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As we move into late April, a number of golf highlights are on the horizon. Next week sees the WGC Cadillac World Matchplay Championship at TPC Harding Park take place with its new format and later spot in the golfing calendar. The world's best will then fly from California to Florida for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, with the well-attended Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow following on after golf's 'Fifth Major'. So in this week's Zurich Classic we have a low-level event that is well known for producing Tour maiden breakthroughs or wins for non-elite players. Its now established slot a fortnight after Augusta and prior to the aforementioned tournaments is a logical explanation for a champion's list which contains Romero, Kelly, Bohn and Noh in recent times.
2015 Punters League
Congratulations to Jon Hughes who won last week's Punters League, as he was the only entrant with both Aphibarnrat and Furyk in his team. Sean Colgan remains in the overall Punters League lead after 15 weeks, with Jon moving up to 16th. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 3 players for the Zurich Classic and Volvo China Open on our facebook group now.
The European Tour action this week stays in China for the Volvo China Open: Paul Williams' preview covers everything you need to know about Shanghai Pudong Golf Club. Here in the deep south of the Unites States, TPC Louisiana is a pretty typical American resort Par 72 where birdies are available to players who hit masses of greens. Another Pete Dye design (after Harbour Town and prior to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass), this tournament has a habit of allowing infrequent winners the opportunity to grab an important victory. So here's my Zurich Classic preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: TPC Louisiana is always one of the easiest Par 72s on the PGA Tour. Wide fairways, a lack of trees and only 5 water hazards make this a second shot course where birdies are available, but equally keeping your card clean is vitally important. Work on the 13th and 18th holes back in 2011 extended the layout to its current 7,425 yard, Par 72 format, but don't be fooled by its length - TPC Louisiana plays very much as a resort course. Horschel captured his maiden victory here 24 months ago with a -20/268 total and both Seung-yul Noh (2014) and Jason Dufner (2012) fell only a single shot short of that total when again accomplishing their maiden Tour victories here. Lush spring conditions will lead to higher rough this time around, but I'm still expecting low scores.
TPC Louisiana, Avondale, New Orleans, Louisiana: Designer: Pete Dye with 2011/13 re-designs; Course Type: Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,425 yards; Fairways TifSport Bermudagrass; Rough: TifSport Bermudagrass 1.75"; Greens: 5,600 sq.ft. average MiniVerde Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 71.00 (-1.00), Difficulty Rank 39 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.75 (-1.25), Difficulty Rank 34 of 43 courses. 2014: 71.21 (-0.79), Rank 37 of 48 courses.
Course Overview: The challenge at TPC Louisiana is to score heavily on a course where double bogeys are a danger. The tournament always features wind and Pete Dye's design yields scoring opportunities across all of its 4 Par-5s and 5 of its Par-4s which measure sub-420 yards. Noh, Horschel and Dufner all scored heavily on their way to victory, but they also kept their cards extremely clean. Noh and Horschel only leaked 3 and 4 bogeys respectively, whilst Dufner dropped a flagrant 7 shots (5 + 1 Double) but counterbalanced that with 3 eagles.
Winners: 2014: Seung-yul Noh (-19); 2013: Billy Horschel (-20); 2012: Jason Dufner (-19); 2011: Bubba Watson (-15); 2010: Jason Bohn (-18); 2009: Jerry Kelly (-14).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Zurich Classic predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Dustin Johnson (Predictor number 1), Harris English, Jason Day and Justin Rose. 2010 winner Jason Bohn wraps up the Top 5 at a 3-figure price, with Martin Laird, Robert Garrigus, Chris Stroud and Will Wilcox all prominent outsiders.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the AT&T Pebble Beach / Thailand Classic weekend and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Noh 125/1; 2013: Horschel 33/1; 2012: Dufner 28/1; 2011: Watson 28/1; 2010: Bohn 80/1; 2009: Kelly 150/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for TPC Louisiana is here. Louisiana is always one of the most humid states in the United States and Avondale has received plenty of rainfall in 2015. That means that the Bermudagrass rough is likely to be longer at 1.5" - 2" in length, but conversely greens are likely to be receptive. However the course is also likely to get softer as electrical activity looks set to impact play on Thursday and can't be ruled out across Friday or Saturday. Standard issue Louisiana wind levels will be evident on Friday and Saturday.
Nappy Factor: Here's a list of players in this week's field who've recently become fathers. This is an interesting angle that his historically delivered numerous winners. If you know of further players don't hesitate to email us or add new names to the thread on our facebook group: Robert Streb 3.2.15; Dustin Johnson 20.1.15 (Won WGC Cadillac 8.3.15), D.A. Points 20.1.15.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: The key to understanding this tournament is pretty complex. The main defence of this 7,425 yard course, which was extended for 2012, is the nature of the MiniVerde Bermuda greens. Greens average 5,700 square feet which is relatively standard, but they are undulating which is why precision is at a premium on approaches. Proximity to hole with iron in hand seems imperative to making birdies, as is the ability of keeping the card clean of bogeys on the more difficult holes.
The key to success at TPC Louisiana is a balancing act. Since 2010, 4 of the 5 winners here have delivered top 6 GIR performances. That's a very extreme trend. Only Jason Dufner in 2012 (when we were on board at 28/1) slipped to 25th in this particular category. But simply hitting greens isn't enough as again 4 of the 5 winners here also delivered top 6 Putting Average (Putts per GIR) performances, so naturally a hot putter is required to generate the 30% birdie or better hole conversion required to win here. The exception from a putting perspective was Bubba Watson who topped Greens in Regulation but was 41st in Putting Average in a relatively high scoring renewal back in 2011.
A look at the winners list since 2005 - but excluding 2006 when the tournament was played at English Turn - highlights short and long hitters, strong putters and GIR grinders. So, in essence, the course plays into the hands of any game style. It's apparent that all were experienced professionals (Noh, Horschel and Watney were in their 3rd season on Tour when capturing their maiden Tour title here) and, taking that a step further, 76% of the Top 3 finishers had never won on the PGA Tour or had achieved only single victories.
It all makes for a scenario where looking for value can't be a bad ploy. Naturally any of the short prices like Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jason Day or Billy Horschel could win this week. Rickie Fowler makes a level of sense with a 10th here in 2013, linking well to the fact that he is still a singleton tournament winner and Keegan Bradley is simply desperate for a win - we saw what can happen in that scenario last week. However I'm going for a team of 7 players: 4 sporadic winners with 11 wins between them - none since August 2012 - plus 3 Tour maidens, all of whom have at least cashed cheques at TPC Louisiana.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Paddy Power have again gone 6 places each-way at the Zurich Classic. Full details here.
After delivering a return for us last week with a storming final round 64 at Harbour Town, it makes perfect sense to stay on board Sean O'Hair this week on a Par 72 that will suit the 32 year-old. O'Hair is winless since 2011 when he captured the RBC Canadian Open, but 2015 has seen this Bermudagrass green specialist compete well at both Copperhead and Bay Hill prior to last week. O'Hair is putting positively right now and is making plenty of birdies (33rd for Birdie Average), so it was interesting to see him play so well last week on a course that's ultimately just a little too tight from the tee. The wide open spaces of TPC Louisiana will most definitely suit him more this week so it's no real surprise to see that O'Hair semi-contended here in both 2005 (course debut) and 2007 before he went onto a more senior tournament schedule powered by wins at Copperhead (2008 - Bermuda/Poa Trivialis greens) and Quail Hollow (2009). He has form on a number of linkable courses and if he can find the same level of greens he did in his early visits here he must go close.
A Tour maiden who has been playing well of late, Morgan Hoffmann was the first player in my squad this week. Muscular and powerful, Hoffmann ended his 2nd season on Tour with a great FedEx Cup Play-Off run that saw him finish 9th at Ridgewood and 3rd at Cherry Hills behind none other than Billy Horschel and Bubba Watson - do you need any more logic?! With a full set of 2015 Major Championship invites heading to his home in Jupiter, Florida it was hardly a surprise to see him start 2015 slowly, but an impressive 17th on his WGC debut at Doral in early March has been the spark for contending performances at both Bay Hill (4th) and Harbour Town (9th) on Bermuda Poa Trivialis putting surfaces. Hoffmann also finished a creditable 28th on his Augusta debut a fortnight ago. Added craft, guile and hit plenty of greens last week to drop only 6 bogeys on his way to 9th and, as a rookie, Hoffman finished 21st here back in 2013 when he was 4th at the halfway stage.
Both O'Hair and Hoffmann can play in blustery conditions with receptive greens, as can Scott Piercy who hit the front too early last time out at the Shell Houston Open when he certainly gave us a run for our money at 100/1. Scott is a 2-time PGA Tour winner whose wins at Montreux (2011) and Hamilton G&CC (2012) both feed in well form-wise for TPC Louisiana. 10th at Houston backed up a fast-finishing 2nd at Waialae in January and there are no doubts that Piercy can putt well on all surfaces. Stats-wise, Piercy started to strike his irons far better last time out and as we know he thrives on resort courses and can link contending performances together when confident. Any downpour here this week will play into his hands and he was 12th here back in 2012, shooting -12 across his closing 54 holes.
I will finish with 4 players all at triple digit odds:
Kyle Reifers is the punt of the week having been backed heavily from Monday, but I'm still prepared to support the late-developing 31 year-old who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and who has a liking for tournaments in the deep south from his web.com days. Way back in 2006, Kyle won the Chattanooga Classic at the Par 72 format Black Creek Club in Tennessee on Bermudagrass greens with a hefty -26/262 total. His debut PGA Tour season the following year was an unmitigated disaster apart from a 12th at Bay Hill and 24th here at TPC Louisiana where an opening round 64 was good for first Round Leader and he hung on to still be 5th after 54 holes. Fast forward to 2014 where a successful campaign on the web.com included 3rd at the Louisiana Open on the mammoth Bermuda greened Par 72 at Le Triomphe CC and promotion to the main Tour. 5th on the main Tour at Annandale in Mississippi (2012) was the precursor to his 14th place finish at Jackson earlier this season and Reifers has a great mix of Bogey Avoidance / Birdie Average stats after back-to-back 11th places at TPC San Antonio and GC of Houston.
2010 winner Jason Bohn is an obvious selection at 110/1 and there are no doubts that the 2-time PGA Tour winner is playing well enough. Bohn was great from tee-to-green last week in Harbour Town where the putter proved a little recalcitrant, but the Georgia-based 41 year-old, who has a huge liking for Carolina set-ups and Par 72 tracks, is worth another crack this week. Traditionally when Bohn gets confident with his approach play his putter soon follows.
The enigma that is Lucas Glover is next up and the facts are quite clear for me. The 3-time PGA Tour winner and 2010 US Open champion is playing some cracking stuff from tee-to-green. 18th last week in Harbour Town was powered by 2nd in Greens in Regulation, 7th in Scrambling and only 6 bogeys. Naturally the putter was stone cold! Home state courses have always been happy hunting grounds for Lucas, as has the Zurich Classic with over $1 million banked across 4 top-10 finishes. It's clear that Glover knows how to navigate around TPC Louisiana as he's finished 3rd (2005), 8th (2007) 19th (2009) and 4th (2013) here. That 2013 result is interesting as he arrived in New Orleans with an ice cold putter. From there he went on to fire 24 birdies and led after 54 holes before feeling the heat in the final round. Any semblance of decent putting this week will see him enter the fray.
Finally Will Wilcox is another 'off page' player who interests me this week - remember Robert Streb and Andrew Svoboda 12 months ago who didn't have a PGA Tour Top 10 between them before finishing tied-2nd? Well Wilcox has only part-status in 2014/15, hence splits his time across the less popular main Tour tournaments and on the web.com, but he's already finished 14th in Jackson, 18th at Pebble, 6th in Puerto Rico and 33rd at Copperhead. Will's strength is keeping his card clean - he's 6th in Greens in Regulation and 9th in Bogey Avoidance categories and his long range iron play and proximity from the fairway numbers are also strong. The 2013 South Georgia Classic winner (-15/273 on the Bermuda greens at Kinderlou Forest GC) competed in Mexico last week where he finished 12th behind Wes Roach with a closing 66 which featured 5 birdies and an ace. On his first start here 12 months ago, Wilcox was 10th at halfway and interestingly finished 8th in Greens in Regulation.
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