Minnesota witnessed one of the most rowdy and high profile Ryder Cups we have seen for some time over the weekend and Patrick Reed stole the show on his way to landing our Top US Points Scorer bet. That was about the only thing to sing about though as US ran out comfortable 17-11 winners and while I enjoyed it immensely, I think the Reed/Mcilroy and Mickelson/Garcia contests masked a slightly uneventful Friday and Saturday. I may be in the minority but for me the opening two days just didn’t have the back and forth battles that we have seen in recent times and I think only four matches made it to the 18th in the first four sessions. That, together with a feeling that Europe were always facing an uphill task after losing the first session 4-0, resulted in a tournament that lacked any real excitement for me. Of course the atmosphere through-out and the two epic singles battles will probably mark Hazeltine down in history as one of the great editions but for me it wasn’t a patch on Medinah. Although that is probably just because Europe got so comprehensively beaten!
The Patrick Reed bet has helped keep the blog in profit but its only slight and an outright winner is required sooner rather than later. The results are now standing at;
Total points advised – 794.50
Total points returned – 801.39
ROI – 0.86%
This week we don’t have any action on the PGA Tour as they take a week’s break before returning with the 2017 season. That leaves us with just the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.
Alfred Dunhill Links Championship
With no fewer than six of the European team scheduled to tee it up in Fife and Angus on Thursday, the tournament may well prosper from a US Ryder Cup win. A couple of days’ worth of partying wouldn’t have been the ideal preparation for Clarke’s men and given the manner of their defeat we can probably expect most of them to arrive in Scotland keen to banish those memories and get back to their normal Tour schedule.
Unfortunately though it isn’t quite your normal stroke-play event this week as the Dunhill Links takes the form of a pro-am and each player plays a round at all three of the links courses along with their often “celebrity” amateur of choice. The cut then falls after three rounds with those who make it continuing on to a final round at St. Andrews on Sunday. The other two courses on rotation the first two days are Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. They all play to a Par 72 with Kingsbarns playing the easiest, Carnoustie always playing the toughest and St Andrews somewhere in between.
There will be numerous American amateurs taking part and that will no doubt involve a lot of ribbing directed at the Europeans so while in recent times players have played well after being involved (Kaymer won this the week after his Ryder Cup debut in 2010) I’m not convinced that we will see those six men in the right sort of head space to be winning this week. The only one that would appeal in any shape or form would be Thomas Pieters who played superbly last week to top score across both teams. His putting in particular was brilliant and I only recall seeing him miss about three putts inside 20ft from Fri evening onwards. Given this is always a birdie fest then he would normally be expected to go well but with a heightened profile his price is down to 16.0 and I think he can be left alone.
With the action taking part in autumn on Scottish links courses you would probably expect scoring to be tougher than in the summer but the courses are all set up quite short with easy pin locations and slow greens to allow the amateurs to enjoy themselves. That’s not to say that they don’t all play like links courses however and the tournament is always won by a proven links exponent. That will be even more crucial should the wind get up as forecast this week.
Looking at recent winners we can get an idea of the type of player that has won here. The last two winners, Thorbjorn Olesen and Oliver Wilson, both had runner-up finishes in the event previously and when David Howell won the year before that he was confirming the long standing opinion that he is a great links player. He also had finishes here of 3rd, 6th, 8th and 5th earlier in his career.
Historically the home players do well with 11 of the 15 winners hailing from Great Britain or Ireland so they would make a good starting point here.
What they do off the tee this week is of very little consequence as recent winners have ranked well down driving distance and driving accuracy. It is all about hitting as many greens as possible and then holing as many of the chances as you can. Normally a birdie fest would favour the stronger putters and while the list of winners does throw up some excellent putters, the slow, easy greens allow poorer putters to contend as long as their short stick gets a little hot.
The last 5 winners have averaged 24th for GIR and 27th for total putting. They also finished 1st, 12th, 4th, 1st and 2nd for total birdies during the week and for those looking at a stats approach I would suggest those three to be the main players. I’m also not going to look too far beyond the home-grown players with plenty of in –form options to choose from.
A very strong field is assembled and the market is dominated this week by the European Ryder Cup team along with class-acts Branden Grace, Louis Oostuizen, Bernd Wiesberger and Alexander Noren. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to see any of them win but none of them appeal as a betting proposition. While I have touched on the fact that Kaymer won here the week after 2010’s Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, that was a short journey from Wales and he was also making it as a member of a winning team. A case could be made for Thomas Pieters and Cabrera-Bello this week but it is asking a lot for them to be ready to fly out of the blocks on Thursday and a good start is usually required here.
There are two players that I really like this week and I can’t separate them so I’m splitting stakes and taking two Englishmen against the field this week.
I’ve had Tommy Fleetwood marked down for this for a little while such has been the quality of his iron play over the last 2 months. It’s just a shame the bookmakers have taken all the juice out of his price given his strong event form. His results here read 13th -2nd -5th -55th -5th so you can see why they fear him this week. Fleetwood has long been touted as a future Open champion given his ability on links courses. He hails from Southport and was brought up around some of the best links in England. His only win so far has been down the road in Perthshire when he won the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. That has always been a title that has gone to solid links players given the undulating and exposed course plays a lot like its neighbours on the coast.
Fleetwood’s last three tournaments yielded finishes of 10th, 7th and 13th and they were the result of some improved numbers as he now sits 3rd for GIR over the last 3 months. He also ranks 37th for birdie average and handles the wind very well indeed.
His 2nd win on Tour has been a long time coming but his recent upturn of form makes him a huge player this week and he might take some inspiration from seeing his peers playing at Hazeltine. His price is shorter than I would have liked but he still looks an excellent each way bet here at 30/1 with the best bank of course form on offer.
Ross Fisher turned his form around completely last time out in Germany as he finished 2nd to Alexander Levy. The Englishman fits the profile of previous Dunhill winners perfectly as he has a previous Top 5 in the event and he also used to be top-class reaching the World’s Top 10 if I remember correctly during his career year in 2009. Two years ago this was won the week after the Ryder Cup by an ex member of the European team in 2008, Oliver Wilson. He came from nowhere to win and it looked like he maybe got a bit of a kick up the rear end due to where his career had ended up relative to those who he played alongside in 2008.
It’s possible Fisher might have a similar reaction to last week’s tournament in Hazeltine but even if he doesn’t he looks a great bet coming off his recent play-off defeat. In that European Open he ranked 1st for total driving, 1st for total accuracy and 1st in the all-round ranking. It was only his ranking of 20th for total putting that prevented him winning but if it hadn’t been cut to 54 holes then I have no doubt his long game prowess would have got the better of Levy whose own game was beginning to unravel. That was still a putting improvement however for a player who has always been held back by his limitations on the greens. If he can keep that level of putting going this week then he will be very dangerous.
I expect him to play well again on a set of courses he knows and with question marks about a lot of the market leaders I think there is a fair bit of value in his odds of 40/1.
I’m a huge fan of George Coetzee and given his excellent putting ability on links greens I will probably continue to back him whenever he plays in Scotland. I will certainly continue to back him when the price is right and after some injuries and loss of form he is priced up like a nobody in Scotland this week. (He actually confirmed on Twitter today that is ankle is back to full strength) Let’s not forget that since he finally got his first European Tour win in February 2014, only Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett have more ET wins. He also shares the St. Andrews course record (62) from 2012 when he finished 5th in this event and he has finished 15th and 18th in the Open. Not to mention a play-off defeat in 2011 at Gleneagles so he is comfortable playing in the UK. Odds of 13/2 don’t accurately reflect his top 20 chances in my opinion and he looks well worth getting onside.
Joakim Lagergren finished 4th here last year and sits in 6th place in birdie average over the last 3 months. That alone was enough to interest me but the youngster’s only win actually came in Northern Ireland on the Challenge Tour. It wasn’t on a links course but it confirms that he is comfortable playing in the cooler, windier conditions in the UK. His recent finishes haven’t been great but that was the same last year so he has probably been waiting for conditions to suit. He also ranks 6th in Par 4 scoring average over the last 3 months so his game must be in decent shape. Looks to have a good chance of another Top 20 and is probably over priced to get one on last year’s showing.
Summary of Bets
Tommy Fleetwood – 1.5pts ew @ 30/1
Ross Fisher – 1pt ew @ 40/1
George Coetzee – Top 20 – 2pts @ 13/2
Joakim Lagergren – Top 20 – 1pt @ 13/2
Weekly pts advised – 8pts
Total pts advised – 802.50pts