Sony Open in Hawaii 2014

Well it’s an absolute pleasure to be back previewing golf again and we hope you have all had a good break and a happy new year! It has been a longer than anticipated break from us here but we feel fresh and more ready than ever for a successful and PROFITABLE 2014! So let’s get down to business…

Over the last few days we saw the first event of 2014, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. With Dustin Johnson winning in 2013 and the course being perfect for the ‘bombers’, it was only fitting king of the pitching wedge, Zach Johnson, took the title. The American is playing some stunning golf at the moment.

The Sony Open marks the first full-field event of the year and we stay in Hawaii for it. On the east side of Honolulu we find the Waialea Country Club where the tournament has been hosted since 1965. Last year we saw Russell Henley put in a record breaking performance to win here on his PGA Tour debut, the first man to do so for over 12 years. He finished on -24 for the week which was not bad for a rookie. He season did get somewhat overshadowed by a certain Jordan Spieth after that though…

???????????????????Sony Open in Hawaii - Round Two

This course is one of those where the yardage tells you everything. Being a 7,050 yard Par 70 it is all about finding the tight fairways off the tee and having the right 2nd shot into the tough little Bermuda greens. This is a place that once someone has done well here, they tend to come back and repeat that performance. Charles Howell III, Tim Clark, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Jerry Kelly are just a few who have two or more top 10’s here. Statistics to be looking at will be putting for sure, Russell Henley was electric on the greens last year. And then driving accuracy and GIR are always musts for courses like this. With it being close to the sea, we could see the wind picking up as well!

With our fancied players having lower odds than what we usually do, we have decided just to leave it at 3 picks this week!

Zach Johnson (12/1 Various)

Now the problem with Zach is that he almost ticks too many boxes for us! He won the Tournament of Champions last week which was his 2nd win in 2 starts! He held off Adam Scott here in 2009 to win and if ever a course was suited to a particular golfer, this one does for Zach. He is a magician with the higher clubs and has made a living out of short, accurate driving off the tee. Perfect for this track.

We agree if Zach were to win this week it would have to put him in the category of the Adam Scott’s and Tiger Woods’ out there, but we can’t deny it, he’s playing that good right now.

Zach 2

He already has one native Lei around his neck, why not make it two?

Charles Howell III (20/1 Various)

You are backing Charles Howell at 20/1 we hear you say? Yes that’s right, you have read this right. If you didn’t know Charles is one of our favourite golfers and on his day has the ability to do anything with the golf ball. He comes into this tournament with comfortably the best course form in the field with 7 top 5’s in his last 11 starts on this track. That is some going. It does mean however that he has not actually won this thing, but something tells us, this year could finally be the one.

Golfer and budding model, Charles Howell

Golfer and budding model, Charles Howell III

The American started the PGA Tour season a couple of months very competently. He made all four cuts and finished T5 and T7 at the Shriners Hospital and CIMB Classic respectively. Over those tournaments he ranked 10th in GIR, 1st total birdies, 1st scrambling, 6th ball striking and 1st GIR% 75-100 yards. So his current form is good and when you combine that with his intimate knowledge of this course, we are looking forward to seeing what he does this week.

We would advise an outright stake on both Howell and Johnson if you are betting smaller amounts.

Chris Kirk (33/1 Ladbrokes)

A man in form

A man in form

Kirky firmly put himself in the ‘one of those’ category last year. We backed him many times over the course of 2013 and would often miss the cut when we did so. And would usually finish in the top 10 the week after. So we are willing to forgive and forget in 2014 and hope the new year brings new luck for us and the American.

He caught our eye last week in Hawaii, particularly in round one, being very accurate with his irons as we know he can. He ended up sinking back into the field, but this will keep him refreshed for the Sony Open. The tournament before, The McGladrey Classic, he did of course win but rest assured he is good enough to do it once more here in Hawaii. His T5 last year combined with his recent win makes Kirk a big contender this week.

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WGC – HSBC Champions 2013

With it being Halloween this week, we cannot resist making this preview a rather pun-filled one.HSBC-WGC ART (9.1.09)Pumpkin

A far from ghostly field will assemble in Shanghai, China as all the top boys from across the globe will be getting on their broomsticks and making the journey over. It will be hard for us to pick the bones out of the field this week, with so many people possessing such deadly course form. Stenson, Mickelson, Westwood, McIlroy, Hanson and Casey all have two or more top 10 finishes on this course, not to mention Garcia, Kaymer and Molinari who have all lifted the trophy on this track.

There is nothing scary about the 7,266 par 72 Sheshan International Golf Course this week. If ever a WGC event could be classed as a birdie-fest, this is the week. Kaymer (2011) -20, Molinari (2010) -19 and Mickelson (2009) -17 were the previous winning scores here. It shows you need to go low if you want to walk off into the mist with the Old Tom Morris Cup. So for us, this always highlights two key areas. GIR and putting. Taking 2011 as an example, GIR was by far the most crucial statistic, and it makes sense. The more greens you hit, the more putts you can sink. So anyone you back needs to have a magical week on these mysterious, undulating greens.

A course that encapsulates the beauty of Shanghai

A course that encapsulates the beauty of Shanghai

The course as a whole is renowned for just being a great all-round test of the best golfer’s game, which any WGC event rightly should be!   Lanterns will be lit, pumpkins shall be calved, and golf will be played to the highest possible level. Let’s have a crazy 4 days! Oh.. and Tiger will not be there this week either.

So which golfers are we throwing into the DownThe18th cauldron?

Francesco Molinari (33/1 various)

Molinari hiding away from the scary Halloween weekend.  He won't be hiding from the leaderboard come Sunday however.

Molinari hiding away from the scary Halloween weekend. He won’t be hiding from the leaderboard come Sunday however.

We have all seen resurgence in the form of Francesco Molinari in recent weeks.  It has been mentioned before on DownThe18th that he has not had the greatest year by his very high standards, so to start clicking now, it could propel him to a hefty Race To Dubai position.

He is winless in 2013 but only 1 shot off a playoff last week will give him plenty of confidence, as he stormed up the leaderboard, pushing Fernández-Castaño all the way.

What impressed us the most was his marked improvement on the greens.  The bentgrass surfaces of Lake Malaren are identical to this week and in putts per round, he never finished outside the top 3 in the field.  112 putts for the tournament shows incredible consistency and when you add in to the fact his irons are looking in good shape once more, then he is a real threat here.

Back in 2010 he picked up his first big trophy by winning this event on this very course, so he has proved he can transfer his abilities onto this track, whilst a T9 in 2006 gives another positive.

If the Italian can putt like he has done in recent outings, then the rest of his game should fall into place and considering the odds of players higher up, he could prove great value.

Paul Casey (33/1 Coral)

Casey showing his sadness that he will be missing trick or treat.

Casey showing his sadness that he will be missing trick or treat.

You have some weeks where a player is just too good to ignore, this week Casey is exactly that man. Someone who has recorded 6 top 10’s in their last 7 starts on this track (other finish was 11th) then it shows they have intimate knowledge of the course.

We have spoke of a lot recently of Casey’s decline in form over the past couple of years. A mixture of swing problems, injuries and other personal reasons saw the former world number 3 plummet down the rankings. But over the past few months the Englishman has been back with a vengeance, winning the Irish Open title on the European Tour and also putting in a string of other solid performances. Casey seems to have a bit of love affair for Asia. Even in 2013, he finished T8 in the Volvo China Open. Previously, Paul has won 2 titles on the Asian Tour in China, 2 titles in Abu Dhabi, not to mention his outstanding consistency on this track.

And he comes here in fine form. Last week he recorded a very solid T8 at the BMW Masters, again in China, where he did not rank outside the top 10 in GIR all week and his driving was back to its ultimate best! For us, he is the real deal this week and we expect a big performance.

Dustin Johnson (35/1 PaddyPower)

There is nothing haunting about what Dustin Johnson has to go home to

There is nothing haunting about what Dustin Johnson has to go home to

Firstly, we must admit this is pick is a hunch more than anything; although certainly an educated hunch.

When you look at the course, it is not the longest but there are 3 reachable par 5s and one par 4 that can be driven.  Obviously, you need an attacking flair to go for the greens and Dustin Johnson is certainly one of the first names you think when it comes to an attacking golfer.  Plus he can really batter a ball.  His driving distances are well documented and he is known as someone who can go on a roll and score very low.

In the last 5 years he is 27th in scoring average on the PGA Tour and is constantly top of birdie stats.

There is no reason why DJ can’t perform this week, the only thing he needs to is find his putter, because that at times can let him down.  But a T12 2 weeks ago and T5 at the season ending Tour Championship will give him plenty of confidence.

Just one of those players who decides to turn up randomly and lets just hope he brings his big tournament game to China this week.

Peter Uihlein (40/1 888Sport)

As you probably know if you follow us, the American is one of our favorite golfers. He took the plunge in coming to Europe a year back and what decision it was. He earned full-time status on the European Tour after his first win on the tour (Madeira Islands Open), and since then he has gone from strength to strength. 4 top 10’s in his last 5 starts is some going, including a 2nd at the Wales Open and a play-off defeat to David Howell at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he shot -23. And that was after narrowly missing out on a 59 on day 2.

This course will be set up perfectly for Uihlein’s game. Going low, long off the tee and attacking those pins. People are going to question his credentials as this is a whole new level to what he’s been playing on, but we can assure you nothing will phase him. He has all the tools to do well, it’s just whether he can bring his mental game as well!

Thongchai Jaidee (80/1 StanJames)

Jaidee sees a ghost with his son.

Jaidee sees a ghost with his son.

Thongchai Jaidee looked supreme on the greens last week, holing everything, as we know he can – eventually finishing T2.  He is the sort of player whose whole game hinges on his short game and when he gets going, he can be very dangerous.

He was never outside the top 12 for GIR or putts per round on each day last week and when you need to shoot low, he will come here with confidence and potentially do really well on a course he has played at many times before.

Although he is yet to find a top 10, he has never given a woeful performance, so if his irons an putter continue showing the impressive form they did at Lake Malaren, then this outsider could be of great value.

Scott Hend (275/1 Stan James)

Just a quick one for you here. He is arguably one of the biggest hitters in the world and he is in some form at the moment. He has won 2 of last 4 tournaments and he’s swinging well. It’s as simple as that. Whack a few pence on him.

NEW – Players to Watch (PGA + European)

We’ve decided to remodel this section to make it more interesting for both you and ourselves. We have each assembled a team of ‘Players to Watch’ from each tour. Lewis will be PGA TourAndy will be European Tour. We have created a point system so you can track how each player has been doing. And come December 2013, you will be able to see which tour’s rising stars have performed the best!

Look at this as DownThe18th’s Ryder Cup – where dreams will be fulfilled, putts will be sunk and titles held aloft in this battle of tours across the pond.

Team PGA (Lewis) Points Team Europe (Andy) Points
Henrik Stenson (C) 0 Alexander Noren (C) 0
Rickie Fowler (VC) 0 Francesco Molinari (VC) 0
Charles Howell III 0 Ross Fisher 0
Ryan Palmer 0 Pablo Larrazabal 0
Kyle Stanley 0 Brooks Koepka 0
Cameron Tringale 0 Peter Uihlein 0
David Lingmerth 0 Morten Ørum Madsen 0
Jordan Spieth 0 Shane Lowry 0
Graham DeLaet 0 Romain Wattel 0
Kevin Chappell 0 Victor Dubuisson 0
Total 0 Total 0

How the scoring works: Win (50 Points), Runner-up (25 Points), Top 6 (15 Points), Top 10 (10 Points), Top 20 (5 Points), Top 40 (2 Points), Missed Cut (-5 Points) (C) Captain earns double points

Team PGA Captain - There is a lot of pressure on the Swede

Team PGA Captain – There is a lot of pressure on the Swede

Team Europe Captain

Team Europe Captain – Alex Noren, a leader of men

Team Profiles:

Players To Win

Henrik Stenson (C) – The big hitting Swede has found rhythm with his swing once again and his iron play has looked fantastic.  Will be surprised if he is not challenge a couple more times this year. Alexander Noren (C) – Playing too well not to bag a win in 2013. Only finished outside top 40 once this year, no missed cuts and five top 6 finishes!
Rickie Fowler (VC) – With only 1 Tour win to his name, it is remarkable how Fowler is so often talked about as 1 of the elite players.  He has had a topsy-turvy year but I will be shocked if he is not challenging for several competitions, ultimately he is too good not to. Francesco Molinari (VC) – Back to near his best after he lost his way a bit at the start of the year. Two top 10 finishes in May and is coming onto a few courses where iron-play is key, and there are few better than the Italian.
Charles Howell III – has not won on Tour since 2007, having gone through a horrendous dip in form.  He came close this year, losing in a playoff at the Humana Challenge, but his consistency and swing are coming back and will not be long before he wins again. Ross Fisher – Slowly getting his game back together, really been impressive in May and June. A win is not far away, and will do well on the links courses coming up later in the year.
Ryan Palmer – Palmer has not won on Tour since 2010 and now at 36, age is slowly running away from him.  He has had an inconsistent season, but there were signs of a revival at The Players.  Could definitely challenge before the new year. Pablo Larrazabal – Just like Noren, playing too well not to have won. Four top 6 finishes already to his name in 2013, and has really been looking good. Some call him a ‘Young Seve’.

Players To Watch (Under 26)

Kyle Stanley – He may have already won last year, but people will often forget that Stanley is still only 25.   He has a stellar career in front of him and is definitely one of the leading youngsters in the game. Brooks Koepka – Absolutely ripped up the Challenge Tour, won 3 times already and has earned automatic promotion to the European Tour. Will definitely want to prove himself, and has booked a place at Muirfield next month.
Cameron Tringale – has recorded only 1 top 10 this year, but now being in his 3rd year on Tour, he should be used to life in the high leagues.  He is far too talented to not be challenging more often – expect to see him surging. Peter Uihlein – Has won a European Tour co-sanctioned event already, but will want to push on and win one of the bigger ones. Hasn’t missed a cut all year and is in the form of his life. These 2 American’s look very dangerous.
David Lingmerth – In only his 2nd start on the PGA Tour, Lingmerth finished joint runner up at the Humana Challenge, after losing to Brian Gay in a playoff.  The Swede has gone on to be inconsistent, but do not be surprised to see his name near the top of leaderboards Morten Ørum Madsen – Big favourite of ours, three top 10’s this season including a 2nd behind Uihlein in Portugal. Was T28 at the US Open. Comes from the same club as Danish legend Thomas Bjorn, has a big future. 
Jordan Spieth – I first saw Spieth at the Tampa Bay Championship where he finished T7.  He looked like a supremely talented youngster who belied his age (Turned 20 in July) and had an incredibly efficient game from tee to green.  He will be around a few more times this year and for many years to come. Shane Lowry – The Irishman is starting to come into real form and usually plays his best stuff at the back end of the year. Will be confident of adding to his 2 European titles he has already 

Players to Breakthrough

Graham DeLaet – Tough choice between the Canadian and Brendon De Jonge, but with DeLaet’s length off the tee, he just edged it.  Has been impressive as the year has gone on. Will be surprised if he has not challenged at least once before the season is finished. Romain Wattel – 22 year old has big future, two top 4 finishes to his name in 2013. Was T3 a couple of weeks back at the Lyoness. Was successful as an amateur and will be looking to do the same as a pro
Kevin Chappell – The 26-year old American is slowly forging an assault to the top of the game, having another consistent year.  He could easily make his breakthrough win this year having already come close. Victor Dubuisson – At 23, it feels like the Frenchman has been round for a while now. Has four top 10’s in 2013 but will want to get that elusive first European title

AT&T National 2013

Before reading, please do check out our first weekly write up for Golf Monthly Magazine – its a different look at Rose and his US Open win…

http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/tours-and-news/opinion/tour-talk/531549/golf-blog-rose-aftermath.html

After quite a few weeks on tough, short tracks where emphasis was high on accuracy, we now move to Maryland on the long 7,500 yard course at Congressional Country Club. Many of you will remember the US Open being held here in 2011 where Rory Mcilroy stormed to his maiden major victory. Rain played a big part that week, with the greens and fairways being a lot softer as a result, which allowed the Irishman to win by 8 shots on -16!

US Open 2011 Congressional Leaderboard

Now the weather this week is again expected to be poor, with thunder and rain predicted for all 4 days. (Congressional Weather Forecast) So this will mean soft greens which will also mean low scores. The only people to really suffer from the weather will be the shorter hitters, so they will have to make it up on the greens!

With the US Open being held here 2 years ago, there is a vast array of material explaining what Congressional is all about. One chart we really liked the look of is this (Courtesy of Daily Mail):

US Open 2011 Preview

Consistent iron play and GIR statistics will all be needed this week, but most importantly will be putting. With the greens so large, 3 putting will be seen right through the field. So for this reason, the statistics that we have looked very closely at are proximity to hole, 3-putt avoidance and putting from 5-10’ (There will be a LOT of these length putts this week). But with the weather this week, you really have to look at distance off the tee as well.

Jason Day (16/1 Various)

He is too good to only have 1 PGA title

He is too good to only have 1 PGA title

When you actually look at the ‘top’ golfers in the field this week, Jason Day really does stand out. Rose and Mahan are likely to be drained after a tough couple of weeks and nobody knows really how Snedeker is feeling. Adam Scott would be the one worry, but you can argue Day is actually in better form. Jason was 3rd at the Masters and 2nd two weeks ago at Merion and has only finished outside the top 50 once all year, back in February. He has no missed cuts to his name and five top 10 finishes. But it’s his taste for majors that we really like, with Congressional being a major track. The Aussie has recorded four top 3 major finishes in three years, one of which was here at Congressional in 2011, where he finished 2nd behind Mcilroy. It is quite amazing how he only has 1 PGA Tour title to his name, which was all the way back in 2010. But you really have to fancy him to get title number 2 this week, especially as he finished 8th last year in this tournament. Now his statistics are perhaps not as good as our other picks, but with players of his calibre on a course he likes, that should not be a problem. In 2012 at Congressional, he did rank T3 in driving distance, 2nd in GIR and averaged 1.8 putts per green.   A nice statistic we do like, is he ranks 10th in carry distance this year, which will be needed on the soft fairways. But with no real ‘big’ names here other than Rose, Snedeker and Scott, Day really will fancy his chances this week.

Fredrick Jacobson (66/1 Ladbrokes)

Freddie is a demon putter

Freddie is a demon putter

Now Freddie is a real favourite of ours and has yet to register a win this year despite playing really consistently. We’ve highlighted putting as a key area this week, and the Swede is one of the first names we think of when it comes to ability on the greens. And his statistics will back us up. 12th in 3-putt avoidance and 29th in putting 5-10’ is very impressive. But it’s the whole package that we like with him, Jacobson finished 14th when the US Open was held here whilst he registered a 2nd place back in 2008. And after not playing here last year, he will be looking to continue that trend. He ranks 11th in proximity to the hole as well, so pair that with his putting and it makes for a very tasty combination. People with good scoring average have tended to do well here over the years, and he ranks 8th in that category as well. Freddie finished off with a bogey-free 68 at the Travellers last week, so he’s in good touch and will be raring to go.

Graham DeLaet (40/1 Various)

With 2013 being effectively Graham’s third year on the PGA Tour (after injury blighted most of 2011) you really have to think this is the year for him to get his first win on tour. All the signs are there having not missed a cut for nearly 3 months now whilst registering two top 10’s. Last week he went so close, being in the final pairing on day 4 but eventually missed out on the play-off by 1 shot! But this will definitely spur him on for this week, and with the statistics he possesses, he could go one better. The Canadian ranks 11th in proximity to hole, 16th scoring average, 1st in GIR and 46th in putts 5-10’. And he really can strike a ball, ranking 9th in driving distance on the PGA Tour this year. Here’s a few more, 2nd total driving, 1st ball striking, 5th total birdies, 3rd par 5 performance and 7th carry distance. He’s in the form of his life and did make the cut here last year, so he has experience around Congressional.  He will get a win soon, so hopefully it is here!

Ryan Palmer (50/1 Various)

Palmer has been Mr Consistency of late

Palmer has been Mr Consistency of late

Just like the previous two picks, you will have seen a lot of Palmer on our site this year. And more often than not, has got us a return. His consistency this year has to be a rewarded with a victory soon and why not here. His last 3 finishes at Congressional have been 15th, 21st (US Open) and 22nd. Other than a missed cut at Merion, Palmer has finished 4th, 14th, 33rd and 5th in his last four starts which you will struggle to find any better. So the course form and current form combined really does give off positive signals. As for his statistics, they do reflect the kind of form he is in. 12th scoring average, 10th driving distance, 51st proximity to hole, 22nd 3-putt avoidance, 35th strokes-gained putting, 33rd GIR and 6th in total birdies. We keep saying it, but just like the rest, Palmer really does have to bag a win soon and it could be here. 50/1 is great value as well!

Chez Reavie (150/1 Coral)

It’s always a prestigious spot being DownThe18th’s outsider for the week, and Chez has just edged out Canada’s David Hearn this time around, purely because of his experience around Congressional. But statistically you will not get any better than Reavie at the kind of odds he finds himself at. He ranks 19th in 3-putt avoidance, 5th proximity to hole, 35th scoring average and 28th ball striking. One worry could be his distance off the tee (280 yards average) but he makes up for that in accuracy, where he ranks 4th!   And as we mentioned, his form is more than respectable, 45th (US Open), 48th in ’09, 40th in ’08 and then 15th last year. Definitely someone who has the ability to do well this week.

William Chesney Reavie

William Chesney Reavie

BMW International Open 2013

After a thrilling 4 days at Merion, the tours once again disband and the European Tour moves this week to Germany, for the second instalment of a BMW sponsored tournament in 2013. After a 1 year spell in Cologne, the BMW International Open returns to its spiritual home in Munich, where the tournament will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. We’re on a hot streak at DownThe18th at the moment, we backed Mikko Ilonen and Joost Luiten in the last 2 events, so we really want to keep it going this week!

The Golfclub Munchen Eichenried is playing 7,157 yards this week, and yet again is one of those where accuracy is needed, not length. It is a tree lined affair and Pablo Larrazabal during his win in 2011 ranked 2nd in driving accuracy, so be sure to drive it straight this week. Although the big-hitting Dustin Johnson has made the flight over this week to try and disprove that theory! But from previous winners on this course (Larrazabal, Horsey, Kaymer, Howell, Jimenez, Westwood, Bjorn) you can gauge that iron play and accuracy is going to be crucial. And we say it every week, but GIR will once again be vital with Larrazabal also ranking 2nd in that on his way to winning in 2011. The Spaniard’s putting was comparatively awful that week ranking 51st in putts per round, so being deadly on the greens isn’t imperative but it could make the difference come the end of day 4. There are quite a few water hazards and bunkers spread around the course, which also makes keeping the ball in play even more vital!

The German's love their golf

The German’s love their golf

Of course being the week after the gruelling, mental and physical examination that was Merion, we have decided to stay clear largely of people who competed in the US Open, although one person we really like just had to make our list. Stenson has proved in the past you can come here and play well on the back of a US Open appearance, but we just don’t feel confident at all backing people such as Garcia, Stenson, Els, Johnson and the like. And at 14/1, we really do feel it makes Stenson un-backable.

And please keep an eye on Thomas Bjorn this week, the forecast is for rain and lots of it. And Mr Rain from Denmark will be having the time of his life when the heavens open. He hasn’t quite made our 5, but he will do well without doubt. As long as it rains of course.

NB: Stan James are offering 6 places this week.

Ross Fisher (30/1 Paddy Power)

Hitting form at the right time

Hitting form at the right time

The Englishman has somewhat dropped off the radar the last few months, or even years, and it’s quite sad. Fisher had a pretty crazy spell from ’07 to ’10 bagging 4 European titles and putting in good performances at all 4 majors, including a 5th place in the US Open! (A US Open style of golf will be needed to win this week). He went onto be part of Europe’s victorious 2010 side that overcame a very strong American team. But since then, Ross would be disappointed at how things have progressed. But at the end of 2012 Fisher secured his place on the PGA Tour and after a mediocre start to the season, there have been really promising signs of late. A 10th place at the Wells Fargo Championship followed by a T32 at the BMW PGA and then an 8th at the Nordea Masters is very positive. In that 8th place Fisher finished off with a 64 and was close to breaking the course record at one point! And in Germany, he has finished 9th, 2nd (ranked 1st in driving accuracy) and 12th in his last 3 starts, so he enjoys it here! He is also ranked 8th in GIR on the PGA Tour, which will be perfect for this week. We really like how Fisher is playing at the moment and coming onto a track he knows well, it could make for a very good 4 days.

Paul Casey (50/1 Stan James)

Can he get back to his best?

Can he get back to his best?

Casey even more so than Fisher has really dropped off the golfing radar the last few years, and therefore is a gamble. Since dislocating his shoulder in 2011, it has been a massive battle to regain the form that saw him reach as high as number 3 in the world golf rankings. With 11 European Tour titles and one PGA, Casey really should not find himself at these sorts of odds. But he does, and we want to take advantage of it this week. Last week at Merion really did shout to us that Casey is back to his best. The course is one of the hardest around and Casey handled himself well, making the cut and still being in with a shout at the start of day 4. His iron play and driving really was reminiscent of the old Casey we know and love. And this week, Paul comes to a track that he REALLY likes. In the past 12 years he has record three 3rd places, two 7th places and only missed two cuts. If he is ever going to rekindle the sort of form we know he is capable of, it will be in Munich. And on the European Tour in 2013, Casey ranks 3rd in GIR! Just like Fisher, this could be a turn in Casey’s career that is much needed this week.

Felipe Aguilar (80/1 Paddy Power)

The enigmatic Aguilar

The enigmatic Aguilar

The Chilean is probably more of a cast iron pick than the previous 2, just because of how solid he has been playing in 2013. More often than not Aguilar has been contention at the end of most tournaments he has competed in the last few months, and it is incredible that he finds himself at such high odds! Felipe has finished in the top 10 in 4 out of his last 6 tournaments, not bad eh? And statistically, he is a perfect match for this week we feel. He ranks 13th in driving accuracy on the Tour this year and 8th in GIR.  And if you’re worried about course form, fear not, Aguilar finished 14th the last time it was held in Munich and then 4th in 2009. So he has the minerals to do very well on this course. It’s as simple as that, the Chilean is a great fit this week and represents really good value.

Graeme Storm (200/1 Coral)

We can certainly feel a Storm brewing in Germany this week, and we think the 35 year old Englishman has a great chance. Graeme is peaking just at the right time for this event after recording his first top 10 of 2013 2 weeks at the Lyoness Open. We were genuinely shocked when the odds were released that Storm could be got at such high odds, we thought at one point he might even be double figures! It’s his consistency on the German track that really excites us. He’s never missed a cut here in over 10 years of playing the tournament and has only finished outside the top 40 once in the last 7 years, with his best finish being 4th in 2009. Perhaps a win is a big ask, so a top 10 finish could really represent some good value. But with his course form, anything is possible.

Alex Cejka (150/1 Coral)

It is only right that we get a German in our picks! With Kaymer at short odds and Kieffer not in the sort of form we would like, Cejka is lucky enough to get our seal of approval this week. We watched last week’s Web.com Tour event closely and Cejka featured heavily throughout, but dropped off on day 4 to finish 28th. Now it’s not amazing, but it is signs that he playing some good stuff on a high quality Tour coming into his native event, which he will be buzzing for. But if you thought Storm’s course form was respectable, wait till you hear the German’s! Two 3rd places, a 2nd place, 16th and 21st have been his finishes in the last 10 years, not bad at all. Cejka has 4 European titles already to his name, so he certainly knows how to mix it with the best of them. We’ve highlighted it will take a US Open sort of game to win in Munich, and Cejka’s most recent performances at the Major have been 41st in 2012 and T8 in 2010. Alex has also represented Germany on countless occasions alongside Martin Kaymer, most recently in the 2011 World Cup where they came runner up to USA which included a certain Matt Kuchar. He’ll certainly have that German passion flowing through his veins. Again Cejka does represent good value, considering his track record in Munich.

Can Cejka do it in his home country?

Can Cejka do it in his home country?

US Open 2013

Final PreviewUS Open 2013

Tournament: US Open 2013

Location: Ardmore, Pennsylvania

Course: Merion Golf Club (East Course)

Distance: 6,996 yards

Current Champion: Webb Simpson

Dates: June 13 – 16

Before you read, one half of DownThe18th has been working at Golf Monthly Magazine the past few weeks, so please check out some of the stories by Lewis Pacelli, here is one of them – http://www.golf-monthly.co.uk/us-open-2013/blog/531387/us-open-blog-potential-winners.html

Well here we are, the week of the second major of the year and one we have personally been waiting for, for quite sometime.  We obviously love every major but this year’s US Open at Merion seems just that extra bit special, because it will be different to any of the big 4 in the next few years.

Not only is the course going to set up an intriguing battle, there are several sub plots to the drama that will unfold.

Webb Simpson will be arriving as current champion attempting to defend his title and that has not been achieved since Curtis Strange in 1989. Since then only 3 people have finished better than 40th in their defence (Tiger Woods, Graeme McDowell, Retief Goosen)

Tiger Woods is yet to win a major since 2008 at Torrey Pines, but is in scintillating form and he will be paired with Rory McIlroy for Thursday and Friday who is still searching for any sort of form.  Making up this 3-ball is Masters champion Adam Scott who will be trying to become only the 6th golfer ever to win both trophies in the same year.

The famous US Open trophy

The famous US Open trophy and the iconic Merion pinflags

As for the course itself, we started all this research by looking at the yardage in our 1st Preview (See Below). The track is going to be playing at under 7,000 yards and not since 2004 has that ever happened.  This will make the challenge a unique and difficult one for the field of 156 players.

DownThe18th US Open Preview 1

We calculated that the average driving distance on tour this year is 290 yards, therefore the simple maths (yes even simple for us!) leaves us with what yardage the majority of the field will face

Here is a run through of the 18 holes –

No. 1 – Par 4 – 350 yards – 60 yards left
No. 2 – Par 5 – 556 yards
No. 3 – Par 3 – 256 yards
No. 4 – Par 5 – 628 yards
No. 5 – Par 4 – 504 yards – 214 yards left
No. 6 – Par 4 – 487 yards – 197 yards left
No. 7 – Par 4 – 360 yards – 70 yards left
No. 8 – Par 4 – 359 yards – 69 yards left
No. 9 – Par 3 – 236 yards
Out – Par 36 – 3,736 yards
No. 10 – Par 4 – 303 yards – 13 yards left
No. 11 – Par 4 – 367 yards – 77 yards left
No. 12 – Par 4 – 403 yards – 113 yards left
No. 13 – Par 3 – 115 yards
No. 14 – Par 4 – 464 yards – 174 yards left
No. 15 – Par 4 – 411 yards – 121 yards left
No. 16 – Par 4 – 430 yards – 140 yards left
No. 17 – Par 3 – 246 yards
No. 18 – Par 4 – 521 yards – 231 yards left
In – Par 34 – 3,260 yards
Total – Par 70 – 6,996 yards

From this you can see that approaches from 50-125 and 125-150 yards will be key stats in finding the champion.

There have been responses from readers since we published our first preview, asking about the fact that 3 par 3s are very long and 1 par 5 is over 600 yards.  We have noted this and took it into consideration, but at the end of the day we feel more scoring can be done on the EIGHT par 4s where the course is begging to be attacked.

Our 2nd preview looks through why we feel short course gurus may be key to finding the winner and the recent short course history of certain players who kept cropping up near the top of leaderboards.

DownThe18th US Open Preview 2

You will be looking for only the most accurate players tee to green, because the rough has not been cut and will cause havoc to everyone who is wayward off the tee.

“The rough is longer than we’ve seen, You can’t make the grass grow in four days, but you can cut.  Although I don’t think they will.  Off the tee it’s quite awkward, someone who drives it the best this week will fare quite well – not the straightest, but the best” – Geoff Ogilvy (Washington Post)

Basically, the strategists and plotters will find their way to the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.  Scramblers are always going to be proficient with the small greens that define Merion.  GIR and of course putting will be crucial in finding the winner.

Tiger, Mcilroy and Scott in a 3-ball will be incredible to watch

Tiger, Mcilroy and Scott in a 3-ball will be incredible to watch

We originally whittled down names using previous US Open trends in our 1st preview and we will admit that 4, who were not part of the final group have made our selections, only because they were just too good to ignore.

Our 3rd preview was an ‘initial’ picks and yes some things have changed because of the lack of form from some and brilliant form of others.

DownThe18th US Open Preview 3

In what has been a 32 day marathon of data collecting, golf-viewing, ale drinking and ball sweating research, we have finally delivered the ‘6’ we believe could win the 2013 US Open.  Enough of our rambling, here they are.

N.B. Tad more rambling – if you download the PaddyPower app, you can get 7 places paid out at ¼ the odds!

Graeme McDowell (25/1 PaddyPower)

G Mac is in the form of his life

G Mac is in the form of his life

The 2010 champion is arriving at Merion in what he has called the ‘form of his life’.  We personally feel he has been his usual inconsistent self, but you cannot ignore the fact he has already won twice in 2013 (Volvo World Match Play and The RBC Heritage) and had a further 3 top 10s.  He really does look his usual gritty self, able to work the ball in challenging situations and who better than the Northern Irishman to defeat the challenge of Merion?  His renowned scrambling could get him through the horrendous rough and sloping greens when others will falter and his short game has been particularly impressive this year.  The fact he is 13th in strokes gained putting is the mark of a much improved McDowell, especially considering he was 160th last year!

When he did win this title back in 2010, the conditions were tough at times and he plotted his way round a very difficult course (Pebble Beach) with aplomb and poise.  So when you think how much his game has improved since, it is a fascinating prospect of what he could actually achieve this week.  He will be teeing off at 1:03 p.m (local Pennsylvanian time) from the 1st hole with Jimbo Furyk and Zach Johnson and lets be honest that sort of 3-ball are so strategic they could club together and destroy civilizations within the time Ben Crane finished a round.

In an interview this week McDowell showed his confidence and self-belief and that only adds to the spice of what he could do at Merion

“You could say I’m in the form of my life going into an event in which certainly my record kind of speaks for itself.  I feel like I’m a substantially better player than I was three years ago” Graeme McDowell (Belfast Telegraph)

Statistics Vital for Merion –

Graeme McDowell stats

Short Course Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
2 4 4 4 7 1

US Open Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
1 2 2 4 7 0

Best Finish – Won at Pebble Beach 2010

Tee Time: 18:03 – Graeme McDowell (NI), Jim Furyk (US), Zach Johnson (US)

Phil Mickelson (22/1 Various)

Will want to bag major number 5 at Merion

Will want to bag major number 5 at Merion

If Phil wasn’t in our plans already, his performance over the last few days at the St Jude Classic certainly confirmed his place in them. Now 42, Mickelson is not letting age get the better of him and with one win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and three top 3 finishes already in 2013, it’s hard not to look at him this week.

Phil himself will tell you his preparation was not right going into the Masters a few weeks back, which resulted in a T54 finish, stating lack of mental sharpness as his downfall. Prior to Augusta, he had a 2 week break and his form was not what we had come to expect from the American. So things have changed this time around. All the practise on the greens and range came prior to last week, and the St Jude Classic was all about getting that mental toughness he so craves. Going down the 18th on Sunday, Phil knew he needed a birdie to potentially put himself in a play-off, and he subsequently put it 2 feet away from 150 yards and was unlucky not to hole out. We’d say that is all you need to know about Phil’s mental state right now! Phil said the small greens and focus on iron play will give him just the practise he needs for Merion. And if that wasn’t enough, for each of Mickelson’s 4 major wins, he has played the week before…

“My short game got better as the week wore on” – Mickelson on the St Jude Classic

We have stated how crucial accuracy from the shorter yardage will be and Phil is one of, if not the best in the game with a pitching wedge. His accuracy off the tee is one worry, but he’ll be using the 3 wood a lot this week, don’t expect the cover to come off that driver too many times! One short yardage stat that really took our eye was that Phil is one of only 11 players on the PGA Tour this year to be overall under par on all par 3’s played. That is not only promising for the tough par 3’s at Merion, but it also highlights how good his iron play has been in 2013.

Phil has recorded FIVE 2nd places at the US Open over the years, so it is about time he put this title well and truly in his trophy cabinet! It’s his 43rd birthday on the Sunday too, what a present that would be…

Statistics Vital for Merion –

Phil Mickelson stats

Short Course Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
1 2 2 2 6 1

US Open Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 7 9 11 20 2

Best Finish(es) – T2 in 2009 at Bethpage State Park, Winged Foot Golf Club in 2006 and 2nd at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, Bethpage State Park in 2002 and in 1999 at Pinehurst Resort.

Tee Time: 17:41 – Phil Mickelson (US), Steve Stricker (US), Keegan Bradley (US)

Matt Kuchar (22/1 Various)

The form man in golf

The form man in golf

Our first 2 players really picked themselves but slot number 3 ended up being a shootout between Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker. And we didn’t think it would be fair to leave Kuchar out, so we are sorry Brandt. Kuchar is one of the hottest players in golf right now and Snedeker’s injury this year and major track-record has just put us off him. Interestingly, they are paired together for the 1st two days!

Now we could talk all day long about “KOOOOCH” (Expect to hear a lot of that off the tee this week), we’ve been on him for both of his victories on the PGA Tour this year which included his first WGC title, a big step to having the confidence to take his maiden major title. It is well documented that Kuchar has matured into a world class golfer once he hit his 30’s, and will be looking to emulate Phil Mickelson, who won his 1st major at 33. Kuchar, now 34, said his game was near perfect at the moment

“it’s taken a long time, but now I don’t feel like there are any weaknesses in my game.” – Kuchar

Kuchar needs to change nothing this week, he just needs to keep doing what he has been throughout 2013. The US Open is one not to enjoy, but to grind, and Kuchar will be perfect at doing just that.

Kuchar’s last 2 performances have been a 2nd place 2 weeks ago, followed by a 1st place at the Memorial tournament just a week back. So on paper, he is the form man in golf right now. After his win, Kuchar made his way to Merion on the Tuesday and said he wouldn’t leave “until I get used to it”. Kuchar has a great record on the shorter courses as well, his lack of length off the tee will almost be an advantage this week. His statistics are quite something and have led him to 2nd place in the FedEx rankings. Just to point out a few, Matt ranks 4th in scoring average, 13th in all-round rankings, 10th in scrambling, 13th in strokes gained-putting and 9th on par 4 performance. If he is ever going to grab his 1st major, it will be this week!

Statistics Vital for Merion –

Matt Kuchar stats

Short Course Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 4 6 9 12 1

US Open Form–

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 0 1 3 5 5

Best Finish – T6 in 2010 at Pebble Beach

Tee Time: 17:52 – Matt Kuchar (US), Justin Rose (ENG), Brandt Snedeker (US)

Steve Stricker (50/1 Various)

Can he finally capture his 1st major?

Can he finally capture his 1st major?

I think it tells you something that Stricker is our 2nd pick in his 40’s. To win at Merion it will take a certain maturity and level-head to grind out scores on all 4 days, something Stricker will be more than capable of doing. Steve has probably been in our minds the most since we first started previewing the US Open, in every avenue we looked down for research, his name would crop up. So much so, he was our number 1 pick in our 2nd Preview. Regardless of his age (46), Stricker has a good a chance as any this week.

It’s no coincidence that 8 of his 12 PGA Tour wins have come in his 40’s, and like Mickelson and Kuchar, is thriving in his later years. And age is but a number for Steve, he would not be travelling to Merion if he didn’t think he could win this thing. But it is his chipping and putting that really makes us confident in the American. He has made a living out of playing superb golf around and on the greens. And it is at Merion where these 2 attributes in particular will be tested to the max. Stricker’s putting has been so good, the likes of Tiger Woods have been asking for advice! And since Stricker’s words of wisdom, we all know what Tiger has been like on the greens.

Stricker has reduced his schedule hugely this year, to focus more on tournaments he enjoys and spend more time with the family. Knowing that, you can certainly assume he will be in a great frame of mind. He has two 2nd places in stroke play events in 2013, at the WGC Cadillac and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, two real top events. And his T20 at Augusta was certainly not a bad performance. Statistically below, you can see how well he is playing. His driving, iron play, scrambling and putting are all unbelievable this year. At 50/1 Stricker is a really solid choice this week, expect him to contend at least.

Statistics Vital for Merion –

Steve Sticker stats

Short Course Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 0 1 2 4 0

US Open Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 2 3 12 15 2

Best Finish(es) – T5 in 1998 at Olympic Club and 5th in 1999 at Pinehurst Resort

Tee Time: 17:41 – Phil Mickelson (US), Steve Stricker (US), Keegan Bradley (US)

Tim Clark (90/1 Various)

One of the best ball strikers in the game

One of the best ball strikers in the game

We managed to back Tim Clark at 100s earlier this morning, so it is both gutting and satisfying to see his shift in the market.  The 37-year old South African has been at the forefront of many DownThe18th journeys this year, simply because he is just a fine, fine player.  Tee to green you will find few better as his stats show and he is someone who is never afraid to attack even the most difficult pin positions.  With the notoriously small greens, his iron-play will suit, if his game is on.  What is even more encouraging is how he is putting this year.  He looks efficient and comfortable with the short stick and when it comes to those nerve-wrangling putts, you can definitely trust Clark.  He also won The Players back in 2010, so he has the bottle to mix it with the best and his 8-footer on the last posted the score that eventually finished best.  Trust us, he knew how crucial that particular putt was and sinking it proves the nerve he has.

As for his US Open history, he did finish T3 in 2005 at Pinehurst, which has 4 very short par 4s, 1 very long par 5 and 1 long par 3 just like at Merion this week.  Both courses are notoriously tight and Clark could once again take advantage of his lack in distance to challenge the leaders, plus at such high odds for a major, surely it is worth a punt?  As for form this year, he has recorded 3 top 10s and a T11 at The Masters, which will give him confidence going into this years tournament.

Statistics Vital for Merion –

Tim Clark Stats

Short Course Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 4 4 5 5 0

US Open Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 1 1 4 6 1

Best Finish – T3 in 2005 at Pinehurst Resort

Tee Time: 18:03 – Louis Oosthuizen (SA), Charl Schwartzel (SA), Tim Clark (SA)

Kevin Chappell (100/1 Coral)

Our much fancied outside bet for this week

Our much fancied outside bet for this week

Once again we do apologise that we could not get our information out to you all straight away but Chappell was at 150s only this morning (Monday) and Coral have clearly realised the discrepancy and slashed his odds.

Chappell has sneaked into our final 6, nudging out the likes of Furyk and Zach Johnson, simply because he was too good to ignore.  We know he is only 26 and has never won on the PGA Tour, but we just have a gut feeling about the Californian.

His record at US Opens speak for itself.  T10 last year and T3 the year before.  That is very impressive for your only 2 starts and for us it seems obvious why.  He is an aggressive, long-hitting, accurate ball striker whose ability with a short iron is unbelievable.  He can scramble and save himself from a certain bogey after wayward shots and when you think of what Maid Merion will be asking for, Chappell seems perfect.  From what we saw on his last outing, at the Memorial, he looked outstanding at the weekend.  He finished 2nd in a very difficult tournament and he will be teeing off at Merion off the back of 2 68s.

“It’s a tour event on Steriods” – Chappell on this year’s US Open course, Merion

He has only had 2 other top 10s this season, but when a young, fearless Tour player is buzzing, they generally play out of their skin for an extended period of time and we hope Chappell can continue his showing from Muirfield.  The most over-riding factor of choosing him, came with his stats in the short approach shots which will be so crucial on the 8 short par 4s.  Added to the fact that he is more than capable of hitting as far as the rest, a devastating mix is on the horizon.  Not necessarily to win, but a place for absolute sure.

Statistics Vital for Merion –

Kevin Chappell stats

Short Course Form –

Win

Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 1 2 2 10

3

US Open Form –

Win Top 5 Top 10 Top 25 Made Cut Missed Cut
0 1 2 2 2 0

Best Finish – T3 2011 at Congressional Country Club

Tee Time: 18:51 – Scott Piercy (US), Kevin Chappell (US), Jamie Donaldson (WAL)

Quick Mention: Once again, like most weeks, we will throw in a player at ridiculous odds who could go well.  Hideki Matsuyama (300/1 Paddy Power) is our choice this week. The 21 year old has been setting the Japanese Golf Tour alight, winning 2 out of the first 5 events on the tour in 2013. And he only turned professional in April! Interestingly, the course he won his last title on was 7,190 yards, so he is more than capable on the shorter tracks. His only 2 major appearances have been at the Masters, where he was T54 in 2012 and in 2011 as a 19 year old, finished T27 and was the only amateur to make the weekend!

Lets have a good week!