5 To Watch This Weekend At Colonial And Wentworth
Crown Plaza Invitational And BMW PGA Championship: 5 To Watch
Despite the absence of a few notables, there are two impressive fields lining up this weekend on different sides of the Atlantic as the US and European Tour’s top pros step up their preparation for the looming US Open at Merion. The second major of the season is a mere three weeks away and while many of the top US Tour players continue to rest, Europe’s stars will be out in force.
The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial offers a handsome prize fund of $6.4m, and last year's winner Zach Johnson leads the betting market along with in form South African Charl Schwartzel. Good weather and fast greens are expected in Fort Worth, and as always, sparkling golf will ensue despite the absence of many top ranked Americans for the tune-up event.
Meanwhile at Wentworth, just outside London, a reunion of Europe’s victorious 2012 Ryder Cup team will no doubt have inspired all 12 as they line up for the BMW PGA Championship. European eyes will be firmly placed on Luke Donald as he bids to make it three in a row at one of the European Tour’s top events. That feat was achieved in the past by another of European golf’s best loved, Colin Montgomerie. A favorite event of many, myself included, this tournament never fails to produce a stellar field and a dramatic climax.
Here are my Top-5 to look out for this weekend across both tournaments, in what should be wonderful viewing for golf fans worldwide.
A string of missed cuts around the middle of the 2011 season was most unlike Jim Furyk. Since then, he’s missed a mere handful and more often than not has responded the following week with a big showing. I suspect that Jim isn’t exactly easy on himself in the days following a shortened weekend. I doubt that the gentle giant is quite so gentle with himself as he is with others.
In March 2012, a missed cut at The Honda Classic was followed with a play-off defeat at the Transitions Championship. It was a similar story in July when a missed cut at the Canadian Open was followed by another 2nd place finish, this time at the prestigious WGC Bridgestone.
Having missed the cut on his last outing at the Players Championship, watch out for Furyk this weekend. You won’t see the scars from the punishment he’ll have inflicted on himself in the past couple of weeks, but you may well see their impact on his game. My top tip at Colonial this week is Jim Furyk.
Although it is Charl Schwartzel’s debut at Colonial, the South African is striking the ball beautifully. Schwartzel put in his best performance of the season last week (3rd) at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, leading the field in greens hit. With an admirable 2nd place in scoring average stats this year and no missed cuts, expect him to be solid again this weekend.
The only obvious weakness in Schwartzel’s game is short putting. While ranked 3rd in both 15’-25’ and 20’-25’ putting, he is astonishingly ranked a lowly 116th in the 3’-5’ range. His long distance putting should serve him well on the fast greens at Colonial this week, and if he can avoid the short range blunders, he will stay close.
Stat leader in both driving accuracy and greens in regulation, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson has shown some excellent form this season, most notably at the Shell Houston Open and The Players Championship. I’m happy to ignore his missed cut here last year in what was a very disappointing season and suggest that he will be in the mix at Colonial on Sunday.
The Swede’s notorious fiery temper has been relatively under control of late so perhaps the 37 year old is finally maturing. His long game accuracy recently has been stunning and will no doubt help as he desperately tries to obtain his first PGA Tour victory since the Players Championship in 2009.
The marquee group at the BMW Championship tomorrow features Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Paul Lawrie. While both McIlroy and McDowell will be high on my list, bit it’s the Scot Lawrie that I’m tipping this week.
Lawrie may lack a little length compared to his playing partners, but that won’t affect him at Wentworth where canniness is the key. That’s something that Lawrie has in spades, similar in fact to Luke Donald, winner here on the last two occasions.
Another key factor in Lawrie’s favor is the fact that my friendly bookmaker, and probably yours, is offering generous odds on the former Open champion. I took advantage of an astonishing 80/1 this morning, which is ridiculous when compared with McIlroy (10/1) and McDowell (24/1), particularly considering Lawrie finished tied 2nd here last year.
When trying to find a winner of the BMW PGA Championship, it’s difficult to look far beyond Luke Donald. Even without a victory in the US this season, his form has been very solid, although not spectacular. Five Top-20 finishes in seven starts and no missed cuts is a more than acceptable way to begin the year. But we’re very much in major territory now for the top players when winning is all that counts, and where better for Donald to take his season to a new level than at Wentworth?
Winner here by four shots last year and winner in a play-off over Lee Westwood in 2011, Wentworth is simply made for Donald. Position is key in all areas on the West Course, and few can plot their way around a golf course better than Donald.
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