Before getting to those four selections, a quick word about the outsiders that were confidently written off. Michael Bradley and Nathan Green were the unlikeliest 2009 champions across the Atlantic, and both look out of their depth. Troy Matteson is also probably not good enough. Mark Wilson had a nightmare when qualifying for the 2008 renewal, and John Rollins’ two previous Kapalua efforts were equally dire.
Driving distance is a big asset around Kapalua, with its five par 5s, and it may be a shortcoming in this department that explains the poor previous showings of players such as Brian Gay, Matt Kuchar and Heath Slocum. It may also explain why Zach Johnson struggled on his first two Kapalua appearances, before improving last year to finish a distant sixth. Nevertheless, while he’s too good to write off, I doubt he’ll ever win on this course.
By the same logic, Jerry Kelly is probably too short off the tee to win, even if he does have plenty of previous in Hawaii. The one gaping hole in that argument is Jim Furyk’s success over the years here, but then Furyk in Hawaii is perhaps a special case.
Instead, we are ideally looking for a classy, long-hitter who can accumulate a winning total around those par 5s. Step forward three of the best up and coming Americans; NICK WATNEY, LUCAS GLOVER and DUSTIN JOHNSON. All three look very proficient in both categories.
Watney and Glover hold similar claims on many levels. Both were noted as performing very well on this course much earlier in their careers; Glover was sixth in 2006, Watney one place better off in 2008; and both showed marked improvement during 2009. The former was only beaten by one shot when Watney qualified for this by winning at Torrey Pines, another course that favours long hitters. As they’ve already thrived at Kapalua, when offering an inferior standard to today’s level and against stronger opposition, both look excellent each-way value at more than twice the odds of the favourites.
Johnson was tipped in this column last year at a big price, and performed with some credit in 11th place on his debut. Notably, he got better as the week went on, registering scores of 72, 72, 68 and 67. Further improvement is to be expected, in line with the massive hitting Johnson’s results. Besides a career highlight victory at Pebble Beach, Johnson’s 2009 campaign represented significant progress.
The fourth selection was a very tight call between RETIEF GOOSEN and Stephen Ames. The latter finished third last year, is one the world’s great wind exponents and could hardly boast better recent form as the winner of the closing Fall Series event.
Ames warrants the utmost respect, but Goosen is slightly preferred on a course where he’s twice made the top four earlier this century. This long, wide-open layout really is ideal for the South African, who is another fine wind exponent. The only concern is that he developed a startling tendency to lose his bottle in 2009. Let’s hope the New Year brings greater resolve.
Finally, a few words about the rest. Kenny Perry has never really thrived in windy conditions, but has a couple of decent efforts at Kapalua to his name. Another rising American, Sean O’Hair, is respected without really standing out at a shortish price. Angel Cabrera has the game for Kapalua, but rarely showed his best last term. The same could be said about another 2009 Major winner, Stewart Cink.
Of the five other debutants, Bo Van Pelt could fare best compared to Pat Perez, Martin Laird, Ryan Moore and Y E Yang. Rory Sabbatini, who was runner-up way back in 2001, could be the most interesting outsider.
Advised betting for the SBS Championship:
3pts ew RETIEF GOOSEN @ 14/1 (GENERAL)
2.5pts ew DUSTIN JOHNSON @ 20/1 (GENERAL, 22/1 BET365)

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