There were some returns in Europe last week as all three players finished T8th or better with Benny An finishing in 4th and Andy Sullivan just one shot shy in 2nd place. It was a poor showing in US with the in-form pair of Dufner and Kisner both missing the cut and Grillo never getting close enough to strike a blow.
The golf on show however was some of the most impressive pressure golf we have seen this season. In both Dubai and Phoenix numerous clutch putts were holed down the stretch on Sunday and in particular the 18th hole. While it was Danny Willett and Hideki Matsuyama that won the Tournaments, Andy Sullivan and Rickie Fowler were almost as impressive and the fans were treated to a brilliant finale on both Tours. Willett holed a 20fter at the 18th to win the Dubai Desert Classic while Matsuyama traded blows over 4 Play-Off holes with Fowler before the later succumbed to his relentless aggression by finding water on the 17th.
It was 12.5pts returned so an overall loss for the week. While it would have been 17.75pts had I not chosen the w/o Mcilory market I still consider it the right move given how close the Northern Irishman got again playing nowhere near his best. That leaves the overall results as follows;
Total pts advised – 397
Total pts returned – 505.86
ROI – 27.4%
This week the PGA Tour moves back to the coast and the Monterey Peninsula for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am while the European Tour heads back to South Africa for The Tshwane Open.
AT & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
As the players find themselves back on the west coast this week, they are yet again in beautiful surroundings with Pebble Beach long being regarded as one of the most scenic on Tour. There will be plenty of opportunities to soak it all up too as it’s another Pro-Am this week so we can expect a lot of slow golf across the four days.
It’s another multi-course set up this week with rotation across Spyglass Hill, Monterey Peninsula and Pebble Beach Golf Links over the first three days with the Top 60 and ties playing the final round on the more famous Pebble Beach course on the Sunday.
With the amateurs in tow we can expect another fairly low scoring week and all the courses measure under 7000 yards. To help aid the celebrities and money men further, the rough isn’t normally very penal and that can be noted with an average DA rank of 52nd going back to 2009.
The challenge this week will be hitting a high number of greens and scrambling well when you do miss. The greens on the Pebble Beach are some of the smaller they will face on Tour so that will be particularly important come Sunday when the course will have firmed up. With the average winning score since 2009 being -17, it can become somewhat of a birdie-fest if weather conditions allow and Snedeker broke the Tournament record last year with a -22 week.
With driving looking fairly unimportant I have focussed on GIR, scrambling and birdie average this week to whittle down my list. This certainly wasn’t easy given the high class field on show this week but with so many players trading under 30/1 I managed to find reasons (however small) to leave out most of them.
Spieth could only finish 2nd last time out in the shoddy looking Singapore Open and while he will surely contend again he looks short enough to do so and isn’t an each way price at 5/1. Dustin Johnson is too short at 10/1. Jason Day was suffering from illness two weeks ago and may need a few rounds to get up to speed. Jimmy Walker loves it here and will probably play well but his price doesn’t quite reflect where his game is at the moment. His recent finishes have been OK but neither his driving or his putting look to be at their best.
Although I tipped Phil Mickelson with no success two weeks ago I don’t see any reason to give up on Lefty just yet. He bounced back with an 11th place at The Phoenix Open last week and his game looked to be progressing very nicely. His stats were excellent as he ranked 3rd for total driving, 8th for GIR, 21st for scrambling and 2nd in the all-round. If the high finish and excellent game on paper weren’t enough, the words coming out of his mouth suggest he is rounding nicely into form for one of his favourite stops on Tour. Mickelson is a 4-time winner of this Tournament and his post-round comments last week suggest he is very determined to get his 5th win. Mickelson commented on his ever strong love of golf, his competitive nature and also where he thought his game was. The most notable point was that he said he felt he was in full control of his golf ball again. Combine that with his famous short game and it could be that he is almost back to his best. If that is the case then he will surely play well on a course that sets up perfectly for him.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record tipping the same players again and again. But Patrick Reed is simply too good to not make the three picks this week at a price of 33/1. Prior to an ankle injury that appeared to limit his ability at Torrey Pines, Reed had some of the best form figures in the World. He has already won a Pro-Am event at 2014’s Humana Challenge so will be comfortable in the format. As for the golfing test, GIR, scrambling and birdies could not be more suited to Reed’s game. He led the European Tour for GIR during its fall series, is one of the best scramblers in World Golf and across his average 2015 season he still ranked 23rd for birdie average . His aggressive game will be perfect this week and it simply looks like his form over the last 3 months played second fiddle to his recent withdrawal when the bookmakers priced him up.
The media’s need to keep updating their sensationalist stance on the “Big 3” or the “Big 4” after Fowler’s recent form is nothing short of lazy. But none of the rhetoric will have been lost on Patrick Reed and he will look at that possible 5th place behind them with a wry smile. He won’t have forgotten how the media destroyed him for suggesting that he was a “Top 5 player in the world” after his debut WGC win at Doral in 2014. A win this week and the World Ranked Number 10 would take a huge step closer to that 5th place. If fully fit expect a strong challenge from Reed yet again.
On a side note and further to the point regarding Reed and the media, a similar thing happened to Bubba Watson last week. He was simply asked for his comments on the changes to last week’s TPC Scottsdale course and he answered them honestly. He was then ridiculed for insulting the course and even the Tournament itself (the latter he didn’t actually do). I read an article this week that spoke about how dull Tiger Woods’ “yes”, “no” press conferences were over recent years and it went on to argue can anyone really blame him? With every single word under scrutiny why should they go out of their way to answer a question honestly if they are going to be hung out to dry for doing so? With such an exciting crop of young players at the top of the game right now it would be a crying shame if the media forced them all into their shells amidst fears of their every word being over analysed. Some may argue that is just part and parcel of the job and that may be well be the case but first and foremost they turn up to play golf every week and personally I think that should be remembered when a player has a small error of judgement while giving their 23rd interview of the week.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the third pick.
Freddie Jacobsen arrives off the back of a 4th place finish at The Farmers Open and that may well signal a return to form for the likeable Swede. At his best Freddie is one of the finest putters on Tour but hasn’t won since 2011 with the rest of his game letting him down. While looking for my 3rd pick this week I looked at approaches from 125-150 yards given that there are three short courses this week so there will be plenty of wedges in play. Freddie ranks 11th in this stat which is very interesting. If he can continue to hit his wedges closer than the majority of the field then his laser putting will surely fire him towards the upper reaches this week. He also ranks 15th for Scrambling on Tour and finished 7th here in 2013 so we know he likes the poa annua. In a week where driving isn’t too important, Freddie will look at this as an ideal chance to contend again. I had hoped for a three figure price but there is still some 90/1 around and for a player arriving with form figures of 4-69-5 that still looks like a decent each way investment.
After three high class Tournaments in the Middle East it’s back to basics with a thud this week as The European Tour returns to South Africa for a rather dull looking Tshwane Open. This is yet another co-sanctioned event with The Sunshine Tour and subsequently the field is more than just a little bit lacking in depth.
The event returns for the 2nd year to Pretoria CC and the defending champion George Coetzee also returns looking to defend at his home course. He doesn’t quite make favourite though as Charl Schwartzel makes his first appearance since illness forced him out of The South African Open in January.
The course is quite short at 7063 yards and although it is a narrow tree lined course, Coetzee is hardly the most accurate of drivers and neither were the rest of the players atop the leaderboard last year. That suggests that finding greens can still be done from the rough so as per the US this week, driving will take a back seat in the search.
The course was designed by Bob Grimsdell who was also responsible for Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club. That shouldn’t surprise us too much as both courses are rather similar to the eye, feature tree-lined kikuyu fairways and bentgrass greens. To give further credence to the course link, George Coetzee has also won around RJKGC so with only one year of Pretoria form to go on, I’m also going to look at recent editions of The Joburg Open.
Charl Schwartzel is no longer the clinical assassin of 3 years ago when playing in his home country. There have been several tournaments that he has thrown away when there for the taking, perhaps most memorably his loss to Andy Sullivan at last year’s South African Open when leading by 5 shots with 5 to play There is absolutely no question at all that he is the best player in the field but I’m not sure that the Charl of 2016 is a player that we can go steaming into at such a restrictive price as 5/1. Yes the field is poor but we have seen him struggle to beat similar fields recently and I am happy to leave him alone coming off an extended break.
In contrast to Schwartzel, George Coetzee seems to be finding winning increasingly easy with three European Tour wins to his name in the last two years. For four years he threatened to win with countless Top 10s but he could never quite get over the line. Coetzee is a likeable player, usually smiling and never getting too upset with himself. He is actually one of my favourite players on Tour so I find him very easy to back but he is also very talented and he knows this course like the back of his hand. He was brought up in Pretoria and played both tennis and golf at Pretoria CC as a youngster (he was equally proficient in both). I backed him last year here at a similar sort of price (10/1 maybe) and I think he is the man to beat again this week. While he spent the last 4 months of 2015 out with illness and injury, he now has 4 tournaments under his belt since his return and he will have had his defence of The Tshwane Open very much in his plans throughout his recovery. I think he will arrive having removed any rust and eager to get back to winning ways. Coetzee putts better than most on any course but on greens that he grew up putting on he will take a lot of stopping even with an average ball-striking week. But his long game looked to be in decent nick throughout the Middle East swing so he will arrive full of confidence for his defence. Before his injury last year Coetzee signed off with his best finish to date in a Major, 7th place at the US PGA Championship. That tells us just how much better he is than most of these players and I expect Coetzee to send that message home this week.
Coetzee was a long-time winner in waiting prior to his first win at RJKGC and he then promptly followed up with 2 more in Africa. He isn’t the first South African player to win again quickly after finally getting over the line and a player that fits a similar profile to George is Haydn Porteous. They are both bit hitters that excel on the greens and Porteous got his first win at The Joburg Open last month at RJKGC. He missed the cut here last year but it appears that he has improved drastically and on recent form alone it is perfectly realistic to think that he has the 3rd best chance of winning here this week behind the two favourites.
He followed his win with a missed cut and a 56th place finish, no doubt celebrating his first win. But he came back to form again last week with an 8th place finish and he ranked 11th in the all-round ranking so his game hasn’t deserted him. The week he won he ranked 1st for putting and a similar performance here at Pretoria should see him challenge again. Without knowing just how progressive he might be with a win under his belt, he looks an excellent each way bet at 28/1.
Jacques Blaauw isn’t someone I knew too much about until he stormed through the pack on Sunday at Pretoria last year with a final round 61. Luckily it wasn’t enough to ruin my bet on Coetzee but it did grab him 2nd place. Blaauw has also finished in the Top 10 on his last two starts at RJKGC so that is enough for him to be the third pick this week in a fairly poor looking field. His last outing was that 7th place at the Joburg Open where he ranked no worse than 33rd for any stat so he is clearly in control of all aspects of his game and we know he can go low at the course. South Africans have won 16 of the last 22 co-sanctioned tournaments so it looks wise to go with a 3 pronged home attack and at 60/1 Blaauw is a very fair each way price.
Summary of bets
AT&T Pebble Beach
Phil Mickelson – 1.5pt ew @ 22/1
Patrick Reed – 1pt ew @ 33/1
Freddie Jacobson- 0.5pt ew @ 90/1
George Coetzee – 2pt win @ 7.6 on Matchbook
Haydn Porteous – 1pt ew @ 28/1
Jaques Blaauw – 0.5pt ew @ 60/1
3×3 0.25pt ew doubles (Mickelson, Reed, Jacobson) x (Coetzee, Porteous, Blaauw)
Additional 0.25pt ew double Mickelson + Coetzee.
Weekly pts advised – 16pts
Total outlay – 413pts