As usual, the Texan Swing concludes at Colonial, the longest running non-major host on the PGA Tour, with a history dating back to 1946. Generally speaking, it has been a happy hunting ground for punters, producing an illustrious list of world-class champions. Only two of the last 15 winners started the week at 100/1 or better.
A more telling statistic lies in the age of those winners. Six of the last 12 champions were over 40, whereas only Sergio Garcia was the only winner under 30 during the last quarter century. Given that pretty much all the main candidates have built up years of course knowledge, debutants and youngsters are at a significant disadvantage.
COURSE AND KEY STATS
The principal reason that Colonial usually produces a world-class champion is that it rewards the best ball-strikers and shot-makers, who also tend to be the best overall. The key is high-class iron approach play to small, tricky greens. Equally, experienced players tend to do well, because smart positioning from the tee is much more important than power. With numerous dog-legs, long-hitters will largely leave their drivers in the bag.
Scoring is low for a par 70. Steve Stricker’s winning tally of 17-under-par from last year looks well within range, especially given that a dry Texan spring has kept the rough short and presenting little penalty. As usual in Texas, the course’s main defence will be wind. Over the years, the most important stats to follow have been greens in regulation, scrambling and putting average.
2pts ew PAUL CASEY @ 30/1 (GENERAL)
Not so long ago, a positional par 70 was the least sensible place to back a bomber like Casey, but he has improved out of all recognition in the course management department. He now looks perfectly at ease plotting his way round, waiting to capitalise on the easy birdie chances. Last year’s fifth place, with a worst round of 67, was a hugely promising course debut. Though he didn’t hole a putt on Sunday, Paul looked in good enough nick at Wentworth and fully recovered from injury. If that is the case, 30/1 is huge.
1.5pts ew MATT KUCHAR @ 33/1 (35/1 STAN JAMES)
Time to repeat the well-worn arguments in favour of Kuchar, a strong candidate for the title of biggest improver. His relentlessly consistent run continued with 13th at Sawgrass last time out. That makes it 12 top 20s from 16 completed strokeplay starts since the beginning of September, including four top-three finishes. Colonial looks perfect for his game and he’s already made the top ten here earlier in his career, when a much inferior player.
1.5pts ew IAN POULTER @ 45/1 (TOTE, STAN JAMES)
Poulter is another leading candidate for that most improved award. It would be dangerous to assume he’s gone off the boil just because of missed cuts at Sawgrass and Wentworth, two courses where disaster holes can ruin anybody. I won’t be in the least bit surprised if Poulter returns to the world beating form shown during the first two months of the year very soon. He’s already shown a liking for Colonial, making the top 15 on both visits, only once failing to break par.
1pt ew FREDRIK JACOBSEN @ 66/1 (SKYBET, BETFRED, CORALS)
Both of my final two picks are candidates for a different title; most overdue winner on the PGA Tour; a position recently vacated by Tim Clark. Jacobsen carried such high hopes when he crossed the Atlantic seven years ago, having proven his winners’ pedigree with three European Tour titles in one season. The recent signs, five top 25s from his last six, suggest the breakthrough could arrive at last. It could also help that he’s taken a week off since finishing runner-up at San Antonio.
1pt ew KEVIN NA @ 70/1 (GENERAL)
With Na, once again I am merely repeating a familiar argument. Second place at Bay Hill was yet another near-miss, and a subsequent top 15 at Quail Hollow confirms he is a player worthy of regular consideration until that breakthrough title arrives. His odds are very attractive given a promising Colonial record of three top 20s from four tries, including a couple of top tens. The emphasis on pinpoint accuracy to small greens is the perfect set-up for Na.