We're off to a classic old course in California this week for the WGC Cadillac Match Play Championship where our man fancies Justin Rose to have another great week. Read The Punter's in-depth preview here...
"Rose’s draw looks good, his match play record is strong, he has a reasonable bank of form in California and he’s playing at the top of his game. I know it’s never easy to win back-to-back but he looks like a decent price to me."
The WGC Cadillac Match Play was first staged in 1999 when Jeff Maggert beat Andrew Magee in what couldn't have been described as a glamorous final.
After two years at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California, the tournament headed Down Under to the Metropolitan Golf Club in Victoria but few of the games stars made the journey and plans for the event to be nomadic were soon scraped.
The event has been played in the States ever since and this year it moves from Dove Mountain in Arizona, where it's been staged for the last six years, to the TPC Harding Park in California. And the venue isn't the only thing new, the format has changed too.
This event hasn't been without its teething problems. First we had the failed attempt to travel the globe and in recent years we've had constant murmurings that the majority of players didn't like Dove Mountain, but the biggest problem was sponsorship.
The old straight knockout format saw many a star name on their way home after just one day and that's not ideal for the players or the sponsors so something had to change. I used to quite enjoy the first round, with 32 matches creating all sorts of shocks but I did tend to lose interest as the event progressed and although I didn't think so to begin with, I now think they've done the right thing to change it. Everyone gets to play at least three matches now, so players and sponsors are both happy and it should safeguard the tournament for many years to come.
This is the last year that Cadillac dips into their coffers but Dell are already signed up for the next four years so the decision to change from a straight knockout to a group format has already been vindicated.
The tournament is supposed to be for the top-64 in the world rankings but Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald and Tim Clark will all be absent.
The top-16 ranked players are all seeded and have been kept apart in 16 groups. Over the first three days, starting on Wednesday, each player in each group plays each other to determine who progresses. If any of the groups end in a tie, the head-to-head match result will determine which player advances and if three players in a group are tied, the group winner will be determined via a playoff.
On Saturday morning the winners of each group meet in the round of 16, as per the draw here, with the quarter-finals being staged on Saturday afternoon. The semi-finals and final, as well as the third place playoff, or consolation match, will be played on Sunday.
I know we're going to miss all the dramatic carnage that day one used to produce but after initial reservations, I think the new format may well be an improvement. Even if your selections get beat on day one they can still win the tournament, Friday should be fairly entertaining as all the group winners are decided and Saturday should make for great viewing.
TPC Harding Park, San Francisco, California
Par 71, 7,127 yards
Named after President Warren G Harding and designed in 1925 by Scottish architect, Willie Watson, Harding Park is a municipal course surrounded on three sides by Lake Merced.
It hosted the old Lucky International Open on the PGA Tour back in the 1960s which was won by some famous names. Gary Player, Billy Casper, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and Ken Venturi, who actually played his first ever round of golf there, all won the Lucky International and Harding Park is also where Johnny Miller learnt to play the game.
It fell into disrepair for 20 years with the magnificent Cypress trees growing out of control, blocking out the greens and rendering the course almost unplayable but in the late 1990s San Francisco lawyer, and former USGA President, Sandy Tatum, raised $16 million to get the course back on track.
Since then it's staged a number of big events, including the Presidents Cup in 2009, three Charles Schwab Championships on the Champions Tour and another WGC Event - the 2005 Cadillac Championship (then known as the American Express) won by Tiger Woods in a playoff over John Daly.
Harding Park will also be the venue for the 2020 USPGA Championship.
It's a parkland course and the first nine holes are more sheltered than the back-nine. The second nine loops around the front-nine with seven holes directly adjacent to the lake, so those holes can be far more wind affected.
Live on Sky Sports all five days, starting on Wednesday.
Last Five Winners
2014 - Jason Day
2013 - Matt Kuchar
2012 - Hunter Mahan
2011 - Luke Donald
2010 - Ian Poulter
What Will it Take to Win The WGC Cadillac Match Play?
The 2005 WGC Cadillac leaderboard was littered with great European ball-strikers which could tell us something. Henrik Stenson, Colin Montgomerie Sergio Garcia, David Howell and Graeme McDowell were all placed inside the top-six and ties and accurate types like David Toms, Stephen Ames, Stuart Appleby and Luke Donald all finished tied 11th or better.
The course is almost certain to be wind-affected at some point over the five days and it might pay to side with accuracy over power. The greens are described as flat so that may help the poorer putters a bit and keep an eye on those with a connection to California. Growing up in the Golden State and playing on the unique coastal courses there is a huge advantage.
That result from 2005 suggests accurate, neat and tidy players may be advantaged and that's the sort of game I like for match play anyway. Dove Mountain (used for the last six years) is a very long course but year after year the neat and tidy players, that don't take unnecessary risks and throw holes away, have fared well. I suspect they'll far even better here.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Emphatically yes. With numerous day one shocks caused by a straight off knockout draw, many would suggest this tournament has always been a bit of a lottery but it's been far from that and now they've changed the format to help stop the better players from getting eliminated immediately, it's even less of a lottery.
Jason Day was just a 20/1 shot last year and, Hunter Mahan, three years ago, who was matched at 60.059/1 before the off, is the biggest priced winner we've had since Geoff Ogilvy won the first of his two titles way back in 2006. The only genuinely surprising winner in the event's entire history was Kevin Sutherland in 2002.
Steve Stricker caused a bit of a surprise when winning in 2001 but he's subsequently proven to be an esteemed Ryder Cup player and even inaugural champion, Jeff Maggert, who went off at 81.080/1, appeared in three Ryder Cups, and that's the best place to start.
Previous experience of the pressure cooker atmosphere of the Ryder Cup has so far proven invaluable. Two years ago, six of the last eight were all experienced Ryder Cuppers and Robert Garrigus, who succumbed to eventual winner, Matt Kuchar 3 & 2 in the quarter-finals, was the only one that could be described as not having significant team match play experience. The other non Ryder-Cupper was last year's winner, Day, but he had plenty of Presidents Cup experience anyway.
The last seven winners have not only been great match play specialists, they've also had previous event form in the bag. It's oh so easy to be seduced by great players at huge odds but if they haven't shown any event form yet you may need to worry and if they've got no event form and haven't played in the Ryder Cup either or at the very least, the Presidents Cup, you may have to think again.
Look at the list of winners over the last five years and there's a pattern. They're all top-class players that don't win as often as they should in stroke play events. This is a very different format and players don't have to worry about how umpteen others are doing elsewhere on the course. They have just one opponent to beat and some of the most difficult to win with in stroke play thrive in this format. If you're a little concerned about someone you fancy to play well's temperament in-the-mix, don't let it put you off in this event.
There were plenty of turnarounds in last year's tournament - Jason Day led by three in the final and was matched at just 1.021/50 before throwing his lead away and eventually winning at the fifth extra hole and we could see even more of that sort of thing this time around. With the two nines contrasting, with the back-nine more exposed than the front-nine, we could see quite a few matches swing this year.
Don't be too disheartened if your pick or picks lose on day one. At last year's Volvo World Match Play Championship, played in a similar format with groups of four, where admittedly two from each group qualified, only one of the 16 competitors, Joost Luiten, didn't lose a group match. A defeat in the group stage is far from fatal and if those stats are anything to go by, it's almost inevitable.
The man everyone wanted to avoid this week is Jordan Spieth. The US Masters champ has now had a week off after a hectic run of events that saw him win both the Valspar Championship as well as his first major, And for good measure, he finished runner-up twice in between his two victories and 11th at The Heritage last time out when running on fumes after his success at Augusta.
I fancy he'll get through his group, where he faces Lee Westwood, Matt Every and Mikko Ilonen but it could get very tricky after that. He looks set to meet Patrick Reed in the round of 16 and should he safely negotiate his way to the quarter-finals, the chances are he'll meet in-form defending champion, Jason Day or dangerous Spaniard, Sergio Garcia.
Add the fact that he could very easily experience a bit of a lull after his incredible run of form and his lack of match play experience and I'm happy to leave him out.
My initial feeling was that Rory McIlroy should be favourite here and that he may even be worth a bet at a double-figure price but one thing really puts me off. He's drawn with out of form pair, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Dufner and FedEx Cup winner, Billy Horschel, so on paper he has every chance of progressing but why does he not play in California?
I could be reading far too much into it but he's only played in the state twice. He missed the cut in the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach and again in the 2012 edition at the Olympic Club and that's enough to put me off.
Jason Day is the firm third favourite but he's plenty short enough for me. He has to overcome yesterday's poor finish at the Zurich Classic, and he doesn't have the kindest of draws, and it's always a big ask to defend a title.
Spieth apart, nobody enters the week in better form than Justin Rose, who's my only play in his half of the draw. He overcame the disappointment of finishing second at the US Masters with an emphatic victory in New Orleans yesterday and he looks very fairly priced at anything over 20.019/1.
He looks to have been granted a reasonably easy draw with Ryan Palmer, Anirban Lahiri and Marc Leishman his opponents in the group stage. Should he progress, he faces a potentially awkward opponent in the shape of his mate Ian Poulter in the round of 16 but I'd have Rose a strong favourite to win that encounter, despite Poults' match play prowess.
The pair are by no means certain to meet even if Rose does get through as Poulter's group looks really tough. Jimmy Walker and Webb Simpson both have great records in California and Gary Woodland is no forlorn hope either.
If Rose gets through to the last eight and the draw goes the way of the seeds, he'll meet either Henrik Stenson or Matt Kuchar before facing Day, Garcia, Spieth or Reed in the semis. Not easy on paper, but that looks the toughest quarter and if one of the four seeds does make it all the way to the last four, they might be on the wane.
Rose's draw looks good, his match play record is strong, he has a reasonable bank of form in California and he's playing at the top of his game. I know it's never easy to win back-to-back but he looks like a decent price to me.
I've gone with just Rose on that side of the draw but I've gone for three in the other half and first up is former Ryder Cupper - Paul Casey.
Casey is a vastly experienced match play exponent - he's been to three Ryder Cups, two WGC Cadillac finals and he's won a Volvo Match Play. He's in fine form at present and having missed this tournament the last three years, he'll be chomping at the bit on Wednesday when he meets Chris Kirk in his opening group match. In addition to Kirk, Adam Scott and Francesco Molinari will prove tough adversaries but I fancy Casey is more than a match for any of them on current form and if he gets out of the group he could go all the way to the final, as he did in both 2009 and 2010.
Graeme McDowell is one of a handful of men in the field with course form in the book, having finished tied 6th here in 2005. He's another with bags of Ryder Cup experience and a Volvo Match Play title to his name and he's already won a major in California - the 2010 US Open. He's not in the best of form and his draw looks tough. He's alongside Rickie fowler, Shane Lowry and Harris English but if he can squeeze past them he can get on a roll and I thought 60.059/1 was more than fair.
And finally, he hasn't got much match play experience and he's drawn in with the world number one, Rory McIlroy, but I though bold and brash Billy Horschel was just worth chancing at a triple-figure price.
He's never played any team match play and he's only played in this event once but even though he didn't get past round two, he didn't do too badly. He thrashed Jamie Donaldson in round one 6 & 5 last year before eventually losing out to eventual winner, Jason Day at the fourth extra hole. It's a big ask, but if Rory does flop and Billy gets on a roll, he's just the type to thrive in this format.
Justin Rose @ 23.022/1
Paul Casey @ 42.041/1
Graeme McDowell @ 60.059/1
Billy Horschel @ 100.099/1
I'm taking a week off this week but there'll still be lots of In-Play comment throughout the week and I'll be back next Monday with my De-brief.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter