Cink favourite as best absent from AT&T
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2008 AT&T Classic | Preview | 14 May 2008
The AT&T Classic is played this week at the TPC Sugarloaf in Duluth in Georgia on the outskirts of Atlanta with a field that reflects the position the event now has on the PGA Tour schedule.
Two years ago the AT&T was played as the lead up event to the Masters but it was still able to attract one or two top ten players namely Phil Mickelson. The change of date in the schedule, brought about by FedEx Cup and Players Championship reshuffling, has meant that the event now comes at an awkward time for many looking to squeeze in a break between the Players Championship and the upcoming big events at the Colonial, the Memorial and the US Open.
As a result no player from the top ten in the world ranking will be in action this week but having said that there are still plenty of high quality players, some who are in good form and with good records at the event, which has a history dating back to the win of New Zealand’s Bob Charles in 1967.
The TPC Sugarloaf is a Greg Norman designed layout, one of his first built outside of Australia, and one highly regarded by those who play the event. Being played a little later in the season offers a different dynamic to the course with the dormant off fairway grasses, so prevalent in its earlier date of late March, by now well and truly enjoying the warmth of Spring.
Stewart Cink has not won this event but he has often gone close and given the form he has displayed in recent months he is the favourite in most people’s eyes.
Only a four time winner in more than ten years on the PGA Tour, Cink has nevertheless had a very consistent record and as a resident in Duluth he is a regular at the TPC Sugarloaf.
His record in this particular event has been very solid although not quite so in the past two years. He is, however, in some of the best form of his career right now and must rate a good chance.
Two time winner and once runner up, Zach Johnson, is in nowhere near the same level of form that he was when winning this event last year just a month or so after winning the Masters. He missed the cut last week at the Players but a return to the golf course where he has had so much success might serve to inspire him to greater things.
Jonathan Byrd is another who might be inspired to play well on a golf course where he has done well in previous years. Like Johnson he has not been exactly at his peak of late but that could change this week.
Kenny Perry struggled in the closing stages of last week’s Players after being in contention for most of the week. He has played solidly for much of this season but his concern this week is an abysmal record at Sugarloaf in recent years. He did however play the event well earlier in his career and was third here on one occasion at this venue.
Briny Baird has never won on the PGA Tour but of late there has been enough evidence to suggest he just might before long. He finished 4th last week at the Players Championship which in the overall scheme of things was a very special effort. With several good weeks at this event in earlier years, the extra confidence he brings to this week as a result of his effort at Sawgrass might just be enough to have him challenging on Sunday.
Camilo Villegas finished third in this event last year in his only visit to the event and while there has been nothing special from the Colombian this year, he has played reasonably well, more especially when 7th at the recent Verizon event.
Ryuji Imada has been disappointing of late after a good run of form earlier in the season but he has a good record at Sugarloaf including when a surprise runner up to Johnson last year after leading into the final day. If he can rediscover his early season form he could be a chance.
The Australians are headed by Steve Elkington, who had a solid tournament in this event last year and who has played reasonably well in recent weeks. Nick O’Hern is in the field and is the leading world ranked (52nd) Australian this week.
Jason Day will play the event for the first time looking to steady what has been a rollercoaster ride in his rookie season. There have been two top tens but also a number of missed cuts. He is talented enough to contend in an event of this nature and his progress will be watched with interest.
Greg Norman is playing the event no doubt because of his association with Sugarloaf as the designer. He has played quite well when he has played this season including two top tens in European Tour events.
Gavin Coles, Nick Flanagan, Brett Rumford, Stephen Leaney, Steve Allan, Andrew Buckle and last week’s third place finisher on the Nationwide Tour, David Lutterus, also get starts while New Zealander, Grant Waite, is also teeing it up.