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OK, we're down to the final 70 players in the FedEx Cup and with the odd exception we have the very biggest names in world golf. Indeed, as of last week, the top 10 in the Official Golf Rankings are playing at Pete Dye's magnificent Crooked Stick GC just outside Indianapolis in up-state Indiana. In fact, with Sergio Garcia entering the fray again after a week off at TPC Boston, the world's top 20 players will be present at this week's BMW Championship with $8 million on the line and a place in the coveted Top 30 spots available to all.
It's true that the FedEx Cup has now established itself as an exciting part of world golf's calendar and with Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Louis Oosthuizen now giving their full attention as members of the PGA Tour the very cream of the sport are present across The Barclays, Deutsche Bank, BMW Championship and the Tour Championship. Makes you wonder why Martin Kaymer, Peter Hanson and Francesco Molinari don't join the party in 2013. Throw in qualification for the Ryder Cup over the first 2 events every other year and we have a whole melting pot of action.
Now I'm painting this picture for one very good reason. I think the FedEx Cup has moved onto a new level and with huge money, prestige and ranking points on offer the very best players are dominating. These are no longer standard PGA Tour tournaments like the Greenbrier Classic, Zurich Classic of New Orleans or AT&T National. Instead McIlroy (World No.1), Oosthuizen (WGR 17), Tiger Woods (WGR 3), Phil Mickelson (WGR 22 - unbelievable) and Dustin Johnson (WGR 16) dominated the tournament with Adam Scott and Brandt Snedeker just behind. The Barclays was won by Nick Watney (70/1) who despite a poor season is still effectively a WGC tournament victor and World Top 20 player.
So with this in mind I have seriously had to focus on prime players who I feel have the underlying game to win this week at the classical test that is Crooked Stick. It's also worth remembering that the 70 man field impacts severely on the prices available with no cut in play this week. Naturally if you disagree with my strategy or have questions to ask just tweet me at @bamfordgolf and I'll answer as many of your points as humanly possible!
Crooked Stick is a +7,500 yard Par 72 which features lots of tree-lined fairways. Landing areas though are wide, with rough length being described state side as 'lush and uniform'. Greens feature pure Bentgrass with many complex multi-level surfaces making longer putting tricky and 3-putts easy. However the key here for me is run on the fairways and speed of greens. Indianapolis was hit by some serious precipitation on Sunday and rain looks a real possibility on Friday and especially Saturday. For me longer attacking players who can go low on a classical setup will thrive. Wind of +15 mph could also feature for the closing 18 holes on Sunday. It should be another cracker like TPC Boston.
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I know Rory has never had back-to-back wins but his performance at TPC Boston reminded me of Tiger Woods in his prime. He had the presence of mind not to panic during Oosthuizen's 3rd Round birdie barrage and then grabbed the momentum from that point onwards. He may have cost us a 33/1 winner but I'm not bitter as Crooked Stick again will suit Rors down to the ground - its wide fairways and receptive greens make his style of attacking golf absolutely perfect. Fact is Rory is the perfect player for many American courses where his power play and accurate towering irons make him hard to beat. Tie that in with pure Bentgrass greens at a reasonable speed on which he thrives and I can't see how he doesn't go extremely close again in Indiana this week. Wins at Quail Hollow, Congressional and his 2011 54-hole performance at Augusta just tell you that Crooked Stick will be perfect for him and the World Number 1 is a far better player who knows how to close the deal now. As I said a few weeks ago when I tipped him at 20/1 to win on the Par 72 +7,600 yard Dye designed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island back, 7/1 might look like a big price come Sunday evening. RESULT: Winner
It's amazing to see Phil Mickelson as low as 22nd in the World Golf Rankings and that highlights both the kind of season 2012 has been and how competitive golf '2012 style' actually is. However 5th at TPC Boston on Monday was Lefty's first Top 10 finish since the Bentgrass greens of TPC Four Seasons in May and the improvement coincided with some excellent putting stats driven by a change in grip. "I don't have a name for it," he said. "It's just a couple of friends of mine have been using it for 10, 12 years and they putt phenomenal with it. On fast greens, it's even better because the touch and sensitivity is there." Well it worked as he ranked 4th in Putting Average in Boston and even more interestingly started to hit Greens again where 72% GIR was 15th best in the field. Fact is, when Mickelson hits greens on his beloved classical courses he makes birdies. Indeed Lefty won at Pebble Beach in February - who can forget his birdie barrage on Sunday to dismantle Woods - and is due another PGA victory to add to the 40 he already has on his CV which include victories at a plethora of classical tracks like Torrey Pines: 2000, 2001; Bay Hill 1997; Augusta (Bent): 2004, 2006 & 2010; Riviera (Bent Poa) 2008, 2009; Colonial (Bent): 2000, 2008; East Lake: 2000, 2009. RESULT: Tied 2nd
I struggle to see Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Louis Oosthuizen being competitive for 3 straight weeks so that opens the door for high quality Bentgrass-greened classical golf course players like Lee Westwood who thrives on long Par 72 set-ups. Westwood moves to Florida in December and has already started working closely with new short game coach Tony Johnstone. In my mind there is no doubt Lee has a point to prove on the PGA Tour and at 23rd in the FedEx standings he will need to perform this week to win his first ever Tour Championship appearance at East Lake which he's stated as being an important goal in 2012. 13th at TPC Boston on Monday followed 5th at Bethpage Black (4th Greens in Regulation) and interestingly Westwood was 7th in Putting Average in Massachusetts last time out. On a course where long bombing and Greens in Regulation will be key watch out this week. Nobody can argue that Westwood is an absolute Par 72 golf course monster and the fact that he thrives on classical golf courses. Yes he may 'chunk' at Augusta annually but 3rd (12), 11th (11), 2nd (10) and 11th (08) since Augusta’s Tiger-Proof extension after Zach Johnson’s win in 2007 says absolutely everything you need to know about Westwood on a long classical Bent greened golf course. Like Rory McIlroy, Westwood thrives at Abu Dhabi, Dubai GC and the Earth Course over in the Gulf and Top 5s at Riviera (05), PGA National (12), Quail Hollow (12), Bay Hill (06), Congressional – US Open (11), Firestone (08) simply adds fuel to the flames. RESULT: Tied 2nd
I will finish our Crooked Stick team with the in-form Sergio Garcia who like McIlroy, Mickelson and Westwood can attack long Par 72 courses and shoot low scores on Bentgrass greens. The upwardly mobile Garcia of course won his first PGA Tour tournament since 2008 when he shot -18 at Sedgefield last month and backed that up with the 54 hole lead at Bethpage Black the week after. Indeed his non-Major recent form reads 3-1-29(Firestone)-29-(BMW Open)-3(Nordea Masters)-13 Colonial. I like Sergio for a number of reasons this week. Firstly he's rested and 'El Nino' ,like Louis Oosthuizen, is renowned for keeping strong form going across a number of tournaments. Take the FedEx Play Offs in 2008 when he finished 2nd at Ridgwood, 5th at TPC Boston, 20th at Bellerive and 2nd at East Lake. Fact is Sergio has found his putter again (+0.862 & +1.062 in Strokes Gained Putting at Sedgefield and Bethpage Black) and when you tie that in with a tee to green game that was 4th best in the field at Bethpage you get a very dangerous Spaniard who is desperate to keep his form for Medinah in 3 weeks. RESULT: T24
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