The traditional ‘West Coast Swing’ has ended after taking in the glorious sights of Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, Riviera CC and TPC Scottsdale in recent weeks, we’ve certainly seen some excellent performances such as Brandt Snedeker’s brilliant final round comeback and Hideki Matsuyama superbly outgunning Rickie Fowler in a tense finish in Phoenix. However, the PGA Tour moves across the USA to Florida this week, with attention turning to the PGA National course in Palm Beach Gardens.
This tournament has seen a marked improvement in quality since moving to the current course and that is evident again this week with 11 of the Top 20 OWGR players in the world taking part. With the likes of Rory Mcilroy, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson set to tee up, we are bound to see one of the classier fields of the season as most high-ranked players get in a prep for next week’s World Golf Championship event at Doral.
So, who will win this week? Here are three speculative darts.
PATRICK REED (22/1, Various) – 2pts e/w
After putting up one of the most consistent stretches of golf seen in the last few years over the course of November and December, Patrick Reed has somewhat cooled off in recent weeks. But it is worth re-visiting exactly how good he was during that hot streak, in a period spanning the Hong Kong Open in late October to the Tournament of Champions in early January, Reed was never out of the Top 10 with four Top 5s, despite playing in Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Hawaii, The Bahamas and the UAE in that spell on both the European and PGA Tour. On the back of those results he stormed into the Top 10 of the Official Golf Rankings for the first time in his career. That was some way to utilise a winter.
However, as I mentioned he has endured a slightly disappointing time in the West Coast in recent weeks. Reed opened up by posting a 56th place finish in the CareerBuilder Challenge after he started as a hot pre-tournament favourite, that was compounded by a convenient withdrawal from the Farmers Insurance Open after the Third Round in which he coincidentally shot an 81.
After a two week break, there was much more promise in his performance in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he finished an admirable 6th. He shot two 65s that week with one coming in the final round at Pebble Beach on a tricky Sunday layout, he showed glimmers of the superb iron play he is capable of and that bodes well for this week. In an interview after with Sky Sports, Reed mentioned how the break after the event at Torrey Pines enabled him to refresh after an intensive travel schedule and he put his underwhelming performances down to mistrust in his putter, commenting that, “During that stretch I was hitting the ball really well all day, and I just wasn’t making any putts”, but Reed maintained he resolved his issues in the two week break before Pebble Beach.
A potentially resurgent Patrick Reed is especially dangerous back in Florida, where he has posted some great results in the last few years. A victory at the Cadillac Championship in September 2014 has been followed up with a playoff loss at the Valspar and a 7th in last season’s Honda Classic, along with two further Top 25s in 2015. This is clearly a State he enjoys playing in and that is evident in his record of one Top 10 in every 4 starts.
In addition, Reed is one of the top ranked players in Round 1 Scoring Average this season, with an average of 68 making him 7th best on the PGA Tour. This statistic is vital for this tournament in which the last five winners have all been inside the Top 10 after the 1st Round, so hopefully Reed can make a customary fast start and position himself to the head of the leaderboard, as this is a tournament in which it is notoriously difficult to make up ground from off the pace.
RUSSELL KNOX (40/1, Various) – 1pt e/w
The second selection this week is the Scotsman, Russell Knox, who has lived in Jacksonville, Florida since graduating from Jacksonville University in 2007, so this is virtually a home tie for him in a sense. He must still be flying from landing his first and biggest career win to date back in November at the HSBC Champion WGC in China, with that victory propelling him into the Top 50 in the world rankings. That landmark victory against the best players in the world proves he can compete in a high quality field such as the one this week.
Russell Knox really catches the eye because of his apparent love affair with PGA National, due to his 3rd and 2nd place finishes over the last two seasons. Those agonising near misses signal that the setup of this course really suits Knox’s measured, accurate style. This confidence is strengthened when one sees him sitting atop the Greens In Regulation ranking this season hitting a total of 77.57%, which puts the Scotsman above Rory Mcilroy, Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama in the category. This is brilliant as it is a very important statistic at PGA National, a course where keeping the ball on the green and out of potential scrambling scenarios is highly beneficial.
The fact Knox is returning to a venue he plays so brilliantly, sitting 1st in one of the most important stats for the course surely must put him bang in contention once again for a third straight year. Hopefully, he will be buoyed by the confidence earned in his victory at the WGC in China, which could be the difference this year in turning a near-miss 2nd into victory.
KEVIN KISNER (40/1, bet365 and Ladbrokes) – 1pt e/w
Kevin Kisner is one of the biggest revelations in the world of golf in the last year or so after being a perennial nearly man on the PGA Tour, he burst into a rich vein of form last year. The peak of which was when he finally landed his first PGA Tour event in the RSM Classic in November, that came in the middle of a run of three additional Top 10s so he is definitely capable of contending on a regular basis. However, he disappointed at TPC Scottsdale three weeks ago missing the cut after two poor rounds, but in fairness he has never played well at that course and a line can be struck through that.
On his last start in Florida, he came agonisingly close to a life-changing victory in the ‘unofficial major’ The Players Championship last season, when he was just edged out in a playoff by Rickie Fowler, who simply played brilliantly. Kisner probably did enough to win many a playoff that day but he met a rival in imperious form, therefore if he can replicate his performance that weekend on the similar Bermuda greens of the PGA National, he will have an outstanding chance.
It is also pleasing to see him top the charts for Round 1 Scoring Average this season, we have already discussed how vital it is to get off to a fast start this week so it is encouraging that Kisner is capable of going low in the opening round. With that in mind, he is an attractive option to be First Round Leader at 55/1 with Stan James, but I am happy to play him in the outright market since I believe the market is heavily underestimating this talented golfer after one bad performance in Arizona.
2pts e/w on PATRICK REED @ 22/1 (Various)
1pt e/w on RUSSELL KNOX @ 40/1 (Various)
1pt e/w on KEVIN KISNER @ 45/1 (Bet365 & Ladbrokes)