Apparently Einstein once said that “Insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”
While I’m not going to suggest that Rory Mcilroy or I are in anyway mad, I was certainly questioning my decision to back him to win his elusive first Abu Dhabi Championsip when I woke up and looked at the leader board on Sunday morning. This was the 7th time he had finished in the top 3 and while the course is largely perfect for him, it appears there is always just about enough rust in his game to prevent him winning first time out in the new season. Notably and perhaps worryingly for most other golfers on Tour, both Mcilroy and Spieth probably played to about 75% last week, holed virtually nothing between them and still managed to find themselves in the top 5 on Sunday afternoon. While Fowler may well have held them off anyway such is his talent, there aren’t many players in world golf that can remain so competitive when not playing to towards their best golf.
In the US things were heartbreaking as Lingmerth lost in a play-off to Jason Dufner. After leading all the way Dufner was passed by Lingmerth at the 16th and they were level again when Dufner pulled his tee shot on the 17th green. It went long and off the island green but somehow stopped on the rocks. That looked to be it but his ball also managed to find an excellent lie and Dufner stabbed out a chip that very nearly dropped.
So they went to a playoff and this time Dufner showed great strength of character to lay up out of the bunker face and then stick a wedge to 12ft. After Lingmerth missed his putt to win, Dufner still had to make his to continue. He fired it in the back of the cup and on the next hole Lingmerth pulled his approach into the water and that was that.
I can’t be too upset about the week though as his 2nd place together with Mcilroy’s 3rd and An’s 5th brought returns of 32.8pts which leaves the overall totals as follows.
Total pts advised – 365.50
Total pts returned – 493.36
ROI – 35%
It also brings 2016 into profit with a 5% ROI for the calendar year so far!
This week the PGA Tour continues its west coast swing and heads south west to San Diego while The European Tour hits the middle stop in its own Middle East swing, the Qatar Masters.
Farmers Insurance Open
At Torrey Pines this week we have several high profile former winners teeing it up, namely Jason Day (who defends), Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson. It sets up to be a great week as we have the first hard test of 2016. The last three weeks have all been relative birdie-fests but the last two runnings of this were both won on -9 and when we consider that the South Course here is a Championship layout then we can see why that is the case. Tiger Woods won this seven times and he also took home the 2008 US Open from Torrey Pines with a finishing score of -1.
As well as the South Course each player will have a knock around the easier North Course on Thursday or Friday before the South hosts those that survive the cut on the weekend. In addition to being suited to the tougher South course, if a player wants to contend this week it is important that they adapt also to the North course and record a low score.
The rough can be quite penal around the South course but the fairways aren’t overly narrow so wayward driving isn’t normally a disadvantage but on tough layouts it’s always easier to hold fast greens with loft and spin working in your favour. As ever that is going to be made easier by being nearer the greens and in the fairway, so long, straight driving certainly won’t hurt.
With fast, undulating green complexes it will not only be hard to hold the greens but also to get the ball to stop near the flags. Accurate approach play will perhaps be the most important attribute this week. While strong putting is always crucial on these tricky poa annua greens, it will be more about saving par this week than making a barrel load of birdies so scrambling looks to be the 2nd most crucial.
This narrows our search down to long drivers who have great distance control with their irons and can get it up and down when they do get their approach wrong. I also want some current form and previous strong showings at Torrey Pines or at elast on similar poa annua greens elsewhere.
My main pick this week is Phil Mickelson and as I have already covered my reasoning in some detail I will include the link to the Matchbook preview here
To summise, this is Mickelson’s home town, he finished 3rd last week with a total driving rank of 19th and an all round ranking of 11th. It seems his 3 months of work on his swing has paid off and he is driving it straighter than last year. He has won this tournament twice before and putts well on poa annua greens. I’m hoping if the driving remains straight this week he will contend on a course he knows well.
I can’t quite believe I’m going to do this but I’m going to tip Charles Howell III for the first (and probably the last) time. He is the typical journeyman these days and while he is a two time winner on Tour, we have to go back some 262 PGA Tour starts to 2007 for his last win. I’m not inspiring confidence here at all! But his form so for in the 2016 season is brilliant, 11th-13th-9th-17th-10th. That sort of consistency at least tells us that his game is in good condition and that can be further backed up by the stats. Last week he ranked 5th in total driving, 5th in ball striking, 24th in putting, 15th in scrambling, 15th in GIR and 2nd in the all round ranking. That started to get me interested in Howell III but the final nail in my coffin was that he also finished T5th at Torrey Pines last year. Howell III has always been a player that appeared happy to pick up cheques and finish in the Top 10 without threatening to win. He has certainly made a lot of money through that approach on his 15 years on Tour. But we have seen several players re-evaluate their game in their 30s and subsequently push on to bigger and better things. Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker are two hugely talented players who were previously tarred with the same brush as “Chucky 3 sticks”. They are now both multiple winners and Ryder Cup players. While I’m certainly not suggesting Howell has the attitude required to bring his game to that level, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for him to win again and it could be that the switch to PXG clubs is the little boost needed to remind him how much ability he has and to get over the line again. His price isn’t great but it would be even shorter if it was someone more fashionable in possession of his form figures.
While I didn’t plan on picking anyone making their debut, Si-Woo Kim is very hard to get away from this week. Si-Woo qualified for the Tour in 2013 missing all 8 of his cuts but things have certainly improved this season. He is making his 9th 2016 PGA Tour start and while he missed two of those first 3 cuts, he has turned the other 6 into Top 25s with calendar year form of 9th-4th. Not only is he in great form but his stats for the relevant attributes this week are alarmingly good. For his 3 months on Tour he sits 3rd in Total Driving, 3rd in the all-round, 8th in scrambling and 14th in putting. In truth, beyond being another young Asian professional with no apparent weakness to his game, he isn’t someone I know a great deal about. But I did notice that he has already won stateside with victory coming in the Stonebrae Classic, a tournament that has been won by two other players who have already shown a liking for tough, championship layouts in Kevin Chappell and Tony Finau. It’s an outsider pick for sure but 80/1 appears a great price for someone playing so well who on paper at least looks well suited to the course.
As the middle east swing continues we hit the middle stop and The Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club. While all 3 courses on the swing are in the desert and present a very links like test, Doha tends to be more exposed than the other two and subsequently the list of winners is a who’s who of Links golf experts. Branden Grace, Sergio Garcia, Chris Wood, Paul Lawrie, Thomas Bjorn and among those Robert Karlsson. They have all won tournaments on Links courses but also thrive in wind and all have high finishes on proper British links courses be it The Open, The Alfred Dunhill Links or the Irish Open.
The course itself stands at a fairly long 7400 yards and as well as being exposed the fairways are quite wide and forgiving. The greens aren’t the hardest to hit but their protection comes from the weather. If the wind blows as expected then solid ball-strikers who can keep the ball below the high winds will prosper. Once on the green they face bermuda greens again and they are grainy and quite tricky. Quality putters on links type greens go well here and that is backed up by George Coetzee and his strong Doha record of 12-3-2.
It looks like it pays to have been in Abu Dhabi the week before with the last five winners all having played but only averaging a 32nd place finish. Having acclimatised to the conditions appears more important than a strong finish last week but with them facing similar greens this week I’d certainly like to see that they putted ok in Abu Dhabi.
Doha Golf Club is a course that rewards experience of the test and there are quite a lot of players who have regularly contended there over the years. All the previous five winners had played the year before they won and averaged a finish of 13th so I want players onside that have at least played here once before and preferably had a top 20 last year. A look at the stats alone for those five winners and what it most noticeable is how they did everything well the week they won, ranking 4th-8th-4th-1st and 2nd in the all-round ranking.
Form does tend to carry over across the three events and that is to be expected with both last week’s course and Doha being designed by Peter Harradine so a good showing last week is certainly not a disadnatage but with a Wednesday start they won’t want to be arriving off the back of a contending Sunday.
The front two in the market are the last two winners of this event and so must be given respect. But they are both single figure prices and neither have done anything recently to suggest that backing them at such prices in European Tour fields is a road to profit. They are both certainly prolific winners but since Grace burst on the scene with a 4 win season in 2012, he hasn’t made winning look as easy and regularly manages to find a Sunday bogey or two to derail his attempts. The same can be said of Garcia in the last few years. There is no question that they are two of the best three players (Oosthuizen) on show here but their short prices set up some value elsewhere in the field. Of the two I’d be be inclined to fall on the side of Grace who has at least played some solid golf so far in 2016 and perhaps wasn’t helped by the weather delays the last two weeks. I think I’d want nearer 12/1 to play him although I did consider him for the each way doubles until I struggled to whittle my shortlist down even without him.
Eddie Pepperell is a player that will be jotted down in many Golf punters’ notebooks with “Links golf” or something similar scribed alongside. Ever since he joined the Tour full-time 3 years ago he has come into his own largely on links type courses. Additionally, he will also be in a lot of notebooks as a potential 1st time winner during the 2016 season. I have had some success with stubbornly backing players that I’m confident will win sooner rather than later, (Weisberger, Coetzee, Fitzpatrick), but the key is trying to do so when their price still holds value. The 66/1 about the young Englishman looks more than fair when we see he finished 4th in this last year. That gives us the course form and he had further links finishes of 5th at the KLM, 4th at the Scottish Open and 2nd at the Irish Open. Those were his only top five finishes last season which further highlights his liking for these conditions.
Has he been playing well of late though? Well last week was his first effort since November and he played ok finishing in 46th place. Prior to Christmas though he signed off with an 8th place in South Africa so last week will have served well to get his game ready for this week and I suspect he has highlighted this as an event that he could win. His stats weren’t great but he did rank 10th in GIR so with a slight improvement in his normally sound putting, on a course he likes, he can play well and maybe find himself on the leaderboard again at the close of play. He hasn’t had any high profile collapses yet as he has never quite manoeuvred himself into a winning position on the weekend. But I think with the confidence that he oozes he won’t shy away from the challenge and his odds might look very favourable come the back 9 on Sunday.
George Coetzee let me down last week for a Top 10 but with 3 starts now since his ankle injury I’m keen to go in again on a player that has course form of 12-2-5. Coetzee loves the middle east swing and his form figures across all three tournaments are equally strong with just one missed cut and 6 top tens. One of the most frustrating aspects of Coetzee’s game is his knack of throwing in a big number with wild tee shots or aggressive play at the wrong time. But interestingly he ranked 10th in Total Driving last week which will definitely help him here and we know all about how well he putts, especially on these greens where has ranked 7th-1st-1st-7th for putting on his four visits to date. If he has managed to straighten up off the tee during his spell out injured it’s also possible that he had time to address other issues that might have been holding him back. So if he can plot his way around the course a little better over the weekend then he we might see him holding aloft his 4th European Tour trophy.
Alex Noren is a player whose talent is unfortunately matched by his misfortune with injuries. Over the last two years he has only played 19 European Tour events but he still managed to secure his 4th career ET win last summer back home in Sweden at the Nordea Masters. It was his second win at the tournament with both coming on two different links layouts. There is no questioning his prowess on Links courses and he has the record to back it up, 3rd place finishes at both the Scottish Open together with a 9th in The Open Championship in addition to his two wins in his homeland. He also loves Doha Golf Club and has finished 12th – 4th the last two years while struggling with injury. At his best he is one of the finest wind golfers on the European Tour so he wont be phased by the forecast winds in Qatar. Noren played well last week and finished in T35th which will have shaken off some of the rust from his 6 months out through a wrist injury. It would be a big ask for him to win again so quickly after returning but with so long out injured he will be determined to make up for lost time in 2016. At a general 66/1 he looks a decent each way price on a course that suits him perfectly.
Johan Carlsson just missed out as a pick this week as I’m not convinced that he is a winner just yet. But he has excellent recent form with a 16th finish last week coming after a 7th in the Joburg Open. Carlsson ranked 15th in the all round ranking and also a very respectable 20th in Total Driving which is pretty good for the wayward Swede. He is another that handles wind well and came 13th here last year after an opening 74. I’m going to add a Top 10 bet on him at
Joost Luiten was also very close but I felt he was a little short in the betting given he missed the cut on his only visit to Doha Golf Club. The reason he came so close though was that he ranked 1st in ball-striking and 2nd in the all round last week. Luiten also has a great long game for links layouts as he hits the ball so straight and true. However I’m not convinced that he will putt well enough this week so while he deserves a mention I’m just about happy to leave him out.
Summary of Bets
Farmers Insurance Open
Phil Mickelson – 1.5pts ew 22/1
Charles Howell III – 0.5pts ew 50/1
Si-Woo Kim – 0.5pts ew 80/1
George Coetzee – 1pt ew 33/1
Eddie Pepperell – 0.75pt ew 66/1
Alex Noren – 0.75pt ew 66/1
Johann Carlsson – 1pt Top 10 at 15/2
0.25pts 3×3 ew doubles – (Mickelson, Howell III, Kim) x (Coetzee, Pepperell, Noren)
Weekly pts advised – 15.5
Total pts advised – 381