Our weekly attempt to predict the unpredictable presents maybe the biggest challenge yet. With limited statistics from past events at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park, an ultra-strong field and an unusual format that hardly favors anyone, the eventual winner of the 2015 WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship is as elusive as any.
Here goes nothing.
TPC Harding Park is a relatively straightforward layout with several large cypress and eucalyptus trees lining the tee shots. While the greens at Harding Park may not be as visually intimidating as others on tour, they may be its strongest defense. Subtle, hidden breaks can prove difficult, especially for guys who haven’t played the course before this week, whether in competition or not.
Harding Park hosted the WGC-American Express Championship in October 2005, the first PGA Tour event held there since 1969, when the San Francisco Open Invitational left due to poor, outdated conditions and facilities. Tiger Woods won the Am-Ex Championship in ’05 in a playoff over John Daly, thanks in large part to a stellar putting performance. That week, Woods ranked 10th in strokes gained/putting, sixth in total putts and first in putts per GIR.
It’s tough to extract too much data from that Woods victory. However, match play certainly favors the player with the hottest putter, as no 320-yard drive or stiffed iron shot (unless it winds up in the hole) can change momentum quite like a holed 30-footer for birdie. That, combined with Harding Park’s subtly imperceptible greens, reveals putting prowess as this week’s key statistic.
See below for our picks based on key putting stats and past match play performances. Also included are odds from GolfOdds.com and a look at each player’s putter.
Jordan Spieth 8/1
Until he gives us reason for concern, Jordan Spieth is basically a mainstay in this column, especially when the conversation revolves around putting. The reigning Masters champ is eighth on tour in strokes gained/putting, third in one-putt percentage (45.4%), first in putts per round (27.5) and first in putting average. He’s also a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champ, a match play event, and as a freshman led Texas to the 2012 NCAA title, the finals of which are match play. The 21-year-old also got a nice draw for the round-robin portion, having to play against Lee Westwood, Matt Every and Mikko Ilonen.
Spieth’s putter is a Scotty Cameron 009 prototype, which he has been using since junior golf. For good reason.
Matt Kuchar 25/1
The 2013 WGC-Match Play champion, Matt Kuchar can’t be counted out in head-to-head golf. Kuchar ranks seventh in strokes gained/putting, sixth in putting average, second in putts per round (27.7) and first in one-putt percentage (46.1%). In addition to his victory in 2013, Kuchar finished third in the 2011 WGC-Match Play and just narrowly missed the semifinals the following year.
Kuchar uses a Bettinardi Kuchar Model 2 mallet. His version is 42 inches long and has 6° of loft to accommodate his arm-lock style grip.
Henrik Stenson 15/1
It’s amazing that Henrik Stenson hasn’t won yet this season, as he leads the PGA Tour in both strokes gained/putting and strokes gained/tee-to-green. The strokes gained king has four top-five finishes, including two runner-ups, but no cigar. He’s also third in GIR percentage (72.8%), seventh in driving accuracy (72.1%) and second in scoring average (69.58). And let’s not forget 2007, when Stenson defeated Geoff Ogilvy 2&1 to win the WGC-Match Play. It’s only a matter of time until he’s back in the winner’s circle.
Stenson is putting with an Odyssey White Hot XG #7H.
Jimmy Walker 30/1
J-Walk is currently second in both strokes gained/putting and birdie average (4.7 per round). He’s the only player besides Spieth with two victories this season, and a promising Ryder Cup debut in 2014 suggests he’s comfortable in a match play environment. Walker is third in putting average, 10th in total putting and ninth in average distance of putts made.
Walker’s putter is an old Scotty Cameron Newport 2 that was refurbished and re-weighted at the end of 2014, according to his new specs. The process included the addition of 10-gram tungsten weights in the sole.
Check back Monday to see how our picks fared, and which club(s) played the biggest role in determining a champion at TPC Harding Park.