Crunchsports.com's guide to the 2012 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
Masters Champion Bubba Watson returns to action this week as defending champion in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, having beaten Webb Simpson in a play-off 12 months ago.
Joining them on the tee are a couple of Englishmen in Luke Donald, who is the bookmakers' favourite, and Justin Rose.
A decent prize fund ensures there's plenty of strength in depth behind them, with (in order of favouritism) Keegan Bradley, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner and Graeme McDowell also teeing up.
The course itself is a longish par-72 measuring 7,425 yards but its main defence are the small and undulating Bermuda greens. In the six times it has hosted this event, it's ranked as one of the most difficult on Tour in terms of proximity to the hole, and players are going to need to hit a precision iron shot to set up decent birdie opportunities. Another factor this week is the weather as a sustained breeze (15mph) is forecast for the weekend.
My Three Against the Field:-
You wouldn't rule out another win for Watson as he has the best form on offer here, but whether he can handle the media circus that will follow his every move remains to be seen. Donald is the highest-ranked player in the world in the field at No.2 but he flopped at Augusta and hasn't looked totally on his game this season, which is a comment that applies to both Simpson and Stricker. Besides, this event is proving to be one of the most wide open on Tour and while Watson was backable last year, the previous six winners were all big prices.
I'm therefore delving well down the betting list for the winner and I've stopped first at Tringale, who has finished in the top-10 on his last two starts (Houston Open and Texas Open) and was tied-18th here 12 months ago. He would be a first time winner but that was the case with Andres Romero in 2008 and Chris Couch before him, and his accurate iron play (ranked 35th for greens hit) should ensure he stands over plenty of birdie putts. What's really to like, though, is his price of 60/1 which is a full 20 points more than Ladbrokes' quote and that looks nearer the mark.
Regular golf punters/followers will be familiar with the name of English, who has been popping up on leaderboards all season in what is his rookie year. A top-10 finish at the RBC Heritage two starts back was his fifth top-25 finish of the season and while he's still a bit raw around the edges, you sense he's got the talent to convert this good play into a win, with the doubts over the market leaders making it more likely to come this week. His 2012 stats give plenty of encouragement too as he's 9th for driving distance, 25th for greens in regulation and 15th for birdie average.
The American also looks overpriced considering his share of eighth place last week, when he was tied-5th in greens hit and 24th in strokes gained putting. Granted, that was a big improvement on his previous form this season but it only takes a slight change in technique or tempo to turn around a players form, and it's amazing what a couple of good rounds (he opened with a bogey-free 66 and closed with a 67) can do for your confidence.
It was a similar story here last year - bogey-free first and third rounds of 69 and 70 - on his way to 20th place and that experience will stand him in good stead. Again, Ladbrokes are shortest at 80/1 and his three-figure price could look silly at the weekend. But why wait until then as he looks a knocking good bet in the First Round Leader market too at 125/1 with Paddy Power (66/1 Ladbrokes).