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The third leg of the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing takes us to Palm Harbor, Tampa Bay for the Transitions Championship. With Augusta only 3 weeks away, many use the tough Copperhead course as a ‘major’ style warm up for the big event. The Par 71 is deceptive in its nature as its 7,340 yard length is actually longer than Doral last week, which as you know was a Par 72. It’s not only the length that causes problems as fairways are tight and tree-lined. Add to that the greens which are small and feature grainy Bermuda Poa Trivialis grass. As the 13th hardest course on Tour in 2011 it’s a real ‘brute’ even if the calm conditions that are forecast actually materialise.
The Winners List is a “who's who” of tough course golf champions.…..Furyk (10), Goosen (03 & 09), Choi (02 & 06), Calcavecchia (07) Singh (04). Even in Sean O’Hair (08) and Carl Pettersson (05) we see tight course specialists who thrive on Bermuda carpet and who have multiple T10’s in Majors. Put succinctly, the Copperhead Course plays to the strengths of experienced pros who know that par is a decent score on many holes and plays the percentages.
Singh is the perfect choice this week around Copperhead and 188Bet’s £25 No Lose bet works perfectly at a market leading win price. The 1998 and 2004 PGA Champion is playing his best golf since his Fed Ex Cup winning achievements of 2008 and his resume lists both a number of Bermuda and “tough course” triumphs. With the field containing Kaymer and Watney, this price offers value especially when the Florida based Fijian was as short as 20s at PGA National 2 weeks ago when he missed the cut. An opening round of 77 blew Vijay off the course at Palm Beach but with only light breeze forecast and a solid 22nd last week at Doral under his belt I’m expecting Singh to grasp the nettle and grab his first win since 2008. His Copperhead form ain’t bad either as 5 appearances have yielded 19th, 19th, MC, 1st & 2nd. I’m desperate to be on Singh when he finally breaks his 2 and half year winless streak and I think the tough nature and laid back environment of Copperhead after the pressure cooker of Doral could be the week. RESULT: T51
I know what you are thinking. Paddy’s game has been in disarray for a lengthy period of time. That can be seen in Harrington’s last 8 Major Championships which have yielded 35-MC-65-10-MC-22-MC-MC. That quite simply is not good enough for the 3 time Major winner and ex-World Number 4. However I’m starting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the Irishman who, like Singh, hasn’t won since 2008. Harrington was disqualified in his 2011 debut in Abu Dhabi but that followed a superb round of 65 on Bermuda and last week again yielded more positives as 10th was his best finish since Firestone last September and again was on Bermuda carpet. Harrington loves tough style courses, Florida courses and Bermuda greens - indeed his first PGA Tour victory was at PGA National in 2005. I’d snap up the 33/1 that’s only on offer at Totesport because it won’t last long and Harrington, who finished 8th at Copperhead last year, in my view will build on his contention at Doral and be in the mix for a Top 5 finish at least. RESULT: M/C
Last week I jumped on Hunter Haas at Coral as they offered market leading 66s and he delivered a decent Each Way return. This week Coral have facilitated a cracking Each Way plunge on Sean O’Hair who is 45/1 elsewhere. Now Pennsylvania resident O’Hair, whose golf education was in the Sunshine State, ticks a hell of a lot of boxes this week. Copperhead has been likened more to a Carolina type course rather than the typical Florida set up and O’Hair’s results across both types are first class. In 2009 O’Hair was one of the hottest golfers on the planet. Results included 2nd at Bay Hill (Florida/Bermuda), 10th at Augusta, 4th at Coghead (tough 7,400 yard Par 71) and 3rd at East Lake (tough Par 70 / Bermuda). The year was topped off by a win at Quail Hollow (one of Carolina’s finest courses) and inclusion in the US Presidents Cup team. A luke-warm 2010 yielded 4th at Kapalua (Bermuda), 7th at St Andrews and 5th at Firestone. We can surmise therefore that Mr O’Hair can play tough style courses. The winner here in 2008, O’Hair has started this season steadily and has an improving form line of 24-72-31-MC now that he’s back on his favourite terrain. This tournament has a record of producing repeat winners and the lack of scoring required can easily bring him into contention. RESULT: M/C
Furyk, Goosen, O’Hair and Choi all “stumbled” into Tampa with, at best, reasonable form. However the tough Copperhead course format, which makes scoring extremely difficult, played into their hands when capturing the win. Both O’Hair and Masters winner Zach Johnson are in exactly the same situation and both have the calibre and game to win this week. Johnson who used to live in Orlando, but who last year moved to Sea Island, Georgia has a great resume on tough courses and performs well in Florida. The 7-time PGA Tour winner has won 5 of those victories on Bermuda carpet and Johnson revels on tight courses where his high accuracy game supported by a high quality scrambling game reap dividends. Johnson was 3rd at the last major i.e. the PGA Championship and a win at the 2009 Sony Open linked to recent Top 10s at form linked tracks like Kapalua, Doral, Bay Hill, Quail Hollow (11th after leading) make him a must pick for me this week at a crazy price. Does a 2011/10 form line of 24-29-57-23-9-12-9 equal a slump? RESULT: T20
My team of quality pros who are hungry for their next victory is finished with 2009 Open Champion Stewart Cink and he’s best priced at the home of the £60 Free Bet for the Cheltenham Festival – Ladbrokes. Best to use some of that on Cink in my opinion who will go well in Tampa this week. He was never going to win in Puerto Rico last week for all the reasons I documented, but his Top 30 performance that included opening rounds of 68 and 69 impressed me and showed another step in his “contention rehab.” Cink is not a low-scoring player hence the tight ‘major’ type format of Copperhead should suit and that’s backed up by his course form which includes 19th, 3rd and 2nd from 7 appearances. Decent career records at The Masters, The Open, Muirfield, Firestone, Quail Hollow and Hilton Head add fuel to the flames that this could be the week for Georgia based Cink. After all here is a guy who is desperate for his first US win since the Travelers Championship in 2008 and who has started to find his hunger again that was understandably extinguished by winning the Claret Jug in Turnberry in 2009. RESULT: T11
I fancy Florida-based Major winners this week and I’m thinking that one could well enter the contention fray this week. Logically Open Champion Curtis has a great chance although his Copperhead record can only be described as disappointing. His form at the moment though is decent. Curtis popped onto my radar after his trip to the Dubai Desert Classic in February which yielded 15th beating Tiger into the bargain. Form since then has been solid with 12th at Riviera and 29th in the carnage at PGA National. No wins since 2006 equals hunger in my mind and recent results like 6th at Bay Hill (2010), 14th at US Open (2010) plus 2nd at Quail and the PGA Championship in 2008 start to make the 3 figure price an extremely attractive Each Way punt with trading opportunity. RESULT: M/C
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 18:00GMT 15.3.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.