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.
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)
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 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)
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!