It’s hard to be annoyed with last week given two 2nd places but at the same time the 1286/1 double came very, very close. Both Joost Luiten and Russell Knox did nothing wrong but just came up shy against two deserving maidens. Andrew Johnston’s excellent long game saw off the field around the brilliantly difficult Valderrama as he ranked 1st for both fairways and greens hit. It was great to see the course back in rotation after 5 years away and it provides a test quite unlike any other on Tour.
Branden Grace gave a Sunday clinic on controlling ball flight in the US as he took iron off almost every tee. This allowed him to punch accurate, low tee shots around the trees and under the wind to find the narrow fairways. That set up a number of wedges and he peppered the flag on his way to a reasonably comfortable 2 shot win. It’s a performance that will place him even more firmly in people’s Open Championship notebooks as his low ball flight could help him plot his way around Troon in July.
It was 48.47 pts returned and that brings the running totals to;
Total pts advised – 556pts
Total returns advised – 714.67pts
ROI – 28.54%
The PGA Tour moves in land again to Texas for the Valero Texas Open and The European Tour heads East again for The Shenzhen International.
Valero Texas Open
The Tour returns to the Lone Star State this week as The Valero Texas Open takes place at the Greg Norman designed TPC San Antonio Course (Oaks Course). It is a 7433 yard Par 72 and has been the host course since 2010 so we have plenty recent form to study.
While it is a more open course than last week’s tree covered offering at Hilton Head, these still aren’t the widest of fairways and up until 2014 driving accuracy was quite important. That hasn’t been the case the last two years however as driving distance has been more critical so perhaps the immediate rough wasn’t quite as penal.
The one main difference from last week will be approach shots from the fairways. Last week the overhanging branches blocked out the tiny greens from sometimes as much as half of the fairway. That wont be the case this week where the trees are a little further back and are far more scattered out around the fairways. So while finding the fairways isn’t easy, at least there isn’t the same requirement to find the correct landing areas within the short stuff.
The bermuda greens (under seeded with bent and poa) are also considerably bigger and will be easier to find in regulation. That isn’t to say that birdies will be any easier to come by though as they are severely undulating and precise approach shots will be required to get near to the flags. Especially if the wind blows as it usually does in Texas.
So while we aren’t looking for the same sort of steady, accurate grinders as last week, the task in hand maybe isn’t as different as first expected. A good all round game is required again and this is evident if we look at the stats from previous renewals. The last 6 winners have averaged an impressive 2nd in the all-round ranking.
Beyond these main stats groups I found two other common attributes shared between recent winners. They usually rank highly in “going for the green -birdie or better” and “approaches 50-125 yards”. That makes a lot of sense for a long par 72 course as the winner will surely have to score well on the Par 5s (Jimmy Walker ranked 1st in par 5 scoring last year) and generally to do that you need to take them on in two or have a very accurate wedge game. The last three winners; Jimmy Walker, Steven Bowditch and Brendan Steele are equally happy going for Par 5s or attacking flags with their sand wedges.
When looking for potential Open Championship winners from the PGA Tour, the Valero Texas Open is often used as a good guideline, due in part to the afore-mentioned winds but also the large, undulating, mixed grass greens. These are grainer than most in the US and so they tend to play like some of the exposed links greens (also a mix of grasses) that we are accustomed to in the UK. While the venue has changed over the years this connection to the Open has been strong regardless. Since 2000, 6 of the 16 tournaments have been won by Open champions. It may be worth looking at recent Open leader boards to try to find an angle in this week.
But most importantly it’s all about controlling your ball flight in the wind in order to get close to the flags on these big greens and have as many straight-forward putts as possible.
If ever there was a player that fits this mould perfectly then it is last years winner Jimmy Walker. He lives 20km along the road and admits to enjoying the test that the local wind brings with it. Walker is also an excellent putter normally and while he is probably at his best on poa annua greens, 3 of his 5 PGA Tour wins have come on bermuda greens.
At Augusta only two weeks ago he gave us an idea of just where his wedge game was at as he set the course record on the Par 3 course on his way to winning the contest by some 3 or 4 shots. While he hasn’t yet won in 2016 he hasn’t had too bad a season and his form figures read 29-19-38-6-43-MC-11-4-13-10, with the 6th position being in the elite WGC Cadillac Championship on bermuda greens.
From a stats point of view in 2016 he sits in 8th for approaches from 50-125 yards, 3rd in going for the green – birdie or better and 24th in the all-round ranking so his game looks to be in the right sort of shape for the TPC San Antonio test.
Some players don’t handle the challenge of defending a Tournament but Walker has already shown that he can do that after going back to back at The Sony Open in Hawaii in 2014-2015. He is an experienced multiple winner now and will not be phased by the pressure of defending. The recent Par 3 win is of particular interest with regards to his mindset. Given the supposed jinx of winning the Par 3, many other players would have sabotaged their score to avoid winning. Not Walker though, he was far more interested in setting the record so instead he laughed it off, posted a 19 and started the real Tournament full of confidence.
That attitude will serve him well this week in his home state and with the important parts of his game in good order I think he can have a solid run at defending his title. It’s an obvious choice but with none of the World’s top 10 players taking part he has nobody to fear and I have seen worse prices for in-form defending champions.
Si Woo Kim is another highly talented player from Asia who is now plying his trade on The PGA Tour thanks to graduating from the Web.com Tour last year. While Asian golfers don’t dominate the men’s game like they do the ladies, there is an ever-growing number now and you would think it is just a matter of time before we see the 2nd Asian Major winner.
Kim has had a pretty strong rookie year for someone so young and he has been very keen to learn having played 16 tournaments already. He has turned 8 of those into Top 25s but perhaps his most eye-catching result was his 4th place in Hawaii at the Sony Open. With the course links between that course and here then that might be reason enough to expect him to play well this week. However a closer look at his last two finishes of 13th and 14th are even more encouraging. He ranked 2nd in Houston for total driving but went one better last week at Hilton Head when leading the field. He also led the field in total putting last week so it was surely just his lack of course knowledge that prevented him from properly contending. I don’t think that will be as much of a problem this week as TPC San Antonio isn’t quite as tricked up as Harbour Town.
His approach shots can be a little more hit and miss but he hit 75% of his greens in regulation in Houston and with these large greens I’m hoping that his putter can help him out again this week. His odds of 80/1 might be considered too short for some given how little he has done in the game so far. But I’m far happier taking that price about a completely unexposed player than the silly odds on offer for the likes of Charley Hoffman who has repeatedly shown us that he shouldn’t be backed at short odds.
I’m not particularly convinced that Thomas Aiken can win on The PGA Tour but there was a time when I rated him very highly and thought he might win an Open Championship.He did manage two Open Top 10s however at Turnberry and Royal Lytham. But it was actually his first European Tour win that pointed me towards him this week. It was at the Greg Norman designed Golf Club De El Prat in 2011 which suggests he might just take to Norman’s TPC San Antonio layout.
Aiken is a brilliant wind player, a strong driver of the ball and he is also a capable putter on greens that suit. Given he was brought up on grainy South African greens then he should take to these undulating, grainy surfaces. It is very much a hunch pick but at 250/1 this 3 time European Tour winner might just outplay his price.
I won’t include him in the each way doubles however given there is no way of being confident that he will play well. Instead I will put Brooks Koepka into the doubles at 25/1. This looks like a perfect set-up for him with the only negative that took him off my shortlist being his price. I thought he was a little skinny for a sometimes erratic driver of the ball but he actually ranked 15th for fairways hit at The Masters on his last start. More of the same would hopefully see him give us a run in the doubles.
The European Tour is in Shenzhen this week and more specifically the Genzon Golf Club for the Shenzhen International. It is just the 2nd running of this tournament with Kiridech Aphibarnat returning to defend his title. The 2014 Volvo China Open was also held there and won by Alexander Levy so there are two years of course form but hearing those two names already gives me a rough idea what the course is all about.
As with so many of the Championship layouts in Asia, Genzon GC is a Nelson and Haworth design and that is evident as soon as you see the pictures. It is an open, undulating course with lots of water features in play and some well protected greens. To my mind it best resembles the Sheshan Golf Club in Shanghai which hosts the WGC HSBC Champions event every year. Other courses by the same team are Kuala Lumpur GC, Royal Selangor GC and the ?? at ??. It is definitely worth checking these leaderboards to see if any players repeatedly pop up.
With regards Genzon specificaloly though, it looks like a course where you need to drive the ball long and with the forecast rain I’d expect length off the tee to be even more crucial this week. The tricky, well protected greens will be a lot easier to find with short irons from the fairway than long irons from the rough so driving accuracy will also be important to avoid a horrible lie in the lush, wet rough. The greens will be more receptive than normal with the rain so that might just negate the need for touch o.
A long and straight driving contest is something that always alerts me to Ross Fisher and there are few better off the tee in the world game when he is swinging well. Unfortunately for Fisher he has really struggled to get all aspects of his game working correctly over the last few years and it is probably a cold putter above anything else that has prevented him from adding to his five European Tour titles. But he came back to form last week on the difficult Valderrama layout and he actually ranked 1st for total driving and in the all-round ranking when finishing in 6th place.
Four difficult rounds in Spain isn’t the ideal preparation for a Tournament in China but Fisher has a very impressive bank of form in Asia and rather than leaving him drained I think his last week’s finish will have given his 2016 season a nice kick-start after starting the year slowly. Fisher has a 2nd and 3rd place around Nelson and Haworth’s Sheshan Golf Club with the 3rd having been as recently as November.
Fisher isn’t much of a price at all here after that strong finish in Spain but this isn’t the deepest of fields and there are still only 5 men in the field who have won more European Tour titles than him. If he can just hole some putts then I would expect him to play well. He doesn’t get over the line as much as he should which maybe further devalues his 20/1 but it could be that last week’s strong play was inspired by fellow Englishman Danny Willett’s Masters win so hopefully he is hitting a prolonged period of form. If that is the case then even 20/1 could prove to be a solid each way price.
It might be a little risky siding with another excellent driver whose putter has gone extremely cold but at his best Peter Hanson is considerably better than most of these and is one of the 5 men with more titles than Fisher. He has suffered with injury as much as loss of form over the last few years but after easing himself into the 2016 season he finished 19th in Spain last week where he played brilliantly apart from on the greens. He ranked 4th for total driving and 7th in the all-round ranking so like Fisher he is only a warm putter away from contending.
Hanson also has a strong record in Asia with a 3rd and 6th in the HSBC Champions event when at his peak but he also has a win in China at Lake Malaren in 2012. With no signs of injury last week if he is back to full fitness then he should go well on a course that will reward his long, accurate driving. It seems the bookies also have him on their radar though as he is perhaps a little short at 40/1. But it should be noted this is a 6 time European Tour winner with three Major Top 10s to his name so anything close to his best would surely see him in contention over the weekend.
Nathan Holman won the Australian PGA Championship in November as a virtual unknown to most golf fans. It certainly alerted me to his talents and having followed him since it is clear that he feels more comfortable playing outside continental Europe. Closer inspection of his Asia form actually shows some strong finishes on Nelson and Haworth designs as he finished 8th at their Royal Selangor GC in March and 11th in 2015’s Maybank Malaysian Open around Kuala Lumpur GC. I suspect the open, undulating fairways and elevated greens fit his eye and although he is making his debut here I expect him to take to the course. He was also making his debut at Royal Selangor when he rushed into a 36-hole lead before struggling a little over the weekend.
Over the last 3 months he ranks 14th for total driving on Tour and we know that will be a valuable weapon this week especially with the rain.He actually ranked 5th for total driving in some good company at the WGC Cadillac Championship but struggled on the slick greens. He is normally a good putter though as he ranked 1st in total putting around KLGC’s paspalum greens last year and its paspalum that he faces again here. Hailing from Melbourne he will be used to grainier greens and he should find these to his liking.
As a European Tour winner now I think Holman is a player that should be watched on courses that suit and with him arriving here fresher than most, 80/1 is a very fair each way price having finished 8th just three starts ago in a similar field.
Summary of Bets
Valero Texas Open
Jimmy Walker – 1.5pt ew @ 18/1
Si-Woo Kim – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1
Thomas Aiken – 0.25pt ew @ 250/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 8/1
Ross Fisher – 1pt ew @ 20/1
Peter Hanson – 1pt ew @ 40/1
Nathan Holman – 0.5pt ew 100/1
3×3 0.25pt each way doubles ( Walker, Kim, Koepka) + (Fisher, Hanson, Holman)
Weekly outlay – 15pts
Total outlay – 571pts