Fort Worth Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis
IF YOU believe in horses for courses then it is difficult to see beyond Jordan Spieth as the most likely winner of the Fort Worth Invitational at the magnificent Colonial Country Club in Texas. The Open champion won the tournament in 2016 and was runner-up in 2015 and 2017 and he clearly loves the place.
When you come back to a golf course where you have good memories, everything just feels right, even if you are not at the top of your game, and all the evidence points to the fact that Spieth is very nearly back to his astonishing best. Incredibly, he arrived at Augusta for The Masters in April with plenty of knowing sages asking questions about his putting.
You will, of course, he aware that Spieth has built his reputation on his incredible ability on the greens. But in the early part of the year he was missing a lot of short putts - an awful lot of short putts. He was questioned endlessly about it. How could a man who had been so good suddenly become so dodgy over four and five-feet putts?
Spieth kept repeating the same mantra: “Don’t panic, everything is just fine. I am simply having some alignment issues but when I get that sorted out everything will be back to normal.” The greens at Augusta are among the fastest anywhere in the world. Surely they would find him out? Not a chance. Spieth duly arrived at his favourite golf course and putted the lights out. It was an astonishing transformation.
In the weeks since then, his game from tee to green has not been at its best, but that putting stroke is back, and that makes him dangerous on any course.
The Fort Worth Invitational was won in 2011 by David Toms, in 2012 by Zach Johnson (who also won in 2010), in 2013 by the irrepressible Boo Weekley, in 2014 by Adam Scott, in 2015 by Chris Kirk, in 2016 by Spieth and last year by Kevin Kisner. Spieth had chances to successfully defend his title 12 months ago, but Kisner held on.
There are two other men in the field who will arrive at the tournament and draw on good memories of past achievements at Colonial. Zach Johnson is a two-time winner and also has several top 10 finishes to his credit, while Jason Dufner was second in 2012 and 2014. Dufner is a real one-off, a man who often looks as if he would rather be doing anything other than playing tournament golf. He seldom smiles; in fact, he seldom shows any emotion on the course. You would never know by watching his demeanour whether he had just shot a 62 or an 82. But make no mistake about this - he is a fiercely determined competitor who cares deeply about what he does. And off the course he is a very funny man. Really!
Dufner has had his trials and tribulations on the greens, especially when it comes to putts of 10 feet and less. There was a spell when it seemed that he had little control over the club, and he developed a horrible short, jabby putting stroke that must have just about reduced him to tears at time. But he has worked hard to put things right and although his stroke may still not exactly be a thing of beauty, he has once again found a way to get the ball into the hole.
He played some superb golf at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and has made no secret of his desire to qualify for Jim Furyk’s American Ryder Cup team. He will, of course, need to start winning some tournaments if he is to achieve that goal, and will fancy his chances of doing precisely that at Fort Worth.
Johnson is one of the most consistent performers on the PGA Tour, and when you watch him play it is not difficult to understand why. The former Masters and Open champion is one of the shortest drivers of a golf ball on tour but the key thing is his ability to find fairways - time after time. As Matt Kuchar will attest, playing this game from the middle of the fairway is far easier than trying to hack the ball out of knee-high rough.
But you don’t achieve the things in this game that Johnson has simply by driving the ball straight. He is a terrific iron player and in a class of his own with a wedge in his hand. And, of course, when he is at his best he is also a remarkable putter.
Jimmy Walker is another who is firmly on the comeback trail having put a long and miserable spell of illness behind him. Walker possesses a glorious swing that produces a tremendous amount of effortless power, and he has started holing putts once more.
South African duo Louis Oosthuizen and Charles Schwartzel are also in the field. These are two of the sweetest swingers in the game, but would be the first to admit that they have failed to win as often as they should have done. When Ernie Els first appeared on the scene his swing was lionised by everybody within the game. It was, and remains, as smooth as silk. He generated terrific clubbed speed effortlessly, time and time again. Most pundits would agree that Oosthuizen’s swing is easily as good. So why hasn’t he won dozens of events?
Like so many of his contemporaries, there have been times when the 2010 Open champion has suffered the screaming heebie-jeebies on the greens, and not just from short distance. He is a bit like Sergio Garcia in as much as every time he turns up for a tournament he seems to have adopted yet another putting grip. The time has surely come for him to find a method and stick with it, to trust it.
A top-class field also includes Xander Schauffele and Ollie Schniederjans, two of the brightest prospects in American golf. Schauffele is already a two-time winner and is surely cannot be long before Schniederjans joins him and another contemporary, Bryson DeChambeau. Schniederjans enjoyed a stellar amateur career and a marvellous rookie season in 2017. He has no weaknesses and possesses a wonderful temperament. Like so many of the other young guns he competes with, he also hits the ball a mile. His time cannot be far away.
Jimmy Walker. Ready for a win
Jordan Spieth. Hard to bet against him here
Jason Dufner. Foerce competitor
Jimmy Walker. Fit and healthy again
Jordan Spieth. Looking for first win of 2018
Jason Dufner. Come on Jason, give us a smile
Zach Johnson. Enjoys playing here
Xander Schauffele. Young gun with a BIG future
Steve Stricker. Keeps getting better with age
Rickie Fowler. Bubbling up for a big summer
Louis Oosthuizen. Depends on how he putts
Charl Schwarztel. Sweet swinger
Patrick Cantlay. Better than he thinks he is
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