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The Tampa Bay Championship: Hot-putting Brian Gay can contend at Copperhead, say The Punter

Brian Gay, one of the Punter's two at Tampa

"While everyone was focused on Tiger Woods last week, Brian Gay put in an incredible performance on the greens - taking just 93 putts all week. Only one man has made fewer in a PGA Tour event, David Frost, and he took just 92 at the 2005 MCI Heritage at Harbour Town."

Our man takes a good look at this week's PGA Tour action, what's it going to take to win this week in Florida? Read his in-depth preview here...

Tournament History
Now with its fifth name, having formally been called the Tampa Bay Classic, the Chrysler Championship, the PODS Championship and the Transitions Championship, the Tampa Bay Classic is in just its 13th year.

For the first six years the event was staged in the autumn before switching to its March slot in 2007.

Venue
Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort, Palm Harbour, Florida

Course Details
Par 71, 7,340 yards, stroke average in 2011 - 70.73

Copperhead is a tough undulating track and a far cry far from your typical easy Florida resort course. With tree-lined and dog-legged fairways, and water often in-play, accuracy is the key; loose cannons off the tee don't fare well. It's a place where the accurate players get a chance to shine, but hitting it straight off the tee isn't everything, past results also suggest you need to putt very well.

The greens are of average size, Bermuda, and running at 11-11.5 on the stimpmeter.

Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Site
Course Details
Tee Times
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky all four days, starting at 7.00pm on Thursday and Friday and 5.00pm over the weekend.

Last Five Winners

2012 - Luke Donald -13 (playoff)
2011 - Gary Woodland -15
2010 - Jim Furyk -13
2009 - Retief Goosen -8
2008 - Sean O'Hair -4

What will it take to win the Tampa Bay Championship?
Copperhead is a venue that suits the accurate type of player - eight of the 12 winners to date have been ranked in the top ten for Greens In Regulation. And you need to putt exceptionally well too - the last three winners all ranked in the top-six with the flatstick.

Is there an angle in?

There's an extremely strong link with the Sony Open. Of the ten winners of this event, four have also won at Waialae Country Club - John Huston, K.J Choi, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk and that tally could easily have been higher. Defending champ, Luke Donald, has come close in Hawaii before and multiple Sony winner, Ernie Els, traded at odds-on here last year.

Is there an identikit winner?
The winners tend to be top-class and course form holds up really well. Two players, Choi and Retief Goosen, have already won it twice and Jim Furyk nearly notched for a second time last year.

In-Play Tactics
The last three holes are really tough and known as the Snake Pit. The par four 16th is the toughest on the course - there's no bailout off the tee with water right and trees left. The par three 17th is no cakewalk either and you need to get your drive away safely on the 18th. Last year the three holes averaged over half a stroke over par.

Market Leaders
Defending champ Luke Donald is yet to get going this year and although I've no qualms about him being able to defend a title, he managed it perfectly well at another tree-lined venue - Wentworth, last year, his lack of recent form is a worry.

Adam Scott caught everyone's eye with his fast finishing tied third at Doral last week but that's a venue that he clearly likes - he led there after day one last year. Copperhead on the other hand, is somewhere he hasn't exactly shined. He has a fair record at the Sony Open and on paper, he should play well here but with form figures that read 35-MC-MC-28 in his four starts here, I'm more than happy to pass him by.

Finishing alongside Scott on Sunday was Sergio Garcia, and he too looks short enough. He has slightly better figures than Scott, with a Copperhead record reading 59-41-15-16 but again, he's far too short for my liking.

Selections
I quite liked a couple towards the head of the market but both were just fractionally too short for me to back...

Matt Kuchar was very impressive at the WGC - World Match play a couple of weeks ago and he's got form at Copperhead, with three top-12 finishes from five starts - last year's effort the most eye-catching to date.

His opening 73 in round one is his worst here to date and it left him languishing in a tie for 109th! But rounds of 67, 69 and his best here yet of 65 on Sunday, saw him climb up into the top-ten. With a very good record at the Sony Open also, I came very close to backing him but at just a little over 20.019/1, he's just a shade too short. And so too is Jason Dufner...

In stark contrast to Kuchar, Dufner got off to a flier twelve months ago and he led by two strokes at halfway before melting away over the weekend - something of a regular occurrence before he finally broke his duck at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans a month later. He caught the eye at Doral last week but just like Kuchar, I felt he was fraction shorter than I wanted so he too has been reluctantly left out for now.

While everyone was focused on Tiger Woods last week, Brian Gay put in an incredible performance on the greens - taking just 93 putts all week. Only one man has made fewer in a PGA Tour event, David Frost, and he took just 92 at the 2005 MCI Heritage at Harbour Town.

The fact that Gay finished down in a tie for 35th suggests other aspects of his game weren't at their absolute best but Doral is far too long for Gay and given putting is so important this week, that he already has a couple of top-tens here and that he has a fine record at the Sony Open, AND that he's already won the Humana Challenge this year, I thought he was more than a fair price at 130.0129/1.

My only other pick before the off is Brian Stuard who was most definitely over-priced on Sunday evening at 500.0499/1. He missed the cut here twelve months ago on his course debut but last week's tied 4th in Puerto Rico, along with his impressive tied 5th at the Sony Open in January and a top-ten finish at the Humana Challenge, all compensate for the lack of course form.

As detailed in yesterdays De-Brief, players can drift markedly on Wednesdays so I will take another good look again tomorrow and if I do place any further wagers I'll post them up in the comments section.

Selections:
Brian Gay @ 130.0129/1
Brian Stuard @ 500.0499/1

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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12 March 2013

The Punter

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