River Highlands has been hosting this PGA Tour fixture under various guises, (it was previously known as the Buick Championship and the Greater Hartford Open), for 19 years so we should be able to form some strong conclusions about the type of player likely to prosper. The last 13 champions were all American, with a fair split between top-class market leaders and outsiders. The three champions from 04 – 06; Peter Jacobsen, Woody Austin and Brad Faxon; illustrate that experienced home-based players tend to perform particularly well here.
That trend can also be identified from the consistent course records of very short-hitting old-timers such as Fred Funk and Corey Pavin. As a short par-70, the emphasis is very much on position rather than power, with accurate iron play essential to smaller than usual sized greens. Along with the fact that I’m loathe to avoid players who were in the thick of it at Bethpage, these specific course characteristics made finalising the short-list a slightly easier task than usual.
Of all those who went close at Bethpage, Hunter Mahan may have left the most shots out there. He was typically outstanding from tee to green, but missed several putts on Monday and was particularly unfortunate to hit the pin at 17 before ricocheting into trouble. Mahan confirmed to me at Bethpage that he is a future Major winner, and his record at River Highlands is quite outstanding. Since 2005, he’s finished 2nd, 1st and 2nd in this event, so after the weekend heroics its no surprise to see him start favourite. Not one, however, that I am prepared to take a short price about.