Fort Worth Invitational
It was an interesting week in Dallas at the AT & T Byron Nelson with the new course looking like it will make a good addition to the PGA Tour roster.
It was a shame the wind didn’t blow a bit more over the first two days and with the rain softening things on Sunday it was only really on Saturday that the track bared it’s teeth.
You can’t take anything away from the performance of Aaron Wise though who once in front on Sunday looked in complete control [or at least he did until I went to bed!], and I am sure his win will be the first of many.
From our point of view it was a steady if unspectacular week with the e/w returns from Grace and Walker giving us the smallest of profits.
The PGA Tour now makes its shortest journey of the year of about 30 miles down the road from Dallas to Fort Worth.
Plenty of local Texas golf fans who I am sure enjoyed the new challenges the players faced at the links type course of Trinity Forest will now be looking forward to the traditional challenges served up by Colonial Country Club.
In addition of course whilst the test faced by the players this week is very different, those who we had on our radar last week for it being a ‘home game’, and who have chosen to tee it up again this week, will once more be playing pretty much in their own back yard.
This weeks event is one of the longest standing on the PGA Tour dating back to 1946 and is closely associated with Ben Hogan who was a long time Fort Worth resident and won the tournament on five occasions.
Having been sponsored by Dean & Deluca for the past two editions the tournament is without a sponsor this year but from next year it will be sponsored by Charles Schwab.
The tournament is one of five on the PGA Tour given ‘Invitational’ status. [The other four being API, RBC Heritage, Memorial & Quicken Loans]. This means the field number is restricted to around the 125 mark rather than the normal 145 or so.
From a betting perspective the field is headed up again this week by Jordan Spieth, with the other marquee names teeing it up being John Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose.
Colonial Country Club is a Par 70 measuring at just over 7200 yards.
The greens are Bent Grass.
The course is seen as a classical test which can reward both short game specialists and ball strikers. Distance of the tee here is not an advantage though with the premium being on finding fairways.
The signature section of the course is holes 3, 4 and 5, which are collectively known as The Horrible Horseshoe.
This section is made up of the Par 4 3rd and 5th holes and the Par 3 4th and year in year out this is the toughest stretch on the course.
The two Par 5s are the 1st and the 11th with the 11th measuring over 600yds often playing as a three shot hole to reach the green.
Looking at the winners over the past ten years it’s clear to see that two specific types of player seem to triumph here. Either the out and out short game wizards or the clinical ball strikers, with the former on balance getting most joy.
To back this up you only need to look at the list of winners going back to 2008.
This is Mickelson, Stricker, Z Johnson x 2, Toms, Kirk [who was putting great at the time!] Spieth [Who was also putting great at the time!!] & Kisner.
In the ball strikers camp you then have wins for Adam Scott & Boo Weekly.
Furthermore you have the likes of O’Hair, English, Dufner, Sneds & Freddie Jacobsen popping up in the frame over the past few years.
The message therefore seems to be loud and clear, to get the job done at Colonial you either need to be a short game magician or an elite ball striker. A jack of all trades isn’t what you’re looking for here.
One other point you can see from this list of past champions is that you don’t get too many shock winners here with only Boo Weekly really being seen as someone who was not right up in the higher echelons of the game at time of their win.
It's also worth saying that this is not a venue where rookies have historically triumphed and a bit like other tracks on tour that you need to plot you're way around historical course experiences and/or a previous high finish tend to be important.
The winning score has varied quite a bit here over the recent years with Adam Scott winning with a total of just -9 in 2014 and Kisner winning with -10 last year. However in 2010 Zach Johnson won with a total of -21 and in 2016 Spieth won with -17.
As always this variation in score will be down to how firm or soft the course is playing and how much the wind picks up. In addition the year Scott won the rough was up more than average which put more of a premium on ball striking.
Looking at the forecast it appears we could be in for a bit of a stop start week with storms a possibility on at least a couple of days.
In addition there are storms in the forecast for the first half of the week meaning we could well be looking at a soft golf course come Thursday.
If this is the case we could see a low scoring year with putting being the key.
The wind looks to be fairly negligible on Thursday and Friday however gusts of 15mph + are possible over the weekend.
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
JASON DUFNER – 30 -1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
It’s been a little bit feast or famine from The Duf at Colonial over the past few years as his results going back to 2012 read 2, 46, 2, 43, 6, MC. On that basis we are due a ‘go’ year this year!
Last year Jason arrived at Colonial in solid form and would have been well fancied for the week based on his course record however as noted above he duly missed the cut. The following week however he went on to win at Memorial!
This raises an interesting point as three of Jason’s five PGA Tour wins have come in spring/early summer time, so this is clearly a time of year that he enjoys his golf.
As I noted above Colonial is a course that either rewards really solid ball strikers or short game magicians and The Duf has of course always historically fallen in the former category.
What is interesting this year though is that Jason has actually seen a huge improvement with the flat stick to the extent that he currently sits 44th in SGP.
This compares to season finishing positions over the past 6yrs of 90th, 154th, 177th, 167th, 143rd & 64th.
Last time out Jason finished a very impressive 5th at TPC and his stats for the week were hugely impressive.
He was ranked 3rd in SGP, 2nd in Driving Accuracy and 3rd in Strokes Gained Off The Tee.
If Jason can keep that momentum going in to this week at a venue that obviously suits his eye it is hard not to see him being in the mix come Sunday.
ZACH JOHNSON – 35-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
Zach Johnson has been popping up in a few tipsters columns of late including mine and we were on him last time out at TPC where he ultimately finished a disappointing 75th with an MDF.
The reason Zach does keep popping up though is that until the slight blip at TPC he’s currently in the throws of putting together his most consistent stretch of results on tour for nearly a couple of years.
It’s been well documented that Zach is winless on the Tour since he lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 2015 however if/when he does end that drought the most likely place statistically for this to happen is in the state Texas.
I say this as four of Johnson’s twelve PGA Tour wins have come in the Lone Star State.
Two of these came at the old San Antonio home of the Valero Texas Open and the other two came at this weeks venue Colonial Country Club.
It’s hardly surprising that Zach and Colonial have always gone well together as the two main attributes of his game historically, his accuracy of the tee and his putter, are as we’ve already noted key requisites for this track.
This year the putter has been slightly temperamental for Zach however you have to think that a return to a course, and greens, that he has won twice on, and has three other top tens on, will help it to warm this up.
Prior to TPC Zach’s last solo start was also in Texas at the Valero Texas Open on a course which does not suit his game anywhere near as much as the old San Antonio venue did.
Despite this Zach again showed his love of all things Texas based and was right in the hunt before finishing fifth.
One key point to note from that week was that Zach’s putting stats were very solid and he finished the week 15th in SGP.
Currently languishing in 26th place in the Ryder Cup qualification list Zach will be desperate to get a win under his belt to get himself right back in the conversation for Paris and I can see him making a bold showing for that win this week.
ADAM HADWIN – 60-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 52nd
Next up for us this week is Canadian Adam Hadwin.
Currently lying 45th in Fedex Cup standings Hadwin has been a model of consistency this season with three top tens and no missed cuts to his name.
Hadwin has three starts to his name at Colonial Country Club and these include a top 5 finish on his debut here in 2015.
In his first couple of full years on tour Adam was noted as being a strong putter however he has struggled in this area this season.
Interestingly though at Sawgrass even though he finished down the field it was an improved week for him with the flat stick and he finished 29th in SGP.
Similarly at Quail Hollow the week before he finished 23rd in this stat so there have been definite signs the putter is turning around for him.
Neither of these venues were events in which he had previously had any level of success.
My hope now is that with a putter warming up at the same time as returning to a course he must look forward to visiting all departments of the game will click in to place for Adam this week.
DANNY LEE – 90-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED 14th
Sometimes a player pops up in an event just prior to playing somewhere that they have a great past record at, thus giving as that potent combination of course form meets current form. Danny Lee is that player this week.
Based in Irving, Texas, Lee has made five cuts in five appearances at Colonial and his last three years performances read 10th, 22nd & 6th. Clearly therefore he likes the track.
Lee’s pedigree as a player has never been in doubt and he showcased his talent for all to see way back in 2009 when he won the Johnnie Walker Classic on the European Tour as an amateur.
As a US Amateur Champion it wasn’t surprising that after joining the pro ranks Danny chose to base himself in the US.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Danny when he turned professional and the next few years saw him yoyoing between the Web.Com and the PGA Tour before he finally made his breakthrough at the Greenbrier in 2015.
Since the win Danny has again struggled to push on like many would have anticipated and the 15/16 and 16/17 seasons have seen him finish 71st & 70th in the Fedex Cup race.
The most productive period for Lee in the 16/17 season started at an almost identical time of year to that we are in now as he notched four top 10s in seven starts from the back end of May through to early July.
Two of these came in back to back starts at the Dean & Deluca and at this week’s venue Colonial.
The 2017/18 season has been pretty grim for Danny so far and after early season back problems he withdrew from the Honda Classic in February due to unspecified personal reasons.
Hopefully the personal issues that were troubling Danny earlier in the year are now behind him and he is able to fully focus on his performance on the course again.
There were signs that this may be the case after he opened up with two encouraging rounds of 69 & 66 at Hilton Head in April however this proved to be a false dawn.
However things really clicked back in to place at Sawgrass a couple of weeks ago where although stalling slightly on Sunday he finished in 7th to earn his first big cheque of the season.
Danny now returns to what must be one of his favourite tracks on tour and buoyed by his performance at TPC you can see him pushing on to try to gain his second PGA Tour victory.
CODY GRIBBLE – 200-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 FINISHED MC
For my final selection this week call me nuts if you may but I am going to give another chance to Texan Cody Gribble who we were on last week.
My regular readers will know that my case for Gribble last week was that he had ‘found something’ at Sawgrass and was now teeing it up on a track in his home town of Dallas that I was hoping he would be familiar with.
Whilst Cody didn’t do anything spectacular at the Byron Nelson he certainly didn’t disgrace himself in finishing 32nd on the week.
Noticeably as well Cody’s putter really warmed up as the week progressed and after holing a 14ft putt at his last on Friday to make the cut on the number he holed nearly 100ft of putts on Saturday.
Finally he finished his round on Sunday by holing a 47ft putt for birdie!
Considering therefore he had a negative day SGP in round 1 on Thursday it was very promising for him that he finished 11th in SGP for the week.
Obviously last week I highlighted that the event was a ‘home game’ for Gribble so it goes without saying that it is a similar case this week and although he is yet to produce anything of note at Colonial he did finish a solid 41st here last year on his second start.
Allowing for the profile of recent winners in this prestigious event it would be a big ask for Gribble to land his second PGA Tour win here, however at 250-1 I am happy to take a chance that he could reward us for keeping faith with a high finish and a big e/w return.
UPDATED 22nd MAY
TRADER - MARTIN PILLER FINISHED 77th BEST PRICE TRADED 75
As regular readers will know every week I update my main preview with a 'trader' selection. In other words one player who I feel is worth backing before the off on the exchanges, not with a view necessarily of them winning the tournament or even placing in it, but with the thought to trade them for a profit on the exchange as I think they will perform well for at least a couple of rounds.
My criteria for this selection is that they are at least priced at 200 on the exchange and the aim is to trade them at a price which is 25% of the price I backed them at. So in simple terms if I have backed them at 200 I would look to lay at 50.
The problem with the trader though to quote an old phrase is 'timing is everything'.
The reason I do not publish my trader selection in with my main team on Monday is that the exchange market has not fully formed at this time, so I could find myself recommending a player at 250 who by Wednesday is on offer at 350!
The flip side of the coin is leave it too long and suddenly the trader you have in mind may be tipped elsewhere and then backed and here unfortunately we have the crux of the problem this week.
I had in my mind clearly to recommend Martin Piller this week and I confess to having backed him on the exchange earlier today at 300, unfortunately though as I now sit down to update my preview with my trader pick I see that within the past couple of hours he has been tipped by a well respected in form tipster and his price has crashed to 200!
The case incidentally for Piller is thus. He is a Texas man who plays all his best golf in his native state. He played solidly last week at the Byron Nelson, he was 6th here on debut two years ago and to cap it all his wife [LPGA star Gerina Piller] has recently given birth to their first child, so we are on Nappy Facto theory alert. Basically all the ingedients for a great trader!
From a price point of view I would now say this. Although Piller's price has crashed to 200 on the exchange over the past couple of hours this should hopefully steady itself over the next 24hrs. I would therefore suggest looking to back the Texan at somewhere around 240/250 which I would still see as a decent price.
CURRENTLY TRADING 200+