I’ve missed a few weeks due to holidays so apologies to anyone that might have been looking for a preview. Back to normal this week for the PGA Tour finale and the European Open before the much-anticipated Ryder Cup next weekend.
After the last preview the returns are creeping ever closer to losses but for now the blog is still in the positive;
Total pts advised – 778.50 pts
Total pts returned – 793.79 pts
ROI – 1.96%
It has been an eventful couple of weeks on the PGA Tour despite there not having been any golf played for 10 days. Davis Love III has picked his first three Ryder Cup wild cards and there has been no end of analysis and speculation. Darren Clarke also picked his three but to a more muted response. Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood were virtually certainties and while Russell Knox can certainly feel hard done by, Thomas Pieters was equally deserving of a place after his high pressure win alongside Darren Clarke in Denmark.
The hysteria looks set to continue now as the top 30 in the Fed-Ex Cup Points List head to Georgia for the Tour Championship. There were a few high-profile casualties at the BMW and that means we won’t be seeing Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka or Justin Rose at East Lake but with the Ryder Cup starting on Friday of next week they will surely relish the break.
It’s not all doom and gloom however as we still have plenty of the game’s best chasing the $10m Fed Ex bonus. Whether anyone outside the current top 5 will actually have a clue what to do in order to win that bonus is another matter!
Every year there are numerous different permutations and while the format has probably helped to create some end of season excitement, it could no doubt be better still were it a little clearer to the players what is going on down the stretch on Sunday. That isn’t a problem for Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Paul Casey though as they occupy the first five respective positions and they know that if they win the Tour Championship they will also win the Fed Ex Cup. That has been the case the last 6 years regardless where the winner started the week though as Spieth, Horschel, Stenson, Snedeker, Haas and Furyk all earned the $10m bonus by winning the Tour Championship.
The course at East Lake has been the host for every Tour Championship dating back to 2004 and therefore it has seen all 9 Fed Ex finales to date. One important change this year however is that the front 9 and back 9 have been flipped. Previously the course finished on a Par 3 but with that said to be lacking excitement, the 18th will now be a Par 5.
The course is another Donald Ross design as per four weeks ago at Sedgefield. It is a 7385 yard long Par 70 and while the rough isn’t too penal, its tree-lined nature together with fairways that are below average in width creates a difficult driving course. You need to be in the correct areas of the fairway in order to hit Ross’s trademark sloping bermuda greens. That suggests experience of the course is crucial but there is some hope for the debutants as 2 of the last 8 winners were seeing the course for the first time . To further muddy the picture, the list of winners is quite a varied one without any obvious attributes linking them beyond arriving in very good form.
That led me to have a thorough look through the stats for all recent Tour Championships to see if any pattern developed. The last eight winners averaged 5th for GIR, 5th for total accuracy and 3rd in the all-round ranking. But perhaps the most interesting was that the last four winners have ranked 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 1st in bogey avoidance for the week. While that might appear obvious for the winner, it reinforces the fact that East Lake is the sort of course where par is usually a good score.
Looking beyond the stats for the week in which they won I also wanted to see how the players fared in some of the year-long stats and that highlighted another key attribute. The last eight winners have averaged 26th for strokes gained:tee to green and that was by far the best that I found, further confirming that it is a ball-strikers course.
I expected to find myself backing one of the big names this week but throughout 2016 it has been very hard to predict which one of the market leaders is going to perform on any given week. Throw into the mix the number of winners going off at 1000.0 and it has made for a very tricky 2016 indeed.
With just 30 players in the field this week there appears to be a lot of value further down the field. Despite this being the best 30 players of the season and usually being won by players in form, the Tour Championship is prone to outsiders contending. Bill Haas was hardly the household name he is now when winning in 2011 and last year Danny Lee ran Jordan Spieth very close over the weekend. This has led me to pick out two outsiders at very fair prices.
Daniel Berger has had a very impressive first couple of years on Tour even if his exploits have been overshadowed by the likes of Spieth, Day and Johnson. Berger won the Rookie of the Year award last year after making it to The Tour Championship and he played quite well finishing 12th.
Berger is normally a long and accurate driver of the ball but he has been below his best in that department lately which has resulted in a less consistent year than his debut year on Tour. However his strong all-round game allowed him to get his first win at the Fed Ex St Jude Classic and that together with a few other high finishes means he is now 2 from 2 in reaching the Fed Ex finale.
While his 12th at East Lake last year no doubt brought him to my attention this week it is his general liking of Donald Ross designs and bermuda greens that make me think he could go well this week. If we look at the 2014 US Open leaderboard around Donald Ross’s Pinehurst No. 2 course then there is quite a close link to East Lake. The last 7 winners of the Tour Championship all finished inside the top 35 at Pinehurst; Spieth (17th), Horschel (23rd), Stenson (4th), Snedeker (9th), Haas (35th), Furyk (12th), Mickelson (28th). Daniel Berger finished 28th there in what was his first ever major aged just 21. He also closed with a 66 on Sunday which was the lowest round of the day and actually the 3rd best of the week after Kaymer’s opening pair of 65s.
His win at TPC Southwind was on bermuda greens as was his play-off defeat to Harrington in the Honda Classic at PGA National. He goes well on shot-makers courses that have bermuda greens and that is exactly why he finished 12th here last year. With the Tour Championship always being won by a form player it is important to be playing well and after a difficult summer Berger is back to somewhere near his best and he arrives with progressive play-off form figures of 71st, 41st and 10th.
He also sits nicely in a few of the main stats for East Lake; 10th in Par 4 scoring, 35th in bogey avoidance and 30th in strokes gained: tee to green.
Berger is expected to go to the very top of the game and he knows that a win here would be a huge stepping stone in his career and very likely land him the final spot on the US Ryder Cup team. I think that extra motivation will only spur on this confident young player and I expect a good performance.
Robert Castro has been playing some fantastic golf lately and to me he fits the East Lake profile perfectly. The only downside is that he is without a PGA Tour win but that seems to be factored into his rather dismissive price this week. His recent form figures are strong as he arrives on a run of 20th (Wyndham), MC, 24th, 3rd. On both those last two starts he ranked 1st for total accuracy in the field.
Castro also has the all-important experience of the course having previously made the final 30 in 2013, ranking 6th in fairways hit and 4th in GIR on his way to a 9th place finish. He is another that is usually seen at his best on courses that favour accuracy and it is no coincidence that his best year on Tour lines up with some very impressive stats for the year. He currently ranks 5th in Par 4 scoring, 5th in bogey avoidance, 12th in GIR and 5th for driving accuracy. If he keeps that up then he will surely just require a solid putting week in order to contend around East Lake.
Luckily some of his best performances have come on bermuda greens. Castro equalled the course record of 63 at TPC Sawgrass in 2013 on his way to a 12th place finish.
He also has plenty of Donald Ross form as he finished 12th at the 2013 US PGA which was held at the Oakland Hills course and very much favoured ball-strikers with Jason Dufner and Jim Furyk putting on an approach play clinic. His 20th place finish last month at Sedgefield was his 4th Top 20 on Ross courses from just 8 appearances.
With his long game in great shape I think Castro will take to East Lake again and I don’t see any reason why he can’t contend this week.
While Dustin Johnson could obliterate the field here he looks plenty short in the betting for East Lake and Spieth hasn’t been at his best in 2016 despite a recent upturn. Adam Scott and Paul Casey have very solid claims but the bookmakers are only too aware of those. Of the leading candidates Patrick Reed makes most appeal but he is still on the naughty step having let me down this year on a couple of occasions. So with the prices on show I’m happy to side with two relative outsiders on a course that suits them both perfectly.
After a brilliant tournament last week in Italy and with the Ryder Cup happening in Minnesota next week you could be forgiven for dismissing the European Tour this week just as most of the Tour’s better players have done. But with the backing of Porsche, the organisers have attempted to create some sort of buzz at least and they welcome multiple major winners Martin Kaymer, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington to the Bavaria region this week.
They are also putting up a decent purse to attract players back to the scene of Thonghai Jaidee’s one shot win over Graeme Storm last year. That was the first running of the European Open since 2009 and the first ever European Tour event at Bad Griesbach. The resort features several courses but it’s the Beckenbauer course in question here and it also hosted a tournament on the Challenge Tour from 2013-2015 for those wanting a proper look through the form book. It was a bit of a guessing game last year and with the course completely water-logged in the run-up to the event this week it could be more of the same again this year. It doesn’t look like an event to get too involved in but having had a few weeks off I’m perhaps a bit too eager to have a bet.
Martin Kaymer and Thomas Pieters look a little short at the head of the betting given that they will surely have one eye on the Ryder Cup. Further down the market the only players I like are in no way guaranteed to play well so I’m going to take a different approach this week.
I’m going to back four players in the Top 20 market instead.
I really wanted to back Jens Fahrbring in this last year but he didn’t play. He has a 6th and a 12th from his two Challenge Tour appearances at the course and has actually turned the corner after a run of dismal form. After missing 8 cuts in a row he stopped the rot with a 34th at the KLM and followed that up with a 30th last week in Italy. He could be coming back into some sort of form and looks a huge price just to crack the Top 20.
A top 20 bet on Chris Hanson would have won the last 3 weeks on Tour as he finished 18th, 8th and 20th. He is having a fairly solid season and can continue his good form at a course where he finished 3rd in 2014 on the Challenge Tour.
Bernd Ritthammer has won two of his last eight starts on the Challenge Tour and he will relish the chance to play on the European Tour in his homeland. He has also played all four tournaments at the course, missing the cut at last year’s European Open but finishing 38th, 3rd and 28th on his three appearances in the lower grade. He was without a professional win last year though and arrives now with more confidence and he currently sits on top of the Challenge Tour’s Road to Oman points list. A top 20 shouldn’t be beyond him this week on a course he knows better than most.
Sebastian Gros has been on my radar for most of the season after winning twice on the Challenge Tour last year. He is one of the longest drivers in the world so if the course remains soaking wet all week then it will suit him better than the narrow course in Milan last week where he missed the cut. Prior to that he ranked 5th in the all-round ranking in Holland when finishing 28th so his game is probably in better shape than his odds suggest. Gros was 3rd at the course last year on the Challenge Tour and he looks overpriced for a Top 20.
The first thing that hit me about last year’s winner and runner-up was that they have both won the Open De France. I don’t believe the courses are particularly similar but if there is something in it then Pablo Larrazabal can be expected to go well here. He is a player that I always struggle to get right and he hasn’t been in the greatest of form lately. But he did finish 7th three weeks ago in Switzerland so he looks quite over priced at 66/1 considering he is a four-time winner on Tour. I couldn’t resist a small interest in the outright market!
Summary of Bets
Daniel Berger – 1pt ew @ 40/1 (4 places)
Roberto Castro – 1pt ew @ 66/1 (4 places)
Jens Fahrbring – 1pt Top 20 @ 12/1
Chris Hanson – 1pt Top 20 @ 3/1
Bernd Ritthammer – 1pt Top 20 @ 9/2
Sebastian Gros – 1pt Top 20 @ 7/1
Pablo Larrazabal – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Weekly pts advised – 9pts
Total pts advised – 787.50 pts