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The 23 golfers who can win the Masters



As the world’s most popular golf tournament plays this week, I wanted to give a rundown of the Masters from a statistical perspective.

First, I want to discuss what I call the “Critical Holes” in a golf tournament. These are holes that based on tournament history are where the top finishers have gained the most strokes versus the field. For Augusta, they are Nos. 7, 12, 15, 17 and 18. So as you are tracking the tournament, I would key in on these particular holes as they have the largest influence on a golfer’s success at Augusta.

The neat thing about the Masters is it is a limited field, and we can immediately eliminate about one fifth of the field as not having a realistic chance of winning the tournament. I would put these as most of the past champions and the amateurs.

  • Ben Crenshaw
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Craig Stadler
  • Fred Couples
  • Ian Woosnam
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Larry Mize
  • Mark O’Meara
  • Mike Weir
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Tom Watson
  • Alan Dunbar
  • Michael Weaver
  • Steven Fox
  • T. J. Vogel
  • Tianlang Guan
  • Nathan Smith

I would also eliminate the following:

  1. Players who are first-time invitees
  2. Players whose first Tour win came this year

Since 1935, only one winner has won The Masters in his first appearance; Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. So I would shy away from picking these players:

  • Branden Grace
  • David Lynn
  • George Coetzee
  • Jamie Donaldson
  • John Huh
  • John Peterson
  • Nicolas Colsaerts
  • Russell Henley
  • Scott Piercy
  • Ted Potter Jr.
  • Thaworn Wiratchant
  • Thorbjørn Olesen
  • Kevin Streelman
  • John Merrick
No. 12 green at Augusta National

No. 12 at Augusta National, a par 3 that is one of Hunt’s “Critical Holes” for a Masters Champion.

I would also eliminate players who missed the cut at the Valero Open this past week:

  • David Toms
  • Gonzalo Fdez-Castano

I will also filter out the European Tour players that I do not have substantial data on:

  • Thomas Bjorn
  • Paul Lawrie
  • Richard Sterne
  • Francesco Molinari

Now, we start to get to the nitty-gritty of Augusta. Over the past 10 years, Augusta has heavily favored long hitters who hit the ball well from what I call “The Danger Zone.”

The Danger Zone is approach shots from 175- to 225 yards. This is the biggest key because without quality Danger Zone play at the Masters, the golfer will not be successful.

While Augusta National is known for its greens, the make percentage on putts is fairly high from inside 15 feet; likely due to the excellent putting surfaces. The real difficulty on the greens at Augusta is from longer than 20 feet away.

Between the undulations and the super-fast green speed, it becomes a task to not 3-putt on long putts at Augusta. The big reason why long hitters do so well at Augusta now is that the course plays like a par 68 for them, and that allows them to get away with putting worse. So, if a player is not long, they had been bring their putting and Danger Zone play with them. If a player is long, they can get away with lesser putting.

First, I will eliminate the players that I think are too short to play well at Augusta National:

  • Tim Clark
  • Brian Gay
  • Jim Furyk
  • Matteo Manassero
  • Ben Curtis
  • Kevin Na
  • Hiroyuki Fujita
  • Zach Johnson

I will also take out the players that have struggled from the Danger Zone this year.

  • Martin Kaymer
  • Ryan Moore
  • Ian Poulter
  • Steve Stricker
  • Hunter Mahan
  • Jason Dufner
  • Ryo Ishikawa
  • Fredrik Jacobson
  • Trevor Immelman
  • Jason Day

Also, Augusta National does not take too kindly to low ball hitters.

Graeme McDowell's only major championship win came at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where hit low ball flight helped him control the ball in the wind.

Graeme McDowell’s only major championship win came at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where his low ball flight helped him control the ball in the wind.

  • John Senden
  • Carl Pettersson
  • Graeme McDowell
  • Stewart Cink
  • D.A. Points

These players simply have not done much this season to warrant a pick:

  • Robert Garrigus
  • Lucas Glover
  • Retief Goosen
  • Peter Hanson
  • Padraig Harrington
  • Vijay Singh
  • Michael Thompson
  • Bo Van Pelt
  • Ernie Els
  • Webb Simpson

That brings us down to 23 players:

  • Keegan Bradley
  • Angel Cabrera
  • K.J. Choi
  • Luke Donald
  • Rickie Fowler
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Bill Haas
  • Dustin Johnson
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Martin Laird
  • Marc Leishman
  • Rory McIlroy
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Louis Oosthuizen
  • Justin Rose
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Adam Scott
  • Brandt Snedeker
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Nick Watney
  • Bubba Watson
  • Lee Westwood
  • Tiger Woods

I don’t pick players that are better than 10/1 odds, so that means Tiger (7/2) and Rory McIlroy (8/1) are out. But, let’s take a look at Tiger’s key metrics so far this year:

  • Driving Effectiveness: 108th
  • Birdie Zone (75-125 yards): 41st
  • Safe Zone (125-175 yards): 46th
  • Danger Zone (175-225 yards): 43rd
  • Short Game (1-20 yards): 20th
  • Strokes Gained Putting: 1st

While Tiger has been extremely successful this year, his effectiveness of the tee should be a concern. Furthermore, he’s been much more conservative off the tee by leaving his driver in the bag more often than he was last year.

The reason for Tiger’s success this year is due to his putting. Not only is he making a lot of putts, but he’s No. 1 in putts made from 15- to 25 feet. Typically, putts made from more than 15 feet on Tour is a ‘volatile’ metric. Meaning, a player can rank well in putts made from longer than 15 feet one month and then rankly poorly the next month.

With Tiger’s conservative nature off the tee, he’s giving up a lot of yards to the elite players on Tour. But, between his strong iron play and incredible long putting, he is able to find the green and make putts.

Tiger Woods puts the Green Jacket on 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir.

His game reminds me a bit of Mike Weir’s game in 2003 when Weir was a mediocre driver of the ball, but a top-5 player from 125-200 yards and a top-5 putter in the world. However, Weir needed soft conditions to help him win a Green Jacket. While Tiger hits the ball much longer than Weir did in 2003, I just tend to think that he’s leaving too much to risk if he goes conservative off the tee. I can understand making Tiger a favorite, but I think he’s more realistically a 9/1 odds or so to win.

And with that, here are my top-10 picks (Rory and Tiger excluded):

Phil Mickelson (10/1)
Justin Rose (20/1)
Dustin Johnson (25/1)
Lee Westwood (25/1)
Louis Oosthuizen (25/1)
Keegan Bradley (28/1)
Rickie Fowler (45/1)
Henrik Stenson (50/1)
Nick Watney (50/1)
Bill Haas (75/1)

Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the show.

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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10



  1. gus Terranova

    Apr 15, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Fowler will never win a major.

  2. harry

    Apr 15, 2013 at 8:15 am

    I’m impressed, 8 of the top 10 in your 23. Well played, and another 4 in the next 13. Please do this more often!

  3. Rimrock

    Apr 11, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Great post. However, too many times I have seen Mickelson fade in the last round especially his putting. Also, he is older and physically I don’t know if he is up to 72 holes especially if it gets hot. Justin Rose would be my pick.

    Glad to see you didn’t put Tiger in there.

    As we all know, anyone can breakout and play over their heads but with the pressure of “The Masters”, the weather and the media (not to exclude playing golf itself) for me it is anyones guess and all the stats go into a cocked hat.

  4. Chad

    Apr 10, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    Very good post. But how did Luke Donald escape your “too short to play well at Augusta” list?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 11, 2013 at 8:34 am

      The too short list is more about clubhead speed than actual distance. Luke is not long off the tee due to having a downward attack angle with the driver. But, he generates 110-111 mph of clubhead speed. Not super fast, but fast enough where he can contend.

      He is probably the most similar player to 2003 Mike Weir. Last year he struggled with his switch to new irons. But, if he can regain his iron play form from 2011, he has a shot with his putting and how forgiving the fairways and rough are at ANGC.

  5. Brad

    Apr 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    John Merrick has played twice in The Masters. He missed the cut in 2010, but he had a t-6 (-8)in 2009.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 11, 2013 at 8:36 am

      Merrick is in that part of the list (along with Streelman) because I grouped players who fit one of the following criteria:

      1. First time invitee


      2. Won their first Tour even this year.

      Both Merrick and Streelman are #2. I understand…it wasn’t really worded clearly.

  6. Josh

    Apr 10, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Paddy Harrington has 2 top 10s in his last 2 starts worldwide. How can you claim he hasn’t done enough this year to qualify when Cabrera doesnt have a top 15 all yr

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 10, 2013 at 9:54 am

      I didn’t put Cabrera in my top-10 either. But with Harrington his metrics haven’t been very strong in some key areas. I will say that I like where his game is headed from a statistical standpoint. Much better than it was a couple of years ago.

  7. Brad

    Apr 10, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Great column Rich. Well done. You don’t think Hanson is playing well enough? He ticks a lot of key boxes this week (Driving Distance, scoring average, scrambling, par 5 performance).

    You also selected Shrek. Is this based on his danger zone play? The rest of his stats or just okay, he’s not that long, and his form is in question no?

    Lastly, no room for Adam Scott and Charl in your top 10? Great stats and distance numbers.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 10, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Stenson is in my top-10. He’s played fantastic this year from a ballstriking perspective and hits it a mile. Westwood’s main strength is from what I call the Safe Zone (shots from 125-175 yards). He’s usually pretty good from the Danger Zone as well and a very good driver.

      Last year he struggled from the Danger Zone for a while and then eventually improved from there. But, it cost him big events, particularly the US Open.

      This year he seems to be on track except for the putter.

      I like Schwartzel’s game from a statistical perspective a lot. But this year he just hasn’t gotten it going. And he ranked 66th out of 120 players from the Valero Open in my Driving Effectiveness ranking. I just think he’s not playing all that great for him at this moment.

      I really considered both Schwartzel and Scott. But with Scott he is another guy that hasn’t logged in a lot of rounds this year so there’s insufficient data. That’s not always a problem if the rest of the group hasn’t shown me much.

      But, Rickie Fowler’s metrics are quite strong this year. Dustin Johnson has struggled from the Danger Zone, but I think that was the entire winning the 1st tournament of the year and dating Paulina Gretzky. I think he’s getting back close to form and the course fits him pretty well. In particular, he’s putting quite well this year which is a scary thought with his game.

  8. Alec Hilliard

    Apr 9, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Id like sneds in the top 10, but thats just me, and im assuming that tiger and rory are in that top 10. (12) with them included

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 11, 2013 at 8:40 am

      I liked Snedeker’s chances a few week ago, obviously. He’s a great putter and hits the ball high, which plays into Augusta. The problem for him is that he’s always been suspect from the Danger Zone and off the tee and that’s why I think he hasn’t won a major yet despite having the opportunity. We saw this at the Ryder Cup, particularly in the Furyk/Snedeker vs. Rory/McDowell 1st match. They tied it up and Sneds was teeing off #18 and put it into the woods. Somehow, Furyk got the blame for the loss.

      Anyway, he hasn’t played well since the rib injury and the courses he has played well at have fit his style (sans Torrey Pines, which he always plays well at for whatever reason).

      And yes, Tiger and Rory are included for a ‘top-12’, but the return on betting on them is too small for my tastes.

  9. Troy Vayanos

    Apr 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Great post Rich,

    Yes I had my top 5 in that list as well. Tiger is the number one choice for me but I see dangers in Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose and Louis Oosthuizen. I expect all of them to be thereabouts come Sunday.

    I have this feeling Matt Kuchar is going to be in the top 3 again this year!

  10. Socorr4

    Apr 9, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Nerves aree fundamental for success at majors unless you’re lucky enough to slide in the back door. The big hitters have an advantage of putting for eagles on on par 5’s, but it’s rare to get the ball close enough for a realistic chance to pick up a stroke on the field on these four holes. The par 3’s are equal for all, so what the winner must do is hit consistently to within 20 feet on the par 4’s. Almost everyone will be using 7 irons or less to the majority of their second shots on these holes. Long hitters have an advantage because they’ll use shorter clubs to aim for the pin, but they sometimes lack the skills required to save par on any missed greens.

    As is almost always the case, it all comes down to putting, and whoever has the best reads throughout four days should win. You cast Tiger and Rory aside for a frivolous reason and at some risk. The next best putter on your list of 23 is Snedeker, and it’s not clear why you left him off the short list. Of those on the short list, I like Bradley unless the demons get to him, and especially DJ if he can keep his putting game under control.

    • Steven

      Apr 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      Snedeker has missed his last two cuts. He hasn’t been the same since his injury.

  11. Brad P.

    Apr 9, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Good analysis. Who is actually going to win though? Kuchar. And he’s not in your “Top 10”

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Kuchar was in my top-10 last year and came in 2nd. This year it’s hard to tell because he hasn’t logged many rounds and when he has, he’s been rather unspectacular. That doesn’t mean he can’t win because as players like Kuchar become more success, they log in less rounds. However, I’d rather pick players who have more data from this year and have performed well at key spots.

  12. Gary Lewis

    Apr 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    I like your picks. I am hoping someone like Westwood will break through and win a major but always want Phil to win another one. If Tiger can drive the ball well enough he should have a good chance, but that has been a big problem for him of late. Should be very interesting, as it always is.

  13. Steve

    Apr 9, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Hmm, certainly a lot of thought put into this. Having said that, the majors are a completely different animal from regular tour events and personally I feel need to be analyzed differently.

    Removing Zach Johnson from the mix due to his short length is a bit silly really, given that he’s a past champion, but that’s already been mentioned.

    Also, while I agree that players competing in the Masters for the first time are at a disadvantage, I wouldn’t throw David Lynn under the bus quite so quickly as you did. Second place finish to Rory at last years PGA with flashes of form recently whisper to me that he could be up there. While of course I doubt he can win it, he is long odds and, in my eyes, a perfect E/W.

    In summary, I like your top ten, however I would replace DJ with Zach Johnson. Stenson is another one who I’d be a bit wobbly about, but he does seem to like Augusta National.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      First, Zach has not played well this year. But ANGC simply no longer allows short but accurate hitters to truly contend unless something happens with the weather. Look at the top-10 finishers over the past 3 years. Essentially, the shortest hitters in the bunch have been either KJ Choi, Poulter or Matt Kuchar who are about average to slightly below average in length. They were also great Danger Zone players in those years. And none of them won.

      Dustin Johnson concerns me because he has struggled from the Danger Zone this year. But he has been a top-10 player from that Distance throughout his entire career. I chalk it up to the ‘Paulina Gretzky flu’, but I think he’ll regain his old form (and he’s been playing better recently).

  14. Rob

    Apr 9, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    Nice catch Ed! I agree with your comments about Tiger and his driving. That will be his downfall in the Masters and the other majors this year. I see another 0-4 record in 2013.

  15. Pingback: Happy Masters Week – Day #2 – Apps and Articles | The Rogers

  16. john

    Apr 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    You could have made it even easier and eliminated all but the one who is going to win it…Tiger, Tiger Woods yall!

  17. Ed

    Apr 9, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Craig Stadler did not win in his first appearance, but his 6th. Fuzzy Zoeller is the only modern player to win in his first appearance.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2013 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks for pointing that out as I got the two mixed up on a bad error on my part. With that said, it still proves the point that first time invitees do not fare well in winning the Green Jacket as Zoeller won back in ’79.

  18. chris

    Apr 9, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    Nice job Rich. I would say you are spot on with the winner being…..Phil of course 🙂

  19. Jason

    Apr 9, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I don’t like how he cut out players that are “too short” to win the masters including Zach Johnson. Zach proved you don’t have to be long to win. He didn’t go for a single par 5 in two the year he won.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Zach won when there was record cold temperatures at Augusta. That made the par-5’s less reachable for the long hitters and they had to use more wedges into those greens so the advantage shifted back towards Zach. The weather is supposed to be nice this week in Augusta outside of some late showers on Friday, so this does not bode well for short hitters.

  20. Billy

    Apr 9, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Sorry missed Rickie in your top ten!

  21. Billy

    Apr 9, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Interesting analysis. I like your top-ten, but I would opt for Rickie over Westwood. While Rickie may have a few more loose shots in his bag, I’ll pick Rickie’s putting over Westwood’s everyday. If Westwood can putt this week he’ll have a good chance, but he’s liable to have terrible putting.

    • Nik

      Apr 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      Rickie’s not that good of a putter. He putted well at Bay Hill but it kind of an anomaly.

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Beyond limits: Carbon bending and the future of shaft manufacturing



My name is James, and I am an equipment junkie. Like many of you, I am also a (mediocre) golfer struggling to take my golf game to the next level. But since I’m not so keen on hitting the range or the gym, I’m always searching for the next big breakthrough to help me avoid excessive practice and golf lessons.

TLDR: I am back to report that I may have found the ultimate breakthrough involving how golf shafts are manufactured. It will sound mind-boggling and counter-intuitive, but the new technology involves controlling a shaft’s variables of weight, flex (CPM), and torsional strength (torque) all independently of one another. As if this alone doesn’t sound far-fetched enough, it also purports to control the subjective aspect of how stiff the shaft feels without affecting the other variables.

To the best of my knowledge, I never knew any of these were possible, but seeing (and feeling) is believing, though I’m still reeling from my recent experience. Moreover, I dare predict that the sheer novelty of this discovery has the potential to redefine the golf shaft industry as we know it.

Also, the article is long. You’ve been warned.

In A League Of Their Own

Over the years, I have reported on several golf innovations and technologies that made golfers sit up and take notice. Of those finds, let me briefly recap two products that especially stood out before I unveil my most recent discovery further below.

Starting at number three, I present the now-famous Autoflex shaft by Dumina. Introduced in early 2020 during the COVID epidemic, the small Korean company claimed that their shafts didn’t use any flex designations and are to be selected solely based on a golfer’s swing speed. Against conventional wisdom, the company claimed that a super flexible, ultralight shaft can improve distance and accuracy for golfers of all swing speeds. The AF shaft, with its mysterious Korea Hidden Technology (KHT), sounded too good to be true, but more often than not, golfers who braved the steep price and the hot pink color agreed that the shaft seemed legitimate. Many also credit it with creating a whole new category of soft and hyper-flexible performance shafts.

Next in the number two spot is the groundbreaking FreeFlex shaft from SJ Golf Lab, also out of Korea. When the FF shafts surfaced in early 2023, I first thought they were a slightly improved version of the Autoflex. At weights and flex even softer than the AF, the shafts also improved distance and accuracy at a lower price point than their counterparts.

Upon delving further, FreeFlex Technology (FFT) was far more amazing than I could have ever imagined. Against the norm, the inventor of FFT claimed that a shaft’s weight, flex (CPM), and torque are NOT relative to each other and that each variable can be controlled separately. According to SJ Lab, a lightweight, flexible shaft with a strong torque was possible, and vice-versa. The incredulous claim went largely unnoticed at the time, but the folks at SJ Lab recently decided to prove their technology by introducing the ultimate unicorn of a shaft.

Aptly named ‘Hammer Throw’ the rubber-like shaft featured a conventional shaft’s weight of 62g yet measured only 140 CPM to be incredibly soft and flexible. To top it off, it also featured a strong 3.5 torque similar to an S-flex shaft, all unlikely numbers that have never been combined in a single shaft before. The Hammer Throw proved to be a wonder shaft for slower swingers, helping to increase club head speed, distance, and even accuracy.

Ultimately, SJ Lab redefined the concept of ‘shaft customization’ by proving that a shaft’s WT, CPM, and TQ can be controlled independently to any degree.

Featuring SJ Golf’s FFT technology, the Hammer Throw and FF38 also caught the attention of many WLD athletes with swing speeds over 150mph.

Mind-Bending Revelation

The AF and FF shafts are indeed quite amazing, but what I’m about to share with you may be an even bigger discovery than both of them combined.

It was a Thursday afternoon in October when I arrived at SJ Golf Lab. I had just finished a round of golf that morning and felt flush after having bested my buddies on a tough track. I was to cover the story of a new line of putter shafts (based on the Chaos Theory in physics, no less) and was looking forward to seeing if it could help my putting.

I was making small talk with Dr. Choi, the inventor & CEO of SJ Golf Lab, when a courier arrived to hand him a sealed envelope. Inside was a patent certificate for a new golf shaft manufacturing process, which was to be featured in SJ Lab’s latest MetaFlex series of shafts.

“Oh, that sounds interesting” I said politely. “Is it like FreeFlex technology?”

What came next was a barrage of information so contradictory and yet so transformative in its revelation that I forgot all about the putter shafts.

Entering The Realm Of The Senses

Carbon Bending Technology (CBT) is the latest brainchild of Dr. Choi, the inventor of FreeFlex shafts. As incredulous as his FFT may seem, his new CBT technology takes it even further by stating that a fourth variable, the shaft’s level of firmness, can also be controlled independently of the other variables.

“CBT technology involves bending or wrapping carbon in a certain way to control how stiff a shaft feels, independently of weight, flex, and torque.” – Dr. Seung-jin Choi, inventor of CBT Technology 

Take a moment to let that sink in. Not only is he saying that the objective values of WT, CPM, and TQ can be controlled in any manner desired, but he can also control the subjective aspect of how firm a
shaft feels.

If CBT technology is legitimately possible, the implications of his discovery are immense and may well change the way golf shafts are made. Needless to say, such a spectacular assertion begs the question, “How can such an improbable idea be possible?”

As I struggled to comprehend what I just heard, Dr. Choi handed me a shaft and asked me to try and bend it. Grabbing it at both ends, the shaft felt light and soft, and I was able to bend and flex it easily. I was then given another shaft and asked to do the same. The new shaft felt much firmer from the get-go, similar to what I’d expect from a typical S-flex shaft. When I said that the second shaft felt much stronger than the first, I was in for a rude awakening.

“They’re the same shafts” Dr. Choi said. “The only difference is that the second one was treated with the CBT process. Other than that, both are practically the same in CPM and torque.”

“What do you mean these are the same shafts? This one is definitely stiffer.” My eyebrow arched in puzzlement at such a blatant contradiction.

After all, I was holding both shafts in my hands, and no one in the world was going to convince me that these two had the same CPM and TQ measurements.

The skepticism in my voice must’ve been obvious as I was led to a measuring device. I wish I could’ve seen the look on my face at that exact moment when my eyes confirmed both shafts to have the same CPM and torque.

Two same-looking shafts measured similarly in CPM and torque, despite one feeling much stiffer.

Goosebumps broke out on my arms, and my brain felt numb. Stunned, I took turns grabbing each shaft by the ends and bent them over and over again. There was absolutely no doubt that one was stiffer than the other. It wasn’t even close. Yet, if the numbers don’t lie, how was I to reconcile the two empirical facts at odds with each other before my very eyes?

Seeing Is Believing… Or Is It?

After repeated measurements to ensure I wasn’t dyslexic, I regained enough sense to sit down with Dr. Choi to hear more about the sorcery of carbon bending.

ME: How does CBT differ from your earlier FFT technology?

CHOI: CBT came as a result of golfers loving our FreeFlex shafts with the FFT technology but wanting even more. The FFT allows us to control the weight, flex, and torque independently. We used this discovery to design a new breed of shafts that help all levels of golfers increase club head speed and distance. But some of the stronger, faster-speed golfers were eventually turned off from it, as they couldn’t get accustomed to the soft feel and flex. The fear of spraying the ball all over the course was just too much.

To solve this issue, I looked at many factors that led golfers to describe whether a shaft is soft or stiff. Similar to FFT, I soon discovered that a shaft’s stiffness is not relative to its CPM value. By reinforcing a shaft through a special process I call carbon-bending, it can be made to feel as stiff as I wish without changing the original CPM or torque.

ME: (blank stare)

CHOI: Did that answer the question?

ME: Uhh… no? What do you mean the CPM doesn’t change? If the shaft became stiffer, it means the CPM value must have increased, doesn’t it? How we perceive stiffness is subjective, so we measure the CPM value objectively with a machine. That way, we can compare the CPM values of different shafts to see which one is stiffer with the higher number.

CHOI: Normally yes, but like I said, how stiff the shaft feels does not have to correlate with the CPM. They are independently controllable. As I just showed you with the two shafts earlier, both measured at the same CPM and torque. It was only when I applied the CBT method to one of them that it became stiffer than before, as you have seen for yourself.

ME: Yeah, I’m still not sure how that is, feeling firm in my hands but the machine reading it as soft. Is this like the cat in Schrodinger’s box, where the cat is both alive and dead at the same time? This shaft is also both soft and firm simultaneously?

CHOI: Not quite. But how about this? What if the CPM measurement we currently use to gauge and compare stiffness between shafts is not the only method? What if there were other ways that we haven’t considered to control the feeling of firmness?

ME: So you’re saying you discovered a new way to objectively measure how we feel or perceive stiffness?

CHOI: I think it’s better to say that I realized that a shaft’s CPM and stiffness can be independent of each other, whereas before, we thought they were directly relative. It led to look for other ways to make the shaft firmer, which is what I did. In the process, it also made me think, what else are we missing? Maybe we’ve been limiting ourselves in believing there’s nothing new left to discover.

Shaft Manufacturing 101

According to Dr. Choi, the method of manufacturing carbon shafts has remained largely unchanged since 1979, when Taylormade first introduced the first graphite shaft that offered many advantages over conventional steel shafts. Since then, various new materials and technologies have made the shafts lighter and stronger, but the basic shaft-making process remains the same.

The making of a modern golf shaft consists of wrapping layers of prepreg (treated carbon fiber) sheets around a steel shaft (mandrel). As more layers are applied, the shaft becomes progressively thicker and heavier (WT), which makes the flex (CPM) stiffer and increases the torsional (TQ)

The characteristics of a shaft depend on the amount of material and how each layer is oriented on the mandrel. How this is done varies among OEMs.

The current method and its proportional relationship between WT, CPM, and TQ is widely accepted. However, it also presents a big challenge for shaft-makers, whose main goal is to make shafts that improve distance with more accuracy. This is because generating more club speed for more distance necessitates a light and flexible shaft; while improving shot accuracy requires the shaft to be firm in both flex and torsional strength.

To balance the trade-off as best they could, OEMs have continually researched new materials and higher-quality carbon, along with their own, often secret, ways of weaving and arranging the carbon prepreg. A good example to illustrate shaft improvement in this manner is the lighter 50-gram range of X-flex shafts, which were a rarity only a few years ago.

At least for now, 5X shafts seem to be the pinnacle of conventional shafts that can be made with the existing process.

Shaft Manufacturing 2.0

In physics, Force equals Mass multiplied by Acceleration (F=MA). The same can be applied to golf at impact, but since a golf club is designed to be in motion, its dynamic energy is calculated as Impulse=MAT, where T is the time the ball stays in contact with the club face.

Dr. Choi explained that increasing any of the three factors would transfer more energy to the ball (I).

In other words, by making the club head heavier (M), faster (A), and getting the ball to remain in contact with the clubface longer (T), the distance will increase as a result.

Now that we can get faster club head speed (FF shafts), how can the shaft be made to feel stiff while retaining a longer distance? The solution was surprisingly simple, as most discoveries tend to be at first.

“Imagine wearing a pair of skin-tight nylon stockings,” Dr. Choi said. “It’s tight, but you can still move and bend your knees easily.” Truth be told, I’d never worn stockings before, but I nodded to see where it would lead.

“If you were to put on one more, your legs will feel stiff, and with yet another, it’ll now be very difficult to even bend your knees,” he was building up towards a big reveal. “But no matter how stiff your legs now feel with the layers of stockings, you can still rotate them.” Come again?

“When you try to sit down, the legs will stick straight out like they’re in a cast, right? But you’d still be able to twist or rotate your leg [left and right] because the stockings are not exerting force in that direction.”

Dazed at the anticlimactic turn, I tried to recall the last time I had a cast but he plowed on. “The original characteristics of your legs don’t change because of the stockings. They’re still your legs, which are bendy and flexible.”

I may have missed a whole lot there, but loosely translated, CBT technology is like adding tight pairs of stockings to make a shaft feel firmer, but won’t change what the original shaft was in terms of
torque or CPM.

Helical Carbon Armour

Carbon bending involves a new step in the shaft manufacturing process, where a thin strip of carbon is helically wrapped tightly around the shaft to increase stiffness. This new sheath of armor will firm up the feel of the shaft but will not affect the CPM or torque. In addition, Dr. Choi’s in-depth research further showed that the width of the strip band and the spacing between the helical spirals all played a part in changing the characteristics of the shaft in minute ways.

Each shaft has been treated with CBT and using different carbon weave, band width, materials and alignment to display a unique characteristics that can be tailored to a golfer’s swing

The truly mind-blowing prospect of CBT, however, is its ability to create an endless number of unique shafts with specific performance characteristics. For example, the number of new shaft possibilities can reach tens or even hundreds of thousands, depending on various factors, including but not limited to the width and thickness of the band, the spacing and orientation of the helical spiral, the weave pattern of the band fabric, and each of the different materials that all of these factors can be applied to.

“Can you imagine a PGA tour pro being able to dial in a golf shaft to squeeze 99.9% of the performance potential from their favorite shaft, without giving up anything they prefer in WT, CPM, TQ, and now FEEL?” – SJ Golf Lab 2023 

If It Looks And Barks Like A Dog?

Several days later, I returned to SJ Lab to test the new MetaFlex CBT shafts. The lineup consisted of three driver shafts of 5H, 6H, 6.5M, and iron ix90 shafts (H for high kick, M for mid-kick). Again, the MF series is designed for faster-speed golfers who swing at least 100mph to well over 120mph. I purposely asked not to see the shaft specs beforehand, as I wanted to remain neutral in determining how the new shafts felt and performed.

Waggling the 5H shaft first, it felt similar in weight and flex to a typical R-shaft. I usually average a smooth swing of about 95 mph with my FF38, but the 5H shaft instinctively made me try to swing harder to compensate for the firmer feel. The good drives launched high and carried as far, with spin between 1900~2000 rpm. As I warmed up, I was hitting it quite well, despite swinging a bit harder than usual.

I had grown accustomed to swinging smoothly and in tempo with FF shafts, so it felt good to swing hard again and not worry about the head catching up. The overall distance was comparable with my own driver at 240~250 yards, so I guessed the 5H specs to be about 220 CPM and close to 4.0 torque. On the downswing, the shaft reminded me of the many 5S shafts I had been using before being turned onto softer shafts. I imagined I could play it well, but struggle to keep it straight on the back nine when I gradually get tired.

Next, the 6H shaft felt like a conventional 5S on the waggle, but much stiffer like a 5X shaft on the actual downswing. I guessed it to be about 230~240 CPM and 3.5 in torque, as I was only able to turn the club head over about one-third of the time. I got a couple out to 240 yards but the rest of the shots varied from a fade bordering on a slice interspersed with low pulls. I felt the shaft demanded more speed for it to show its potential, and my slower speed wasn’t making it sing as it should.

Lastly, the MetaFlex 6.5M told me right away that it was out of my league. The waggle reminded me of a Ventus or a Tensei shaft, and the actual swing was even stiffer and closer to a 6X shaft. As expected, my shots were mostly pushed dead right, as I couldn’t effectively load the shaft with speed.

When I tried to force the head to turn over, I’d overcompensate to flip the wrist and pull it low left. The few that managed to land on the fairway barely traveled 210 yards with a noticeable decrease in ball speed. I can usually muster enough muscle to make a typical stiff shaft work over nine holes at least, but the 6.5M felt like an iron rod.

Overall, MF shafts’ waggles felt similar to conventional aftermarket shafts and felt even firmer during the actual swing.

I was now ready to see the actual spec measurements of the three shafts.

I could never have imagined such numbers corresponding to the firmness I experienced with MetaFlex shafts.

“There’s no way these numbers are the actual specs,” I protested. “These are softer than my FF38, so how…?” Hearing my voice hit a high pitch, I quickly closed my mouth. I already knew to expect something different, but this? Trying to reconcile the stiffness with such low numbers was just as difficult as it was the first time I encountered this phenomenon.

For lack of a better comparison, imagine picking up a cute kitten to hear it purr, only to be shocked at hearing it bark like a big angry pitbull with its tail stepped on. Does this mean I can no longer use phrases like “seeing is believing,” What will happen to “if it looks like a dog and barks like a dog?”

More importantly, what does this mean for the future of golf shafts?

Implications For The Future

Deep down, I believe every golfer wants to increase their driver distance. It doesn’t matter if you average 150 yards or 300 yards. As golfers, the need to hit it farther is in our DNA.

Since discovering that longer, easier distance (and accuracy to boot) is possible with the advent of AF shafts, I’ve never looked back. When FreeFlex shafts debuted earlier this year, I switched all my shafts throughout the bag and couldn’t be happier. I’ve received dozens of similar emails from golfers who read about my experiences and took the plunge, mostly to their pleasant surprise.

As amazing as the shafts are, some scoffed at the absence of such shafts on professional tours. If they’re so good, why aren’t they used more? After all, a distance gain of 10 yards on drives can mean as much as 5-10 percent closer to the pin on approach shots for shorter putts, which can translate to millions of dollars in winnings. In fact, dozens of pros from all major tours have tried them, some openly and some in secret.

As a recreational golfer, I can live with an occasional OB if it means consistently out-driving my friends. But an elite tour pro for whom a single stroke may be worth millions? Not a chance. Even the best can become a psychological wreck if the shaft flexed more than Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Especially on the back nine of a major on Sunday afternoon.

But for the sake of argument, let’s suppose there exists a shaft that truly offers longer distance and accuracy of the soft FF shaft with the reassuring feel and playability of a stiff shaft. Better yet, what if your favorite shaft can be readjusted to fit all of your needs for maximum performance output and feel preferences? I’d bet my last Pro V1s that elite professional golfers will stop at nothing to have them tested and optimized to benefit each of their own swing metrics and performance. It’s in their DNA.

Dr. Choi also mentioned that he is nearing completion of his state-of-the-art swing and shaft diagnostic system, which can prescribe precisely the type of shaft (weight, flex, torque, feel, kick, kitchen sink?) needed for a player. And he builds it to that specification. Customization to the fullest.

As the company’s name implies, that is the ultimate goal of SJ Golf Lab and Dr. Choi, who hopes his shafts will come as a “Special Joy” for each and every golfer.

All in all, CBT certainly felt to me like the next evolutionary step in golf shaft technology.

So, what do you think? Can we trust the accuracy of the statements made by SJ Golf Lab? I would love to hear from other golfers and knowledgeable shaftoids in the industry, and what it can mean going forward.

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: The science of spin



Over my 30-plus years writing about equipment and designing wedges, I must have been asked thousands of times: “How do I get more spin with my wedge shots?” That seems like such a simple question, but the answer is as far from simple as you can get. So, today I’m going to try to break down the science of spin into its separate components.

The amount of spin imparted to the golf ball in any wedge shot will be affected by three basic things:

  1. The ball you play
  2. Your personal swing skills
  3. The specific wedges you play.

Let’s look at each of them.

The Ball

One very simple way to improve the spin you get with your wedge shots is to play a premium ball with a soft cover. The harder and usually less expensive balls typically have a firmer core and a cover that is more durable but doesn’t allow as much spin. You should experiment with various balls to see which gives you the optimum combination of distance and spin.

Your skills

We all know those golfers who seem to spin the ball better than others. That’s because they have honed their skills to make an accelerating, pure strike to the ball most of the time, and to make contact very low on the clubhead – elite players wear out a dime-sized spot on their wedges that is center-face and between the 2nd and 5th grooves. My bet is your wear pattern is more the size of a quarter or even half dollar and centered several grooves higher. You’ll see later why that is so important.

Anyone can learn to be a better wedge player by engaging a golf professional and spending lots more time practicing your wedge shots. I highly recommend both, but also realize that spin is greatly affected by swing speed as well. A strong player who can hit a gap wedge 120 yards is likely to generate much more spin than an equally skilled player who hits gap wedge only 90 yards.

Now we get to the fun part – how the specific wedges you are playing will affect the amount of spin you can impart to any given shot.

The wedges


Very simply, if you are playing a wedge that you’ve had for years, the grooves are likely well past worn out and are costing you valuable RPMs on every wedge shot. That said, no wedge brand has any measurable competitive advantage over another when it comes to groove technology. The USGA has not changed the rules on grooves in over a decade, and every premium brand of wedges is utilizing the best CNC-milling techniques to push those regulations to the limit. There’s just no story here. And my robotic testing indicates the total absence of grooves only reduces spin by 15-17 percent on a dry ball.

The Shaft

Yes, wedge shafts are that important. You should have shafts in your wedges that closely match the shafts in your irons in weight, material, and flex. This is particularly important if you have evolved to lighter and softer iron shafts. The exception to that is if you play X-flex shafts in your irons, take a tip from almost all tour professionals and opt for a slightly softer flex in your wedges.

Clubhead Design

What is much more important to make a wedge “spin-ier” is the design of the clubhead itself. While wedges really didn’t change much for decades, over the past few years, every major wedge brand has begun to position a bit more mass in the top section of the wedge clubhead. This repositioning of mass raises the CG a bit and improves the “gear effect,” which enhances spin on every wedge shot.

While they all are doing so to a different degree, most are held back by their reliance on their tour professionals’ input. Those elite players already spin the ball as much as necessary, and they don’t need or want more spin in their wedge shots. But that isn’t in your best interest.

This subject simply cannot be addressed without referencing my own work in wedge design for over thirty years. My wedges for Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, Ben Hogan and now Edison Golf have put increasingly more mass in the top half of the clubhead to help recreational golfers get more spin on all their wedge shots. I’m flattered that all major brands are finally starting to follow my pioneering of this design concept, because it works.  (Caliper measurement reveals that none of today’s wedges even have as much mass above center-face as my original Reid Lockhart wedges did in the mid-1990s)

Regarding my reference to tour players’ skills and their dime-sized wear pattern earlier, by striking their wedge shots so low in the face, they are optimizing spin on their traditional “tour design” wedges, because it maximizes the amount of clubhead mass above the point of impact. We all know that “thinned” wedge shot that flies low but has sizzling spin – same concept.

To help explain how this CG placement affects spin, look at what has happened in drivers, fairways, hybrids, and now irons.

As the “launch monitor wars” have come to dominate club-fitting (and selling!), the “holy grail” of distance is high launch and low spin. The engineers are achieving this by continuously finding ways to put maximum mass low in the clubhead with carbon crowns, tungsten inserts and thin faces. But good wedge play is all about penetrating trajectories and optimum spin — and all that mass in the bottom of the wedge head is exactly the opposite of what is needed to deliver that ball flight.

Final thoughts

I’ll also leave you with this thought on getting maximum spin on your intermediate-range wedge shots.  You are quite likely to discover you actually get more spin with your 52- to 54-degree wedge than with your higher-lofted 56 to 60. That’s because the ball is less likely to slide up the clubface, which causes loss of spin and higher ball flight. Give it a try to see for yourself.

This has been one of my longer posts, but the topic is worthy of a full explanation. I hope the “science of spin” is much less mysterious now.

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19th Hole

Vincenzi’s RSM Classic betting preview: Experienced heads likely to contend at Sea Island



The final full-field event of the 2023 fall season has arrived. The PGA TOUR heads just south of Augusta for the RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club (Seaside and Plantation courses) in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Each golfer will play three rounds on the Seaside course and one round on the Plantation course.

The Seaside course is a par-70 layout measuring 7,005 yards, and the Plantation course is a par-72 setup coming in at 7,062 yards. The Seaside course, which was redesigned by Tom Fazio, plays more like a coastal links, while the Plantation course is similar to a tree-lined parkland course. Both feature Bermudagrass greens and will be very scorable. The past five winners of the event have all finished between -19 and -22.

Some notable players in the field include Brian Harman, Ludvig Aberg, Si Woo Kim, Akshay Bhatia, Cameron Young, Billy Horschel, Matt Kuchar, Russell Henley, Taylor Pendrith and Corey Conners.

Past Winners at The RSM Classic

  • 2022: Adam Svensson (-19)
  • 2021: Talor Gooch (-22)
  • 2020: Robert Streb (-19)
  • 2019: Tyler Duncan (-19)
  • 2018: Charles Howell III (-19)
  • 2017: Austin Cook (-21)
  • 2016: Mackenzie Hughes (-17)
  • 2015: Kevin Kisner (-22)

Let’s take a look at several metrics for Sea Island Golf Club to determine which golfers boast top marks in each category over their last 24 rounds:

Strokes Gained: Approach

The greens at Seaside are big, so it will be important to stick approach shots close to avoid having to make difficult two-putt par saves. In what should be a birdie-fest, golfers will need to stick their approach shots to contend.

Total Strokes Gained: Approach in past 24 rounds:

  1. Sam Ryder (+24.8)
  2. Russell Knox (+22.4)
  3. J.T. Poston (+20.3)
  4. Eric Cole (+18.8)
  5. Alex Smalley (+18.4)

Good Drives Gained

Length really isn’t a factor at either course. Looking at the past winners at Sea Island, they’re all accurate golfers off of the tee who know how to find the fairway. However, over the past few years, “Good Drives Gained” has been a much more predictive statistic at this event than “Fairways Gained.”

Total Good Drives Gained in past 24 rounds:

  1. Russell Henley (+22.7)
  2. Brendon Todd (+21.8)
  3. Tyler Duncan (+21.7)
  4. Martin Laird (+20.6)
  5. J.J. Spaun (+20.5)

Strokes Gained Putting: Bermudagrass

This tournament could become a putting contest if the winds aren’t strong this week. Historically, the winners of the RSM Classic are great Bermudagrass putters (Simpson, Kisner and Hughes).

Total Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermuda in past 24 rounds:

  1. Maverick McNealy (+27.7)
  2. Chad Ramey (+25.3)
  3. Martin Trainer (+23.0)
  4. Justin Suh (+22.7)
  5. Taylor Montgomery (+22.5)

Birdie or Better Gained

With birdies (and potentially some eagles) likely to come in abundance, pars aren’t going to cut it at Sea Island. I anticipate the winning score to be close to -20, so targeting golfers who go low is the right strategy here.

Total strokes gained in Birdie or Better Gained in past 24 rounds

  1. Eric Cole (+31.4) 
  2. J.T. Poston (+21.3)
  3. Ludvig Aberg (+20.9)
  4. Luke List (+20.7)
  5. Justin Suh (+16.1)

Strokes Gained: Par 4 (400-450)

With eight of the par 4s on the Seaside course measuring 400-450 yards, I’m looking to target golfers who excel on par 4s of this length.

Total strokes gained in category in past 24 rounds:

  1. Russell Henley (+21.1)
  2. Denny McCarthy (+13.4) 
  3. Matthias Schmid (+12.8)
  4. Callum Tarren (+12.6) 
  5. Ryan Moore (+11.4)

Statistical Model

Below, I’ve reported overall model rankings using a combination of the five key statistical categories previously discussed.

These rankings are comprised of SG: App (25%); Good Drives Gained (21); SG: Putting Bermudagrass (21%); B.O.B (21%); and SG: Par 4 400-450 (12%)

  1. Russell Henley (+2200)
  2. Sam Ryder (+9000)
  3. Chesson Hadley (+6500)
  4. Brendon Todd (+5000)
  5. Eric Cole (+3500)
  6. J.T. Poston (+3500)
  7. Stephan Jaeger (+4000)
  8. Matthias Schmid (+6000)
  9. Brian Harman (+2000)
  10. Austin Smotherman (+25000)

2023 RSM Classic Picks

Matt Kuchar +4000 (DraftKings)

There are plenty of players at the top of the odds board who have a strong chance to contend this week, but few have had the recent repetitions that Matt Kuchar has had. The veteran is in fantastic form and felt as if his game was in great shape heading into the World Wide Technologies Championship, where he came agonizingly close to victory.

Kuchar has three top-19 finishes in his last four starts worldwide, including the runner-up in his most recent start. At one point, he had a six-shot lead before making a disastrous quadruple bogey on the 15th hole during his third round. Many expected Kuchar to struggle on Sunday after blowing such a big lead, but he performed admirably and would have won if Erik Van Rooyen didn’t shoot a ridiculous -8 on the back nine.

The 45-year-old currently lives in St. Simons, Georgia so will be right at home playing at Sea Island this week. His history at the course isn’t as spectacular as one would think given how well the course fits him on paper, but he does have four top-30 finishes at the event since 2013.

In five of Kuchar’s six wins since 2012, he’s had a top-5 finish in one of his three previous starts leading up to the win. I believe his start at the WWT was a foreshadowing of a looming victory.

Billy Horschel +4000 (DraftKings)

After struggling for much of the 2022-2023 season, Billy Horschel has finished the top 20 in five of his past six worldwide starts including a T14 finish in his most recent start at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October.

Horschel hasn’t played the RSM Classic with regularity but finished in 2nd place at the event back in 2016 where he lost to Mackenzie Hughes in a playoff. The course is a perfect fit for Billy, who’s not overly long off the tee and putts incredibly well on Bermudagrass.

Billy will come into the event as motivated as ever to contend on a course that he should be able to pick apart. With seven career PGA Tour wins, there’s no doubt that Horschel is a closer who will be able to keep his composure down the stretch.

Harris English +6000 (DraftKings)

After a 2021 Ryder Cup appearance, Harris English has had an inconsistent two seasons on the PGA Tour. However, the Sea Island resident finished the season on an encouraging note, finishing 10th at the BMW Championship.

English has a mixed history at Sea Island, but he does have a 6th place finish in 2020. He finished 29th last year, but a final round 65 may be an indication that the 34-year-old figured something out at the course that he grew just a few hours away from.

It’s a bit concerning that English has been off since August, but he’s played well off of layoffs in the past. Last year, he finished 9th at the Fortinet off a 6-week break. In 2021, he won the Sentry Tournament of Champions off of a 5-week break. This break has been a bit longer, but the extra time may not be a major detriment.

Enlgish is a better player than he’s shown over the past 18 months, and I believe he’s in store for a resurgent season that may start this week in Sea Island.

Taylor Pendrith +6500 (DraftKings)

Taylor Pendrith is in fantastic form. In his past three starts, he’s finished 3rd, 15th and 8th. Despite not seeming like a great course fit at Sea Island on paper, he’s had some great history at the course throughout his career.

Last year, Pendrith finished 15th at the event, gaining 5.4 strokes on approach. He also came into the event while playing some below average golf and still managed to hit it great at Sea Island. In 2021, he finished 26th despite missing the cut in two previous starts as well as the following start. I believe now that the Canadian is coming into the event playing some incredibly consistent golf he should be a serious threat to contend deep into the weekend.

Ben Griffin +7500 (DraftKings)

Just a week ago, Ben Griffin was 22-1 and one of the betting favorites at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. Although some top end players such as Ludvig Aberg, Brian Harman and Cameron Young have been added to this field, I still believe the drop all the way down to this price gives Griffin a ton of value this week.

The North Carolina hasn’t built up an extensive course history at Sea Island just yet, but he did finish 29th at the event last season. The 27-year-old fired an opening round 65 to start his week and then shot two more rounds in the 60’s after a second round 71. His experience last season should be helpful in his pursuit of a victory this time around.

Sea Island should suit Griffin perfectly. In his past 24 rounds, he ranks 15th in the field in both Strokes Gained: Approach and in Strokes Gained: Putting on Bermudagrass. His sharp iron play and ability to hole putts on Bermuda make him an ideal candidate for to contend at Sea Island.

Alex Smalley +8000 (DraftKings):

The past five events in the PGA Tour’s swing season have given us winners who’ve already won on Tour multiple times. The fa oll is typically a time for first-time Tour winners to shine, and among the top candidates to accomplish that this week is Alex Smalley.

Smalley has contended a few times thus far in his career and one of those times was at last year’s RSM Classic. A consistent effort of 67-66-67-67 resulted in the Greensboro, North Carolina resident finishing in a tie for 5th place for the week. It’s no surprise that Smalley likes Sea Island given the amount of golf he’s played in the area and his knack for playing well on shorter courses.

The Duke graduate is beginning to round into form, finishing 30th last week at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship fueled by a final round 65 (-6). Smalley has done his best work on easier courses and the course should provide plenty of birdie opportunities for the 25-year-old.

Kevin Kisner +25000 (DraftKings):

Kevin Kisner has been playing incredibly poorly by his standards since his win at the Wyndham Championship in August of 2021, however Camilo Villegas’ win last week showed us how quickly things can change.

Kisner has shown some minimal signs of improvement during the fall season, finishing 62nd and 51st in his two starts at the Fortinet Championship and the Sanderson Farms Championship. More importantly, Kisner gained 1.8 strokes on approach at the Country Club of Jackson, which was his best approach performance since November of 2022. Going back to the Villegas example, while he was in the midst of a twelve-start stretch where he didn’t finish better than 54th, the Colombian gained 4.0 strokes on approach in a missed cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship in a missed cut. Clearly, he found something and went on to finish 2nd and 1st in his next two starts.

If there’s a course that Kisner may be able to find “it” on, it’s Sea Island. Kisner is a former Georgia Bulldog who’s won here in 2015, lost in a playoff in 2020 and has two additional top-7 finishes since his win. At long odds, “Kiz” is worth a sprinkle on one of his favorite tracks.

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