Bob Hope Chrysler Classic preview: Silver Rock gives bombers more edge
There’s a spirited body of opinion in the forums this week that can be classified as “I wouldn’t be seen dead backing Justin Leonard at less than 30.” Poor Justin is not the tipsters’ favourite either - he warrants hardly a mention.
It all sits oddly with the fact that he seems to be attracting the most money in Betfair’s winner market. He might trail favourite Mike Weir on 16 by four points, but so far he’s pulling in almost double Weir’s money. Admittedly the market is thin, probably because as usual the Wednesday start will come as a bit of a shock to many (yes that’s why I’m writing uncommonly early!).
It’s not hard to see why Leonard interests a lot of punters. What does it take to win here? Usually two main things: a laser putter and infinite patience. Just a glance at the stats of last year’s leaders illustrates the need for putting skills. The top 20 averaged sixth place for putting, against 27th for greens in regulation and 52nd for both accuracy and distance off the tee. In Charley Hoffman’s hands the putter even proved the clincher in Sunday’s windy horror last year.
The need for patience comes not just from having to play in the circuit’s only remaining five-day event, but the fact that on four of those days you have to be nice to three total pro-am strangers and keep your concentration while they dawdle around the course. Which suggests course form can be a very handy indicator of future success and Leonard is one of a handful of previous winners here this week.
But this is where a note of caution should creep in. The missed cut Leonard suffered last year can be written off as the start of a horror run of six missed cuts, and he has since rebounded to some of his best form. He finished 8th in Hawaii two weeks ago, when only a rusty opening round kept him from being a contender.
But course changes are working against him. When Leonard won here in 2005 only one of the four courses was (just) over 7,000 yards. Now three of them are including the Classic, on which he has failed to break 70 in three goes, and this year’s new attraction, Silver Rock, weighing in at more than 7,500 yards. Leonard is currently languishing bottom of the distance stats. You have been warned.
A quick look at some of the other top contenders:
Weir: A winner in 2003, fifth three years later and rested after a fourth place two weeks ago. He’s certainly got the stats for putting and finding greens, but he too has some distance issues, although he has notched a 66 on the Classic.
Scott Verplank: Not a winner but three top tens since 2000. Another who’s no bomber, but he has knocked a 65 and 66 on the Classic course in the last two years.
Chad Campbell: Stuttered last week every time he looked like launching a charge, but his stats suggest he can repeat his 2006 victory.
Heath Slocum: 4th last year and 10th last week, he has a decent distance game although his putter has wasn’t exactly on fire last week.
Stewart Cink: poor course record and he’ll be rusty.
It’s a bit pick and mix after that. Jesper Parnevik is a previous winner who also came second two years ago and, having got a bit of rust out of the system last week, has decent stats. There’s a lot of chatter about Lucas Glover’s two top 20s in the last two years, but this is his season opener. And Kevin Na is attracting attention after a good performance last week before he was blown apart on Sunday. According to the forecasters he’ll have no wind to trouble him over the next five days and he wields a very handy putter.
I’m also looking forward to seeing which of the up-and-coming new boys will adapt best to this environment. On paper Steve Marino (4th last week), Dustin Johnson (10th) and Yong-Eun Yang (20th) make decent claims. But do they have the forbearance?
PS: Even the bookmakers have got confused over Richard Johnson. William Hill for one is still insisting it’s Richard S Johnson who’s playing this week. Nope, that guy comes from Sweden. This is a new and exciting new talent from Welsh Wales via the Nationwide Tour, look you. He’s got form too: topped the Nationwide money list last year with his two victories and has distance and putting numbers that make for interesting reading. And we all know how friendly those Welsh people are because they are always singing about it.
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