The course is a par 70 that measures 7110 yards on the card this year, featuring just two par 5s and four par 3s. The story of the event is the stretch of holes known as the "Bear Trap." That is, the stretch of holes that includes the par-3 15th, par-4 16th and par-3 17th. Water is a factor on virtually every shot, and par is a solid score on each hole. The course is originally a Fazio, but Jack Nicklaus did the redesign, most recently in 2002, thus the "Bear Trap."
When handicapping the tournament, we are reaching the point in the season where statistics for players are becoming relevant. That is, there are enough tournaments for most of the players for a GIR or SGP rank to mean something. Even so, current form and course history should always trump statistics except when trying to identify a rookie or dark horse.
This week driving, especially driving distance, takes a back seat to GIR, proximity to the hole and putting. Because of how demanding the par 3s are on the back nine, there will be a premium on either hitting it close or scrambling. With only two par 5s, it's important for the potential winner to take advantage of them, but it's more important that he avoid messy bogeys and worse on the par 3s and 4s.
Last year's top five demonstrate those qualities:
- Winner - Rory McIlroy
- T2 - Tiger Woods and Tom Gillis
- 4 - Lee Westwood
- T5 - Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel,
Winners and runner-ups since 2007 are:
- 2012: Winner - McIlroy; Runner-up Woods / Gillis
- 2011: Winner - Rory Sabbatini; Runner-up Y.E. Yang
- 2010: Winner - Camilo Villegas; Runner-up Anthony Kim
- 2009: Winner - Y.E. Yang; Runner-up: John Rollins
- 2008: Winner - Ernie Els; Runner-up: Luke Donald
- 2007: Winner - Mark Wilson; Runner-up: Jose Coceres, Villegas and Boo Weekley
It must be emphasized that this field has taken a major step up over the past couple of years. The placement of it between the WGC-Accenture Match Play and the WGC-Cadillac is a big reason as to why. International stars have played it as a way to keep sharp. Even bigger is the addition of Tiger Woods. The days of a Mark Wilson, Jose Coceres, Camilo Villegas, Boo Weekley playoff are over.
While I'm a few days away from declaring a one-and-done pick for this week, I would encourage you to be patient with McIlroy and Woods. I've tentatively got Woods penciled in for Bay Hill and McIlroy for Quail Hollow, so there's nor reason rushing into them while questions remain. Especially with McIlroy.
We will be back tomorrow with our power rankings. Until then, happy research!