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WGC Cadillac Champions preview

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This week, the PGA Tour makes the journey to Doral, Florida for the second WGC of the season, the Cadillac Championship.

This is of course the first stroke play World Golf Championship of the year, as we saw 64 of the world’s best players do battle in the WGC Accenture Match Play last month.

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There were notable absentees that week, as Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods all decided to skip the event. All three players did return to action last week, at the Honda Classic, and only Scott made it through four rounds.

Mickelson had missed the cut by one, and Tiger withdrew mid way through his final round citing back spasms. At first glance, it would of been easy to think that Scott was the rustiest of the three last week, due to his lengthy lay off, but his T12 finish proved he’s still in the zone.

All three players have good form at this event, Tiger especially who won here in 2013, his seventh  WGC Cadillac Championship win. Mickelson and Scott both finished T3 here last year, so all three will be looking to impress once again.

On the subject of course form, it may hold less significance this year, as under the watchful eye of Donald Trump, who funded the changes, course designer Gill Hanse made several changes to this historic layout, and it could make a noticeable difference.

Blue Monster at Doral, now part of the Trump National Organization, has undergone an overhaul, over the last 18 months, and now has a revised layout.

Here is a link to the changes made to this week’s venue.

http://scorecard.golf.com/2014/03/03/the-trump-effect-donalds-not-so-subtle-changes-to-dorals-blue-monster/

Not one green has stayed original, and length has been added, now making Blue Monster a, 7,481 yard, Par 72. Water is now in play on 14 holes (formerly 6) and this will only add to the challenge of this famed track.

With these changes made, it should give others a chance to rival some of the course specialists and therefore provide the likes of Woods with a new challenge altogether.

Having said all this, I do still think the key stats stay the same. Anyone who can combine accuracy and distance off the tee will be in good shape this week, couple that with a hot week with the putter and you have found a real contender. Putting is definitely a big part of this week, especially with the new surfaces, and you will want to be getting close to the hole, as ever, something that is a lot easier from the fairway at Doral.

For me, I wouldn’t completely write off course form, it still shows a competence of playing in the area, and some parts of the course have stayed the same, but the greens changing is the biggest difference for me, so players who adapt to new surfaces quickly, may well stand out here.

I’m sure several players have paid a visit to the new, and possibly improved Blue Monster, and there are two players to my knowledge who have taken a good look of it, ahead of this week.

Gonzalo Fdez-Castano completed his move from his native Spain, to Miami over the new year, and has posted several pictures on Twitter, of him at Doral. From what I can tell, he has been using this as his practice facility, as he lives close by, and his knowledge may give him an advantage over his fellow competitors.

The other is Luke Donald, who took a tour round the course, after getting a lift (yes in a helicopter, not a car) with none other than Donald Trump himself.

With these two both trying out the course prior to this week, Fdez-Castano more so, it is possible they feel more comfortable than others, especially those who fail to adapt quickly.

All in all, this should provide a new challenge for everyone in the field, no matter how small or big the differences may be, and we are no doubt in for another exciting week on the PGA Tour.

The hot favourite this week is Rory Mcilroy (15/2) who you could argue should of won last week, but an over par final round saw him fall into a play off at the Honda, where he lost to, now two-time winner, Russell Henley. Behind him is not Tiger Woods (seven time winner of this event), but 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott (12/1) who comes in just shorter than Woods (15/1) and Dustin Johnson (18/1).

You can make a case for any one of these players, and there is always a big profile winner of this event. Nick Watney is the only winner of the WGC Cadillac to either not of won a major before, or after winning here at Doral so for me you have to include players of major calibre in your staking plan.

Here are my tips for the 2014 WGC Cadillac Championship.

Tiger Woods 15/1 (StanJames) 3pts win A lot of the time I sit here, asking myself what price would actually make me bet Woods, considering the higher level competition these days, well 15/1 to win here at Doral was certainly enough.

Yes, we all know Tiger is yet to impress in 2014, missing the 3rd round cut at Torrey Pines, and withdrawing last week, but this is a course he loves, and I am happy to give him a chance at double the price he normally is. There is a chance the back spasms pop up again, but there’s just as much as chance he wins here, and I am happy to give him a chance.

He needs no introduction, but to sum up why he should be a must consideration this week, he has finished inside the top-10 on all but one occasion, when he withdrew in this event in 2012, and has won this event twice, and the Doral Open twice, back-to-back in 2005-2006, all here at Trump National Doral. He followed those two wins, with a win at the same course, a year later making it three wins in a row at Doral.

He is the best player to ever play the game of golf, and although it looks increasingly unlikely that he will break Jack Nicklaus’ major record (18 win), there’s never been a doubt he will break Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour wins, Woods currently has 79. Coming off a five-win season in 2013, he has looked below par, but he can win on any given week.

If he is going to turn his season around, before the first major of the year, the Masters in April, this could be the perfect opportunity, and it may also be the biggest price you see him at for a very long time. If he so much as makes the cut this week, he should shorten in price in his next event, and if he places it will be cut in half, so I am happy to take a price like 15/1 while I still can.

He has always loved this course, and although there have been changes made, I have no doubt he can conquer the new layout, as he has done here in years gone by.

I cannot see him playing hurt, and if he planned to withdraw, I would of thought he would of done it by now (Tuesday night), and his caddie Joe LaCava was seen mapping the course on Monday, so for me he is set to play.

Of course it’s a risk, backing a player who is suffering a bad run of form, but the risk for me, is somewhat reduced when you are backing the World No.1.

Should Woods struggles again this week, finishing in the bottom half a dozen, I think there will be some genuine reason for concern about his 2014 season, but I fully expect him to bounce back.

If he needs any more motivation this week, the fact he could lose his spot atop of the World Rankings may just be enough. A win for Adam Scott this week, puts Woods’ #1 ranking in serious jeopardy, and he would then have to finish around 2nd-7th to hold stay above the Australian.

He may not show it at times, but I strongly believe that the title of World No.1 means a hell of a lot to Tiger Woods, and his ego, and that may just be another positive for him getting the job done here.

If he improves his ball striking, and more importantly holes putts at the rate he did here last year, there is no way I can see him getting beat, and that is what I am banking on him doing.

Just to make it clear, there is no way I would back Woods this week if he was 7/1 or lower, but at 15/1 there is no I can leave him out, and he makes my selections for the first time.

Phil Mickelson 28/1 (General) 2pts e/w: Another player who I don’t tip very often, in fact again I don’t think I ever have and that’s because I always feel there’s value to be had elsewhere, especially when Mickelson and Woods are in the field. Not this time though.

When two of the game’s most naturally gifted players tee it up, you always think two things, firstly it’s a top-class event, and secondly they are both going to be short odds, well this week, only one of those is correct. Woods being 15/1 and Mickelson being 28/1, in the same event is something I never remember seeing before, and something I never expected to see for that matter, and I just couldn’t ignore it.

It’s not just price however that has made me pick these two, I genuinely believe both have a great chance of winning, and you can never rule one, let alone both out.

Mickelson doesn’t quite have the record that Woods has here, but he does have a win to his name, and two other top 5s in ten appearances at Doral.

One of those top 5s came here 12 months ago, when he finished in a tie for 3rd with, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia. Mickelson shot three rounds in the 60’s including opening with, 67-67, but his final round 71 wasn’t enough to keep the pressure on Tiger, and ultimately fell short of his second win here.

It was here, at Doral that Mickelson played one of those shots, where all you can say is “wow”, when he hit a wedge off of the cart path, instead of taking a drop. He explained in an interview after round, that basically it was not all that difficult, and he knew it would fly five yards further than it should, because of the surface.

Those sort of shots are what makes him the most unpredictable, and one of the most exciting players to watch. It’s his unpredictability that gives me most hope this week, as I don’t think he needs to be in top form, in order to get the win on any given week.

He can putt well, just about anywhere, when he gets on a roll, and should he improve tee-to-green this week, I wouldn’t have too many concerns about his game here at Doral. Mickelson will not the revamped layout phase him, and better still I expect him to embrace the challenge, and face it head on.

Mickelson loves to win early in the season, and it almost, by March, feels like he’s due a win, so let’s hope it’s here that he gets his season kick-started, before Augusta in April.

At 28/1 it is worth taking a chance that Mickelson has one of his “on week’s” and after a patchy start to the season, it will be a welcome feeling for him. He has been struggling early part of this year with his back, but I am hoping that with his extra rest, due to missing the cut at the Honda, he can tee it up here Thursday as fresh as possible and get off to a quick start.

Again, just like Woods’ I would not be backing Mickelson at his normal price (around 14/1, 16/1), because the field is so strong, and a number of players, many of whom are in better form, can win, but at 28/1 he is impossible to ignore.

Luke Donald 45/1 (Boylesports) 1pt e/w: Sticking with players who have had a rough start to 2014, step forward England’s Luke Donald, who will be keen to carry over the positives from last week’s finish.

After what can only be described as a disappointing year for Donald, in 2013, he would of been keen to put the bad season behind him quickly in 2014, but he didn’t get off to the ideal start.

His first two finishes on the European Tour this year, in the “Middle-East swing” saw Donald finish T37 and T57, before he crashed out in the first round of the WGC Match Play, at the hands of fellow European Matteo Manassero. Roll on a week however, and we got to see the Luke Donald of old, as he finished T8 at the Honda Classic, his best finish on the PGA Tour, since his T5 at the BMW Championship in September.

It looks like he is finally turning the corner, with help from current coach Chuck Cook, who is also responsible for two major winners, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley. His swing definitely looked in good shape in Florida last week, at the Honda, and I see no reason why he cannot carry over his form to this week, at a course he knows well.

Not only does Donald have very respectable course form at the “old Doral”, but as aforementioned he has also had a chance to get a glimpse of the new layout, when he visited with Donald Trump here, just last month.

Prior to the changes, Donald had two 6th place finishes in 2011-12, and back-to-back top 20’s in 2009-10, so he looked to be at ease with the old layout, and when he’s in form, like his was last week, I am confident he can adapt to the new layout that will pose a challenge this week.

Donald, as we know is not the longest off the tee, but his short game has always been a strength of his. If he can keep it on the fairway off the tee, like he does when he plays well, as well as improve on his long iron shots into the green, I am confident he can get the putter hot enough, to enjoy another positive week.

At 45/1 I thought he was worth chancing, considering week he had at the Honda last week. When he’s at the top of his game, he is a big threat, and well capable of winning a World Golf Championship, as he proved, when winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play in 2011. He’s not going to match the form he showed that year, when he managed to reach No.1 in the World Rankings, just yet, but I don’t doubt he will get back in the winners circle soon enough, hopefully this week.

Gonzalo Fdez-Castano 225/1 (StanJames) 0.5pt e/w: Like Donald, Fdez-Castano has had a chance to look at the new layout at Doral, now that it’s his home course.

He has spent the last few days referring to this week as his “new home event” on Twitter, and considering the amount of time he would of  spent practising there, since moving to Miami in the New Year, it probably does feel like that.

On his day, the Spaniard is one of the finest ball strikers around, with very accurate iron play, but he needs to warm up the putter if he wants to win.

It always has been, and probably always will be his Achilles’ heel, putting that is, but when he’s playing well he tends to hole the putts when it matters.

He enjoyed a good 2013 season, highlighted by arguably his best win yet, the BMW Masters, at Lake Malaren in China. He joined Peter Hanson and Rory Mcilroy on the short list of winners in the event, and that sort of win should be a big confidence boost to him, as he looks to escalate his career to the next level.

Now a seven-time European Tour winner, Fdez-Castano will be looking to step it up and notch and express his talents on the bigger stage, not only on the PGA Tour, but in WGC fields like this one, and major championships.

Last year, after receiving an invite, he went over to the States to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when alongside Tiger Woods during the week, he managed to finish T3. This was an impressive display from him, and one that gave him a platform to produce his best golf in major championships so far.

He posted career-high finishes in both the Masters, finishing T20 on his second start at Augusta, and T10 at the U.S open on his third start in the event. These were big for his profile, and many thought he would kick on, but it wasn’t to be and it went quiet towards the end of his season.

Last week we saw a solid improvement on his lacklustre performances so far in 2014, as he finished the Honda Classic, with three straight rounds in the 60s (69-68-69) en-route to a T24 finish. This gave me more confidence going into a week, that I had earmarked him for, since he started practising here in January.

At 225/1, he in my opinion is well overpriced for a player, who not only has the quality to compete, but also the know how to navigate, the recently refurbished Trump National Doral.

Total Points Staked this week: 10

Profit/Loss for 2013: +199.95

Last week was the most disappointing for us this year, and this week looks perfect to get back in the mix. The best thing about a WGC is there is value to be had, the worst, is that it is extremely difficult to pick a winner.

The odds may appeal on several players, due to the strength of the field, but you cannot back everyone, and you have to settle for a select few picks. I am happy to include Woods, and Mickelson for the first time in my selections, strangely in the same week, and hopefully Donald and Fdez-Castano can prove a useful supporting cast.

As ever, I am easy to get in touch with, via Twitter @TJacobsGolf, and it would be great to hear from you.