The Masters

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 7th April 2015 / 12:56

The Masters

The wait is over, and the first major of the golfing year is upon us - The Masters.

There is something rather special about Augusta National, even for the casual TV viewer, and this year looks to be one of the most wide-open events we have seen for a while.

Fortunately, partly due to the size of the field (98 players on this occasion), but also due to the length and style of the Augusta layout, The Masters has been very friendly to trend-analysts over the years and I believe the first step to picking this week's winner is to narrow down the field by using three key trends:

1. AGE:
Jack Nicklaus is the oldest ever Masters winner at the age of 46, so let’s eliminate everyone over this age. This removes the following 12 players:
Fred Couples
Ben Crenshaw
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Bernhard Langer
Sandy Lyle
Larry Mize
Mark O’Meara
Jose Maria Olazabal
Vijay Singh
Steve Stricker
Tom Watson
Ian Woosnam

Many golf fans will be sick of hearing this by now, but the fact remains that the last debutant to win The Masters was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. This trend came pretty close to being broken 12 months ago with both Jonas Blixt and Jordan Spieth giving Bubba Watson a run for his money in the final round, but the left-hander came out on top and I'm happy to eliminate these 20 names:

Erik Compton
Corey Connors
Matias Dominguez
James Hahn
Brian Harman
Scott Harvey
Morgan Hoffmann
Brooks Koepka
Anirban Lahiri
Shane Lowry
Byron Meth
Anthony Murdaca
Bradley Neil
Seung-Yul Noh
Robert Streb
Brendon Todd
Cameron Tringale
Bernt Wiesberger
Danny Willett
Gunn Yang

3. SUB-70 ROUND:
21 of the last 22 Masters champions had shot at least one round of 69 or better in a previous visit to Augusta. It may not be as strong a trend as the first two, but it's sufficiently strong for me to feel happy enough striking out the following 16 players:

Jamie Donaldson
Victor Dubuisson
Matt Every
Stephen Gallacher
Russell Henley
J.B. Holmes
Billy Horschel
Mikko Ilonen
Thongchai Jaidee
Martin Kaymer
Chris Kirk
Ben Martin
Patrick Reed
Webb Simpson
Kevin Streelman
Jimmy Walker

Applying these three trends leaves us with exactly 50 players and we clearly can't back them all so we need to go a little further. Despite the fact this next trend rules out one of the outsiders that I am quite keen on this week (Ernie Els), we shouldn't ignore the fact that Tiger Woods (in 1997) was the last player to win The Masters having missed the cut in the previous year's event. As such, I'm going to draw a line through the following 17 players:
Sang-Moon Bae
Keegan Bradley
Angel Cabrera
Luke Donald
Jason Dufner
Ernie Els
Sergio Garcia
Branden Grace
Trevor Immelman
Dustin Johnson
Zach Johnson
Marc Leishman
Hideki Matsuyama
Graeme McDowell
Phil Mickelson
Ryan Moore
Charl Schwartzel

This leaves us with a final shortlist of 33 players. Here's my assessment of each of their chances:

Thomas Bjorn - often a dark-horse around Augusta but on his last competitive start (WGC-Cadillac Championship) he withdrew after just 8 holes so looks a risky bet this time around.

Jonas Blixt - exceeded all expectations 12 months ago by finishing runner-up on his debut. Hard to see him repeating that feat, but showed glimmers of form last week so there are certainly worse bets.

Paul Casey - has played some excellent golf this year on the PGA tour and a top-10 finish last week in Houston is a handy warm-up. His best Masters finish of tied 6th came 11 years ago, however, and I'm a little worried about his Scrambling stats.

Darren Clarke - hasn't cracked the top-10 here since his 1998 debut and easily swerved in current form.

Ben Crane - currently ranking 204th on tour in Driving Distance, Augusta is simply too long for Crane to compete against the big-hitters in relatively soft course conditions.

Jason Day - having bagged that elusive second strokeplay win on the PGA tour in this year's Farmers Insurance Open, I believe this year's Masters represents Day's best chance of a major championship victory to date. The Aussie has a runner-up finish and a tie for 3rd to his name here in recent years and has all the necessary statistical attributes to win the Green Jacket.

Jason Day - 1pt e/w @ 16/1Lost -2pt

Ian Poulter - not without his chances this week after showing some good form on the Florida swing. Has a solid record here at Augusta, but he is another player who would have preferred firm and fast conditions to help him keep up with the big-hitters.

Justin Rose - despite a promising start to last week's Houston Open, the 2013 US Open winner could only manage a tie for 37th and his form over the last six months has to be a concern despite a solid record here at Augusta.

Adam Scott - the fact the Aussie is going back to the long putter for this week's event makes him a more dangerous prospect, but his missed cut at the Valspar Championship followed by a mediocre tie for 35th at Bay Hill make him avoidable at current prices.

John Senden - last year's tie for 8th was a fine performance by Senden, but he came here in much greater form on that occasion than he does this time around having missed the cut in his last three tournament starts.

Brandt Snedeker - a player who is often firmly on my radar for The Masters, but like a handful of others, he's not the longest off the tee which may leave him lacking on a rain-softened Augusta.

Jordan Spieth - a very dangerous player this week with the combination of a runner-up finish last week coupled with his runner-up finish on his Augusta debut 12 months ago. Looks solid in every area of his game, but despite his obvious draws his price looks extremely short.

Kevin Stadler - hasn't played competitive golf in two months due to a wrist injury and is easily avoidable on this basis alone despite a strong debut 12 months ago.

Henrik Stenson - I like the big Swede's chances very much this week. He has finished inside the top-5 in each of his last three starts on the PGA tour and although his Augusta record may not leap off the page, he is 'learning' how to play well here with his last three visits reading 40-18-14. His recent improvement in Scrambling is also a big factor.

Henrik Stenson - 1pt e/w @ 22/1Lost -2pt

Rickie Fowler - a tempting proposition in many ways, but his weekend performance in Houston last week has to be a concern. I'd like to see Fowler pick up a second PGA tour title before confidently investing in him to win The Masters.

Jim Furyk - the type of player who doesn't give away many bogeys, so in that sense he fits the bill here, but his lack of length off the tee means that Augusta is always likely to be a struggle in the twilight of his career.

Bill Haas - it's an odd thing to fathom given the fact Haas won the FedEx Cup a few years ago, but he really doesn't bring his best game to the majors. His best major championship showing in 21 starts remains a tie for 12th in the 2011 PGA Championship.

Padraig Harrington - the Irishman could be a lively outsider this week having got back to winning ways in the recent Honda Classic. I would like a little more distance off the tee to confidently invest, however.

Charley Hoffman - stranger things have happened, but his putting stats would suggest he might get found out on the perilously quick greens of Augusta.

Matt Kuchar - like Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar was uncharacteristically poor on the weekend in Houston last time out, and despite some strong Masters showings in recent years, I still believe a maiden major championship win is more likely to come on a shorter track.

Joost Luiten - shot a superb final round 67 here 12 months ago, but form has to be a concern with the Dutchman's last three PGA tour showings reading 46-C-C.

Hunter Mahan - on paper there's no reason to suggest Mahan can't put in a decent showing this week. However, he was bang in contention at the halfway point in Houston last week and a tame weekend showing sent him sliding into a tie for 25th.

Rory McIlroy - heads up the betting markets this week and rightly so having won each of the last two major championships and possessing the type of game that is tailor-made for Augusta. Not quite found top gear stateside this year, however, and the price is short enough to look elsewhere.

Kevin Na - ranking 194th in Driving Distance is never likely to be a recipe for success here at a rain-softened Augusta.

Geoff Ogilvy - has finished inside the top-40 in each of his seven Masters appearances with a personal best tie for 4th on his penultimate visit. Maybe worth considering in the Top Australian market, but his Scrambling ranking of 195th is a concern.

Louis Oosthuizen - came very close to winning this three years ago but the South African has become a very tricky player to predict of late, his missed cut last week Houston being a good example of this.

Ryan Palmer - whilst his strike rate on the PGA tour will often be cited by punters as a reason to avoid the Texan, his 2015 stats stack up very well for an excellent week. He has a top-10 to his name here on his penultimate visit, he loves to work the ball right-to-left and he has the deadly combination of a sharp short game coupled with plenty of distance off the tee.

Ryan Palmer - 1pt e/w @ 100/1Lost -2pt

Bubba Watson - last year's winner gave us some very interesting sound bites when interviewed during the event. In summary, he talked about how hard he had found it being defending champion in 2013. Despite his excellent fit for the Augusta layout, this is enough ammo to swerve the two-time champion this week at a short price.

Mike Weir - the 2003 champion hasn't made a cut since the CIMB Classic back in November and it would take a monumental return to form for him to post even a top-20 finish this week.

Lee Westwood – the Englishman traditionally plays the Shell Houston Open as his Augusta warm-up, and having finished inside the top-30 from 2009-2014, his missed cut last week has to be a concern ahead of his 16th Masters appearance.

Gary Woodland – being one of the longest hitters on the PGA tour and having broken 70 on two of his three Masters appearances, there are worse outsiders than Gary Woodland. He hasn’t quite hit top gear in 2015, however, and his ranking of 150th in Strokes Gained Putting is a worry.

Tiger Woods - it's hard to give an honest assessment of Woods' chances without looking either blindly optimistic or borderline disrespectful to possibly the greatest player of all time. If Woods was struggling with his chipping as much as he was in Phoenix, you get the feeling he'd have sat out the trip to Augusta, so I don't expect to see that level of carnage this week. However, one’s game needs to be in very sharp shape to contend here any year, so I'm happy enough to swerve the four-time Masters champion.

Camilo Villegas - at a frankly huge price this week, the Colombian looks a very interesting outsider. His tie for 13th here in 2009 featured two sub-70 rounds, and despite getting blown away (literally) in the recent Valero Texas Open, Villegas has shown some solid form over the last month.

Camilo Villegas - 1pt e/w @ 400/1Lost -2pt

Shell Houston Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 31st March 2015 / 13:41

Shell Houston Open

With the Masters just a week away, this week's Shell Houston Open is the final opportunity for those already qualified to tune up their games ahead of the trip to Augusta. The remainder of the field will be looking to emulate what Matt Jones achieved 12 months ago by earning a spot in the Masters field by the only remaining means - winning.

The Golf Club of Houston (formerly Redstone GC) is intentionally set up to provide a similar test to what players will face at Augusta next week. As one would expect, therefore, there is a real premium on short game with some tricky run off areas and very fast greens.

Last year's event, in particular, highlighted the importance of putting well on these tricky greens. The players who ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd in Strokes Gained Putting finished 1st, 3rd and 5th on the final leaderboard, so we should certainly factor this in when compiling a shortlist.

Historically, some level of course form is a good predictor of success here - but last year's winner Matt Jones had a best finish of 38th ahead of his victory here.

There are a couple of possible course links to consider which are similar to the Golf Club of Houston in that they are lengthy par-72s in the shape of Muirfield Village (host of the Memorial Tournament) and Quail Hollow (host of the Wells Fargo Championship). Last year's winner Matt Jones and runner-up Matt Kuchar both finished very highly in the previous year's Memorial Tournament (Matt Kuchar won, in fact) and even Russell Henley and Cameron Tringale had showed some form in the same event prior to their strong finishes here in Houston 12 months ago.

The Quail Hollow link may not have rung true last time around (the state of the greens in the 2013 event might have something to do with this), but going back through the archives, several winners here in Houston had finished highly in a recent visit to Quail Hollow, so it could be a useful point of reference.

Having finished in the top-10 at Muirfield Village last time around, the first player in the market who catches the eye is Bill Haas. In his last tournament start, Haas notched an impressive tie for 7th at a tough Doral, and I fancy a few weeks off from competitive golf since then is no bad thing. The six-time PGA tour winner hasn't always shone here at the Golf Club of Houston - missing the cut on his first three visits, but there was plenty of promise in his tie for 10th two years ago and although last year's tie for 38th may look like a step in the wrong direction, I'm encouraged by his opening round of 65.

Bill Haas - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

Paul Casey will be boosted by the recent news that he sealed his place in the Masters fields courtesy of his OWGR rank of 48th, and the Englishman returns to the scene of his sole PGA tour victory this week. Having struggled to regain the form that saw him inside the top-10 in the world back in 2009 (the year he won here in Houston), the 37-year-old has won on the European Tour in each of the last two years and he’s been playing some handy golf in America this year, with a runner-up finish in the Northern Trust Open followed by a tie for 3rd in the Honda Classic.

Paul Casey - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Hunter Mahan is another former champion here having won the 2012 event here at the Golf Club of Houston, and although it’s been a quiet year so far for the 32-year-old, he remains very solid with the flatstick in hand and has the comfort of a place in next week’s Masters field locked up. Mahan’s title defence here resulted in a missed cut (a surprisingly common occurrence) and last year’s tie for 31st came amidst injury problems, so I fully expect him to show the sort of form that has seen him finish inside the top-8 on four occasions.

Hunter Mahan - 1pt e/w @ 60/1Lost -2pt

Having won three times on the web.com tour last season, Carlos Ortiz was always going to be a player to monitor closely on his rookie season on the PGA tour, and he’s rounding into the sort of form that makes him very backable this week with his last four starts reading C-68-21-15. The Mexican played extremely well to finish as highly as he did in San Antonio last week having opened with a 79 and being on the wrong side of the draw, and his solid putting stats (ranking 34th in Strokes Gained Putting) should aid hugely here on his debut at the Golf Club of Houston.

Carlos Ortiz - 1pt e/w @ 100/1Lost -2pt

I was slightly surprised to see Robert Streb available at such a generous price this week. After all, this is a player who notched four top-10 finishes in his first eight starts this season including his maiden win at the McGladrey Classic back in October. The 27-year-old has just one previous appearance to his name here at the Golf Club of Houston which resulted in a very respectable tie for 22nd. Streb has matured and improved as a player tremendously since this time and I’m encouraged by his putting stats (ranking 42nd in Strokes Gained Putting) and the fact he finished inside the top-30 at both Quail Hollow and Muirfield Village last year.

Robert Streb - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

Valero Texas Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 24th March 2015 / 13:16

Valero Texas Open

With the first major of the year fast approaching, the penultimate opportunity for PGA tour players to earn a place in the Masters field comes at this week's Valero Texas Open - hosted at the Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio.

As proven by last year's leaderboard, this is the type of event where backing big-price outsiders might just be the order of the day. The conundrum, of course, comes when trying to pick out which of the many big-price outsiders are likely to contend with each of the last three winners of this event coming here off the back of frankly poor current form.

At over 7,500 yards, the Oaks Course is a bit of a beast. However, at the same time, these aren't the most generous of fairways, so it's no great surprise to see a few excellent 'total drivers' on the roll of honour here in the shape of Adam Scott, Brendan Steele and Martin Laird.

As well as possessing a solid driving game, there's the usual Texan winds to contend with here, and with the course set up to provide something of a warm-up to the Masters, there are some tricky run-off areas around the greens which play into the hands of good Scramblers.

As referenced earlier - I see no great benefit in siding with the obvious 'form players' as this hasn't been a great predictor of success here in recent years. What may be more important however, is previous ability to grind out a sub-70 round here at TPC San Antonio. Although Steven Bowditch limped into a tie for 69th in the 2013 edition, he had opened with a pair of 69s which gave some indication he had right credentials to go well here. Martin Laird's previous visit to TPC San Antonio came two years before his win here - and he too shot a 69 on his way to a tie for 11th.

The first of my selections is a player who declared the Oaks Course as his favourite course on the PGA Tour in a recent Q&A on Twitter – Brendan Steele. Whilst this is no great surprise given it was the venue of his sole PGA tour win, the kind of confidence he'll bring with him to TPC San Antonio could be just what he needs to get him over the line once more. Steele has been playing some excellent golf this year, finishing runner-up in the Humana Challenge and recently posting a personal best tie for 10th in the Honda Classic, and you get the feeling his price would be shorter this week were it not for a final round 76 last week in Orlando having been not far from the frame for much of the event.

Brendan Steele - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Scott Piercy is an interesting player in that, despite conforming to 'bomber' standards from a stats point of view, he knows how to get around courses where accuracy counts too as proven by his runner-up showing in this year's Sony Open. Although Piercy hasn't excelled in his last few starts, he's a player who can turn it on without warning, and I was surprised to see a triple-figure price about a two-time PGA tour winner who boasts rounds of 64 and 65 on recent visits to TPC San Antonio.

Scott Piercy - 1pt e/w @ 125/1Lost -2pt

Amongst the players in this week’s field who are yet to get over the line, Kevin Chappell surely ranks amongst the best, and the very fact he has a pair of US Open top-10s to his name tells us what we need to know – he doesn’t mind a tough test. The 28-year-old has finished runner-up in this event (back in 2011) and shot rounds of 69 and 68 on his way to a tie for 15th in his penultimate visit. What I really like about Chappell is that he’s an excellent driver of the ball – currently ranking 14th on tour in Total Driving, and he looks a tasty each-way proposition here.

Kevin Chappell - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

Having struggled to find consistency over the last few seasons, Geoff Ogilvy has become a tricky player to predict of late. However, he picked up his eighth PGA tour title towards the back end of last season over in Reno and notched a runner-up finish in the Deutsche Bank Championship a few weeks later. 2015 hasn’t been too kind to the 37-year-old as yet, but he can take encouragement from the successes of two of his fellow Aussies (Adam Scott and defending champion Steven Bowditch) here at TPC San Antonio. Ogilvy notched a tie for 11th here 12 months ago off the back of a pair of missed cuts, so with marginally improved (albeit not scintillating) form heading into this week’s event, he’s worth a bet at big odds this week.

Geoff Ogilvy - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

At an even bigger price, Andres Gonzales might just be worth a second glance this week. The 31-year-old has been yo-yoing between the PGA tour and web.com tour over the past few years, but this time around he looks more comfortable in the upper echelons, notching a tie for 3rd in the OHL Classic on another Greg Norman design and bagging a top-10 finish at Pebble Beach last month. Gonzales has plenty of distance off the tee, and his approach play has been in solid shape of late too – currently ranking 21st on tour in GIR.

Andres Gonzales - 1pt e/w @ 300/1Lost -2pt

Arnold Palmer Invitational

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 17th March 2015 / 13:30

Arnold Palmer Invitational

The PGA tour heads to the Orlando area for this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational - an event dominated by Tiger Woods since the turn of the century. However, the former world number 1 has chosen not to tee it up this week, and it's his successor Rory McIlroy who heads up the betting.

Looking through the history books and studying not only recent winners of this event, but recent contenders, three things stand out as important here.

Firstly, current form would appear to be even more critical here than just about any PGA tour event. Six of the last seven winners came into this event off the back of a top-10 finish in their last outing. This stands to reason with Bay Hill (like last week's track) being amongst the toughest courses on tour where any weaknesses in your game are likely to be exposed.

Secondly, with the course playing to 7,400 yards and with all four par-3s firmly in the 'lengthy' bracket, I believe long-distance approach play to be very important here. Recent leaderboards certainly back this up and three of the top-4 on last year's leaderboard (including winner Matt Every) ranked highly in Approaches from >200 yards over the course of the 2013-14 season.

Lastly, local ties are well worth considering with four of the top-6 on the 2013 leaderboard and four of the top-7 on last year's leaderboard are residents of the Sunshine State.

This leads nicely onto my first selection - Henrik Stenson. The Swede makes his home here in Orlando and looked very impressive on his Valspar Championship debut last week where he missed out on a place in the playoff by just a single stroke. Stenson is one of the best long-iron players in the world and his game should be perfectly suited to the Bay Hill test. It's taken the 2013 FedEx Cup champion a few starts here to really get to grips with it, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone with progressive course form like Stenson's - reading 52-47-15-8-5.

Henrik Stenson - 1pt @ 10/1Placed -1pt

With two of his fellow twenty-somethings picking up win after win and battling it out in a playoff in last week's Valspar Championship, Rickie Fowler is at risk of being left behind as one of the young stars of the PGA tour. However, having spent large swathes of last season working on swing changes, he's in a good place now to start contending for titles again. Fowler ticks the current form box having notched a tie for 12th at the punishing Blue Monster last time out, and he has previous form here at Bay Hill with a tie for 3rd on his penultimate visit and a junior win here back in 2006.

Rickie Fowler - 1pt e/w @ 28/1Lost -2pt

Harris English has two PGA tour wins to his name at the age of 25 which is not to be sniffed at, and after a largely disappointing 2014, he made an excellent start to 2015 with a tie for 3rd in the Sony Open followed by a runner-up finish at the Farmers Insurance Open. Although English’s missed cut at the Honda Classic was a disappointment, the conditions didn’t really play to his strengths, and last week’s tie for 10th at Innisbrook was a nice bounce back. Here at Bay Hill it may not have always been plain sailing for English but you get the feeling it’s merely taken him a few visits to really get to grips with the place with last his three visits reading C-57-14.

Harris English - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

Were it not for a vintage Tiger Woods performance here back in 2009, Sean O’Hair would most likely be an Arnold Palmer Invitational winner, but this year marks the first occasion since that time that the 32-year-old has come into the event in anything resembling good form, so he’s well worth chancing. O’Hair came up against two of the best young talents in the game in last week’s playoff and his play down the stretch to earn his spot in the playoff was some of the best golf we have seen from the four-time PGA tour winner for several years.

Sean O’Hair - 1pt e/w @ 66/1Lost -2pt

My rank outsider for this week is a player with 34 PGA tour wins to his name and comes into the event off the back of a top-10 finish last week. So, what’s the catch? Well…Vijay Singh is 52 years of age which means he would tie Sam Snead as the oldest ever PGA tour winner if he can add to his tally in the next 11 months. Singh is a past champion here at Bay Hill (back in 2007) and still has an excellent long-iron game in his armoury, so if the flatstick behaves like it did last week, there’s every reason he can get himself in the frame here.

Vijay Singh - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

Valspar Championship

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 10th March 2015 / 14:17

We're back in the States this week where the PGA tour continues its Florida swing and heads to Tampa Bay for the Valspar Championship.

The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook is the host course once again, but the field is stronger than ever with five of the top-10 in the OWGR teeing it up.

Historically, the Copperhead Course is haven for good ball-strikers with John Senden the most recent victor and both Retief Goosen and KJ Choi two-time winners here, but it's no mean feat to pin down particular stats worth studying.

Course form has been a useful predictor of success in the last three years with Luke Donald, Kevin Streelman and John Senden each having at least one top-10 finish to their names here ahead of their victories. However, the two previous winners Jim Furyk and Gary Woodland had very little in the way of prior course form, so we shouldn't over-value its importance here.

What Senden and 2013 winner Kevin Streelman do have in common is that they are both players who are very solid in all areas of the game without excelling in any single area. On this basis it would stand to reason that All-Around Ranking should be a useful stat to study. It's therefore interesting to note that both Senden and last year's runner-up Kevin Na had finished the season ranked inside the top-25 in this attribute.

Jim Furyk had an uncharacteristically poor week on the greens last week at Trump National Doral, but still managed a top-15 finish on a course which really doesn’t play to his strengths as a short, accurate hitter. The Copperhead Course, on the other hand, is seemingly tailor-made for his game, and as well as winning the 2010 edition of this event he only lost out in a playoff three years ago. Whilst his tie for 20th last year might not leap off the page, it’s important to note his relative form – he came here off the back of a tie for 62nd at Doral, as opposed to a tie for 12th this time around.

Jim Furyk - 1pt e/w @ 22/1Lost -2pt

Whilst Daniel Berger may be making his tournament debut this week, he does have some sneaky course form from his days as a junior having finished runner-up in the AJGA Junior here at Innisbrook five years ago. Since this time he's obviously matured hugely as a player, earned his PGA tour card and now boasts a runner-up finish in a very strong field - narrowly missing out on the Honda Classic title to Padraig Harrington last time out. The youngster currently ranks 15th in All-Around Ranking, so on the face of things he has the right attributes to contend again this week.

Daniel Berger - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

With finishes of 15th, 5th and 7th in his last three outings, Martin Laird has to be considered one of the form players coming off the West Coast Swing. Laird's recent swing changes appear to be paying dividends and it's no surprise to see him ranking 12th in All-Around Ranking. The Copperhead Course has brought the Scotsman mixed results over the last few years, but he has a recent top-5 finish to his name here and I’m not perturbed by his tie for 70th on his last visit as it came off the back of a trio of missed cuts.

Martin Laird - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Brian Harman was one of my selections for this event 12 months ago, and whilst a tie for 25th didn’t quite match up to my expectations, there’s good reason to expect an improvement on that finish this time around as he has since become a PGA tour winner and comes here off the back of a much stronger finish at the Honda Classic (in which he posted a scintillating final round 64). Harman finished last season ranked 41st in All-Around Ranking and lies 45th at the current moment in time, and I think he looks an excellent each-way bet this week.

Brian Harman - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

With more than just a glimmer of a return to form in his penultimate start, I can’t bring myself to leave two-time Innisbrook champion Retief Goosen out of my staking plan this week. His backers will still be scratching their heads as to how he went from leading the Northern Trust Open by two at the 54-hole stage to finishing outside of the top-5, but there’s still a great deal of encouragement to be taken from his performance at Riviera. When his game is on, the South African is one of the best drivers of the ball around, and at a triple-figure price, I’m prepared to take the chance that he’s turned a corner with his game.

Retief Goosen - 1pt e/w @ 100/1Lost -2pt

Africa Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 3rd March 2015 / 14:07

Africa Open

The European Tour heads to South Africa's Eastern Cape this week for the eighth edition of the Africa Open.

As ever, East London Golf Club plays host, which, whilst yielding some pretty low winning totals over the years, can be a challenging track when the wind blows due to its coastal setting. This week, we are going to be seeing some significant levels of wind so it's important to consider this when compiling a shortlist.

Historically, South African players have something of a stronghold on this tournament. However, with many of the big local names either absent or in dubious form, I'm going to put my neck on the line and suggest that run might come to a halt this week. After all, last year’s tournament was firmly in the grasp of Emiliano Grillo at the 54-hole stage and both David Horsey and Oliver Fisher had good chances of converting in the final round before Thomas Aiken prevailed in a playoff over Fisher.

GIR has tended to be an important attribute here at East London Golf Club, although it's interesting to note that its importance was seemingly diminished in the 2013 event where the wind played a major part.

Also a short but wind-exposed track, I'm intrigued by a possible course link with Kennemer Golf Club, host of the last two editions of the KLM Open. Five of the top-8 on last year's Africa Open leaderboard had finished inside the top-20 at Kennemer five months earlier which is enough ammo to take a close look at the 2014 KLM Open leaderboard. Finishing inside the top-10 at Kennemer back in September, I like Oliver Fisher's chances of making amends for last year's playoff loss. The Englishman shot a second round 63 in last year’s event, and although we’re unlikely to see anything that low this time around, the 26-year-old won't mind if the wind does get up this week and despite just the one victory on the European Tour to date, Fisher has been showing up on leaderboards more and more consistently over the last 12 months and enjoyed a good spell in the Middle East with top-15 finishes in both Abu Dhabi and Qatar earlier this year.

Oliver Fisher - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

David Horsey is a player to have on your side on course where accuracy is favoured over length and wind is forecast. The 29-year-old made his East London GC debut last year, and took to the course like a duck to water last year, finishing in a tie for 3rd and just a shot shy of the playoff. Horsey’s tie for 32nd in Johannesburg last week might not set pulses racing, but he drove the ball excellently and there was plenty of encouragement in his final round 68 on a course that doesn’t really play to his strengths.

David Horsey - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

Having missed the cut in his only previous Africa Open appearance, Raphael Jacquelin might not look an obvious selection this week but it’s worth noting that this performance came fresh off nearly two months away from the game after the Christmas break as opposed to this year where he comes off the back of a pair of top-30 finishes. On paper, East London GC should be tailor-made for the Frenchman’s game with its similarities to Kennemer GC (where he finished in a tie for 11th back in September) and Parador de El Saler, scene of his last European Tour victory.

Raphael Jacquelin - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Kristoffer Broberg is still searching for that elusive first European Tour title which is something of a surprise after his dominance on the Challenge Tour back in 2012. However, he came close on a couple of occasions last year in the shape of the Irish and Scottish Opens, which tend to reward good wind players – so there are some promising signs ahead of his East London GC debut. Broberg hit the front during the final round of last week’s Joburg Open before eventually slipping into a tie for 10th , but given the fact he missed the cut in each of his two previous appearances, I’m confident he has a big week ahead here.

Kristoffer Broberg - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Given the fact that two of his last three European Tour titles came off the back of missed cuts, it’s not always easy to catch Michael Hoey on the right week. However, there a certain tracks that really suit the Northern Irishman’s game, and generally these are short tracks where the wind is forecast to blow. I suspect conditions were a little too pleasant for Hoey 12 months ago when he finished in a tie for 55th, but as a previous runner-up in this event (in 2009), we know what he’s capable of here at East London GC and he looks a solid each-way bet.

Michael Hoey - 1pt e/w @ 70/1Lost -2pt

Joburg Open

Sam Harrop / Monday 23rd February 2015 / 18:34

Joburg Open

The European Tour heads to Johannesburg in South Africa for this week’s Joburg Open – an event co-sanctioned by the European and Sunshine Tours. The ninth edition of this event doesn’t attract the strongest of fields with recent home stars and past champions Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace notable absentees, but it certainly looks an interesting event from a betting perspective.

The market is headed up by defending champion George Coetzee and the revitalised Alex Noren, and whilst neither can be easily written off, I believe there is plenty of value elsewhere.

First and foremost, we should note the excellent record of the home contingent in this event with five of the last six winners of the event calling South Africa home. Also not to be ignored is the importance of distance off the tee here. Of the two courses in circulation this week, the East Course certainly rewards those who can get the ball out there – playing to a yardage of 7,590. The West Course, whilst the easier of the two, is not exactly a pitch ‘n’ putt at a shade over 7,200 yards.

The overriding trend I think worth factoring in here is current form. Despite the length of the East Course, winning totals here have been relatively low in recent years, and the tournament certainly seems to reward those who come to Johannesburg with their games in good shape. Last year’s winner George Coetzee had top-5 finishes in each of his last two starts before winning here, 2013 winner Richard Sterne came here off the back of a runner-up finish preceded by a tie for 7th, and 2012 winner Branden Grace came here off the back of a pair of top-15 finishes.

On this note, Byeong Hun An can’t be ignored as one of the form players on the European Tour. In his last three starts (all in much stronger fields than this week) his finishes read 12-5-13 so his game is clearly in excellent shape. This time last year, the Korean made his Joburg Open debut, and things looked very promising at the 54-hole stage when he was sat inside the top-10. Sadly, he made a terrible start to his final round, making the turn in 44 strokes before salvaging respectability with a birdie-eagle finish. A horrible three-hole stretch in the context of a 72-hole tournament shouldn’t be over-analysed, however, and I expect a big week from the 23-year-old.

Byeong Hun An - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

Danie Van Tonder is one of a promising crop of young South African players threatening to win a big event soon – and with a relatively weak field here, this presents the ideal opportunity for the 23-year-old to get over the line in a co-sanctioned event. 2014 was an excellent year for Van Tonder with a pair of victories on the Sunshine Tour coupled with a runner-up finish in the Tshwane Open (which also rewards Driving Distance to a large extent). Van Tonder is showing progressive form in the Joburg Open with his last three visits reading C-19-9, and he comes here off the back of a tie for 3rd in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am.

Danie Van Tonder - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

With three Challenge Tour wins to his name to date, a European Tour title is the natural next step for Seve Benson and he’s been there or thereabouts on a handful of occasions lately, coming particularly close in last year’s Trophee Hassan. Benson is an excellent driver of the ball which should stand him in good stead for this week’s test, and despite missing the cut in each of his two previous visits, a tie for 10th last year shows what he is capable of here. Going back to the aforementioned ‘current form’ trend, Benson comes here with finishes of 19th and 35th in his last two outings, the latter of which promised greater than it delivered as he lay in third place at the halfway stage.

Seve Benson - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Having won the co-sanctioned Alfred Dunhill Championship in 2011, Garth Mulroy clearly has what it takes to prevail in this type of field. Furthermore, the 36-year-old is a veritable course expect with a pair of runner-up finishes and a recent top-10 finish to his name here. Mulroy has shot rounds of 64 and 65 in recent trips to the tougher East Course, so the only question-mark remaining is one of current form. Last week’s top-20 finish in the Dimension Data Pro-Am might not get pulses racing, but he shot the lowest round on Sunday (a 66), and this could just be a sign of things to come this week.

Garth Mulroy - 1pt e/w @ 66/1Lost -2pt

Justin Walters will be happy to put 2014 behind him, having managed just a solitary top-10 all season. Encouragingly for punters, this top-10 finish came right here in the Joburg Open in the shape of a runner-up finish (featuring a round of 64 on the East Course). That performance came off the back of a pretty mediocre run of form, whereas this year he comes here fresh off a top-10 finish in last week’s Dimension Data Pro-Am. The 34-year-old may have taken his time to get to grips with Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, but his last three visits read 37-16-2.

Justin Walters - 1pt e/w @ 100/1Lost -2pt

Hero Indian Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 17th February 2015 / 09:44

Hero Indian Open

Sometimes a change of scenery can freshen things up a bit, so I'm going to focus on the European Tour for a few weeks, starting in the city of Delhi for the Hero Indian Open.

The tournament is a long-standing event on the Asian Tour but this year, for the first time, it is co-sanctioned by the European Tour, significantly raising its profile.

There are no venues more familiar to Asian Tour pros than this week's venue, Delhi Golf Club, and you have to wonder if this will favour the Asian Tour contingent this week with many of the European Tour players getting their first look at the historic, tree-lined course.

Incidentally, this isn't the first co-sanctioned event hosted here at Delhi Golf Club - the course also played host to the 2008 Indian Masters where Indian player S.S.P. Chawrasia prevailed. It's interesting to note the types of European players towards to top of the leaderboard on that occasion, however - McGrane, Jacquelin and Lara - all short but accurate drivers of the ball which I expect to be of huge importance again this week.

With Indian players claiming the honours in most of the recent events hosted here at Delhi Golf Club, Wade Ormsby is one of few international players to emerge victorious here having won the 2013 Panasonic Open. The Australian made a decent fist of his title defence back in November, finishing in a tie for 11th despite a final round 75. There's definitely something about Ormsby and tree-lined tracks that require good course management, with the 34-year-old having performed well in both the Hong Kong Open and Perth International in recent memory. Furthermore, he comes here off the back of a very solid tie for 11th in Thailand last week, so his game is in good shape heading to India.

Wade Ormsby - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

Shiv Kapur is one of the Indian contingent this week who truly knows the course inside out, saying he's played the course "nearly every day of my life since I learned to play golf". Kapur has the benefit over many of his fellow countrymen of having played many events on the European Tour too, and he also won a Challenge Tour event in India almost exactly two years ago, so he has the credentials to take another step up this week. Whilst the 32-year-old hasn't won a professional event on his home course, he does boast a pair of top-5 finishes here in 2013.

Shiv Kapur - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

Whilst Shiv Kapur is a course member with hundreds of rounds to his name here, Indian youngster Rashid Khan was introduced to the game of golf by his uncle who was a member at Delhi Golf Club and spent his formative years caddying here. Scroll on a few years and the 24-year-old is now an Asian Tour winner having won right here a year ago, beating Siddikur in a playoff (and six shots better than the rest of the field). Furthermore, this victory was one of six top-10 finishes in his last seven starts on his home course. I'm not too perturbed by his missed cut in Thailand last week as it came on his course debut on a track that rewards very different attributes than Delhi Golf Club.

Rashid Khan - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

Mithun Perera is a multiple winner on the Indian Tour but still seeks his first win on the Asian Tour. He speaks of Delhi Golf Club being one of his favourite courses on tour and it's not hard to see why with the exemplary driving accuracy he possesses. Like Rashid Khan, Perera fell the wrong side of the cut line last week in Thailand, but only on the number, and I'm keener to focus on his excellent progressive course form on his last six starts here at Delhi Golf Club - reading 32-32-9-8-8-2.

Mithun Perera - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Placed 36.5pt

The only European to appear in my selections this week is a player who actually grew up here in India - Daniel Chopra. During his junior days as a golfer, Chopra won three All India Junior Championships and that acted as a springboard for the rest of his career since which time he has won twice on the PGA tour. The 41-year-old hasn't been without his struggles in recent years, and decided to head to Asian Tour Q-School last month where he promptly won the grand finale, beating some very talented players along the way. Chopra last played competitively here at Delhi Golf Club in the 2013 edition of the Indian Open where he finished in a tie for 24th having improved throughout the week, shooting rounds of 74-71-70-68.

Daniel Chopra - 1pt e/w @ 175/1Lost -2pt

AT&T Pebble Beach National

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 10th February 2015 / 18:39

AT&T Pebble Beach National

The PGA tour moves up the Californian coast this week to the beautiful spot of Pebble Beach for another pro-am event which takes place over three courses.

The courses in question are Monterey Peninsula (the easiest), Spyglass Hill (the hardest) and the host course Pebble Beach Golf Links on which players will face 36 holes (including the final round).

Looking through the archives of recent winners here, there’s no obvious magic formula for the type of player we should be trying to pin down. However, being exposed to the conditions, it’s certainly a major plus to be a good wind player, and with the winning total reaching 15-under-par or better in five of the last six years, you can’t afford to be a slouch in the birdie department. The PGA tour stats team relatively recently introduced several ‘Strokes Gained’ stats which are designed to identify in which areas of their games players are picking up strokes on the rest of the field. The ‘Strokes Gained – Total’ stat is essentially a combination of these stats, and it’s interesting to note that five of the last six winners had ranked inside the top-25 in this stat in the season of their wins here. Last year’s leaderboard further backs up the merits of this particular stat with four of the top-5 also ranking inside the top-25 over the course of the season.

Course form seems to be the golden nugget here, however. In the last 13 editions of this event, only Steve Lowery won here without having finished 21st or better in one of his previous two appearances, so this will form the foundation for my selections this week.

First up, and with a tie for 4th to his name here 12 months ago, Jordan Spieth looks very dangerous. In last year’s event, Spieth played three pretty much flawless rounds of 67, but all of his hard work was undone with his third round 78 on the host course. Punters may be concerned by his performance at Torrey Pines last week but for whatever reason he has always struggled on the South Course to date, and he shot his third consecutive round of 75 on that particular layout to miss the cut. Pebble Beach is a much happier hunting ground for the youngster and his 67 at the tough Spyglass Hill last year is even more encouraging. As well as ticking the course form box, Spieth finished last season ranking 22nd in Strokes Gained – Total, and I fully expect to see him in the throes of contention come the weekend.

Jordan Spieth - 1pt @ 12/1Lost -2pt

Chris Kirk is not always the easiest player to predict, but one thing’s for sure – he loves a coastal test as proven by his win at Sea Island Golf Club and excellent record at Waialae Country Club. Whilst Kirk’s tie for 32nd last week may not leap off the page, it was his best Farmers Insurance Open finish to date, and given the South Course is one of the longest tracks on the PGA tour, it’s never likely to be the ideal track for someone who ranks 155th in Driving Distance. Pebble Beach (and this week’s two other courses) are much more gettable for the shorter-hitting contingent, and Kirk’s runner-up effort two years ago provides a course form pointer that shouldn’t be ignored.

Chris Kirk - 1pt e/w @ 33/1Lost -2pt

Las Vegas resident Kevin Na certainly plays much of his best golf on the West Coast of the United States, and as well as claiming his sole PGA tour win in his home town, he has a number of recent top-5s in this part of the world including a pair of them right here at Pebble Beach. Na has made a pretty slow start to the 2014-15 season, but he’s slowly rounding into form with his last three outings reading 64-48-26. The 31-year-old ranked 21st in Strokes Gained – Total last year, and he looks well worth an outside punt this week.

Kevin Na - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Still seeking that elusive first win, Jason Kokrak will be looking forward to returning to Pebble Beach where he has notched top-20 finishes in two of this three appearances. Kokrak has more course form here than immediately meets the eye too, having teed it up in the Callaway Pebble Beach Invitational in three of the last four years. In his last appearance in that particular event, he actually put himself right in contention heading into the final round before a blow-out round of 80. The big-hitter has matured considerably as a player since that time, however, and he is another player who finished last season inside the top-25 in Strokes Gained – Total, so he ticks all the right boxes here.

Jason Kokrak - 1pt e/w @ 60/1Lost -2pt

Michael Thompson is another player who seems to relish a coastal test. His sole PGA tour win and two of his three other PGA tour top-5 finishes have come on coastal layouts, including his runner-up finish in the US Open at Olympic Club not too far from this week’s venue. Thompson comes here off the back of a very solid week at Torrey Pines where he finished in a tie for 11th, and he is another player who is much better suited to courses of a shorter yardage, so there’s good reason to expect event better this week in an event where he finished inside the top-20 last time around.

Michael Thompson - 1pt e/w @ 125/1Lost -2pt

Farmers Insurance Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 3rd February 2015 / 14:12

Farmers Insurance Open

The PGA tour heads to the San Diego area for this week's Farmers Insurance Open, taking place, as ever, at the beautiful Torrey Pines.

Players will be treated to 18 holes on the significantly easier North Course, but will have to face 54 holes on the gruelling South Course (which played host to the 2008 US Open).

There aren't any golden trends in terms of performance stats for picking out a winner here, but last year's leaderboard in particular does lean towards the bigger hitting contingent which is no major surprise considering the South Course measures over 7,600 yards.

Whilst it's not something which is always as important as many would believe, Torrey Pines does seem to be something of a haven for course form specialists. Scott Stallings did defy this trend somewhat 12 months ago (having missed the cut in both of his previous visits), but the fact remains that 11 of the last 12 winners of this event had a top-10 finish in either their last or penultimate appearance here.

It's also worth looking out for those who have a tendency to perform well in the weeks that follow the Christmas break. Each of the top-6 on last year's leaderboard had notched a top-10 in at least one of their first three starts in the previous year, and the trend also applies to each of the last five winners of this event.

I'm more than happy to give Hideki Matsuyama another run this week after a really strong display in Phoenix which arguably should have resulted in a win. The Japanese star couldn't get the flatstick working on the back-9 which ended up leaving him a shot shy of the winning total, but the fact remains that he struck the ball supremely well for most of the week at TPC Scottsdale. Simply put, I can see no reason why he shouldn't fire again this week in an event where he finished in a tie for 16th on his debut with a nice trending form trajectory on the South Course reading 72-70-69

Hideki Matsuyama - 1pt e/w @ 22/1Lost -2pt

I was very much hoping that Justin Thomas would fly in under the radar last week having earmarked him for this event from the start of the 2014-15 season, but a hat-trick of top-20 finishes has sadly put paid to that. Either way, whilst his price this week might not be hugely exciting, it’s very fair considering he notched a top-10 finish here 12 months ago in only his eight PGA tour start ever and comes here in a fresh wave of confidence. Having won the 2012 Jones Cup Invitational on Sea Island, Georgia and impressed in the Sony Open a few weeks ago, I very have the youngster marked down as a coastal track expert, and there’s every reason to suggest he can build on last year’s tie for 10th.

Justin Thomas - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

There are very few players in the field who can match the current form of Charley Hoffman who boasts a win and a runner-up finish in his last four outings. So, when you consider he is traditionally a very good post-Christmas player in his native state of California with a tie for 7th in his last appearance in this event, he is quite simply a must bet. Even more encouraging for the 38-year-old is that he closed last year’s event with an excellent 5-under-par 67 on the tough South Course.

Charley Hoffman - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Seung-Yul Noh gets the nod for the second consecutive week as a player who ticks many of the important boxes this week. Whilst the Korean didn’t quite live up to my expectations at TPC Scottsdale, it was primarily his second round 75 which damaged his hopes of a strong finish. However, as this round came amidst the worst playing conditions of the week, I’m prepared to take this with a pinch of salt. Noh was one of relatively few players to break 70 on Torrey Pines’ South Course 12 months ago, and he is more than capable of building on his tie for 10th with the added confidence he will have gained from his maiden PGA tour win last season.

Seung-Yul Noh - 1pt e/w @ 90/1Lost -2pt

My final selection, Erik Compton, is something of a wildcard pick as he doesn’t quite hit the key trends here. However, he has notched top-20 finishes in each of last two visits to Torrey Pines (including a sub-70 round on the South Course last time around), and he generally boasts plenty of distance off the tee (despite last season’s stats). Although Compton also struggled with the tough conditions in the second round of last week’s Phoenix Open, he showed plenty of promise in his tie for 10th in the recent Humana Challenge and he looks a lively outsider here.

Erik Compton - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

Waste Management Phoenix Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 27th January 2015 / 14:38

Waste Management Phoenix Open

The West Coast swing continues this week and the strongest field so far this year assembles for the Phoenix Open, a long standing event which takes place at TPC Scottsdale, best-known for its rowdy par-3 16th hole.

The course has undergone some reasonably significant chances since last year's event, with Tom Weiskopf altering much of the bunkering, moving some of the green complexes and generally stretching out the course a little. In terms of the type of player who should excel here, one can safely expect it to remain something of a ball-striker's paradise - arguably even more so with the increase in yardage.

From previous editions, certain trends have begun to form, and the first worth noting is Birdie Average. Being an event that takes place very early on in the season (and being one of the first events many of the big names play), I tend to look back to the previous season's stats for guidance, and in doing so it's interesting to note that each of the last three winners of this event had ranked 16th or better in this stat in the season preceding their victories.

Current form tends to be a better predictor of success that course form here at TPC Scottsdale, and last year's leaderboard lends credence to that theory with winner Kevin Stadler and the two runner-ups, Graham DeLaet and Bubba Watson having notched a top-10 in one of their previous three outings.

Arguably more tenuous, but still worth considering are potential links with two other TPC courses in the shape of TPC Boston and TPC Louisiana. On the topic of the former, both Kevin Stadler and 2013 Phoenix Open winner Phil Mickelson had finished in the top-5 at TPC Boston just a few months before their victories here at TPC Scottsdale. Furthermore, runner-ups Graham DeLaet and Brandt Snedeker also had strong finishes to their names at TPC Boston ahead of their strong showings here in Phoenix. TPC Louisiana may be a slightly weaker link taking into account the field strength disparity, but there are a handful of names with recent form on both tracks including Bubba Watson and Jason Dufner.

Whilst he may not possess the form on the two TPC tracks mentioned above (he's never played at TPC Louisiana), Hideki Matsuyama has experience of winning in a strong field having picked up his first PGA tour win in last year’s Memorial Tournament. In his one and only visit to TPC Scottsdale, 12 months ago, he finished in a tie for 4th – so this is a clearly a layout that suits his game, and he comes here just a few weeks after an impressive tie for 3rd on his Hyundai Tournament of Champions debut. Furthermore, having cited Birdie Average as an important stat, it’s interesting to note that the Japanese star ranked 10th in this attribute over the course of last season.

Hideki Matsuyama - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Placed 5.25pt

Having picked up two wins in the space of six months in the back end of 2013, last year has to go down as a bit of a disappointment for Harris English with just one top-10 since March, but he showed plenty of promise in his penultimate start at the Sony Open where he finished in a tie for 3rd. I am a big believer in relative form, so if you note his 9th place finish in last year’s Phoenix Open off the back of finishes of 4th and 33rd in the Sony Open and Humana Challenge respectively, it’s very interesting to note his finishes of 3rd and 30th in the same two events this time around. English is another excellent ball-striker, and ranked 22nd in Birdie Average last term.

Harris English - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

Also a two-time PGA tour winner, albeit over a longer period of time, Scott Piercy had a frustrating 2014 in which he sat out most of the year following surgery on his right arm. The 36-year-old is back to full fitness now and showed how dangerous a player he can be with a runner-up finish in the recent Sony Open. Piercy is most at home on his native West Coast, especially in the desert as a Las Vegas resident, and his three recent top-10s here at TPC Scottsdale are as much a sign of his love for the course as his very own words on Twitter, describing this as his favourite event and the course where he is most likely to shoot a 59. Whether or not a 59 is up for grabs following the revamp of TPC Scottsdale is another matter, but Piercy’s confidence is nothing if it’s not encouraging.

Scott Piercy - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

A dip in form was almost inevitable for Billy Horschel after his FedEx Cup win (and a cool $10 million to go with it), but it’s only a matter of time before we see the best of the 28-year-old again, and his third-round 65 in last week’s Humana Challenge could be a warning sign ahead of his trip to Phoenix this week. Horschel has previous form here at TPC Scottsdale having finished runner-up on his debut, and he also has form on both of the TPC course mentioned earlier in this preview having finished runner-up at TPC Boston only a few months ago and having won the 2013 Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana.

Billy Horschel - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Seung-Yul Noh is another player with recent form at TPC Louisiana having won last year’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and although he struggled somewhat over the following few months, he managed an impressive tie for 9th on his second visit to TPC Boston back in September. The Korean currently ranks 4th on tour in Birdie Average and 10th in GIR, so there’s every reason to suggest he should improve considerably on his Phoenix Open debut three years ago where he finished in a tie for 33rd.

Seung-Yul Noh - 1pt e/w @ 125/1Lost -2pt

Humana Challenge

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 20th January 2015 / 13:37

Humana Challenge

The PGA tour heads to the West Coast this week and Palm Springs is the destination for this week’s Humana Challenge. The tournament is a pro-am event, meaning that celebrities will be teeing it up alongside their professional partners in all bar the final round.

La Quinta Country Club, and both the Nicklaus and Palmer Courses at PGA West make up a three-course rotation, with 36 holes taking place on the Palmer Course, and as a first betting pointer, I think it’s well worth studying players who have performed well on the Palmer course in particular in recent years.

In terms of other attributes, it’s hard to say the set-up favours either the long or accurate drivers, but what is certainly rewarded is a sharp wedge game and a hot putter as low scores are very much to be expected. On the topic of putting, it’s the inside 10 foot range which is of particular note with the top-4 on last year’s leaderboard having ranked 25th or better in this attributes over the course of the season in Putting from Inside 10 feet.

Lastly – recent golf is clearly a big plus with six of the top-8 on last year’s leaderboard having played the previous week’s Sony Open, and eight of the top-9 in the 2013 event.

Ticking all the necessary boxes this week, Ryan Palmer simply can’t be swerved this week in my mind. He has finished inside the top-6 in three of the last four years, he played solidly (despite a mediocre weekend) last week at Waialae, and he’s a player who can make a hatful of birdies when he’s on song. If we’re looking out for a PGA West Palmer Course specialist, we need look no further than the 38-year-old, with his last four rounds on the course reading 65-65-64-63.

Ryan Palmer - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

Despite hailing from Scotland and living in Florida, Russell Knox seems to enjoy his golf in the desert, with a 3rd place finish in Las Vegas back in October and a tie for 13th here at the Humana Challenge 12 months ago. I am a particular fan of Knox’s relative form this week after a tie for 13th in last week’s Sony Open pitted against missed cuts in each of his previous three visits. Knox may be the definition of a birdie machine having shot a 59 on the web.com tour two years ago, and he knows how to go low on the host Palmer course too having posted rounds of 65 and 66 here last time around.

Russell Knox - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

Current form of 25-30 may not leap off the page for Tim Clark backers, but his performance in last week’s Sony Open was deserving of a higher finish in my mind, and I believe his game is in strong enough shape to contend this week. We know Clark has an excellent record here in Palm Springs having two runner-up finishes and a further top-5 to his name here, and I’m further encouraged by the fact he ranked 5th in Putting Average last week at Waialae. Like Palmer and Knox, Clark has some low rounds to his name on the Palmer Course having shot 63 on two occasions in recent years

Tim Clark - 1pt e/w @ 66/1Non Runner

Daniel Summerhays is another player, like Knox, who has come close but not managed to capture that elusive first PGA tour win yet. Also like Knox, he comes here off the back of his best Sony Open finish to date having finished in a tie for 17th (which should have been even better were it not for a level par final round). The 31-year-old came pretty close to getting off the mark in his rookie season where he entered the final round in a tie for 4th before struggling in the heat of contention. During the tournament, Summerhays shot a 64 on the host Palmer course, so he’s no stranger to going low here.

Daniel Summerhays - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

I was surprised to see Tony Finau so low down the market this week after his excellent start to his rookie campaign – notching four top-15s in his first five PGA tour starts. I’m not too perturbed by Finau’s missed cut in last week’s Sony Open as Waialae is clearly not the type of track that plays to his strengths. The lack of trouble off the tee this week, in contrast, makes this the perfect set up for Finau and he has previous form at PGA West having finished in a tie for 3rd in the web.com Q-School final in 2013.

Tony Finau - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

Sony Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 13th January 2015 / 18:36

Sony Open

The PGA tour remains in Hawaii this week, but heads over to the island of Oahu for the Sony Open which takes place, as ever, at Waialae Country Club.

The challenge posted by Waialae is rather different to that of the Plantation Course last week – the course is a winding, tree-lined par-70 layout which plays to a yardage of 7,044. Despite their differences, however, both courses are often subject to coastal winds which take some getting used to, and both reward a strong wedge game.

Last year’s leaderboard would suggest that players in last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions field would be at an advantage here, with winner Jimmy Walker and two other members of the top-5 on the final leaderboard having made the trip over from Maui. The 2012 leaderboard tells a very similar story, although sandwiched in between came an event which broke many of the key trends here with Russell Henley posting an extremely impressive 24-under-par total to win on his debut here, and on his first outing of the season.

Despite Henley’s victory here two years ago, course experience is generally a very strong trend here with no other recent winners of this event having done so on their course debut. Furthermore, last year’s leaderboard seemed to reward those with a recent low round to their names at Waialae. Indeed, four of the top-5 on the final leaderboard (including winner Jimmy Walker himself) had a recent round of 64 or better to their names here.

Having made several mentions of his name already, I can’t help but side with Russell Henley this week. The fact that he broke key trends by winning on his course debut and the fact he won with such an impressive winning total speaks of his love for this course, and I see no reason why he can’t repeat his success of 2013. Having made some recent swing changes, the 25-year-old made a very solid start to his 2015 campaign with a tie for 3rd in last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions (a big improvement from his 27th place finish last time around), and he was waxing lyrical about the state of his game when interviewed, saying “I feel great over the ball and really happy how I’m hitting it”. Despite a competitive looking field here, Henley looks a strong bet.

Russell Henley - 1pt e/w @ 28/1Lost -2pt

I will admit that I didn’t fully embrace the potential of Brendon Todd ahead of his maiden PGA tour win in last year’s Byron Nelson Championship, and the 29-year-old has most certainly kicked on since then, posting top-5 finishes in a couple of big events in the shape of the Crowne Plaza Invitational and the Quicken Loans National. The former event is very much of interest as it takes place on another traditional-style shot-maker’s course, and it would stand to reason that Waialae Country Club should suit his game, especially as he ranked amongst the best putters on tour last season. Todd’s tie for 20th last year came off the back of nearly two months away from the game, whereas this year he makes the visit fresh off a very solid tie for 8th on his Hyundai Tournament of Champions debut.

Brendon Todd - 1pt e/w @ 35/1Lost -2pt

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Luke Donald topped the world rankings, and despite his form struggles for much of 2014, it somehow doesn’t seem right for him to be so far down the market this week on a course which is seemingly tailor-made for his game. Of course, Donald proved his liking for Waialae back in 2007 when he finished runner-up to Paul Goydos, and he boasts a number of other solid finishes here. The Englishman makes it into my selections this week largely courtesy of his last outing where he finished third in the Nedbank Challenge, on a course which, simply put, shouldn’t suit his game anywhere near as well as Waialae Country Club does. Donald talked positively about his game when interviewed during that event, claiming to be “as pleased as I’ve been with my game for a while”, so I make him worthy of an each-way punt here.

Luke Donald - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

Another lover of classic layouts is three-time PGA tour winner, Boo Weekley. We make a second reference to Colonial Country Club as this was the scene of the 41-year-old’s latest triumph, and his two wins at Harbour Town Golf Links also speak to his love of shot-maker’s courses. Having not enjoyed the most fruitful 2013-14 season, he seems to have turned things round since the start of the 2014-15 season, finishing runner-up in the Sanderson Farms Championship before a sixth place finish in Australia. The obvious risk over backing Boo Weekley is his dreaded flatstick which often defies his natural ball-striking ability, but the fact he ranked 6th in Strokes Gained Putting on his last PGA tour outing bodes well for a strong week in Hawaii.

Boo Weekley - 1pt e/w @ 100/1Lost -2pt

My rank outsider for this week is a player who I’m sure will pop up with a PGA tour win soon, most likely when no one is expecting it – and that man is Billy Hurley III. In a bid to confirm my suspicions that he’s another player who likes an old-style shot-maker’s test, I took to Twitter to ask Hurley which courses he felt best suited his game, so when Waialae was returned as one of the answers, I knew I’d have to keep him in mind for this week. There’s more to this each-way punt than merely a casual mention on Twitter, however. The 32-year-old entered this event in poor current form 12 months ago and still broke par in all four rounds. This time around, his current form reads 8-23, and his recent wedge-distance approach stats look just the ticket for a big week.

Billy Hurley III - 1pt e/w @ 125/1Lost -2pt

Hyundai Tournament of Champions

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 6th January 2015 / 10:39

Hyundai Tournament of Champions

The PGA tour gets underway again after the Christmas break, and the 2014-15 wraparound season continues with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. As ever, it is a limited field event with only winners from the 2013-14 season invited to take part.

Also unchanged is the host course which remains the Plantation Course at Kapalua on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The par 73 track plays to a yardage of 7,411 which, when coupled with wide fairways would look very much like a big-hitter's track on paper. However, both Steve Stricker (2012 winner) and Zach Johnson (defending champion) defy that suggestion and claimed victories here without the ability to bomb it off the tee. In my mind, the key to their victories was their approach play. In fact, Stricker, Zach Johnson and even 2013 winner Dustin Johnson had all ranked 4th or better in the field in proximity to the hole during their respective events.

There are two other key trends to look out for this week. The first is that some level of course knowledge clearly pays dividends here. Most of the recent winners have had at least three prior visits to Kapalua under their belts ahead of winning here, and 2008 winner Daniel Chopra remains the only player to win on his debut.

Lastly, last year's leaderboard best illustrates the importance of recent competitive golf. Clearly all players will have a certain level of rust after the Christmas break, but there's a big difference between a player like John Senden who teed it up four weeks ago in the Australian PGA Championship, and Brian Harman whose last event was the OHL Classic eight weeks ago. Last year's leaderboard certainly paints a clear picture with each of the top-5 having played tournament golf four weeks prior to the event, and four of the bottom five on the leaderboard not having played competitively for at least seven weeks.

Having played in both the Hero World Challenge (five weeks ago) and the Franklin Templeton Shootout (four weeks ago), Matt Kuchar has more recent golf under his belt than the majority of the field. He also played solidly in both events, finishing tied 8th in the Hero World Challenge and runner-up (paired with Harris English) in the Franklin Templeton Shootout. What I also like about Kuchar this week is his recent bank of course experience at Kapalua. To put it into numbers, the 36-year-old is one of only three players to have teed it up here in each of the last two years which is a big factor on a course where the greens in particular need to be 'learned'. Kuchar has finished inside the top-10 on each of his four visits to the Plantation Course, and last year's tie for 6th could have been a whole different story were it not for his disappointing third round 75 which derailed his bid for the title.

Matt Kuchar - 2pt @ 9/1Lost -2pt

Chris Kirk also played in the Hero World Challenge before Christmas and was due to play the Franklin Templeton Shootout but withdrew because of a niggling wrist injury. One would imagine he wouldn't be risking teeing it up this week if that injury persists, and I'm prepared to take a chance that he's fighting fit ahead of the trip to Kapalua. The 29-year-old has teed it up here in two of the last three years, posting finishes of tied 7th and tied 16th, and I'm encouraged by the fact each of these showings featured a 7-under-par 66 which proves he knows how to go low here. As mentioned earlier, hitting it close to the pins is a key attribute on the Plantation Course, and this should play right into Kirk's hands as he currently ranks 4th on tour in Proximity to the Hole.

Chris Kirk - 1pt e/w @ 20/1Lost -2pt

Golf Tips

Weekly golf tips from Sam Harrop, who has posted over 100pts to £1 profit for each of the past 3 years.

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