This week allows the PGA Tour to take its foot from the accelerator.
The field delivered in style on Sunday afternoon at the Players Championship and now many of the world’s best take a break ahead of next week’s WGC World Match Play, knowing that the countdown to the Masters is now getting very close to 3-2-1.
In the circumstances the field that has assembled on the Copperhead Course at Westin Innisbrook is pretty strong with Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Jon Rahm heading the ratings.
Add in defending champion Paul Casey, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson – that’s six of the world’s top 17 ranked players.
They are greeted by a challenge well-known to the tour membership and fondly regarded by many.
“Probably in the top five, top ten courses we play on tour,” Bill Haas has said.
“You can’t fake it round this place,” claimed Graham DeLaet.
“I like it because I hit it straight and you have to hit it straight here,” added Ken Duke.
“Great undulations and elevation changes,” said Matt Kuchar.
“It’s tough, very tough, the wind make it difficult,” explained Justin Thomas.
Course form, essential therefore? Well, don’t fret if a player missed the cut on his last appearance on the course. Four of the last five winners did just that!
Angles to consider
1/ Putting Average
There is absolutely no question that players who thrive here are canny types and reading the players’ words explains why. Rory McIlroy: “A very positional course ... you need a conservative game plan.” Adam Hadwin: “Calm, steady golf is what I like to do and I think that fits very well here.” Henrik Stenson: “A lot of strategy off the tee, then it’s a second shot golf course.” And yet, whilst it favours solid tee-to-green campaigners, ones who thrive on testing challenges, they also need a warm putter. The rankings of the last five winners have been seventh, second, second, second and 12th (the latter was John Senden and it represented a good putting week for him).
There may only be three of them on the track, but the rankings for the last five winners read: fourth, 19th, first, third and third. Reasoning? The players talk of this being a testing challenge, indeed Justin Rose has often spoken of how, even if he is only level-par, he still feels in the tournament. So those three long holes represent valuable opportunities to make a progress.
3/ Doglegs, dips, and drops
Four players have won here and also at Waialae in the Sony Open (John Huston, KJ Choi, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk) and that makes a lot of sense: both are tight, blustery and tree-lined with Bermuda greens. Four players have also done the Deere Run-Copperhead double and that, too, is easy to discern: in this case both are tree-lined and feature lots of elevation changes (a fifth player, Bryson DeChambeau, won at Deere Run and also won at Copperhead as an amateur).
The above angles have been used to create a shortlist from which the following players are selected.
Only two men played the par-5s better than Snedeker last week at Sawgrass, he was also ranked fifth for Putting Average at Bay Hill and 14th last week, and he has missed just the one cut at the venue in nine visits, with a best of fourth in 2011. Breezy tracks, tree-lined tracks, Bermuda greens, elevation changes – he’s dealt with all of these and was a fast-finishing fifth on Sunday. Lost a play-off at Waialae and has been second at Deere Run.
The 36-year-old is a past winner at Deere Run (in 2016) and he’s more than proved himself on the course, collecting five top 20s, including a pair of top fives in the last four years. He played nicely last week at TPC Sawgrass for T20th and it might be worth noting that he was ranked seventh for Putting Average.
Another former winner at Deere Run (in his case in 2014), he has also thrived at Waialae (fourth there last year) and he was T8th last week in the Players, ranking second for All-round game. His course form is less spectacular, making two cuts in six starts, but he was T14th in 2013. His performance last week makes his price very attractive.
1pt e.w. Brandt Snedeker at 66/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Ryan Moore at 66/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Brian Harman at 150/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)