Winner’s Share: $1, 080, 000
It was mixed emotions for us last week as we had Jason Day and a cheeky accumulator win but the big money bracket bet fell to pieces, with heroics from Graeme ‘Houdini’ McDowell and some VERY friendly play from Sergio Garcia. But it was thrilling viewing none the less. But moving on and we’re back to stroke play this week, on a very tough course.
Last year saw Michael Thompson win and we can’t tell you how well he played in and around the greens. His putting and scrambling was a thing of beauty. And to win this week it’s going to take much of the same from someone else. The Champion Course at PGA National is a par 70 and will be playing 7,241 yards. It is a very major-esque track with lighting fast greens and tight fairways. The rough will be up and accuracy off the tee is going to be everything. But as we say the most vital thing this week will be scrambling and putting. Scoring will be tough out there, Thompson won in 2013 on -9 but 4th was -3 and 18th was level par. Holes 15, 16, 17 are also knows as the ‘Bear Trap’ and they are known as three of the hardest holes in world golf. Nicklaus, who designed it, said “it should all be won and lost here”.
A lot of people have been saying “the season starts this week” with an incredible field assembled including Woods, Scott, McIlroy, Mickelson, Rose, Stenson, Zach Johnson and many more. With the Masters only a few weeks away and another WGC event next week, things are certainly heating up. This was also the scene of Rory McIlroy’s ‘toothache’ last year, so let’s hope he’s seen his dentist before Thursday’s tee off.
Graeme McDowell (25/1 Stan James)
If anyone watched the match play last week you will understand why we are going with McDowell. His scrambling, putting and resolve under pressure was like nothing we had ever seen. Three days in a row he overcame the odds to sneak into the next round. But as players who fit the course go, McDowell is perfect for this track. He loves plotting his way around tough courses, rarely misses a fairway and scrambles as good as anyone.
He will take confidence from last week and he did record a top 10 at Pebble Beach a couple of weeks before, another tough track. So his game is in tip-top condition and also has three consecutive top 10’s in this tournament. He will be sure to contend this week.
Hideki Matsuyama (40/1 Various)
We’re not going to get carried away and keep backing the man from Japan but this week does look like one where he will contend. He convincingly beat Martin Kaymer last week and was in control against McDowell until he pulled out his box of tricks. So he will take confidence from the match play and was playing reasonably consistent before that, the best finish being a 4th at the Phoenix Open where Kevin Stadler won.
He ranks 23rd in scrambling on the tour and 28th strokes gained-putting and loves the lower scoring, tougher events judging by his track record in the 2013 majors. He will get a win soon, it’s just a matter of when. This could be the week.
Michael Thompson (80/1 Various)
We understand backing the champion is always a risk but we feel that Thompson is actually in better shape than when he won last year. As we mentioned in the preview, his short game was absolutely sensational in 2013 and he will certainly take confidence from how he won so convincingly last year. His form is consistent with a pair of T19s in his last 2 starts, but it is his statistics that really catch our eye.
He ranks 6th driving accuracy, 26th strokes gained-putting, 9th scrambling, 1st scrambling from the rough and 14th in bounce back (perfect for those inevitable bogeys). His form and game is in way better shape than 2013 so there is no reason why he can’t at least grab a place.
Louis Oosthuizen (66/1 Stan James) Now going Keegan Bradley at 28/1 with PaddyPower
This is our one big risk for the week. Louis’ back flared up last week after an intense few days of golf at the match play. But it is something he has had to deal with recently and he is hoping to be back to 100% with a couple of days rest. Louis will only play if he feels like he can do well so betting-wise your money will be credited back anyway. IF he is fit then this course will be perfect for him, despite his poor performances here in the past.
When Louis is playing well he will contend every week regardless of course. And we feel he is in that sort of form now. He retained his Volvo Golf Champions title in early January and after a missed cut at the Northern Trust he was ‘back’ with a bang at the match play. He beat Watney, Stenson and Simpson quite convincingly before his back flared up against Jason Day in the quarters. He also recorded 29 one putts in 47 holes in his first 3 rounds. His iron play and scrambling was outstanding and if he can take that into this week, he will without doubt contend.
John Senden (200/1 Various)
The Aussies love a tough track and Senden is no different. He is someone who consistently gets good prize money year on year without ever winning; only once has he won back in 2006. Of late his best performances were a T4 at the McGladrey Classic before the winter break and then he looked really solid in his T18 at the Northern Trust a couple of weeks ago. And he did catch our eye in last year’s US Open at Merion where he finished T15 on a VERY tough course. His statistics are also naughty, 9th strokes gained-putting, 14th all round ranking, 37th driving accuracy, 35th ball striking and 42nd scrambling. At those odds, definitely worth a go.
A couple more we had to include:
Chris Stroud (100/1 Various) is a player who is due a breakthrough win. He was 13th in 2013 and 9th in 2012 around this course, so he has what it takes. On his day, strikes the ball beautifully. And he is in relatively decent form. Lies 15th in scrambling for 2014.
Brendon Todd (150/1 Various) His best performance of the season so far was T6 at the Humana Challenge and he is striking the ball well. Ranks 34th driving accuracy, 15th strokes gained-putting, 36th GIR, 10th all round ranking and 32nd scrambling. An interesting prospect.