HUNTER MAHAN is another man on the up, and this tough, long game examination offers a good opportunity to land a long overdue second PGA Tour title. Before missing the cut at the Open Championship; a forgiveable failure; there were very few hotter golfers on the planet after finishing 6th in the US Open, followed by 4th and 2nd in the subsequent events. Mahan seems to produce his best on tough, championship golf courses like this one that reward impressive greens in regulation stats, so I expect some improvement on last year’s encouraging 10th place.
As he’s making his course debut, CAMILO VILLEGAS might be at a slight disadvantage, but I do expect him to love Firestone nonetheless. The Colombian is steadily building up an impressive portfolio in Majors on the very toughest courses; making the top-15 in four of his last six Majors; and is very much on my radar for next week’s US PGA. As mentioned above, there are similarites between Firestone and Torrey Pines, which again bodes well for Villegas, whose last three efforts on that course have been 3rd, 9th and 13th.
In-form Retief Goosen and Lee Westwood must deserve a mention, if only to raise concerns that these two formerly prolific winners appear to have lost the art. Westwood went close in this last year, and for that reason deserves great respect, but let himself down again over the closing holes at the Open Championship. As for Goosen, his latest flop in a play-off for the Canadian Open was his fourth poor finish in as many tournaments. As a former Firestone winner and runner-up, Stewart Cink could rate a bigger threat on his first start as Open champion, but his Turnberry heroics are more than factored into the price.
Luke Donald came in for strong consideration as his previous course form is encouraging, and he too is a player who has repeatedly thrived at Torrey Pines. Zach Johnson has also shown hints of form around this tough layout, and another high finish looks in store so long as he can overcome a lack of power. Defending champion Vijay Singh, though largely below his best this term, showed signs of returning to form on his penultimate start, and should never be written off.