2009 Mercedes Benz Championship Preview and Picks

2009 Mercedes-Benz Championship
Thurs. Jan 8 Sun. Jan 11
Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
The Golf Channel

by Matt of Predictem.com

The PGA is back at it this week with the season opening Mercedes-Benz
Championship
from Kapalua, Hawaii. Thirty-three tournament winners
from 08 make up the field, highlighted by Vijay Singh with Daniel Chopra
as the defending champion. The winner will take home $1.12 million of the
$5.6 million dollar purse and get a nice start on the 09 FedExCup race.
All the action comes in or near primetime with the time difference and The
Golf Channel carries all four days. XM radio also has full coverage leading
up to and during the event.

There are some notable names not among the field this week, some by choice, while others are forced to watch due to a winless season last year. Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington have all passed on the invitation, leaving Vijay Singh as the highest ranking player in the field. Perennial stars like Jim Furyk, Stuart Appleby and Steve Stricker will have to wait another week to start their seasons as each failed to notch a victory in 08, despite having solid overall campaigns. Stricker and Furyk finished in the top-5 at Kapalua last year.


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The Plantation Course will serve as the host course for the Mercedes for the 11th consecutive time with the Bermuda grass track measuring 7,411 yards and playing at par-73. The Plantation has a reputation for low scores, mostly due to ample fairways and receptive greens. The course ranked as the 4th easiest in ’08 with an average score of just over 2-under per round at 70.94 and ranks 52nd out of 54 (3rd easiest) courses in fairways and greens hit. The only real teeth the course could show would be if the winds blow steady. Daniel Chopra won last year at 18-under and nearly half the field managed to get to 10-under, and birdies should be plentiful again this time around.

Like last year, we’ll make three picks to win the event outright, one each from a short, middle and long odds perspective. We will also pick a winner in at least two head to head matches typically available at the golf sportsbooks. This week’s odds to win and matches come courtesy of the book at bodog. Here is a run down of some players to watch this week at the Mercedes-Benz. (all stats from ’08 PGA competition)

Vijay Singh 5 to 1 to win
Vijay is certainly the favorite this week given the end of season run in ’08 that saw him win back to back at the Barclays and Deutsche to win the FedEx Playoffs. Singh is plenty long at 297 off the tee and ranked 12th in GIR% on the way to a 6th best scoring average. Vijay was best on Tour in par-5 conversions last year and should eat up the four 5-pars at the Plantation. Singh is a tireless worker and has never needed to shake off any rust coming off the offseasons; he is our short odds pick to win this week.

Anthony Kim - 8 to 1
Kim is making his first appearance at the Mercedes after winning twice in ’08 on the way to a top-10 season in nearly every Tour category. Kim mixes tremendous length with great touch on the greens, averaging over 300 yards off the tee and ranking 26th in putting average. Kim was 16th in birdies per round and 3rd in scoring average on the strength of his 6th ranked par-5 birdie percentage. The game is surely there for the youngster, the only question could come in handling much higher expectations this year.

Ernie Els - 8 to 1
Els had a very uneven ’08 by his standards, winning the Honda in March and seeing spotty results for much of the next few months. Els came around at the end of the year, finishing in the top-20 in the last three events of the Playoffs, including two top-10’s. Els has had success in Hawaii in his career and finished T3 in the ’05 Mercedes. Ernie still managed to average a 12th best, 69.9 scoring average despite his “struggles”.

Camilo Villegas - 11 to 1
Villegas was scary good at the end of ’08, winning the BMW and TOUR Championship to finish off the PGA season. Camilo has kept up the pace with top-5 finishes in the Merrill Lynch Shootout and Chevron World Challenge in December. Villegas finished ’08 ranked 5th in birdie and scoring average while ranking inside the top-15 in putting average and par-5 birdie conversions. Both of those will play nicely at the Plantation Course and should have our middle odds pick in the mix on Sunday.

Geoff Ogilvy - 14 to 1
Ogilvy looked to be on track with an early win at the WGC-CA, but couldn’t get much going after that in ’08. At years end, Ogilvy ranked outside the top-140 in total driving, greens in regulation and birdies per round. All that should have led toa ton of missed cuts, but Ogilvy is among the best at limiting mistakes, managing a 31st ranked scoring average despite the shaky stats. The Plantation is friendly to the wilder players and Geoff has had two top-20’s here in ’06 and ’07.

Adam Scott 16 to 1 odds
Scott punched his Mercedes ticket with his Byron Nelson win last year and has had some close calls here with a T5 in ’05 and a runner-up in ’07. Scott is always one of the longest off the tee at just over 300 yards, but can be errant, ranking only 185th in driving accuracy. Scott put together a 19th ranked scoring average in ’08 although the putter was streaky, eventually ranking 116th in putting average. Oddly, Scott is the Tour’s best putter from 10-15 feet, meaning a solid week with the approaches could have him in the winner’s circle.

For the Win:

Short Favorite: Vijay Singh (5 to 1)

No one works harder and the good finish to ’08 continued with at the Chevron World Challenge in late December.

Middle of the Road: Camilo Villegas (11 to 1)

Like Singh, the solid swings continued through the offseason. Cam should take advantage of the par-5’s and put himself in position for a win.

Longshot: J.B. Holmes (33 to 1)

Ranked 3rd in driving and 1st in average length of approach in ’08. Also one of the wilder players on Tour off the tee, but course is forgiving and will give up birdies from the rough.

Head to Head Matches (our pick) *all matches are for entire tournament

Ernie Els (-130) v. Camilo Villegas (EVEN) (Villegas)

Els is the better known name, but Villegas has been playing better and actually ahead of Els in World Rank. This one stands out as a great value as well with the even money and resembles ahome dog type of bet in the NFL.

Adam Scott (-115) v. Geoff Ogilvy (-115) (Scott)

Scott’s 13th ranked par-5 birdie % and 18th ranked overall birdie % trump Ogilvy’s numbers and Scott has ran much better at previous Mercedes.

Happy New Year to all and Good Luck this week!