Final Masters prep for undercooked LIV golfers
The windy links-like test should suit Branden Grace
Marc Leishman can maintain his good form
And so to Orlando, the home of make-believe and theme parks, for the third tournament on the 2023 LIV Golf schedule.
Specifically, the renegades are at Orange County National Golf Center, a venue that has run with the local vibe in the naming of the facilities.
The course used this week is known as Crooked Cat, there is another called Panther Lake and the putting green is called Whiskers.
Are we in for a rollercoaster ride? Probably not on the leaderboard because, in one of the more niche developments to arise from the arrival of LIV, the action has tended to further establish that 54-hole events are less volatile than those played over 72.
In the nine events so far every single winner was close to the lead all week. Dustin Johnson was four strokes back after 18 holes in Boston and Danny Lee four back with 18 to play in Tucson, but at the end of every other lap the eventual winner was within three shots of top spot.
There have been seven 54 hole events on the PGA Tour in the 21st century and there was only one end-of-round instance that didn't fit the same pattern - when Phil Mickelson was six back after round one ahead of winning the 2005 Bellsouth Classic.
And Lee's triumph last time out was quite the trend basher because he was the first LIV winner not to be lying tied third or better with 18 holes to go - and all seven of the PGA Tour 54 hole winners were also that close to the lead.
There is another factor to consider in Florida: the fact that it is the Masters next week.
It is by no means unique to have contenders for the Green Jacket arrive in Augusta a little under-cooked - Adam Scott won having played just four times in 2013 and Tiger Woods had five starts under his belt in 2019 - but consider it in actual competitive rounds.
Scott had played 13 and Woods 21 (Bubba Watson in 2014 had 20).
But, assuming no injuries or withdrawals this week, Dustin Johnson will have had nine this year, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau 11, Talor Gooch 13, Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer 15, Sergio Garcia and Joaquin Niemann 17.
Will the imminent journey to Georgia fire this lot up?
Because, between them, they've played 34 times this season and tallied just six top five finishes with only Ancer a winner. It's a pretty rum effort from nine golfers who ordinarily should be looking to be firing on all cylinders.
Crooked Cat is said to be links-like which always sets off the alarm bells for punters.
But, while we must always take with a pinch of salt the claims of the course designers and owners, there's nothing wrong with accepting "links-like" as a form of course of itself.
Photos of the layout do suggest that the land has been formed to give the impression it was once beneath the sea - it sweeps this way and that with plenty of bumps and hollows.
But crucially the grass is Bermuda so the ball will need to be flown to the putting surface in what are typically blustery conditions.
Actual links expertise will be good, but no more or less so than just playing well on windy tracks by the sea in North America.
Branden Grace ticks both boxes.
He's won at Grand Reserve and Harbour Town on the PGA Tour, and been third at Whistling Straits.
On the DP World Tour he's a two-time winner at blustery, links-like Doha, landed the Dunhill Links Championship and finished sixth in the Open.
He's also a winner on LIV who was third at El Camaleon and 10th last time out after a slowish start.
Aussie Marc Leishman looks like he's come to terms with his move to LIV in recent weeks and maybe also got the bit back between his teeth in competitive terms.
After a smart start to the 2021/22 PGA Tour season, he drifted as LIV became an issue, perhaps wrestling with the decision of whether or not to make the move.
That impression maintained after he did jump ship in late summer.
But he opened 2023 with sixth in the Saudi International, then featured in the top 10 early on at Mayakoba ahead of landing 15th, and then held a two-stroke pre-final round lead last time out in Tucson.
A 77 saw him spurn the chance to win but he's got a bit of a habit of sniffing around the lead before finally crossing the finish line.
His record on Bermuda grass in blustery spots is strong with top fives at Waialae, Southwind and Plantation, plus a top 10 at Harbour Town.
On true links he has contended an Open play-off.
And he's been a winner in Florida before at Bay Hill.
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