Wells Fargo Championship 2014

getImagePrize Fund: $6,900,000

Winner’s Share: $1,242,000

After a few less familiar names dominated in the Zurich Classic, the Tour moves to the Quail Hollow Club in North Carolina. In 2013 Derek Ernst won from absolutely nowhere beating Englishman David Lynn in a play-off. Ernst had missed 4 out of his 5 cuts in the build up to the event. Despite this, the majority of previous winners had enjoyed a bit of success around the course previously.

The course plays fairly long at 7,442 yards but is one where accuracy is needed also (This is where the total driving stat on the PGA Tour comes in handy). The infamous final stretch of holes called the “Green Mile” awaits on the back 9 whilst there are four very tricky par 5’s out there. Areas to look at are the aforementioned total driving, GIR, par 5 scoring average and scrambling for the 60 bunkers and water that will inevitably come into play. With the course being a tough, low-scoring one, players who are willing to grind it out, avoiding bogeys are ones likely to prosper.

Courtesy of PGA Tour

Courtesy of PGA Tour

The field is very strong. McIlroy, Mickelson, Rose, Z. Johnson, Westwood, Simpson, Mahan and plenty other big names have made the trip. Without discounting Mr America Phil Mickelson, it is the British trio of McIlroy, Rose and Westwood who will all come into this week full of confidence. Rory feels his game is just about there and his 8th at Augusta certainly proves this. US Open winner Rose has also looked solid of late and recorded his second top 10 of the season last week. And Lee Westwood is fresh off his demolishment of the Maybank Malaysian Open on the European Tour beating Colsaerts, Wiesberger and Oosthuizen winning by 7 shots.

Picks to Follow.

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Staffordshire golf club helping people with diabetes

1977651_10152096932279678_420627824_oThe Three Hammers Golf Complex, based near Wolverhampton, has been helping a group of diabetes sufferers lead a healthier lifestyle as part of their treatment programme.

The X-PERT diabetes course is a leading programme of education for people with or at risk of diabetes. It tries to improve health and the quality of life, whilst managing the condition.

Director of golf at the Three Hammers, Rob Bluck, realised that golf can help run alongside the programme, to build the sport into the lives of people who didn’t realise its potential to help and comfort.

Introduction to golf lessons included how to build a swing, long and short game coaching and on-course experience.

One participant in these maiden sessions was Sally Davies, who was diagnosed with diabetes in December 2011.

“Even though I had never been interested in golf I decided to give it a try. I attended the first session and I really enjoyed myself.” She stated.

“As the course progressed I also felt the benefits in my physical fitness as I was getting an all-round work out! As well as learning a new sport, I have really enjoyed the social side to it as I made some new friends.

“As well as physically and socially benefiting from the golf session, I also feel that it really helped me mentally – I am enjoying the feel good factor and it is giving me an interest to focus on – I can even pass my new skills on to my friends and family!”

Get Into GolfThese highly intuitive golf sessions are part of the national Get Into Golf initiative and Gareth Shaw, development officer for the Staffordshire CGP is aware how golf can really help everyone and anyone.

“We are keen to develop links with local health partners and community groups who feel that the people they work with would benefit from trying a new sport which provides exercise and fresh air, such as golf.”

Here at Downthe18th, we are huge advocates for people getting into this wonderful sport and when the public realise how it can help millions of people and the likes of Sally, then maybe, just maybe, the perception is changing

Zurich Classic of New Orleans 2014

Purse: $6,800,000 

Winning Share: $1,224,000

Another dramatic week on the PGA Tour is over, after Matt Kuchar unbelievably holed out from the bunker on the 18th to win the RBC Heritage.  Our pick Luke Donald lost out with a few very close putts, but we cannot deny Kuch the victory because had he not won from his position, it would of knocked him right back after the final day Sunday’s he’s had recently.

Onto this week and we are down in Louisiana for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.  The field isn’t as strong as recent tournaments, which is understandable considering the enormity of the events, but Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Patrick ‘one of the greatest ever’ Reed have made the trip south.

The TPC Louisiana course is one of the heralded tracks on Tour, another designed by the great Pete Dye.  It is a 7,400 yard par 72 with over 100 bunkers and water hazards on 8 holes.  69 of those bunkers are ‘pot-bunkers’, so getting out of them is no easy feat.  There are 5 par 4’s under 400 yards and you can argue that downwind, some of them are reachable, if not 50 yard wedge 2nd shot, so they come as a risk-reward tee shot.  If you are going to release your arm and use the driver, then you HAVE to be straight.

A gorgeous layout that will try and defend itself with the sand and water.

A gorgeous layout that will try and defend itself with the sand and water.

However, the remaining holes are considerably long, which instinctively makes you think of big hitters.  Admittedly you cannot ignore them, but if they are not straight then there is no chance they will be winning here.  Course management and knowing when to force is the key to winning around here and GIR guru’s are the ones that usually prevail.  Billy Horschel was T2 for GIR last year on his way to victory, so iron players have a knack of doing well – Horschel, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Jason Bohn, Jerry Kelly, Andres Romero, Nick Watney – these are all recent champions and they are all established GIR specialists.

Many things to consider when making your picks this week, but GIR with long, straight hitting and the ability to save from the bunker will provide the winner.

Ryan Palmer (33/1 StanJames)

Now is the time Ryan.  Now is the time

Now is the time Ryan. Now is the time

We have been big fans of Ryan Palmer’s for quite a while now and if you follow DownThe18th regularly, you will have seen us back him quite often.  He is one of those players part of a unique group who are due a win very soon.

He has been playing some outstanding golf (mixed in with some shocking golf!) since that T5 at The Players last year.  He had every chance of winning that event going into the weekend and he has certainly had chances to win since.  The Humana Challenge he finished solo 2nd but going into the Sunday wasn’t anywhere near a dominant Patrick Reed.  Boy did he make him fight though, shooting a remarkable 63 on the final day to post a score – a total of -26 shows how low he can go, which is a necessity here as well.

Whilst at The Honda Classic, he played some superb golf, even when he realised he had a chance to win it.  BUT he had that moment when he could have birdied the 18th and post a truly great score.  Bottling that putt ultimately led him to a playoff which he lost, so there has been times where he could have won.

He did follow up with a T7 at the Shell Houston a few weeks ago and he will be coming to New Orleans invigorated with a flowing confidence.  It is a course which should suit his eye and has done before, when he tied for 4th in 2012.  He has only missed 1 cut in his 6 outings here and you can understand that considering his tee to green abilities.  This past year or so he has excelled further and his iron play has been outstanding – 16th total driving, 15th driving distance and 15th GIR.  A lethal combination.

When you factor in he is 61st for strokes gained putting and 24th in scoring average he is a perfect fit this week.  It would be about time that he delivers not just for himself but for us!

Kevin Stadler (50/1 StanJames)

The Walrus and The Smallrus.  Yes.

The Walrus and The Smallrus. Yes.

The Smallrus.  What a specimen big Kev is and what a golfer he is proving to be this year on the PGA Tour.  He has a decent track record in the ‘lower’ tours, accumulating 9 wins, but it wasn’t until this year that he won his first title on the big stage in Phoenix.  He played some superb golf, constantly plonking the ball next to the flag and it is because of this foundation with his irons and off the tee, that we couldn’t look past him this week – 7th total driving, 48th driving distance, 58th driving accuracy and 20th GIR.

Since that win he hasn’t even tailed off which most first time winners seem to do, so it is of great testament to the man.  He finished T8 at The Masters – in some quarters he was an outside bet on the Sunday.  He failed to hole the mid-range putts though, because his iron play was genuinely astonishing.

Whilst he didn’t have the best finish last week (T38), he proved that he can hack those tight, short tracks as well which puts him in great shape for this mix of requirements in New Orleans.  We did see him hole a few putts during the early coverage on Sunday though which gave us even more confidence, because that is the part of his game which lets him down.

He finished T8 here last year, so his new found belief will be mentally buzzing for a challenge where he has played well before. If he can really get going with the short stick then he will challenge.  At 50s he just felt too good to turn down, especially considering the real lack of star quality in the field.  Plus at 26th for scoring average, he does know how to go on a roll.  Come on the Smallrus.

Russell Knox (40/1 various)

Russell Knox has yet to win on the PGA Tour.  We are aware of that but with so many first time winners in the past year or so, he doesn’t seem hugely far away of joining the elite.  He was part of that playoff at The Honda alongside Palmer and he had a chance to win it on the 18th, but his approach was not the best and he did hole one of those infamous ‘clutch putts’ to earn his spot.  The pressure did look too much for him though as he lost in the playoff but the signs that week were very positive indeed.

He showed his capabilities to attack at the right time and from tee to green he looked like a stalwart belying his 28 years – 19th driving accuracy and 28th GIR.

In fact, his worst finish this season, barring the 2 missed cuts, is T45, which is some going.  7 results inside the top 26 is an impressive return and that T9 last week shows his eye enjoys the tracks where you have to think.  TPC Louisiana may be a long course and Knox isn’t the biggest hitter, but it still requires plenty of thought and the Scotsman could really play his way round here.  He did finish for a tie of 30th a couple of years back and that will give him confidence, having at least had 4 rounds here before.

We do feel that 40s is probably a bit short for him, but his case was too appealing for us to ignore, so let’s all be hoping and cheering he Knox in a few putts this week…

Will McGirt (100/1 various)

William McGirt is another player without a PGA Tour victory but he has only been playing at the top level for a couple of seasons now.  He is an inconsistent player no doubt, but he has shown in his 2 top 10s that he does have the quality from tee to green to compete.

He should have finished higher that T9 last week because he opened and closed with a 66, but his Friday 76 was a woeful showing.  It is a shame because those scores included some top quality golf, but the way we look at it is he will be taking so much confidence from shooting low on a tough track, especially on the Sunday and he can go into this week thinking he can post a cracking score again.

Like Knox, he is not the longest off the tee but he is a plotter – 49th driving accuracy, 69th GIR and even 46th in scoring average.  Yet what he does have in his armoury that our top 3 picks lack at times is his abilities on the green.  He is 13th in strokes gained putting and if he can get all of his game flowing together then he could be a dangerous prospect.

Stuart Appleby (140/1 Bet365) and Hudson Swafford (200/1 various)

Take your own guess as to who this is.

Take your own guess as to who this is.

Our final two picks may be high odds but they are well worth their place on the list because they have qualities that could surprise this week.

Firstly the old-timer Stuart Appleby.  A 9-time is no mug.  This dude knows how to win and he may not have done that since 2010, but he has proven this year that he can still work his way round those thinking courses.  T8 at the Honda Classic and T12 last week show he is not only in good form, but when the irons are needed, he will use them like he always did.  What encourages us the most though is the T9 at the Humana Challenge because he shot -21 there and a score like that could be needed to win here, so he knows how to go on a birdie train and not get off – 30th strokes gained putting and 41st scoring average.  Last week he was T7 for driving accuracy and T53 for GIR. Another Aussie win please.

Secondly, Hudson Swafford.  A ridiculously ludicrous name.  When you say it out loud it makes you feel like part of the British Royal Family, but that aside, what an interesting prospect at high odds.  He has never played here and his form this season has been pretty poor, but a recent T43 at The Shell Houston Open may just make things feel better for the rookie.  That’s the thing, this is his first season in the big time!  So, what attracted us to him apart from his name?  His stats are more of a joke than the ones he would of received as a kid – 11th total driving, 37th driving distance, 66th driving accuracy and 12th GIR.  His one problem whenever we have seen him (which is very few and far between) is his putting.  Infact we were racking our brains thinking if we had seen him hole a putt in the handful of putts we’ve seen him hit.  No is the answer, but we are hopeful that will all change this week!

Volvo China Open 2014

Purse: €2,400,000

Winner’s Share: €389, 150

Well we hope everyone is ready to join us on the roller coaster that is betting on a tournament where the course has never been played on before! New tracks are always a lottery as until you see them played on it’s hard to judge quite how they suit certain players. Sadly we don’t know any locals who have played at Genzon Golf Club, but we have done sufficient research none the less.

GenzonIt’s a very prestigious week for the event as it celebrates the 20 year anniversary so Messrs Stenson, Dufner, Molinari, Colsaerts and many more European Tour regulars have made the trip to the south of China. The course will be playing 7,145 yards so it is on the short side for professional standards. As always there will be stunning scenery with the natural lakes and tropical forest being prominent features. From the Championship tees the fairways are tight and tree lined with accuracy being crucial. There are plenty of risk reward holes on the course but course management will be key to whoever wants to contend. Accurate and sensible play is what will be needed.

Although on a different course, the Volvo China Open will naturally feel similar to previous Open’s. So do not overlook previous form in this tournament, or any other tournament held in China for that matter.

Pablo Larrazábal (33/1 Stan James)

The Spaniard, as we have discovered over the past few years, works in spells. He will miss cut after cut for a few months and then spring into life racking up a few top 10’s – or as he did back in January, win, in Abu Dhabi. Well we feel his T8 in Malaysia last week will spark another burst of form.

Coming to a course that will be fresh for everyone means stylish shot makers like Pablo will thrive. He is a magician at times with his irons and has made a living out of picking apart short tracks like this on the European Tour. Last week he ranked 17th in GIR but was just not clinical enough on the greens. His top ten finish will give him confidence coming to China knowing if he can sink a few more putts, he can mount a serious challenge. He ranks 4th putts per GIR and 7th putts per round on the tour, so we know he can do it.

He also possesses a fabulous record in China, finishing T5 at the 2013 BMW Masters and T18, T10 and T8 at his last three Volvo China Opens. With a title already under his belt in 2014, Larrazábal will feel very confident he can do it all over again this week.

And if you haven’t seen it yet, have a look at this from last week… (We still can’t believe he made birdie).

 

Nicolas Colsaerts (25/1 Various)

Colsaerts does what he wants on the course

Colsaerts does what he wants on the course

It’s a shame the Belgian Bomber, as he’s affectionately known, has gone off the radar somewhat over the past year or so. He has struggled to adapt over in America which has surprised many considering how long he hits the ball. Despite this, whenever he does come back to the European Tour, he will feel like a big fish. And last week’s T2 finish, his first appearance on the tour of 2014, behind the very assured Lee Westwood proved this. After all, he came into it off the back of a WD, two MC’s and a T65 on the PGA Tour – not exactly confidence building performances. But this week, he comes to a tournament which earned him his first ever European Tour win in 2011.

We have of course outlined the track for the accurate strikers but with so many of the holes being risk/reward, a confident Colsaerts, who averaged 312 yards off the tee last week, could certainly take advantage of these. And even more impressive was the fact he ranked 1st in GIR. By all accounts his putting was awful, so imagine if he improves that this week! And last week was a course not too dissimilar to this. And given the lack of knowledge everyone will have of the course, someone striking the ball this well could have a massive advantage.

Either side of the Belgian’s 2011 victory in China came a T8 and runner-up finish. He enjoys this tournament.

Wade Ormsby (80/1 BetFred)  

Traditionalist, Wade Ormsby

Traditionalist, Wade Ormsby

The 34-year-old Aussie has really caught our eye this week. His last four performances across the globe on the European Tour have been 18th, 5th, 8th and 15th. In those 12 rounds he has not shot higher than 72 and is a combined 40 under par – that’s consistent by anyone’s standards.

Like many other of his compatriots, Ormsby is also a regular member of the Asian Tour and is well acquainted with the golf tournaments in this part of the world. His first professional win came on the Asian nearly exactly a year ago.

Last week Wade ranked 11th GIR and 4th driving accuracy (hitting over 75% of the fairways). If he brings that to this week, he will be up at the top end of the leaderboard once again. And his stats for 2014 read 23rd GIR, 8th driving accuracy, 10th stroke average, 64th putts per round. At these odds, you can’t help but be confident in him.

Wen Chong Liang (140/1 Bet365)

He means business

He means business

We think it’s fair to say Wen Chong is our favourite Chinese golfer – albeit we don’t know that many of them. We backed him a few times last year and we know what he does. He is a strong, solid driver of the ball, GIR specialist and someone with huge credentials in Asia. He was the first Chinese winner of the Asian Tour Order of Merit and the only Chinese player to reach the top 100 in the world rankings.

He comes into this week off the back of a missed cut last week but had two previous finishes of 8th and 15th.  These odds for a local favourite and top golfer seems like something we are not going to miss out on.

Grégory Bourdy (50/1 BetFred)

We have a lot of time for this photo

We have a lot of time for this photo

The Frenchman was one of our headline picks last week and rightly so, he has been playing really consistently of late. We outlined that he was dominating the statistics and not much has changed. He lies 7th GIR, 4th driving accuracy and 5th stroke average.

Last week in his T18 finish, Bourdy ranked 8th in GIR and 10th driving accuracy. This means he is striking the ball as clean as he would like but just lacking that end product on the greens. But the way we look at it is, if he keeps playing tee to green as consistently as this, the putts will start to drop soon enough. He is also yet to miss a cut in 2014. His time is surely now.

 

Quick Mention: Young Japanese talent Masahrio Kawamura (100/1 Ladbrokes) was heavily on our radar last week due to his great recent form and putting prowess. His last four starts have produced four top 20’s including two 4th places. On the Asian Tour his putting has been remarkable and he brought that to the European Tour last week in his T13 finish. He ranked 11th putts per GIR and 17th putts per round. Now he has proven himself with Europe’s best, it’s time for him to push on.

Staffordshire teenager wins British College Golf Championship

image00616-year old Gian-Marco Petrozzi won the singles competition at the British Colleges Sport National Open Golf Championship last week.  Held at St Andrew’s Park, the youngster carded an outstanding 74 and 69 over 2 rounds.

Petrozzi, from Burslem, attends Newcastle-under-Lyme College and alongside fellow students, Lewis Clewlow, Dan Bourne and Jack Longley, finished 2nd in the team competition after they all ended the event in respectable positions.

The 4 teenagers will be part of the first group to join the new Ian Woosnam Golf Academy, which will be based at the NULC’s Academy of Sport.

Petrozzi at the English Boys County Championship 2013

Petrozzi at the English Boys County Championship 2013

‘Woosie’, the 1991 Masters champion, was over the moon with the result and will certainly be keeping a close eye on the promising futures of his first recruits.

“This is a fantastic achievement for NULC. We’re on a mission to find the best young golfers in Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire and offer them a fantastic education, which combines top golfing and sports tuition with higher-level qualifications.

“Clearly we are already attracting some of the best golfers in the country when they hold their own against the likes of Hartpury, Myerscough and Derby Colleges.”

We will hopefully be speaking to some of the lads later this week at the new academy, so do check back to find out more!

Maybank Malaysian Open 2014

Prize Fund: $2,750,000

After an exhilarating end to The Masters, the European Tour kicks in again as we move to Malaysia for the 9th Maybank Malaysian Open.  Many people put heart over head and backed Lee Westwood at Augusta and his tee to green performance was outstanding but that old tale of him with the short stick proved to be his downfall once again.

The Englishman will be teeing it up over in Asia this week for his first crack at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.  Whatever he managed to do in his tie for 7th, it does not mean he should at single figures with some bookmakers.  That is absolutely criminal, especially when you think Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero will be there as well.

The Umbrellas may be out again this week!

The Umbrellas may be out again this week!

The course itself is a 6,967 yard par 72 and although on the short side, the undulating fairways, parkland style, abundance of bunkers and water make it imperative to be an iron god.

The greens can be tricky at times, but on the whole it is quite open from the tee so even though it’s a short track, you can look at longer hitters to chance their arms because if they find good positions, then it will be a simple wedge into the greens.

There are 3 reachable par 4s and 5 par 5s that could make the difference between 1st and 2nd, so whether it be bombing it or tactical genius, you got to find those birdies.

Obviously, the weather last year was absolutely horrendous and Kiradech Aphibarnrat won after only 3 rounds and it is going to be a whole lot different in 2014.  Four days play, four days rain (even some thunderstorms.)

Keep up to date with all the forecast movements, because it could be an important factor to the outcome here!

Grégory Bourdy (50/1 Bet365)

Enjoying his champagne... Courtesy of GettyImages

More champagne?
Courtesy of GettyImages

Grégory Bourdy hasn’t played since the Trophée Hassan II, mainly because the European Tour has seen hardly any action itself.  This is the case for a lot of the field who haven’t jumped the ship to America in recent weeks, but before the break the Frenchman was starting to find some encouraging form.

Firstly, he is yet to miss a cut in 2014 and he has been shooting scores below 70 more regularly, which is something he will need to do this week without doubt.

He has made some impressive displays in KL before, in 2011 he came 2nd, 1 shot behind Manassero and even with a final round -5, he double bogeyed the par 3 11th, which turned out to be the difference.  Llast year he finished T11 but should have arguably done better, going into the delayed 3rd round final day in 2nd place.  He was just 2 shots behind Aphibarnrat but the ridiculous weather that ensued played havoc with a lot of players and his +1 score diminished his title opportunities.

His GIR and driving accuracy that week were superb throughout the 3 days and that is something he has been showing again lately.

11th in GIR on Tour, 5th in driving accuracy and even 7th for putts per GIR.  That sort of solid tee to green made Bourdy unbelievably appealing to us, especially at 50s, so someone that could definitely add to his 4 European titles.

Hennie Otto (50/1 PaddyPower)

Always calculating everything when it comes to all his shots.

Always calculating everything when it comes to all his shots.

Hennie Otto is playing some outrageously consistent golf this year.  He is yet to finish higher than 37th and in the 9 outings he’s had, he has recorded 5 top 20s, including 3 top 10s.

His last performance on the European Tour resulted in a marvellous T5 at the Tshwane Open.  His final 3 rounds in the 60s were all based around an outstanding tee to green game, missing very few fairways or greens.  This could be his lethal weapon this week.

He will be coming onto a course that he has only played once a couple of years ago, but he did manage to finish in a tie for 7th.  He shot a 64 in the 2nd round to go into the weekend 1 behind Oosthuizen but two mediocre rounds at the weekend meant he didn’t manage to get a place and he must feel like there is unfinished business around here.

26th in driving accuracy, 20th in GIR and 44th for driving distance.  To say that is a dangerous combination is beyond an understatement and the idea that if his game comes together he could be straight, long and accurate means he is the perfect fit for this course.

You Gotto believe it.

Tommy Fleetwood (80/1 Ladbrokes)

Tommy Fleetwood is one of a number of young talents coming through on the European Tour at the moment.  At just 23 years of age, he has already won his first title at the Johnnie Walker Championship last year and he seems like he’s continued that sort of form, all be it inconsistently, into the 2014 season.

A T3 at the Volvo Champions to start, showed his capabilities amongst the best from 2013, although he was in a great position to win the trophy.

Although a couple of missed cuts did follow, he got back to some sort of form at the Trophée Hassan II where he finished T23.

He will be going onto a course where he has proven it suits him, after shooting a 66 in round 2 last year, before falling victim to the weather and not playing the conditions particularly well.  Finishing T11 is a solid return though and there is no reason he couldn’t do something similar now.

We all know what he can do from tee to green when his game is on and although the overall stats suggest he is pretty poor, just look at his outrageous GIR and driving accuracy in Morocco a few weeks ago.  He never ventured outside the top 15 all week.   Plus averaging it 285 will come in handy.

Emiliano Grillo (50/1 SkyBet)

Emiliano Grillo has come under the spotlight this season because he is another one of these prodigious young talents but he has had two opportunities to get a maiden European Tour trophy, although in two very different circumstances, failed both times.

You can only say that he will learn so much from the experiences, because they were both so unique.  The first came after a T2 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where he finished 1 shot behind Stephen Gallacher, but he was miles back going into the final 9.  He knew that on the par 5 18th, he had to get eagle and duly delivered, giving himself every chance, but Gallacher birdied 16 and 17 to guarantee a win.

But at the Africa Open he squandered a 2-shot lead going into Sunday, having played a majestic 62 in the 3rd round.  This would have haunted him for a week or so, but we are very confident this mess will be behind him because he is such a confident young player.

He will always attack pins and when scoring will be important, you cannot ask for much more.  Tee to green he is outstanding – 12th driving accuracy and 11th GIR.  If he can get his short stick moving properly then he will have every chance of etching his name into the record books.

Mikko Ilonen (50/1 SkyBet)

Mikko Ilonen with his Nordea Masters trophy.  He tried to tell his kid that wearing a cap like Jesper Parnevik is not the Finish thing to do...

Mikko Ilonen with his Nordea Masters trophy. He tried to tell his kid that wearing a cap like Jesper Parnevik is not the Finish thing to do… Photo Courtesy of Jonas Elkstromer

What an absolute honour it is to be backing Mikko Ilonen this week.  When he won big for us at the Nordea Masters last year, we were treated to a masterclass in how to use your irons.  He just kept knocking them next to the pin, time and time again and although he understandably went off the boil afterwards – bear in mind he qualified for 3 majors and a WGC after the superb season he was having – he is now showing those signs he means business again.

Watching him fight back with a 66 at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters to force a playoff with Sergio Garcia had us jumping out our seats.  He eventually lost the resulting duel, but followed it with an impressive T5 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.  To come back after a tantalising defeat shows the sort of character the Fin has and it cemented him firmly in our heads for the sort of tournament that would suit his game.

So, when we find ourselves looking at this week, Ilonen seemed like a cracking choice at 50s, especially after a T17 last year, showing he understands the course.

Like Fleetwood, he doesn’t read particularly well tee to green on the season’s stats, but those two top 5s, he never left the top 20 for GIR or driving accuracy.  His putter has been on fire of late as well – 31st in putts per round.

We are so confident that Mikko can FINish off what form he has started with a victory.

RBC Heritage 2014

RBC2Prize Money: $5,800,000

Winner’s Share: $1,044,000

What way to cure the post-Masters hangover than another quality-filled four days of golf. Last week at Augusta we saw a fine display of attacking golf from Bubba Watson whilst Jordan Spieth properly announced himself on the world stage. It was some week but we’re expecting another exciting tournament this week with a great field lined up. Spieth, Kuchar, Day, Z.Johnson, Snedeker and McDowell, just to name a few, are all teeing it up in South Carolina.

We absolutely love tight little tracks like this as it brings out the best in people’s short game. This week is not about how far you can hit it off the tee but where can you put yourself in the fairway. Pete Dye’s Harbour Town Golf Links is playing 7,101 yards and is one of the shortest tracks on the PGA Tour. Accuracy off the tee has never been more important whilst the small greens means accuracy with the irons is also needed! McDowell, Weekley and Furyk have all won here and we all know what their middle names are – accuracy. With the greens so small, everyone will be missing them at some point, so scrambling and bunker play needs to be firing on all cylinders. And let us not forget wedge play with so many approaches coming from between 75-125 yards.

Courtesy of RBC Heritage

Courtesy of RBC Heritage

As the usual post-Masters event, RBC Heritage’s winners have notoriously not really featured at the top end of the leaderboard, most either not playing or missing the cut. So we have kept this in mind. The weather is also expected to play a part, with rain and thunder predicted but the winds of 2013 are not expected to blow as hard. It’s going to be a tough yet interesting week.

Zach Johnson (25/1 Ladbrokes)

He wants more silverware

He wants more silverware

Zach will be well aware that this course suits him more than pretty much every other player in the field. He has made a living out of picking apart longer tracks but this week the ball will be in his court and his game will need no adapting. Things didn’t go to plan at Augusta with an opening round of 78. His 72 on day 2 was not enough to make the cut but still showed his game was there. And he only missed 6 fairways over those two days. But the fact he didn’t figure is a positive for this week and will have had an extra couple of days to prepare.

His best finish here was a 2nd place in 2012 where Carl Pettersson comfortably won by 5 shots. Whilst he came 6th in 2007 off the back of his victory at the Masters.

His late 2013 and early 2014 form must not be forgotten either. He was the hottest player on the planet. Back-to-back wins at the World Challenge and Tournament of Champions were accompanied by a T8 and T3 at the Sony Open and Humana Challenge respectively. After a month away from the game, Zach has slowly been building back up to his early season form.

And finally his statistics. They make for incredible viewing. 6th driving accuracy, 15th GIR%, 20th ball striking, 13th scrambling, 11th approaches from 50-125 yards, 12th proximity to hole and 52nd strokes gained-putting.

Luke Donald (22/1 Paddy Power)  

Time for some success from the Englishman

Time for some success from the Englishman

Another person who is renowned for being a short-hitting genius is the Englishman. His accuracy with all clubs is something that will give him a huge advantage around the Harbour Town track. Since 2009, Luke has had somewhat of a love affair with the course, finishing outside the top 3 only once, in 2012.

It has been a steady decline now for Donald over the past couple of years since he reached number 1 in the rankings. 2011 and 2012 brought him 7 wins and propelled him into the golfing elite. He has struggled for form ever since but in recent months we have been very impressed with how he has played. He has only missed one cut (last week at Augusta) and finished in the top 10 twice in his last 5 starts. And as we say, his course form and game means he is a very mean prospect.

Last week he ranked 1st in putting stats on arguably the toughest greens in golf indicating his short game is working fine. He also shot a -2 round of 70 on day 2, so he will take lots of confidence from that. 7th strokes gained-putting, 3rd scrambling and 31st sand saves makes for impressive reading. Just needs the irons to start firing on a course he knows intimately.

Billy Horschel (66/1 Ladbrokes)

Loves a selfie

Loves a selfie

After really asserting himself in the world of golf in 2013, picking up a victory and contending on a regular basis, 2014 has been somewhat of a disappointment. But we see the strong signs that he is back. He ranked 2nd behind Jordan Spieth in GIR% last week at Augusta and was 29th in driving accuracy. His putting let him down but it is understandable on those greens. His win at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2013 was also on a Pete Dye track and his courses are notorious for having the same golfers do well on them.

His recent form has not been scintillating but Billy’s game has been there, it just needs that bit of consistency and a few putts to drop. A solid four rounds at Augusta on his first attempt will give him lots of confidence.

He’s ranking 16th driving accuracy and GIR%, 8th total driving and 3rd ball striking. His short game will need to improve if he is to win but after finishing 9th last year on his maiden time around the course, he knows what it takes around here.

Stewart Cink (110/1 BetVictor)  

Should have no such problems with the sun this week...

Should have no such problems with the sun this week…

A previous champion of this tournament and a man who we are very confident in. His victory in 2004 and the fact he has only missed two cuts in 11 years shows he knows the course very well. In recent months we have seen a new Stewart Cink, glimpses of the form that saw him win The Open and finish at least 3rd in all three other majors. His Open win shows his prowess on tough, links tracks.

Cink finished T14 at the Masters last week which was very respectable. Even more impressive was his 68 that he shot on the final day which was only one shot off round of the week. Other than the 2013 Father Son Challenge, Cink has not put any silverware in his cabinet since the 2009 Open where he famously beat a 59-year-old Tom Watson in a play-off. So he will be itching to do well.

In 2014 he ranks 13th GIR%, 25th ball striking, 55th approaches from 50-125 yards and 10th proximity to the hole. He also ranked 6th in GIR% at Augusta last week. One worry is his accuracy off the tee but his iron play at the moment is more than capable of making up for it.

Justin Hicks (110/1 Bet365)

The 39-year-old American is someone who consistently gets branded around in the DownThe18th boardroom and on the face of it, it is a strange one. He is most noted for being leader of the 2008 US Open after the first round. But when you look at his statistics you cannot deny how well he is playing in 2014. And even more interesting is how these statistics suit this track down to a tee.

Hicks

Hicks with his Cink-esque hairline

He ranks 7th driving accuracy, 3rd GIR%, 53rd strokes gained-putting, 3rd ball striking, 33rd approaches from 100-125 yards and 40th proximity to the hole. Combine this with 2nd driving accuracy and 13th GIR% at the Shell Houston Open a couple of weeks back, we have a genuine outside shot on our hands.

18th in 2013 will give him a lot of confidence and he is someone you should definitely put a few spare coins on.

Quick Mention:

He didn’t quite make our final 5 but Kevin Streelman (66/1 BetVictor) is someone who will more than likely go well around this track. His game is based on accuracy and has finished 3rd and 17th in his last two starts at Harbour Town. His name featured sporadically at the top of the leaderboard at Augusta last week and ranked 18th in driving accuracy. Claimed his first win on the tour at a similar course last year and there is no reason why he can’t bag number 2 this week.