Jason Scrivener’s 3rd place made for a decent week for the blog as it nearly broke even but at the same time it was a little frustrating. I recorded the action from Perth and watched it from the 8th hole. Just as I turned on Scrivener holed a birdie putt to go level with Oosthuizen and I started to get a little excited. That didn’t last long however as three holes later he found himself 4 shots behind. The fact that it was last week’s tip Oosthuizen that won was even more annoying but he was also chased home by Gregory Bourdy who missed the cut while carrying our money last week. It was just as well for my sanity that the young Aussie held on for 3rd.
The Honda Classic was a bit of a strange one with the massively in form Patrick Reed having a stinker and missing the cut. All areas of his game were off and I might be forced to leave him alone for the time being (cue him winning this week!) Lingmerth and Kisner fared better but both got increasingly worse as the week went on and barring Lingmerth’s first round, neither figured on the leaderboard.
Scrivener’s 13.5 pts leaves the running totals as follows;
Total pts advised – 444
Total pts returned – 545.49
ROI – 22.86%
This week we just have the one tournament but it’s a big one as a world class field assembles in Miami for the first World Golf Championship of the year, The Cadillac Championship.
WGC CADILLAC CHAMPIONSHIP
With so many young, exciting players on both the PGA Tour and the European Tour in great form, 2016 is shaping up to be an excellent year and this week sees the first of the big tournaments as 66 of the world’s best arrive at the Doral Resort to tackle The Blue Monster. It’s a mouth-watering prospect with so many players in with a chance of winning should they bring their best game. Unfortunately we can’t back them all so we need to try and work out who is best positioned to contend around this course this week and then hope the bookies disagree.
The Blue Monster more than lives up to its name with water hazards winding their way through the whole course and it plays this year to a whopping 7543 yards. Originally designed in 1961 by Dick Wilson, the course was substantially redesigned prior to the 2014 tournament by Gil Hanse. It was lengthened, more water features were added and some of the bunkers modified. Players have noted that it has a different feel to the course that was used from 2007-2013. So while that form is still relevant it may pay to focus more on the last two editions.
The course is long but the fairways are wide so bombers are certainly suited to Doral and that shows with the last two winners ranking 1st and 4th for driving distance but only 41st and 52nd for driving accuracy. The rough is penal however and water is in play on many tee shots so while there is room to let rip, plenty attention still has to be paid to many of the tee shots. Even more so should the wind get up and at present it is forecast to be a steady 10mph throughout.
The greens are on the larger side but they are well protected by bunkers, run offs and plenty more water. Given the length of the course there are plenty of long approach shots so the greens certainly aren’t easy to hold. This makes proximity to hole from 175 yards and up key this week and every player in the field will miss greens so scrambling will also be important in helping to keep bogeys to a minimum.
The front seven in the market this week are all trading under 16/1 and there is a considerable jump then up to 25/1. Those seven are the biggest names in golf right now and several bookmakers are pricing up “Big 7 against the field” markets. All this suggests that the winner will come from the following seven players; Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcilroy, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler.
But I’m not wholly convinced by any of them at the prices although out of the seven I do like Bubba’s chances the best this week and he has almost drifted to a decent price. He has form at the renovated course of 3rd -2nd and arrives off the back of a win at another tough layout at Riviera. I’d kick myself were he to win here so will have a small win bet as a saver.
Jordan Spieth has looked very out of sorts over the last month and I don’t expect anyone will be in a rush to back him with both his long game and even his putting not firing on all cylinders. He is drifting though as the money comes for others but I can’t see him figuring this week and with Doral form figures of 17-34 I can easily ignore him this week.
Rory Mcilroy makes little appeal arriving off a missed cut and also several appearances where his game on and around the greens hasn’t looked up to the standard required to win at The Blue Monster. I’d expect him to go well tee to green and possibly contend but as the greens firm up over the weekend I just don’t think he will hole enough putts.
Dustin Johnson is the reigning champion and finished 4th the year before that so he clearly loves the course. Last year however he ranked 1st in GIR and an impressive 8th in total putting en route to the win. A repeat of those figures would see him go close but the putter hasn’t been behaving too well of late. To back him at that price I’d want to have seen him win again after his high profile collapses last season. He must be considered in the first round leader market however given his ability to fly out of the blocks on a Thursday, especially on The Blue Monster. He has sat 3rd and 2nd the last two years after the first round.
Adam Scott is in brilliant form with his win last week at The Honda Classic being preceded by a runner-up finish at Riviera. These further highlighted his love of tough championship courses and if we listen to the media then he has made a turnaround with the short putter. But I’m not fully convinced by that and if we look at last week’s stats then he still only ranked 42nd for total putting. Four tough rounds at PGA National will have taken a lot out of Scott and to go back to back around another tough layout would be nothing short of exceptional. I expect he will roll his form over another week but find at least one just too good for him on the greens.
Jason Day doesn’t have a great record at Doral which is surprising as it should really set up perfectly for him. But his game hasn’t been at the same level that it was for the closing 6 months of 2015 so I’m happy to leave him alone until he finds his A game again.
Rickie Fowler would have been added to most Doral shortlists on Friday of last week only to be quickly scribbled out as he played two average rounds over the weekend. The bogey free opening rounds on the demanding PGA National layout appeared to take a lot out of him and I’m not sure whether he will be able to lift himself so quickly.
I’m convinced with 7 trading under 16/1 that there must be some value in the field and there is one player in particular that I think looks an excellent price so I made him my Matchbook tip this week. This is what I wrote about Leishman’s chances.
Despite arriving here as an outsider, Marc Leishman has become somewhat of a big stage player over the last few years and he now has a Top 5 at The Masters (2013) and consecutive Top 5s at The Open (2014 and 2015) to his name. In fact he has finished in the top 5 in 20% of his Major and WGC appearances. In December he added the Nedbank Challenge to his 2012 PGA Tour title and 2016 looks to be a year where he will be targeting the main 9 events on Tour. Finishing in the top 5 at both Augusta and St Andrews is no mean feat and his weekend score at St Andrews last year was amazing. To my knowledge it is the lowest ever weekend score at a Major and while he got lots of credit for his high finish, his 64-66 seemed to run a little bit under the radar in the aftermath of Zach Johnson’s triumph. It was 5 shots better than anyone in the field and while he got the best of the weather over the weekend it was still fairly miserable and it was still St Andrews.
The main attribute of his that sets up well to championship courses is his ability to handle hard and fast greens. That is exactly what they face at Doral this week, so he has been on my shortlist for this tournament for a while.
Leishman has only played here once though and he finished down the field in 2010 when a far less accomplished player. So with never having played the course since the renovations, I wanted further hints that the course will suit him. In order to help me with that I decided to run through a stats model on my shortlist together with the rest of the top 30 or so in the market. I looked at previous editions and tried to pick out what I felt were the most important attributes required around the Blue Monster course. The 10 stats I chose were driving distance, GIR, scrambling, total putting, 3-putt avoidance, proximity to hole from 175-200 yards, proximity to hole from 200-225, proximity to hole from 175-200 from rough, proximity to hole from 150-175 from rough and Par 5 scoring. These were taken for either the last 3 months or the 2016 season depending on availability from the PGA Tour Stats page and the excellent Tour-Tips site. Not only did Leishman score well in this but he came out on top with an average ranking of 37th where only one other player averaged under 50. This was enough to push him to the top of my short list.
To those unfamiliar with Leishman’s game, that might come as a surprise. But anyone who has watched him play around tough venues will have noticed how comfortable he looks. He drives the ball a long way without being overly inaccurate (21st in total driving). His long irons are also extremely good when on his game (35th in proximity to hole from over 200 yards). Hailing from Australia he is used to both wind and fast greens so should the wind get up it won’t affect his ball striking. With greens hardening up over the weekend there will be plenty of missed greens but Leishman ranks 5th in scrambling so getting up and down shouldn’t be a problem for him. On tough layouts with large, undulating greens, lag putting becomes very important and Leishman also ranks 5th in three-putt avoidance so that will help him keep bogeys off the card which is very much the focus this week at The Blue Monster, where the winning scores since the renovation works are -4 and -9.
In terms of potential course links I looked at Dick Wilson designs used on Tour and that mainly threw up Cog Hill, which hosted the BMW Championship in 2007,2009,2010 and 2011 and Bay Hill which hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational. There certainly seems to be links with all three of the Cog Hill winners having also won at Doral; Tiger Woods (2), Justin Rose and Dustin Johnson. Bay Hill and Doral also happen to be two of the courses that Tiger Woods dominated most with 8 wins and 7 wins respectively. When I looked at Leishman’s results there I found he had a 3rd place at Bay Hill in 2011 and a 2nd place at Cog Hill in 2009.
All this tells me that he should be suited to Doral on paper at least but with the last five winners here all having recorded at least a Top 5 finish in the calendar year, you also need to be in form to tame The Blue Monster. On Leishman’s last start he shook off two missed cuts to finish in 5th just three shots behind Bubba. His stats for that performance were all strong as he ranked 11th for driving distance, 20th for GIR, 2nd for scrambling and 28th for putting . Riviera also played very tough with fast greens so having had a week off to recover in between he will arrive at Doral with his game exactly where he wants it.
But can he win a title this big? Well until someone either has a meltdown or gets over the line in a WGC or Major then we never know exactly how they will cope with contending down the stretch. But if we look at the last WGC winner in the US, Shane Lowry, then he has a similar profile to Leishman. Both men have excellent touch on and around the greens and are strong drivers when on their game. Both had won on Tour and hinted at being close to top-class. Everyone in the field will take inspiration from Lowry’s win at Firestone and many will use it to give themselves that extra belief that the top players in the market can be beaten.
It was an ill-placed divot that did for him in the play-off at St Andrews more than any pressure, so there are no real clues there but I suspect that he will be calmer than most if an opportunity to win presents itself. Leishman plays the game with a different attitude now since the horrific ordeal that his family went through last year when his wife almost died after contracting Toxic Shock Syndrome. I won’t go into the details but the story is very grounding and certainly worth reading about. It left Leishman with a new found perspective on life and every week he tees it up he knows that it is merely a game. That sort of appreciation could be very dangerous come Sunday if he finds himself in contention and when combined with an excellent short game I don’t think we will see him wilt if faced with clutch situations on the back 9 during the final round
In a week where you could make a case for more than half the field I think the front seven are just about worth taking on so with Leishman already proven in big tournaments on tough layouts I think he looks the best piece of value in the field at
80/1. Since writing this he has been cut to 66/1 but that still looks a fair price and Sky Bet are offering 6 places this week.
The player who came 2nd in my stats list was Charl Schwartzel and while I was a little unsure about including him after letting me down at Riviera, I’m going to give him one more go stateside. Schwartzel finished 2nd at Doral on his debut in 2010 and since then has also finished 4th and 9th, with the 9th place coming since the renovation so it appears to still fit his eye. At his very best Charl is world class and while he has not won in the US since his Masters win in 2011 he has racked up 5 other wins around the world. His brilliant all-round game sets up well for championship courses and on his last win in South Africa not only was he striping his irons but his putter was extremely hot over the weekend. His driving has let him down over the last couple of years and he pulled the irons out off the tee a lot at Riviera leaving him too far back to hold the small greens. But the wider fairways at Doral will help Charl to hit more greens this week and if the putter stays hot then he will surely go well on a layout he enjoys. His price has come in a little but 45/1 still looks more than fair for a player of his class who has two wins in his last three outings.
I really wanted to find an American to back given their strong record in this tournament but my last pick is Louis Oosthuizen. While his value has almost gone and he has travelled from Australia since Sunday, I can’t let him go unbacked again given how brilliantly he played over the weekend. He hit an astounding 67/72 greens in Perth and they were by no means large, soft greens either. The always accurate Bourdy ranked 2nd and he could only hit 61 of them. Louis finished 6th here last year and the way he was talking in Perth he has found a way to adapt his swing to play through his niggling injuries. If that is the case then we can expect a big year from the South African especially when we look at what he did in the majors last year while having such an injury disrupted year. I think all he needs to contend this week is his putter to heat up but he ranked 9th in total putting here last year so he would appear to like the Blue Monster greens. The 33/1 could be bigger but I couldn’t leave him out.
As well as the outright bets there are a few bets I like in the place markets. Andy Sullivan has shown in Europe over the last 13 months just what a talent he is and he will be looking at tournaments like this to attempt to move to the next level. He can get the ball out there off the tee and averages 295 yards through the 2016 season so is definitely long enough for Doral. But it is ability around the greens that has helped him the most in winning his 3 titles to date. He has an excellent touch on and around the greens ranking 14th on the European Tour for scrambling but he also possesses great touch with his long range putting and also holes more than his share ranking 16th for putts/round. Odds of 10/1 are a little bit dismissive of his ability and while yet to show us anything on US soil, I expect him to take well to Doral on his debut.
Byeong Hun An would probably eclipse even Patrick Reed for my most tipped player. But when you consider what an excellent all–round golfer he is then it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise. He keeps delivering each way returns and his consistency is frightening. His current run is 6 Top 5s in his last 9 tournaments and while we have to go back to May for his only win, that was at the European Tour’s flagship event, The BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. He currently ranks 12th for putts/round, 7th in scrambling, 19th in GIR and 41st for driving distance over the last 6 months. Odds of 11/2 for a Top 10 finish are too good to ignore for a player that enjoys playing on hard and fast golf courses and should take to Doral on his debut.
I’m including a 1pt win only saver bet on Bubba Watson too as I really need to get an American onside this week too after siding with five overseas players.
Summary of Bets
Marc Leishman – 2pts ew @ 66/1 and 2pts Top 10 @ 5/1
Charl Schwartzel – 1pt ew @ 45/1
Louis Oosthuizen – 1pt ew @ 33/1
Bubba Watson – 1pt win @ 14
Andy Sullivan – 1pt Top 10 @ 10/1
Byeong Hun An – 2pts Top 10 @ 11/2
Dustin Johnson – 1pt ew 1st round leader @ 16/1
Weekly outlay – 16pts
Total outlay – 460pts