Back Rory to rediscover his best
Our Ben Coley previews the RBC Canadian Open and fancies Rory Sabbatini to land a seventh PGA Tour title.
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The RBC Canadian Open returns to Glen Abbey this week for a tournament in part defined by its place on the schedule.
While many of Canada's courses, including this delightful par 72, are top-quality, sitting behind the Open Championship on the calendar brings with it a problem or two.
Not only are most golf correspondents still digesting what happened on Sunday at Muirfield, but history tells us that the players also struggle to put behind them the season's most unique major.
That RBC sponsor the event means certain marquee names are obliged to show up and what seems certain to me is that a handful of the best players in the event will be going through the motions.
I'm equally convinced that this dynamic explains some surprise winners of both this event and others that have sat behind the Open.
Since 2000, only Sean O'Hair (2011) and Jim Furyk (2007) have teed up in the Open and won the following week's PGA Tour event. While O'Hair had the weekend off at Royal St George's, Furyk was in contention for most of the week at Carnoustie.
Compare that to the Masters for immediate evidence that this particular slot on the calendar is a dangerous one in which to back the game's elite. Since 2002, when an event was again positioned directly after the Augusta showpiece, 10 of the 14 winners of said event had played the week before.
The record of elite players winning the week after the US Open is even stronger, with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Padraig Harrington, Stewart Cink and Hunter Mahan having done so.
So, why should the Open be any different? Well it's quite obvious really. For starters conditions could not vary much more between what we had last week and what's in front of us at the classical Glen Abbey, a comment which applies to other host venues of this tournament.
Then there's the travel aspect. Sure, in this day and age players are used to long-haul flights but the fact is many won't arrive as early as they would had they been nearby the previous week.
And finally, the Open Championship is perhaps the most punishing, mentally, of the sport's four majors. Although most players enjoy the test, even those who have the event as the highlight of the calendar are forced to apply themselves at a high intensity for 72 holes. A hangover is perfectly normal.
So my policy this week is to oppose those who played at the Open with one exception, who is not among the market leaders. It's not that they can't or won't win, simply that to my eye there's no allowance in their prices for the fact that history says playing the Open is not a perfect preparation.
A shock is a real possibility. Some of the names to have won the week after the Open are most unfamiliar - David Gossett and Michael Clark II perhaps the best examples - and even from those we know better there have been some real upsets, such as Nathan Green's play-off win over Retief Goosen when last the event was played here.
As for the course itself, it's a ball-striker's paradise and playing from the fairway is important. Both Green and his predecessor Chez Reavie ranked among the top five in driving accuracy for the week and were superb on the par-fours, which really are the spine of the course.
The one who really strikes me as overpriced is Rory Sabbatini at 125/1 and with six places on offer.
A six-time winner on tour, Sabbatini is a player who is generally underestimated by the layers and that's presumably because he's not a particularly popular player with punters.
Part of the reason for that is that he's a generally inconsistent performer, a fact underlined by a recent record which shows finishes of seventh, ninth and last week's 17th in among a quartet of missed cuts.
Sporadic performances with the putter are in part to blame and probably cost him another top 10 finish last week, but this tournament and in particular this course has seen a number of good ball-strikers get by on average putting due to tee-to-green supremacy.
Sabbatini was sixth here at Glen Abbey at the turn of the century but better yet was a winner of the Air Canada Championship in the same year, his first title on the PGA Tour, which suggests a distinct liking for the country.
Classical tests are right up his street and on paper he's not doing much wrong outside of putting, albeit I'd like to see him hit a few more fairways with this week in mind.
Finally, Sabbatini is best when he's keeping busy. He'd played the first seven tournaments of the year without a break before winning the Honda Classic, each of the last four weeks before winning the Crowne Plaza and each of the last five the Nissan Open.
This will be his seventh tournament in eight weeks and at 125/1, with some really good recent form and strong ties to Canada, he's a big price.
Next on my list is Kevin Chappell, who looks worth chancing at 80/1.
I'm sure we all remember his runner-up effort in the Memorial Tournament well enough and it was one which showed that when on-song, he's capable of competing in any event on tour.
Although versatile enough to shoot the lights out in events like the Humana Challenge, I can't help but feel this former Haskins Award winner is at his best on a ball-striker's course like Glen Abbey and I'm willing to chance him taking to the layout at the first attempt.
In two of his last three starts Chappell has ranked inside the top 10 for driving accuracy so he should be rewarded off the tee here, and he's had some success in Canada before on what's now the Web.com Tour.
So far things haven't gone to plan in this event but a switch in courses could prove in his favour especially given that he ranks an encouraging 37th in par four birdie or better percentage.
Chappell has made the weekend for six events running and has the quality to contend at an undulating course with appears to share certain topographical similarities with TPC Stonebrae, site of his sole professional success so far.
I'm also going to see if lightning might strike twice and include Chez Reavie in the staking plan.
Winner of this event in 2008, Reavie will be excited by a return to Glen Abbey and having been playing consistent golf for some weeks now he arrives in good shape.
Like Sabbatini and to a lesser extent Chappell, he just needs to putt better to contend as no man in this field is hitting fairways with greater frequency this season.
What I find particularly interesting is that he'd had a busy spell before winning here in 2008 and that's not how he usually operates. Asked if he liked to play so often, Reavie replied: "Absolutely not. I try not to play more than three (consecutive weeks), to be honest. But I could see my game getting better each week.
"You know, each week like at the John Deere I had it, I had tied for 12th going into Sunday, so I was playing well and I had a tough day on Sunday.
"Then last week I hit the ball well and I just didn't make a whole lot of putts. So I'm trying to play my way through it. Hopefully we've kind of crossed over today."
Those words were spoken halfway towards his maiden victory and I find it very interesting that he arrives here at the Canadian Open set for his sixth consecutive week of competitive golf. So interesting, in fact, that I delved through the form book to discover that this will be the first time he's played six competitive events since he won this tournament five years ago.
What that's worth remains to be seen, but combine it with a love for the course, superb driving, a consistent run of form and a more than fair price and there are ample grounds for a bet.
Stallings is the exception to the Open rule as he did play at Muirfield, struggling to rounds of 76 and 78 to miss the cut by a couple of shots.
However, I'm hopeful he can follow O'Hair's lead in that he's shown form in the event before courtesy of a seventh-placed finish last year and has at least been able to rest a little more than those who played all four rounds in the Open.
There are a number of basic reasons for backing Stallings. One is he loves a Jack Nicklaus-designed course, having won at Annandale 53 weeks ago. Leading on from that, this seems to be his time of year given that he also won the Greenbrier Classic, which was played in late-July when he took the title.
I also think he's a fine player of a classical golf course when there's some definition to the tee-shots, which is certainly the case at both Annandale and Old White TPC.
And while he's in poor form, that was the case at this time last year when he won the True South Classic and there's something about his two wins - one, just before the Bridgestone/PGA Championship fortnight and the other during the Open - that screams opportunist.
My hope is he can bounce back to his spring form and take advantage of what's definitely a good opportunity to land a third PGA Tour title.
And finally I'll have a small bet on Hadwin, who was so impressive in finishing fourth in this event in 2011.
That came at a time when he was playing good golf and if we ignore a missed cut last time that's the case here, given that he'd put together back-to-back top 10 finishes on the Web.com Tour prior to it.
Both those events saw him rank in the top 15 for both fairways and greens and this excellent ball-striker showed he can cope with home expectation two years ago, so with more experience under his belt looks worth a small bet in a trappy event.