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“We are past the time of superior and inferior product lines”

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What was true, still is true and is likely becoming even more true is this: equipment doesn’t make any difference. Or perhaps more correctly, when analyzed with a single criteria of performance, the consumer has more choices now than ever before, all of which are top-shelf options.

You may decide to file that little bit of wisdom in the “duh” file. I know I’m treading on hallowed ground here and I’m certainly not one to claim I haven’t fallen victim to a marketing scheme or two. But if we look at the golf industry at a macro level, the real story is parity. No one makes a bad product and in fact, pretty much every major original equipment manufacturer turns out high-quality products worthy of play by the most demanding players in the world: touring professionals.

We are past the time of superior and inferior product lines. Many of us still remember Phil Mickelson’s back-handed compliment to Tiger Woods calling Tiger’s Nike equipment “inferior.” But that was 10 years ago, and my how times have changed.

Now demand for certain product lines is now largely a function of perception, customization and past behavior. As such, we’ve also witnessed market consolidation and OEM’s playing their own version of “anything you can do, I can do pretty much the same thing.” Call it shared technology or imitation, either way we certainly in a place where “it’s all good.”

Golf Balls

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In late 2000, Titleist released its ProV1 ball in Las Vegas. Its game-changing ball marked a paradigm shift from wound-core balls to solid-core balls. Billy Andrade won that event in Vegas and the race to catch up to Titleist was on. Unfortunately, for all would-be suitors, Titleist was well down the road and to this day still holds nearly 50 percent of the ball market worldwide. It’s a pretty nice complement when TaylorMade CEO Mark King commented, “We’re not going to get into a fight with Titliest, at least not for the ball. It’s what they do. They would defend it till their death.” Enough said.

Don’t let the market dominance figures lead you to believe that the performance difference is anything but razor thin. Last year’s FedExCup winner, Brandt Snedeker, is just fine with his Bridgestone Tour B330 ball and nearly $15 million in 2012 earnings. Bridgestone has been producing golf balls since 1935 and most people don’t realize that Nick Price won the 1994 PGA Championship and 1994 British Open using a solid core ball from Precept (division of Bridgestone). Currently, Bridgestone, the No. 1 ball fitter in golf, offers four Tour-level solid core balls.

Callaway got into the ball market in 2000 by hiring Chuck Yash, formerly with TaylorMade. During the last decade, Callaway has expanded its offerings partnering with aerodynamic specialists at Boeing to determine efficient and effective dimple patterns. Currently, Callaway offers a Tour-level ball for higher swing speeds (Hex Black) and one for lower swing speeds (Hex Chrome). They’ve recently also added the HEX Chrome +, which fits in between.

Wedges

index

Inspired by the personal airplane of tycoon Howard Hughes, Gene Sarazen developed the blueprint for the modern sand-wedge. This was the late 1920s. In 1988, Cleveland golf introduced its fifth generation wedge, the 588. They looked basically the same. Now, most OEM’s (Titleist, Cleveland, Nike, Mizuno, etc.) offer multiple lofts, bounce options, grinds and finishes.

For those desiring a wedge-experience once reserved only for Tour pros, Titleist offers its WedgeWorks program. Wedge guru Bob Vokey and his team will build you a one-of-a-kind wedge with your choice of loft, grind, finish and stampings. Titleist launched this initiative in August of 2011, and soon thereafter Cleveland followed suit with its iteration, aptly named “My custom wedge.” Of course, this level of service isn’t anything new for customers of Scratch golf, the boutique brand which started in 2003 and whose motto “Your game customized” defines their entire business model.

Irons

Titleist AP2 710

There have always been myriad options for players wanting maximum workability and minimum forgiveness. Like many of you, I have fond memories of my Wilson staff blades, Hogan Apex blades, Mizuno MP-29s and well, you get the idea. Fast forward to the new millenium:

In 2008, Titleist introduced the AP2 (Advanced Performance) line of irons, which endeavored to broach the players category of irons buy offering tour level workability while maintaining the solid feel of a forged iron and increased forgiveness on mis-hits. In order to accomplish this, Titleist used multiple materials including forged steel (feel), tungsten weights (increased MOI) and an elastomer insert (vibration dampening and optimal sound). According to Titleist, the result is an iron with great feel, Tour-level workability and a traditional players appearance from address or in laymen’s terms, an iron any really really good golfer will love.

Titleist got the early jump in the category, but here’s a few products from other OEMs that are in the same category as the AP2’s:

Fairway Woods

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Whether you call it a fairway wood or a “fairway metal,” this category was once more about reliability than distance. It was in this environment that Tour Edge Exotics found a niche market and a cult following. The “CB” series of fairway metals featured a titanium combo-brazed face and hyper-steel body, both attributes still found in the fifth edition (CB5) of the player-oriented fairway wood. The company touted it as the longest fairway metal available, even offering a money-back guarantee. And it’s easy to offer a guarantee when you’re right. However, without a connection to a major OEM and a comparatively higher price tag, the company simply couldn’t access a majority of this newfound market.

Enter TaylorMade “RocketBallz,” or RBZ. They debuted in 2012 and promised golfers 17 yards of increased fairway metal distance. Heck, Phil Mickelson the face of Callaway, even put an RBZ 3 wood in play until Callaway could come up with something to kick it out. This year, RBZ Stage 2 fairway woods are promising 10 more yards on top of the 17 from last year, an assertion the OEM no doubt believes is “ballz-ier” than before. In addition, Callaway promotes its new X Hot line of fairway metals to be “longer from everywhere.”

Also, building on momentum from 2012 and its acquisition by TaylorMade, Adams has fixed a couple quality control issues in its distance fairway line (XTD) with the Super LS series that have a characteristic time (CT) that approaches 250. The legal limit as set by the USGA is 256.

Hybrids

Adams Super S Hybrids

In 2002, TaylorMade produced one of the first hybrids, the Rescue Mid, that gained significant acceptance on professional tours. But it has been Adams Golf that has built a loyal and significant following on the senior PGA Tour and now is the most played hybrid worldwide.

Right now, it’s impossible to find an OEM that doesn’t offer some kind of hybrid or rescue in its current line. They’re longer, more attractive and more versatile than previous models across the board.

Driver

Cobra AMP Cell drivers

TaylorMade introduced MWT (moveable weight technology) in 2004 with the R7 quad driver. Naysayers labeled the club gimmicky and over-hyped marketing snake oil. Such armchair analysts general fail to mention that the R7 was used in 50 percent of victories on the PGA Tour that year. While this was a significant departure from the rest of the driver industry, it was nothing compared to what TaylorMade did in 2011. Call it the great golfing whiteout. TaylorMade introduced the R11 with a matte white club head. Black was out and white was in. It almost seemed antithetical, or sacrilege or something, but it was definitely different.

The R11 also had MWT, ASP (an adjustable sole plate) and the ability to change effective loft, lie and shaft via its FCT (Flight Control Technology). The gauntlet had been laid down.

Again, skeptics decried the new white paint and called it uglier than sin; a fad with less shelf-life than a Kardashian marriage. TaylorMade went on to lead world-wide usage in 2011, an exclamation point on a decade of dominance. In 2013, TaylorMade debuted the its R1, a white-headed driver with crown graphics. Also into colored drivers is Cobra (blue, silver, white, red, black and orange), Nike Covert (Red), Adams LS (white) and Callaway (matte grey).

Putter

Yes! Putters

Putters are as individual as the player themselves. They’re function over form, more art than science — or so we thought. Patented on March 21, 1967, the Ping Anser putter is the most emulated putter design of all time. Scotty Cameron has had success with its similar Newport and Newport 2 putters, while Odyssey calls its version simply #2. That being said, the Anser is still the bar, still the blueprint to which all similar putters will be compared. It’s kind of like when a brand becomes so powerful, you forget to remember it’s a brand; think Band-Aid, Kleenex, ChapStick, Q-Tip and Anser.

Lately, there’s been a trend of “grooved” putter faces. What began in 1995 with C-Groove technology lead by European putter designer Harold Swash, has now led to textured or “grooved” putter faces from nearly every manufacturer.

The Takeaway

No matter how you slice this pie or skin this cat, each and every major OEM is gold-list worthy in the court of public opinion, and more importantly on the course where incomes are earned. Contrarians will say that equipment contracts are all about money, and to a degree this is true. However, money in the absence of performance simply does not jive in this game of meritocracy. The player who chases short term money in place of long term success will only realize the former. As much as some of us like to debate the minutia of spec tolerances, grinds, finishes and the endless list of what differentiates one product from another, the simple truth is you and I would have the same handicap regardless of where our OEM allegiances lie.

We know there are lies, damn lies and statistics, but consider this:

World Rankings (as of March 1, 2013) by primary OEM sponsor

1. Nike
2. Nike
3. Mizuno
4. Bridgestone
5. Ping
6. TaylorMade
7. Titleist
8. Bridgestone
9. Ping
10. Cobra
11. Ping
12. Callaway
13. Titleist
14. Nike
15. Titleist
16. Titleist
17. TaylorMade
18. Srixon/Cleveland
19. Srixon/Cleveland
20. TaylorMade
21. Ping
22. TaylorMade
23. Nike
24. Callaway
25. TaylorMade

I know the sample size isn’t ideal, so take it for what it’s worth, but based on the top-25 players in the world:

4 play Nike
2 play Srixon/Clevland
1 plays Mizuno
2 play Callaway
5 play Taylor Made
4 play Titleist
4 play Ping
1 plays Cobra
2 play Bridgestone

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I didn't grow up playing golf. I wasn't that lucky. But somehow the game found me and I've been smitten ever since. Like many of you, I'm a bit enthusiastic for all things golf and have a spouse which finds this "enthusiasm" borderline ridiculous. I've been told golf requires someone who strives for perfection, but realizes the futility of this approach. You have to love the journey more than the result and relish in frustration and imperfection. As a teacher and coach, I spend my days working with amazing middle school and high school student athletes teaching them to think, dream and hope. And just when they start to feel really good about themselves, I hand them a golf club!

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Pingback: Considering A Macgregor Tourney Junior Individual Woods

  2. dg7936

    Aug 10, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    There may be MORE well-made products available today: however there are many more gimmicky products on the market also. Comparing product lines from the 80’s, most manufacturers had a small number of iron and wood models to manufacture versus the wide range of products available today..hybrids, gap and lob wedges, high-tech balls, exotic putters. So all of these may be well-made but will never create the following of the older companies who specialized in truly excellent products…hogan/macgregor/ram irons, powerbilt citation woods, etc etc. We have a more democratic market but also more marketing. Which does not really work, as the average handicap has remained the same for 20+ years. So where is the benefit to the average joe?

  3. undermined

    Apr 26, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    All this “history” and no mention of Wilson or MacGregor. Wilson is still around and makes outstanding forged irons and nice wedges.

  4. G

    Apr 12, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Except for the crap you can still buy at places like Walmart, Kmart, Target, Sports Authority, Sport Chalet, etc etc……. you know, them places where they still sell the inferior brands?

    This article is bogus.

  5. DJ Golf

    Apr 3, 2013 at 2:54 am

    When everyone is special, no one is special.

  6. Matt

    Mar 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Fact is Tiger switched from titleist also….everyone usually does.

    Rory will figure it out!

    Tiger did

    • PAul Roberts

      Apr 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Very true, however it took Tiger years’s to switch to a bag full of Nike (forget the putter), He went with Nike driver and ball but still used Titleist woods, irons and wedges for a few years until Nike built what he wanted/liked.

  7. lbholly

    Mar 27, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    I’m Calling BS on all the history in this article you obviously knew nothing of the golf business pre 2008

  8. gunmetal

    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Not to mention all of the offerings from brands that don’t pay pros to use their products…Wishon, KZG, Miura, Scratch, Scor, etc. All of that stuff is just as good as pay for play stuff, just not as recognizable.

  9. Rich

    Mar 24, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Great article. Funny how a companies like mizuno,bridgestone, and cobra are in the top 25 yet they barely pay anyone out there to play their clubs unlike other companies!

    • NG

      Mar 25, 2013 at 4:49 am

      They would too, if they could….

    • footwedge

      Mar 27, 2013 at 10:03 am

      Also, the big brands that have many players on their payroll should be winning a proportinately larger share of tourneys, buy they don’t. Equalized statistics will emphasize the fact that no brand is far superior, regardless of their marketing budget.

    • marionmg

      Feb 15, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      I wouldn’t say Bridgestone barely paid DL3 to leave Titleist…just sayin’

  10. Gabbo

    Mar 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Good article. While there has been a lot of innovation the past 10 years, the overwhelming majority of stuff out made the last 5 years is REALLY good. And with a soft used market, everybody has access to excellent equipment for dirt cheap.

    It’s a far cry from 20 years ago where you either ponied up big $$$ for top notch clubs or were stuck playing truly inferior discount clubs and clones.

  11. chris

    Mar 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Would agree from a pros perspective where they are fitted with the best of the best. From a retail perspective, fit and finish, quality of components (including real and made for shafts), and clubs built true to specs are miles apart. Most OEMs can’t even get the grips on straight….

  12. Todd

    Mar 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    How can you put Nike as the world #1 (Rory) when he has been anything but since the switch. He earned the spot with Titleist, he is giving it away with Nike.

    • Blanco

      Mar 23, 2013 at 11:15 pm

      The author’s made a simple list showing who sponsors each player in the top 25… not an endorsement.

      Keep beating the ‘Titleist rules/Rory’s a sellout’ to death–

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s LIV Golf Jeddah betting preview: Course specialist ready to steal the show in Saudi

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LIV Golf makes its third stop at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City this week to play LIV Golf Jeddah. 

Royal Greens Golf & Country Club is a par-72 that measures 7,010 yards. There is plenty of water on the course and it features large greens and numerous sand traps. The fairways are Zoysia grass and the greens are Paspalum. The course has hosted several prestigious events in the past including the Saudi International, LIV Golf Jeddah, the Aramco Team Series and the Aramco Saudi Ladies International. The course is undoubtedly one of the best tracks that the Middle East has to offer. 

LIV Jeddah will be absolutely loaded with storylines this week. Perhaps the most exciting of them all is the return of Anthony Kim to professional golf.

Last seen at Quail Hollow in the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, the golf world often wondered aloud what ever happened to the charismatic party boy who once played a major role in the United States 2008 Ryder Cup win at Valhalla, thrashing Ryder Cup legend Sergio Garcia 5&4 in a singles match.

Six months later, “AK” made eleven birdies in a single round at Augusta National, shooting a -7 (65). The following year, Kim would finish 3rd at The Masters.

Kim was a “can’t miss” star who was poised to be near the top of the world rankings for the next decade. Until he wasn’t.

Starting in around 2010, injuries started to derail AK, causing him to have surgery on his Achilles tendon in June of 2012.

Reportedly, the then 26-year-old cashed in on an insurance policy that paid him somewhere between $10 and $20 million, which would force him into retirement.

Twelve years later, Kim will be playing at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club beginning on Friday this week.

There is still a great deal of mystery regarding what’s occurred in the past twelve years, but reports indicate that Kim is receiving somewhere between $5 and $10 million to sign with LIV Golf.

Details aside, Kim’s return to golf should be absolutely captivating.

Past Winners at LIV Jeddah

  • 2023: Brooks Koepka (-14)
  • 2022: Brooks Koepka (-12)

Past Winners at the Saudi International

    • 2023: Abraham Ancer (-19)
    • 2022:Harold Varner III (-13)
    • 2021: Dustin Johnson (-15)
    • 2020: Graeme McDowell (-12)
    • 2019: Dustin Johnson (-19)

The top of the odds board will be tough to beat this week. Jon Rahm has played well to start the year but still hasn’t gotten in the winner’s circle. He ought to be hungry to get it done this week. Brooks Koepka has won the event two straight years and is a force to be reckoned with. Dustin Johnson has a staggering record at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club. In six trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-8 each time including two wins and a runner-up. 

Stats From LIV Las Vegas

2024 LIV Jeddah Picks

Sergio Garcia (+2500 FanDuel)

Sergio Garcia began his 2024 LIV Golf season with a bang, losing in a four-hole playoff to the Chilean superstar Joaquin Niemann at LIV Golf Mayakoba. Despite the runner-up finish, it was an encouraging start to the season for the former Masters Champion.

Garcia’s strong week didn’t directly follow him to LIV Las Vegas, where he finished 26th, but the unfamiliar course didn’t necessarily fit his skill set. Royal Greens Golf & Country Club is a relatively short course that can get extremely windy. Garcia still has the iron game to compete with the elite players in this field, and is a great wind player and shot maker. 

In Sergio’s seven trips to the course, he’s finished in the top-6 three times, and finished 3rd in both of LIV’s trips to Jeddah. 

The 44-year-old can still stripe it and my gut tells me he will be a part of the story late on Sunday. 

Paul Casey (+3500 DraftKings)

I’ve been extremely high on Casey to kick off 2024 and thus far things have gone extremely well for the Englishman. In his two starts this season, Casey has finished in a tie for 11th and a tie for 5th, and was the first-round leader at LIV Las Vegas. 

Casey has had success at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club and has finished 5th in two of his past three trips to the golf course. The 46-year-old is a superb ball striker and wind player when he’s healthy, and all signs point to him finally being back to full strength. 

In Vegas, Casey led the field in birdies made (tied with a few at the top), and finished in the top ten in both fairways hit and greens in regulation. 

Veterans have done well on LIV to date, and Casey may be next in line of players on the back nine of their careers who show they still have the game to compete with some of the world’s best. 

Matt Wolff (+4100 FanDuel)

The mercurial Matt Wolff has seemingly found a comfortable home with the RangeGoats and has been playing his best golf to date on LIV in his two starts this season. Wolff finished 4th at LIV Las Vegas and followed that up with a tie for 7th place finish at the Asian Tour’s International Series Oman. 

In his past four trips to the course, the 23-year-old (Wow! He’s still only 23?) has finished in the top-10 three times. 

The Oklahoma State product was once tabbed as a future superstar, and it’s still far too early to give up on such a talented player. A win is coming soon. 

Bubba Watson (+8000 FanDuel)

It’s been a long road back for Bubba Watson since he had surgery to repair his meniscus a few years ago, but the two-time Masters champion is beginning to show some signs that he may once again be healthy enough to complete.

In his two starts this season, Bubba has finished T21 (Mayakoba) and T15 (Vegas). Watson has always been a player who plays “his” tracks well, with multiple wins at Augusta, Riviera and TPC River Highlands. With a few more cracks at it, Royal Greens Golf & Country Club could certainly be one of those courses. He’s only played the course three times, but has a 2nd place finish in 2022 when he lost to Harold Varner III in a playoff.

In Vegas, Watson was 7th in the field in Greens in Regulation. When he’s on his game, there are few players more fun to watch than Bubba. 

 

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches betting preview: Grinders fancied to survive tough PGA National test

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After finishing the West Coast swing and making a pit stop in Mexico, the PGA TOUR heads to PGA National to begin its Florida swing and play the Cognizant Classic in The Palm Beaches. The event was previously called the “Honda Classic”.

The tournament will be a significant challenge for golfers, as PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA TOUR.

PGA National is a 7,054-yard par 71 and features Bermudagrass greens.  Originally a Tom Fazio design, it was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus. The course features the infamous “Bear Trap” on holes 15-17, three of the toughest holes on TOUR. Wind tends to play a factor, which makes the scoring even more challenging.

The field is solid and much stronger than we saw last year with the event being directly after two signature events. Some notable players in the field include Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Min Woo Lee, Russell Henley and Gary Woodland. 

Past Winners at PGA National

  • 2023: Chris Kirk (-14)
  • 2022: Sepp Straka (-10)
  • 2021: Matt Jones (-12)
  • 2020: Sungjae Im (-6)
  • 2019: Keith Mitchell (-9)
  • 2018: Justin Thomas (-8)
  • 2017: Rickie Fowler (-12)
  • 2016: Adam Scott (-9)
  • 2015: Padraig Harrington (-6)

In this article and going forward, I’ll be using the Rabbit Hole by Betsperts Golf data engine to develop my custom model. If you want to build your own model or check out all of the detailed stats, you can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value). 

5 Key Stats for PGA National

Let’s take a look at five key metrics for PGA National to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds.

1. Strokes Gained: Approach

Strokes Gained: Approach has been far and away the biggest indicator of the winner at PGA National. Hitting the target is especially important with all of the water at the course.

Total SG: Approach Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Tom Hoge (+1.08) 
  2. Mathieu Pavon (+1.07)
  3. Chesson Hadley (+.68)
  4. Michael Kim (+.67) 
  5. Adam Svensson (+.66)

2. Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (Florida)

As we enter the Florida swing, players will have to adjust to the Florida Bermudagrass greens, which favors some golfers who are more accustomed to playing the surface over others.

Strokes Gained: Putting Bermuda (Florida) over past 24 Rounds:

  1. Beau Hossler (+1.05)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+.87)
  3. Sungjae Im (+.81)
  4. Ben Martin (+.75)
  5. Denny McCarthy (+.71)

3. Strokes Gained Total: Florida

This stat will bring in players who’ve played their best golf in the state of Florida.

Strokes Gained Total: Florida Over Past 36 Rounds:

  1. Rory McIlroy (+1.72)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+1.62)
  3. Shane Lowry (+1.44)
  4. Sungjae Im (+1.32) 
  5. Chris Kirk (+1.30)

4. Strokes Gained: Ball Striking

Historically, Strokes Gained: Ball Striking has been much more indicative of success at PGA National than Strokes Gained: Short Game. The difficult track rewards a solid tee-to-green game, which is the key to avoiding trouble.

The winning score will likely stay close to single digits, so an extremely hot putter isn’t all that predictive. 

SG: BS Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Corey Conners (+21.1)
  2. Jhonnatan Vegas (+19.5)
  3. Adam Svensson (+19.3)
  4. Mathieu Pavon (+18.6) 
  5. Tom Hoge (+18.3) 

5. Strokes Gained: Difficult or Very Difficult Courses

PGA National is one of the most difficult courses on the PGA TOUR. Including this stat will highlight some players who thrive when scoring is difficult.

Strokes Gained: Difficult Courses Over Past 24 Rounds

  1. Rory McIlroy (+2.62)
  2. Matt Fitzpatrick (+1.59) 
  3. Tom Kim (+1.59) 
  4. Jake Knapp (+1.55)
  5. Shane Lowry (+1.34)

Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches Model Rankings

Below, I’ve compiled overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed — SG: Approach (27%), SG: Putting Florida Bermuda (15.3%), SG: Florida 15.3%), SG: Ball Striking (27%) and SG: Difficult Scoring(15.3%).

  1. Chris Kirk
  2. Daniel Berger
  3. Jhonnatan Vegas
  4. Corey Conners
  5. Adam Svensson
  6. Rory McIlroy
  7. Tom Hoge
  8. Shane Lowry
  9. Sepp Straka
  10. Kevin Streelman

2024 Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches Picks

(All odds are the best available at the time of writing)

Cameron Young +2200 (BetMGM)

Cameron Young has yet to break out with a PGA Tour win, but PGA National is a good course for the former PGA Tour Rookie of the Year to showcase his elite driving ability. In his past 24 rounds, Young ranks 1st in Total Driving.

PGA National isn’t the longest course, but with water lurking everywhere, it helps to hit approach shots with higher lofted clubs. Bombers such as Rory McIlroy, Keith Mitchell, and Brooks Koepka have thrived at the course in the recent years, and Young could look to replicate their play style here.

Young has had a strong start to his 2024 season, finishing in a tie for 8th at TPC Scottsdale and a tie for 16th at Riviera. In those two starts, he gained significant strokes on the field both off the tee and on approach. He also finished 16th in his debut at the Honda Classic in 2022. With two additional top-13 finishes at Bay Hill, the 26-year-old has shown he likes playing in Florida.

With the fields in 2024 weaker than in recent seasons, Young is one of the best players teeing it up this week and has the talent to come out on top.

Shane Lowry +3500 (DraftKings)

Shane Lowry has been very quiet this season, but he’ll now kick off the Florida swing, which is the part of the PGA Tour schedule that he’s had most success at over the course of his PGA Tour career.

In his past eight starts in the state of Florida, the Irishman has finished in the top-13 five times, including a runner-up at PGA National in 2022 and a tie for 5th here last year. The former Open champion is a resident of Jupiter, Florida and is extremely comfortable playing on these Bermudagrass greens.

Lowry is typically amongst the favorites at PGA National, but this year is being offered at a bit of a discount due to his underwhelming start to the season. If the course plays difficult, which it typically does, there are few players I’d rather have than Shane Lowry on my betting card.

Byeong Hun An +4000 (DraftKings)

I’ve bet Byeong Hun An a few times this year and it almost paid off when the South Korean lost in agonizing fashion in a playoff to Grayson Murray at the Sony Open. Given his current form and excellent course fit, I feel compelled to give the affable An one more shot at PGA National this week.

An is a great driver of the ball and ranks 17th in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and 4th in Carry Distance. With danger lurking on almost every hole, longer hitters will have the advantage coming in with shorter irons. While not typically the most reliable putter, Benny ranks 18th in the field in his past eight rounds on Bermudagrass.

In addition to his strong start to the season, An has also had plenty of success at PGA National. He finished in a tie for 4th at the course in 2020 and tied for 5th in 2018. If he can avoid the water, we may finally get to celebrate a Benny An victory this week.

Corey Conners +5000 (FanDuel)

On a difficult course that produces relatively high scores such as PGA National, players who are accurate both off the tee and on approach will have the advantage. In his past 24 rounds, the Canadian ranks 4th in Total Driving and 2nd in Strokes Gained: Off the tee.

Conners is another player who has thrived in Florida. In his past seven starts in the state, he’s finished in the top 21 five times. The course history at PGA National hasn’t been great, but I am willing to overlook that in favor of his overall form in the state and his apparent course fit.

A few weeks ago, at Riviera, Conners’ signature iron play came back to life as he gained 5.04 strokes on the field on approach. If he can make some putts on Bermudagrass, which has been his favorite surface to date, there’s no reason why he can’t contend at PGA National this week.

Alex Noren +5000 (FanDuel)

Despite never having won on the PGA Tour, Alex Noren has racked up 11 total wins professionally, and has come close many times in the United States. The Swede has played on a winning European Ryder Cup team (2018) and has won big events in Europe such as the BMW PGA Championship and British Masters.

Noren is a tremendous wind player who has enjoyed plenty of success at PGA National throughout his career. He finished in a tie for 5th at this event in 2022 and finished 3rd back in 2018. Noren ranks 15th in the field in Strokes Gained: Putting on Florida Bermudagrass and 20th in three putt avoidance on the surface.

If the course plays as difficult as expected, the 41-year-old is the type of grinder who can contend on one of his favorite tracks.

Matt Wallace +10000 (FanDuel)

Matt Wallace demonstrated his ability to play well on a tough Florida track at last year’s Valspar Championship, where he finished in a tie for 7th. The Englishman has also played reasonably well at PGA National, finishing 29th last year and tied for 20th in 2019.

Wallace played well last week in Mexico and was more involved than his T33 finish would indicate. He struggled in round 4, shooting 74, but indicated that he was “playing for the win” which brought a lot more trouble into play. Wallace is one of the better wind players in the field and has shown winning upside in the past.

The 33-year-old is a grinder with winning upside.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi: 2024 Mexico Open First Round Leader picks

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The Mexico Open begins on Thursday at beautiful Vidanta Vallarta. The tournament will have a full field this week with most of the big names on the PGA Tour taking the week off.

In the past two editions of the tournament, there have been seven first-round leaders or co-leaders. Of the seven, six have come from the morning wave. At first glance, there certainly looks to be an advantage to having an early tee time this week in Mexico but with such a small sample size I won’t put too much stock in that and take a balanced approach.

As of Tuesday, the wind doesn’t look as if it will play a factor at all during round one. It will be about hot and sunny for most of the day with wind gusts never exceeding 7 MPH.

This week, I used the Betsperts Rabbit Hole to see each players floor/ceiling. You can sign up using promo code: MATTVIN for 25% off any subscription package (yearly is best value).

Mexico Open First-Round-Leader Selections

Jhonnatan Vegas +6000 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 12:15 p.m. Local Time

After a long injury layoff, it certainly seems as if Jhonnatan Vegas is “back”. In his most recent start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the Venezuelan gained 7.2 strokes ball striking, which was his best performance in the category since June of 2022.

Vegas loves playing on Paspalum, and while he struggles with the putter often, he’s been consistent putting on these slow and spongey surfaces. I expect the big man to have a great week in Mexico.

Harry Hall +9000 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:14 a.m. Local Time

While you wouldn’t expect an Englishman in a flat cap to play his best golf in tropical paradises, that’s certainly been the case for the 24-year-old throughout his career thus far. The 6’4″ UNLV product with a soft touch around the greens has shined in places such as Puerto Rico and Puntacana as well as at Vidanta Vallarta last year.

Hall is a fantastic putter, which never will hurt you in the first-round leader market.

Adrien Dumont de Chassart 100-1 (FanDuel)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:54 p.m. Local Time

Those who have been following me this season know that I’m high on this 23-year-old bomber from Belgium. With off the tee prowess being a major point of emphasis at Vidanta Vallarta, it makes sense to give him another crack at the first-round lead once again this week.

In his most recent start at TPC Scottsdale, ADDC gained 4.0 strokes off the tee.

Fred Biondi 130-1 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:47 a.m. Local Time

Fred Biondi recently won a National Championship as a Florida Gator and has loved playing on coastal courses throughout the early part of his career. In the fall, the Brazilian finished 13th at the Butterfield Bermuda and 23rd at the RSM Classic, with both events having fields either stronger or comparable to this one.

Biondi is a good iron player and putter and should be comfortable playing in Mexico.

Scott Piercy 150-1 (BetMGM)

First-Round Tee Time: 8:25 a.m. Local Time

Scott Piercy got in the field this week after Will Zalatoris withdrew following a strong performance at the Genesis Invitational. Piercy may be well past his prime, but this is the type of event where the 47-year-old has thrived over the years.

Piercy has been prone to fast starts and has finished in the top-5 after the first round 32 times in his career and has been within two of the lead in the first round 45 times. He’s also been great on Paspalum, boasting finishes of 6th at the 2018 OHL, 7th at the 2015 CIMB Classic and 4th at the 2016 OHL.

Sebastian Vazquez 300-1 (DraftKings)

First-Round Tee Time: 1:21 p.m. Local Time

Sebastian Vasquez is a name that many golf fans won’t be familiar with but has played some good golf in South America over the course of his career. At last year’s Mexico Open, Vazquez shot an opening round 67. At last year’s World Wide Technology Championship at El Cardonal at Diamante in Cabo San Lucas, Vazquez closed his tournament with a Sunday 64, which was just two shots off the round of the day.

The Mexican has been playing this season on the Gira de Golf Profesional Mexicana and doing so relatively well. He also finished 38th at El Cardonal in a pretty strong PGA Tour field. Vazquez could come out and fire a low one while feeling extremely at ease playing in his home country.

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