The best part about writing is pretending that people laugh at your jokes on the other side of communication spectrum. I mean, half the reason I do this is so I can giggle like a child while making strange jokes about the unusual, basic instincts of mankind and cheesy fries. I'd explain the cheesy fries bit, but, you know that would ruin the fun of watching your faces stare blankly ahead wondering just how many marbles I've lost today. The answer is six. Six marbles lost.
Risk and Reward
Back on planet Earth, where relevant things happen to significant people that affect the golf world in the same way that a butterfly's wings can cause a nuclear holocaust in some sort of awkwardly mistaken time-space paradox, Phil Mickelson has been entangled in a money laundering scheme. I'm sure that's where I should have started this week's column, but then I wouldn't have started on something actually relevant. To be fair, this probably should be significantly more concerning to golf fans, especially since everyone got up into a tizzy about Tiger Wood's (admittedly many) affairs, but its not. Why? Phil reminds you of your dad. Constantly egging you on to take the hero shot, that most-definitely-will-not-damage-those-car-windows shot when you're playing against him. Only he knows it will and he'll pick up a few strokes on the back nine while laughing his tail off to the bank with your allowance money. Tiger, for all his world-beating skill, never managed to be affable, never quite the guy you'd like to play 18 with and lose to miserably. Phil, on the other hand, just smiles as he takes your gambling money and somehow makes you feel okay about it.
This week's Greenbrier Classic at The Old White TPC is more than just a pun for what most people think of when they think of golf, its one of the TOUR's newest tournaments. Beginning in 2010, the Greenbrier Classic's 7,289 yard par-70 replace the Buick Open in the summer rotation as General Motors backed away from non-essential operations in the wake of the financial meltdown. With such little data (comparatively), trends will be a little tougher to identify coming into this week, just the sixth edition of the tournament.
What I do know is that the Greenbrier tends to be a low scoring affair that favors, but not overly so, length off the tee combined with solid ball-striking. Excellent putters don't seem to have much of an advantage, after all, when was the last time you said Angel Cabrera, Scott Stallings, Ted Potter, Stuart Appleby, or Jonas Blixt were great putters?
For those of you not familiar with my Power Rankings, I'll be listing the Top-15 with their Total Aggregate (TA), a number that combines recent performance with course history and some select other metrics, and the change (CHG) from the last tournament they participated in. Total Aggregate is out of 100, with a lower number indicating a better ranking.
- Tony Finau - TA: 28.25, CHG: (-1.8) - Finau gets a rare nod as back-to-back rankings leader. This will like wind up like the Madden curse, wherein he'll spontaneous combust at some point though the weekend. Given that he's a rookie and his last 6 starts have seen him finish at 25th or better, I'm willing to ignore his lack of prior experience. Added bonus, like when you get two cherries in your Manhattan, Finau's statistical profile sets up well here.
- Kevin Chappell - TA: 28.35, CHG: (+10.8) - As Metallica once said, "Pay no mind to the distant thunder". Chappell's withdrawal from the Travelers Championship had nothing to do with injury and that 46th place finish at the U.S. Open belies form that seemed to be finally getting back on track after a dismal start and middle to his season. If I had taken a screenshot of his stats three months ago, I could show you the difference as well. I didn't, because I'm mostly useless, but his driving accuracy has improved nearly five percentage points.
- Pat Perez - TA: 29.13, CHG: (-9.2) - You might as well grab another glass of water, because I won't be backing off the spit-takes much. In four tries, Perez is 4-for-4 with two Top 10s and a Top 30 at the Old White. He's coming in on point, too, having made his last 7 cuts with while only finishing worse than 26th once. While he's not especially long off the tee any more, Perez hits every other necessary stat like he was built for this place.
- Paul Casey - TA: 30.625, CHG: (+1.4) - Last time Casey lost in a playoff, he backed it up with a third place finish in his next tournament. Lights-out from tee-to-green, Casey is peaking just in time for a course that should mitigate his average putting. He's on everyone's radar this week, and for good reason.
- Graham DeLaet - TA: 31.00, CHG: (+19.2) - Yeah, yeah, I'll get to Bubba in a moment. I'm still liking his two nearest competitors from last week a little more, with Graham getting the lesser nod. While DeLaet lead in GIR for much of last year and has dropped off some though 2015, he's improved in nearly every other statistical category. As an average putter, he should excel in a week where tee-to-green is critical.
- Robert Streb - TA: 32.14, CHG: (+11.6) - His driving accuracy and driving distance are down slightly versus last year, where he narrowly missed being part of the 300/60 club and that seems to be where his trouble has been since winning and fathering his first child. Looking back at his weekly stats, Streb seems to have turned it around just after a dismal outing at the Masters. Since then, he hasn't had a week where he's hit less than 65 percent of greens and 57 percent of fairways. As a result, he's 6-of-7 since, with a Top 5, two Top 20s and a Top 30.
- Bubba Watson - TA: 33.57, CHG: (+7.4) - Bubba has only ever finished once in the Top 10 in a week following a victory. Given his highly emotional personality, I'm not surprised that winning seems to take a lot out of him. While that's hardly the most scientific method for assessing Bubba, know that in two tries here, he's never finished in the Top 15 either. Of course, both of those finishes were 16th and 30th, so not bad, but given how expensive he'll be in most formats, there should be better plays.
- Kevin Na - TA: 33.75, CHG: (-13.2) - Do not make a monster where a mouse lurks. His missed cut at the Travelers provided Na with ample opportunity to recoup some energy after playing through the weekend at Chambers Bay before flying cross-country to Connecticut. Na is 3-for-3 here with a Top 10 to his name, so don't count him out.
- Bill Haas - TA: 34, CHG: (-13.8) - I'm willing to forgive him MC at the U.S. Open, definitely not his type of course. On the other hand, I'd like to have the few bucks back I had down on some lineups with him in it. Fortunately, I'll have that chance this weekend, since I'll have Bill Haas on a course where he's comfortable that also happens to alleviate his mediocre putting. Prior to the U.S. Open, Haas was 6-for-6 with three Top 20s and a Top 5. Add in a 4-for-4 slate with a Top 35, Top 25, Top 10 and Playoff loss, and he a must Haas.
- Webb Simpson - TA: 35.25, CHG: (+1) - Hard to ignore a history like his, but that was before he switched back to a conventional putter. Given the Old White TPC's ability to turn middling putters into winner, I wouldn't be shocked if Simpson pulls it off given his three Top 10s in his last four starts here. It also helps that he's downright dangerous from tee-to-green.
- Keegan Bradley - TA: 36.125, CHG: (+2.6) - Speaking of putter changes, Keegan Bradley has been riding that same ship. Only better. Bradley is 111th in Strokes-Gained: Putting, whereas Simpson is 176th. Only a slight difference. Only reason Keegs isn't ranked higher is his weaker course history, where he's 3-for-3 but has just one finish better than 43rd - a fourth place finish in last year's edition.
- George McNeill - TA: 36.75, CHG: (-16.6) - Avast ye cruel fate! Harken mine anger and consummate thine mother! McNeill couldn't have come into the U.S. Open any hotter and yet, he still missed the cut by a mile. Putting well and driving well, he looked sharp, but his poor history in majors proved to be too much to overcome. So here we are, coming off an abysmal finish into a tournament where he's had relative success with a Top 20 and a solo-second. If the value is there, give him a go.
- Steven Bowditch - TA: 39.75, CHG: (+17) - You don't fly much further under the radar than two-time TOUR winner Steven Bowditch. Given his past bouts with clinical depression, I'm not surprised he seems to prefer staying out of the limelight. While it is still factored in to his Total Aggregate, I'm willing to excuse his 79th place finish last year, seemingly still shaking off the surprise of his first win several week prior. This year, he's playing exceptionally well coming in, something he hasn't done much leading into a tournament where he holds a second place finish.
- Jon Curran - TA: 41.625, CHG: (+18) - That Curran is the closest rookie to Tony Finau says quite a bit about Finau's red-hot form. It also says that he shouldn't be used as a basis of comparison and, as such, Curran is playing very well for a rookie right now. Five Top 10s on the season have him essentially locked to keep his card for next season. His weakness, mitigated somewhat by the less-than-absurd length of the Greenbrier Classic, is his driving distance, measuring a measly 272 yards a blast. Curran makes up for it, however, with accuracy from tee box to green.
- Kevin Kisner - TA: 42.33, CHG: (+3.2) - Hottest player without a win right now but he's never made the cut in his three attempts at The Old White. That'll kill your TA, kids. Kisner hasn't relented since a playoff loss at the RBC Heritage, going on a run that includes a playoff loss to Rickie Fowler at the Players, a Top 5 at Colonial, a Top 10 at the Memorial, and a T12 at a very difficult U.S. Open. Every time I've picked against course history, I've had my teeth kicked in, so start with some caution. Just know that if you're like me, the week you leave him benched is the week he wins.
Thanks for reading and don't forget to sign up to play against me at GoDraft!