Frys.com Open preview: It's hard to look past Furyk, but I'll try
The PGA Tour headline says it best: ‘Your guess is as good as anyone’s’.
The Invensys … Michelin … Frys … whatever competition certainly has something of the roulette wheel about it, which makes Las Vegas a highly appropriate venue. Last year was a spectacular example, as punters failed to spot the rank outsider Wes Short Jr sneaking up the blind side and took Jim Furyk’s price to the floor thinking he had won.
The PGA Tour’s Fantasy Insider insists poring over stats is futile. Too late. I’ve started so I’ll finish.
The most powerful stats suggest there’s only one man for this week’s job. Punters have clearly forgiven Furyk for last year. More than half the winner market money is pouring in on him, driving his price down since Monday by more than a point to just over 5. That’s Tiger Woods territory.
Furyk is no Tiger, but he is the next best thing and enjoying a blistering second half of the season. - give or take the odd team competition. Since mid-June he has one victory (Canadian Open), two seconds (US Open and lost to Woods in the Buick Open), a third and three fourths, with 29th in the PGA Championship the only “blemish". He’s also won this event under its various guises three times and was a bit careless to lose in last year’s playoff.
Useless as they may be, he also tops my stats for greens in regulation, is in the top 10 for putting, and top 10 for driving accuracy. Nor is he exactly up against the golfing elite.
The golfing cognoscenti say his price is not value. That’s a half empty viewpoint. My half full take is that if Furyk is on song we’re in the money and if he isn’t it’s all the less to have to cover with lays elsewhere. So I’m on.
Where the Fantasy Insider makes sense is with the rest of the field. I had a go though, first looking for those with similar form to last year’s top 10 - either a hot putter or good greens in regulation figures (Short had both) and at least top 50 for either distance off the tee or accuracy. Then I looked for course form and finally consulted my (exclusive!) colour table (click here) of the key qualification battlegrounds on the PGA money list.
I still ended up with more than 20 names, so let me cherry pick a few:
Chris DiMarco: while he has not lived up to the promise of his second place in the The Open, if he has any interest in making the Tour Championship he needs at least a half million dollars. He has course form and his recent stats are modestly good.
Bob Estes: sixth in putting and 26th for distance are almost perfect stats, and he’s a past winner under the old five-round format, although he missed the cut last year Only a win would probably give him a chance of making the TC.
Harrison Frazar: a good putter, excellent distance player and pretty accurate too, he was third here last year and second the year before - both under the new 4-round format. He’s also less than $200,000 above the qualification line so needs to look to his laurels.
Robert Gamez: is supposedly the most accurate off the tee in the field, eighth for greens in regulation and has modest course form. Only his putter seems to let him down. but he is just $150,000 south of the Q-line.
Charles Howell III: respectable if not sizzling stats but fifth here last year and about $500,000 shy of the TC line so he really needs to get a move on.
That leaves one name that doesn’t qualify under my criteria because he’s never played this one. Last week I suggested the thought of Eric Axley winning twice before season’s end stretched the imagination - whereupon he went and all but won the Greensboro Classic. He’s been playing like a man possessed since winning the Texas Open. Second for putting, sixth for GIR, 11th most accurate off the tee - and incredibly just $70,000 shy of making the Tour Championship. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is concentrating his mind!
Others to keep an eye on are Scott Verplank, if only because he’s just over $20,000 shy of the TC line, Fred Funk, eighth two weeks ago and still posting good stats in all but the obvious distance department, and John Cook, with similarly good stats and teetering just above the Q-line. Oh, and Charley Hoffman, if only because if I keep banging on about him long enough he may just reward me.
Okay, the Tour Insider was right - it’s a lottery. And that makes lays tricky as well, although there are three I will go for. First I’ll oppose those still making a fuss about Ryan Moore. Sure his play has improved since he altered his swing, he’s been sixth on his last two outings and he’s a ‘local boy’. But he still does not raise a winning blip on my radar screen.
David Howell is a ‘no’ - the jungle telegraph suggests the only reason he’s in with a continuing shoulder injury is to play the requisite number of PGA events to avoid losing his status next year. Kenny Perry is my third, purely on form.
And to those getting excited about Kevin Na after last week’s Nationwide win I say, maybe but doesn’t float my boat. There are simply too many others who need the money more. Now watch him do an Axley on me!
PS: I wish the PGA Tour site would make more of an attempt to get things right. Their leaderboards never seem to match their declared fields, so you have to wait for the off to see exactly who’s playing. Usually it’s more annoying than vital, but this week the query is over Brett Quigley, on their leaderboard but replaced earlier in the week in the field page by Andrew Magee. So Betfair for one has declared him a non-runner. Since I can find no mention of him pulling out on the net I assume he is playing, but it would be nice to know for sure. I would certainly rate his chances.
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