There were several factors that stood out in the latter stages of my debate that eventually came down to Clark, Kevin Stadler, Chris Stroud, Brian Gay and Daniel Summerhays.
- I eliminated Stadler because he's longer than any of the past winners at El Camaleon. He's also the most volatile with the putter.
- I like Brian Gay a lot, and his history here is sterling, but I don't know if I can completely trust his ball-striking seeing as how the field has strengthened this year.
- Summerhays didn't feel right. I don't know if it's because this is one of the first times he's had to deal with tournament-specific high expectations, but that played into it. It's very rare that shorter players with accuracy as a strength get back-to-back looks at courses that play into their wheelhouse, but in a way that has to ramp up their expectations and thus internal pressure.
- That brought it down to Clark and Stroud. Stroud is knocking on the door, but as crazy as this sounds, this week might make too much sense for him to break through. He's going to win, and probably this season, but there's a reason a guy that's got 195 events on the PGA TOUR hasn't won yet. A portion of that reason is that he hasn't figured out how to deal with the pressure. His playoff loss at the Travelers last year was impressive, but he entered the week under the radar. His T3 at the CIMB was equally impressive, but again, he wasn't on anyone's short list. This week, there are a lot of eyes on him. I like him to win this year, but not in a tournament where everyone expects it.
- Clark, on the other hand, had it all working in his first trip to Sea Island last week, so there's no reason to figure his first trip to El Camaleon will turn out any different. He hit 60 (of 72) GIR last week and split 46 (of 56) fairways. If he keeps that going, he'll be hard to beat. He's also the "class" of the short list. He's a PLAYERS champion. The potential pressure should impact him less than others.
One final note, it felt like this week offered a lot of B-plus options, but no true "A" options. It was sort of like the old football adage. "If you have three quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback." That's what this feels like. There are as many as eight or nine legitimate options with very little separation, which means there isn't a true "lead" option.
Best of luck this week. Come on, Timmy!