Unfortunately with missing most of the golf last week I’m still a little unprepared this week. But keen to get back into it I still have a few bits of advice although given my lack of preparation and the bad current run it’s maybe not a week for huge stakes!
The blog is still in profit as we approach the 1 year mark but only just……
Total pts advised – 675.50
Total pts returned – 728.79
ROI – 7.89%
The final US based World Golf Championship of the season takes place this week at its regular home of Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio. The tournament has been held there since 1999 in its current guise as a WGC but there has been a regular tournament held at Firestone dating back to 1962.
It’s now customary slot is the week before the USPGA Championship so normally the elite players see this as a perfect preparation for a usually similar challenge that awaits them the following week. But with the rescheduling due to the Olympic golf it now finds itself up against the French Open at La Golf National. With that being a future Ryder Cup venue and holding its 100th edition many of the top class Europeans have given this a miss so we have an even more restricted field than usual. The French course also plays quite like a links venue so is probably better preparation for The Open in two weeks’ time.
But there is still a stellar field led by the world’s top two players and we should be in for an exciting and fairly open looking tournament.
The South Course at Firestone sits at 7360 yards long and plays to every yard of it, earning itself the nickname “The Monster” from Arnold Palmer after he once took a treble bogey at its 16th. Originally designed in 1929 by Bert Way, it underwent a massive redesign at the hands of Robert Trent Jones in 1959 to prepare it as a Championship course.
It has several long Par 4s and the Par 5 16th is one of the longest on Tour at 667 yards. The fairways are around average in width but they aren’t to be missed with lush green rough awaiting the inaccurate and leaving a very long approach to the greens. The fairways are also mostly straight and tree-lined so any shot shaping off the tee has to be extremely accurate. The greens, while perceived by some to be small, average 7,600 ft in area so they are actually on the larger side. However many of them are elevated with steep slopes which make them harder to hold. They also run at 13″ on the stimpmeter so they should play very fast.
Most winners of the WGC at Firestone are world-class and usually a major winner already. Since 1999 only Shane Lowry (2015), Hunter Mahan (2010) and Craig Parry (2002) haven’t won one of the main 4 tournaments and even then Lowry showed how close he is to winning one two weeks ago and Mahan was one of the game’s best for a couple of years. To further make the point about class, since 2005 every winner bar 3 has finished that season in the Top 3 of the PGA Tour’s All Round Ranking.
Since 2009 the worst that any winner has finished in that season’s Total Driving rank is 17th. So they have to be long, accurate drivers to have any chance of winning at Firestone. You simply can’t consistently find greens from either the rough or 200+yards out for 4 days in the Ohio heat.
Firestone lover Keegan Bradley (15th, 1st, 2nd, 4th here) is one of the best drivers in the world game and the mind numbingly slow player is also a terrific ball striker when he finally does hit his irons. They are both high and long which helps him to hold the ball on the fast greens.
Another key attribute of Bradley’s is hitting Par 5’s in two or “Going for it” as the PGA Tour like to call it. While there are only 2 Par 5s at Firestone it does have some almighty Par 4s that may seem like Par 5s to the shorter hitters.
With a roll call of recent champions including McIlroy, Scott, Mahan and VJ Singh, it can be noted that you do not have to be one of the best putters to win at Firestone. So while I’m not going to ignore it completely, I’m going to focus more on scrambling given how hard the greens can be to hit.
Recent year’s stats suggest that a high finish in the Masters is a bonus, showing that your game is in good shape for a high-class test of golf. Further good performances at the other Majors and WGCs are obviously good pointers too so I’m looking for at least 2 Top 20s from the main stroke play tournaments so far in 2016.
Debutants don’t tend to take to Firestone immediately so unless they rank highly everywhere else, they should probably be avoided.
Scott Piercy looks to fit the perfect profile this week. Having performed brilliantly at the US Open two weeks ago his game is in ideal shape for Firestone. With Shane Lowry having won here last year and then finished alongside Lowry in 2nd place at Oakmont, I think it’s fair to think that Piercy should also be suited to Firestone. That was certainly the case on his debut when he finished T19th in 2012 even if his next effort was 59th when out of form a year later.
But gradually over the last few years Piercy has improved and his record in majors and WGC tournaments certainly isn’t to be sniffed at even if the US Open was his first in proper contention. He didn’t wilt under the pressure and there was one point on Sunday where he looked the most composed and the likely winner. His record in the big 7 stroke-play events is very solid with 8 top 25s from his last 18 starts since he became a winner on Tour.
One of the notable similarities between Firestone and Oakmont is the presence of poa on the greens. Oakmont’s are all poa annua while Firestone has a mix of bent-grass and poa annua. That may not seem all that important but time and time again we have seen golfers go well on the same surface and I don’t think it was a complete coincidence that it was at Oakmont where Lowry’s putting improved drastically.
While long, relatively straight driving is probably the most important aspect this week it is worth noting that last year Shane Lowry was the first winner since 2009 not to rank 1st in the all-round ranking. Firestone is definitely a course where you need everything working well as good shots are rewarded but bad shots are certainly punished. Piercy ranked 4th in the all-round at the US Open which is a further string to his bow this week.
He also has a habit of playing well in the summer heat with all three of his PGA Tour wins coming in either July or August. Despite this being a month ahead of its usual slot it will still be baking hot in Ohio and with Piercy hailing from the desert in Las Vegas he is more than familiar with those conditions.
His last win was at the inaugural Barbasol Championship in July of last year and that was on a Robert Trent Jones track which gives me further confidence that he can go well this week on a Trent Jones redesign.
Piercy drives the ball a long way but doesn’t always hit the most fairways. Although he ranked 19th in total driving at Oakmont which was an improvement on his ranking of 41st over the last 3 months. Everyone saw how nasty the rough was at Oakmont so he should handle the rough here when he does miss the fairways.
His price this week seems very fair given he is a 3-time winner who finished 2nd last time out in the US Open. There are a few obvious players with better chances but I’m not sure there is any better value around.
I backed Louis Oosthuizen here last year off the strength of his long game and despite him not having been in great form lately he did finish 23rd at the US Open. His stats are quite good and these days we generally need a long game test to get the best out of the purest swing in golf. I’m going to try him again here this week as he is just too big a price for a player of his class.
Open De France
I haven’t had a chance to write too much of the usual preview stuff but there are a couple of bets I like in France this week.
I’ve been tracking Pablo Larrazabal closely this season since I uncovered what I thought was a link between Golf Club Eichenried and Oakmont. He never made the US Open field but his golf has been improving of late and he finished 9th last week at the BMW International Open. The Spaniard is another who plays well in the summer with 3 of his 4 European Tour wins arriving at the end of June. The first of those was here in 2008 and while he hasn’t done too well here of late it is still a course that should suit an in-form Pablo.
On his way to that 9th place finish in Germany he did everything well and he ranked 4th in scrambling which is always important at La Golf National. Prior to that was a missed cut in Sweden but the week before he finished 12th at the European Tour’s flagship event at Wentworth where he ranked 4th in greens in regulation.
I think he looks set up to play well this week and the presence of Mcilroy in the field gives us a very attractive price of 80/1.
Ashun Wu won just two weeks ago and looks a ridiculous price here for a Top 20. He missed the cut last week and this is a deep field but he has two wins in the last couple of seasons. He currently ranks 7th in both GIR and scrambling for the last 3 months and they are usually the two key stats here so a top 20 doesn’t look out of the question.
Summary of bets
Scott Piercy – 1pt ew @ 80/1
Louis Oosthuizen – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Open De France
Pablo Larrazabal – 1pt ew @ 80/1
Ashun Wu – 1.5 pt Top 20 @ 8/1
Piercy + Larrazabal 0.25pt ew double @ 6560/1
Weekly outlay – 7pts