Ben Coley tipped the winners of the QBE Shootout last year and is sticking to a similar formula ahead of the 2019 renewal with two selections.
Billy Horschel & Brendon Todd
Billy Horschel is the highest-ranked player in the field, and this fiery Floridian is playing a home game at the sort of course he ought to favour. Still, his record in the event isn't particularly encouraging, especially over the last two years with finishes of eighth and last. Before that, he'd been third or fourth in each of his first four visits, so six tries now have not really seen him threaten. You'd think he'd be suited to the format and his improved putting is a bonus, as, according to the market, is his new partner. Horschel was originally pegged to play with Brandt Snedeker, the pair put in at 11/2, but in-form Brendon Todd is here instead and they're now 9/2 favourites. Todd's form figures of 1-1-4 obviously stand out, but just how motivated he'll be here is open to doubt. Clearly, these two could click and do a lot of damage, but Horschel has disappointed backers in this event in the past, with partners just as capable if not more so, and they can be swerved.
Viktor Hovland & Matthew Wolff
The most fascinating combination here as Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff renew their partnership from their days at Oklahoma State. Clearly, what they've done since graduating is seriously impressive and both will look towards 2020 with hope that they can line-up against each other in the Ryder Cup. Hovland is already inside the world's top 100, Wolff isn't far behind, and the only way is up for two of the most exciting players in the sport. How will that translate to the QBE Shootout? Your guess is as good as mine, but this hasn't necessarily been a golf course for the big-hitters and a little experience goes a long way in what's a unique event. As with the favourites, they're hard to draw a line through, but not particularly tempting.
Andrew Putnam & Corey Conners
Here we have two of 2019's big improvers, even if Andrew Putnam didn't add to his 2018 win in the Barracuda. The American has held his own in good company throughout the campaign, and hasn't missed a cut since the RBC Heritage in April, making him one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour. He's also one of its best putters, ranking fifth last season and first in the early stages of the new one, and that is a serious weapon in this type of event. The worry would be that Corey Conners, who won the Texas Open as a Monday qualifier, isn't anywhere near as good on the greens - in fact he's especially weak, one of the worst in the field. That's counterbalanced by the most reliable long-game on show here, one which almost earned him a Presidents Cup call, and if he does happen to have a good week on the greens these two should go very close. Conners arrives in sensational form (nine top-30 finishes in his last 10 events), too, and they're just about the pick of those at single-figure prices.
Jason Kokrak & J.T. Poston
Jason Kokrak and J.T. Poston both make their debuts in the event as they look to top off successful years. Kokrak remains in search of that elusive first PGA Tour win, but he's climbed from outside the world's top 100 to the brink of the top 50 owing to another year of top-10 finishes, including last time out in China. Poston's own consistency was rewarded with victory in the Wyndham Championship, where he played the entire 72 holes without dropping a shot. His all-round quality and consistency combines nicely with Kokrak's power, and they arrive in good shape having both been competitive when last in action. No surprise at all if they go well.
Charles Howell III & Bubba Watson
The first team to be confidently opposed after Bubba Watson cut a disinterested figure for much of the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last of 18. His record in this is classic Bubba - he was last of 12 with Rickie Fowler, a world-class partner, but nearly won it in 2007 alongside host Greg Norman. More recently he's been sixth and seventh over the last couple of years and despite playing close to home, he doesn't seem suited to the course or particularly keen to try. Charles Howell is a good putter who has been second in this (2012), as well as third alongside another big-hitter, Luke List, last year. He was disappointing when defending his RSM Classic title last time out and his wider record in the event is poor, while there also seems to be a clash of personalities possible. With one of them a very poor putter, there's little to be positive about other than talent, a measure by which they're right up there.
Graeme McDowell & Ian Poulter
On last year's stats, this is the best putting team in the event - Graeme McDowell ranked fourth for the season with Ian Poulter 24th. That could be crucial, and we know this is something of a home game for two men who've long made Florida their base. McDowell has been runner-up three times in his last five appearances, including in each of the last two years, while Poulter has a win and two third-placed finishes from just six starts. McDowell is playing quite nicely and were it not for Poulter's form concerns they'd be higher up the shortlist, both no doubt motivated to keep competitive ahead of perhaps their final chance to play Ryder Cup golf in 2020.
Ryan Palmer & Harold Varner III
Harold Varner III is a popular, genial character who was weighed down by Watson when sixth here last year. He's a decent putter, too, and while not quite in the sort of form which saw him take third place in The Northern Trust, his game appears to be in reasonable shape. Ryan Palmer, who won the Zurich Classic with Jon Rahm earlier this year, was ninth of 12 when teeing up in this five years ago alongside Jimmy Walker. He's progressed through every start so far this season, latterly taking a good 10th in the ZOZO Championship, and is well-suited to Tiburon on paper. Solid enough but lacking a really lights-out putter.
Brian Harman & Patton Kizzire
Last year's winners, after Brian Harman replaced Davis Love III to make for a dynamite putting duo who triumphed by a shot. It was a demonstration of their suitability to the course but also their friendship, the pair among those to have spent a lot of time at Sea Island, and it's no surprise to see them back to defend, a feat two pairs have achieved this century. Harman's form suggests another bold bid, as he's bagged four top-20 finishes from six starts this season - this time last year, he'd gone six months without one. Patton Kizzire hasn't been quite so promising, but he's shown just about enough having started well in the RSM Classic and in a couple of other tournaments before that. He was winning on his debut, while Harman had been third alongside Pat Perez in 2017, and they look massive contenders again. Granted, they're in from 16/1 last year, but that renewal involved Gary Woodland, Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Na, Tony Finau and Emiliano Grillo, as well as an in-form Cameron Champ. On balance this looks a little weaker, Harman is definitely playing better, and they're worth supporting.
Charley Hoffman & Kevin Kisner
It's been another fairly lean year for Charley Hoffman, who generally looks like a golfer on the wane, but I quite fancy him to come alive again in this. Hoffman was third with Woodland last year when completely out of sorts coming in, while he was also third with Daniel Berger in 2015 and Horschel a year later. That's three podiums in four attempts and, to reiterate, 2019 was more productive than 2018. Kevin Kisner meanwhile arrives on the back of seventh place in elite company, and on a big golf course, in the Hero World Challenge. He played really nicely on Saturday, shooting the joint-low round, and that sets him up perfectly for this. Last year, Kisner went off among the favourites alongside Champ, but 12 months on he should be a lot more relaxed with Hoffman, a good friend, rather than a stud he doesn't really know - one drafted in late. He's proven in Florida, nearly winning the Players and the Arnold Palmer, and we know he loves these greens. Fourth on debut in 2016 and one of the best putters here, he can lead these two to the title. They look way overpriced.
Chez Reavie & Kevin Chappell
Chez Reavie was on the fringes of the Presidents Cup side at the end of an excellent year, one in which he followed third place in the US Open with a victory - long overdue - at the Travelers. He's been poor lately, though, finishing 13th in the Hero last week (of 18) and struggling since an out-of-the-blue fifth at East Lake. This course and the way it is set up will suit him more than many recent tests, but even so he's hard to be positive about on debut. Kevin Chappell was fourth with Kisner in 2016, but the long road back following an injury which kept him out for almost a year has offered just one real positive so far - a round of 59 at the Greenbrier. That shows what he can do when the putter clicks, but these two are among the most vulnerable in the field when it comes to getting the ball in the hole. Easily overlooked.
Rory Sabbatini & Kevin Tway
Rory Sabbatini has played in the event nine times, never winning it, and has been quite some way off contending in recent years. Twice a runner-up previously, there are positives if you dig deeper and he was a regular feature on leaderboards last season. He's not been quote so good lately, but is still making cuts and playing some of his best golf in years having finally got back inside the world's top 100. He pairs with Kevin Tway here, a big-hitting type who makes his debut in the event. Tway started last season with a win but hasn't really kicked on and his putting is a big concern. With Sabbatini not necessarily the easiest to pair with - especially when he slips into his native Slovak lingo - they are quite hard to fancy.
Sean O'Hair & Lexi Thompson
Finally, Lexi Thompson is alongside Sean O'Hair having been seventh and fourth with Tony Finau. She's struggled a little lately on the LPGA Tour, but stepped up here at Tiburon last time out when staying on well for sixth. Clearly, she's up against it conceding distance all-round, and there was a feeling when she finished fourth with Finau that they'd done all they could. O'Hair is a two-time former champion, winning with Steve Stricker and Kenny Perry, but his last competitive start came in February. Were he fit, they'd have a small chance of sneaking third or fourth, but much more likely is something a good deal closer to last.
Regular readers will know I'm not one to make much of putting, which comes and goes and is hard to predict. However, the QBE Shootout is somewhat different, with a scramble on Friday followed by modified alternate shot, and then four-balls on Sunday.
The key here is that in two of the three rounds, there's the opportunity to have two players putting, and that makes for some exceptionally low scoring. There's really only one team in the event's recent history which lacked an obviously excellent putter, and last year the strongest putting duo in the event obliged.
Following that theme, Poulter and McDowell stand out along with the favourites, but I see no reason HARMAN and KIZZIRE can't defend their title. It's been done twice this century, while Harris English and Matt Kuchar have won the event twice, and these two Sea Islanders can go really well. They remain excellent on the greens and Harman is in much better form ahead of this repeat bid.
The best value, though, surely lies with KIZNER and HOFFMAN. Kisner is one of the best players in the field, and one of the standout putters, and while Hoffman isn't in very good form, he's defied such concerns in this event previously.
Two years ago, both were playing in the Presidents Cup, so there may be some extra motivation there, and Kisner can putt them to the title.
2019 QBE Classic
Tiburon Golf Club, Florida - December 13-15
- Round 1: Scramble (players both tee-off, select best ball, then both play a shot from there; process repeated until hole complete)
- Round 2: Modified alternate shot (like traditional foursomes, but both players tee-off before the best ball is selected; alternate shots thereafter)
- Round 3: Four-ball (traditional better-ball, where both players in a team play their own ball as it lies and their best score on each hole counts)
Posted at 2110 GMT on 09/12/19.
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