Last weekend was an extremely exciting one if hugely disappointing come 11:30pm on Sunday night. On Sunday morning there were 2638/1 and 666/1 doubles both looking very plausible with Mickelson leading Jacobson on the PGA Tour and Porteous sitting in 3rd in South Africa.
Haydn Porteous’ round was a very ugly one to watch as he really struggled to manage his game. The track in Pretoria is a tight one and after saving his par well on the first few holes he kept taking the driver out on several short Par 4s for absolutely no reason at all. It left him constantly with no shot whatsoever and he completely fell to pieces in the rough. While he is a very talented player and especially brilliant on the greens he is going to need to improve his course management considerably if he is to really push on to the next tier of The European Tour. But he is only 21 years old so he has plenty of time ahead of him to learn that side of the game.
Even with the each way doubles blown I was very confident that Mickelson would get the win at Pebble Beach, especially with his round of 66 on Saturday. Unfortunately that confidence lasted about 2 holes when it became clear that he wasn’t swinging very well. It was testament to his character that he still managed to hang on and if it wasn’t for Vaughan Taylor’s birdie run then he would probably still have won. As it was he failed to get up and down for his birdie at 18 and despite having all my golfers in the top 6, it was a fairly depressing evening considering there was a chance of clearing close to 1000pts 12 hours earlier.
But there was still lots of profit as the two full places plus Reed’s share gave a total return of 26.13pts on the week which leaves the overall standings as follows.
Total pts advised – 413
Total pts returned – 531.99
ROI – 28.81%
It also nearly takes 2016 into overall profit but not quite.
2016 pts advised – 91.50
2016 pts returned – 84.88
ROI – -7.23%
This week sees the final stop in California for the PGA Tour with The Northern Trust Open and The European Tour heads east again for the inaugural Maybank Malaysian Championship.
The Northern Trust Open
The west coast swing hits the razzmatazz of Los Angeles this week and the Riviera Country Club. The course is a classic championship layout and as ever it will thoroughly test everyone teeing it up this week. Due to it’s location alongside Hollywood, Bel Air and Malibu the course has had some extremely famous members over the years including Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin and Walt Disney.
The course plays around 7300 yards long and has tree-lined, undulating fairways with several changes in elevation around the course leaving a lot of tricky approach shots where distance control will be crucial. With several greens that can only be attacked from specific places on the fairways, accuracy off the tee is a huge advantage at Riviera. As is distance off the tee as the greens at Riviera are small, fast and undulating so can be hard to hold with long irons.
The roll call of champions at Riviera is of the highest quality and it’s a course that I feel has a strong link with Augusta National, home of the Masters. The following players have all won at Augusta and Riviera; Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples, Craig Stadler, Nick Faldo, Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott. In terms of attributes then both courses require a high ball flight both off the tee and with approach shots in order to find the correct portion of the fairway/green. They also require some good scrambling skills with very definite fringes so they can’t just putt from off the green at either course. The level of difficulty is also similar with winnings scores usually ranging from -6 to -14 so it suits the mind set of those that are happy to make par on tougher holes.
Bogey avoidance, total driving, scrambling, approaches from 175-200 yards and approaches from 200-225 yards all look crucial. Both the approach stats are hugely important on long, tough, championship layouts where only the longest of drivers will regularly have a wedge in their hand. With lag putting important 3-putt avoidance will also help keep players in contention. I’m also looking for players who can easily hit a high, towering fade into these greens in order to hold them.
Charl Schwartzel was already heavily on my shortlist before Sunday but the nature of his 8 shot win in Pretoria was enough to make him my number one pick this week. He has already won back to back twice in his career so has no problem holding his form coming off a win and 11 of his 14 wins have come from December-February so he also loves this time of year. Last week his iron play was brilliant and he ranked 1st for GIR hitting an impressive 80% where most of the field struggled. Perhaps more surprisingly he ranked 2nd in total driving which is a big turnaround for a player who has been very wild off the tee recently. In the crucial approaches from 175-200 yards stat he ranks 2nd on the PGA Tour and he sits 15th in approach putts proximity so he should stave off the 3-putts. His putter also came alive in the final round in Pretoria after a coaching session with his “eye coach” who helped him sort out his reading of the putts to great effect. Playing last week in South Africa might be a disadvantage in terms of the travel but he was playing on kikuyu fairways and poa/bent mixed greens in Pretoria and that is exactly what he faces at Riviera so the transition won’t be as tough as it could have been going to another stop on Tour.
Charl has form figures at Riviera of 41-5-3 and it’s a course that suits him well which further backs up the Augusta link as his only win on US soil came at the 2011 Masters. It’s amazing that he hasn’t won since given his talent but his game has suffered some ups and downs and he said himself how his confidence was shot until he finally got over the line again in December at The Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa. He hadn’t won anywhere in 2 years and had thrown some big leads away with some uncharacteristically poor golf under pressure. So with him arriving here having won 2 of his last 3 starts it’s perfectly fair to assume that his confidence is probably at its highest since his win in Georgia. Looking at recent form in the US then we see Charl finished 6th on his last start in October so he will definitely be determined to get his first PGA Tour win in 5 years and with the only negative being his travel from Pretoria I think he rates an excellent bet as it looks like he might be close to his very best again. For those that would look to dismiss him due to the lengthy commute, if we look at his last three Northern Trust Opens, Schwartzel has actually performed better here when having played in his homeland the week before. His two placed efforts in 2013 and 2014 were preceded by him playing the Joburg open while his 41st last year came off a three week break.
I was on Bill Haas in 2012 when he won around Riviera and it was a very impressive performance. He was playing in a final three-ball with Mickelson and Bradley and they were all level going up the 18th. Haas hit the closest approach shot to some 15ft (I think, long time ago) but had to watch as both Mickelson and Bradley holed from over 30ft for birdie. This meant Haas had to hole his just to make the play-off, which he coolly did before holing a 40 footer in the playoff to claim the trophy. It was the first time I really sat up and took notice of Haas and he now has 6 PGA Tour wins to his name. Yet for some reason he still doesn’t quite get the credit he deserves. That may be down to his poor major record (no top 10s in 25 starts) or perhaps just his laid back persona but for whatever reason it means we frequently see a lot of value in his prices. Last week he was as high as 100s to win before finishing 8th on his debut at Pebble Beach. It’s a simple combination of current and course form that makes Haas my 2nd pick this week at very favourable odds.
My third pick was a bit tougher and has come about from a second (slightly tenuous) course link. In 2013 when the RBC Canadian Open was held at Glen Abbey both John Merrick and Aaron Baddeley finished in the Top 10. They are both former winners here at Riviera which was interesting in itself. So then I looked a little further hoping to compound the link. Rory Sabbatini won here in 2006 and also finished 11th at Riviera in 2013. In 2015 Bubba Watson finished 2nd at Glen Abbey and he has won both here and Augusta. Mike Weir , VJ Singh and Billy Mayfair all have high finishes there too as well. Glen Abbey is a Jack Nicklaus design so scrambling is hugely important but I also think the long, high drives and approach shots are one of the main common factors. Additionally just looking at photos of both courses it is quite hard to tell the difference as both are bright green, tree-lined and feature many elevation changes as they sweep through the parkland.
Chez Reavie won 2008’s Canadian Open there before his game collapsed through injury and loss of form. Reavie has talent though and he gained his full card through finishing 1st in the Web.com Tour Championship in 2015. He has played here five times however and missed the 4 times but he was in the doldrums during most of those performances and it’s a course that I think should really suit him. Reavie ranks 23rd in total driving, 22nd in ball-striking, 4th in scrambling and 8th in Par 4 performance over the last three months so the only thing that might hold him back is his lack of length. But we have seen shorter hitters plot their way around Riviera before and Glen Abbey is a very similar yardage playing as a 7273yard Par 71.
Reavie was bang in contention at Pebble Beach last week until a poor final round but that was the first time he had been in contention on a PGA Tour Sunday for a while so being nervous about chasing down Mickelson at Pebble Beach isn’t anything to be ashamed of. It is a bit of a hunch pick given his poor record previously here but I think we have seen a new Reavie over the last 6 months so I think he is worth a small play here at hefty looking 250/1
Maybank Malaysian Championship
The Maybank Malaysian Championship seems to have taken over from the Malaysia Open which had a slot on The European Tour at Kuala Lumpur GCC since 1999. Whether it’s due to the course now being used for the CIMB Classic on the PGA Tour I’m not sure but for whatever reason this has moved across Kuala Lumpur to The Royal Selangor Golf Club
With very little course form to go on apart from when it hosted The Malaysian Open in 2002, it’s a bit of a guessing game this week. But there is still some information available to the keen golf punter and although there have been changes since 2002, I studied that leaderboard as a starting point. There are also some player quotes doing the rounds as well as plenty of photos of the layout and even some designer notes from Nelson and Haworth who were responsible for the renovation in 2006.
It is a parkland course, that much we know, and it appears to be quite a short, narrow one at that. Although many of the large old trees were removed in 2006 there are still plenty on the course to frame most of the tee shots. So that suggests the more accurate types will enjoy the test and the leaderboard from 2002 backs up the notion of a tight driving course. However with lots of trees having been removed it’s possible that with a bit of imagination the greens still be found from the woods.
But I have largely still looked at players who go well on similar courses as tree-lined tracks simply don’t fit the eye of many pros. Danny Willet tweeted yesterday how firm the greens are so good scrambling skills will surely be important this week too.
Alastair Forsyth won the 2002 tournament here and Stephen Leaney finished runner up so I looked at other courses where they have fared well. Stephen Leaney won at Gut Larchenoff in Germany which is a course that favours accurate types despite a lack of trees. There are plenty water hazards and the greens are quite tough to hit. Fabrizio Zanotti won there in 2014 for his first win and he returned to form last week with a 23rd place finish. The Paraguayan is very much a horses for courses type and doesn’t tend to go well on tracks that can be bullied by the bombers. While he didn’t have a consistent 2015 if we look at some of his results we can see that his long game was largely still in great shape. His best finishes of 2nd and 3rd came at the British Masters and Italian Open respectively and they were both played on tight, tree lined courses and he ranked 3rd and 4th in the all round ranking those weeks. So clearly the right course brings out the best in Zanotti’s whole game. He looks a great each way price at 100/1.
Gregory Bourdy is a go-to player for most punters where accuracy off the tee is favoured as he has regularly found more fairways than the majority since he joined the Tour. Bourdy also loves it in Malaysia with form figures of 5-18-11-47-2 in the last 5 Malaysian Opens. One of his wins also came around the tight track at Fanling in Hong Kong where the always accurate Jiminez has 4 titles. In Bourdy’s win at the Open De Portugal in 2008 he defeated Alastair Forsyth in a playoff which further suggests he will take to this track. The Frenchman’s game is currently in fairly decent fettle, he has calendar form of 36-13-54 with the 13th place finish bringing with it a 1st place ranking in GIR. He ranks 8th in driving accuracy for the last 3 months and 2nd in GIR so the stats back up the strong status of his long game. If the course plays as it is expected to then this 4 time winner will surely be suited to the test and we know he enjoys the Malaysian climate. The 50/1 could be bigger but it’s certainly not skinny enough to put me off.
With it hard to have too much confidence this week I’m going to leave it at two picks but I wanted one of the market leaders to throw into the 3×3 each way doubles. None of them are deserving of an outright single given either the state of their games or their price. Martin Kaymer has shown very little of late and he is priced up on reputation alone. Danny Willett is obviously in great form but there is every chance that his driving will let him down here.
Joost Luiten and Rafael Cabrera-Bello could both go well here with their long, accurate driving but neither are players that I fully trust in the mix and I’m not prepared to back them at their current price.
This leaves me leaning towards Louis Oosthuizen who is an arrow straight driver when playing well and he is undoubtedly a class above here barring Kaymer. He has suffered from a few injuries over the last couple of years but has still managed to throw in some excellent performances on tough layouts. For the last 3 months he ranks 1st in total driving so it appears his game off the tee is in good enough shape even if his irons aren’t quite what they could be. Although he still ranks 15th in GIR over the same period. With strong form on other Nelson and Haworth tracks in Asia and a 2012 win in Malaysia, if he is fully fit this week then he will surely go well so I will throw him in with Bourdy and Zanotti.
In addition to the usual picks I’m going to have a stab at a place double this week too. Keegan Bradely absolutely loves Riviera and tee to green its suits him perfectly. While not in the greatest of current form, most of his woes are with the putter. I don’t think he will hole enough putts to win this but his long game alone could easily land him a Top 20 and his odds of 11/4 look very favourable considering it would have been a winner the last four years.
Should Zanotti not come good on the each way front I’d like to be with him in another capacity should he still play well. He is a healthy looking 9/2 for a Top 20. Throw these in a double at just under 20/1.
Summary of bets
Northern Trust Open
Charl Schwartzel – 1.5pts ew @ 28/1
Bill Haas – 1pt ew @ 33/1
Chez Reavie – 0.5pts ew @ 250/1
Gregory Bourdy – 1pt ew @ 50/1
Fabrizio Zanotti – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1
3×3 0.25 pts each way doubles (Schwartzel, Haas, Reavie) x (Oosthuizen 18/1, Bourdy, Zanotti)
Place double – Bradley Top 20 + Zanotti Top 20 – 1pt @ 19.6/1
Weekly outlay – 14.5pts
Total outlay – 427.5pts
Matchbook preview link – https://www.matchbook.com/lounge/event-previews/northern-trust-open-2016-02-18