Bank on Charl in Boston
Ben Coley fancies Charl Schwartzel to spring to life in the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.
Not that it was really needed, but last week’s remarkable opener to the 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs reminded us of one thing – while the manner of victory may surprise us, the identity of the champion will ordinarily be somewhat predictable in these end-of-season events which attract stellar fields.
There have now been 25 playoff events and only one – Heath Slocum’s triumph in the 2009 edition of The Barclays at Liberty National – has been close to impossible to explain. But now that we’ve seen that course again courtesy of last week’s edition, it seems clear that strange things can happen on the banks of the Hudson even if Adam Scott is never a shock winner of any given event.
If there’s been another surprise it was the victory of Charley Hoffman in the 2009 edition of the Deutsche Bank Championship, this week’s event which runs from Friday to Monday to allow the final round to take place on Labor Day.
But even Hoffman arrived in form and went on to finish sixth in the TOUR Championship so the message is that these events will usually produce a winner either in a rich vein of form or from the very top drawer.
Other champions here at TPC Boston since the FedEx began underline that fact: Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Steve Stricker, Webb Simpson and Rory McIlroy are top quality golfers and, to a man, they arrived in top form, too.
In theory that should make for an easy tournament to assess, but I’m afraid in practice that isn’t the case. At the head of the betting we happen to have four course winners. Two of them, Scott and Tiger Woods, won this event before the FedEx Cup was formulated, and alongside them are McIlroy and Mickelson.
Next is Justin Rose, who should’ve forced a playoff with Scott last week and has twice finished in the frame here. Henrik Stenson is the odd one out because he was 55th on his sole visit but here we have one of the planet’s in-form golfers who simply found the greens at Liberty National foxing last week.
I could go on. Quite simply, anyone can make a case for any of these players so, more so than most weeks, this comes down to personal opinion over a strategic plotting of whose game truly works at TPC Boston.
It shouldn’t surprise us that there’s no one way to tame this course. It’s a relatively short par 71 with a driveable par-four and three easy par-fives, which requires exceptionally low numbers. Ordinarily, shootouts tend to be harder to predict but such is the depth at the head of the tour that time and time again a handful of the elite players produce fireworks beyond the reach of lesser lights.
If we are to lean on any stat it’s almost certainly birdie average. As of now, five TPC Boston winners rank inside the top 10 on the PGA Tour and year on year the birdie average statistic table bears close resemblance to the Deutsche Bank leaderboard.
That’s partly why I’ve spent a long time contemplating whether to back Woods, who ranks fourth in birdie average, but on balance he has to be left alone.
The case for him is simple – only twice this season has he played on a course he’s won on before and failed to lift the title. His five wins, all on layouts he’s conquered, have been straightforward processions and he holds a very solid record here at TPC Boston.
However, he has only won the title once and that came during one of the most impressive streaks of his extraordinary career back in 2006. Woods had won each of his previous four starts and went on to add a further three from a run of 10 strokeplay tournaments, and when he didn’t win he finished second. He was close to unbeatable.
Without labouring the point, that isn’t the case at present and though his fightback to finish tied for second last week was admirable, it came at a price. While I fancy he may have made more of his back injury than was the case, he’s withdrawn from Notah Begay’s charity event this Wednesday and at the time of writing is a doubtful starter.
Instead, Charl Schwartzel strikes me as a player who is genuinely overpriced here and he heads my selections at 60/1.
We all know how good Schwartzel is. The 2011 Masters champion can win any event at any course, but providing his putter behaves it’s clear that he’s most dangerous when birdies are the order of the day.
In a sense, the fact that he’s only won low-key events in South Africa and Thailand since that stunning Augusta triumph means Schwartzel hasn’t truly vindicated his status as a major champion. But to me it’s a matter of time before he adds to it and TPC Boston is the right sort of layout.
Schwartzel has shown promise on both starts in this event. In 2011 he shot 66-66 to lead at halfway, while last year he virtually repeated the trick with 68-65 to lie fifth. On neither occasion was he able to even finish inside the top 10 but his eventual finishing positions hide what’s a clear ability to score here.
He’s gone on record as stating that this is a ‘great course’ which rewards strong iron play, and that’s clearly an area in which Schwartzel excels. He currently sits 22nd in proximity to the hole and again struck the ball with authority when finishing 25th in The Barclays last week.
But what’s particularly encouraging about his performance at Liberty National is that he ranked ninth in putting average, an area which has held him back this season. He also registered his best strokes gained putting score for some time and if he can bring that here I’m certain he can contend.
Schwartzel ranks fifth on tour in birdie average with over four per round, well above the level he’s ever previously achieved in America, and he’s also dominating the par-fives.
There’s little doubt that there are several more likely winners than Schwartzel but 60/1 about a proven winner with some exceptional numbers at this course and an improved putting display last week looks good to me.
At only a slightly bigger price, Gary Woodland is worth backing to follow up on last week’s share of second.
When Woodland burst onto the scene in 2011, his second full year on tour, the world was truly at his feet. He shot the lights out in what was the Bob Hope only to lose a play-off, and then bettered Webb Simpson to win his first title in Tampa showing extraordinary poise for a man who doesn’t have the junior golf experience of most of his peers, including Simpson.
A combination of injuries and those risky swing changes have curtailed his progress but Woodland has addressed every single area of his game in a bid to rediscover his form, hiring a new swing coach, a new putting coach and a new mental guru, the last piece of the jigsaw which he put together before Reno.
It worked. Woodland was brilliant in the Reno-Tahoe Open, with his short game particularly impressive, and one feels that from here he can really press on and show us why Matt Kuchar picked him as his World Cup partner two years ago in a decision which paid off with victory.
Last week, Woodland ranked second in distance, fifth in driving accuracy, second in greens in regulation and second in putting average in a display which arguably should’ve been rewarded with his second victory in as many non-major starts.
He confessed to not being at his best on Sunday and clearly made one or two wrong decisions, but his ability to execute shots under intense pressure was once again demonstrated when he set up a birdie chance on 18 and that’s why I think he has what it takes to win one of these events.
Given his recent results it’s no surprise to discover that Woodland ranks 15th on tour in birdie average over the last three months and if there is an area for improvement it’s actually his par-five scoring, which simply comes down to making better decisions to those which held him back last Sunday as he has the power to take any long hole.
On his sole visit here Woodland sat seventh entering the final round before fading so we know that he’s got what it takes and he’s shown already that once he finds form, he tends to hold onto it. I don’t see any reason he should hold any mental scars from his performance on Sunday and expect him to press on again and underline a case for a Presidents Cup spot.
I appreciate that many won’t consider him the type of top-class player who tend to dominate these events but he does fit the bill in terms of being a recent winner and his potential remains enormous.
My final outright selection is Dustin Johnson who I just have to give another chance to at 40/1.
As I alluded to at the top of the preview, Liberty National is a strange venue and I’m in no rush to eliminate DJ from calculations purely on the basis that he missed the cut on the number there.
Perhaps in retrospect his engagement to Paulina Gretzsky meant it wasn’t an ideal preparation and clearly, this is a player who can take his eye off the ball from time to time.
However, I’ll reiterate that he’s won seven PGA Tour titles – that’s more than Rose, Luke Donald, Matt Kuchar, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan, Jason Dufner and basically all of the other players he’s considered to be similar in ability to – and that list already includes two of the other playoff events.
There’s certainly every indication that he can add a third of them here at TPC Boston, where he’s twice finished in the top five, and at first in holes per eagle and 29th in birdie average he has the game to shoot the 20-under which may well be needed here.
Don’t forget, prior to last week he’d finished second and seventh in two of his previous three starts and with a strike-rate better than one win every 20 starts, I don’t think he should be 40/1 on a course which so clearly suits having proven himself a force in the FedEx Cup.
While I’m keen on all three of the above it’s the side markets which really catch my eye this week, and I’ve three first round leader tips to hopefully get the event off to a flying start.First up is Ryan Moore, who is playing some solid golf right now and came close to an outright bet.
However, while he’s in better form than when 10th here on two occasions I’m not sure he has the four low rounds in him at the moment and he looks far more likely to go low in the first.
Quite simply, Moore has shot 64 in round one in two of his previous three visits to TPC Boston and on neither occasion was he playing as solidly as he is at the moment.
His four best scores from 17 rounds at the course have all come in round one, and he’s shot 69, 66 and 67 in his last three openers.
Moore has led after round one in two of his last 20 starts, loves this layout and looks obvious value to me.
Next is Ryan Palmer, another habitual fast-starter.
Palmer has somewhat gone off the boil after a fine first half of the season but an opening 65 saw him sit second after round one last week and bodes well for his prospects here.
What’s interesting is that when he finds form, he tends to hold onto it and when he led after round one at the Crowne Plaza earlier this year he’d been fourth and sixth after round one in his previous two starts.
Palmer has no fewer than three first-round leads in his last 44 events plus a number of top 10s, and he was third after day one in 2010 here having been third the week before.
At a three-figure price it’s worth hoping history may repeat itself.
Finally, Camilo Villegas also looks worth a small play.
Villegas is a two-time FedEx Cup playoff event winner but at 100th in the standings his focus this week will be on playing his way into the BMW Championship.
To do so he’ll need a fast start and he’s produced them several times this season. On two occasions he’s led after round one and in his last eight events he has a first, a fourth, and last week’s second.
Compare that to a best overall finish of ninth and it’s immediately clear that Villegas is far more likely to start quickly than he is to win this event and having twice shot 63 here, including when leading after round one in 2007, the course certainly offers up hope that he can do so again.
Finally, I’ll take 5/1 about Brendan Steele registering a top 20 finish.
I backed Steele when placed in Reno and the reason was simple: more so than just about any player of his level on the planet, he is a horses-for-courses golfer.
He’s won and finished fourth in three starts at TPC San Antonio. He’s finished seventh in two starts at Le Golf National. He’s finished fifth and sixth in two starts at TPC Scottsdale. He’s finished eighth and fourth at Montreux.
So, the fact that on his sole visit here Steele finished tied for 10th means there’s every hope he can play well once more, despite narrowly missing the cut at Liberty National.
Prior to that he’d finished 11th and fourth, and four of his last eight events have resulted in a top 20. At a course he took to at the first time of asking, let’s back him to produce the solid week he needs to advance to the BMW Championship.
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