Class to count in Canada

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: July 22 2014, 22:38 BST

Ben Coley picks out his best bets for the Canadian Open and is prepared to chance a group of former PGA Tour winners.

Jhonattan Vegas: Fancied to continue his return to form
Jhonattan Vegas: Fancied to continue his return to form

Ben Coley picks out his best bets for the Canadian Open and is prepared to chance a group of former PGA Tour winners at big prices.

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For the eighth year running, the RBC Canadian Open sits behind the third major of the season and that poses a question to punters.

Do we back the best players in the field in the hope that they can do what Brandt Snedeker did and win this event having returned from the UK, or do we take them on in the hope that some of those at bigger prices are better prepared?

So far, the evidence is mixed. While Snedeker, Sean O'Hair and Jim Furyk have all managed to play in the Open and then win this tournament, Chez Reavie, Carl Pettersson, Scott Piercy and Nathan Green are four who arrived fresh and caused what were upsets to varying degrees.

To add to the confusion, Snedeker is asked to defend his title at a different venue as the event returns to Royal Montreal for the first time since 2001. Originally designed by Dick Wilson and renovated since that tournament by Rees Jones, it's been described by Furyk as 'an old course with new greens' and is one to look forward to.

Those who played in the 2007 Presidents Cup will be familiar with the course which saw the USA win comfortably and it'll be interesting to see if the likes of Furyk, Ernie Els, Stewark Cink and Geoff Ogilvy can put that experience to use at this classical par 70.

One thing I find interesting is that both the 2001 Canadian Open leaderboard and that from 1997, when Royal Montreal previously played host, suggest a potential link between here and Bay Hill - arguably Wilson's best-known work. Scott Verplank and Steve Jones were the two winners and both have top-10 finishes at Bay Hill to their names, as do those who pushed them closest.

The problem here is that Jones has since been in and changed one or two things, but he is known for paying homage to the original plans and with that in mind it's a link worth exploring given how little else their is to go on.

Finally, those 1997 and 2001 leaderboards show this course to be an all-round test. Indeed, the top-eight in the all-around ranking here in 2001 all featured in the top-10 on the leaderboard, while the places in 1997 were made up entirely of those who featured in the top-10 in the all-around.

Over the last three months, Jhonattan Vegas has featured prominently in the all-around statistics and he's worth chancing at a three-figure price.

Winner of the Bob Hope Classic as a PGA Tour rookie in 2011, Vegas has gone through some serious injury struggles and continues to work his way back to the level which had the world of golf so excited three years ago.

For a while now, he's looked to strike the ball with real authority and it's just been a case of putting all the pieces together, building up a bit of confidence again and converting all of this into a score. At last, he did so in the John Deere Classic two weeks ago to finish third and he was brimming with confidence afterwards.

"It was, absolutely," he replied when asked if a top-five finish was the boost he needed. "I feel like I've been playing this good for a long time and just haven't been able to put it all together, and it's finally good that it happened.

"I've just got to keep playing the way I've been playing, just playing hard, working hard. I feel like my game is in a good position right now for a good finish to the end."

Certainly, the putting and scrambling stats backed up what the Venezuelan said in that all he needed was to hole a few to really make an impact, and given that he's third in ball-striking over the last three months it's hoped that he can keep rolling the ball well and capitalise on the opportunities which will come.

Vegas doesn't fit the Bay Hill link but he has got some strong par-70 form to his name and at three-figure prices, it's worth chancing his resurgence to continue.

Sean O'Hair is a player with the requisite Bay Hill form and this former winner of the Canadian Open might be lit up by a return to the country.

Clearly, things haven't gone well in the complex life of this extremely talented player, but there have been one or two signs this year that all is not lost - most notably his share of 10th at Bay Hill which points to a player who can return to form in the right circumstances.

His victory at the par-70 Shaughnessy in 2011 reminded us that he has what it takes under-the-gun and the fact that he's also been third at both Hamilton and Glen Abbey in this event illustrates that returning to Canada can only be seen as a positive.

Earlier in the season, the 32-year-old went back to former coach Sean Foley in a bid to rediscover his form and while we're yet to see that really pay off, it may only be a matter of time.

It's asking a lot to see him find his four best rounds of the season but with ties to Canada and to Bay Hill, not to mention the fact that there's still time for O'Hair to remind us all of his quality, I find him difficult to leave out at a huge price.

Chad Campbell is another quality player who has endured his share of struggles but there's plenty in the book to suggest he can go well.

The Texan has always relied on his ball-striking, considered by many to be as good as you'll see anywhere, and failure to hit greens with the consistency we've grown accustomed to explains a difficult start to the season.

However, in three of his last four starts he's ranked inside the top-10 for greens hit and the results have been a place in the final group on Sunday at the Crowne Plaza, a top-10 finish in the Travelers and a share of 13th in the John Deere Classic.

All of those formlines look strong in the context of this event and, as a past winner at Bay Hill, it might just be that Campbell takes to Royal Montreal at the first time of asking.

Certainly, it being a par-70 can be taken as a positive as only two players on the PGA Tour have played the par-fours better than Campbell over the last three months. Better yet, he's leading the tour in greens hit for this period and ranks second in scoring average.

There are one or two negatives, chief of which being that he's always tended to putt better on Bermuda greens, but at the price that's been factored in and I think this course will suit him off the tee.

Johnson Wagner is another proven winner who might be able to get back on the bike and contend after some encouraging signs recently.

Wagner had been struggling tee-to-green but he's put that right of late, ranking third for greens hit and 17th in driving accuracy on his way to seventh in the John Deere, a performance which confirmed the promise he showed in the Greenbrier.

What's particularly noteworthy about those two starts is that his results were the product of all-round good play; Wagner was seventh in the all-around at the Greenbrier and sixth at the John Deere.

It seems obvious that he's back on the right path and it's worth noting that among his three wins he has one on a Rees Jones track and another on the par-70 at Waialae, host of the Sony Open, which came at the expense of two former winners of this tournament.

Furthermore, Wagner was fourth at Bay Hill in 2012 so he fits that potential pointer and all things considered he's the type of player who is always likely to appeal at this sort of price when he's shown that he might be on his way back.

I'm going to complete a list of six outsiders with Steve Marino and Will Wilcox.

Marino is known as among the most talented maidens on the PGA Tour, or at least he was before toiling with injuries over the last two years.

However, he's racking up the starts now and was 11th in the all-around on his way to 11th place in the Greenbrier earlier this month. He needs to press on again to hit the frame here but having gone so close to winning at Bay Hill and been 15th and third in his two previous completed starts in the Canadian Open, a small bet is worthwhile.

Wilcox was second in the all-around on his way to fourth in the Greenbrier and can be forgiven a subsequent missed cut at the John Deere.

He impressed in the Sony Open earlier this season as well as at St Jude, and these shot-maker tracks appear to bring out the best in him.

Wilcox has also won in Canada albeit at a lower level and form in the country is a theme which ties together almost all modern-day winners of this event.

Given that the market leaders can be taken on this week, chancing these six all at three-figure prices seems a good approach.

  • Posted at 1630 BST on 22/07/2014.