Remember Tjaart van der Walt? Neither did I, quite frankly, until reviewing last year's Buick Championship, which Brad Faxon won in a playoff over the obscure South African. The old Greater Hartford Open has survived a lot since that thrilling finish. A commitment from St. Paul Travelers, the incoming title sponsor, has saved this tournament from almost certain extinction, meaning it will remain on the PGA Tour schedule as part of the FedEx Cup series that begins in 2007.
In this case, a weak field is better than no field at all, although this year's gathering is particularly anemic. The highest-ranked player in Hartford will be Kenny Perry (25th), which probably explains why Buick, a longtime multi-event sponsor of the PGA Tour, had no long-term interest in this tournament.
My pick, Zach Johnson, is 35th in the World Ranking. Since winning the BellSouth Classic in his rookie season (2004), Johnson has piled up close to $5 million without adding a second victory. He has four top-five finishes in 2006, two in the last month (Memphis, Memorial), and finished T-3 at the TPC at River Highlands in 2004.
Johnson is a very good player in a very thin field, playing a very short course -- at 6,820 yards, River Highlands is one of the least power-friendly venues on tour. Add it all up, and you've got a very easy pick.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine