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Shriners Hospital for Children Open

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It’s only the second week of the new PGA Tour season, so it’s hard to get a gauge of who is ready for a big 2014-15 season, a mixed bag of seasoned pros and tour rookies head to the desert, in Las Vegas, Nevada for the Shriners Hospital for Children Open.

What we can be sure of is a shoot-out. The last five winning scores in this event have been; -24, -24, -23, -21 and -19, so birdies are not only preferable, but essential in abundance. All aspects of a player’s game are going to have to be in top shape in order to take advantage of this course, and keep up with those who are ready to go low.

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If you fail to break par on one of the days, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to contend, so four rounds in the 60’s is going to be required.

There’s plenty of course form to go by for this week’s event, unlike the Frys.com Open last week, so if a player has played here on multiple occasions you can tend to tell whether they are likely to play well here.

Whoever wins this week is going to have to set up plenty of birdie opportunities, and convert a high percentage of them, so hitting greens and putting well are obvious requirements.

The Course: TPC Summerlin, 7,255 yards, Par 71. The last four holes offer a risk/reward style challenge, with the driveable par-4 15th, the par-5 16th, the water-lined par-3 17th and the par 4 18th that provides a strong test. Playing these four holes well could well be key in a players chances of winning, and could either derail someone’s round, or be a springboard for their success.

It’s early in the season, and there are players who if they didn’t play the Frys.com Open last week, would not of played competitively for the last five or six weeks, so it’s hard to tell how those players will fare this week.

I’m keen on players with good course form here, and those that have proven they can shoot low in the past. Not all players are suited to these birdie-fest events, and that’s important to bear in mind. If a player has won an event at or around the -20 mark, they may well be worth another look.

Here are my selections for the Shriners Hospital for Children Open.

Jimmy Walker 25/1 (SportingBet & StanJames) 1.5pts e/w:

You may be excused for thinking that 25/1 looks a bit short this week about Jimmy Walker and his chances here, but I for one am happy to back him at that price.

Despite starting the new season with a 68th placed finish last week, his second round 66 was enough for me to remain optimistic that he can play well this week.

There was no way he could keep up the pace he started this time last year, when he won 3 events between October and February, but hopefully fond memories of this time last year will help his case.

He has obviously found a way of playing this course over the last two years, as he has finished 12th and 10th on his last two starts at TPC Summerlin, after missing three straight cuts here between 2008-2010.

After opening with a first-round 71 last year, he finished strongly with rounds of 68,64 and 67 over the next three days. Obviously he broke the golden rule of shooting in the 70s and if he can cut that out this week, there’s no reason he can’t strongly contend.

The 2013/14 season was a dream season for Walker, and one that will be hard to replicate, but there’s not doubt he will be wanting to win more, and soon.

After a strong Ryder Cup debut, where he finished with a win, three halves and a loss on a losing USA team, Walker will now be ready to turn his attention to his individual performance and this looks a great place to kick-start his season.

He’s no stranger to low scoring, two of his wins last year (Frys.com and Sony Open) came courtesy of -17 winning scores and even when winning on the Nationwide Tour he shot -15 and -16 to win.

Walker led the tour in Total Birdies last year with 401, 12 more than Brian Harman in second place, and he was the only player in the top-10 of this statistic to play less than 100 rounds (98).

To summarise, Walker is definitely capable of going low, and he should still be confident despite a less than stellar tournament last week. At 25/1 his odds are very much at the bottom end of where I would back him, but hopefully he can continue to show good form here at TPC Summerlin.

Ryo Ishikawa 66/1 (Betway) 1pt e/w: Ishikawa has been overshadowed in recent months by fellow native Hideki Matsuyama, who unlike Ishikawa has a win on the PGA Tour, after winning the Memorial Tournament last June.

When shooting low scores is the subject, Ishikawa should spring to mind straight away, as he recorded the lowest round in any major golf tour (58) in the final round of The Crowns (Japan Golf Tour event) which he won by five shots. Although it was a par-70, and therefore does not level that of the 59’s shot on par-72 courses, it’s still some feat especially under the final round pressure.

He has 11 wins on the Japan Tour to his name, has been in the spotlight for many years now, and with four Japan Tour wins in 2009 he managed to become the youngest ever player to break into the top-50 of the Official World Golf Rankings, just one year after becoming the youngest player to make it into the top-100.

Still only 23, Ishikawa has many good years ahead of him, so there’s no reason for concern just yet about failing to win on the PGA Tour. He has two runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour to date, most notably here 12 months ago when he finished six shots adrift of eventual winner, Webb Simpson.

With that 2nd place finish at this course on his debut to his name, plus his good showing last week (T19), Ishikawa looks a good bet to go well again here, in the desert.

He struggled on the par-3’s last week, but last year he ranked 10th in Par 3 Performance over the course of the season, so he should be able to rectify that problem from last week, and therefore give himself a better chance of contending. He was a combined -14 on the par 4’s and 5’s last week, and had he of not shot +6 on the par 3’s he would have finished a lot higher, and could possibly even of pushed for the win.

I read a list recently of the best players without a win on the PGA Tour recently and he was on it, but at 23 he still has a long career ahead of him, although a win as soon as possible will no doubt be on his mind.

When he does break his duck on Tour, he is going to the sort of player whose price could drop dramatically so although 66/1 doesn’t look particularly big now, it may well do in the near future.

Spencer Levin 100/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w: Spencer Levin is no stranger to making birdies, he made them in abundance before his injury problems, and now with what looks like a clean bill of health, he could be set to make them again, starting here.

He is also no stranger to playing well in the desert, as he became a two-time all-american at the University of New Mexico, and also played well at both the Phoenix Open (5th in 2012) and here, at TPC Summerlin.

In four appearances here he has made all four cuts, and finished 4th and 5th in 2011 and 2012 respectively and he will be hoping to find that sort of form again here.

He started this new season off well, finishing a respectable T21 at the Frys.com Open last week, and he will be looking to build on that further, at a course he knows well.

Whilst there’s no way of telling at this stage whether he is ready to contend on the PGA Tour again, like he did when losing out in a play-off to Johnson Wagner in 2011, at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, and at the 2012 Phoenix Open where he had the 54-hole lead, he is worth chancing at 100/1 on a course he’s impressed at in the past.

Whilst easier than last week, this event is still fairly hard to predict with little current form to go by, due to a lay-off from the end of last season, but there is at least some course form to go by this week.

I have tried to pick a player from each section of the betting, top, middle and then a three-figure odds outsider, just because it is difficult to tell at this early stage who’s ready to come out and impress. Each of my picks have a record of going low in the past, and they’ve also all recorded  top-10 here, so their course form stands up.