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Sunday, March 1, 2015

WGC-Cadillac Championship - Preview

While The Honda Classic is preparing for  Monday finish, it's time for us to move on with a preview of the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Last year's edition was won by Patrick Reed, and ultimately led to him announcing to the world that he was  a top-five player. While he looked like a bit of a joke at the time, it turns out that the joke might be on us.

The Blue Monster, Trump National Doral returns as the host venue. You'll likely remember that their was a significant redesign before last year's edition, meaning course history is most relevant for 2014. As the name suggests, this is a monster of a course. It's a par 72, stretching out to 7,528 yards and featuring the full bounty of four par 5s, four par 3s and 10 par 4s.

Doral has consistently hosted this tournament since 2007. Here is the list of winners and runners-up since that time.

  • 2007 - Winner:  Tiger Woods (10-under 278) over Brett Wetterich (280)
  • 2008 - Winner:  Geoff Ogilvy (271) over Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh (272)
  • 2009 - Winner:  Phil Mickelson (269) over Nick Watney (270)
  • 2010 - Winner:  Ernie Els (270) over Charl Schwartzel (274)
  • 2011 - Winner: Nick Watney (272) over Dustin Johnson (274)
  • 2012 - Winner: Justin Rose (272) over Bubba Watson (273)
  • 2013 - Winner: Tiger Woods (269) over Steve Stricker (271)
  • 2014 - Winner: Patrick Reed (284) over Jamie Donaldson and Bubba Watson (285)

Here are a few observations based on that list:
  • There is absolutely a correlation between success at Doral and success at Augusta National. Both times Bubba won the Masters, he finished runner-up at Doral a month before. Tiger, Phil and Schwartzel can all be found on the list above, and we know how they've fared in the season's first major. 
  • It's not an accident that the highest score to win occurred last year after the redesign. For starter, the par-5 first hole went from being one of the easiest par 5s on TOUR to a much sterner test. 
  • Length is very important. Let's be serious....Brett Wetterich is on this list. So is Bubba, DJ, Lefty and TW. TW used to be long!
This week, I will take into account current form and course history, as always. I will also consider metrics such as length, total driving, par 4 scoring and par 5 scoring. 

We will return later this week with a power ranking and one-and-done. 

Considering the Monday finish for The Honda Classic, along with the Puerto Rico Open this week, I will post blogs as quickly as I can. It's possible that some posts will be earlier or later than usual. Thanks for your flexibility. 

Happy research!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Honda Classic - Power Ranking and One-and-Done

The Honda Classic ushers in the return of Rory McIlroy to the PGA TOUR and here is a power ranking to get things off and running.

  1. Rory McIlroy - If you read any list this week that doesn't start with Rory, stop reading that list immediately and never go back.
  2. Justin Rose - Not quite a 1A to McIlroy, but he's the clear number 2. Top fives in each of his last three trips to PGA National and his class is permanent. 
  3. Sergio Garcia - Choked away the Northern Trust Open last week, tying for fourth and missing out on the playoff by a stroke, but his T8 in The Honda Classic last year offers a nice spot for a rebound this week.
  4. Paul Casey - Trends converge nicely, as he lost in a playoff last week and now turns his attention to a venue where he has two top-12 finishes in three tries including a T12 last year. 
  5. Keegan Bradley - Another example of form meeting history, Bradley has gone T12-T4-T12 in his last three trips to PGA National and enters off a T4 last week. 
  6. Lee Westwood - A pair of top 10s overseas to start 2015 mesh nicely with his five-for-five / three top 10 record at PGA National.
  7. Graeme McDowell - Record overseas to start 2015 isn't quite as good as Westwoods, but his history is very similar. Went T6-T9-T9-T46 in his last four trips to The Honda Classic. 
  8. Brooks Koepka - Took two weeks off after a T41 hangover performance following his Waste Management Phoenix Open win. He tied for 33rd here last year, but his arc is peaking fast. 
  9. Dustin Johnson - While limited, his course history here is below his standards. That said, a T4-P2 run the last two weeks demands respect.
  10. Graham DeLaet - Another trendy player, the Canuck has top 10s in two of his last three starts this season and tied for ninth at the Honda last year. 
  11. Patrick Reed
  12. Nick Watney
  13. Sang-moon Bae
  14. Ryan Palmer
  15. Harris English
  16. Will MacKenzie
  17. Chris Kirk
  18. Russell Knox
  19. Russell Henley 
  20. Freddie Jacobson
As for the one-and-done, this week is tricky. It would seem foolish to burn McIlroy on his first week on U.S. soil, but I won't try and talk you out of it if your heart is set on it. Same goes for Rose.

Going straight from my power ranking, I narrowed my focus to the 3-6 range. That is, Garcia, Casey, Bradley and Westwood. It gets much easier considering I've already used Garcia and Westwood. That leaves Casey and Bradley.

Casey is the proper play in this scenario, and he also matches my gut instinct. Bradley is a nice save for several stops later in the year anyway, where Casey is the perfect guy to burn when his form is on point. His P2 last week and T12 at The Honda Classic check out.

Best of luck to all!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Honda Classic - Preview

The West Coast Swing is in the books and the Florida Swing is up next on the PGA TOUR, with the Honda Classic batting leadoff. Here is a preview to get you off and running with your research.

The setting is PGA National's Champions Course, and it features the famed Bear Trap. The Bear Trap  is the par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th holes, and pays homage to Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the course as recently as 2002. 

It is a par-70 layout that stretches out to 7,140 yards. As is the case with virtually every course in Florida, it features Bermuda greens. For the advanced golf fan, you know that there are players that thrive on Bermuda and others that don't. Those that do are generally locals to the Southeast U.S, and specifically Florida.

There are just two par 5s, so par-5 scoring isn't a big deal here. The four par 3s are a big part of the story, so a look at par-3 scoring average could be wise. With 12 par 4s, make sure to take into account par-4 scoring average. 

Here is a look at the winners and runners-up since the tournament moved to the Champions Course in 2007:
  • 2007: Winner: Mark Wilson (5-under 275) over Jose Coceres, Camilo Villegas and Boo Weekley (playoff)
  • 2008: Winner: Ernie Els (274) over Luke Donald (275)
  • 2009: Winner: Y.E. Yang (271) over John Rollins (272)
  • 2010: Winner: Camilo Villegas (267) over Anthony Kim (272)
  • 2011: Winner: Rory Sabbatini (271) over Y.E. Yang (272)
  • 2012: Winner: Rory McIlroy (268) over Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis (270)
  • 2013: Winner: Michael Thompson (271) over Geoff Ogilvy (273)
  • 2014: Winner Russell Henley (272) over Russell Knox, Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer (playoff)
As alluded to earlier, I will take a hard look at par-3 and par-4 scoring average. Any time Boo Weekley pops up on a list, it's probably a good idea to take a hard look at ball-striking. There is also the need to avoid bogeys / scramble over racking up birdies (par breakers).

We will take all of this into account and spit out a power ranking later on this week.

Until then, best of luck to all!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Northern Trust Open - Power Ranking and One-and-Done

With the Northern Trust Open inching closer by the minute, it's time to release the power ranking and settle on a one-and-done selection. I encourage you to refer to Sunday's preview for additional information on Riviera Country Club and the recent history of this event.

Here we go:

  1. Dustin Johnson - No reservations regarding DJ. He got the top spot over Bubba due to a more consistent course history. He has three top-four finishes including a runner-up last year. Came alive at Pebble Beach last week and looks to be peaking.
  2. Bubba Watson - The defending champ has not shown any sign of slowing down in 2014-15. He's gone T11, 10, T2 in his last three PGA TOUR starts, so invest with confidence.
  3. Jimmy Walker - Let us down a bit at Pebble Beach last week, but still wrangled a top-25 finish. Has two top-four finishes at Riviera, so all signs point to another big week.
  4. Webb Simpson - This wouldn't seem like the perfect course for him at first blush, but it actually has been a strong fit. He's 3/3 with two top-15 finishes and enters off a T13 / T7 run in his last two starts. Statistically, he took the cake on the spreadsheet. 
  5. Jordan Spieth - Tied for 12th here last year and is in the midst of a T7-MC-T7 run. Class player that should show up on a classy layout like Riviera.
  6. J.B. Holmes - A very intriguing option this week, Holmes is 7/8 at Riviera with four top 10s and a T3 on the ledger. Owns a playoff loss and a T10 in his last two TOUR starts. When form meets history.....
  7. Bill Haas - Course history here is eerily similar to the Humana Challenge, where he won last month. He followed up a win in 2012 with a T3 in 2013 and has cracked the top 25 in each of his last four starts here. The win at the Humana tells you all you need to know about his current form.
  8. Charl Schwartzel - This has become his jumping off point in the U.S. each of the last two years, and it will again this year. Owns a T3 and a 5th, with all rounds under par. Placed well in some events overseas before this tournament.
  9. Brandt Snedeker - Not out of the question for him to finish very high on the leaderboard, as their is precedent to him staying hot following a win. He's intriguing because his work with Butch Harmon is geared towards making him a better ball-striker. His GIR clip was huge last week, and that bodes well for Riviera. 
  10. Sergio Garcia - He's 7/8 with six top 25s and two top 10s in this event, but hasn't been playing all that well overseas. It shouldn't matter, but it's hard to figure out who to bump down the list.
  11. Jim Furyk
  12. Nick Watney
  13. Harris English
  14. Hideki Matsuyama
  15. Sang-moon Bae
  16. Keegan Bradley
  17. Robert Streb
  18. William McGirt
  19. Francesco Molinari
  20. Hunter Mahan

Once again, the last guy I cut picked up a win this week. So it goes.

The players that made my short list for this format this week wasn't all that short. Bubba, DJ, Spieth, Holmes, Schwartzel and Snedeker all felt like solid fits for this week. 

I just couldn't shake Dustin Johnson. He's fresh after his six-month break, posted a T4 on another one of his traditionally strong layouts last week and has the course history. It goes without saying that he's long enough to tame Riviera. 

I certainly could have "saved" DJ for a major or FEC Playoff event, but what's the point? If pressed, J.B Holmes was probably my last cut. So, you're welcome J.B.!

Best of luck to all this week!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Northern Trust Open - Preview

With Pebble Beach in the past, it's time to turn our full attention to the Northern Trust Open, and here is a preview to get things off and running. Riviera Country Club is the iconic venue, with a strong resume of past champions.

Not that it matters, but this is my favorite event of the West Coast Swing. The field is arguably the best, with players like Charl Schwartzel making their 2015 debut in the U.S. Riviera is my favorite layout of the West Coast Swing. It's just a great combo. Hopefully my insight will reflect my excitement for this event.

Riviera is a 7,349 yards, and it plays to a par of 71. It features three very different par 5s, and a par 4 that can be reached off the tee. The par 3s are demanding, especially on the front nine.

The course opens with a short par 5 that is reachable by everyone in the field. In fact, longer players will hit a 3-wood and a long iron and have a realistic look at eagle. The par-5 11th hole is pretty hefty, but it it reachable by roughly a third of the field with a solid drive in the fairway. The par-5 17th is a monster that is rarely reached in two.

The par-4 10th, reachable off the tee, is often considered one of the best short par 4s in all of golf. Depending on the hole location, it can be a tough par to secure.

Perhaps the best thing about Riviera is that it truly tests the all-around game of a player. There is no one aspect of a game that can deliver a strong result or cause failure. An average putting week can be overcome by great ball-striking, and an average week tee-to-green can be salvaged with a hot putting week.

Here is a list of past winners and runners-up since 2006. Of note, 2005 was washed out at 36 holes.

  • 2006 - Winner: Rory Sabbatini (13-under 271) over Adam Scott (272)
  • 2007 - Winner: Charles Howell III (268) over Phil Mickelson in a playoff
  • 2008 - Winner: Phil Mickelson (272) over Jeff Quinney (274)
  • 2009 - Winner: Phil Mickelson (269) over Steve Stricker (270)
  • 2010 - Winner: Steve Stricker (268) over Luke Donald (270)
  • 2011 - Winner: Aaron Baddeley (272) over Vijay Singh (274)
  • 2012 - Winner: Bill Haas (277) over Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley (playoff)
  • 2013 - Winner: John Merrick (273) over Charlie Beljan (273) in a playoff
  • 2014 - Winner: Bubba Watson (269) over Dustin Johnson (271)  
As for what I'm looking for this week, it will be a class player. Merrick and Beljan are the exceptions to the rule. I do prefer a longer player this week, and I will likely take a hard look at SG: tee-to-green. Par-4 scoring average will also be a factor, as some of the par 4s are very stout. As always, course history and current form matter greatly.

I will return on Tuesday with this week's power ranking and one-and-done. 

Happy research!

Monday, February 9, 2015

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am - Power Ranking and One-and-Done

With the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am peeking its head around the corner, let's take a dive into this week's power ranking and one-and-done. With any luck, this week's power ranking will be as successful as last week's, which had Jason Day sitting in the first spot.

Here we go

  1. Jimmy Walker - He can't successfully defend two titles in one season can he? That's the kind of rarefied air reserved for Tiger Woods at places like Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Muirfield Village and Firestone CC. Walker is a top-10 machine right now, and did nothing to dampen our expectations at Torrey Pines last week. 
  2. Jason Day - Last week's winner is oozing "elite" and should be a factor this week as well. He's made each of his five cuts, with three top 15s and two sixth-place finishes. 
  3. Dustin Johnson - Pebble has been his playground. In addition to his two wins and one runner-up in this event, he also nearly won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble. It's worth mentioning that he won the FedEx St. Jude Classic several year ago in his second start after another mysterious absence from golf. 
  4. Patrick Reed - Has a pair of top-15 finishes in this event, and we all know that he can get  hot with little or no warning. The question isn't "why?" but "why not?"
  5. Brandt Snedeker - The past champ here and poa annua grass expert is primed for a nice week after a T19 at Torrey Pines last week. While he isn't as solid as he was in 2013, he's getting back on track and should contend sooner rather than later.
  6. Ryan Palmer - Forget that his best finish in this event is a T23 in nine tries, his current form is undeniable. A T17-T10-T2 trend before taking a week off is strong by any standard.
  7. Hunter Mahan - Became a father for the second time last week, so it is worth monitoring to make sure he isn't a late scratch. Finished no worse than T16 here in his last four tries including a runner-up effort.
  8. Jordan Spieth - Will likely be looked over this week due to some other course horses because of his missed cut last week, but there is no reason to think that is anything other than a blip on an otherwise clear radar. Has a T22 and a T4 in this event.
  9. Jim Furyk - Popped up for air for the first time in 2015, and owns a solid record in this event. Not spectacular enough for most formats, but a steady hand at the wheel.
  10. Shane Lowry - Top 10 at Torrey Pines last week bodes well for the young Irishman trying to earn his way to elite status. Graeme McDowell's U.S. Open win in 2010 adds to the confidence that Lowry will adjust to the elements well. 
  11. Ian Poulter
  12. J.B. Holmes
  13. Chris Kirk
  14. Spencer Levin
  15. Nick Watney
  16. Kevin Na
  17. Daniel Berger
  18. Jason Kokrak
  19. Pat Perez
  20. Rory Sabbatini

It's pretty simple. Time to burn Jimmy Walker. Brandt Snedeker was the last cut.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am - Preview

The next stop on the PGA TOUR's West Coast Swing is the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and here is a preview to kick off this week's research.

The AT&T shares traits from several tournaments already in the books. Like the Humana Challenge, it is a Pro-Am format for the first three days of the competition and utilizes a three-course rotation for the first three rounds. The cut falls after 54 holes, and all action is at Pebble Beach on Sunday. While the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines is not a Pro-Am, it utilizes a two-course rotation and the layouts are much more like that of the Pebble Beach rota than that of the Humana.

In addition to Pebble Beach Golf Links, Monterey Peninsula CC and Spyglass GC will round out the rotation. Each of the three courses are under 7,000 yards and all feature four par 5s. It is worth pointing out that Monterey Peninsula plays to a par of 71 because it has five par 3s, while the others are par 72s.

It's obvious that length is not their defense. Because the courses are situated on the Monterey Peninsula, wind from off the water can be a factor. The greens are also known to be small. Throw in poa annua grass on the putting surface, and there is the defense of the golf course.

Pebble Beach Golf Links and Spyglass GC have been part of the three-course rotation for as far back as you would care to research, but Monterey Peninsula CC took over for Poppy Hills in 2010. It's of minor note, since only 18 holes of the tournament are played out at that venue, but a footnote none the less.

Here is a list of winners and runners-up since 2010.

  • 2010 - Winner: Dustin Johnson (16-under 270) over David Duval and J.B. Holmes (271)
  • 2011 - Winner: D.A. Points (15-under 271) over Hunter Mahan (273)
  • 2012 - Winner: Phil Mickelson (17-under 269) over Charlie Wi (271)
  • 2013 - Winner: Brandt Snedeker (19-under 267) over Chris Kirk (269)
  • 2014 - Winner: Jimmy Walker (11-under 267) over Dustin Johnson and Jim Renner (268)

I always have a hard time figuring out why this list is so heavily skewed towards the bombers. As short as this course lists on the card, it would seem to fit shorter and more accurate players with solid short games. Instead, some of the longest players on the PGA TOUR dot the list above. Namely, Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Phil Mickelson. Mahan and Walker aren't short themselves. 

That might suggest that the true premium is on par 5 scoring, since there are 16 for the week. 

Because ShotLink data is only available for Pebble Beach (36 of 72 holes), it's hard to get a true read on statistical significance.

We will toss together the normal concoction of current form, course history and statistical data and see what the computer spits out. The power ranking will post no later than Tuesday. 

Happy research!