In planning a three-ball strategy for Harding Park, I’m focusing on four particular angles. First as always in these markets, identifying a weak link. Second, power off the tee. PGA venues are never set up that penal and long-hitters will be taking driver off more tees than usual here. Third, ball-strikers are expected to go well, especially given forecast blustery conditions throughout. Finally, of course, recent form and wellbeing.
Kokrak’s ball-striking skills to pay off
Back Jason Kokrak (vs Cabrera-Bello, Ishikawa) 4u @ 7/5
None of this group can boast very much in the latter regard. We haven’t seen Ryo Ishikawa since shooting 76/77 at the Honda back in March. RCB is woefully out of form, including on courses where he had excellent previous form. Nothing special is expected from either. Jason Kokrak hasn’t put four good rounds together since finishing third at Colonial in the first post-lockdown event. One positive, however, was ranking second for greens in regulation when mid-division in last week’s WGC. He’s generally very reliable from tee-to-green and that may prove enough.
DJ to trump big name partners
Back Dustin Johnson (vs Spieth, Rose) 3u @ [2.44]
Dustin Johnson gets the nod in this group of major champions. He’s one of the bombers who should enjoy Harding Park, with a recent win in the book, whereas Spieth has become fundamentally unreliable and Rose comes in off three missed cuts. Spieth is feared as he remains a strong starter – top-15 after four of his last six opening rounds – but Dustin has also hit the ground running in majors before, fared best of these last week and also boasts the best West Coast form.
McIlroy to bounce back
Back Rory McIlroy (vs Thomas, Woods) 3u @ [2.7]
His win return in tournaments that matter to him may debunk this theory but, for me, Tiger Woods is a weak link in this company. Thomas is arguably the best in the world right now. Rory could easily reclaim that tag with a good run of events. No doubt, Thomas is the form selection but I will take a chance against him. It is never easy to follow a great performance. McIlroy hasn’t been at his best since the resumption but loves this event and won the World Matchplay at this course. I expect his long driving to pay dividends here and he’s often started majors very strongly.
Reliable long game makes Dahmen the man
Back Joel Dahmen (vs List, Perez) 3u @ 15/8
The weak link here is a player I like. Victor Perez would enjoy this challenge at his best but he hasn’t beaten 70 in four starts since the restart. Both opponents appeal and have only been differentiated on price grounds. List was on my 100 Winner shortlist as a great driver with promising recent numbers. Nevertheless I can’t have him as favourite against Dahmen, whose long game has been reliable for some time. Last week’s top-20 in WGC company was solid and on his last visit to a Californian sometimes major venue, he contended for 71 holes at Riviera.
Horschel napped against short-hitters
Back Billy Horschel (vs Stuard, Furyk) 5u @ 6/5
This is the nap. Horschel will enjoy a significant advantage over two short-hitters. He’s also in by far the best form following three straight top-25s. He has both enough length and the reliable long game to thrive here. While Furyk won on the Champions Tour last week, he’d previously been uncompetitive on the main tour, where he is at a serious disadvantage in terms of power. So is Stuard, who has missed three straight cuts.
Bryson to bounce back
Back Bryson Dechambeau (vs Fowler, Scott) 3u @ [2.4]
Finally in another very strong group, I’ll take Bryson Dechambeau to put a bad couple of weeks with his irons behind him. It is worth remembering that, prior to his last two starts, Dechambeau started with 65/67/65/66 in his previous four. His extra power must be a big plus here and I won’t be surprised if lives up to recent hype. In another scenario I could make a case for Fowler or Scott on this course, although both do have questions to answer. Rickie was disappointing yet again over the weekend whereas this is Adam’s first PGA Tour start since the break.
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