Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Honda Classic gives Masters clues

Time is running out for players to get into decent form ahead of the Masters. With just over a month to go before the first tee-off at Augusta, many leading players are leaving it late to find the necessary rhythm required for a serious title challenge at the season's first major.

Only five of the world's top 10 chose to enter the Honda Classic and of these only Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar left Florida with any real satisfaction. Lee Westwood missed the chance to regain the top ranking, a third round 75 contributing to a +4 finish in joint 29th.

Rory McIlroy fared even worse, nightmare respective third and fourth round scores of 77 and 75 leaving him 25 shots adrift of winner Rory Sabbatini. Horror form like this - only four players who made the cut carded higher scores - would dent confidence of anyone and the young Ulsterman must be frustrated at his inconsistent form so far this season. The golf odds suggest he's in with a chance at the Masters, but not if he plays like that.

McDowell's final round 64 meant he finished three shots behind the winner, whilst Donald also finished strongly with a 66. Kuchar was steadier throughout, carding between 69 and 72 on each round.

Apart from these two Brits, YE Yang was the only other top-50 player to finish under par at Palm Beach Gardens, the world 29 finishing a stroke behind Sabbatini after making up four strokes on the final round.

The South Korean's performance was held together by some fine putting – of the top 13 finishers only Ricky Barnes had a worse driving accuracy than Yang – and form on the greens is crucial at Augusta, where Yang performed well last year, finishing joint 8th. He will of course need to hit more fairways than he did last week.
Sabbatini has also flourished at the Masters, recording his best ever major finish of joint second in 2007. The South African averaged two putts per green in regulation at Palm Beach, a figure he will need to reduce to feature amongst the leaders in the Masters.

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