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Saturday, 19 January, 2019

Happy hunting ground should lead to Jordan Spieth revival

Bullish Texan can rediscover putting magic at Fort Worth

Jordan Spieth feels he is close to becoming a dancefloor demon again
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Sky Sports Golf from 6pm Thursday
Starts 2pm

Webb Simpson returns to action in the Fort Worth Invitational this week, making his first appearance since destroying the Players Championship field, but no bigger than 22-1 is available about the Sawgrass hero.

Simpson has finished third and fifth in the last two tournaments at Colonial, so must be respected, but bookmakers are giving nothing away. Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose are also at unappealing odds just ahead of Simpson in the betting.

Rose would much rather be competing at home in the BMW PGA Championship, but a new US Tour rule means he has to enter an event he has not played in for four years, and this was the only one which fitted comfortably on his schedule.

Palmer's top tip
Jordan Spieth 9-1
It is ten months since Jordan Spieth last tasted victory and the determined Texan is getting ravenous for a trophy. That hunger could easily be sated in his home state at the Fort Worth Invitational on Sunday.

There is certainly no need for Spieth to panic. It speaks volumes for his consistency that he has dropped only one spot in the world rankings during his win drought – from second to third – recording two runner-up spots and a trio of third-place finishes.

The most recent of those near-misses was third at Augusta, where he closed with a barnstorming 64 in the Masters, and the three-time Major champion has slowly restored self-belief. His swing has been in decent nick for the most part – he found 15 greens in regulation in a final-round 67 at the AT&T Byron Nelson on Sunday – with putting the main issue. Bullishness in interviews, though, suggests the flat-stick woes will soon end.

Spieth feels he has got his putting stroke in good order again, despite poor results in the Byron Nelson. He explained how the Trinity Forest greens have always bemused him and that it was misreads rather than technical flaws causing the failure.

This week Spieth tackles greens on which he has enjoyed huge success. He has always destroyed the dancefloors of Colonial and has been licking his lips at the prospect of returning to Fort Worth, eager to get back to winning ways before his Open title defence in July.

Spieth had a lot on his plate last week, acting as an unofficial tournament host at his home track, having to defend a course which got mixed reviews. And he traditionally struggles in the Byron Nelson, where 16th place as a 16-year-old is still his best finish. Colonial is a much happier hunting ground and the pride of Dallas is on offer at surprisingly generous odds.

No matter what the state of his game, Spieth always finds a way to score well at Colonial. Two years ago, he was struggling with his swing, closing with a 74 in the Nelson and looking deep in a slump. A week later he was Colonial champion, a pair of weekend 65s delivering a three-shot success.

Spieth's Colonial form figures are 7-14-2-1-2 and asked about the course after the Byron Nelson he said: “It fits my eye. I like the shape of the holes. It's the grass types that I grew up on, the bermuda rough and fairways. I feel really good about the progress I've made throughout the last couple of weeks on the greens and I hope they start falling.”

Next best
Jason Dufner 35-1
The main threat to Spieth may turn out to be his pal Jason Dufner, who also relishes the dimensions of Colonial Country Club and has got his game peaking for a favoured assignment.

Dufner was second in 2012, Zach Johnson beating him by a shot, then runner-up again two years later, suffering a playoff defeat to Adam Scott. The driving accuracy of Dufner stands him in great stead on this tight track and he was sixth in 2016.

Dufner's second US Tour title came in Texas – the 2012 Byron Nelson – and his fifth came in the Memorial last summer. He won the Memorial despite serious putting issues, but almost a year later he has found some confidence on the greens.

Dufner finished third in the strokes-gained putting stats in the Players Championship, an excellent ten-under-par weekend meaning a share of fifth place, only five shots behind the inspired Simpson.

Prior to that effort, the improved putting stroke allowed Dufner to finish runner-up in the Zurich Classic pairs event alongside Pat Perez.
Dufner has banked more than $800,000 from his last two tournaments, is thrilled with the new set of blades he has just put in his bag, and the 2013 USPGA champ looks a likely Colonial contender.

Other selection
Russell Knox 80-1
Tee-to-green precision is the key to success at Colonial and Russell Knox has built a lucrative Stateside career from this attribute. The Florida-based Scot has skipped this event the last two years – the lure of the BMW PGA too much – but there are hardly any US Tour courses which set up better for him than Colonial and it has been restored to his schedule.

Knox has finished 21st and 24th in his two Colonial starts and a couple of bright recent efforts – seventh place alongside Martin Laird in the Zurich Classic, then 16th spot in the Byron Nelson after a closing 66 – indicate he could challenge for a third US Tour title on Sunday.

Others to note
Zach Johnson The old grinder appeared to be rediscovering his best form until a miserable Saturday 78 at Sawgrass. The dual Colonial champ could bounce back this week.

Matt Kuchar The accurate 39-year-old has not won on the US Tour since April, 2014, but Colonial always represents a decent chance.

Danny Lee The Texas-based Kiwi finished sixth last year and forced his way into the final pairing at Sawgrass before sharing seventh place.

Patrick Cantlay The methodical Californian possesses the ball-striking quality to find safe passage along the Colonial fairways.

Brian Harman The little left-hander has gone off the boil, but Colonial plays to his strengths and he could get back in the swing of things.

Kevin Kisner The defending champion, like Harman, appears to have lost some focus and form, but is teeing up at a layout to which he is perfectly suited.

Staking plan
J Spieth
4pts 9-1 general
J Dufner
2pts each-way 35-1 Betfred
R Knox
1pt each-way 80-1 Coral

The lowdown

Course Colonial Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas
Prize money $7.1m ($1.242m to the winner)
Length 7,209 yards Par 70 Field 132

Course records – 72 holes 259 Zach Johnson (2010) 18 holes 61 Keith Clearwater (1993), Lee Janzen (1993), Greg Kraft (1999), Justin Leonard (2003), Kenny Perry (2003), Chad Campbell (2004)

Course winners taking part Keith Clearwater, Tim Herron, Rory Sabbatini, Steve Stricker, Zach Johnson (twice), Adam Scott, Chris Kirk, Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner

When to bet By 2pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports from 6pm Thursday
Time difference Texas is six hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – AT&T Byron Nelson 1 A Wise (40-1), 2 M Leishman (25-1), T3 B Grace (25-1), JJ Spaun (150-1), K Mitchell (100-1)

Course overview The US Tour has held an event annually at Colonial since 1946 and the ancient track inevitably offers up plenty of birdie opportunities to the modern professional.

Ben Hogan won at Colonial five times, hence the track's nickname 'Hogan's Alley', but more recently Corey Pavin, Phil Mickelson and Kenny Perry have claimed dual Colonial crowns.

There are only two par-fives – the first and the 11th – and the latter is a genuine three-shot hole at 635 yards. In-play punters should be aware that the first two holes on the course are the easiest, immediately followed by the three most difficult. The third, fourth and fifth are known as the 'Horrible Horseshoe'.

The layout has been lengthened through the years but remains more of a test of accuracy over power. The fairways are Bermuda grass, but the greens are smooth Bentgrass. The event was previously known as the Crowne Plaza Invitational and the Dean and Deluca

Story of last year Kevin Kisner fended off Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Sean O'Hair to edge that trio by a shot

Weather forecast Seriously hot, with hardly any breeze to provide relief

Type of player suited to challenge An accurate sort with a behaving putter can destroy Colonial – it is a course that can be overwhelmed with straight-hitting rather than power-play. Newcomers are obviously at a significant disadvantage at such a long-established venue. Fitness is important in the sweltering heat expected this week

Key attribute Accuracy

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This week Spieth tackles greens on which he has enjoyed huge success
E.W. Terms
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