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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Greenbirer Classic - Power Rankings and One-and-done

The Greenbrier Classic is inching closer by the minute and here is a power ranking and one-and-done to complete our week's work. As mentioned in the Preview on Sunday, this is a tough tournament for which to prepare.

Here's our best effort:

  1. Paul Casey - Looked very good in his P2 at the Travelers Championship last week and is a solid fit for his first trip to The Old White TPC as well. Nice combination of class and form.
  2. Bubba Watson - Highly unlikely that he goes back-to-back, but his value this week is impossible to ignore. Trending with a T30-T16 run in his last two.
  3. Webb Simpson - A bit of a course horse here, which always makes Webb dangerous, he's 4/5 with three top 10s and a third-place finish last year.
  4. Bill Haas - While Casey has form and class, Haas offers class and course history. He's 4/4 with a pair of top 10s here. 
  5. Tony Finau - Right mix of really good form and shares the look of some of the early winners of this event. Long off the tee and has the ability to make some birdies.
  6. Graham DeLaet - The Canuck nearly popped the cork on his first win last week and is 3/3 with a T12 in 2012 at The Old White TPC. 
  7. Steven Bowditch - The Aussie has always been right at home on on this course and actually has some believable current form as well.
  8. Keegan Bradley - Flashed some nice signs last week to go with a T4 last year. Certainly an intriguing option in most formats.
  9. Patrick Reed - Comes down to his class relative to the field. He's 1/2 in this event, but doesn't own a top 25.
  10. Kevin Kisner - Typically, great form trumps bad history, which is what we have in play this week for Kisner. One of the hottest players on TOUR the last two months.
  11. Russell Henley 
  12. J.B. Holmes
  13. Pat Perez
  14. Brendan Todd
  15. David Lingmerth
  16. Louis Oosthuizen
  17. George McNeill
  18. Kevin Na
  19. Carl Pettersson
  20. Robert Streb
  21. Brendon de Jonge
  22. Jason Bohn
  23. Daniel Berger
  24. Rory Sabbatini
  25. Jon Curran
As for the one-and-done, it was nice to at least sneak out a top 10 with Brandt Snedeker last week. Given the nature of this tournament, this is a great week to take a risk. I'm doing that with Steven Bowditch. Best of luck to all!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Greenbrier Classic - Preview

The Greenbrier Classic return to The Old White TPC for the sixth time, and here is a preview to get us off and running. Before we begin to take the plunge into this tournament, it needs to be pointed out that this has proven to be relatively difficult to handicap over the first five editions.

The Old White TPC is a par-70 layout that stretches out to 7,287 years. Stuart Appleby won the first edition in 2010, which included a final-round 59, but the course was lengthened considerably following the maiden voyage. Because of that, an asterisk belongs by the 2010 results for the purposes of predicting the outcome of 2015.

As one would expect, a par 70 means we have 12 par 4s, four par 3s and a pair of par 5s. Both par 5s fall on the back nine, and offer birdie chances.

Here is the list of winners and runners-up since the inception.

  • 2010 - Winner: Stuart Appleby (22-under 258) over Jeff Overton (259)
  • 2011 - Winner: Scott Stallings (270) over Bob Estes and Bill Haas in a playoff
  • 2012 - Winner: Ted Potter Jr (264) over Troy Kelly in a playoff
  • 2013 - Winner: Jonas Blixt (267) over Steven Bowditch, Matt Jones, Johnson Wagner and Jimmy Walker (269)
  • 2014 - Winner: Angel Cabrera (264) over George McNeill
Here's what I gather from this list:
  • Driving accuracy doesn't matter, in terms of a stat. The fairways are ample and the penalty for missing them is minimal. Blixt, Walker and Cabrera are all very good examples of players that are proven winners when driving accuracy doesn't matter.
  • This is a resort course, and because of that it's a "go low." Appleby obviously shot a 59, and has won on the Plantation Course where low scores abound. Scott Stallings popped up where numbers go deep. Bill Haas is a two-time winner at the Humana Challenge where you must take it deep. Ted Potter Jr was a mini-tour legend before making it to the PGA TOUR. That's a circuit where you have to shoot 65 every round to win. A player has to be comfortable with going deep. 
  • It would not be a surprise to see a recent Web.com Tour grad pop up here. That tour is also known as the "wedge dot putt" tour, and low numbers are everywhere out there.
Stats are going to be very difficult to get a handle on this week, as what is most relevant would be a players stats on easier courses. How a player performed at Memorial, for example, would offer very little relevance to The Old White TPC. Unfortunately, the dreaded "feel" does come into play this week in addition to course history and current form.

We will return later in the week with a power ranking and one-and-done selection. Until then, happy research!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

U.S. Open - Review

While I haven't done this very often this year, I'm going to spend a few minutes recapping my thoughts from the U.S. Open. I was already thinking about it, and a comment from a reader gave me just the nudge I needed.

Here are a few scattered thoughts:

  • I really thought Rory McIlroy put the idea that Jordan Spieth was a challenger to his throne to bed with his wins at the Match Play and Quail Hollow, but clearly Spieth didn't get the memo. If McIlroy putts at all, this would have been an even more epic finish.
  • I don't think Dustin Johnson choked. A choker doesn't birdie the par-3 17th to put himself in the mix, bomb a drive to the narrow part of the fairway on the par-5 18th and stick a long iron to 12 feet for a look at eagle. As soon as that ball didn't feed back down the slope on approach, the immediate thought hit me that this wasn't a guaranteed two putt, even from that distance. Day's "lag" further supported that.
  • Ironically, in some ways Chambers Bay reminded me of Augusta National. I'll need to explain that. The only other course that jumps to mind where slopes on greens can feed balls to or away from a hole to the degree of Chambers Bay may be ANGC. Of course, the surface of those greens are polar opposites.
  • I liked Chambers Bay tee-to-green more than it would seem most people did. I'm not sure I liked it for a U.S. Open, but I didn't hate it. I certainly liked it more than a Torrey Pines South, but it absolutely lacked the traditional U.S. Open charm of a Winged Foot, Merion, Oakmont, etc. Things will get back on track quickly with Oakmont next year, and I am thoroughly looking forward to that. In fact, Chambers Bay may have made us appreciate the brutal tests we typically see in these events.
  • I believe the merit of a venue is validated by the leaderboard it produces. When the top three is Spieth, DJ and Oosthuizen, it's hard to argue Chambers Bay. 
  • What's there to say about Tiger Woods that hasn't already been said?
  • Be careful not to dub some of the non-PGA TOUR regulars like Grace and Smith the next big thing just off this performance. Those greens were much more on par with Euro Tour events than PGA TOUR greens.
  • More on Spieth...he won with his "B" game. That was very Tiger Woods-like and very scary for the rest of the field.
  • What happened to Rickie?
  • This should serve as a pretty strong preview for St. Andrews. Guys like Oosthuizen and Grace have already experienced success at the Old Course, so file that way for next month.
That was fun. Hope you found it enjoyable in some way as well!

Travelers Championship - Power Ranking and One-and-Done

The Travelers Championship awaits a field of worthy challengers and here is this week's power ranking and one-and-done selection. For more information on TPC River Highlands and the history of this tournament, feel free to refer to Monday's Preview.

Away we go:

  1. Brandt Snedeker - Others offer better course history, but his T11 here last year is enough to check that box. The real draw is his current form, where he boasts a run of T2-T6-8 in his last three starts including the eighth at the U.S. Open. Sneds is known for getting hot in spurts, and this appears to be one of those runs.
  2. Billy Horschel - Similar to Snedeker, his recent run has been full of top-15 finishes and he's been flirting with a big week for the last month or two. This is a good place for him to burst through with a win, or at least a top 10. He tied for 24th here back in 2012 but has taken a few years off. 
  3. Bubba Watson - Course horse by every measure, he has a win and a runner-up at this layout. Recent form has lagged, but he should right the ship this week.
  4. Sergio Garcia - Popped up with a T2 here last year and is clearly among the class of the field. Not much stress in Connecticut this week.
  5. Patrick Reed - Made a little noise at Chambers Bay last week, and managed a T18 here in 2013. While that's not great, his class bridges the remainder of the gap.
  6. Tony Finau - I keep waiting for him to fade and he keeps disappointing me. I'm finally on board with the bomber.
  7. Russell Knox - A fitting candidate for a breakthrough win this week, he tied for 13th here last year and is trending into the week with a T24-T18-T8 run in his last three starts.
  8. Kevin Streelman - Defending champs generally scare me, and this week is no different to a degree, but he's been strong both in form and course history.
  9. Zach Johnson - ZJ is a steady option this week, though perhaps not spectacular. He's 7/9 with just one top 10, but four top 25s in this tourney. 
  10. Hunter Mahan - Course history that rivals Bubba, Mahan has a win, two runners-up and a fourth-place finish, but really hasn't played all that well the last few months. Classic case of course history versus current form.
  11. Marc Leishman
  12. Brendan Steele
  13. Keegan Bradley
  14. Branden Grace
  15. Brendon de Jonge
  16. Francesco Molinari
  17. Kevin Na
  18. Louis Oosthuizen
  19. Justin Thomas
  20. Paul Casey
  21. Patrick Rodgers
  22. Harris English
  23. Cameron Smith
  24. Angel Cabrera
  25. Jerry Kelly

One-and-done

The best advise I can give you is not to follow me. Somehow I managed to place Jordan Spieth on a missed cut at THE PLAYERS and Rickie Fowler on a missed cut at the U.S. Open. Clearly I'm snake bit. 

With that said, I'm going to go ahead and put the curse on Brandt Snedeker this week. You've been warned. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Travelers Championship - Preview

The PGA TOUR returns to action at TPC River Highlands for this week’s Travelers Championship, and here is a preview to get you off and running with your research. As we dive in, please accept my apologies for posting this a day later than usual. A combination of Father’s Day festivities, the U.S. Open and just being really tired were the contributing factors.

The good news is, this is a familiar tournament at a familiar venue, so we won’t have any trouble catching up.

As mentioned earlier, TPC River Highlands is the par-70 layout of 6,841 yards that awaits the competitors this week. It features two par 5s that offer legitimate birdies opportunities, a drivable par 4 among the 12 of those, and the expected dose of four par 3s. To say this course is short by modern standards is totally on point.

As we try and identify stats to watch, let’s take a look back at the winners and runners-up dating back to 2005 and look for similarities in player types atop the board.

2005 – Winner: Brad Faxon (14-under 266) over Tjaart van der Walt (playoff)
2006 – Winner: J.J. Henry (266) over Hunter Mahan and Ryan Moore (269)
2007 – Winner: Hunter Mahan (265) over Jay Williamson (playoff)
2008 – Winner: Stewart Cink (262) over Tommy Armour III and Hunter Mahan (263)
2009 – Winner: Kenny Perry (258) over Paul Goydos and David Toms (261)
2010 – Winner: Bubba Watson (266) over Scott Verplank and Corey Pavin (playoff)
2011 – Winner: Freddie Jacobson (260) over Ryan Moore and John Rollins (261)
2012 – Winner: Marc Leishman (266) over Charley Hoffman and Bubba Watson (267)
2013 – Winner: Ken Duke (268) over Chris Stroud (playoff)
2014 – Winner: Kevin Streelman (265) over K.J. Choi and Sergio Garcia (266)

One of the first things that jumps off the page is that there are several notable PGA TOUR players that picked up their first and / or only wins at this event. Bubba Watson and Hunter Mahan have each gone on to have excellent careers after popping the cork in Connecticut, while J.J. Henry and Marc Leishman each hold this as their lone title. The lesson would be to take a hard look at players that are due to break through with a first win and consider this to be a great landing spot.

The other thing that stands out is the vast contrast between both long and short players showing well here. The perfect example would be in 2010, when both Bubba and Corey Pavin were in the same playoff. Other examples exist along these same lines.

In some ways, this reminds me of the John Deere Classic. It’s a course where deep numbers exist and several elite players have a great history. Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker at the JDC are replaced by names like Mahan, Ryan Moore and Watson at TPC River Highlands.

As with any par-70 layout, par-4 scoring average is relevant. I’ll also take a look at Par Breakers, Course History and Current form. Because of the mix of smooth putters and great ball-strikers on this list, it’s hard to give an edge to SG:TTG or SG:Putting. With that, I intend to take a more subjective look at things like how a player fares on shorter courses, etc.

We will be back as soon as possible with the power ranking and one-and-done selection.


Until then, happy research!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

U.S. Open - Power Ranking and One-and-Done

The U.S. Open is fast approaching, and here is this week's power ranking and one-and-done selection to complete our research.

It's been about 48 hours since our preview, and very little has changed in terms of my impressions of the course. I am now pretty convinced that driving accuracy is absolutely irrelevant, so I'm not interested in total driving. Just driving distance. What has been confirmed is the creativity needed to play the course, including putting from well off the green.

It's also been nice to hear a number of players offer the take that the course should play fair as long as the expectations coming in are in tune with this not being anything like a regular U.S. Open course.

Creativity and attitude are important.

With that as the backdrop, here we go:

  1. Rory McIlroy - I see this as a no-brainer. A 7,800 yard layout playing to a par of 70 is right up his alley. The width of the fairways will allow him to confidently bomb the driver. It will come down to his putter. If we see a confident McIlroy with the flat stick, it's hard to think he won't be in contention on the back nine Sunday afternoon.
  2. Jordan Spieth - Let me start by saying that this has very little to do with his caddie being a local. Spieth is a local to the HP Byron Nelson, and that hasn't translated into a win, so why would his caddie being a local to this layout matter that much more? What does matter is how strong he's been all year and how he should fight his way into the mix this week. 
  3. Rickie Fowler - Look at his record in majors the last year and a half and consider his win at THE PLAYERS and ask yourself who below him should really be above him.
  4. Phil Mickelson - This checks a lot of boxes for Phil. He's clearly in good form, and this course should allow him to hit the driver without fear of reprisal. Add to that, he is a creative genius, so the slopes and curves of this course should have his full attention and stimulation.
  5. Hideki Matsuyama - His stats are as appealing as anyone's and he showed, especially early in the week, that he was in nice form two weeks ago at Memorial.
  6. Sergio Garcia - The Spaniard has played majors very well throughout his career. Included in that is several close calls in Open Championships, which is what Chambers Bay will resemble. While he's a course horse at TPC Sawgrass, and his big week there was not a surprise, it does show that he's on point. 
  7. Henrik Stenson - Could be the steal of a weekly draft in the seventh spot given his history on links courses and his pedigree, but rocky form well after his flu battle around the Masters hasn't lifted. Very dangerous with the irons, which won't hurt him this week.
  8. Dustin Johnson - His value would be higher if not for the weird WD at the FedEx St. Jude last week due to illness during a very bad first round, but my guess is that people may fade him a little too far. Bomber can bomb this week.
  9. Brooks Koepka - Another bomber that enters the week on a roll to boot, Koepka has the advantage of seeing this course in competition in the U.S. Amateur back in 2010. 
  10. Justin Rose - This would favor him a bit more if the tee shots were a bit more demanding, but he's shown his class over the last two months in the U.S. and should be plenty dangerous. 
  11. Bubba Watson
  12. Jimmy Walker
  13. Paul Casey
  14. Bill Haas
  15. Ian Poulter
  16. Jim Furyk
  17. Brandt Snedeker
  18. Billy Horschel
  19. Francesco Molinari
  20. Ryan Palmer
  21. Matt Kuchar
  22. Jason Day
  23. Ryan Moore
  24. Louis Oosthuizen
  25. Lee Westwood
As for the one-and-done, I'm going to throw the whammy on Rickie Fowler as my pick. He's been so clutch in majors and now has a ton of additional confidence after winning THE PLAYERS. 

If it helps the cause, will someone please tell him that I think he's the most overrated player in golf? That worked well for motivation at TPC Sawgrass :) !

Best of luck to all!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

U.S. Open - Preview

The 2015 season's second major championship is the U.S. Open, with Chambers Bay serving as the backdrop for the first time, and here is a preview to get you off and running with your research. Of this year's major rota (Augusta National, The Old Course at St. Andrews and Whistling Straights) Chambers Bay is by far the biggest wildcard.

In terms of course history, about the best we can do is take a look back at the 2010 U.S. Amateur. There are more big names than one would think inside the top 25 in the stroke play portion of the tournament, including Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Rodgers, Justin Thomas, Hudson Swafford, Morgan Hoffmann, Nick Taylor, Patrick Reed, Harris English, Max Homa and Kevin Tway. Oh, and the eventual winner isn't even listed in the top 25 of the stroke play portion. That would be Peter Uihlein.

The best news for punters and gamers in 2015, is that the cream seemed to rise to the top in 2015.

Typically when a major championship rotates from one course to another, past results in that particular major still matter to a degree. Courses usually follow similar setups and the test identifies similar characters. That's not the case this week. Throw U.S. Open course history completely out the window. Any semblance to past U.S. Open leaderboards at the end of the week is a happy accident.

My best guess based on all of the information available to me at this time is that Chambers Bay will play like a very long links course, minus the wind. The greens will likely be a bit slower than most U.S. Opens, the rough a bit more forgiving and the fairways a bit wider. Due to elevation changes and the humps and bumps to be found in the fairway, it's entirely possible that a good shot could find itself unlucky on occasion and a bad shot could avoid a harsh punishment.

The scorecard tells us that Chambers Bay will play as a 7,742-yard par 70. In terms of stats, that should immediately tell us to value par-4 scoring average and driving distance. So, long players with a solid track record in the Open Championship (not a typo) and a steady par-4 scoring average who also happen to be in good form are very appealing. Putting has not been a key indicator of success in this tournament as of late, and there's no reason to think that will change this week.

Normally I stray from talking about things like "gut instinct", but the lack of relevant history allows for that this week. If this U.S. Open does share any traits with past U.S. Opens, the three in recent memory I could see it resembling are Oakmont (2007), Bethpage Black (2009) and Congressional (2011).

While Oakmont is as traditional as they come in regards to U.S. Open layouts, it's also a monster of a course that identified Angel Cabrera as the champion. Bethpage was all about driving the golf ball, and Lucas Glover stole the trophy as a Sectional Qualifier by dominating the soggy course tee to green. To this day, Glover is an elite driver of the golf ball and his ball-striking is every bit as good today as it was in 2009. He just can't putt. Similar to Glover at Bethpage, McIlroy destroyed Congressional off the tee to run away with that U.S. Open.

My guess is that on Sunday night, we will look back at a leaderboard that featured players that can handle the rigors of a long golf course by hitting a driver with confidence off the tee. Mid-to-long irons should matter as well.

We will start to compile the numbers and return later this week with a power ranking and a one-and-done selection. Until then, best of luck to all!