Well I’m certainly never backing Romain Wattel ever again! After shooting the 2nd lowest three round score from Friday onwards at the Dunhill Links I assumed he had maybe found something in his game again but he was simply awful last week and lived up to his usual inconsistent reputation. He is definitely staying on the naughty step for the foreseeable future.
Richard Sterne fared a lot better and was bang in contention heading into the final round but a poor back 9 on Sunday meant he couldn’t even hold on to a place. Things were equally bad on the PGA Tour and there were no returns for the week.
The overall results are as follows;
Total pts advised – 814.50
Total pts returned – 819.89
ROI – 0.7%
This week the PGA Tour heads east for a couple of weeks with the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and the European Tour heads back to the continent for the Portugal Masters.
As expected last week at the Safeway Open it was a near impossible tournament to find the winner. A few of the fancied players went well but both 1st and 2nd home were rank outsiders as Brendan Steele closed with three birdies to overcome 3rd round leader Patton Kazzire. Both went off well into triple figure prices and while Steele was actually winning for the 2nd time, some 141 events after his first win, the leader board was full of maidens.
This week while non-winners must be respected again, the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur is somewhat of a specialist event as the heat and humidity can give those who have played there before a significant advantage. This is the just the 4th running of the CIMB as a PGA Tour sanctioned event it but the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club has also hosted the Malaysian Open on the Asian Tour so there is some course form to look at.
Last year I was amazed that Ryan Moore wasn’t in the first 5 in the betting when he was looking for a hat-trick of wins and amazingly, despite being the 2nd most in-form player in the field, he opened up at around 6th in the betting again this week. This is one of the strongest fields assembled to date in Malaysia but I’m not entirely convinced that there should have been be so many ahead of him on a course that suits him perfectly. The market agreed though and there is now very little between the front 6 in the market.
KLGCC is a short, tree-lined track with narrow fairways and small greens and this year it is set to play to around 7000 yards. While bomber Gary Woodland arguably has some of the best form at the track besides Moore, and the wild Justin Thomas won here last year, it is normally a course that requires accuracy off the tee and with approaches. Plenty of tee shots can result in approaches being blocked out from green and there is water in play on nearly half the holes.
With Thomas’s win it’s clear that bombers can prosper on the course and his recovery game was excellent last year as he missed a lot of fairways. He also played the Par 5s extremely well which maybe suggests that as they learn the course, the longer players will start to prevail. But he also ranked 1st for total putting on the week and ultimately that was why he won last year rather than his power. He actually ranked just 29th for GIR and that is a bit of an anomaly compared with other recent winners at the course. Ryan Moore ranked 8th for greens hit during both his wins while in the Malaysian Open Anirban Lahiri ranked 6th and Lee Westwood 8th.
The long and accurate Adam Scott finished 2nd behind Thomas last year and Kevin Na was 3rd so I would certainly still favour those that know where the ball is going off the tee. Although the one constant is undoubtedly GIR and despite them being small you have to hit a high number to compete around KLGC as the field averaged 77% last year. The rain helped the greens receive approach shots so aggression was rewarded perhaps more than previous years. Close attention should be paid to the weather as the tournament unfolds. If there are thunderstorms again then KLGCC may allow the longer hitters to prosper.
Another aspect that sets this course apart from many on Tour is the Sea Isle Supreme greens (basically a sea paspalum I believe). Other courses to feature sea paspalum greens for reference are El Cameleon (Mayakoba Classic and OHL Classic), Trump International (Puerto Rico Open up until 2016) and Kiawah Island (2012 USPGA). It’s a different sort of grass that many of the top players don’t play on too often so it is worth considering whether players have performed on sea paspalum in the past. With the heat, humidity and rainfall in KL it can be difficult to get the greens up to the normal PGA Tour speed so subsequently we have seen poorer putters perform well at the course as slower greens are generally a bit of an equaliser. So rather than being an excellent putter all-round, it looks important to have shown a liking for paspalum previously and to be able to putt confidently on the surface. The ball can turn very abruptly at the hole so putts will need to be struck with conviction.
The field gathered this week looks very strong at the head of the market and I don’t think we need to look too far down it. With a limited field of 78 it is important to note that when we are considering the prices as they will be shorter than usual.
Despite his fourth top 4 finish in a row I believe Paul Casey can be dismissed again at just 14/1 especially when we consider he could only hit 45% of the greens here last year. In truth he never looked like winning last week and only shot 3 closing birdies once he was out of the event and 5 shots back. This test should probably be right up Hideki Matsuyma’s street but while he won his home Open last week in Japan he putted poorly so odds of 15/1 don’t tempt me at all where in excess of 15 birdies will be required. Justin Thomas putted poorly on Sunday and winning again as defending champion is so hard for even the most seasoned pros. Adam Scott missed the cut in Japan last week while only hitting 32% of fairways and 52% of greens so he too can be ruled out at the prices.
It’s the next five players that interest me most of all this week; Patick Reed and Segio Garcia arrive off the back of inspired Ryder Cup performances and must be respected on that form. The other three, Ryan Moore, Gary Woodland and Kevin Na, have the best course form on show by quite some way and will expect to contend again.
To win for a third time in a row was a seriously difficult task last year for Ryan Moore and to be fair to him finishing T10th was a good result. There is just no getting away from him this week and he simply has to be backed at 16/1 in this restricted field.
Since his win at the John Deere Classic in August there aren’t many that have played better golf than Ryan Moore and his 2nd place to McIlroy at the Tour Championship is the best piece of recent stroke-play form in this field. Just two weeks ago Moore was playing in his first Ryder Cup and given his lack of preparation he performed admirably. You could tell from his interviews just what that meant to him and with age still on his side at 33 years old I expect that to have a very positive effect on his career. He is already a 5 time winner on Tour but over the next few years we may see him live up to the huge reputation that he had as an amateur.
Undoubtedly that will only happen on courses that suit this short but accurate ball-striker and that is the key factor this week. Moore has shown us how well suited to KLGCC he is with his two wins and going back for a 4th time full of confidence I think he is easily the man to beat. That makes him a standout bet this week at 16/1 and although it is a very obvious pick, he should be backed accordingly.
I backed Alex Cejka here last year mainly because of his win in Puerto Rico on sea paspalum greens and in similarly humid conditions. He played ok but finished 17th although he ranked 3rd on the greens which confirmed his love of the surface. He was a bit of a journey man on the PGA Tour until last year when he finally got his first win at the age of 43. He is a multiple winner on other Tours but had always came up short on the main Tour.
Cejka arrives in ok form having finished 18th last week at the Macau Open and prior to that he had figures of 21-11-5 so is playing well. He also has form in Malaysia albeit a long time ago as he finished 3rd and 2nd in the Malaysian Open in 1999 and 2002 respectively. He was playing the course for the first time last year so I’d expect this accurate driver of the ball to have learned where he has to hit his tee shots for his 2nd look this week.
I’m also going to give Jon Curran another go this week after performing ok last week when finishing 26th. He ranked 8th for total accuracy and as usual he was very solid on and around the greens. He is another player who has performed very well on sea paspalum and he actually finished 2nd behind Cejka when he won in Puerto Rico.
Curran’s only win came on the Web.com Tour down in Brazil so he clearly favours the more tropical climates. That course in Sao Paulo also resembles the KLGCC with both featuring lots of trees, water and small greens.
He played in this last year finishing down the field in 53rd but he ranked 23rd for putting so hopefully he can also improve this time around with some course knowledge.
The Portugal Masters
As the 2016 European Tour season nears its finish we have the last regular tournament before the Final Series gets underway in two weeks’ time in Turkey. The Portugal Masters takes place every year at the Oceanico Victoria Golf Course at the most exclusive area of the Algarve in Villamoura.
When we look at previous types of players to go well in this tournament then we see a lot of aggressive bombers taking advantage of the wide fairways and lenient rough. Alvaro Quiros and Alexander Levy are two previous winners while Nicholas Colsaerts also has a credible record. They love nothing more than to unleash driver and then go flag hunting, subsequently going very low when their putters are hot.
But while that is the case it is hitting greens that is the most important factor at the course year after year. The scoring is always low so in order to contend they will have to give themselves as many birdie opportunities as possible. The winning scores recently have been 23, -18 (just two rounds!) and -18.
I’m a little low on time for this preview and with Thomas Pieters heading the market I’m not wanting to stake too much on the event as I think there is every chance he will win even if he plays to 80% of his recent level of form. Despite him threatening to be a world-class talent I’m still not sure that I can go backing him at single figures just yet. But his presence together with Alex Noren’s has created some interesting each way prices so there is maybe still a value angle to be had with regard to the places.
Joakim Lagergren was excellent for us two weeks ago in Scotland as he finished 4th. I left him out last week as he had never played The Grove before and he opened with a 78 but he quickly got to grips with the course and shot 65-68-69 for his next three rounds to finish 18th. In truth the bulk of his game was quite poor but he is an excellent putter and he ranks 1st for birdie average over the last 3 months. That’s good enough for consideration at any course but with there being plenty of room off the tee here a slight improvement in his iron game can see him continue his strong form. He looks a very fair price at 66/1.
I’ve followed both Tyrrel Hatton and Eddie Pepperell very closely the last couple of years and given how annoying it was to miss out on Hatton’s win two week’s ago, I’m determined not to miss out with Pepperell. He has been playing poorly most of the year and that was largely down to his erratic driving but he is a very talented golfer. After blowing a lead in Asia in the summer he stated how much he didn’t trust his driving and that he had no idea which way the ball was going.
He nearly always putts and scrambles well so the course in Portugal should set up well for Pepperell and he showed glimpses of his best last week at The Grove where he finished 22nd to stop the rot of five missed cuts. I’m hoping he can push on again this week and if he does have his long game back on an even keel then we know he can go low with the putter. Another tasty looking each way price at 110/1.
Summary of Bets
Ryan Moore – 2pts ew @ 16/1
Alex Cejka – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1
Jon Curran – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 5/1
Joakim Lagergren – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Eddie Pepperell – 0.5pt ew @ 110/1
Ryan Moore + Thomas Pieters ew double – 0.25pt ew @ 135/1
Weekly pts advised – 9.5pts
Total pts advised – 824 pts