It was no better than ok last week after Stenson’s 3rd place helped to nearly break even for the week. He played fairly solid golf across all four days but came up against an inspired Jason Day who returned to form in perfect time for The Masters. There were small returns on the doubles with Lahiri finishing 2nd to SSP Chawrasia who I actually mentioned in the preview but couldn’t bring myself to back after he threw the same tournament away in such reckless fashion last year. To be fair that was built into the course specialist’s price and at 40/1 I was a bit annoyed not to be on when he stuck his approach at the 18th to 3ft but he was still unproven on The European Tour so I shouldn’t really be too concerned. It will be interesting to see how he fares now on The European Tour with this confidence boost as he certainly has talent and is a genius around the greens.
It was 12.5 pts returned in total and that leaves things as follows after 30 weeks of previews.
Total pts advised – 491.50
Total pts returned – 623.37
ROI – 26.83%
This week there is no tournament in Europe as we have the 2nd World Golf Championship of 2016 in the form of the WGC Dell Match Play held in Austin, Texas. There is an alternate event on The PGA Tour in Puerto Rico but I will be focussing on the match play despite it being a notoriously difficult betting heat. There are less points being advised though to allow for the unpredictable nature of match play.
WGC Dell Match Play
“Take dead aim” were words not so famously uttered by Austin Country Club’s longest serving Club professional, Harvey Penick. While he was talking about the course in its previous location on the other side of Austin it remains just as relevant at the current layout. Designed in 1984 by Pete Dye, Austin Country Club is a true test of golf and looks to be an excellent venue for the 2nd World Golf Championship of the year, The WGC Dell Match Play Championship. His words of caution however could equally have been aimed at punters holding a dart and trying to work out which of the 64 players to place their money on!
The format was changed last year in a bid to appease sponsors and TV companies so now nobody goes home until after two days with a round-robin group format in place of the straight knockout. But unlike similar match play competitions in Europe, this group format is ruthless with only the 16 winners of each group of four qualifying through to the knockout stage. This makes it a tricky betting proposition as a player could still be eliminated after thrashing two of the world’s best and losing their 3rd match in sudden death.
The competition’s 6 year partnership with Dove Mountain came to a close last year as Harding Park hosted the 2015 Tournament which was won in such a convincing style by Rory Mcilroy that the other 63 players lining up this week will no doubt be delighted by the quick change. The Texas venue is signed up to host through 2019 so in years to come there will be some valuable course form to look at but for now we are limited to photos and descriptions of the course together with the player’s match play records which can be found on Adam Sarson’s excellent site – http://adamsarson.com/2016/03/21/2016-wgc-dell-match-play-records-for-all-64-players/#more-12197
Given the combination of match play golf and a tough layout this week’s tournament appears as if it will lend itself to a certain type of player.
The course sits at 7169 yards and from everything I can see it is truly spectacular. It is a parkland course set along sprawling hills giving rise to some elevation changes and undulating fairways very akin to some British links courses. There are also a lot of deep,menacing bunkers that give it a further links appearance. While the fairways appear to be of average width they will certainly not feel that way standing on the tee. There are many hidden tee shots where the players are forced to carry valleys or shape the ball around trees. The numerous dog legs and elevation changes will also bring about some blind approaches and it appears that accuracy will be the most important aspect this week. Whenever a course has elevation changes then distance control becomes absolutely paramount. Players will have to trust their yardages and commit to them in order to find both the right areas of the fairways and indeed the greens. As we have come to expect from a Pete Dye design (Sawgrass, RBC Heritage, Whistling Straits), the greens are relatively small and they are undulating and tiered. Accurate approach shots will be required to find the correct portion of the green to allow a makeable birdie putt. But there will be many flags that simply have to be avoided with run-offs and green side bunkers aplenty. There are lots of aggressive players that fare well in Match Play golf but this week I think it will very much need to be controlled aggression rather than firing at every single flag.
So I’m looking for someone that hits plenty of fairways and greens but isn’t afraid to attack pins when the chance is there. They must also have a solid match play pedigree, be that from the World Matchplay or strong showings in The Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup or perhaps The European Tour’s own match play events. With this being a Pete Dye design I’d certainly like them to have some form at his courses and perhaps also be a decent exponent of links golf. Form on similar TifEagle bermuda greens will also be useful and luckily that was in use last week at Bay Hill. I have nearly described the perfect all round golfer but that looks to be what is required at this testing layout.
Hideki Matsuyama made the shortlist due to his excellent ball striking and after a further look at his profile he looks to have an excellent chance in Texas. He sits 4th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and he looks set up to play well this week after a Top 10 last week. The Japanese star ranked 1st in the all round ranking on his way to 6th place and after winning in Phoenix earlier in the year he looks to have his game exactly where he wants it. 2016 will be all about trying to win the larger tournaments for Matsuyama and this set-up looks absolutely ideal for him. He has a 63% win rate in match play singles matches and while that is from a relatively small sample, all good match play golfers have to start assembling their record somewhere. Additionally both his wins on Tour have come via a play-off so he appears to enjoy the head to head contest. Matsuyama has also finished in the Top 25 on his his last two efforts at Dye’s tough Sawgrass layout so he won’t be phased by the designer’s layout here. His long, accurate driving will put pressure on every opponent and that alone can be telling in match play. He also ranks 6th in GIR over the last 3 months so he will apply similar pressure to his opponent’s approaches to the greens. While not always being the best of putters he currently ranks 2nd in birdie average for the last three months so he is certainly doing something right with the flat stick.
When Mahan won the title in 2012 his ball striking was just relentless and amongst the best in the world. An on-form Matsuyama’s long game is of a similar standard and I think he will be a very tough opponent this week arriving high in confidence with his 2nd PGA Tour win under his belt. The only three matches that he has lost are to Mahan, Mcilroy and Mcdowell and there is absolutely no shame in that as they are three of the finest match play exponents of recent times. With a reasonably favourable group on paper (Kisner, Kjeldsen and Cabrera-Bello), if he can get into his rhythm prior to the tougher tie against Kisner then he will take a lot of stopping. Compared to others in the market his price looks to have a touch of value about it so he is the main pick this week to take another step towards a Major by capturing his first World Golf Championship.
Justin Rose is another that fits the profile perfectly and he has been immense in his last two Ryder Cup performances. He has really begun to use his quality to beat inferior opposition with relative ease and he will be very dangerous this week. His form on Pete Dye tracks is also solid with 4th at Whistling Straits, 3rd at Kiawah, 4th at Sawgrass and a win at the Zurich Classic around TPC Louisiana. Rose played well last week but fell away with a 73 on Sunday. His game was in fine fettle as he ranked 2nd in the all round ranking. He looks to be one of the most likely winners for me this week and his odds of 25/1 are fair but I just can’t get out of my head how poor his putting has been lately. I’m hoping that his ball striking will help him to get out of his group and after that if he can get some momentum going with the putter then he could storm towards the final. Rose got on a roll alongside Stenson at Gleneagles in the Ryder Cup and if he can do that here then he might just be able to grab his 2nd WGC title. Despite finishing 8th and hitting 82% of fairways he could only rank 31st for GIR so while everything wasn’t quite 100% with approaches he still ranked 2nd in the all-round ranking for the week, if he carries that form over then he could really enjoy the course this week.
Marc Leishman again played well last week and chalked up a 17th place finish. There is no question that he is still riding high after his Nedbank Golf Challenge win in December and I expect his next win won’t be too long in arriving. He has a good match play record and won all of his 3 group matches last year before going down to eventual runner-up Gary Woodland. He also took Jordan Spieth’s scalp at the President’s Cup in Korea in November. The Aussie ranked 1st in GIR last week so he is clearly swinging well but I noticed that he could only rank 73rd in putting which is a bit of a worry. He is normally a very good putter but if it isn’t hot on arrival then he could find himself behind early on and it doesn’t look like a course for chasing an opponent. His group looks pretty tough with Garcia, Westwood and Moore so he will need to get off to a good start against Moore tomorrow. Unfortunately everyone seems to agree that he has a chance this week and his odds have been slashed. After backing him twice recently I don’t want to miss out should he win here. He is in the same quarter as Matsuyama but I really like their chances combined so while it maybe isn’t the most logical of methods I’m sticking with them both as I really liked their chances prior to the draw.
While having had no real study of the Puerto Rico Open I noticed that one of my favourite players George Coetzee lines up as he steps up his own Masters preparations. These alternate PGA Tour events are usually fairly low grade and a good chance for class to show. Coetzee is certainly one of the better players in this field on everything he has done so far in the game . He is a multiple winner on The European Tour with 3 wins in the last 2 years. With the grainy, slower, sea paspalum greens in use at the coastal venue, Coetzee’s excellent and aggressive putting could see him contend with just a decent ball striking week. I’m going to throw 0.5pts ew on him and 0.25pts ew on the Coetzee and Matsuyama double for an added interest.
Summary of Bets
WGC Match Play
Hideki Matsuyama – 2pts ew @ 33/1
Justin Rose – 1pt ew @ 25/1
Marc Leishman – 0.5pt ew @ 50/1
Puerto Rico Open
George Coetzee – 0.5pt ew @ 33/1
0.25pt ew double – Matsuyama + Coetzee @ 1155/1
Weekly pts advised – 8.5pts
Total pts advised – 600pts