Alfred Dunhill Championship

Sam Harrop / Wednesday 10th December 2014 / 09:41

The European Tour and Sunshine Tour co-host this week’s Alfred Dunhill Championship, an event that takes place in the heart of the Kruger National Park at the beautiful Leopard Creek Country Club.

The Gary Player design plays to a yardage of 7,287, and is known for its undulating greens and plentiful water features. Winning scores here have varied greatly in recent years, ranging from 11-under-par four years ago to 24-under-par in the penultimate edition, so it’s a course that clearly yields no shortage of birdies, but there’s plenty of trouble too.

Charl Schwartzel’s record in this event is simply exceptional which explains his single-figure price at the head of the betting. However, whilst four wins and two runner-up finishes in this event speaks for itself in terms of course form, his current form is notably poorer than in previous years. As well as a handful of mediocre performances over the last month or so, last week marks the first occasion he has failed to crack the top-10 in the Nedbank Golf Challenge, so I think he can be swerved this week.

There is no magic formula which links previous winners of this event that we can easily draw upon, especially in light of the domination of Charl Schwartzel. However, last year’s event shows an interesting trend that relates to the Perth International, which took place a few weeks previously. To put this into numbers – five of the top-10 on last year’s leaderboard here at Leopard Creek had notched a top-12 finish in Perth the previous month. Whilst we only have one year of Perth International event form to draw upon, I suspect this is more than mere coincidence.

Drawing on this Perth International link, one man who could be found inside the top-10 six weeks ago was American Peter Uilhein. The 25-year-old did suffer a loss of form around the middle of this season (missing eight straight cuts at one point), but steadily retrieved the kind of form that saw him win on his 2013 rookie season, following up his top-10 in Perth with a tie for 11th in the high-profile Turkish Airlines Open. Intriguingly, that very event was won by his close friend Brooks Koepka, which may just act as the catalyst for Uilhein to get back on the winner’s podium. Furthermore, The American has previous form in South Africa having finished in the top-5 in each of the last two editions of the Tshwane Open.

Peter Uilhein - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

Still searching for his maiden victory on the European Tour, Andy Sullivan is seemingly edging ever closer to that elusive first title – and this type of field should present a good opportunity for him to do just that. Sullivan ticks the two obvious boxes that punters look for every week in terms of course form (3-14) and recent form (4-21), but to add further fuel to the fire, Sullivan’s low round here at Leopard Creek is an 8-under-par 64 which is no mean feat. The Englishman also boasts other good finishes to his name in South Africa having finished in the top-5 in both the 2013 Africa Open and this year’s Joburg Open.

Andy Sullivan - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

The South African who offers the most appeal to me in the betting this week is Jbe Kruger who also seems to be rounding into form very nicely with top-10 finishes in each of his last three worldwide starts (the last of which came here in South Africa where he missed out on the playoff by one stroke). Kruger has played some solid golf at Leopard Creek in previous years too with top-10 finishes in two of his last three starts here. Furthermore, the 28-year-old was the 36-hole leader in the 2011 event having opened with rounds of 64-67.

Jbe Kruger - 1pt e/w @ 35/1Lost -2pt

I generally avoid players who have been away from the game (competitively) for more than a month or so, but I’m going to chance Lucas Bjerregaard here who comes here off the back of a pair of top-5 finishes. The most recent of these came in the shape of a tie for 4th at the aforementioned Perth International where he putted extremely well (an attribute which is sure to be tested on the undulating greens of Leopard Creek this week). Aside from his two recent top-5s, it’s interesting to note that Bjerregaard three best finishes last season all came in Africa including a tie for 16th here at Leopard Creek 12 months ago.

Lucas Bjerregaard - 1pt e/w @ 50/1Lost -2pt

My rank outsider for this week is a European Tour rookie in the shape of Jordi Garcia Pinto. Generally speaking, I prefer a certain level of prior experience of Leopard Creek, as it’s the sort of course that needs to be ‘learnt’. However, a handful of players have notched top-5s on their debuts here in recent years, and the Spaniard has previous form in Africa having won the 2013 Kenya Open and he comes here off the back of a top-10 finish in his last competitive outing. What I also like about the 24-year-old is that he is seemingly unfazed by making the step-up in grade to higher-profile events having claimed top-5 finishes in both of the co-sanctioned events he played last season.

Jordi Garcia Pinto - 1pt e/w @ 250/1Lost -2pt

Hero World Challenge

Sam Harrop / Monday 1st December 2014 / 17:47

An elite field comprising 18 of the top-27 ranked players the world head to Isleworth Country Club for this week's Hero World Challenge, hosted by Tiger Woods who also tees it up.

In recent years, the tournament has been hosted in California at Sherwood Country Club so the players will have a new course to get to grips with this week, and, by all accounts, a pretty tough one. Having hosted several Tavistock Cup events in recent years (most recently in 2013), certain players in this week's field will at least have some experience of Isleworth Country Club. Furthermore, the course also plays host to a notable college event in the shape of the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational which was won by Jordan Spieth in 2011.

Measuring 7,544 yards, the Isleworth CC is amongst the lengthiest PGA tour players will encounter, and this is not be ignored. I tweeted Oliver Wilson (the 2011 Tavistock Cup medalist) to get his thoughts on the challenge that Isleworth CC presents, and he replied "It’s long & you could do with hitting it the correct area of the green for the pins!”. Course re-designer Steve Smyers emphasises the latter point, saying: “There are many ways to play every hole, it’s up to you to manage yourself and the best course manager is the guy who has the best chance to win.”

Tiger Woods makes yet another return to competitive golf, and as a player who has previously shot 59 in practice at Isleworth Country Club, he shouldn't be written off lightly. That said, this remarkable round came before Smyers' 2004 re-design and there remain questions over Woods' fitness levels which is why he can be found at an almost disturbingly generous price this week.

Whilst Graeme McDowell doesn't boast the kind of length off the tee of many of his peers this week, he is one of the best 'thinkers' in the game today (which explains his excellent US Open record), and I think he could be a force to be reckoned with this week. The Northern Irishman knows Isleworth Country Club better than most of the field having played in several of the recent Tavistock Cups held here. Furthermore, McDowell has been the individual runner-up in each of the last two Isleworth-hosted events, so he knows how to grind out a good score on this track. McDowell played very well in his penultimate tournament start, finishing just a shot shy of the playoff in the recent WGC-HSBC Champions, and small fields do seem to bring out the best in his game as a two-time winner of the World Challenge (at Sherwood Country Club) as well as his 2013 Volvo Matchplay victory.

Graeme McDowell - 1pt e/w @ 18/1Lost -2pt

Towards the bottom of the market it is Chris Kirk who offers the most appeal. It has been a very successful year for the 29-year-old, bringing his biggest career win to date at the Deutsche Bank Championship three months ago. Shortly after this victory, Kirk finished in a tie for 4th at the Tour Championship (in another small but elite field) and he notched a further top-5 finish in the McGladrey Classic at the end of October. What intrigues me about Kirk this week is his form in the aforementioned Isleworth Collegiate Invitational where he was joint medalist in the inaugural 2004 event and runner-up in the 2005 event. Both performances came after Steve Smyer's re-design, so the Georgia Bulldog clearly likes something about this revamped layout. Whilst the kind of players he is up against this week are obviously much more accomplished than those he faced in his college days, he has already beaten most of them in very recent memory in the Deutsche Bank Championship, so he clearly has the ability to prevail this week.

Chris Kirk - 1pt e/w @ 28/1Lost -2pt

OHL Classic

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 11th November 2014 / 18:50

The PGA tour is heading outside of the United States again this week with Mexico the destination in question. Once an alternate event to the WGC-World Matchplay, the event now has its own slot in the PGA tour schedule, but sadly the field is still amongst the weakest we will see all season and Ben Martin is the highest ranked player in the field courtesy of his recent win. The host course, as ever, is the par-71, 6,987 yard El Camaleon which was designed by Greg Norman. Despite the victory of Harris English last year, recent leaderboards generally point very much in the direction of accuracy off the tee as a key attribute here. Course form, or indeed knowledge, doesn’t seem to carry the same weight, however, with each of the last three winners doing so on their El Camaleon debuts. In terms of narrowing down a shortlist, I believe there are two course links worth studying – TPC Southwind (host of the FedEx St Jude Classic) and Kuala Lumpur Golf Club (host of the CIMB Classic). Harris English won at the former track six months before his victory here at El Camaleon, and 2011 winner Johnson Wagner had finished 12th there in the season before his win here. There are many other examples that rubber-stamp this link with Jason Bohn, Rory Sabbatini, Justin Hicks and Robert Karlsson all laying claim to good recent form at TPC Southwind ahead of their strong performances here 12 months ago. Kuala Lumpur Golf Club is a slightly different challenge, but plays to a very similar yardage to El Camaleon as well as housing greens with the same grass type in the shape of Seashore Paspalum. We only have one year of evidence to back up a possible link, but Harris English had finished in a tie for 7th in Kuala Lumpur two weeks before his win here last year, and Chris Stroud turned up towards the top of both leaderboards. Rory Sabbatini is a player with recent form on both of the aforementioned tracks having finished in a tie for 7th at TPC Southwind 6 months ago and a tie for 8th two weeks ago at Kuala Lumpur Golf Club, so he ticks the right boxes here. Furthermore, Sabbatini has finished in the top-5 in two of three visits to El Camaleon so he clearly likes something about this Greg Norman layout. Sabbatini comes here off the back of a week off, so his confidence should be on the up after his top-10 finish in Kuala Lumpur last time out.

Rory Sabbatini - 1pt e/w @ 40/1Lost -2pt

It’s something that affects some players better than others, but there is recent evidence of players being spurred on by fellow countrymen winning, and maybe Nick Taylor’s win last week will give David Hearn the boost he needs to get over the line himself. The Canadian played well at the Country Club of Jackson last week, closing with a 67 to turn in a finish of tied 14th and his previous outing comes in the shape of a top-10 finish at TPC Summerlin, so his game is clearly in very good shape. The 35-year-old is an accurate driver of the ball and should improve on his best finish of 35th at El Camaleon.

David Hearn - 1pt e/w @ 45/1Lost -2pt

Whilst I can’t draw on the aforementioned course links for Will MacKenzie, but he’s a player who very much warrants inclusion this week. The two-time PGA tour winner played some of his best golf at the beginning of last season and he has started the 2014-15 season off in a similar vein having finished runner-up finish at the McGladrey Classic on his penultimate start. The 40-year-old finished in a tie for 12th in his last visit to El Camaleon and generally excels in weaker fields, so given his current ranking of 3rd in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, he looks a tempting each-way proposition.

Will MacKenzie - 1pt e/w @ 55/1Lost -2pt

Andrew Svoboda has managed a few near-misses in his relatively short PGA tour career – most notably finishing runner-up in last season’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, but I firmly believe his time will come, and a weak field like this presents an excellent opportunity for the 35-year-old to break through. One of Svoboda’s best finishes of last season came in the FedEx St Jude Classic where he finished in a tie for 6th, and I’m not too perturbed by his missed cut on his El Camaleon debut, especially as it featured a second-round 68.

Andrew Svoboda - 1pt e/w @ 66/1Lost -2pt

He may bit of a wildcard, admittedly, but Carlos Ortiz clearly possesses bags of talent having won three times on the web.com tour last season, so what’s not to like at a triple-figure price in this type of field? Two of Ortiz’ three wins came in Central America (here in Mexico and in Panama), and he obviously feels comfortable in this part of the world as a Mexican himself. Although his early PGA tour form may not set pulses racing, he certainly showed promise in his top-20 finish at TPC Summerlin, and as a great driver of the ball he looks an interesting outsider here.

Carlos Ortiz - 1pt @ 150/1Lost -2pt

Sanderson Farms Championship

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 4th November 2014 / 14:01

The PGA tour is back in the United States this week for the Sanderson Farms Championship whilst some of the bigger names in world golf head to China for the HSBC-Champions tournament.

Last hosted in 2013, the tournament remains in Mississippi but has switched from its long-term host of Annandale Golf Club to the Country Club of Jackson. Dick Wilson (of Bay Hill and Doral fame) originally designed the course, but it was remodelled six years ago by John Fought and will play to a par of 72 and a yardage of 7,354 this week.

With the course having not hosted any previous tour events, we have nothing to go on in terms of course form. However, the course flyover gives us a good idea of the traditional style of the layout, and the club themselves talk of the course “incorporating classic Donald Ross flavor” which is another handy pointer. With little in the way of trouble off the tee and four lengthy par-5 holes to negotiate, it’s not unreasonable to expect the big-hitting contingent to be at an advantage this week, and we can also expect similarly low scoring to previous editions of this event.

Not averse to low-scoring conditions having captured the Shriners Hospitals Open with a 19-under-par winning total, Martin Laird has been playing some great golf at the start of the new season. As well as coming close to winning the Frys.com Open at Silverado, Laird held the lead going into the weekend at TPC Summerlin the following week before fading over the weekend. To add further fuel to the fire, Laird’s biggest career win to date came at the Dick Wilson-designed Bay Hill in the 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational and he clearly has ample distance off the tee to shine at CCJ. Simply put, Laird is a class act in a relatively weak field this week and his ball-striking has looked very strong so far this season.

Martin Laird - 1pt e/w @ 25/1Lost -2pt

As a Las Vegas resident whose maiden title came in Reno, there’s a tendency to think of Scott Piercy as merely a big-hitting west coast specialist. However, there is more to the 35-year-old’s game than immediately meets the eye with his second PGA tour win coming on a shot-maker’s track in Canada (Hamilton G&CC) and top-5 finishes on courses as diverse as Innisbrook, TPC Four Seasons and Oak Hill (incidentally, a Donald Ross design – if that pointer should ring true). Piercy underwent surgery on his right arm back in February and returned to competition at the end of July, but he seems to be back to full fitness with a tie for 7th in his hometown of Vegas followed by a top-20 finish last time out at the McGladrey Classic.

Scott Piercy - 1pt e/w @ 33/1Lost -2pt

Of the players who are still seeking their maiden PGA tour victories, there are a few factors pointing in the direction of William McGirt this week, whose name seemingly keeps popping up towards the top of leaderboards. McGirt has a previous top-5 in this very event (during its days at Annandale) he has a good record in the Arnold Palmer Invitational (at the Dick Wilson-designed Bay Hill), and one of his best finishes of last season came on the Donald Ross-designed Sedgefield Country Club. Encouragingly, the 35-year-old currently ranks 12th on tour in Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders, and he has opened his 2014-15 account with a respectable pair of top-35 finishes which he is more than capable of building on this week.

William McGirt - 1pt e/w @ 55/1Lost -2pt

Some players excel in certain parts of the country, which is why the Alabama-educated Jason Bohn gets the nod this week as a ‘deep south’ specialist. Bohn’s last PGA tour win came in Mississippi’s neighbouring state of Louisiana at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and he has Sanderson Farms tournament form reading 2-9 (over at Annandale). Furthermore, referring again to a possible Sedgefield CC link, Bohn is a previous runner-up at the Donald Ross design and he also ranks very well in Par-5 Birdie or Better Leaders (currently ranking 10th) despite his relative lack of length off the tee.

Jason Bohn - 1pt e/w @ 70/1Placed 16.5pt

There are few PGA tour players with links to the state of Mississippi, so local boy Jonathan Randolph should relish being on home turf this week on a course he knows inside out. Aside from playing plenty of rounds here over the years, Randolph also boasts tournament form here having finished runner-up in the 2010 Mississippi State Amateur event. The 26-year-old may not have excelled so far this season, but he did notch a top-30 finish at TPC Summerlin in his penultimate start followed by only missing the McGladrey Classic cut by a single stroke.

Jonathan Randolph - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

CIMB Classic

Sam Harrop / Wednesday 29th October 2014 / 10:27

The PGA tour makes one of its few trips outside of the US this week, and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is the destination.

This year marks the fifth edition of the CIMB Classic, but just the second year Kuala Lumpur G&CC plays host to the venue. Golf enthusiasts may be aware that the very same course plays host to the Maybank Malaysian Open on the European Tour (most recently won by Lee Westwood). The par-72 course was originally designed by the Nelson Haworth design team (who also designed Sheshan International – long-term host of the HSBC Champions) and plays to less than 7,000 yards, so pretty short by PGA tour standards.

As well as the obvious challenge posed by high temperatures and humidity in Kuala Lumpur, fairways are relatively narrow and the rough on the course was significant last year. Suffice to say, Ryan Moore’s driving skills certainly played a big part in his victory. As the man himself says: “Tee shots are very, very important….it’s very narrow. So for me, I’m a very good driver of the golf ball, so that’s a very good thing for me playing a golf course like [this] because it’s so important to be in the fairway to give yourself a chance to score”. The very fact that Louis Oosthuizen and Lee Westwood are recent victors of the Maybank Malaysian Open rubber-stamps this point, and I expect a good driver of the ball to emerge victorious this week.

Aside from driving, I do believe Kuala Lumpur G&CC rewards those with an attacking mentality as the course yielded birdies and eagles aplenty last year (with Ryan Moore himself bagging no less than nine eagles). Also worth looking at are players with previous track records in Asia as the top-2 on last year’s leaderboard had some prior form in the continent with Moore boasting a good record in the HSBC Champions tournament (at the aforementioned Sheshan International) and Gary Woodland having won the Omega Mission Hills World Cup back in 2011 with his partner Matt Kuchar.

Having once ranked as highly as 3rd in the OWGR, it was something of a shock to see Paul Casey plummet to the depths of 169th in 2013 (which was down in no small part to injury problems). However, the Englishman has bounced back over the last 16 months, winning last year’s Irish Open and more recently the KLM Open just last month. The 13-time European Tour winner makes his debut at Kuala Lumpur G&CC this week, but all the pointers are there that the course should suit – he’s an excellent driver of the ball, has a good record at the aforementioned Sheshan International and is a two-time winner in Asia.

Paul Casey - 1pt e/w @ 33/1Lost -2pt

It’s always worth considering previous course winners, especially when they don’t appear amongst the favourites, and Seung-Yul Noh certainly warrants more than a cursory glance this week. His 2010 Maybank Malaysian Open victory came at the impressive age of 18 with very little experience under his belt. Since this time, Noh has become a PGA tour regular and notched his first title in the states earlier this year at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Noh teed it up last week, not in Georgia, but in his native Korea at the Kolon Korea Open where he finished runner-up, so comes into this event in decent form.

Seung-Yul Noh - 1pt e/w @ 33/1Lost -2pt

It has been over five years since Stewart Cink’s last professional victory (the 2009 Open Championship), but I believe the veteran has more titles in him yet, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance in his first two starts of the new season (shooting a 64 in the opening round of the Frys.com Open, and a 63 in the third round of last week’s McGladrey Classic), so his game is definitely heading in the right direction. Cink teed it up here in Kuala Lumpur last year, making a solid debut in the shape of a tie for 11th (which could have been even better bar a closing 73), and there’s good reason to expect an improvement this time around.

Stewart Cink - 1pt e/w @ 70/1Lost -2pt

Some players hold their form better than others, and two-time PGA tour winner Will MacKenzie has previously showed that he holds his better than most – posting six top-15 finishes in eight starts around the beginning of this year. Whilst his form tailed off towards the end of the season, he has started his 2014-15 campaign off with a bang, only losing out in a playoff in last week’s McGladrey Classic. Like Paul Casey, MacKenzie makes his Kuala Lumpur G&CC debut this week, and whilst he doesn’t have much in the way of Asian golf experiences to draw upon, his ball-striking was so good last week (ranking 1st in both GIR and Proximity to the Hole) that he has to be worth an outside punt this week.

Will MacKenzie - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

McGladrey Classic

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 21st October 2014 / 19:30

With the west coast swing done and dusted, Sea Island, Georgia is the location of this week’s PGA tour event – the McGladrey Classic.

The Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club is the perennial host of this event and the par-70 layout plays to a yardage of 7,005 which makes it one of the shortest courses on the PGA tour. With this said, the course is not without its challenges as a coastal, wind-exposed layout that demands good scrambling skills.

Other than short-game skills, there isn’t a great deal that connects recent winners here from a performance attributes (or indeed - course form) point of view. However, there are a couple of other PGA tour events which could be useful predictors to success here. Heath Slocum, Ben Crane and Tommy Gainey all had recent course form down the coast at Harbour Town Golf Links (host of The Heritage), and Ben Crane and last year’s winner Chris Kirk both had form at Colonial Country Club (host of the Crowne Plaza Invitational) – another par-70 layout that rewards good shot-makers. It is the par-70 nature of the Seaside Course which is undoubtedly significant too with the two most recent winners, Chris Kirk and Tommy Gainey, ranking 3rd and 13th in Par 4 Birdie or Better Leaders in the years of their wins here.

Having won the first event of the 2012 PGA tour season (the Sony Open), Russell Henley is clearly capable of getting his season off to a strong start, and where better than his home state of Georgia. The 25-year-old enjoyed a very impressive 2013-14 season – winning the Honda Classic and progressing right to the FedEx Cup finale where he finished in the top-20 in the final standings. Henley didn’t play brilliantly here 12 months ago, but he has form from his college days where he won the individual honours and helped his Georgia team to victory in the 2010 SEC Men’s Golf Championship. Additionally, Henley loves par-70 layouts on which both of his PGA tour wins have come.

Russell Henley - 1pt e/w @ 33/1Placed 7.25pt

With even stronger local ties than Russell Henley, Harris English makes his home right here on Sea Island and thus knows this course better than most of the field. After a really strong start to his 2013-14 campaign (in which he won the OHL Classic) the 2013-14 season was pretty disappointing for English with only a single top-10 finish since March. However, the 25-year-old showed definite signs of form in last week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, finishing in a tie for 16th on a course where he didn’t boast much in the way of form. English was also part of the winning Georgia team in the 2010 SEC Men’s Golf Championship and has previous top-10s to his name at both Harbour Town Golf Links and Colonial Country Club.

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

The third local player who gets the nod this week is Brian Harman, a player who notched his maiden PGA tour title in last season’s John Deere Classic. Harman, like Harris English, is a resident of Sea Island itself and has some solid course form to his name, having finished 27th on his tournament debut in 2012 and 10th last year. The 27-year-old is very solid with a wedge in hand (which never hurts on a 7,005 yard layout) and he finished in a tie for 7th in last season’s Heritage tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links.

Brian Harman - 1pt e/w @ 55/1Lost -2pt

Aside from those right at the top of the betting market, one of the most decorated players in the field is five-time PGA tour winner Carl Pettersson. The 37-year-old didn’t demonstrate his best golf for much of last season, but that said, he did seem to be rounding into form just as the season was winding to a close – posting a top-10 finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship (which was incidentally won by last year’s McGladrey Classic winner – Chris Kirk). Pettersson’s last victory came at Harbour Town Golf Links and his previous two PGA tour wins came on par-70 layouts.

Carl Pettersson - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

Richard Sterne is something of a wildcard selection this week with limited PGA tour experience under his belt. However, the 33-year-old is an excellent wedge player with a tidy short game and, crucially, knows how to win, as a six-time victor on the European Tour. South Africans seem to like something about the Seaside Course with Tim Clark finishing runner-up here last year and both Louis Oosthuizen and Trevor Immelman finishing inside the top-5 in the 2011 event. Sterne has missed the cut in each of the last two weeks, but his game is certainly not in tatters at the moment having come close to winning on the web.com tour back in September and posting a top-10 in last month’s Dunhill Links Championship.

Richard Sterne - 1pt e/w @ 125/1Lost -2pt

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 14th October 2014 / 19:12

The PGA tour heads to Las Vegas this week for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, held at TPC Summerlin.

Things are all a little clearer for the punter here as opposed to last week’s Frys.com Open which comprised a new host course, a bunch of PGA tour rookies, and nearly everyone in the field coming off the back of at least a month out of competitive action.

TPC Summerlin, a 7,255 yard par-71 consistently ranks amongst the easiest courses on the PGA tour which is best demonstrated by Webb Simpson’s winning total of 24-under-par. Course form can be relied upon to a large degree with each of the last four winners having finished in the top-15 in a previous appearance before winning here. I’m going slightly beyond merely form at TPC Summerlin itself, and looking at ‘desert form’.

This line of thinking comes from noticing the results of recent Shriners winners in both the Humana Challenge and the Phoenix Open – two others events held on desert-based courses. Webb Simpson had a top-5 finish in the Humana Challenge and two top-10s to his name in the Phoenix Open ahead of his win here 12 months ago; 2012 winner Ryan Moore had two Humana Challenge top-10s and one in Phoenix to his name ahead of his victory and Kevin Na boasted no less than three top-5s in Phoenix and a top-10 in the Humana Challenge before his win here three years ago.

The names of recent winners here tells us quite clearly that there’s no easy formula in terms of favouring big hitters, or short, accurate types. Putting prowess is never going to hurt where low-scoring is involved, but history would suggest that Birdie Average is the performance stat most worth studying here. To back this up – each of the last three winners ranked inside the top-20 on tour in Birdie Average in the years of their wins here.

Having suffered a pretty disappointing 2013-14 season, it’s no great surprise to see Martin Laird some way down the Birdie Average stat. However, we know from past years that an in-form Martin Laird is something of a birdie-machine, and his performance in last week’s Frys.com Open would suggest that he may be recapturing the sort of form that saw him inside the top-50 in the world for extended periods of his PGA tour career. Having won this event in 2009, he came back twelve months later and nearly defended his title, only losing out in a playoff to Jonathan Byrd. During this time, he has posted rounds of 62 and 63 (twice) here, and his performance last week should give him the confidence he needs to contend here once again.

Martin Laird - 1pt e/w @ 28/1Lost -2pt

One player still searching for that elusive maiden PGA tour title is Cameron Tringale. The California native comes off the back of his best season on the PGA tour, finishing 37th on the money list, and the fact he made it all the way to the FedEx Cup finale, coupled with his Frys.com Open appearance last week means that he is fresher than most ahead of the trip to TPC Summerlin. The 27-year-old has sufficient desert form having finished in a tie for 12th in last season’s Phoenix Open and having finished 11th here back in 2010. Although his Birdie Average may not leap off the page, he ranked 8th on tour in Total Birdies last season.

Cameron Tringale - 1pt e/w @ 55/1Lost -2pt

Looking to add to his sole PGA tour victory in 2011, Brendan Steele made a solid start to his 2014-15 season with a tie for 21st at Silverado. Steele is another born-and-bred Californian, and he certainly seems very comfortable in the desert having claimed no less than three top-6 finishes in the Phoenix Open as well as a pair of top-20s right here in Las Vegas. Steele ranked just outside the top-50 on tour in Birdie Average last year and on paper all elements of his game stacked up well last week, so I expect another strong showing from the 27-year-old.

Brendan Steele - 1pt e/w @ 70/1Lost -2pt

If we’re looking for someone who is going to made birdies in abundance this week, Bryce Molder could be just the man for the job having led the field in birdies made (23 in total) last week at Silverado. Like Steele, Molder is a one-time PGA tour winner, with his win also coming in 2011 but over at CordeValle, the previous host of the Frys.com Open. Molder has an excellent record in the Phoenix Open, and whilst his record at TPC Summerlin is a little more variable, he did finish in the top-10 here three years ago.

Bryce Molder - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

Chancing web.com graduates wouldn’t have been the most profitable strategy here 12 months ago with only Chesson Hadley gracing the top-10, but I’m going to chance Tony Finau this week who turned in an excellent PGA tour debut in last week’s Frys.com Open. The 25-year-old didn’t get overawed by the occasion, shooting the joint lowest weekend total (8-under-par) at Silverado and I see no reason why he shouldn’t carry his form over to this week. After all, we know that Finau is a birdie machine with his sole web.com victory coming with a winning total of 22-under-par, and he also tied for 2nd in birdies made on his way to last week’s tie for 12th.

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

Frys.com Open

Sam Harrop / Tuesday 7th October 2014 / 19:03

The 2014-15 PGA tour season gets underway this week with the Frys.com Open in Napa Valley, California.

The host course moves from CordeValle to Silverado’s North Course – making this the first PGA tour event it has hosted in 34 years. Since that time, Johnny Miller has got his hands on the course and made several changes, including lengthening the course to 7,203 yards.

Being the first event of a new season with a number of players making their PGA tour debuts and many coming off the back of pretty lengthy layoffs, it’s a hard enough event for punters to get a hold on without a complete dearth of course form, so it’s time to delve deep and figure out who should like this week’s layout.

Reading interview transcripts with re-designer Johnny Miller, a few things come to light. Firstly (as backed up by the course flyover) the course will reward the ability to shape the ball both ways as there are several doglegs in opposite directions. Secondly, players’ short games are likely to come under scrutiny this week if Miller’s words are to be believed. In his words: “this is a tough golf course. These greens are as tough as Augusta at high speeds.”

Miller makes further reference to Augusta National, claiming that he was influenced by the Georgia course when re-bunkering the North Course here at Silverado. He goes as far as to say the course “looks like Augusta National” which could provide an interesting point of reference for who may take a liking to the layout.

One player who certainly does like Augusta National is Brandt Snedeker who has a couple of excellent Masters finishes to his name. This is, in part, down to his ability to putt well on fast greens. Further evidence of this can be found in his 2012 Tour Championship win at East Lake which holds arguably the fastest Bermuda greens on the PGA tour. The 2013-14 season may have been slightly disappointing for the 33-year-old being his first winless season since 2010, but can be largely chalked down to injury problems and I fully expect him to bounce back this season. California has also been a happy hunting ground for Snedeker, with two of his six PGA tour wins coming in the Golden State.

Brandt Snedeker - 1pt e/w @ 28/1Lost -2pt

Often in contention, but as yet without a PGA tour win, Russell Knox has been one of the most impressive British exports to the PGA tour outside of the big names in recent times. The Scotsman narrowly missed out on victory in this year’s Honda Classic and turned in a solid top-10 finish at Harbour Town Golf Links – another course that rewards the ability to shape the ball off the tee. Knox has a solid bank of West Coast form to his name and saved his best until the very end of last season, shooting a blistering 62 in the final round of the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills. Let’s hope he can pick up where he left off.

Russell Knox - 1pt e/w @ 66/1Lost -2pt

Perennially underrated by the oddsmakers, Kevin Streelman boasts something that few players in this field can lay claim to – a PGA tour win in each of the last two seasons. Streelman is comfortable on tracks that demand the ability to work the ball off the tee which is proven by his wins at Innisbrook and TPC River Highlands and further backed up by strong performances at Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass. The 35-year-old is also adept on speedy greens. One of the best references for who copes well on fast putting surfaces is last year’s HANDA World Cup of Golf, and Streelman ranked 5th in Putting Average on this occasion.

Kevin Streelman - 1pt e/w @ 80/1Lost -2pt

I’m slightly torn as to how big an advantage length off the tee will be this week. Articles I’ve read certainly suggest accuracy off the tee should not be underestimated, but at the same time the Par 5 holes could provide real scoring opportunities for those who can really bomb it. Either way, a course of 7,203 yards means that shorter hitters like Heath Slocum are very much part of the discussion, and the 40-year-old seems to save his best golf for the latter part of the year with two of his four PGA tour wins coming in what used to be known as the ‘fall series’. Slocum is an excellent scrambler (ranking 24th in this attribute last season) and it may be worth noting his top-20 finish on his penultimate visit to Augusta National.

Heath Slocum - 1pt e/w @ 125/1Lost -2pt

My rank outsider for this week is Michael Thompson. As a previous PGA tour winner and a major championship runner-up, Thompson clearly has talent in abundance, it’s just a case of catching him on the right week. There are several pointers which make me think he’s worth an each-way punt this week. To name a few: he plays classic courses well (Muirfield Village and Colonial Country Club are sites of recent strong finishes), his US Open runner-up finish came in the state of California, and he is one of the best putters on the PGA tour.

Michael Thompson - 1pt e/w @ 150/1Lost -2pt

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