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The PGA Fall Series has never had such heady days. The Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Club in California will be the centre of the golfing world this week as a bunch of PGA Tour journeymen get the chance to compete with Tiger Woods for a 2 year PGA Tour exemption and a cool $900,000 winner's purse. Indeed the tournament purse totals $5,000,000 which is no mean feat for a Fall Series event.
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Let’s get the course details out of the way first and then we can move onto the interesting stuff. CordeValle is a 7,369 yard Par 71 that features Bent Poa greens, The course in San Martin, close to Silicon Valley, is set in rolling countryside and interestingly features over 150 feet of elevation changes. The Top 3 last year featured Rocco Mediate, Bo Van Pelt and Alex Prugh, none of whom you’d describe as power hitters so although the course is described as resort in nature, it has teeth. Indeed Mediate won with a 269/-15 total and double digit red numbers guaranteed a T10, although you must bear in mind that Sunday featured some un-California like rain. Conditions look like they will be tranquil this week with rain a potential danger only on Thursday.
Despite Rob Lee describing the field as high quality on Sky Sports last Sunday, in reality it is poor. Woods, Casey, Oosthuizen and Els are all attending but only Rory Sabbatini sits in the Top 30 of the PGA Tour Money List. Fact of the matter is we are only 3 tournaments away from the close of the season so the reality of losing playing privileges is the harsh focus for the majority of the field and that needs to be considered.
Other player motivating factors include a Top 30 position on the Money List or a Top 50 World Golf Ranking which guarantee a spot at Augusta. Below that we have many players going for a Top 80 finish which guarantees invitations to Bay Hill, Muirfield and Colonial next year. But naturally the real focus apart from Tiger will be on those playing for a Top 125 Money List position so that they keep their full card for 2012. It’s very much worth bearing in mind therefore that many of the favourites including Woods, Na, Oosthuizen, Crane, Casey, Els and Sabbatini all have full exemptions safely in the back pocket so you can forget about their Money List ranking.
So what’s the overriding strategy this week? The Frys.com Open all in all is an extremely odd tournament. Logic goes out of the window and even when the host course was Greyhawk in Arizona, shock winners abound on the champions list. As per last week where we snared some place finishes on Gainey, Levin and Pettersson, I’m focussing on players who have a real goal in mind.
I’m genuinely shocked that Woods is available at Stan James who are the only bookmaker going with an Enhanced Win Only market this week. Forget about the fact that he shot a course record 62 last week in a practice round with his new caddie Joe laCava (who is top rate) in Florida last Friday. For me I try and see things simply and Woods has to be high motivated for 3 reasons. Firstly he will want to get his World Ranking moving positively again. Secondly he will want to be back in the Top 50 before the end of the season and he has 3 tournaments to accomplish that in i.e. CordeValle, Shanghai and Sherwood Thousand Oaks. Thirdly he won’t want to embarrass himself, Freddie Couples or the American team in the Presidents Cup next month so he simply has to find form. His recent California form reads 44-2-4-1-1-1-1 and if he is anywhere near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday the intimidation factor for the quality of field assembled will be absolutely huge. RESULT: T30
Getting the in-form Arizona resident in my team at 10/1 for a Top 5 is good business and here’s why. Molder is very much on the comeback trail after a season that has seen him drop 70 places in the OWGR. Even though Bryce sits 87th in the Money List so his card is secured for 2012 I think he’ll be motivated this week. He will be hungry to keep his recent form-line of 10 (TPC Summerlin) – 64 (Plainfield) – 56 (Atlanta Athletic) – 10 (Montreaux) moving in the right direction firstly on the basis that he is yet to grab his first win on the PGA Tour. A Top 5 here will also guarantee a Top 70 spot and access to all of the big money Invitational events in 2012 making 2011 a respectable season. Bryce can play on Bent Poa greens as 4th at St Georges in 2010 and 4th at Congressional in 2009 highlight and he has a habit of playing well on the “West Coast” as Sunday’s 10th place was his 5th T10 in the western states since October 2009. RESULT: Winner
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I have to point out that the 2008 Masters Champion is exempt on the PGA Tour through to 2013 so the Florida domiciled South African is under no pressure whatsoever to compete in California this week. So why the interest on a player who appears to have no immediate goal? For me Immelman is just happy to playing decent golf again after a dismal spell across 2009/10. Indeed on the quiet he has risen exactly 100 places up the WGR in 2011 and for me he will have a goal this week. The next stage of his golfing rehabilitation is to genuinely contend in a tournament in a season that has delivered 15th at Augusta, 12th at Bay Hill and 12th at Atlanta Athletic but delivered no Top 10 finish. Believe it or not Trevor hasn’t finished in the Top 10 of a PGA Tour event since the Tour Championship back in 2008, but last week’s 34th at TPC Summerlin highlighted to me that his game is close as he finished on -12 which was his lowest red number total since the Disney tournament in 2006! That will boost his confidence and I think the classical Bent Poa nature of CordeValle should really suit the South African this week and remember shock results here at the Frys.com are not unheard of. RESULT: T21
2-time PGA Tour winner and ex World Top 50 player Rod Pampling is fighting his heart out to secure the PGA Tour card he lost in 2010 after a disastrous season. The amiable Texas based Aussie sits at 119 on the Money List and knows a Top 10 finish here will secure full exemption for 2012. You can place Pampling in the “horses for courses” category because he has always performed best on stiffer classical type tests. Indeed his last win in 2006 was at Bay Hill but it’s his positive results at Colonial, TPC Four Seasons, Congressional – pre renovation, Sedgefield and Torrey Pines that grabbed my attention. Not an easy course in-sight and as I said at the top CordeValle challenges. Pampling knows the course after playing here last year and the Aussie has admitted that his game is “close” to where it was in 2007/2008 when he was a fixture in the world scene. A recent form line of 34 (TPC Summerlin) – MC – 30 (Sedgefield) – 18 (Montreaux) highlights a player fighting hard for his card and inevitably a number of these motivated players will get in the mix this week. RESULT: T24
Here is a 3 time PGA Tour winner and a player who was ranked 37th in the world only in 2007 who finds himself as close to the golfing scrap heap as he can be. To his credit the Floridian has now got his head around the issue and I’m now seeing a desire to get drag himself out of the situation. Austin had a poor 2010 and finished 127th on the Money List grabbing a 126 to 150 money list partial status. But Woody who has won at Warwick Hills (1995), River Highlands (2004) and St Jude (2007) didn’t heed the warning and grossed under $50,000 in the first 6 months of the season. A 30th at Deere Leap in July sparked a fight-back that has gained real momentum. Austin has made 8 of his last 9 cuts and he also grabbed 18th at Annandale and 6th on Poa Annua at Shaughnessy in August. Austin who has also been playing Nationwide tournaments to keep his game on the move, played well last week and finished 34th on -12 but he desperately needs to find another Top 10 finish to guarantee at least partial status. However to grab a full card he needs to gross over $250,000 so he’ll be aiming at a Top 5 on a course where he finished 38th last season. RESULT: T42
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:00BST 4.10.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.
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