There were no returns last week as we sided with the wrong former winner in Malaysia but it was nice to see course form hold up so strongly as I expected. What was a surprise was how brilliantly Thomas played given that he was defending his first PGA Tour title. Moore played ok for us as did Cejka and Curran but at no point did any of them really look giving us any returns.
The same can’t be said in Portugal however as Joakim Lagergren had another excellent week on the European Tour. Unfortunately though he threw in an untimely bogey just as things were heating up on Sunday and that resulted in a 15th place finish when a Top 5 looked a possibility as he started his back 9.
What all that means for the blog though is that it dips into negative ROI for the first time since the US PGA in 2015. It has been a tough year but that can all turn around with one win. With the co-sanctioned HSBC Champions event taking centre stage I’m focussing on that and leaving the Sandersons Championship alone until I have had sufficient time to cast an eye over the new batch of PGA Tour recruits.
Total pts advised – 824pts
Total pts returned – 819.89
ROI = -0.5%
WGC HSBC Champions
With the exception of the 2012 running, Sheshan Golf Club has been the venue for the WGC HSBC Champions dating back to its inception in 2005 season so there is no shortage of course form this week. The tournament didn’t gain WGC status until 2009 however and it was only in 2013 when it became fully sanctioned by all three main Tours.
The course was designed by the renowned Asia based team of Nelson and Haworth and plays 7266 yards long with undulating, tree-lined fairways, elevated bent grass greens and plenty water in play particularly for approach shots. The design team are quoted as saying that they were influenced by Donald Ross’ Oak Hill course which has a lot of varied Par 4s with many elevation changes particularly on tee-shots.
Given that two recent winners were Bubba and Dustin Johnson you would think that length off the tee was a prerequisite but Bubba had to hole his bunker shot at 18 in 2014 to force a play-off with Tim Clark who is one of the shorter hitters on Tour. Just last year Russell Knox won his first PGA Tour title and in doing so became the first Scot to win a WGC. He is another short, accurate player very similar to 2010 winner Francesco Molinari. All three of those players are excellent with their long irons so while different types can prosper it would seem that distance control when trying to hit the greens and indeed getting the ball as close to the flag as possible are key to scoring at Sheshan. The Par 5s are usually key at Sheshan but there are two ways to play as we have seen the bombers overpower them but also the accurate types pepper the flags with their sharp wedge game.
Moreover, every part of the game has to be working to contend at Sheshan and that is evident when we look at the stats from the last three years. In both 2014 and 2015 the top four in the all-round ranking all finished inside the Top 5 on Sunday. In 2013 six of the top seven were all ranked in the top 7 in the all-round ranking.
A look at USPGA Oak Hill form would be of interest to me but there aren’t too many of those from the 2013 leaderboard teeing it up this week. The most recent Donald Ross course to have been played on Tour was East Lake which held the Tour Championship but perhaps a better guide to this week’s course is Sedgefield which hosts the Wyndham Championship. If Sheshan was based on Oak Hill then playing well in the Wyndham can only be a positive as the two courses have many similarities.
Both Knox and Kisner showed last year that course experience isn’t required at the HSBC Champions as they were making their debuts. It is far more important to still have a hunger at this stage of the season as several of the game’s best players are running on empty and perhaps aren’t as focussed as some of the lesser lights who haven’t played in that many WGC’s and are viewing this as a stepping stone in their career. Knox and Kisner certainly both did that last year as Kisner went on to win two weeks later and Knox won again in the summer. It is worth looking at players who fit a similar profile to them as last year, players who have had a very good year, are still in form and will be giving this tournament the respect it deserves as Asia’s primary golf event.
The market this week is headed by Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and few could argue that they aren’t deserving of their single figure quotes. Although I don’t think either of them will be motivated enough to come out on top this week. McIlroy is coming off an exhausting Ryder Cup and is apparently trialling new clubs this week while Dustin Johnson has already had a career year and it’s reasonable to assume he won’t be as focussed as he was earlier in the season. With them taking up so much of the market however, there are some value prices down the field.
I’m getting almost tired of writing about Patrick Reed but I’m desperate not to miss out on his next big win which I believe is on its way soon. Despite having a slow patch in the middle of the year, 2016 has been quite good to Reed. When he announced to the world in 2014 that he was a “top 5 player” he was largely mocked in the U.S.A but it was interesting to see the same pundits and fans come full circle in their opinion of Reed when he led their Ryder Cup charge last month.
I’ve watched him closely since that WGC win in March 2014 and I very quickly realised that he wasn’t joking around. We hear a lot about the talents of Spieth and Day on and around the greens but at his best Reed is every bit as good as them. I don’t remember seeing anyone else since Tiger chip the ball with such perfect weight from any sort of lie. His short game is as good on tight lies as it is in lush green rough and it’s a huge skill to have. His putting is also brilliant and he has the same ability to judge the pace perfectly from distance while also being aggressive enough from inside 15ft to make more than his share of putts. However it was his putting that was holding him back from February onwards until he turned it around gradually over the summer and got his win at Bethpage Black when he triumphed at the Barclays. He held that hot putter over to the Ryder Cup where he top scored for the U.S team with more magic around the greens and a very solid iron game. His game is in perfect all-round condition and with his warm-up in Kuala Lumpur last week he will be perfectly acclimatised for this event in China.
He has some very strong course form too with a 7th place finish last year and a 22nd on his debut in 2014. But if we look more closely at his results then we can see how well this course suits him; last year he had the best combined ranking for GIR and scrambling (10th +2nd= 12) but also the best combined ranking for GIR, scrambling and putting (10+2+23 = 35). That makes it very hard to work out how he was 5 shots behind the winner but what it does make clear is that he plays the course very, very well. That wasn’t just a one off either, on his debut he ranked 12th for GIR and 9th for scrambling but he just struggled on his first look at the greens. Reed also lost in a play-off on his only other appearance in China so it is fair to expect him to play well there again.
A player like Patrick Reed is always hungry for big wins so he will be in China with only one thing on his mind. He finished down the field last week in Malaysia but he was coming off a well-earned rest after his Ryder Cup heroics. History tells us that it’s important to have had a warm-up prior to playing the HSBC so it will have been a good chance for him to fine tune his game. Ignoring that result he arrives in excellent form, he is putting brilliantly and he has played well on the course before. From a stats point of view then he should also be suited to the challenge again this year as he ranks 6th in birdie average, 7th in Par 5 scoring and 22nd in the all-round ranking over the last 3 months.
At 33/1 and only 9th favourite, Reed looks a great bet again this week as he tries to make it third time lucky at the course and bag his 2nd World Golf Championship at just 26 years of age.
Paul Casey’s form has been so good lately that his price has been extremely short for someone who only has 1 win on US soil in 11 years on the PGA Tour. But the key here this week is that he is playing in China rather than the U.S.A. His record in China is a lot better having won there twice early in his career but also racking up another twelve top 10s from 24 career appearances. His form in the HSBC Champions at Sheshan in particular reads 23-20-4-6-w-11-9-6-7 so he is well suited to the course. His 2005 China Open win came at another Nelson and Hawarth design at Shenzhen so there is every reason to believe he will hold his form over for another week. Prior to his 21st place finish in Malaysia last week he returned the each-way money in four consecutive tournaments. He currently ranks 1st in the all-round ranking on the PGA Tour for the last 3 months and that will help him with the test that Sheshan brings. Back out to a reasonable price of 25/1 he looks a very solid each way bet.
I’m leaving it at two outright picks this week and instead I have included a few place bets. I can’t believe I’m actually tipping Richard Bland but as I’m focussing on the all-round golf game this week he has to be backed in some shape or form. Bland is the ultimate journey-man, never having won on the European Tour but over the last few years he has developed a remarkable consistency for finishing between 5th and 20th . But this season he has stepped it up and has been quoted as saying that he has taken a more aggressive approach, especially with his putting. That has paid off as he sits in 25th place in the Race To Dubai courtesy of seven Top 10s and amazingly this one-time awful putter sits in 14th in total putting over the last 3 months.
His tee-to green game has always been arrow straight and I think he could be suited to Sheshan. I’m not for a second suggesting he can win but I think a Top 20 at 9/2 looks to be some decent value given his recent run of form. He has finished in the Top 20 in his last six starts recording the following; 5th,16th, 5th, 7th, 18th and 4th two weeks ago at the British Masters. Having qualified for his first WGC he decided to give Portugal a miss last week so that he could give his full attention to China.
He has some decent form in Asia too with a 3rd place at the China Open earlier this year and also a 6th place finish in the Malaysian Maybank Championship in February. That was held at another Nelson and Hawarth design where he ranked 3rd for both GIR and scrambling suggesting that his neat and tidy game could be suited to the design team’s flagship course. In truth we don’t know how Bland will fare in this strong a field but there is something different about him this year and something tells me he won’t be phased. If not then 9/2 is a very fair price for a man playing the best golf of his career.
Bernd Wiesberger has been the model of consistency over the last 6 weeks and he carries with him form figures of 2nd-7th-5th-2nd. Perhaps then it shouldn’t be a surprise that he ranks 2nd in the all-round ranking, 3rd in Par 5 scoring and 4th in Par 4 scoring over the last 3 months. What is surprising though, is that he hasn’t won anywhere since July 2015 and it has often been his putting that has let him down. There has been anotable improvement in that department recently though and he sits 20th in total putting for the last 3 months. I was considering an outright wager on the Austrian until I saw firstly his price and then secondly his very average record playing in China.He is without a top 10 in 10 visits to the country but he does have progressive form figures of 28-17 from his two appearances around Sheshan. With his whole game in great shape a top 10 looks very achievable for him this week.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello looks to me to fit the perfect profile for a player that will be motivated to play well this week. He has had a brilliant 2016, finding success in both Europe and on the PGA Tour but he is still missing the win. I don’t think he is quite ready to get it in this company as his much improved putting still probably won’t stand up against the best on a nervy Sunday. But I expect him to put another 4 strong rounds together here to finish somewhere around 8th and therefore he looks like another worthwhile play in the Top 10 market.
Summary of Bets
WGC HSBC Champions
Patrick Reed – 1.5pts ew @ 33/1
Paul Casey – 1pt ew @ 25/1
Richard Bland – 2pts Top 20 @ 9/2
Bernd Wiesberger – 1pt Top 10 @ 5/1
Rafa Cabrera-Bello – 1pt Top 10 @ 5/1
Weekly points advised – 9pts
Total points advised – 833pts