Chrysler Championship preview: Can Durant repeat his back-to-back achievement?
All aboard the last train to Exemption, stopping once only at the Tour Championship. It’s packed and there’s quite a few in the first class compartment, meaning excellent company for the journey. But who’s getting off the train first? And how do we know there isn’t another Joe Durant hiding in the baggage compartment to surprise us all?
Funnily enough, now that he has emerged from the shadows, Durant figures prominently in this week’s calculations. He is one of those rare PGA beasts who has won back-to-back (in 2001) and is enjoying a sizzling October. He also has the right stats for the job.
So too does Troy Matteson, who again tops my stats list of likely winners. The trouble with Troy is that all the golf he’s been playing clearly caught up with him last Sunday and I reckon this tougher course will make things worse. Tricky though, as he needs a very good finish to edge into the Tour Championship.
It is well documented how the Copperhead course at the Westin Innisbrook resort rewards top-notch iron play. Greens in regulation was by far the top discipline last year, with an average ranking of 15th among the top 12 finishers. By comparison putting came in a poor second, with the same average rank (27th) as distance off the tee.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story, because there were two performances last year that were led by a sizzling putter: Chad Campbell, who topped the putting stats to come second overall, and Hidemichi Tanaka.
I also wonder how much this year’s conditions might even things up off the tee. A blog from the course I’ve been keeping an eye on suggests it is very dry, which means it will play a deal shorter but likely make the greens faster and harder to get onto. What I cannot discern is the state of the rough, but I have seen at least one suggestion it is tougher, putting a greater premium on accuracy.
Looking for hot putters that fit the bill this year draws only Matteson and Eric Axley, who also looked all golfed out last week.
But there’s a very strong case for the player topping my GIR picks, Frank Lickliter II - 4th in GIR, 17th for putting, 14th for accuracy and 37th for distance. Figures don’t come much better than that. I’m not going to fuss over poor course form because that didn’t stop him taking second place last week. He’s had three top 10s in the last 4 outings. All he needs to do now is to make a move earlier to give him a chance Sunday.
Behind him comes Nick Watney, who has been knocking loudly on the door over the last few weeks. He is 6th for GIR and a good distance player and, when he’s made it past the cut recently he’s been top 10 every time.
There’s also a strong case for Trevor Immelman. Only accuracy is a weakness and, since April, he has won once, come second twice, and in 11 other US outings his worst finishes were 21st and 34th. Nice.
The comes our Justin. He might be a rabbit in the headlights of victory, but Justin Rose can play a mean round of golf and his stats say he will again be in the mix. Whether his head will be after his Disney disappointment is another question. One to steer clear of.
Much more to my fancy is Adam Scott, surprisingly hardly mentioned on the web this week although his numbers fit the bill fairly well. He can be a hairy ride for punters on a Sunday, but I reckon that, well rested after second place in the WGC at the start of the month, he should turn in a strong performance.
Some others who don’t fit my ideal profile but might at least be trading opportunities are:
Tag Ridings: His stats didn’t fit the winning pattern last year either when he came third, but look back at that season and you’ll see he suddenly came to life in Tampa, so maybe it’s a case of a course that suits his eye (he was also 11th in 2004).
Campbell: Although he led the putting last year he is way down this year’s list and I only mention him because someone on the forums pointed out he has notched up a 1st or 2nd at the end of the season for the last three years. A 16th at the Frys doesn’t qualify so it’s got to be here or the Tour Championship.
Which leaves us with the two favourites.
Vijay Singh has returned to favour with punters as the week has gone on. His stats are still nothing to shout home about but, like me, I think a lot of people saw him fire the second best round last Sunday to finish fifth and said to themselves “I wonder.”
Ernie Els, on the other hand, seems to have fallen out of favour. But he absolutely needs a good performance here or face the prospect of being dumped out of the Tour Championship, which I assume is the primary reason he is back in the states anyway. And he flew over particularly early to begin his preparations, a measure of how seriously he is taking it. Fifth in the WGC, followed by fifth in the Dunhill (in some awful weather) says he should at least be in the fight come Sunday.
And that’s it. Blow the whistle and let’s get this train rolling.
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