The Bermuda Championship is the latest addition to the PGA Tour schedule and, in an extraordinarily weak field, Ben Coley is banking on two classy Europeans.
If you can't get a game in the Bermuda Championship, it's probably time to knock it on the head.
On Monday, Frank Lickliter got in as an alternate and Spike McRoy accepted a sponsors' invitation. Lickliter's last PGA Tour top-10 finish came in 2006 and, at 50, his days of winning at this level are over. McRoy, at 51, peaked when he won the B.C. Open in 2002. Gareth Gates was number one at the time with 'Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake)', which may yet prove to be a perfect soundtrack to what lies ahead.
Gary Nicklaus is playing, Carlos Franco is playing, and 61-year-old Joey Sindelar is playing, a Bermuda triangle of no hopers. The field size for this is only 120, and at least a quarter of them would go down as among the most shocking winners in the history of the PGA Tour.
With the greatest of respect to those mentioned, it is staggering that invites have not gone to the likes of Augusto Nunez, who currently leads the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Money List. Then again, perhaps he's better off playing the Termas de Rio Hondo Invitational and sticking to the plan.
The PGA Tour regulars who do head to the delightful-looking Port Southampton, which hosted the equally uninspiring Grand Slam of Golf from 2009 to 2014, should see this as an excellent opportunity. Victory would not seal a Masters place - this is an opposite event with 300 FedEx Cup points to the winner - but there's an exemption to earn and a fine chance to collect silverware while the best players in the world are either resting, or playing in the WGC-HSBC Champions.
It's a sign of how quickly Alex Noren has fallen from grace that he's here, little more than a year after he holed that monster putt to bring the curtain down on the Ryder Cup. Prolific on the European Tour and at a good level, too, this handsome Swede is in a different league to most of the opposition and it should be noted that his form has taken a turn for the better lately.
Noren might not be playing as well as he'd like, but 28-15-34-18 is a good form line across some strong European Tour events, and he's only missed one cut since the US Open. In fact, he was 11th in the Open Championship which is not only a major result the like of which so few of these have come close to, but it also works well as a pointer to island golf where the breeze is sure to be a factor despite several inland holes.
Those four renewals of the Grand Slam, played over 36 holes and won in scores ranging from four to 11-under, hint at links specialists being at an advantage here - or at the very least quality iron players who can tackle a changing wind. Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els all tick those boxes and so does Lucas Glover, who won at the course following an expensive renovation in 2009.
Noren wouldn't be quite as strong a ball-striker as any of those five at their respective bests, but wins in the Scottish Open, the Open de France and the BMW PGA Championship all underline the fact that he's good in the breeze, which is very much part of the Thursday forecast albeit dying down thereafter.
He also happens to have fallen to 55th in the world, and that means victory in Bermuda this week represents his most immediate route back to the elite and the major invites which come with a top-50 ranking. Players of his calibre simply don't rock up in these events very often, and it strikes me as significant that this notoriously hard worker has chosen to make the trip.
As well as those European Tour efforts and 11th at Portrush, he was 12th behind Brooks Koepka in the FedEx St Jude Invitational, a World Golf Championship event, and he'll know that he should be playing in the WGC-HSBC Champions. The 37-year-old, whose tee-to-green stats have been strong lately, can remind everyone that he's good at winning, a comment so few here could make.
A similar line of thinking could lead you to Branden Grace, no less good at winning, no less comfortable in the wind, no less capable of beating this rabble. The trouble is, for all that he has the Presidents Cup to play for, his malaise appears deeper set. It's true that he found something when it was cold and breezy in Phoenix, and instinctive golf could work again here, but at 40/1 he's less tempting than the headline selection.
There are players with the potential to become world-class in time, like Scottie Scheffler and Aaron Wise, but I wouldn't think a short course where clubbing down is often necessary would bring out the best in either. It may not matter, but nous can go a long way under the expected conditions and the roll-of-honour in the Puerto Rico Open, where Jordan Spieth and Jason Day were both touched off in their formative years, is worth keeping in mind.
That event and the Mayakoba Classic might be the most useful form guides and having been runner-up in the former, Russell Knox is the other strong fancy from the front of the market.
A long-time Florida resident, Bermuda isn't too much of a trip to make for the exiled Scot, and the grass and playing conditions should be very similar to those he's now used to - a point made by Keegan Bradley during the Grand Slam here.
Knox has been runner-up in the Honda Classic, probably a decent guide in its own right, and he was also a play-off loser to Graeme McDowell in the OHL Classic played at a short, coastal course in Mexico where wind strength dictates scoring opportunities.
With a Rolex Series win in the Irish Open also to his name, plus another on a sub-7,000-yard course in Connecticut, Knox looks like he might just be the ideal type for this and, like Noren, he's among the classiest players in the field.
Also like Noren, a form line of 46-15-48-28 dating back to Wentworth actually reads well in this company, and it's certainly been pleasing to see his putter behave and his iron play improve in two starts back on the PGA Tour.
As a former winner of the WGC-HSBC Champions, Knox is sure to be motivated to keep building on an encouraging month and in the circumstances I'm more than happy to build the staking plan around these two proven winners who ought to relish conditions.
There are plenty of others at the front of the betting who have shown more of late, the likes of Scott Harrington, Mark Hubbard and the very capable Beau Hossler among them, while Robert Streb catches the eye as a similar player to Knox and one who has been ticking over nicely enough.
However, at bigger prices I'm drawn to the claims of Shawn Stefani, who is more than capable of winning in this sort of company and almost did so when contending for the Mayakoba Classic five years ago.
Stefani has an excellent record there - in 16 rounds he's never shot worse than 72 and he's contended for the title twice - and along with sixth place in Puerto Rico, he's popped up on the leaderboards which I suspect may prove to be our best form guide here.
Seventh in the Sanderson Farms when it was an opposite event and 13th on the back of six missed cuts in the Dominican Republic further underline that this two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner is one to keep a close eye on when taking a relative drop in grade.
It's fair to say he'll need to improve on his performance at the Houston Open, but before that there was enough to like about 28th in the Sanderson Farms and he's not been far away for most of 2019. The ease in company and nature of this course, particularly its bermuda greens, could make all the difference.
Wes Roach went well for a long way in Houston and has hinted that he's capable. The 30-year-old has Puerto Rico form and produced his standout PGA Tour effort this summer, hitting the frame at big odds in the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
He's tempting enough at 100/1, but at a slightly shorter price I'm keen on KH Lee, who looks close to his best again following an eye-catching fortnight in Asia.
First, he stayed on really well for ninth in the Genesis Championship, a Korean Tour event won by Sungjae Im, and then Lee contended to a point in the CJ Cup won by Justin Thomas, eventually settling for a mid-pack 39th.
This is a huge ease in grade and the capable Korean has dropped some hints throughout his rookie campaign, notably when flushing his way to seventh place in the Honda Classic on the back of 35th in the Puerto Rico Open.
Things went rather quiet for Lee after 13th place at the Travelers, but his long game had begun to show signs of improvement before he finally put some scores together upon returning home. He needs to take another step forward but bermuda greens definitely suit and if they help bring his putting up to scratch, he can go really well.
Finally, I can't resist a small bet on Boo Weekley following his step forward in Houston.
This one-time Ryder Cup player led the field in strokes-gained approach there, eventually finishing 21st, and while it's difficult to argue with any certainty that he'll build on it, if he does he's going to look massively overpriced.
Weekley made his name as one of the best ball-strikers around, a Florida flusher who loves nothing more than to flight his ball in the wind, and at his best he'd have been marked down as simply an ideal type for a short, island challenge such as this one.
Two wins in The Heritage plus victory at Colonial tell us all we need to know and he's also got a strong book of form in Puerto Rico, where he's played well on each of his seven visits including when 35th earlier this year.
It's notable, too, that Weekley went on to finish 25th at Harbour Town, striking the ball as well as just about anyone in the field, so despite some serious health issues which ruled him out from the summer of 2017 to the start of 2019, the engine appears to remain intact.
"I’m more motivated this year than I’ve been since probably 2012," he said back in April, before delivering a performance in The Heritage which would translate into going close here if he can reproduce it.
It's a big if - we're talking about an injury-prone 46-year-old, after all - but this might be the worst PGA Tour event I've ever previewed, and backing a player so well suited to the challenge, at 200/1, on the back of his best ball-striking figures in years, is a no-brainer.
Posted at 1045 GMT on 29/10/19.
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