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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Zurich Classic of New Orleans - Monday Qualifier

For those interested, the final four spots for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will be contested in an 18-hole open qualifier on Monday. Click here for the link to the main page for the qualifier.

Of note, Brooks Koepka is in the qualifier and doesn't need much more than to make a cut in a PGA TOUR event to secure Special Temporary Membership. It seems that he is going to go the Patrick Reed 2012 route for now.

Zurich Classic of New Orleans - Preview

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans returns to TPC Louisiana for the ninth time in the last ten years, and it's time to kick the week off with a little preview. Of note, the only time since 2005 that TPC Louisiana did not host was 2006 when the tournament returned to English Turn.

TPC Louisiana is a par 72 layout, stretching out to 7,425 yards in each of the last two trips. It offers the full bounty of par 5s and par 3s. Because players need to take it pretty deep to win here, Par 5 and Par 4 scoring average are both of importance this week.

Here is a look at the winners and runners-up since 2005, with the omission of 2006:

  • 2005 - Tim Petrovic (13-under 275) over James Driscoll (275) in a playoff
  • 2007 - Nick Watney (15-under 273) over Ken Duke (276)
  • 2008 - Andres Romero (275) over Peter Lonard (276)
  • 2009 - Jerry Kelly (274) over Charles Howell III, Rory Sabbatini and Charlie Wi (275)
  • 2010 - Jason Bohn (270) over Jeff Overton (272)
  • 2011 - Bubba Watson (273) over Webb Simpson (273) in a playoff
  • 2012 - Jason Dufner (269) over Ernie Els (269) in a playoff
  • 2013 - Billy Horschel (268) over D.A. Points (269)
In my early research, I've noticed that length is generally a good thing, but some of the longest on TOUR haven't fared all that well. That leads me to put an emphasis on total driving with a tilt towards distance, rather than to look only at driving distance. As is the case most weeks, GIR is a significant stat. What I've also noticed is that excellent putting isn't a must, likely because the par 5s offer birdie opportunities by finding the greens in two.

We will also take a look at the usual doses of course history and current form and see what we can come up with. Check back tomorrow and we will crank out our weekly Power Ranking. 

Until then, happy research!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

RBC Heritage - One-and-done & Fantasy

Before we get to the RBC Heritage one-and-done and the Yahoo! starters, let me first apologize for not posting yesterday. When I sat down to pen my blog last night, my laptop decided to no longer recognize any wireless signals. I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but I wasn't able to make other arrangements quickly enough.

After correctly tagging Bubba Watson with the one-and-done last week, the pressure this week is to follow that up with another solid performance to keep the momentum going. Considering how far along we are in the season, I have many premium options available this week.

All that said, I’m letting the weather guide me this week. If you look back to earlier in the week, I mentioned there are two styles that seem to play well at Harbour Town. There is the group of elite tee-to-green players, and the scrambling/putting crew.

The weather is driving my choice this week for a couple of reasons. It’s supposed to be a windy week at Harbour Town. It always is, but this week looks particularly breezy. Rain is also in play on Friday.

If I had Luke Donald, I’d probably play him. I don’t, because I plugged him in for a T4 at the Valspar. I decided not to burn G-Mac because his record wasn't very good here before his win last year and he has the added distraction of defending. Kuchar is hot, but I don’t want to use him on a week where weather could spoil my one shot with him. Same philosophy goes for Spieth.

I narrowed my focus to Jim Furyk and Kevin Na. Both are trending very well and both offer nice form and course history. The way the weather is shaping up, I believe the premium will be on putting/scrambling, as well as scoring (especially par 4). Furyk ranks a solid 34th in scrambling, but is 154th in SGP and 132nd in par 4 scoring average. Na ranks second in scrambling, third in par 4 scoring average and 15th in SGP. That answered my question and is the reason I’m going with Na.

As for the Yahoo! starting lineup, I don’t really see a big tee time advantage. Wind will be steady all day, with the temperatures below seasonal averages. Thursday morning will be cold.

I’m starting Donald (A), Furyk (B), Spieth (B) and Na (C). That leaves Kuchar (A), Every (B), Johnson, Z. (B) and McDowell (C) on the pine.

I will tweet future lineups later in the week @RyanGolfBlogger.

Best of luck to all this week!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Quick Note

There will be no post tonight due to computer issues. I will return with one-and-done and Yahoo! starters tomorrow.
Check out Rotoworld.com for my entire Yahoo! and Golf Channel lineup.

Monday, April 14, 2014

RBC Heritage - Power Rankings

As the RBC Heritage research continued and the Power Rankings formed, it became abundantly clear that it’s rare to find a player that offers the total package for Harbour Town Golf Links. As we mentioned yesterday, the fairways are tight and the greens small.

Unlike many courses on the PGA TOUR, I've had the chance to walk Harbour Town several times over the years as a spectator. I began to play each hole on the course backwards in my head. What I noticed wasn't necessarily new, but the approach is a little different than I've taken.

Already knowing all of the greens are minuscule by TOUR standards, players have two options if they want to be successful in Hilton Head. The first is to figure out a way to hit the greens, and the second is to figure out the proper miss and scramble / putt the lights out to save pars. It’s very rare on TOUR to find a guy who is an incredible ball-striker, and also an elite scrambler / putter.

Walking backwards from the greens towards the tees, the players will notice that there isn't really a straight shot on the course; either off the tee or on approach. Tee shots are being constantly worked right-to-left and left-to-right, as are the approaches. While the course is situated on the coast, the first 16-1/2 holes are shielded from wind by trees. So a guy that can flight it low and accurately work the ball in both directions stands to hold an advantage.

The par 3s aren't easy, but it isn't so much due to their length. There are only three par 5s, but one of them is really just a long par 4 (second hole). Of the other two, virtually no one will attack the 15th in two. The sixth is reachable in two with two solid shots.

So, we need to find the guys that are accurate off the tee, while working the ball both directions with ease and flighting it down, who also hit it tight on any sized greens and have an uncanny ability to get up-and-down and hole putts from anywhere in the event they miss the greens. 

Got it.

Let’s do this:
  1. Matt Kuchar – He’s finished inside the top five in each of his last three starts (VTO, SHO, Masters), and has only missed one of his 10 cuts in Hilton Head. Included in that is a pair of top 10s and four top 25s. Typically his stats paint a gloomy picture most weeks, but that isn't the case this week. Ranks third in par 4 scoring average and 15th in scrambling, while ranking inside the top 50 in driving accuracy and SGP. I’ll take it!
  2. Jordan Spieth – Everyone reading this knows he led the Masters by two strokes with 11 holes to play, eventually sharing second place. He’s constantly threatening regardless of the course, but it is nice to know he tied for ninth here last year. Ranks 33rd in both SGP and scrambling and is 14th in par 4 scoring average. If he can keep it between the trees, he has a real shot. Still seemed hungry in his Masters interview, but a hangover isn't out of the question.
  3. Zach Johnson – He’s the man on paper, ranking inside the top 15 in driving accuracy, scrambling, proximity and par 4 scoring average to go with a solid 52nd in SGP. Of concern, he’s only finished inside the top 25 here on two occasions, but both were also top 10s including a runner-up in 2012. His T6 at the Valero leads me to dismiss his MC at the Masters.
  4. Jim Furyk – He’s been steady all year and enters off a T14 at the Masters. He’s also 12/15, with a win and two runners-up at Harbour Town. At 19th in driving accuracy and 34th in scrambling, he shows promise. Perhaps more important, this is a grinder's kind of course, and that’s exactly in his wheelhouse.
  5. Graeme McDowell – He won last year after never cracking the top 60 in his first three trips, but his stats are a remarkable fit. He's second only to ZJ across the board. He’s first in SGP, 14th in par 4 scoring and 17th in driving accuracy. He just needs to decide whether he will hit it close or scramble well. A missed cut at the Masters was preceded by back-to-back top 10s.
  6. Luke Donald – All you really need to know is he’s finished inside the top three in four of his last trips to Hilton Head. If you demand more than that, he’s third in scrambling and seventh in SGP. Expect him to miss his share of GIR, but routinely save pars.
  7. Kevin Na – Enters Harbour Town with top 10s in his last two appearances there (‘11/’12), and having secured seven of nine cuts over the years. When you combine that with a 2-T14-T11 run in his last three PGA TOUR starts and stats that include second in scrambling, third in par 4 scoring average and 15th in SGP, you have a potentially lethal formula. The only yellow flag is his driver (shocker). He is 97th in driving accuracy.
  8. Harris English – While it doesn't play out in all of the statistical categories quite like I had hoped, he is a guy that can work the ball off the tee and keep it low. He is also first in par 4 scoring average and 25th in proximity, but ranks outside the top 85 in scrambling, driving accuracy and SGP. He was T8 here in 2012 before missing the cut last year. His form is also a bit on the chilly side compared to the winter.
  9. Matt Every – He’s been all over the place here, including a T8, a T83 (MDF) and a MC. Before his Masters missed cut, he had a win and a T8. At fourth in SGP, 12th in proximity and 29th in par 4 scoring average, he offers more good than bad.
  10. Chris Stroud – Snapped a streak of three missed cuts in this event with his T6 last year, which is in line with his recent form. He’s gone T9, T31 and T12 in his last three starts, with the T9 coming in Puerto Rico. I kind of like the Puerto Rico Open and the Sony Open as favorable comps for this week anyway. He’s fourth in scrambling, 14th in par 4 scoring average and 45th in driving accuracy.
  11. Charley Hoffman – Some of his stats (driving accuracy) scare me to death, but his track record is too good to pass up. His last two starts at Hilton Head have resulted in a T8 and a T6, while his last four on TOUR are T12-T25-T11-T37. Odds are, he’s going to figure out a way to post at least a top 25.
  12. Boo Weekley – What’s a power ranking for Hilton Head Island that doesn’t include Boo? He’s 7/7 here with two wins and five top-15 finishes. He is the ultimate course horse.

Next 5: Stewart Cink, Robert Garrigus, Jerry Kelly, Carl Pettersson and Kevin Streelman

Want a few dark horses? Check out Brendon Todd, Justin Hicks and Justin Leonard.

We will return tomorrow to check out some games. Until then, best of luck to all!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

RBC Heritage - Preview

With the pressure of the Masters behind us, it's time to preview a relaxing week in Hilton Head, South Carolina at the RBC Heritage.

The setting is the familiar track of Harbour Town Golf Links, which will play to a par of 71 and likely stretch out to a mere 7,101 yards. It's as tight of a course as can be found on the PGA TOUR, with tiny greens and an ocean breeze.

Typically, there are two types of winners at Harbour Town. Those that are excellent scramblers and putters, and those that are elite ball-strikers with a penchant for hitting it close. Here's the list dating back to 2005:

  • 2005 - Peter Lonard (277) over Billy Andrade, Darren Clarke, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III (279).
  • 2006 - Aaron Baddeley (269) over Jim Furyk (270)
  • 2007 - Boo Weekley (270) over Ernie Els (271)
  • 2008 - Boo Weekley (269) over Aaron Baddeley and Anthony Kim (272)
  • 2009 - Brian Gay (264) over Luke Donald and Briny Baird (274)
  • 2010 - Jim Furyk (271) over Brian Davis (271 Playoff)
  • 2011 - Brandt Snedeker (272) over Luke Donald (272 Playoff)
  • 2012 - Carl Pettersson (270) over Zach Johnson (275)
  • 2013 - Graeme McDowell (275) over Webb Simpson (275 Playoff)

Statistics that are relevant this week are driving accuracy, SGP, Scrambling, Proximity, Par 4 Scoring Average. As demonstrated by the multiple times names are repeated in the list above, course history matters. For those that haven't been to this tournament, it's a very laid back venue with a party atmosphere immediately off the course. Some guys thrive in that loose setting. The wind also can be a factor, as can tee time waves.

We will return tomorrow with a look at our Power Ranking for this week. Until then, best of luck to all!

Friday, April 11, 2014

My Wednesday at the Masters

This post is not for everyone. If you aren't interested in my personal account of my Wednesday trip to the Masters, stop reading now. No harm, no foul. We will be back Sunday evening with a preview for the RBC Heritage. Truthfully, I’m writing this for the dual purpose of also being able to go back and read this myself down the road.

It was a day of firsts, as it was the first time I’d been down on a Wednesday for the Par 3 tournament and the first time my wife and five-year-old daughter had been at all. My job, as assigned by myself, was to make sure they had a great time and got to see everything they wanted to see.

In my daughter’s bedroom, among the expected children’s books, are the tournament guides from the 2012 and 2013 Masters. The ones they give all patrons (for free) when they walk in the gates. For a while, she was obsessed with the Past Champions. I would read them to her and quiz her on them most nights before bed and she could name practically every winner dating back well into the 70s (not necessarily in order) when she was four. She could tell you Horton Smith won the first Masters. We've moved on from that and she’s forgotten most of them by now. Now she likes looking at the large course map in the center of the booklet and I have to read the key to here and point out where everything is.

I bring that up because there is a little section on the map labeled “JR” section. It’s adjacent to the driving range and lines the walk the players make towards the main course. Come to find out Wednesday, it’s a gated off area just for kids under 16 to stand and try and get autographs.

So when we walked through the gates, we immediately waited in easily the longest line I've ever seen just to get into the pro shop to buy a flag for autographing and an extra chair. After that, we dropped off our chairs at a great spot right by the walkway at the eighth hole on the par 3 course and went searching for autographs.

In my mind, we would hang out on the range for about 30 minutes and let her get a few and move on. And that’s what happened. Her first autograph was Kevin Stadler, followed by Chris Kirk, Jim Furyk and Kevin Streelman. She was sad when she narrowly missed out on Ernie Els, but that would have a happy ending eventually. Stadler and Kirk signed more than their fair share of autographs for the kids, but I was really impressed by Streelman and Furyk signing for every kid, even though Furyk couldn’t manage to crack a smile. More on that later.

My wife really wanted to see Adam Scott and Luke Donald on the main course. Go figure. So, we walked the back nine backwards in order to catch as many players as possible. I enjoyed watching players skip balls across the water, with Zach Johnson hitting a beauty while we were there. We caught a few holes on the front, including the amazing walk down the roadway separating the par-5 second from the par-5 eighth. I know nothing about flowers, but it has to be the most colorful part of the course, which scored major points with the wife.

Then the real fun started. We returned to the seats we left at the eighth hole for the par 3 contest and players would sometimes stop to sign on the way down the walkway where we were stationed. That meant a second chance for my daughter to add to the names on her flag. I would tell her the names of the players walking down the hill her way and she would start to try and call out, though rather shyly. In general, she would usually get about one in three for each threesome. She picked up players like Ryan Moore, Stewart Cink, Steven Bowditch, Justin Rose and Ernie Els that way. (She was happy to check Ernie off her list.)

My favorite story from that was how she landed Jonas Blixt. The Swede didn’t see her and had just passed, signing for someone a few spots down. In what I could only describe as a half-whine / half-moan five-year-old voice, she said “Jooonaaass.” He turned back, smiled and said, “Well that got my attention.” Then as he signed, he looked up and me and joked, “Does she usually get what she wants?” He has no idea.

Not long after, the groups stopped signing. I caught eye contact with Bill Haas as he was walking down our way and asked if he would sign for my daughter. He politely (and in detail) explained as he was walking that they had been instructed on the eighth tee that they couldn't stop to sign because the tee box was backed up, but they would sign for kids after the ninth green.

So off to the ninth green we go. Once again, I had to send her in on her own to a 16-and-under area. It’s hard for a dad to watch his five-year-old daughter not realize that she is being out-jockeyed for critical autograph position and be powerless to it, but such is life. In the end, she still racked up and many of the players were amazing to the kids.

While she may forget, I will absolutely never forget Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player teeing off on nine and walking our way. She recognizes all their names (remember the Masters memorization from earlier?), so I explained who they were before they got there. Arnie hit his shot in the water on nine, and I noticed as he made the long walk towards the green that he didn’t look so good. He didn’t even make it to the green and left the course. I genuinely hope he’s OK, because that’s not like the King. Gary Player signed a ton of autographs for kids, but she was unfortunately missed. But Jack. He stood there and signed for every single kid. He signed her Masters flag right in the center.

  • Guys who aren't considered the “A-List” of golfing celebrity were especially cool to the kids. Boo Weekley, D.A. Points and Jimmy Walker (yeah, I didn’t call him A-List and he leads the FEC points) stand out as being really good and patient with the kids. 
  • Rory signed a ton of autographs, but my daughter just missed him. She did get Dustin Johnson in the same threesome, who also took his time and signed for every kid. I get the sense from readers that DJ is often vilified, and he's never been my personal favorite, but my opinion changed for the better in that regard on Wednesday.
  • K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang signed for everyone. Matt Jones did the same thing with a sometimes-screaming toddler in his arms that refused to go to his wife. 
  • Jose Maria Olazabal and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano hit all the kids, but Miguel Angel Jimenez only signed a few. As you would expect, he had an attractive blonde on his arm and the kids weren't offering wine or cigars.
  • Ken Duke’s daughters made green and yellow bracelets and handed them out to the younger girls, which my daughter proudly put on her write immediately.
  • Furyk came through and I told my daughter that she already has his from earlier in the day, and didn't need to get it a second time. When he got to her, she pulled her flag back and he recognized that she already had the signature. He said in a very tender voice, “Want me to sign it again?” She looked at him and looked back at me. I think he took that as a “no,” rather than that she was confused, and he started laughing. It was the first time he broke away from the Jim Furyk serious face. 
  • Gary Woodland’s wife (caddie) handed my daughter a ball while the guys were still down the line signing and she almost didn’t understand that she was supposed to take it. Luckily she did.
  • The last signature she got came from a player in the very last group. Matt Kuchar. As easy as it would have been for him to write his name down as quickly as possible for the remaining 10 or 15 kids and head on down the road with his own kids, he took his time and joked around with the remaining children. Some of the older kids were asking for balls and gloves, so he handed them out based on some simple trivia questions, like where he went to college. 

You hear the slogan on the PGA TOUR that “These guys are good.” I can tell you that so many of them were yesterday, and I don’t mean on the golf course.

Final autograph list reading from the flag in no particular order: Y.E. Yang, Matt Every, GFC, Craig Stadler, Jason Day, Victor Dubuisson, Steven Bowditch, Justin Rose, Derek Ernst, Dustin Johnson, Ernie Els, Graham DeLaet, Stewart Cink, Wayne Grady, Ken Duke, Kevin Streelman, Gary Woodland, Boo Weekley, Mike McCoy, Peter Hanson, JACK FREKIN NICKLAUS, Jose Maria Olazabal, Joost Luiten, Jim Furyk, Mike Weir, Jimmy Walker, Matt Kuchar, D.A. Points, Jonas Blixt, Jamie Donaldson, K.J. Choi, Ryan Moore, Jordan Neibrugge, Kevin Stadler, Chris Kirk, Matt Jones, Marc Leishman, Ian Woosnam, Steve Melnyk, Nathaniel Crosby, Hunter Mahan, Lucas Glover and Brendon de Jonge.

What an amazing day. Normally when I attend an event I’m watching everything I can from the players in an effort to learn something not found on a stat sheet. Wednesday was different, and I bet I didn't watch 15 shots all day. I was too busy watching my wife and daughter soak it all in. For a day, it was great just being a fan and a dad!