Welcome to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not) and interesting story lines. Disclaimer: My picks may suck, but I do think through the factors that may weigh in.
The PGA Tour kicks off its first event on the mainland with the Bob Hope Classic in La Quinta, California. The five-day pro-am takes place at four different venues — Silver Rock, PGA West’s Palmer Private and Nicklaus Private, and La Quinta. In the first four rounds, players are paired with an amateur group, which may include celebrities, such as NBA legends Julius Irving and George Gervin or Alice Cooper and Kurt Russell. Basically, the celeb line-up is filled with the usual suspects of former B-list stars that love golf (here’s the full list). After play finishes on Saturday, there’s a cut and the pros play a “normal” competitive round to decide the champion.
The forecast for the week calls for sun…and more sun. So, washed-out rain days won’t pop up and unless some freak weather pattern moves in, no need to worry about a Monday finish like last year. Or a 36-hole Sunday like last week. Hooray.
The atmosphere at the Hope is completely different compared to last week with amateurs in the field, according to several rookies. Scores are typically very low at this event because the pin placements are setup in easier locations to accommodate the amateurs. The “experts” say the course favors long hitters, but that’s not necessarily the case. As we all know, distance is always an advantage, but hitting fairways and greens and getting the ball in the hole is the point. Since many par-5s are relatively short, the bombers have to hit hybrids or irons off the tee. Plus, just look at the top finishers last year — Bill Haas, a medium-distance hitter, won last year. Of the three players who tied for second, Bubba Watson is the only bomber, while Tim Clark and Matt Kuchar hit a lot of fairway and greens.
Without further ado, here are my picks for this week:
Matt Kuchar: How can you not go with Mr. Consistency? Kuchar has continued his streak from being 2010’s most dependable player in his two starts in 2011. In the Hawaii swing, he notched two top-ten finishes. At the Bob Hope last year, he placed T2. KOOOOOOOCH!
GROUP A BENCHER
Rory Sabbatini: Sabbo quietly played his way to T13 at the Sony Open last week. He’s finished well at the Hope in past starts. His best performance was runner-up way back in 2000 and T10 in 2006. This is the first time he’s teeing it up at the Hope since then. Look for him to take some of the momentum from last week and improve on it this week.
Bill Haas: Gotta go with the defending champion. After the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he spent a few extra days in Maui and even went on a fishing trip. I’m assuming he practiced the rest of the week.
Bubba Watson: I’m not sure about this pick, especially since he seems to be a favorite, but he did nearly win the event (he also laid up on the par -5 No. 15, I think it was that hole?). He goes on birdie streaks and there are a lot of birdie holes out there — sometimes a par feels like a bogey!
GROUP B BENCHER
Alex Prugh: As a rookie, he finished T5 here last year. Prugh was the MVP of all tournaments in California. A native of Spokane, Washington, he seems most comfortable playing on the West Coast — or perhaps just the courses that he has a lot of experience playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour ’11 on. Last week at the Sony, Prugh came up with a decent showing, placing T20.
Brendon de Jonge: It was a toss-up between de Jonge and rookies Chris Kirk or Nate Smith, but I went with the veteran. de Jonge had a great 2010 season, so let’s see if he can continue some of that magic. He’s known to throw in a low round at least once every tournament. In other words, the dude is a birdie machine when he gets hot. And if you’re going to buy into that distance being an advantage thing, then de Jonge has that going for him, too.
Ryan Moore: He’s making his first start this year and sporting a new look with his new sponsor — Adams Golf. Moore finished T10 last year and T5 in ’08.
GROUP C BENCHER
Kevin Streelman: Almost went with Bettencourt but Intern Kevin reminded me that Streels is more consistent. Streelman placed T10 last year. He went low a few rounds, posting 63 and 64 in Friday and Saturday’s rounds. In the other five, he shot 70 or higher. I expect Moore to go low every day, so I don’t have to play my bencher, anyway.
By the way, week 1’s winners never emailed me to collect their prizes. I’ll reach out to them. But for this week, Indy Spacer in the “Wei to Go” group kicked major butt, accruing 280 points! Well done! Please email me, so I can send you a prize. Or I’ll track you down.
Alright, your turn. Who you got?