As in Europe, the players get some relief after the penal Pebble Beach with one of the easiest courses on the schedule. Nobody is likely to overhaul Kenny Perry‘s course record of 22-under-par from last year, but the winner’s tally won’t be far off.
Throughout the three decades that River Highlands has been hosting a PGA Tour event, there’s been a fair mix between obvious and unexpected winners. Four of this century’s champions started the week at 150/1 or better, but equally five were amongst the favourites. The one common trait is that they were all American. Perhaps more significantly, four were aged over 40.
COURSE AND KEY STATS
With length hardly an issue on this sub 7,000 yards par-70, the greatest barrier to scoring is the tricky, smaller than average greens, that require pinpoint approach play. Birdies galore are available for the most accurate, whereas inaccuracy will place an unwelcome emphasis on high-class scrambling. That threat will be significantly reduced if, as forecast, there is little wind.
Four stats strike me as particularly important. Greens in regulation, scrambling, putting and birdie average.
2.5pts ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 20/1 (GENERAL, 22/1 STAN JAMES)
20/1 may seem a very short price to be taking about a man who’s missed his last three cuts, but Mahan’s course record is too good to ignore. Apart from winning in 2007, Mahan has finished no worse than fourth in the last four years here. He appears to be following in the footsteps of numerous top-class players, who have built up great records around here over the years. In fact, analysis of his long-term results show that he really is a ‘horses for courses’ type. There are around a dozen regular PGA Tour venues where he never goes well, yet on others he’s consistently world-class.
Moore is another who has shown great promise at River Highlands early in his career, finishing runner-up on his 2006 debut, and fourth last year. As I was one of several pundits predicting big things for Moore this year, it would be rude not to back him when presented with a good opportunity. His claims are further strengthened by fifth place at the Memorial on his penultimate start.
1.5pts ew SCOTT VERPLANK @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
As a player in his forties, known for his accuracy and short-game skills, Verplank fits the perfect profile of a River Highlands winner. His worst result from four visits is just 21st, including two top tens. Recent form is encouraging too, as Scott recorded consecutive top fives on his two starts prior to the US Open.
Snedeker could be coming into form if an excellent, level-par weekend performance at Pebble Beach is anything to go by. This isn’t the first time he’s come to the fore at a tough Major venue, which strikes me as owing much to his excellent short-game skills. There are few better scramblers or putters around, which are arguably the two most important assets this week.
1pt ew JASON BOHN @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
The winner of the recent New Orleans Classic is no forlorn hope to double up. Other solid recent form includes top 15s at Colonial and Redstone, and he ticks several statistical boxes for River Highlands. Interestingly, Bohn was sixth on his course debut back in 2004.
0.5pt ew COREY PAVIN @ 125/1 (GENERAL, 150/1 BOYLESPORTS)
Older players often do well here, as the recent rollcall of champions shows, and there are few in his age range playing better than Pavin. Normally, the responsibilities of being Ryder Cup captain weigh heavily on their form, but Pavin appears to be thriving for it. Seventh at Colonial last time out showed he is still competitive at this level, and he must have high hopes at a venue where he’s made the top ten on three of his last six tries.