Last week was both poor and frustrating at the same time. Leishman played poorly and can have no complaints while Rose didn’t really play much better but still went into his match against Kuchar knowing the winner would progress. The American’s brand of steady golf was too much though for Rose and Kuchar went through.
Matsuyama however did very little wrong. Finding himself 3 down to an inspired Rafa Cabrera-Bello he mananged to pull it back to all-square only for the Spaniard to get a massive spot of luck on the 17th when he missed the green by some twenty yards only to bounce left and trickle down the bank to the edge of the green. Naturally he holed his putt and went onto win, leaving Matsuyama up against it. But he won his next two matches very easily so was left waiting to see if Kjeldsen could beat Cabrera-Bello to allow him into a play-off. Kjelsden was 1 up going down the 18th but managed to lose the hole, eliminating the young Japanese in the process. The new match play format had a lot of critics this week and while I enjoyed it on the whole there are definitely some negatives surrounding the group stages. Yes all the golfers have their destiny in their own hands and in Jason Day the tournament had the rightful winner as he won all 7 of his matches. But there were too many golfers going home after the group stages that had done very little wrong. The introduction of the group stages was largely to prevent big names from being eliminated after one match but at least everyone knew where they stood in the uncomplicated straight-knockout format. Don’t be surprised if there are a few more tweaks again before next year.
Jason Day made it two wins in a row and 6 in his last 13 starts. Very impressive and with his strong record at Augusta he is surely the man to beat next week. I have been backing him for a few weeks now for the Masters and I had a few more pounds on Sunday knowing that his price would fall even further and he now sits at 8.0 on Betfair. I don’t see how his price can get much lower now though so it is maybe worthwhile holding off to see if any of the bookmakers take him on next week.
No returns leave the results as follows;
Total pts advised – 500pts
Tota pts returned – 623.37
ROI – 24.7%
This week Masters fever really begins properly as we have the Houston Open in its now customary place in the schedule. The host course enjoys being the warm up to the biggest tournament of the year and they do their best to accommodate those playing next week at Augusta. They set the greens up to mimic the speed of Augusta so it’s worth while keeping an eye on those who putt well in Houston.
The Golf Club of Houston course in Humble is pretty long at 7457 yards and generally it pays to get the ball out there off the tee. The fairways are wide and so generally driving accuracy isn’t of much importance here. The last 6 winners averaged 24th for driving distance for the week but just 50th for driving accuracy.
The approach shots aren’t as easy though with plenty of water and sand around the greens and the last 6 winners averaged 14th for GIR so the winner will certainly need to have their irons dialled in this week. By far the most important factor though is the slick greens and you have to putt well to win around there. Those same 6 winners averaged a ranking of 9th for total putting and the last two years JB Holmes ranked 3rd and Matt Jones 2nd. Indeed I remember being impressed by the number of hole outs Holmes made under pressure so I will be paying close attention to those that have impressive stats in the 4-8ft putting range. Furthermore the winner here always scores well on the par 4s so that looks another valuable asset in Humble.
There are a few obvious names that are thrown up by that challenge and the first one is Phil Mickelson who won here in 2011 and has a fairly solid record on the whole. Mickelson is in good form and only lost to an unplayable Patrick Reed last week so will be hoping to play well here in preparation for trying to win his 4th green jacket. He is no stranger to winning the week before a major and following up in the main event but at 45 years old there is no doubt that Mickelson’s main focus is the Majors. I’d expect him to go well but despite his competitiveness I’d wager that he will be quite happy to shoot 4 good rounds and finish somewhere around the Top 10. He looks a decent price but having been let down by him already this year I’d want to know he was 100% focussed on the task in hand to back him again.
Another who you would expect to be suited to this test is Dustin Johnson but he was inconsistent enough last week to suggest he may also just be looking to tighten things up ahead of a run at his elusive first Major next week. He also looks plenty short enough at 15.5.
Jordan Spieth finished runner-up here last year so plays well on the course but he wasn’t at his best last week. In a post-round interview during the week he spoke about not being happy with his swing. He missed a lot of tee-shots and approach shots right and I think this week will be all about trying to iron that out and get his accuracy sorted ahead of his Masters defence.
The rest of the players at the head of the market don’t really appeal either for similar reasons and instead it may well pay to focus on players who are in the next tier down who haven’t even qualified for The Masters. In their case we know that winning The Shell Houston Open will be the only thing on their minds.
Kevin Chappell doesn’t quite fit the mould entirely this week but when playing well he has a very accurate iron game and is neat and tidy around the greens. He first came to my attention when he finished 4th at the US Open in 2011 as a virtual unknown. Indeed it was that performance on a championship layout that led me to believe he could go well as an outsider at the 2013 US Open around Merion, a course where he fared well in the US Amateur Championship. It wasn’t to be but he finished a respectable 32nd and has remained on my radar ever since. Chappell is yet to get his first win on Tour and even said himself a couple of weeks ago how he felt he had been given quite an easy ride by the media considering he hadn’t won in 5 years on Tour. This is true and it may well be because he hasn’t obviously “choked” when in contention on a Sunday. This was further apparent by his excellent 2nd place finish when he chased World No. 1 Jason Day home at The Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks ago.
Chappell finished 2nd in Texas at the Valero Texas Open in his rookie season and also finished 6th here in 2013 so it would appear that he plays some of his best stuff in Texas. His 2nd place at Bay Hill followed up a 67th and a 26th so he should continue to play well on a course that he knows.
Chappell sits in 20th on Par 4 scoring for 2016 and encouragingly he led the field on the Par 4s last time out at Bay Hill where he was -10 with second best only playing them in -7. He also ranked 7th in the all-round for the week and he can be dangerous when his long game is working. In 2013 when he finished 6th here he ranked 3rd in the all-round ranking so arriving again with everything working well I think he looks a very fair price at 66/1 on a week where the very top players will surely have their minds elsewhere.
Daniel Berger was expected to make waves this year after winning Rookie of the Year for 2015 but he started the year very slowly with 3 missed cuts and a 58th in his opening 4 tournaments. His game has picked up of late though and he went into last week’s WGC Match Play with form figures of 11-28 and he gave Phil Mickelson a bit of a scare before finding trouble at the 18th and failing quite miserably with a tough recovery shot.
The young American ranked 4th for GIR on that 11th place finish at the Valspar and that is very promising. He is generally a strong driver of the ball and fairly solid on the greens but it was his iron play that was letting him down in the early part of the year. Having found his approach accuracy again he will surely be relishing getting going again with another stroke play event. He ranks 8th for 3-putt avoidance so he won’t be phased by the larger greens here and if he can hole a few more birdie putts than on his debut last year he can improve considerably on his 25th place. There isn’t much to lose backing a player of his talent at 80/1.
Jamie Lovemark has had an excellent 2016 season so far and his 6th place finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was his fourth Top 10 so far. The formerly top class amateur has taken a little while to make an impact on Tour but he has struggled with injuries over the last couple of years. He seems to have put that behind him now and is well on his way to securing his card for 2017 already. Last week he ranked 4th for driving distance and an impressive 3rd in the all-round ranking. It was actually his putter that let him down but that normally isn’t a problem as he is very handy with the short stick, indeed he ranks 24th for putting inside 10ft so he too should handle the large greens. If he holds his form over then he looks a very fair each way price at 90/1.
With just the one tournament this week I’m going to back one more in the outright as I can’t get away from course specialist Cameron Tringale. On his last four efforts in Houston he has finished 5th, 4th, 16th and 8th so clearly loves it here. His 2016 season has been poor but perhaps he was just waiting for this as he stopped the rot two weeks ago with a 27th place finish at The Arnold Palmer Invitational. That will set him up nicely for a course that suits his game and he looks a sporting each way price at 80/1 considering his course form. I’m also going to play him in the Top 10 market.
I’m not going to go into any great detail but the Ladies first major of the year takes place and wonder kid Lydia Ko set herself up brilliantly to make history this week with a 4 shot victory at the weekend. She arrives in California for the ANA Inspiration looking to be the youngest golfer to have won 2 majors since Young Tom Morris well over 100 years ago. Her record at the Mission Hills venue isn’t spectacular but I’m a huge fan of hers and I would love to see her do it. She has already done a lot for the Ladies game and achieving a 2nd major so young would boost its profile even further. I’m going to have 2pts win for an interest.
Summary of Bets
Shell Houston Open
Kevin Chappell – 1pt ew @ 66/1
Daniel Berger – 1pt ew @ 80/1
Jamie Lovemark – 1pt ew @ 90/1
Cameron Tringale – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 and 1pt Top 10
Lydia Ko – 2pts win @ 9/2
Weekly outlay – 10pts
Total outlay – 510pts