Thanks to Steve Stricker for delivering this column’s 2nd “W” of the 2011 season at Muirfield last week. Rory also delivered some Each Way place action so, all in all, a successful week’s work, backing up my 80/1 Rose win in Ohio last season.
From up-state Ohio we move to the deep South and Memphis Tennessee for the perennial US Open warmup at the tough Par 70 that is TPC Southwind. From the fastest of fast Bent we move to slightly slower Bermuda greens this week and, like Memorial, wind won’t be a factor but searing heat will be. TPC Southwind is a long and challenging Par 70, which is technical in make-up and favours accurate tee-to-green hitting. Water is in play across a majority of holes and missing fairways isn’t the greatest of ideas. You’d better hit greens and have the ability scramble pars if you want to win around here.
However we’re not just playing the course this week. In tournaments prior to a Major I always question the player motivation of the real contenders. What’s he talking about I hear you cry, after all Lefty won at Houston this year the week before Augusta and Westwood won here the week before the US Open last year...
It’s true that Mickelson scorched to victory around Redstone in April…he then finished 27th at Augusta. Likewise Westwood held sway over Karlsson and Garrigus in that epic finale last year…he then finished 16th at Pebble. Both though had real reasons to get the job done and convert a PGA Tour victory. Mickelson wanted to banish a disappointing start to the season and desperately needed a victory to stay in the race for World Number 1. Westwood on the other hand wanted to get the US monkey of his back and win his second ever US tournament following up New Orleans way back in 1997. He duly converted.
To add more clarity to my point, here are the additional 2010 and 2009 winners of tournaments preceding Majors and their finish the following week: Mahan (Firestone): 39th, Ed Molinari (Loch Lomond):27th, Stricker (Deere Run): 55th, Kim (Houston): 3rd, Woods (Firestone): 2nd, Kaymer (Loch Lomond): 34th, Stricker (Deere Run): 52nd, Gay (Southwind): MC, Casey (Houston): 20th.
So ask yourself this -is Westwood going to totally scupper his chances of victory next week at Congressional by winning in Southwind now he’s a 2 time PGA Tour winner? Will David Toms, who is in the form of his life, scupper his chances of contending next week at Congressional - which is a tough classical Par 70 that will truly suit his game - when he has just got the job done at Colonial? Or will Zach Johnson choose to win his 8th PGA Tour title in Memphis this week rather than concentrate on winning his 2nd Major at Congressional where he could ultimately prove his “Zach fluked at Major win at Augusta” doubters totally wrong?
Personally I’m staying away from these incredibly short priced favourites; instead here are my selections:
I’d be sorely disappointed if I missed a Garcia victory this week, so I’m on at what I consider a reasonable price. I dropped El Nino from my plans for TPC Four Seasons and was severely concerned when he contended over 54 holes. Ultimately though, contention was a step too far for his putter, but Garcia this week is back on his favoured Bermuda greens and the scoring required to contend won’t be out of Garcia’s operating compass. Victory next week at Congressional won’t be in the Spaniard’s mind either but interestingly he qualified via a Play Off at Tunica National on Monday which featured Bermuda greens. Such a result is sure to bolster his confidence further and his record on technical tracks and Par 70s in general has always been strong. 4th here in 2008 doesn’t surprise therefore! Current form line of 20-16-12-28 says everything it needs too. RESULT: M/C
Snedeker's game in 2011 has been top-notch as 7 Top 20 finishes including 5 Top 10s highlights. Indeed his win at Hilton Head backed up 4th at TPC San Antonio, 4th at Copperhead and 8th at Phoenix. All of these T10s were on Bermuda greens. How about motivation though to play well this week? Well Snedeker has been safely in the US Open all year due to his 8th place finish at the technical Pebble Beach in 2010, but would he mentally consider himself a true contender? I doubt it. St Jude is also Brandt’s home event as he’s a true Tennessee boy who grew up and went to University in the state. Motivation therefore won’t be a factor and doing the double of Hilton Head and TPC Southwind in a season is very much achievable. Just ask Brian Gay! 16th at Colonial last time out proved that Snedeker is mentally back in the right place after his inevitable post win loss of interest and 5th here back in 2007 proves he can tame Southwind’s technical challenge. RESULT: T15
The early 66s about 'Steady Freddie' has been tucked away and it’s easy to see why. Now I’m not expecting Jacobson to finally break his duck and grab his first PGA Tour win...I can’t promise that! However he ticks every box and I’m confident that the Florida based Swede will be right in the mix this week. His current form-line of 27-31-64-MC-21-5 is solid but when you scratch the surface you really start to see how he thrives on Technical Bermuda Par 70s. Perfect! 5th (11) and 2nd (10) at the technical Par 72 that makes up TPC San Antonio, can be interlinked to the fact that all of his best performances this season have been on Bermuda including 9th at Bay Hill. Freddie even qualified on Monday for the US Open like Garcia on the Bermuda carpet at Tunica National so I can’t see any reason for a drop off in his game at Southwind. RESULT: T32
Form is temporary, type of game lasts a career and despite Crane disappointing recently I’m going to grab the 40s that’s available on a true Par 70 and Bermuda specialist. As recently as February Crane was finishing 6th on the Bermuda at Hilton Head and he reached the Bracket Semi Finals of the World Matchplay again on Bermuda in March. Crane has also developed a “winner's mentality” of late as 2 victories in 2010 highlight. Indeed his last victory was on the fast Bermuda at The Mines in Malaysia at the co-sanctioned tournament where he racked a winner for us at 40/1. Ben will see this week as a real opportunity especially as there’s no pressure on him due to his recent 3 tournament “blip” and I won’t be at all surprised to see Crane tough it out this week and get in the mix for victory. RESULT: MDF
Perennially overpriced Yang is the final man for me this week at a value packed price. Yes, he’s had neck problems but I personally followed Yang at Wentworth recently for a large chunk of the back 9 and his game looked in superb nick, especially his iron play. He only truly comes alive on tough technical courses and is equally adept on Bent or Bermuda, but he favours the latter. Indeed his 2 Top 10 results this season were at PGA National (2nd) and TPC Scottsdale (8th). On a course where – 11 to -13 is the likely winning total, Yang can be competitive and his CV highlights his type of game where the tougher the course the better he performs, PGA National (1st and 2nd) and winning the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009. No TPC Southwind course record (a single MC in 08) doesn’t offend me, just look at Westwood and Karlsson last year! RESULT: M/C
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 21:00BST 7.6.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.