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Crowne Plaza Invitational Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 05/25/2010

The PGA Tour stays in the Lone Star State for the third and final stop of the Texas swing as players make the short drive to Fort Worth for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. The field this week is stronger than what we saw last week at the Nelson and actually, it will have their strongest field in at least 15 years and one of the best in the tournament's history. The Colonial has had it share of exciting finishes as in the last four years, three have been decided by a sudden death playoff.

Colonial Country Club has hosted this event since the tournament’s inception in 1946, making it the second oldest PGA Tour event still being played at its original site with the Masters at Augusta National being the oldest. Colonial remains a shot-maker's course. A long drive is nice, but to win Colonial, a golfer must have a skillful touch on his approach and on the greens. Ben Hogan, who is memorialized all over Colonial, once said, “A straight ball will get you in more trouble at Colonial than any course I know.”

After playing holes no. 1 and 2, Colonial jumps into a three-hole stretch referred to as the “Horrible Horseshoe”, the three most difficult holes on the golf course that are shaped, well, like a horseshoe. After this, the track lightens up and players can go low here. Over the last four years, the winner has achieved -12 or better with the four-day record being -19. Last year it was the fourth easiest par 70 course on the schedule so some holes where players will walk away with pars will be a disappointment.

Eight players in the field have made the cut in each of the last four years – Stephen Ames, Jason Bohn, Tim Herron, Justin Leonard, Ryan Palmer, Rod Pampling, David Toms and Bo Van Pelt. Of those, Ames, Leonard and Pampling are the only ones with at least two top 25’s with Pampling possessing the most with three. The field includes four of the world’s top six players, headlined by Phil Mickelson, a two-time champion of the event and also boasts 17 of the top 20 players in terms of Ryder Cup points as well.

Defending champion Steve Stricker (+2500) will be making his first start in over a month after taking time to rest his ailing shoulder. He won the Northern Trust Open in February, but has struggled since because of the injury. He has dropped to fourth in the world but hopefully the rest has helped him get back to his old form. He has yet to miss a cut this season and has four top ten finishes in seven medal play events. In addition to his win here last year, his other top finishes were fifth in 1998, T6 in 2002 and T13 in 2005.

While Stricker won it last year, Phil Mickelson (+800) can be deemed the co-defender here. He won the tournament in 2000 and 2008, but missed last year's event to be with his wife, Amy, as she received treatment for breast cancer. He has not played a full schedule this season but he remains consistent as he has yet to miss a cut in 10 starts while finishing top ten three times including the win at the Masters. He does not play the Colonial often but with two wins under his belt, it really doesn’t matter.

As mentioned, -19 in the tournament scoring record and it was done by Kenny Perry (+3000), twice. He put up a 261 in both 2003 and 2005 and while he has taken a step back this year because of a smaller schedule, he cannot be overlooked. Since finishing sixth at the opening SBS Championship, he did not record a top 25 until THE PLAYERS, eight events later. He followed that up with a T16 at the Nelson last week so he could be peaking right now.

Tim Clark (+2000) broke his maiden in his last start at THE PLAYERS, snapping a 206 starting streak without a win. Now that he has that victory under his belt finally, he could be dangerous. Colonial is made for players like Clark who are straight off the tee and superb ball strikers. That is proven by his T2 finishes in each of the last two years, last year by way of a playoff, and a T12 in 2007. In addition to his win at Sawgrass, he has three other top tens this year so that win was no fluke.

Ben Crane (+3000) is another player whose game fits this course well and continues to play solid elsewhere. After three straight top 25’s, he missed the cut at the Zurich only to rebound to finish T4 and T7 at THE PLAYERS and the Nelson respectively. He is 10th in GIR and the most important stat could be that he is second in birdies or better on par fours and those are what will help win here. Despite a T46 last year at Colonial, he had a T5 and a T4 in two of the previous three years.

I see a lot of value in Ian Poulter (+3000). He is sixth in the OWGR yet he has the same odds with players who are not even close to that. He is coming off a missed cut at THE PLAYERS and then across the pond, he is coming off a missed cut at the BMW PGA Championship. He may not be in great form but he fits Colonial well as he has finished eighth and T15 the last two years. We also cannot forget he won the Accenture Match Play Championship and also came in T10 at the Masters.

The longshot to look at for this week will be Scott Verplank (+6000). He played well again last week and it came as no surprise as he has always had a lot of success in Texas. The native Texan finished strong last year and came into last week off a T13 at THE PLAYERS. He followed that up with a 67 on Sunday at the Nelson for a T5 finish. He has made the cut at the Colonial in two of the last three years including a T7 in 2007. That was a stretch of five top sevens in seven events so he is streaky good.

Recommended Tournament Win Six Pack at the Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial

Phil Mickelson +800

Tim Clark +2000

Kenny Perry +3000

Ben Crane +3000

Ian Poulter +3000

Scott Verplank +6000

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