When putting together the research, I was very impressed with the list of potential dark-horse candidates. While there is some strength at the top, the gap between the top five players and the guys in the 15-20 range isn't as big as some week.
Here we go:
- Matt Kuchar - Came back from the two-week layoff following his Heritage win to post a solid T17 at THE PLAYERS. He's got two top 15s in his last three starts in this event, highlighted by a T6 in 2011, and he is the class of this field. The fantasy research in all formats should start with Kooch.
- Keegan Bradley - After his breakthrough win in 2011, he posted a T24 in 2012 then rebounded for a runner-up last year. Form hasn't been quite as good this season as it has been the last few years, but still good enough to put him near the top of the heap in a field that lacks depth.
- Jimmy Walker - Considering he's yet to find a top 20 here, it would be reasonable to fade him a bit further. That said, he's playing at a consistently higher level than at any other point in his life this year, so there's ample reason to expect a career-best finish at this venue. Had a T8 at the Masters and a T6 at THE PLAYERS. Leads the PGA TOUR in strokes gained and is fourth in par 4 scoring average.
- Martin Kaymer - Forgetting that he won THE PLAYERS last week, he finished T5 here last year and was on the short list before last week's triumph. Doubtful that he goes back-to-back, but he trended nicely into last week with a T23-T18 run, so a top 10 is certainly possible.
- Jordan Spieth - Lots of converging factors make this a confusing call. I'm inclined to lay off in many formats just to see how he bounces back from THE PLAYERS, and I don't love the added pressure of a home game. Still, his T12 at Hilton Head after the Masters letdown is a nice indicator of what could happen. Trend on this course is surprisingly poor, going T16, T32, T68.
- Paul Casey - While he's never played this event, he seems to have found something much like Martin Kaymer has in the last few weeks. Last two starts are a T18 at the Heritage and a T11 in New Orleans. Those courses are not all that similar, and that is a testament to his form. Of note, he had never even played a practice round in NOLA before his Thursday tee time. On my short list for a OAD.
- Charl Schwartzel - Finished third here last year in his only attempt, but current form leaves something to be desired. A top 10 this week would put him in the course horse category going forward, but it's just as possible that he fades. Just not enough to go on.
- Justin Hicks - I'm in love with him this week from a value point of view. He's finished T17 at THE PLAYERS last week, moving his made cut streak to eight. Has a T14 and a T21 in his two trips to this week's event, meaning form is meeting history. Add to that, ranks fourth in GIR, 10th in ball-striking, 44th in SGP and 46th in par 4 scoring average.
- Harris English - While he's struggled in premiere events, missing the cut at the Masters and THE PLAYERS, he's still doing well in second-tier stops. His T17 here last year sets the expectation of a top 25, option top 10, this time around.
- Ryan Moore - Last two weeks have produced a T18 and a T26 in that order, and he surrounded a runner-up finish at TPC Four Seasons with a pair of missed cuts. Given his form and the way his year has gone, it's likely he has a nice tournament.
- Jason Dufner - Hard to believe, but Dufner's only two PGA TOUR starts since the Valspar Championship were a missed cut at the Masters and a T48 at THE PLAYERS. He won here in 2012 after a T8 in 2011, then slipped to a T33 in his title defense. A top 25 feels likely but it would be nice if he increased his action in the U.S.
- Brooks Koepka - Following the Jordan Spieth road to success on the PGA TOUR very nicely, making his first stop at TPC Four Seasons. Did enough to earn STM, so get used to seeing him for a while.
Next 5 (alphabetical): Erik Compton, Graham DeLaet, Dustin Johnson, Brendon Todd and Gary Woodland
Other names that just missed: Ryan Palmer, Andrew Svoboda, Charles Howell III, John Senden, Martin Flores, Ryo Ishikawa, J.J. Henry, Robert Garrigus and Freddie Jacobson
We will return with more tomorrow night. Until then, best of luck to all!