- Event & Venue
This is one of the weeks that so many golf fans look forward to as rightly, or wrongly, the event dubbed the “fifth major” is staged for the 40th time. This was first held at TPC Sawgrass in 1982 and it has been the venue ever since. The purpose built Pete Dye stadium course is famous mainly for the 17th hole with its Island Green, but the entire course is a classic with dog legged holes going both ways and each consecutive hole playing in a different direction. The event was moved from March to May in 2007 as part of the shuffling of the schedule for the Fedex Cup and while this was initially greeted with some dismay from fans who saw it as the real start of the PGA Tour, and a perfect prelude to The Masters, it has settled well in its new slot and provides a real highlight between Augusta and the US Open.
- Course Characteristics
The 7,215 yard course is a real test of ball striking, course management and above all, patience. Last year it played to a stroke average of 72.46 which was the 5th highest among Par 72s among non-majors. The narrow fairways demand accuracy from the tee and the various dog legs mean that it is important to be able to shape shots both ways. The small Bermuda greens can be extremely difficult to hit, especially if the wind gets up, which can often be the case at this Ponte Vedra Beach location.
The greens themselves are set to run to a fast 12.5’ on the stimpmeter despite all the rain which the course has had to endure over the past week. The track has a state of the art drainage system, with sub-air under each green which will ensure that they run firm throughout the week and the weather looks set to be dry and sunny until at least Sunday.
If the fairways are missed, the rough can be very testing, especially in wet conditions and finding the greens will be difficult. With only one of the Par 5s measuring over 540 yards (the 583 yard 9th hole) and none of the Par 4s being excessively long, power off the tee is not going to be a huge factor this week and the driver is likely to be a seldom used club for many players with the risk/reward balance certainly not in the favour of power.
- Key Requirements
The list of winners over the past decade includes Fred Funk (2005), Tim Clark (2010) and KJ Choi (2011), all of whom used straight hitting and course management to prevail. These are the essential tools for success this week as this is not a course that can be overpowered.
Driving accuracy, hitting greens in regulation and a very sharp scrambling game will be essential over the four days. The latter two stats are hugely important with 9 of the last 13 winners ranking inside the top 10 for greens in regulation while as pointed out by Steve Rawlings, only Sergio Garcia (2008) and Matt Kuchar last year have won despite ranking outside the top 10 in scrambling.
While some of the Par 5s are inviting, and picking up birdies on some of these holes will be vital, it is the performance on Par 4s which has really formed the basis for success in recent renewals with no winner in the past 10 years ranking outside the top 10 in Par 4 performance while the last 5 winners have all ranked in the top 2.
One other vital ingredient this week is course experience and it seems that a minimum of 5 appearances is crucial given that this venue really takes knowing. The new generation of golfer could possibly defy this belief as we saw with Russell Henley when he prevailed at the Sony Open where course experience was also considered to be a prerequisite. However, by and large, we would once again expect that players that can plot their way round a course that they know well and keep the ball on the fairways and find greens with regularity are likely to be in the mix on Sunday afternoon.
- 30/1 Sergio Garcia
We selected Sergio as our main pick at Quail Hollow last week and despite never really contending, he still managed to continue his record of finishing in the top 20 on all his PGA Tour starts this year with a tied 16th place. This was despite playing with a minor back injury and getting so frustrated at the state of the greens that he decided to chip on them at one stage.
Garcia has now posted 6 Top 20 finishes this year including 3rd place at the WGC Cadillac Championship at the Blue Monster, 7th at Copperhead and an excellent 8th in The Masters. A relative poor week from tee-to-green in Quail Hollow where he ranked 30th in driving accuracy and 43rd in Greens In Regulation (“GIR”) has seen him drop in some of the key stats for this week where he now ranks 40th in Ball Striking and 50th in GIR. However a below par display last week is excusable given the issues he was having with his back and he remains as good as anybody in the world from tee to green. He is also an outstanding scrambler and ranks 31st on tour this year while he also ranks 7th in Par 4 Scoring Average and 6th in Bogey Avoidance.
Garcia has proven how well suited he is to this venue in the past when finishing runner up in 2007 before winning in 2008 and has posted some consistent performances such as 12th in 2011 when his game was in relatively poor shape.
Provided that the back injury has cleared up, which we expect that it has, he looks set for an excellent week and 30/1 about a player with a far better record at this venue than some of his shorter priced rivals and whose games matches up with the course demands so well looks well worth taking.
- Back Injury - Garcia
Garcia had a back injury which was hampering him last week in Quail Hollow. If this proves troublesome again, then it will have a significant negative impact on his chances. However there have been no further reports that this injury is a concern and he is unlikely to be playing this week if it was serious enough to hamper his chances and also jeopardise his chances in the upcoming majors.
- Course Record - Streelman
Streelman has been selected based on his excellent from this season and his strengths in all the key categories that have proved to be vital in this event over the past number of years. His previous efforts at Sawgrass do, however, leave him with something to find. However the likes of Matt Kuchar had not posted a top 10 finish before winning last year