Matt Cooper feels Heath Slocum is well suited to Harbour Town and believes he can serve up a win on a tight track.
“Tree-lined” is a common description of golf courses but few are quite so tightly tree-lined, especially at PGA Tour level, as the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island which hosts this week’s Verizon Heritage.
The term “tree-infringed” would make more sense because it is quite possible for players to hit the fairway and still find their way to the green impeded by trees that overhang the shortest cut of grass.
As a consequence certain types of players have flourished at the venue: they need to be solid ball-strikers, more accurate that long, unflappable and quite capable of performing when the wind blows.
Recent winners Brian Gay, Peter Lonard and Boo Weekley have also performed well at El Camaleon, the host course for the Mayakoba Classic, which is another venue calling for a cunning, rather than big-hitting, long game.
And that leads me to the first selection this week – Heath Slocum.
He surprised just about everyone with a stunning victory over a high quality field at The Barclays during last year’s Fedex Cup play-offs – until then he was, perhaps justifiably, viewed as nothing more than a journeyman.
But he was always a class above the end-of-season-card-scraping-journeyman – in eight seasons on tour he has never finished lower than 80th in the money list and he has always thrived in the right conditions.
And the right conditions are in place for this week.
In fact, he proved as much with his first visits to Harbour Town – he was runner-up on debut in 2002 and was lying second after 54 holes two years later.
Since then he has proved that blustery conditions suit with a win at Annandale, runner-up finishes at Innisbrook and Brown Deer Park, not to mention that Barclays win at the windy Liberty National.
Intriguingly he has also played El Camaleon very well – third on debut in 2009 and 13th there this year.
His long game is in good nick – last week he was ranked seventh for Greens in Regulation at Augusta National and only eight players secured more birdies than he did.
This is just the sort of track he can thrive on and at 70/1 he makes a cracking bet.
Of the favourites Jim Furyk tempted me because he has three top fives finishes in his last five starts here, but his inability to turn any of those into wins puts me off the 16/1 quote.
Instead I prefer to go with KJ Choi. Some will argue that he was too involved last week at Augusta National but I think he’ll emerge from that week with nothing but good feelings.
He played four rounds with Tiger Woods, he threatened to snatch the win from Phil Mickelson, he was striping the ball beautifully and he’ll much prefer the flatter greens this week.
His only previous visit to Harbour Town came in 2001 when he missed the cut but I’m quite happy to overlook that.
Consider again the set-up he is going to face.
Blustery and near the sea – a bit like Waialae (where he’s a past winner).
Tight and requiring top class ball-striking – a bit like Westin Innsbruck (where he’s a double winner).
Co-designed by Jack Nicklaus – whose Muirfield Village, Gut Larchenhof and English Turn courses KJ has triumphed on.
His form is currently superb – second in Malaysia, second at Innisbrook, 17th at Bay Hill and then fourth last week in the Masters.
I’m content to add him at 20/1.
Next selection might have a few of you thinking I like to bang my head against a brick wall.
I nominated Carl Pettersson in the Mayakoba Classic, then again in the Honda Classic and I’m going for the hat-trick (not of disappointments, I hope).
At the Transitions Championship he played beautifully for three rounds to lie second before a last day 73 dropped him down to eighth.
But it was a hint that his game is, as he insists, getting back to the state it was before he went on a diet that saw him lose his swing as well as his belly.
He’s let the weight drift back and feels more comfortable with his ball-striking.
A winner at Muirfield Village and Innisbrook, he plays ball-strikers courses best of all and he has finished third and eighth on Hilton Head Island in the past.
He’s also a resident in North Carolina where he won his last tour title, inspired by local support and connections, so he’d fancy completing a Carolina double in the Southern state.
I like his chance at three figures so take the 110/1.
The final pick this week is a huge price but there are three good reasons to back him with a small bet.
Cameron Beckman’s Harbour Town record looks pretty ordinary at first glance, but closer inspection reveals that he was second after 54 holes in 2002, led after round one in 2004 and was fifth at halfway in 2005.
Then look at his form this year – in amongst six missed cuts is a win. Not just any win but at El Camaleon.
That win did come as something of a shock but, on the other hand, it was his second win in 18 months.
So we’ve got a player who has won twice in his last 36 PGA starts, who has won on a track favoured by past winners of this event and he has some sneaky course form.
He’s not reliable by any means, but there is no way he is a 400/1 shot!
1pt e.w. Heath Slocum at 70/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5 General). Course form, loves this type of challenge and game warmed up last week.
1.5pt e.w. KJ Choi at 20/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5 General). In superb form and has the game to maintain that on a course that should suit.
1pt e.w. Carl Pettersson at 110/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5 Bet365). Loves courses that suit good ball-striking and came close at Innisbrook.
0.5pt e.w. Cameron Beckman at 400/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5 Bet365). Won twice recently, bit of course form and massive price.
Spaniard looking ahead.
Englishman has high hopes.
Northumberland course recognised again.
Slieve Russell impressing again.
World number four feeling confident.
Home favourite wants to press home advantage.
Merger to create better opportunities.
Spanish ace extends sponsorship.
Mallorcan course impressing.