While it was a fantastic tournament, it was a particularly bad Open Championship for me from a betting point of view. The wind on Thursday/Friday seemed to ruin Stenson and Fowler’s chances and Snedeker never got going at all. Coetzee managed to get to -3 on his front 9 both days but was destroyed by a strong wind on both his back 9s and missed the cut. Kaymer had a solid enough week but finished a never closer 12th without ever really being able to strike a blow. Goosen looked set to give me a small return until a poor weekend left him down the field.
However I’m reasonably happy with how I saw the tournament playing out and putting certainly ended up as the most important factor. Length off the tee was important even if Zach Johnson winning suggests otherwise. Such is the quality of his short game when at his best, he can win on courses where length is favoured. Just look at his 2007 Masters win where he laid up at every Par 5 to wedge his way to victory.
But there is no getting away from the fact that it’s a 35pts loss for the first preview! Must do better in the next two or they may well be the last!
The final US based WGC of the season takes place this week at its regular home of Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio. The tournament has been held there since 1999 in its current guise as a World Golf Championship but there has been a regular tournament held at Firestone dating back to 1962.
Now in its customary slot the week before the USPGA Championship the elite players see this as a perfect preparation for a usually similar challenge that awaits them the following week. Both Tiger and Mcilroy have done the Firestone/USPGA double in recent years and most other USPGA winners post a Top 20 here prior to lifting the Wanamaker Trophy so it’s worth keeping an eye on next week’s market as the tournament goes on.
The South Course at Firestone sits at 7360 yards long and plays to every yard of it, earning itself the nickname “The Monster” from Arnold Palmer after he once took a treble bogey at its 16th. Originally designed in 1929 by Bert Way, it underwent a massive redesign at the hands of Robert Trent Jones in 1959 to prepare it as a Championship course.
It has several long Par 4s and the Par 5 16th is one of the longest on Tour at 667 yards. The fairways are around average in width but they aren’t to be missed with lush green rough awaiting the inaccurate and leaving a very long approach to the greens. The fairways are also mostly straight and tree-lined so any shot shaping off the tee has to be extremely accurate The greens while perceived by some to be small, average 7,600 ft in area so they are actually on the larger side. However many of them are elevated with steep slopes which make them harder to hold. They also run at 13″ on the stimpmeter so they should play very fast.
What is needed to win?
Most winners of the WGC at Firestone are world-class and usually a major winner already. Since 1999 only Hunter Mahan (2010) and Craig Parry (2002) haven’t won one of the main 4 tournaments. To further make this point ,since 2005 every winner bar 2 has finished that season in the Top 3 of the PGA Tour’s All Round Ranking.
Since 2009 the worst that any winner has finished in that season’s Total Driving rank is 17th. So they have to be long, accurate drivers to have any chance of winning at Firestone. You simply can’t consistently find greens from either the rough or 200+yards out for 4 days in the Ohio heat.
But of course everyone misses the odd fairway so I want a player that can still hit greens from well back in the rough. Looking at Approach shots from 225-250 yards, Firestone lover Keegan Bradley (15th, 1st, 2nd, 4th here) regularly performs well in this stat which backs up that theory. The mind numbingly slow Bradley is also a terrific ball striker and when he finally does hit his irons they are both high and long which helps him to hold the ball on the fast greens.
Another key attribute of Bradley’s is hitting Par 5’s in two or “Going for it” as the PGA Tour like to call it. While there are only 2 Par 5s at Firestone it does have some almighty Par 4s that may seem like Par 5s to the shorter hitters.
With a roll call of recent champions including Mcilroy, Scott, Mahan and VJ Singh, it can be noted that you do not have to be one of the best putters to win at Firestone. So while I’m not going to ignore it completely, I’m going to focus more on Scrambling given how hard the greens are to hit.
Recent year’s stats suggest that a high finish in the Masters is preferable, showing that your game is in good shape for high class test. Further good performances at the other Majors and WGC are obviously good pointers too so I’m looking for at least 2 Top 20s from these 6 stroke play tournaments in 2015.
Debutants don’t tend to take to Firestone immediately so unless they rank highly everywhere else, they should probably be avoided.
Players I’m backing
I have managed to get down to a shortlist of 8 given the skill set required (and including Spieth because he is Spieth) – long, accurate driver, great ball striker with high, accurate irons and a solid scrambler. But that is too many for a restricted field tournament so I have tried to whittle it down to 4 main bets.
The shortlist was – Spieth, Day, Fowler, Oosthuizen, Mastsuyama, Bradley, Koepka, Schwartzel, Haas. I’ve ruled out Spieth on price and not being the longest of drivers. I think Day may well win but I’m hoping he just ticks over with a Top 10/15 thus saving a better price for the USPGA next week. Fowler disappointed on Sunday, doesn’t have the highest of ball flights for these approach shots and is also a very short price. Bradley hasn’t been at his best this season so while he will probably play well on his favourite course I can’t see him winning.
For me this week Matsuyama is an ideal fit. We know he is one of the best drivers of the ball in the world sitting 5th in Total Driving. He is 8th in Greens in Regulation (GIR) and ranks 10th in Approaches from 200-225yards so his long game is in fantastic shape. His short game is also in decent nick as he is 10th in Scrambling and 4th in the All Round Ranking. Matsuyama can be quite an inconsistent putter, holing everything on a Friday and then nothing on a Saturday but the test at Firestone suits with slightly lesser emphasis on the short stick. He also finished 21st here on his debut in 2013 and then 12th last year with his weekend 65-68 only being beaten by Mcilory. A confident main pick.
One of the most in form golfers in the world he has Top 20 finishes in all 3 majors together with a Top 10 at the WGC Cadillac. Finally over the injuries that have plagued him the last few years he seems to be contending in every big tournament at the moment. There is no better swing in the game of golf than Louis’ and when on form he puts that to great use finding fairways and greens for fun. This is backed up by 32nd in Total Driving and 20th in GIR. Oosthuizen has no real weaknesses and looks sure to continue his form at a course where he already has 4th and 9th place finishes.
Although Brooks is a debutant and a relatively short price I had to include him this week. While he may be inaccurate off the tee his length will suit and his fantastic iron game will set up plenty of chances on the greens. He has also shown a liking for hard and fast tests with some impressive finishes of late and he sits in 5th in the All Round Ranking. I don’t think a Top 5 is out of the question and if he manages to keep his errors to a minimum then he could contend over the weekend.
I originally thought I had found a decent left field pick but since then I have noticed he has been tipped in places. While known by most keen golf fans, Horschel really stormed into the mainstream in September last year winning back to back Fed Ex Playoff Events to win the $10m bonus. On his day Horschel strikes the ball as well as anyone but he has stuttered since then as his objectives have changed somewhat since setting himself up for life financially. However his long game stats still make good reading and the putting could be worse as he sits 5th in Putting >25 feet. Given that it was around this time last year that his putter got hot I don’t think it’s too much to expect that he kicks on again from here. His only Firestone appearance opened with 3 rounds in the 70s but closed with a 66 suggesting that he was beginning to get used to the course.
I have included a Keegan Bradley Top 10 due to his great course record and Bill Haas Top 20 after a good showing last week at the Quicken Loans (also on a Robert Trent Jones course) suggesting he is maybe overpriced to go well again. Adam Scott likes the course and tends to start well in big tournaments. His long game was immense as usual at St Andrews so worth a go 1st Round Leader before his short putting/nerves get the better of him over the weekend.
Summary of Bets
Hideki Matsuyama – 3pts ew 30/1
Louis Oosthuizen – 1.5pts ew 25/1
Brooks Koepka – 1pt ew 50/1
Billy Horschel – 0.5pt ew 60/1
Keegan Bradley – 2pt Top 10 7/2
Bill Haas – 2pts Top 20 7/4
Adam Scott – 1st Round Leader 1pt ew 25/1
Total = 18pts