has had an up and down season so far, but is slowly coming into the sort of form that makes him a potent threat in any tournament. After some rough showings in February, he has found his feet after a T15 at the Valero Texas Open, which proves he enjoys it in the state and a T5 last week at The Players. Whilst his form here went from 4 missed cuts in a row to a 2nd in 2011 and T9 last year, where he lead from the front after day 1 but two mediocre rounds after put pay to a challenge for the win. And in 2011 he dug deep in horrendous conditions only to lose out in a playoff to Keegan Bradley. If the weather is anywhere near like it was 2 years ago, you would fancy Palmer to battle hard and still be one of the front runners. He is also 17th for ball striking, 35th for GIR, 66th for proximity to the hole and 5th in birdie or better % from the fairway, which is a lethal combination for this course. He often attacks greens and has no fear in playing his shots, lying 7th in going for the green and when he finally gets onto the dancefloor (what a stupid term that is by the way) he has the capabilities to sink putts. 25th in putting outside 25 ft, 53rd puts per round and 34th for 3-putt avoidance. If the course was not built for Schwartzel, then it CERTAINLY was for Palmer.
Ken Duke (100/1 various)
Although Ken Duke may look like your dad playing in the Sunday medals, he is a golfer who has plugged away on the PGA tour since turning pro in 1994. With 4 professional wins, Duke will be going into this week knowing it is a course he is suited to and has performed well at in the past. If it weren’t for a 72 on the Saturday last year, he could have challenged the leaders, eventually finishing T7, whilst a similar 73 in 2007 hampered a push for another T7 finish. He may have missed two cuts on the bounce, but as we have seen so many times on tour this year, anything can happen and pretty much anyone can win, whatever form. (Step up Mr.Streelman) He did have a T8 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, with a T18 at the RBC Heritage, both of which are similar tracks. Basically “our dad” loves playing tight and tough courses and his stats prove this – 1st in driving accuracy, 58th in ball striking and 4th in proximity to the hole. Whilst his putting stats do not scream at you, they are very respectable – 74th in putting from outside 20 ft and 33rd in 3-putt avoidance. All in all at high odds it would only seem right to save the money you would have put in the Jukebox and dabble on the Duke himself. Duke of DownThe18th we hope he will be…(what a crime it is for two puns one sentence after the other. We are only Dukeing… Awful)
Henrik Norlander (150/1 various)
When we first looked at this tournament we took an interest to the young Swede at odds of 200/1, but he has since come in for a bit of money, which is a shame, but shows that we are not the only ones keeping our eye on him. The PGA tour rookie hard a poor start to the season but has since gone on to make 5 cuts in a row and record a T15 in New Orleans and a T16 at the Wells Fargo in his recent 2 outings. We first properly noticed him when he shot 65 at the Zurich Classic and although he finished outside the top 10, his ball striking did not look out of place amongst fine company. We are sure he has a bright future in the game but with all the young Americans stealing the spotlight this year, Norlander could definitely upset the applecart and prove his worth this week. He is 9th for ball striking and 17th for GIR, whilst his 89th in driving accuracy is excellent considering his horror early season form. He is a real talent with his irons and has no fear attacking the pins, lying 17th in going for the greens and once on the surface, he has the ability from long range. 57th in putting from outside 20 ft and 50th from outside 25 ft – there will definitely be some long putts and he will not be afraid of them. Once again with high odds, a tipple worth thinking strongly about.