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150/1 and 200/1 winners on the PGA Tour over the past fortnight have certainly made for an interesting, if not profitable (for most), start to the 2014/15 season. Both Sang-moon Bae and Ben Martin showed real determination to convert 54-hole leads into outright victories fighting off the likes of Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, Hunter Mahan, Jimmy Walker and Webb Simpson into the bargain. For the record, Steven Bowditch's win at TPC San Antonio to date has been the biggest priced winner on the PGA Tour in 2014 at 350/1, followed by Scott Stallings (Torrey Pines) and Russell Henley (PGA National) both at 250/1.
This week we move from Arizona to Georgia for the McGladrey Classic. Now into its fifth renewal, this tournament has produced some interesting winners including Tommy 'Two Gloves' Gainey with Chris Kirk capturing his 2nd PGA Tour title here 12 months ago. This week's preview walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: The Seaside Course located on St Simon's Island, is, as you'd expect a links-type test. The Seaside Course is an original Harry Colt design which, in 1998, had a Tom Fazio re-design where the original 'Marshside' and 'Seaside' sets of 9 later were merged. It's a true rarity - an American links-style course with manmade sand dunes, ridges and elevation fluctuations. The course is a short, 7,005 yard Par 70 featuring Bermudagrass fairways, rough (average 2") and pretty grainy TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens that will run close to 12 on the Stimpmeter.
Seaside Course, St Simon's Island, Georgia: Designer: Colt & Allison, 1928, Fazio re-design, 1998; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,005 yards; Water Hazards:0; Fairways: Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average TifDwarf Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 11.5 to 12ft. Course Scoring Averages: 2012: 69.28, Difficulty Rank 36 of 49 courses; 2013: 70.26, Difficulty Rank 21 of 43 courses.
Course Overview: The Seaside Course is a links-style test, but don't be fooled. You'd expect a technical challenge, but effectively the main defence of the course which is barely 7,000 yards in length is the weather from the Atlantic. Friday's play last year was memorable for the windy and wet conditions, hence the average score across the 72 holes increased by just under a shot, with Chris Kirk capturing the title at -14/266. 2014 will see far more tranquil conditions and a course that's seen plenty of rain since the turn of the month. Softer fairways are likely to be easier to find and with greens that are on average 7,000 sq.ft. in size, this should turn into low scoring affair. The greens themselves are quite a challenge as any putt within 10 feet is testing and difficult to read - especially for those that don't get on with grainy Bermudagrass carpet.
Tournament Stats: We have generated some key player statistics for this week's McGladrey Classic that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who traditionally play well at this event: Current Form | Player Tournament Form | First Round Leader History
Published Predictor Model: Our published Predictor Model is viewable here. You can build your own model using the variables available. Key players included in the upper reaches of the Predictor include Matt Kuchar (Rank 1), Webb Simpson, Charles Howell III, Zach Johnson, Harris English, Chris Kirk (defending champion) and Bill Haas. Value each-way punts include David Toms, Carl Pettersson, Chad Campbell, Tom Gillis and Jeff Overton.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: Here we list a view of players in the McGladrey field and respective recent skill stats. These rankings are based on an 11 tournament window that stretches back to the Bridgestone Invitational/Barracuda Championship and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour tournaments to be included and rankings are based on average performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners Prices: 2013: Chris Kirk 50/1; 2012: Tommy Gainey 200/1; 2011: Ben Crane 66/1; 2010: Heath Slocum 50/1.
Tournament Trends: 2013 Champion Chris Kirk is a St Simon's Island resident, so local knowledge can pay real dividends. Jonathan Byrd, Harris English (Sea Island), Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Charles Howell III, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Dave Love III (Sea Island) all currently base themselves or have residences in the area. Since 2001 the course itself has also played host to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship. There are 14 University teams which take part each year with the Georgia Bulldogs having featured Erik Compton, Harris English, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Chris Kirk, Kevin Kisner, Hudson Swafford and Brendon Todd in recent years.
The McGladrey in 2010-2012 formed part of the PGA Tour Fall Series, with the 2013 renewal being played in November as part of the first wrap-around season structure. Every winner of the tournament had played a Tour tournament post-East Lake. In essence that means that players such as Russell Henley, Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk could be at a real disadvantage this week. It's also interesting to see that inaugural McGladrey champion Heath Slocum had captured The Barclays title 13 months previously in 2009. Of all the winners on the Seaside course, no winner has ever won in the calendar year prior to triumphing here.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Fancy doubling the odds on any player in this week's McGladrey field? Betfred have launched a new promotion giving new customers double the odds on their first bet (up to £10 stake) plus a £/€25 free bet on their second bet. Full details here: Betfred Double Odds.
My final selections are as follows:
Georgia Bulldog and Sea Island resident Harris English turned the corner last week at TPC Summerlin with his first Top 20 result since June. Harris' strength is his putter and it started to fire in Arizona. English won twice in 2013 at TPC Southwind (Bermudagrass Par 70) and on the softened course at El Camaleon (coastal) where he shot -21/263 in doing so. English has always thrived on tighter Par 70 formats and putts brilliantly on the Bermudagrass greens that he was brought up on, so with plenty of course experience I see a positive week ahead. RESULT: MC
Brown has already been popular in the market and it's easy to see why. Altitude has never been a friend of the Augusta-born 31 year-old, so it was a green light to see him finish in the Top 10 at TPC Summerlin last week after shooting a closing 66. Where Brown struggles in the desert, he excels on the coast and the 2013 Puerto Rico Open champion loves the Seaside Course after finishing 20th (2012) and 4th (2013) in his 2 appearances here. Seems to favour Par 70s these days and strong form at Harbour Town, Annandale and El Camaleon feeds in well. Developing well and due a second PGA Tour title. RESULT: MC
Recent father Scott Langley is another who I think is developing nicely and the Singer Island 25 year old has all the skill attributes required to go close on Sea Island. Langley has been in the mix after 54 holes at Copperhead, Muirfield Village, TPC River Highlands, Sedgefield and Silverado in 2014 and only converted an each-way place at the Valspar Championship (3rd). However he's playing far too well to ignore and thrives on shorter tests with a game that yields birdies. Great linkable form at Pebble Beach (US Open 2011 and 2013 Callaway Invitational), Waialae (3rd 2013) and went out 4 groups back on Sunday here last term. RESULT: MC
Finally three players at triple figure prices:
Georgia Bulldog Kevin Kisner will be taking the short trip down IS 95 from South Carolina in good spirits this week after starting the season with pay cheques at Silverado and TPC Summerlin. KK is now in his 4th season on Tour and the 30 year-old has quietly established himself as a great putter and birdie-maker. 20th at Deere Run, 9th at Royal Montreal and 8th at Sedgefield pre-PlayOffs highlight his credentials on short courses and this guy won the 2013 Callaway Invitational last Autumn at Pebble Beach - a title Tommy Gainey captured in 2012. Knows the Seaside Course well and has been in the higher echelons of the leaderboard here on 2 previous visits. RESULT: T4
William McGirt is another with a SEC background whose lack of length with the driver won't be punished this week. Career Top 20 finishes across Waialae, TPC Scottsdale, Colonial, Pebble Beach (McGirt was T3 at the Callaway event last year) and El Camaleon link in well as do Top 10s at Harbour Town, Annandale, Hamilton (Colt design) and Sedgefield. An accurate driver who has been hanging around my Top 10 Putting Average stats of late. RESULT: T32
Brian Stuard is a true 'Bermuda monster' who comes to the fore by the coast. 2nd at El Camaleon in 2010 came totally out of the blue in a debut season where the Coral Springs, Florida native was way out of his depth. Since his reappearance in 2013, Stuard has gone on to collect strong finishes at Waialae: 5th (13), 6th (14); PGA West: 10th (13) 5th (14); Trump International: 4th (13); Harbour Town: 5th (14) and El Camaleon: 2nd (13). Loves the coast, 16th as recently as TPC Boston on 'alien' Bentgrass and went out in the 4th last pairing here in 2010. RESULT: MC