Course form counted for plenty last week as Dustin Johnson became the brand, spanking, new World No. 1 at the Riviera Club, California.
It’s not going to get any easier as the Florida Swing gets underway in Palm Beach Gardens where the eventual winner will have to negotiate the notorious Bear Trap (holes 15, 16 & 17) that have traditionally been the toughest on the PGA Tour.
Paddy’s doing his bit by paying 1/5 the odds the first 7 places and here are the best-backed ahead of Thursday’s tee-off.
1. Thomas Pieters
A final round 63 saw the Belgian bomber shoot up the charts last weekend to chase home new world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at Riviera last week.
Pieters picked up enough points to get half-way to his dream of temporary US Tour status. Despite making his pro debut at Palm Beach Gardens, he could start to kick on now as he looks to prove that his Ryder Cup heroics was no flash in the pan.
The 25-year-old has promised that he will stay loyal to the European Tour but if all the predictions of where his game is going are right, we’ll be seeing more of him at the top of the leaderboard in the Stateside over the next few seasons.
2. Patrick Rodgers
Should have finished Top 10 last weekend until his final-day descent at the Genesis Open, but the 24-year-old is on a mission.
Rodgers was among the best amateurs of his generation and was ranked as world no 1 in 2014 for four months. Not bad considering winner-machine Jordan Spieth, former rookie of the year Daniel Berger and this year’s dual winner Justin Thomas were among his peers.
While Rodgers has been left somewhat in their slipstream there’s enough shards of light in his form to indicate that a breakthrough win isn’t out of the question.
Two appearances at the Honda Classic haven’t yielded much with a 44-MC return, but if he can master the Bear Trap and return to his Farmers Open third to Hideki Matsuyama, he could fill the places. The big worry is that he starts to become too hard on himself as four top 25 finishes in his last nine outings run side-by-side with five missed cuts.
3. Justin Thomas
The 23-year-old who is on top of the world after winning three of his last nine tournaments to help clear the college debt.
Thomas went back-to-back in January at the Tour of Champions and Sony Open in Hawaii before the inevitable crash at the Phoenix Open earlier this month.
A final round 68 at the Genesis Open showed he’s returned to solid ground and a third-place berth behind Adam Scott here last season augurs well for another raid on a mega-bucks leaderboard.
4. Adam Scott
The 2013 Masters Champ is a later riser this year, with a T11 last weekend setting him up nicely for a title defence in Florida.
A final day 70 took the gloss of three rounds in the 60s as talk of the Aussie’s demise after the belly-putter ban kicked in last season have been well wide of the mark. Scott actually leads the Tour in strokes gained putting.
Two victories last year after a winless 2015 means Scott sits seventh in the world rankings and with his experience of how to navigate the bear trap – could go close this weekend again.
5. Rickie Fowler
It took him a couple of seasons but after two MC’s at this track, Fowler has spent his last five years here chasing down a big prize finishing 7-13-24-41-6 as he got to grips with the Bear Trap.
Fowler actually led at half-time here last year before fading into 6th. He comes here in pretty much the same form as last year having finished T4 at the Phoenix Open earlier this month after losing a play-off to back-to-back winner Hideki Matsuyama there last season.
Still only 28, a stronger show over the weekend could give him a good chance of end his barren early in the new season, ahead of the season’s first Major in Augusta.
6. Billy Horschel
After four visits where he had plenty of time to enjoy the weekend delights in Florida, the former Fed Ex Champ finally made the cut last year when finishing eighth to Adam Scott.
Horschel hasn’t gotten his head in front since going back-to-back at the BMW Championship & The Tour Championship in 2014 to land that monster bonus but can grind it out with the best of them when the mood takes him. Hit the Top 10 in five of his 20 tournaments last year.
Has yet to get out of second gear since the year turned and missed the cut last weekend. It may give him a couple of extra days on the range but he really needs to get in the places and build from there with a win-ratio like his.
7. Russell Knox
Recovered well at the fag-end of last season after getting a late kick in the stones when omitted from Darren Clarke’s Ryder Cup side.
The World No. 18 has been consistent, if unspectacular since then, but did miss the cut at the boisterous Phoenix Open on his latest start.
Punters have latched onto Knox’s course form here as he’s posted 2-3-26 placed finishes in the last three years and his ability to get the ball on the dancefloor where he sits sixth for greens-in-regulation.