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he 2012 season is shaping up to be a belter as we approach the first Major of the season in a little under a month's time. Before we get there however, we've got some top-quality events to contend with - starting this week in Doral where the World's elite are once again assembled for the second WGC of the season. Newly crowned World No.1 Rory McIlroy heads a star-studded field of 74 players, each of whom will be aiming for the $1.4m first prize - however for some this is more than just prize money as both Donald and Westwood will be keen to regain golf's top ranking with a win here this week...
The performances of McIlroy, who scrambled and putted so well at PGA National, Westwood and Woods last Sunday has got the golfing world buzzing and there'll be massive expectation for a repeat performance this week. With a resurgent Phil Mickelson also knocking on the door, the bookies have been left with no choice but to offer some serious value further down the field this week. On top of this, top bookmaker Paddy Power have extended their each way terms to 6 places this week despite the short field, giving us an extra chance of backing a placed player this week. Click here for Paddy Power prices.
The question is though, will any of the 4 players I've mentioned prevail this week, or will the winner come from further down the list? The Blue Monster course at Doral is a very different challenge to PGA National last week so I, for one, wouldn't be at all surprised to see a different cast atop the leaderboard on Sunday although it's fair to say you could make a strong case for Rory, Lee, Tiger and Phil this week. With the media spotlight on Rory this week - interviews, photo shoots, tennis matches etc - he may find it tough to find a repeat performance on a track that he's only recorded 1 top 10 from 3 attempts. Lefty is better on bentgrass greens in my opinion and Westwood hasn't recorded a top 10 in this event in 8 attempts...leaving the WGC king Tiger Woods. But one swallow doesn't make a summer and one outstanding round doesn't make Tiger Woods invincible again - one thing's for sure, this will be a fascinating week!
Don't let the course's nickname mislead you - whilst it's an excellent venue, the course overall ranks in the top 33% easiest courses despite the formidable 18th which always features in the list of toughest finishing holes on tour. It's not massively long either at 7,266 yards and with wide fairways and generous landing areas this usually leads to a winning total in the 15 to 20-under region. The real premium however is putting, and those in form with the flat stick will prosper around here.
Looking back over the history of this event at Doral (since 2007), in those years with placid conditions the event has been dominated by the long-hitting, aggressive types; in more testing conditions the more proven ball-strikers have gravitated to the top of the leaderboard. This week we're in for a continuation of the breezy and sometimes wet conditions we saw last week at PGA National so I'm leaning away from the bombers this week to a degree - you'll need a bit more to your game this week than just raw power to get the job done come Sunday afternoon.
Last year I highlighted the fact that every winner of this event since its inception has recorded at least 1 top-10 finish in his last 3 events - this trend continued when 20/1 tip Nick Watney brought home the bacon. Applying the same logic here allows you to virtually halve the field before you start. My selections then are as follows:
It's not very often that I lead with a 100/1 shot, however I couldn't resist this week as David Toms was the first player I backed yesterday when the bookies started pricing up this event. There's a massive difference of opinion over the chances of the diminutive 45 year-old, with some bookies as short as 55/1, so if - like me - you think Toms stands a chance of making the frame this week then grab the 100/1 while it's still there, it may not be around for long!
Last year I used part of my rationale for picking Nick Watney in that he's a Major winner 'in waiting' in my opinion - all winners of this WGC event either were already, or quickly became, Major champions. 2001 PGA Champion David Toms clearly fits the bill on this front, plus his 6th place finish at PGA West in Janurary qualifies him from a form perspective. He putted fantastically that week (just 105 putts) then was sorely disappointed to run into Martin Kaymer at the Match Play, taking the German down the 18th after dispatching Rickie Fowler in the first round, despite the youngster shooting 7 birdies.
So what about course form? In recent years he's only played in this event twice on this course, however if we rewind to the Ford Championship @ Doral then you'll find form of 5/5/2 from 2004-2006 shooting 50-under in those 3 seasons - yes, the course has been updated a bit since then, however I simply cannot ignore those numbers. An excellent 2nd at last season's Players Championship (-13) leaps of the page, as does 4th at Atlanta Athletic Club - both on Bermuda Toms' favoured Bermuda greens. RESULT: Withdrew
The South African will be defending his Green Jacket in a little over 4 weeks time and the perfect warm-up would be to secure his first WGC title on a course where he came close to victory in 2010. Late bogeys at 15 and 17 allowed Ernie Els to eventually coast to victory that year, however Schwartzel is an even more accomplished player now and he'll feel he has every chance of going close again this year after securing his 4th top-5 finish in 7 events last week at PGA National.
As a punter you've got 2 choices this week in my opinion - either back Rory/Tiger around the 6/1 or 7/1 mark or look for some each way value that will return you a similar price with an each way payout. Schwartzel's got positive course history, positive recent form and prefers these slightly more open layouts and could easily be a factor this week. RESULT: T4
The ever-smiling American has only seen the Blue Monster twice in competition, finishing 3rd and 5th here in the last 2 seasons - at 35/1 he, like Schwartzel, is begging to be backed each way with more than a little interest in being able to go all the way by Sunday evening. Kuchar is the model of consistency ordinarily, however 2012 started slowly for the Georgia resident before a strong run at the Match Play which saw him defeat Ben Crane, Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer before succumbing to eventual champion Hunter Mahan - certainly nothing to be ashamed of there! Kuchar has taken to the WGCs like a duck to water since his game reached the level where he's virtually assured of an appearance in these lofty events - since 2009 his WGC form line reads 19/33/3/9/3/5/19/5....clearly he's right at home in this level of company and the combination of par 72 on Bermuda bodes well for the 33 year old this week. RESULT: T8
Bill Haas completes my selections this week and narrowly beats Rickie Fowler for my final 2 points. For me, Bill is one of those under-the-radar players who regularly gets overlooked by the bookies in terms of price, but equally regularly pops up in a paying position for his backers. 4 PGA Tour victories in a little over 2 years is an excellent return for Haas and his composure to beat Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley at Riviera last month demonstrated to me that there's some high-profile tournament victories yet to come for the 29 year old, possibly even a Major during his career. With the prospect of tougher conditions playing into the hands of the average length players like Haas, his 6th place finish here in 2010 becomes far more relevant than the more distant 31st place finish last year. Another player with an excellent record on par 72, Bermuda green courses - the Blue Monster could well be tamed by Haas this week. RESULT: T29
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!