Sobel’s Fort Worth Invitational Preview: Watch the Trends

Credit:

Jasen Vinlove – USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Zach Johnson.

There’s a trend taking place on the PGA Tour, one that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

Each of the last three winners had been building up to his victory, as if the writing was scribbled all over the proverbial wall beforehand.

But it doesn’t always work that way.

 

More often than you might think, victories are hardly predictable. Maybe a player arrives at a certain course with good vibes. Maybe something clicks with his swing or short game during a Tuesday practice session.

The past three, though, if we were paying attention, could’ve been foreseen. Here are those winners, with their previous five results, in descending order from most recent:

  • Aaron Wise: 2-MC-32-41-68
  • Webb Simpson: 21-5-20-29-8
  • Jason Day: 20-32-26-2-1

That doesn’t even include Patrick Reed, who had similar strengthening performances before claiming a green jacket at the Masters.

If this current trend continues, it might converge at the intersection of Colonial Country Club, site of this week’s Fort Worth Invitational, which I’ve always thought was one of the easier events on the PGA Tour schedule to prognosticate. Why? A few reasons:

  1. Colonial is a classic fairways-and-greens type of track. At 7,209 yards, this is a track that depends on precision and accuracy more than power and distance. All those players in the bottom half of the current driving distance ranking will be licking their chops at the prospect of having a puncher’s chance this week.
  2. As an invitational, there are only 120 players in this week’s field, which might not sound like much of a difference, but even blindly picking a winner out of a hat offers a 0.83% chance, as opposed to tourneys with bigger fields of 144 (0.69%) or 156 (0.64%).

Simpson and Wise should be popular selections to back their recent titles, but I’ve identified six other players who are both trending in the right direction and should have the right game to succeed at Hogan’s Alley this week.

 1. Zach Johnson (+3500)

The two-time champion of this event, Johnson still owns the 72-hole scoring record, a mark he set back in 2010. His recent results aren’t quite up to the standard of others, but he obviously knows how to win and hasn’t missed a cut in 15 months.

But here’s what I really like about ZJ this week: He leads the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole from the fairway, his average approach from the short stuff stopping 34 feet, 3 inches away. Considering he’ll keep the ball in play off the tee, his propensity for precision should once again place him firmly in the mix at this track.

2. Emiliano Grillo (+5000)

Speaking of trends, this Argentinian’s last five events show he’s right on track to grab a second career win — and soon. Grillo has posted finishes of 37-9-16-3-50 in his last five, and while Colonial might not have fit him perfectly in the past (24th and 55th in his only two starts), it should suit him better this time around. Here’s the telling stat(s): Grillo ranks 25th in strokes gained off the tee, 23rd in strokes gained approaching the green and 24th in strokes gained tee to green. That should serve as a nice recipe for success this week.

3. Chesson Hadley (+4500)

I’ve been banging the Hadley drum for a few months, and there’s no reason to stop now. His last five starts? Oh, he’s only finished 11-16-20-7-18. No big deal. At some point, Hadley — like Grillo — is going to break through for a second victory. For a player whose ball-striking stats are off the charts this season, Colonial should offer a nice merger of course and form.

 4. Xander Schauffele (+4000)

Since I’m banging my drum, I might as well keep wailing on it for the game’s most underrated player. In recent weeks, I’ve heard arguments for Patrick Cantlay, Beau Hossler and now Wise to be included on the U.S. Ryder Cup roster this year, but I’ve barely heard a peep about X-man. All he’s done is win twice last year, including the Tour Championship, and finish in a share of second at The Players, nearly taking solo second when he almost hooped his approach on the devious final hole Sunday afternoon. It’s becoming evident that it’ll take another win for Schauffele to not be considered some two-hit wonder. He’s got a nice chance at it this week.

5. Rory Sabbatini (+9000)

At 42, the Fort Worth resident is playing some of the most inspired golf of his career. Fresh off a T-13 at the AT&T Byron Nelson, he’s been top-31 in eight of his last 11 starts. Where I really like him the most, though, is in the opening round (+7500 for first-round leader). In his last half-dozen starts, Sabbatini owns a first-round scoring average of 67.5, including FRL honors at the RBC Heritage. There’s obviously something clicking for him on Thursdays right now, and there’s no reason to think any regression is coming this week.

6. The One Who’s Fooled Me Twice

As for my last guy on this list, well, you’ve definitely heard of him. I’ve talked him up a lot in the past few weeks, to little success. But I’m not jumping off the bandwagon just yet. I’ve got a lot to say about this multiple major champion — so much that I needed to write an entirely different piece about him.

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