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Get the best golf betting tips from Sam Harrop of Golf
Punters Guide, who will post his PGA tour picks on Tuesday or Wednesday every week of the US season.
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With the first playoff event done and dusted and Hunter Mahan making great strides towards the FedEx Cup trophy, it’s onto
stage two which is the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston. Whilst the top-100 in the FedEx Cup standings qualify to
compete this week, there are a handful of notable absentees including Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Graeme McDowell which
help to make Rory McIlroy and even stronger favourite this week as a recent winner of this event.
TPC Boston is an Arnold Palmer design which plays to a par of 71 and 7,216 yards in length, and whilst it would be harsh to describe the course as a push-over, recent winning totals (such as 22-under-par last year) tell us that low scores can be expected here. Birdie Average, one would assume, would therefore be a logical place to start in terms of research. However, the stats of recent winners here actually point towards Scoring Average as a much better predictor of success with each of the last three winners of this event ranking inside the top-5 on tour in Scoring Average over the course of the season. All-Around Ranking has similar claims as an attribute well worth studying when compiling a shortlist here. Each of the last five winners of this event had ranked 6th or better in this attribute over the course of the season.
Whilst Jason Day might not boast the best All-Around Ranking on tour, it’s important to take such stats with a pinch of salt when players have been out injured for any part of a season. Despite his injury troubles, Day still boasts a ranking of 13th in Scoring Average and comes here in great form after finishing in the runner-up spot last week at the Barclays. The ‘relative form’ angle bodes well too as Day had finished 5th the last time the Barclays was hosted at Ridgewood Country Club and went on to finish runner-up here at TPC Boston. Day’s aggressive style is certainly what you need at TPC Boston, and whilst he has a strong competition at the head of the market, I’m confident we’ll see the Aussie in the mix come the final round.
After a landmark year last year, it could be argued that Jordan Spieth hasn’t quite lived up to his young reputation this term. That said, he has turned in excellent performances in elite events such as his runner-up at The Masters and a top-5 finish in The Players Championship and I have a feeling he is going to peak at the end of the season just as he did last year. This belief is, in part, down to his closing 67 in last week’s Barclays coupled with the fact he ranked 2nd in birdies at Ridgewood. The 21-year-old played some excellent golf on his TPC Boston debut twelve months ago including firing a superb 62 in the final round, and the youngster currently ranks 14th on tour in Scoring Average.
Looking further down the market, Ryan Moore looks an interesting prospect as a player who currently ranks 11th in All-Around Ranking. On the face of things, it would be easy to be put off by Moore’s missed cut in last week’s Barclays tournament. However, he missed the cut in each of his previous two visits to Ridgewood Country Club (in 2008 and 2010), so we can simply chalk this down to Ridgewood being a bogey course for the 31-year-old. Moore has enjoyed much better results at TPC Boston through the years, including top-10 finishes in two of the last three years, and it’s interesting to note that each of his three PGA tour wins have come between the months of August and October.
My rank outsider for this week comes in the shape of this year’s Valspar Championship winner, John Senden. The Aussie had been through something of a drought before his victory back in March, and his return to the winner’s podium can be largely put down to an improvement in his putting which had been a weak link in his game for a while. Senden is on my radar courtesy of a ranking of 21st in All-Around Ranking, but his course form deserves more than a passing mention too as the 43-year-old boasts finishes of 12th or better in three of his last four visits to TPC Boston.
The PGA tour regular season has drawn to a close and the FedEx Cup playoffs get underway this week, comprising four tournaments
where the overall winner will collect a cool $10 million. First up is The Barclays – a roaming event which heads back to the
scene of the 2008 and 2010 tournaments – Ridgewood Country Club. The course is a par 71 A.W. Tillinghast design in Paramus,
New Jersey and the two previous winners on this layout are Vijay Singh and Matt Kuchar respectively.
Where there’s not a huge amount of recent course form to draw on, it's always worthwhile looking at other courses by the same course designer – and other Tillinghast designs include Bethpage Black which hosted the 2012 Barclays event, whilst a handful of others have hosted major championships (such as Winged Foot and Baltusrol as well as Bethpage), but the strongest course link that pops up from studying the 2008 and 2010 leaderboards here is actually not a Tillinghast design at all, but Firestone Country Club, host of the annual WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Maybe it’s something to do with the proximity of the two events on the tournament schedule, but I think there’s more to it than that as both are traditional-style par 71 layouts that play to a similar yardage and test all facets of the golf game. Performance attributes are more of a conundrum this week with little in the way of similarity between the games of Matt Kuchar and Martin Laird (the two members of the playoff in 2010). However, the 2010 leaderboard hints that Par Breakers (the percentage of the time a player shoots under par) may be worth more than a cursory glance with five of the top-8 on the leaderboard ranking inside the top-15 on tour in this attribute over the course of the season.
Currently ranking 7th on tour in Par Breakers and coming into this event having finished runner-up in three of his last five worldwide starts, Sergio Garcia looks a great bet towards the top of the market. Garcia may not have shone last time out in the PGA Championship, but he didn’t mince his words over his feelings about Valhalla in the run-up to the event, and it’s no great surprise that we didn’t see his best golf over the course of the week. Ridgewood Country Club, on the other hand, is right up the Spaniard’s street with a runner-up finish (losing out in a playoff) on his one and only visit. Since this time, his putting has come on in great strides and he also boasts a strong finish at the aforementioned Bethpage Black two years ago.
Unlike Garcia, Jimmy Walker has no shortage of silverware in the 2013-14 season having won three events in a four month stretch at the beginning of the wraparound season. It was always going to be a tall order for the 35-year-old to maintain that level of form in the second half of the season, but he’s still manage to produce good finishes in the events that really count – finishing inside the top-10 in the Players Championship, US Open and PGA Championship. His last tournament start came in the shape of a tie for 7th at Valhalla and featured his best round since the Players Championship (a final round 65), and even more encouragingly, many of Walker’s best finishes have come on courses that feature Poa Annua greens, just like Ridgewood Country Club.
Where there isn’t an abundance of course form to draw on, it’s never a bad idea to look at the player who holds the course record, and it is Hunter Mahan who lays claim to that having shot an opening 62 here in 2008. To date, the 2013-14 season may not be the most memorable for the five-time PGA tour winner, but there are very strong signs that he’s back to playing his best golf again having led the field in GIR in elite company at both Firestone and last time out at Valhalla. Like Walker, Mahan is comfortable on Poa Annua greens having grown up in California, and I’m further encouraged by his strong showing in the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black.
Still yet to open his PGA tour account, Graham DeLaet is one of the most consistent performers on tour, and one feels he just needs a solid week with the flatstick to finally break his duck. A course with Poa Annua greens may present the best opportunity for the Canadian to do just that, and it’s a significant factor that DeLaet finished in a tie for 5th at the Tillinghast-designed Bethpage Black in the 2012 Barclays tournament. Whilst the 32-year-old missed the cut on his only visit to Ridgewood Country Club four years ago, he came into the event off the back of form reading 69-C-C, as opposed to this year’s run-in which features top-15 finishes in two of his last three starts.
My rank outsider this week is another player who is still searching for his maiden PGA tour title, but has history of showing up in big events, and that man is Kevin Chappell. Chappell led the field in GIR last time out at Valhalla, so his ball-striking is clearly in excellent shape heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs. As a California native, the 28-year-old should be comfortable on the Poa Annua greens of Ridgewood, and with a ranking of 21st in Par Breakers, he looks a lively outsider at a triple-figure price here.
The final major of the year gets underway this week as Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky hosts the 96th PGA Championship.
We know a little about the course with it having hosted the 2000 PGA Championship, and, more recently, the 2008 Ryder Cup
– and what is certain is that the 7,458 yard Jack Nicklaus design is set-up to test all facets of the golf game.
Doglegged fairways and generous bunkering are synonymous with Nicklaus designs, and there’s a whole host of other Nicklaus courses hosting events on both the PGA and European Tours which we can reference for pointers. I believe the most useful reference course to be Muirfield Village in the neighbouring state of Ohio, which hosts the annual Memorial Tournament. On top of the obvious visual similarities, the course plays to a nearly identical yardage and features similar large bentgrass greens. To help rubberstamp this link, Tiger Woods had two titles to his name at Muirfield Village ahead of his 2000 PGA Championship triumph. Furthermore, although 1996 PGA Championship winner Mark Brooks is not a past winner at Muirfield Village, he had achieved a pair of top-5s there ahead of his major championship triumph at Valhalla.
A number of this week’s competitors have the advantage of having taken part in the 2008 Ryder Cup here, and arguably this is the most useful course form for players to have under their belts with the course undergoing several changes ahead of this event. With that said, the 2000 PGA Championship leaderboard is still a useful reference tool and points to the importance of good scoring on the Par 5 holes. Whilst the par has been reduced from 72 to 71 since that time, the three Par 5 holes are likely to provide the best scoring opportunities on the course and I believe the Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders stat to be an important one this week.
Whilst there is no direct evidence from the 2000 leaderboard to back this up, I’m prepared to suggest that the PGA tour’s Approaches from 200-225 yard statistic is another important one to study here. The course features four par 3 holes, three of which lie within this yardage range, and players able to give themselves birdie opportunities from this yardage range will be in good stead this week.
Ranking 11th in this particular attribute and 3rd in Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders, Charl Schwartzel stands out to me as an excellent bet this week. The 2011 Masters Champion hasn’t won on US soil since his Augusta triumph, but is rounding into form at just the right time to mount an assault on the final major of the year with a tie for 4th last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational shortly after a very solid top-10 finish in the Open Championship. The South African has some handy form at Muirfield Village too, having turned in top-10 finishes in each of his last two visits to the Nicklaus design, and if the putter behaves, he has all the right tools to excel at Valhalla.
Widely tipped as a future major winner, Hideki Matsuyama has overcome the first obvious hurdle which is winning on the PGA tour, and it’s the venue of this win – Muirfield Village – which brings him to my attention this week. Matsuyama played some of his best golf to date in last year’s major championships (with top-10 finishes in both the US Open and the Open Championship), so he can clearly handle the big stage despite his relative lack of success in the respective events this year. The 22-year-old currently ranks 3rd in Approaches from 200-225 yards and 5th in Par 5 Birdie or Better Leaders, and I see him as an excellent each-way prospect this week.
With six major championship top-10s to his name, Hunter Mahan is another player with the pedigree to get his name on a noteworthy trophy in the not-too-distant future, and I’m taking the chance that he’s turned a corner after a pretty disappointing year to date. It was his performance last week at Firestone which caught my eye as this was not only his first top-20 finish since March, but he led the field in Greens In Regulation, which suggests his ball-striking is back to its best. There are a handful of other links which make Mahan an interesting prospect here – he is a previous winner and runner-up on another Nicklaus design in the shape of Dove Mountain (host of the WGC Matchplay), and he was also unbeaten in five matches during his 2008 Ryder Cup debut here at Valhalla.
Another man who will have positive memories from the 2008 Ryder Cup is J.B. Holmes, who was also an unbeaten wildcard selection that year. Furthermore, Holmes is a Kentucky native, so he will have the advantage of the Valhalla crowds cheering him on this week. 2014 has been a successful year for Holmes, with the 32-year-old picking up his third PGA tour win and his most notable victory to date, coming at the Wells Fargo Championship at the ball-striker’s paradise that is Quail Hollow. Whilst his results don’t leap off the page since that time, there were very promising signs at Firestone last week where only a poor final round cost him a top-20 finish in an elite field.
Thomas Bjorn is one of only a handful of players in the field this week who teed it up in the 2000 PGA Championship here at Valhalla, and he looks a generously-priced outsider this week, especially when you consider he was around half the price for the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool three weeks ago. After all, not only did Bjorn tee it up here 14 years ago, but he finished 3rd which gives us a clear indication he likes the layout at Valhalla. Bjorn may not have any Muirfield Village form to speak of (as he doesn’t turn out for this event), but he does have some very handy looking form on other Nicklaus designs with wins at both Crans-sur-Sierre and Gleneagles on the European Tour to his name.
A relatively small but elite field heads to Firestone Country Club for this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Tiger
Woods will attempt to defend his title from 12 months ago. Despite his stellar record in this event, question marks still
remain over the state of Woods’ game since his return from major surgery remain and it is Rory McIlroy who heads the betting
off the back of his Open Championship victory two weeks ago.
I’ve looked through the history books and tried to identify the key trends that link recent winners here, and the three trends which stand out are: ball-striking stats, recent course form and Masters form. Focusing on the first of these, it is no coincidence that seven of the last eight winners here had ranked 21st or better on the PGA tour in Ball Striking in the season of their wins here. The South Course at Firestone is a reasonably long and demanding track which rewards the best ball-strikers as can be seen from the list of names who have claimed this title in recent years.
Recent course form is the next trend that I cited, and this is because each of the last five winners had finished inside the top-15 on their last appearance in the event. There are some undoubtedly talented players making their course debuts this week, but I believe, just like Augusta, experience of the course is greatly rewarded.
The mention of Augusta leads nicely onto the third and final trend which is Masters form. Eight of the last nine winners of this event had finished inside the top-15 in the Masters earlier that year which stands to reason when you consider the similarities between to the two courses (long, old-style courses with bentgrass greens).
Having performed solidly in his Masters defence back in April, eventually finishing in a tie for 14th, Adam Scott is the man towards the top of the betting who gets my full attention this week. Not only does he tick the Masters trend, but he currently ranks 2nd on tour in Ball Striking, is a previous winner of this event (in 2011), and finished inside the top-15 last time around. Much has been made of the fact that Scott was on the ‘wrong side’ of the draw in the Open Championship. Whilst it’s anyone’s guess what the outcome would have been had the Aussie been on the other side of the draw, there’s no doubt he played some of his best golf this year at Hoylake on his way to a tie for 5th and I believe he’s the man to beat this week.
Another man who enjoyed a very solid Open Championship is young talent Rickie Fowler. Despite only having a single PGA tour title to his name (in the shape of the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship), Fowler consistently brings his best golf to the big stage with four major championship top-5s to his name in a three year period. After major championships, WGC events are about as big as it gets and with his work with Butch Harmon starting to really pay dividends, I expect a big week from the 25-year-old. As well as his top-5 finish in this year’s Masters, Fowler is also a previous runner-up at Firestone (in 2011) and comes here in very strong form this time around.
Arguably one of the most naturally gifted golfers around, Louis Oosthuizen has been plagued with injury problems over the last couple of years which has prevented him from kicking on after an excellent 2012 season where he narrowly lost out to Bubba Watson in the Masters. Despite his rehabilitation – the South African still ranks as high as 26th in Ball Striking this season, and it’s his putting which seems to be preventing him from notching the kind of finishes he is capable of. Maybe last week’s win by fellow South African, Tim Clark will serve as an inspiration to the 31-year-old, who has top-10 finishes in two of his last three visits to Firestone.
My rank outsider for this week is Kevin Stadler who finished 13th in his one and only visit to Firestone – at the inaugural WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2006. This finish is all the more impressive given that it came on his course debut whilst he plied his trade primarily on the Nationwide (now known as the web.com) Tour. Kevin’s father, Craig, is a previous winner at Firestone which could just be a positive sign for ‘Baby Walrus’, and given his top-10 finish in this year’s Masters and ranking of 13th in Ball Striking – stranger things have happened.
With the final major championship of the year behind us, the PGA tour is back to the daily grind for just one week before
the FedEx Cup playoffs get underway. Greenboro, North Carolina is this week’s destination and the Donald Ross designed Sedgefield
Country Club hosts this event for the seventh year.
With little jumping out in terms of performance attributes linking recent winners here, the temptation is to focus on other Donald Ross designs to pick out who should fare well this week, but doing as such twelve months ago wouldn’t have led us towards either Patrick Reed or his playoff rival Jordan Spieth. What both players did have to their names, as per most of the recent winners here, is some level of course form right here at Sedgefield Country Club. Both players had taken part, and fared well, in an event called the Footjoy Invitational during their years in the amateur ranks, so the pointers were there for punters who dug deep enough. The previous five winners of this event had even more obvious course form – each having a finish of 8th or better in one of their previous three Wyndham Championship appearances, so course form should be a serious consideration when compiling a shortlist this week.
As with any event hosted on a par-70 track, I always recommend looking at players with good records on other par-70 layouts, and last year’s leaderboard in particular points us in the direction of Colonial Country Club (host of the Crowne Plaza Invitational) as a useful reference too. Jordan Spieth had finished in a tie for 7th at Colonial just a few months before his unfortunate playoff loss in last year’s Wyndham Championship, and three other players who finished in the top-5 at Sedgefield had finished 11th or better in the same visit to Colonial. The link extends beyond merely last year’s leaderboard too with Sergio Garcia a past winner on both tracks, David Toms a previous winner at Colonial and runner-up here at Sedgefield and Tim Clark a runner-up on both courses.
There are few players who can boast PGA tour wins in each of their last four seasons, so Bill Haas should be respected in a relatively weak field here. With a top-10 to his name at Colonial back in 2012 and a pair of top-10 finishes to his name here at Sedgefield, Haas certainly ticks the right boxes this week and the 32-year-old also captured the Tour Championship (and the FedEx Cup to boot) at the Donald Ross designed East Lake Country Club back in 2011. Haas may not have set the world alight in terms of his recent form, but he hasn’t missed a cut all season and his tie for 27th last week at Valhalla was solid enough to suggest he should go closer this week on a course he’s very familiar with.
We don’t have the benefit of seeing Ernie Els compete at the aforementioned Colonial Country Club with the event taking place concurrently with the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, but there’s a lot to like about the veteran this week – not least his tie for 7th in an elite field at Valhalla. Even more encouragingly, Els cites his Valhalla showing as “probably my best putting performance of the year”, which has been a source of concern for the South African all season. Els has just two appearances at Sedgefield to his name - a tie for 30th in 2011 and a tie for 20th last year and it’s his relative form that really gets my attention as his tie for 20th last year came off the back of a tie for 48th at Firestone followed by a missed cut in the PGA Championship as opposed to a tie for 26th and a tie for 7th in the same events this time around.
Currently leading the PGA tour in GIR, Chad Campbell is another player who has struggled with the flatstick of late, but Sedgefield’s switch to Bermuda greens in 2012 is a undoubted positive for the 40-year-old, with each of his four PGA tour wins coming on Bermuda greens. A tie for 4th here in 2012 certainly instils confidence, and although he missed the cut last time around, this followed a missed cut in Reno as opposed to his tie for 14th in the same event two weeks ago. Campbell reached as high as the top-10 in the world in his heyday, and despite his current ranking of 320th, I see no reason to suggest he can’t find his way back onto the winner’s podium.
Like Chad Campbell, Martin Laird’s best finish at Sedgefield is a tie for 4th – coming in 2008 in the Scotsman’s case, and having sat this event out for the last three years, it’s hard to know how the change to Bermuda greens would have affected him. I’m prepared to give the three-time PGA tour winner the nod this week off the back of a tie for 6th last time out in Reno (a similarly strong finish came two weeks before his aforementioned tie for 4th here). Laird is an excellent driver of the ball with a solid record at Colonial Country Club, and he needs a strong week to have a chance of featuring in the FedEx Cup playoffs which begin next week.
Although I like to use trends and course links to help compile a shortlist, I have to make the odd exception, and I’m prepared to do so in the case of Kevin Kisner. The 30-year-old is in excellent form at the moment having finished 20th in the John Deere Classic and 9th in the Canadian Open, and I’m further encouraged by the fact both performances featured closing 64s. Kisner’s best finish of the year came not too far from here – at Quail Hollow where he finished in a tie for 6th, and he has all the right tools to add his name to the long list of first-time winners in 2014.