I'll start by throwing this geeky stat at you. The winners of the Puerto Rico Open over its 4-year existence i.e. Greg Kraft (08), Michael Bradley (09 & 11) and Derek Lamely (10) had a combined World Ranking of 2166. Do 'the math' and the average OWGR is 542. On that basis I'd stay away from the poorly priced favourites this week. Expect the unexpected in Rio Grande as those players with expectations to win inevitably don't. When you remember how hard it is to triumph on the PGA Tour, it's hardly surprising that ‘mid pack' players who know they are in half decent nick form-wise when thrust into the uncomfortable position of favouritism inevitably crack and finish Top 20 or worse. I'll also point out for those who like some in-play action that the winner is quite likely to do a John Huh (who shot 63/-8) and come from way off the pace on Sunday. My advice would be to lay the 3rd Round leader on Betfair at an appropriate point!
The Trump International resort course in Rio Grande is a long +7,500 yard Par 72 that sits on the coast. Seashore Paspalum greens add another dimension but effectively they play as Grainy Bermuda in their make-up. The Tom Kite design is essentially a resort-type course where the level of scoring (i.e. difficulty) is totally dictated by the elements, especially wind. The wind is set to hit +20mph on Thursday and Sunday so expect a score of -16 to -18 winning. Those who played at El Camaleon and PGA National will be at an advantage in my view. Low scoring will be the order of the day so the winner will need to produce an average of 5 birdies per round to truly contend. Motivation in these 2nd Division events totally outweighs World Golf Rankings and to some extent recent form. So I'm looking for players who have Bermuda green wins on their CV, be that PGA Tour or Nationwide Tour. Form in Florida and Latin America is favourable as are Top 10 results at low scoring resort-type tournaments. You never know, we might land a juicy Each Way price this week similar to my tip Troy Matteson here last year at 125/1 E/W.
Of the notables there is only one player that interests me in the slightest and that is the newly Florida-based Henrik Stenson, who as we all know is different gravy to anybody else in the field at his best. Henrik hit my radar at the close of 2011 when he was 4th after 54 holes and ultimately finished 12th at Disney. Stenson's recent career slump has been caused by his tee-to-green game. Indeed it won't surprise you that across the whole 2011 PGA Tour, Stenson ranked as the worst player both for Total Driving and GIR%. However 2012 has seen Henrik start to hit fairways again and 20th at the Dubai Desert Classic was followed up with 67% of Fairways Hit powering a -1/279 at PGA National good enough for 21st spot. Oh and by the way he can still putt on Bermuda plus he shot -5 on his 8 attempts across the Par 5s. That's impressive. An international CV that holds victories in Qatar (06), Dubai (07) and TPC Sawgrass (09) highlight a world class player on Bermuda carpet who can also play well in the wind as 3rd at The Open Championship in 2008 and 2010 testifies. So what about motivation? Well that aforementioned St Andrews 3rd was Stenson's last Top 5 finish and, for me, when you've been in the slump that Henrik has been this recent up-lift in his game must be exciting. He'll grab a contending performance wherever he can and interestingly he finished 28th at Trump International last year when his game was in complete disarray. RESULT: T3
I tipped Stephen Ames up for Mayakoba a fortnight ago and one thing I've realised over the years is that if the reasoning is correct there is absolutely no reason not to revisit selections over a short period. In essence I actually believe that Ames is even more suited to Trump International than he was El Camaleon (where he finished an in-touch 16th). In fact I think Canadian Ames, whose golfing education was on the Bermuda greens of the West Indies and Florida, will feel totally at home this week in Puerto Rico where he finished 3rd on course debut last year. 3 of Stephen's 4 PGA Tour victories have been on Bermuda greens. As we know after a disastrous 2011 Ames is starting to find a little motivation of late and I don't think that's a coincidence as this is the last year of his exemptions gained through 2006 Players Championship win and victories at Disney in 2007 & 2009. Taking away a missed cut last time out at PGA National, Ames' recent form has seen 16th at El Camaleon, 22nd at Palm Springs, 46th at Waialae, 32nd at Sea Island and 23rd at TPC Summerlin. If wind is going to be a factor as forecast I think Ames, who has an exceptional record across all Florida courses + Waialae, La Cantera, Kapalua and Colonial, should be a factor at a backable 50/1. RESULT: MC
I'm adding some more experience to our Puerto Rico team in the shape of Florida-based Aussie Peter Lonard who is one of the form horses coming into the tournament. Indeed Lonard who sits with a WGR of 428 (remember what I said at the top of the article) has risen over 800 places in the World Rankings since the middle of 2011 and here's why. 2011: 11th Mexico Open (Bermuda), 9th Viking Classic (Bermuda), 10th Children's Hospital Classic, 9th JB Were Masters 2012: 4th Victorian Open, 13th Colombia Championship (Bermuda), 7th Panama Championship (Bermuda). That's quite a tare. To put this in context, Lonard is a PGA Tour Bermuda green winner as he won in 2005 at Hilton Head plus he was also a regular at WGC tournaments and Major Championships in the mid noughties. Interestingly this will be Lonard's course debut at Trump International and I'm thinking he'll love the Par 72 Florida characteristics of the place. Past results that link in nicely to this week include: Kapalua: 10th (06), El Camaleon 3rd (07) & 7th (08), TPC Louisiana 2nd (08), TPC Sawgrass 6th (07), Annandale 9th (11). RESULT: T67
I like Nationwide Tour graduates in Puerto Rico, especially those who thrive on low scoring resort style Par71/72 set-ups, so step forward Ted Potter Jnr. The Floridian had a stellar 2011 on the Nationwide Tour with 2 wins and a further 4 Top 10 finishes delivering $402,000 and a 2nd place finish on the order of merit behind J.J. Killeen. Scratch the surface though and you'll see exactly why I think Potter Jnr will fly around Trump International this week. His first win came at Kinderlou Forest, Georgia, a 7,781 yard Par 72 featuring Bermuda greens where he shot -16 to capture the South Georgia Classic. 3rd place finishes at Highland Springs (-20 / 7115 yard Par 72) and Fox Den (-18 / 7110 yard Par 72) then followed before he captured his second championship at Soboba Springs, California a +7200 yard Par 71 where he shot -14 on his way to the Soboba Golf Classic title. So 2012 sees Ted in his rookie PGA Tour season and he immediately made an impression on me as a player to keep a close eye on with his creditable 13th place at the coastal Waialae back in January. Since Hawaii he's delivered 54th at Palm Springs, 70th at TPC Scottsdale and 30th last week at PGA National, where he was 11th after 36 holes. You'll notice that all of his weekend golf has been played on Bermuda greens in 2012. He'll certainly hit fairways this week and he loves putting on Bermuda carpet. One to get on your side. RESULT: T48
Another youngster I can't ignore this week is Gainesville-born Bobby Gates, who isn't your typical young American player. Many of you may remember Gates from the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach where after passing through qualifying Gates, who was a Nationwide Tour pro at the time, finished a decent 40th. That marks him out as a decent player but it's previous events that also add credence for me. Bobby played the Canadian Tour in 2009 and his best finish that year was 3rd at the Costa Rico Classic. He then graduated to the Nationwide Tour in 2010 where he became only the 13th player in Tour history to win on his debut when he captured the New Zealand Open and then proceeded to finish 3rd the following week at Moonah Coastal Links, Australia a +7,400 yard Par 72. He added another 2 Top 10 finishes that season (both on longer Par71/72 formats) and finished 16th in the Nationwide Order of Merit guaranteeing full PGA Tour playing privileges in 2011. Remember though Gates is no standard young American and he travelled to Australia late in the season and finished 12th at the Australian Open before taking a one-shot lead into the final round of the Australian PGA Championship before finishing 6th. This guys loves playing by the coast and outside of the US! 2011 and Gates' rookie season produced 5th at El Camaleon, 5th here on debut at Puerto Rico and 6th at Quail Hollow, but those 3 Top 10s weren't enough to grab full playing privileges for 2012 (incredibly he finished 126th on the Money List) so Gates went to Qualifying School and finished 3rd on the Bermuda Par 72 of PGA West. So to 2012 and Gates has started the season well with 6 weekend paid finishes from 7 tournaments – the best of which naturally was 8th on the Bermuda Par 72 format at PGA West. RESULT: MC
To finish this week I'll have a little Top 10 interest in the enigma that is Daniel Chopra. Granted, the Florida-based Swede has started his PGA Tour return in 2012 with 4 straight MCs but that means absolutely nothing in Puerto Rico where the Top 2 last season had a combined total of 7 straight MCs between them going into the tournament! Chopra arrives at Trump International from Panama where he showed progress in finishing 25th and if experience has taught us anything, Chopra's form switches on and off like a light switch. What you can't take away from the amiable Swede is the fact that he's a 2-time PGA Tour winner whose 2 wins were both on Bermuda greened tracks namely at Tesoro (07) and Kapalua (08). 2011 saw Daniel rebuild his career on the Nationwide Tour where he won at TPC Stonebrae, California. Naturally he then went AWOL but showed a level of fortitude to finish the season strong and grab a 6th on Bermuda greens at Miccosukee and 3rd at the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island which ultimately delivered his PGA Tour card for 2012. He closed 2011 with a visit Malaysia where yet again the Bermuda Par 72 format at the Johor Open played to his strengths and he finished 2nd behind Joost Luiten. Puerto Rico should suit Chopra and I'm pro-actively covering him this week for a Top 10. RESULT: MC
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