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Monday, November 4, 2013

The McGladrey Classic - Power Rankings

While The McGladrey Classic will not boast the strongest field to date of the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season, there are some solid options and interesting choices in this week’s power ranking. If you are looking at players often considered elite, the list stops at Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar. Given a WGC just wrapped up on the other side of the globe, that is to be expected.

Building off yesterday’s preview, there is certainly a correlation between players with a solid course history and their penchant for scoring well on par 4s and/or excelling in Proximity in general.

I try to keep myself fairly isolated from the media while preparing for a tournament, but Twitter makes that nearly impossible. Something that came up more than once on Twitter today was the SEC Championship using the Seaside Course as the host venue of late. Among those that experienced successes are John Peterson, Russell Henley and Bud Cauley to go with Kyle Stanley winning the Jones Cup at Sea Island.

With the familiar mix of player form, course history and a deep look at the relevant stats, here is this week’s power ranking.
  1. Webb Simpson – Simpson is first and it really isn’t even close. He won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Classic in his only start of the year three weeks ago, and then skipped the Asian swing. He’s played the Seaside Course twice, finishing T12 in 2010 and 2nd in 2011, losing in a playoff to Ben Crane. When perusing Simpson’s stats, it becomes abundantly clear that he doesn't have any real weakness when considering the layout. While it’s hard to back a guy in his first start after a win, he is a viable one-and-done candidate this week given the time off and the course history.
  2. Charles Howell III – Nudging out Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar, Three Sticks is off to a strong start in 2013-14. He’s made each of his three cuts including a T5 at the Shriners and a T7 at the CIMB Classic in his last action. Similarly, he’s 3/3 with a pair of top 10s in this event. Add solid splits in GIR, Par 4 Scoring and SGP over the last 10 months and he’s a solid play in most formats.
  3. Zach Johnson – The only knock on ZJ is his lack of a sterling course history in tournament play, despite being a Sea Island guy. In three starts, he has a T12 and a missed cut dotting both ends of the spectrum, with a T49 last year serving as the tie breaker. This could be a case of being overly distracted due to a home game.
  4. Matt Kuchar – Kooch has a pair of top 25s in his two starts at the Seaside Course, but hasn't done any better than a T20. In a field that lacks true depth, his pedigree won’t allow for him to fall any further. This will be his first action since the Presidents Cup, but 2013 stats showed him to be strong in putting, Proximity and Par 4 scoring. If he isn't too rusty, he could be a solid candidate for a nice week.
  5. David Toms – The veteran has been a bit feast-or-famine, with a pair of top-three finishes sandwiching a missed cut in 2011. He’s a statistical machine in three areas that tend to play well on Sea Island. He’s a fairway splitter, a Par 4 scorer and offers laser accuracy in terms of Proximity. A T36 to start the year at TPC Summerlin is his only action offers some solace that his game is in decent shape.
  6. Harris English – Another member of the Sea Island Mafia, English enters off a T7 at the CIMB Classic two weeks ago. He did not play the WGC-HSBC, and should be well rested for the home game. He tied for 15th here in his only attempt (2012), and offers a solid all-around game with a tilt towards putting and Par 4 success.
  7. Jeff Overton – See, I told you it wasn't that deep of a field! Overton offers moderate success here, with a T6 and a T51 to show for his eight rounds, and seven of those rounds were under par. He also flashed some form in each of his first three starts, with T16s at the Frys.com and the CIMB surrounding a T9 at the Shriners. His form and course history overshadow his stats, but the splits still don’t look bad.
  8. Chris Kirk – This Sea Island guy could be the sneakiest play of all this week, because he’s likely under many people’s radar. He posted a T36 to start the year at TPC Summerlin, and then followed with a T25 at the CIMB Classic the next week in Malaysia. He’s 2/3 in this event, with a T15 in 2010 serving as the best, but it’s a statistical find that has me drooling over the UGA product this week. In 2013, he ranked third in Par 4 Birdie or Better Percentage and second in Par 4 Performance. He was also 12th and fifth respectively in the Par 3 numbers, meaning his struggles came on the par 5s. Given this course only has two par 5s, I’m watching for something special. He also leans on a very solid putter.
  9. Boo Weekley – Apparently Boo likes Asia, as he made noise early in the CIMB Classic and then hung around for most of the week at the WGC-HSBC. He’s improved gradually in each of his three trips to Sea Island. After missing the cut in 2010, he posted a T44 in ’11 and a T27 in ’12. There are a number of converging trends that point to a top 20, and a little bit of wind thrown into the mix could make for a better return. He’s done incredibly well right up the road at Hilton Head.
  10. Charley Hoffman – Has no course history here, but is among the better players in the field and offers the known commodity of steady form, with a fourth at TPC Summerlin. A valid concern is that his game is more of a power game, but his par 4 numbers are still encouraging.
  11. Chesson Hadley – He gets the rookie nod coming off an impressive T5 at the Shriners. While the main stats to evaluate remain his 2013 Web.com Tour splits, he performed well on Par 4s and his early data in regards to Proximity in 2013-14 are steady.
  12. Brendon de Jonge – This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but his T4 last year and T15 in 2010 prove he’s comfortable here. What needs to be pointed out is that he’s failed to break 70 in six rounds this year. It’s entirely possible that the heightened expectations coming out of a nice Presidents Cup performance have added to his pressure to produce a breakthrough win. The stats point to the ball-striking falling off, despite a boost in putting prowess.

Here are eight other players that caught my eye and why (alphabetical):
  • Kevin Chappell – Good Proximity, good form, average (limited) course history.
  • Brian Davis – Terrible course history, but the stats suggest he should be a great fit.
  • Davis Love III – Given his Par 4 numbers, Proximity magic and course history, the Don of the Sea Island Mafia deserves plenty of attention.
  • Kevin Na – Has no history, but a smooth flat stick and nice Par 4 numbers including some recent form make him an interesting watch.
  • Rory Sabbatini – If he had done anything at all to start the new season, he would have been in the power ranking. His 2013 splits line up beautifully for Sea Island and he recorded a T27 in his only start here in 2012.
  • Heath Slocum – He won the first playing in 2010, but has regressed with a T15 and a T61 since. If the formula comes down to hitting fairways, then firing at flags, he’s in good shape. If putting becomes relevant, he might be screwed.
  • Chris Stroud – Similar to Brian Davis, he has a terrible history here but looks excellent on paper. A T3 at the CIMB Classic two weeks ago adds to the temptation.
  • Brendon Todd – Though he missed the cut here in 2012, he was desperately fighting to keep his card and had a ton of pressure on his shoulders. His calendar year 2013 has been impressive given his limited starts, and his splits look steady for this layout.  Oh, and he was the 2004 SEC Champion.

We will return tomorrow to focus on the games, with an obvious magnifying glass on the one-and-done.

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