For much the same reasons, I was tempted to give another chance to Rory McIlroy, as he bids for that imminent first Stateside win. However, I just wonder whether on debut, his inexperience could be costly on these greens. The other obvious candidate discarded was Steve Stricker, despite course form of 3rd, 9th and 11th from three visits. The problem with Stricker is that, for all his consistency, one win in eight years and only four in fifteen hardly justifies a bet at relatively short odds.
On the other hand, seven time PGA Tour winner KJ CHOI has proved himself time and again to be extremely reliable under the utmost pressure, and looks overdue another win. The Korean has made the top-20 on all three previous visits to Redstone, with his masterful iron play clearly compensating for a shortage of driving distance. The last time Choi was presented with fast greens on a course where high-class approach play was the key, he finished 3rd at Riviera. I expect a strong challenge from Choi either this week or next week, or perhaps both.
Arguably the most improved player of 2009 has been CHARLEY HOFFMAN. Though he had won before and challenged from time to time, Hoffman had always struck me as an inconsistent big-hitter, only ever likely to challenge on a certain type of favourable course. That wouldn’t be a fair assessment any more, as he has thrived on various different types of course. Eight of his last nine starts have yielded top-20 finishes, and he hasn’t missed a cut since last July. It bodes particularly well, therefore, that his previous, less consistent incarnation had already performed well around Redstone, with last year’s 6th place the highlight.
Inevitably in a field of this quality, numerous others deserve a mention. There’s a strong European contingent besides Harrington and Garcia, led by a player I will be backing next week, Paul Casey. I’d be slightly concerned that Paul won’t keep up with the low scoring round here though. Swedish stars Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson could both well contend either here or at Augusta, but are best watched this week as their 2009 form to date is inconclusive. And given his excellent record at Augusta, it would be dangerous to completely write Justin Rose off, especially as he’s shown hints of a return to form recently.
Australians have a particularly good record at Redstone, with Adam Scott and Stuart Appleby winning in 2007 and 2006, before Ogilvy’s runners-up spot last year. With Appleby badly out of form this time, and Ogilvy a little too short in the betting, I was tempted to back Matthew Goggin, who has two top-20s from three visits. In my view, he’s improved considerably over the last 12 months, but while I make him a cracking bet in the top-10 market, I’m concerned that he hasn’t won this century.
Other outsiders to take the eye this week include course specialist Bob Estes, (top-10 in each of the last three years), Jonathan Byrd and Lucas Glover. The last two on the basis of their long-term stats and some encouraging recent form. One man I couldn’t back with free money though is Vijay Singh, who is seriously struggling right now.
Instead of any of these, the final two spots in the staking plan go to a couple of Americans who always rate near the top of the greens in regulation stats, HUNTER MAHAN and CHAD CAMPBELL. Mahan has yet to deliver for us this year, but he’s got enough potential to warrant perseverance. He wasn’t beaten far in 22nd place at the weekend, and has already shown his suitability to Redstone with 11th and 5th place in 2006 and 2007. He’s improved plenty since those efforts too.
Campbell has home advantage in Texas, and must fancy his chances on a course whre he was runner-up last year. He was tied with Mahan at the weekend, which wasn’t a bad effort by any means and was his best for a while. Notably he ranked 5th for greens in regulation at Bay Hill, which should serve him well this week.