Last week’s Fed Ex Cup showdown at the Tour Championship was without a doubt the best finish we have seen since they revamped the season finale. The whole round was filled with excitement and McIlroy looked completely out of it right up until he holed out for eagle on the 16th. Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell both played amazing rounds and there wasn’t a great deal more that they could have done. It is surely just a matter of time before Kevin Chappell wins on Tour given the quality of his performances in contention. The one thing that is holding him back is the fact that he goes well on tougher courses which normally brings the best players to the top of the leaderboard. That shows with the calibre of player that he has finished runner-up to this season; Day x2, DJ and Rory McIlroy. Chappell should be watched closely during the Fall Series when the game’s leading lights will be taking a break after the Ryder Cup.
Castro and Berger improved as the week went on but they were never close enough to warrant any excitement and in Europe none of the Top 20 bets featured in the weather interrupted European Open.
This week its Ryder Cup time and if we can’t find a winning bet then the blog will dip into negative ROI for the first time since before last year’s US PGA Championship. Fingers crossed!
Total pts advised – 787.50
Total pts returned – 793.79
ROI – 0.8%
Whichever side of the “pond” you hail from there is something magical about the Ryder Cup and it truly transcends golf. Sports fans all around the world follow the Ryder Cup regardless of origin though and over the last decade it has firmly established itself as one of the great sporting events.
There are many reasons for this but for me the fact that it brings out the patriotic, team mentality of both the players and the fans, is the most important. With the game being such an individual one at times for the players, they all thrive on being part of a team again and that captures the imagination of the fans. (Or at least the European players do!)
Everyone will no doubt have their own favourite Ryder Cup moment from over the years but I’d wager the majority hold one of the famous pieces of sportsmanship as their most cherished. Despite some of the uglier scenes witnessed during the 90s, the Ryder Cup has become synonymous with sportsmanship and my own personal favourite was Phil Mickelson’s thumbs-up to Justin Rose at Medinah in 2012 after the Englishman had holed a monster-putt on the 17th to even the match up. Things were heating up massively and without thinking the American immediately congratulated Rose on his putt and it will stand in my memory as long as the comeback itself.
I was lucky enough to attend all three match days at Gleneagles two years ago and while it was brilliant to experience the atmosphere of a Ryder Cup first hand, you lose a little something at the same time. Anyone who has watched a Ryder Cup from start to finish can testify just how exciting it can be and yet when you are there you obviously miss a lot of shots. I’d recommend going to one Ryder Cup to everyone but just like Jason Day, I’m massively looking forward to watching this one from the comfort of my sofa. It will also make trading any bets a lot easier.
Whether we need to give too much consideration to this year’s course I’m not that sure, but certainly in my head I think Europe normally favour the more classic courses as they tend to play more narrow, fiddly courses on Tour. Hazeltine is by no means the toughest course you will see in the US but it isn’t normally one that can be overpowered. That is usually down to the narrow fairways and the rough being grown when hosting a championship but from the early pictures the rough doesn’t appear to be penal at all with a maximum of 3.5 inches in the primary. That will no doubt be a deliberate move from the US given that they have several bombers in their team and the course measures a lengthy 7600 yards. At both the 2002 and 2009 US PGA Championships held at the course, total driving and greens in regulation were of paramount importance and and with recent heavy rain I think long, accurate drivers should enjoy Hazeltine again this week. Indeed Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson all finished inside the Top 10 in 2009 and at their best they are brilliant off the tee.
On the whole however it is a course that rewards a good all-round game with plenty of birdies available and that always makes for a great Ryder Cup. While grinding out pars can be exciting in stroke-play formats, in order to engage the fans, putts have to be holed in this format. We can certainly expect that as the bent grass surfaces look absolutely perfect and will be set up to a fair 12.5 on the stimpmeter.
Such has been Europe’s domination in recent times, the US set up a “task force” team to get to the bottom of why they were performing so badly. That itself will surely put a lot of pressure on some of the players, especially the ones that were actually involved in the task force like Phil Mickelson. I’ve been expecting the US to win this throughout 2016 but the market favoured them so much that it was looking hard not to have a bet on Europe in the outright market. But as strongly as the price of 3.2 was pulling me towards a bet, my overall feeling that USA will prevail was pulling me away. So in all reality I was struggling to advise a bet in the outright market even before the odds changed at the start of the week. US are now around 1.7 with Europe 2.92 and that appears to have removed the bulk of the value on the away side.
However, given that I think it will be another close competition, it looks like a good play to get involved in some of the correct score markets. There are numerous possibilities but in the 18 tournaments since the event became USA v Europe, the score has been 14 ½ to 13 ½ on seven occasions. I’m expecting a tight contest so it makes sense to back the tightest of wins for both sides and also a little saver on 15-13 to the US side who are deserving favourites on home soil with the best team on paper.
Some players take to match play golf and some don’t and that is very much worth remembering when looking at the side markets this week in Minnesota. If we compare the records of two Ryder Cup stalwarts that aren’t actually present this week we can see that often a player will continue to play the same throughout their Ryder Cup career. In Ian Poulter’s case he has been a great Ryder Cup player right from the start of his career while Jim Furyk has never managed to turn his record around and has only ever had a winning record at 1 of his 9 Ryder Cups. Yet there is no question that the American major winner has had the better career. The format just isn’t for everyone and while it can be very hard to predict which rookies will play well, we shouldn’t ignore the information that we have to hand. Further still we should use it as a focal point in deciding which players to back.
Patrick Reed is exactly the sort of confident, aggressive golfer that you would expect to be suited to matchplay golf so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise in 2014 when he top scored for the US team with 3 ½ pts from a possible 4. Reed has also been in good form of late with a win just four weeks ago at Bethpage Black, another championship course. His East Lake performance wasn’t great but in all reality once he knew he was beaten he would have been focussing on the Ryder Cup and certainly wouldn’t have been pushing himself over the weekend. Reed is capable of the sort of magic on and around the greens that we often see at Ryder Cups and while a solid tee-to green game will no doubt be more beneficial in winning matches, if you can’t make the pressure putts in the Ryder Cup powder keg atmosphere then tee-to-green prowess will only get you so far.
When you consider the abundance of talent that the US team possess it is possible to make a case for several of their superstars being top US points scorer, but I don’t believe any of the cases are as compelling as Reed’s. I think he could go on to be a Ryder Cup superstar in the mould of Ian Poulter and I’d expect him to play a minimum of 4 matches here. If he can get 3 ½ points then he should at least contend but if he is allowed to play 5 matches then he could prove very hard to beat in the market.
I’m adopting a similar approach to the top European market and given that only Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Segio Garcia and Henrik Stenson look guaranteed to play at least 4 matches, I’m focussing on them. At a silly short price and coming just 5 days after he won $11.5 million at the Fed Ex finale, I am happy to dismiss McIlroy. I know he has changed his tune lately but given the euphoria of winning on Sunday and that he once called the Ryder Cup an “exhibition match” he looks far too short at 4.6 for a player with a solid if not spectacular Ryder Cup record.
I found it harder to separate the other three though and while I would normally lean to the ice cool Swede, his recent withdrawal due to his knee flaring up is an issue. I think it will probably stop him playing 5 matches whereas Justin Rose looks almost certain to play every session. Rose has an absolutely brilliant Ryder Cup record, twice beating Mickelson in the singles in 2008 and 2012 and winning a half against Hunter Mahan in his other singles match. In his three appearances he has finished with 3pts (from 4) in 2008, 3pts (from 5) in 2012 and 4pts (from 5) in 2014 when going unbeaten. That gives him a winning percentage of 71% and with his buddy Poulter not being present that is a better record than any of his team mates. Garcia’s winning percentage of 64% is almost as impressive but when we look at his last two Ryder Cups in the USA then he appeals less than the Englishman. He won just 1 pt from 4 at Valhalla in 2008 and 2pts from 4 at Medinah. Furthermore I don’t see him as having an obvious partner and he doesn’t have the record of teaming up with rookies that you would expect for a player of his experience. Just once since 2004, when he accompanied Luke Donald to a couple of foursome points, has he even played with a rookie and that was in 2012 when he and Nicholas Colsaerts were beaten by Dufner and DJ. I’d expect Sergio to play his part given the year he has had but I don’t think he is as likely to play all five matches as Rose.
Just six weeks ago Rose was winning Olympic Gold in Rio so we know his game is as good as ever. He also didn’t play last week and he missed a large chunk of the year through injury. That means he will be fresher than most and everything looks to be in his favour for another strong showing. In typical Rose fashion he ranked 1st in total driving on his last start at the BMW Championship and we know that will serve him well at Hazeltine. He looks a very solid bet at 7.6 especially when we consider the likelihood of him rekindling his perfect partnership with Stenson.
Given Rose and Reed were the two winners at Gleneagles it looks like a very obvious couple of plays but in recent times that is exactly what has happened in these markets. The last four Top European Points scorers have been Rose, Poulter, Poulter, Poulter and while the US team have been a little less obvious their best player has always been one with a strong match play record.
I fancy them both strongly in their respective Top US/EUR markets so it makes sense to back them both in the Top Overall Points Scorer market too, perhaps for smaller stakes though given only one of them can win. In a sense it is making a very similar bet twice and if both players should struggle then they will obviously lose two bets rather than one. But I’m happy to take the chance and back them twice where an early point on Friday will surely bring with it some trading potential should anyone wish to exit the bet early.
There are two other bets that I like here this week and they are the Top Rookie Points Scorer and also the Top Wildcard Points Scorer.
With all the talk about Ryan Moore on Sunday evening, once he was finally announced it was hard to fathom that he is still a Ryder Cup rookie. He is a 4 time winner on Tour with a wealth of experience in both stroke-play and match-play in his Amateur days. When going toe to toe with McIlroy at the Tour Championship he showed just how tough he is and I think Davis Love would be foolish not to fully utilise his form player. If he can play 3 or 4 matches then he should be able to accumulate more points than most of the rookies and I see Willet and Koepka as his only real dangers. While Koepka’s aggressive style could help him rack up a few wins and Willet is a former WGC match Play semi-finalist, I’m not convinced just how many matches they will play. If the US task force have picked up on anything from their last three defeats it is surely the need to play their form players and I’m hoping Ryan Moore will benefit from a more logical US approach. If he does then he looks a cracking bet at 11/2.
The problem with my wildcard fancy is that Ryan Moore is also in this market which complicates matters but hopefully Moore can outscore his fellow rookies and still fall ½ a point short of Lee’s total and therefore both bets will win!
There are a host of reasons why Lee Westwood may well play 4 matches, being rested only for Saturday’s four balls I would imagine. He is in decent form, he has a great Ryder Cup record, he has the experience required to help out rookie team mates but most importantly Darren Clarke trusts him 100%. During the last three Ryder Cups Westwood has played six matches with rookies, winning 4 ½ points from them. With six rookies on the team it’s imperative that they find their feet early and Clarke knows he can rely on Westwood to bring out the best of them. I can see him taking Danny Willet under his wing on Friday and if they start well then it could be a fruitful partnership for Europe. Three points could do it in the wildcard market and that looks more than possible for a player with a 61% record in foursomes.
Summary of Bets
Patrick Reed Top US Points Scorer – 1pt @ 7.6
Patrick Reed Top Overall Points Scorer – 0.5pt @ 15.5
Justin Rose Top European Points Scorer – 1.5pts @ 7.2
Justin Rose Top Overall Points Scorer – 0.5pt @ 15
Back USA 15-13 EUR (10.5), USA 14.5-13.5 EUR (12.0) and EUR 14.5-13.5 USA (12.5) all 0.5pt
Back Ryan Moore Top Rookie Points Scorer – 1pt @ 11/2
Back Lee Westwood Top Wildcard Points Scorer – 1pt @ 6/1
Weekly pts advised – 7pts
Total pts advised – 794.50