Fort Worth Invitational: Walker primed to stroll to another home state victory
The PGA Tour makes the short hop from Trinity Forest to Colonial Country Club and our man has the lowdown. Read Steve's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...
“Jimmy Walker has just the right profile and with individual form figures reading 4-2-6 since he finished 20th at the US Masters, it’s hard to see him not contending again. The 38-year-old’s last victory came at the 2016 US PGA Championship but just a few months before that he won the Valero Texas Open so he’s already won in his home state and he’s putting really well.”
First staged in 1946, the Fort Worth Invitational, is a firm favourite on the PGA Tour and it's nice to see it still present, despite the lack of a sponsor. Dean & Deluca, Crowne Plaza, Bank of America, MasterCard and Southwestern Bell have all put their names to the tournament and Charles Schwab will sponsor the tournament next year.
Winners of the event are given a plaid tartan jacket and their names are etched on to a Wall of Champions adjacent to the first tee.
Local resident, Ben Hogan, won the first two renewals before going on to win it again three more times in the '50s. Nobody else has won the title more than twice.
Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
Par 70 -7,209 yards
Stroke Index in 2017 - 71.15
Designed by John Bredemus and opened in 1936, Colonial Country Club staged the US Open as soon as 1941, after Perry Maxwell had altered holes three, four and five. This wonderful classic course has hosted this event since its inception and on the US Tour, only the US Masters has been staged at the same venue for longer.
Colonial is a tight, tree-lined track with 12 dog-legged holes and small bentgrass greens that usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. Water is in play on six holes and the course is littered with strategically placed fairway bunkers.
The par five first hole once again ranked as the easiest hole on the course last year and the par four second ranked the third easiest but the next three faced, which were the only holes Maxwell altered prior to the US Open in 1941, are nicknamed the 'Horrible Horseshoe' and they often rank as the three toughest but last year the trio ranked as the, fifth, seventh and first hardest.
Holes 12, 13 and 14 were the third, second and fourth hardest holes 12 months ago.
Colonial CC is often affectionately referred to as 'Hogan's Alley' after the five-time winner Ben.
Sky Sports are showing live Featured Group coverage from 18:00 on Thursday and Friday, with full coverage beginning at 21:00 (UK and Ireland time) for the first two days. Third and fourth round live coverage begins at 18:00 on Saturday and Sunday.
Last Five Winners
2017 - Kevin Kisner -10
2016 - Jordan Spieth -17
2015 - Chris Kirk -12
2014 - Adam Scott -9 (Playoff)
2013 - Boo Weekley -14
What Will it Take to Win the Fort Worth Invitational?
Phil Mickelson ranked fifth for Driving Distance when he won here ten years ago but no other victor has ranked inside the top-ten for that stat in the last decade and it's not one to consider at all. Colonial is short by modern standards and DD is an irrelevant stat. There are just two par fives and irons are taken off several tees. The average DD ranking of the last ten winners is just 33.1.
Kisner ranked number one for Driving Accuracy 12 months ago and five of the last eight winners have ranked inside the top-ten for that stat but it shouldn't be considered too vital. Spieth only ranked 54th for DA when he won in 2016 and Chris Kirk ranked 60th three years ago! The average DA ranking of the last ten winners is 21.7.
Kirk was one of the strangest winners, statistically, that I've seen on the PGA Tour. He basically just putted incredibly well, averaging an amazing 1.57, so we should perhaps ignore the fact that, in addition to only ranking 40th for DD, 60th for DA and 39th for Scrambling, he ranked 62nd for Greens In Regulation, given seven of the last ten have ranked inside the top-ten for GIR and six of those seven ranked inside the top-six. The average GIR ranking of the last ten winners is exactly 15.
Kisner ranked second for Scrambling and two years ago, Spieth ranked first so an excellent touch around the green is a big plus but in addition to Kirk's ranking of 39th, Boo Weekley ranked only 40th, pushing the average Scrambling ranking of the last ten winners up to 14.4.
Kisner ranked first for DA and second for GIR and Scrambling and it would be easy to think he's the archetypical winner around this tight, short track but the winners here nearly always putt brilliantly. Kisner's Putting Average ranking was 28th and that was unusually high at Colonial. Every other winner in the last ten years has ranked 17th or better and seven of the ten have ranked inside the top-five for Putting Average. The average Putting Average ranking of the last ten winners is only 7.7.
An ability to handle windy conditions is usually essential but as was the case last week at Trinity Forest, there isn't much in the forecast and we look set for a largely benign week.
Is There an Angle In?
Kevin Kisner did nothing to boost the correlations 12 months ago but two possible course links are Deere Run and Augusta. They don't appear to correlate visually but all three venues reward excellent ball striking and short game skills and form at the three courses crosses over well.
David Toms, Kenny Perry, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth have all recently won this title and the John Deere Classic, staged at Deere Run in Illinois. Last year's runner-up, Sean O'Hair's first PGA Tour success was at Deere Run and Brandt Snedeker and Tim Clark have both finished runner-up at both tournaments.
Zach Johnson has won this title twice recently so of the nine men to win the last ten editions, four have also won the US Masters - Johnson, Spieth, Mickelson and Adam Scott.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Kisner was only 33 when he won last year, this was only his second PGA Tour win and he was playing Colonial for just the fourth time, so he went against the grain somewhat.
With length an irrelevance, the wily old pros have a really great chance to add to their silverware and I say add because the vast majority of winners here have already bagged plenty of titles.
Prior to Spieth's victory two years ago, Sergio Garcia, in 2001, was the last player under the age of 30 to win and eight of the last 20 winners have been aged 40 or over. The average age of the winners here is 37.
Colonial is a course that takes a bit of getting to know and debutants have a poor record. Historically, the winners have already played the event eight times on average and it's rare to see someone win their first PGA Tour event here.
Garcia was the last first timer to win, in 2001, but he'd already won in Europe and before that, Ian Baker-Finch won his first PGA Tour title in this event in 1989 but he too had already tasted success, having already won Down Under. We all know how good the 2017 US Masters winner, Sergio, is and Baker-Finch won an Open Championship.
Price wise, Kisner was backed down from [40.0] to [30.0] before the off last year, Spieth was the 7/1 favourite in 2016 and the four winners before him went off at odds of around 33/1, 16/1, 100/1 and 16/1.
Kisner won the event in a reasonably typical fashion last year. He was never outside the top-ten places and he wasn't leading after three rounds.
Jordan Spieth, two years ago, had sat tied ninth and just three off the lead after round one and having sat third and one back at halfway, he led by a shot with a round to go. Although he went on to win by three, his crazy finish, which saw him make a chip-in birdie on 17 and a monster birdie putt on 18, masked a tricky final day and leading here through 54 holes is clearly not easy. Spieth was the first third round leader to win since Phil Mickelson in 2008.
Being up with the pace is usually the way to go though and being on the heels of the leaders looks like the ideal place to be. The two winners that preceded Spieth were seven and six strokes adrift and outside the top-ten at halfway but that's unusual. Prior to Scott's victory in 2014, Rory Sabbatini in 2007 and Sergio Garcia in 2001 had been the only two winners this century to be outside the top-ten and more than four strokes adrift through 36 holes and 14 of the last 16 winners have been no more than two strokes off the lead with a round to go. Kisner and Kirk are the odd men out and they only trailed by three so although it's hard to win from the front, winning from miles back is rare.
The 2016 champ, Jordan Spieth, is hard to fancy given how important putting is and how poorly he's currently performing with the flat-stick. He actually putted quite well at Sawgrass a fortnight ago but that looked a bit of a one off and he missed umpteen short putts at Trinity Forest last week, where he ranked 69th for Putting Average. The world number three averaged 1.85 putts per green and if he repeats that here he won't get anywhere close to winning the title again.
Jon Rahm very nearly confounded all the stats 12 months ago when he finished third on debut at the age of 22 so we know he likes the venue but his form has been poor in his last two starts.
Following victory in his homeland on the European Tour, Rahm missed the cut at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans alongside Wesley Bryan before finishing a disappointing 63rd at the Players Championship a fortnight ago, despite a decent start. All things considered, as talented as he is, he's too short this week.
Rickie Fowler was fifth here on the third of his five visits in 2012 but this is his first start since firing rounds of 80 and 75 to miss the cut comfortably in 2014 so after a missed cut at Sawgrass last time out, he's very easy to dismiss and I suspect, like Justin Rose, he's here because he must be. As Iain Carter points out here, PGA Tour rules require their members to compete in an event they have not played over the past four years.
Players Champ, Webb Simpson, is a great fit for Colonial and having finished third in 2016, following two previous missed cuts in 2009 and 2010, Simpson led by two with a round to go 12 months ago. There's no reason to think he won't contend, other than the fact that it's notoriously hard to back up a win, and it's doubly so when that win is a biggy like the Players.
Jimmy Walker's course form, reading 56-10-65-29, isn't anything to write home about but he looks sure to go well this year now that he's finally getting the better of a nasty dose of Lyme disease.
Walker has just the right profile and with individual form figures reading 4-2-6 since he finished 20th at the US Masters, it's hard to see him not contending again. The 38-year-old's last victory came at the 2016 US PGA Championship but just a few months before that he won the Valero Texas Open so he's already won in his home state and he's putting really well.
I couldn't leave course specialist and two-time winner, Zach Johnson, out at odds in excess of [40.0] given he's playing OK this year and my only other picks are outsiders, Sean O'Hair and Ben Crane.
O'Hair's form is really in-and-out and he withdrew after a dreadful start to the Players last time out but he's finished seventh at the Arnold Palmer and second in the Valero Texas Open this year already and he finished second last year so he's too big at getting on for [200.0].
Ben Crane is an even more speculative punt but the 42-year-old five-time winner has plenty of form around here (three top-fives) and he's been catching my eye of late.
Jimmy Walker @ [34.0]
Zach Johnson @ [42.0]
Sean O'Hair @ [180.0]
Ben Crane @ [310.0]
I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.
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