The Tournament of Champions was a week of ups and downs with Spieth and Reed both threatening to get involved at times before falling back after some untimely mistakes. In the end Spieth managed a backdoor T3rd to get a small return on the week. The blog would have broken even if it wasn’t for Ryan Moore’s 12 ft birdie putt on the 18th but I can’t complain too much given Spieth looked out well out of it after 3 rounds.
With the whole field having been off for at least a month I decided not to give too much credence to October-November form and ultimately that proved to be a mistake. Hideki Matsuyama was the best player in the world during the close of 2016 and Thomas was the only player to beat him worldwide in 5 starts. So it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to see them fighting it out again last week.
The 6.03 pts returned leaves the 2017 results as follows after one week;
2017 pts advised = 9pts
2017 pts returned = 6.03pts
This week the PGA Tour stays in Hawaii for the first full field tournament of the year, the Sony Open. The European Tour begins its long run of Tournaments outside Europe with the South African Open.
The Sony Open
The rest of the gang make their way down to Hawaii for the first full field of 2017. Unfortunately for them Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama are teeing it up again so anyone looking to add their name to the Sony Open trophy may well have their work cut out.
Fabian Gomez returns to defend for the second time in his PGA Tour career and there are another 9 former winners in the field; Jimmy Walker, Russell Henley, Johnson Wagner, Ryan Palmer, Zach Johnson, KJ Choi, VJ Singh, Jerry Kelly and David Toms.
Despite some players having won at both last week’s venue and the host course this week, Waialae, the two courses are very different. Whereas last week the Kapalua course features wide open fairways and huge greens, Waialae has far more subtleties. It is a tree-lined coastal course with small, bermuda greens and despite Walker’s two wins, it is normally won by a neat and tidy, accurate sort.
Although being tree-lined the course can be prone to winds sweeping through the course. Whenever wind and trees are mixed together on a golf course it becomes very hard to gauge the wind 150 yards away. I would expect similar problems here so a strong wind game and excellent distance control will be paramount.
In the last four editions of this the winner has ranked 3rd, 1st , 2nd and 1st in the all-round ranking. Jimmy Walker ranked 3rd and 5th for total driving in 2015 and 2014 respectively.
I tipped Daniel Berger for this last year at 45/1 as I thought he would be suited perfectly to the course. He played ok finishing in 42nd but I’m still convinced that he should enjoy Waialae. He finished middle of the pack in 13th last week but that was his first look at the course and if we delve further into his performance it was actually quite good as he was solid in all departments of his game. It was a more a case of him learning the greens and the correct areas to hit it, something that is always tough for debutants at Kapalua. Prior to last week he finished his 2016 year off with a 2nd place finish at the HSBC Champions event which is arguably his best piece of form to date.
En route to finishing 42nd last year Berger actually ranked 2nd for total driving and that is one of the main reasons I thought he would prosper around the course. He also enjoys bermuda greens but the clincher for me this year is his link through last year’s winner Fabian Gomez. Gomez’s other win came at the St. Jude Classic in 2015 which Berger actually went on to win last year. That is played at TPC Southwind and it is also a classical, tree-lined course with bermuda greens. As the name suggests it can also be prone to some wind so it makes perfect sense that if a player goes well on TPC Southwind then they can go well at Waialae.
With strong market leaders this week hard to separate I think this PGA Tour winner represents some value down the field. Surely Matsuyama and Thomas’ motivation will have to drop at some point and if that is the case hopefully another of the game’s young stars can take full advantage. Thomas last week hinted at a touch of jealousy towards his friend Spieth’s lofty status in the game and with Berger having played on the same Palmer Cup team as Thomas in 2013, it’s entirely possible he will be feeling the same after Thomas’ win last week. Let’s hope that extra motivation could give Berger a push towards his 2nd PGA Tour title.
Another piece of value to me is Kevin Kisner who is available at 90/1. I suppose that is down to a relatively poor finish to his 2016 season but I still think he is over-priced on a course that suits his game as he finished 5th last year ranking 1st in the all-round ranking. He showed us throughout 2015 that he likes a test of accuracy and bermuda greens as he racked up three 2nd place finishes on similar courses.
He missed the cut at the RSM Classic in November but that was his first time as defending champion on the PGA Tour and I think it is fair to dismiss that as he would have placed a lot of pressure on himself expecting to play well. Similar logic could be applied to his 70th place finish in China at the HSBC Champions as he was runner-up the year before. Of course it could just be that his game has fallen away dramatically but he was so consistent for 18 months that coming off a festive break I think he looks worth chancing here at 90/1.
Zach Blair seems like quite a random pick as he hasn’t exactly been playing well of late. But his best performance on the PGA Tour is a 3rd place finish at the Sony Open and his 2nd best performance is a 6th place in the Sony Open. He only has one other top 10 away from Waialae and given how well he plays there I think the 125/1 on offer looks a little big. Blair was largely held back in 2016 by his putting but he is an accurate driver of the ball and possesses a solid iron game. This early in the year it can sometimes be guess-work but at least with Blair we are getting a player at a good price with course form better than most of the field.
South African Open
The South African Open returns to Glendower Golf Club for the 4th consecutive year with Brandon Stone last year stopping the rot of 3 non South African winners. That was very much against the norm as these con-sanctioned events are usually dominated by the classier home players.
This year however even the best SA players will be overshadowed by Rory Mcilroy who has decided to tee it up in SA for the first time in over 8 years. It’s a very welcome addition to the first tournament of the year especially as the tour often lacks sparkle at this time of year. Unfortunately however his entry wreaks havoc with the market and despite his hiatus from this part of the world and his relative inexperience on the kikuyu fairways, he is still easily the best player on show and we should expect him to win if not go very close.
But even with his immense talent, backing odds of 5/2 in a full field event is surely a non-stop, do not pass Go route to the poor house. Even more so when we consider this is his first start with his new clubs and when he switched to Nike in 2013 it took him a long time to adjust. This means yet again it looks like a tournament to find some long odds each way plays and perhaps some Top 10 bets. We only need to find an each way alternative greater than 10/1 to get a better pay out for 5th place than a Mcilroy win. Sullivan is 2nd favourite at 15/1 so that leaves us with the whole field to pick from.
The Glendower Golf Club is 7564 yards long but it is at quite an altitude so it won’t play to all of that. Despite the narrow appearance of the tree-lined fairways, driving accuracy is by no means the be all and end all around Glendower. In fact the last few winners have gone about matters in different ways. Brandon Stone won last year with a steady all round game and a hot putter, Sullivan putted brilliantly in 2015 and Madsen sprayed it everywhere off the tee in 2013 but still hit an excellent 80% of the greens.
I think more important than excelling in any one area it is key to have no area of the game struggling. Experience in South African conditions is always an advantage too as time again on the SA swing we see the home players dominating leaderboards due to their familiarity with both the kikuyu fairways and grainier greens than they tend to see in Europe. Last year 8 of the first 10 home were South Africans.
I remember last year the commentators discussing how difficult the wind was at Glendower and that is another form of protection the course has. At present however there is little more than a very slight breeze forecast but there is actually a lot of thunder storms. That may result in some delays but will also mean that the course plays longer so perhaps extra consideration should be given if looking to back shorter hitters.
With this being the first tournament in over a month it is hard to be confident about the state of any of the player’s games so a decent each way price together with form in South Africa (preferably Glendower) looks the best angle in this week.
The last two winners follow McIlroy in the betting at 14/1 and 15/1 and I am happy to leave Andy Sullivan out at 14/1 but Brandon Stone is a little harder to dismiss. He has since gone on to win again at the Alfred Dunhill Championship on just his last start. He is a far more accomplished player now than this time last year and his confidence will be soaring after winning by 7 shots. It is hard to forget that he won here at close to 3 figures but in truth, McIlroy aside, he doesn’t have a great deal to beat this week. To coin a horse racing term, Stone is still relatively unexposed as we don’t actually know how good he might yet be. That makes it very hard to write off 15/1 as a bad value bet. Who would you rather back, the young and exciting Brandon Stone at 15/1 or relative journey men Thomas Aiken (28/1) and Richard Bland (30/1)?
In fact I’ve talked myself into a bet here on Brandon Stone despite my insistence to find some chunkier each way prices. I’m going to have 1.5pts each way on him to double up here, something that we have seen several young South Africans do in the past in low-grade, co-sanctioned events.
We can back that up with a nice each way bet in the form of up and coming home player, Christiaan Bezuidenhout. He has put himself firmly on the radar with a few good performances in these co-sanctioned tournaments the last couple of years. Namely at this very course last year when he finished runner-up to Stone. Seldom does it work out as easily where the top two come back again and perform at the same course, but I need to reiterate just how lacking in depth this field is. If he turns up and plays his game again there surely won’t be too many that finish above him.
Since last year’s Tournament he has won for the first time on the Sunshine Tour (in October) and then he held his form over going 21st, 15th, 2nd in the following weeks. A poor showing at the Alfred Dunhill was more than likely the case of a young golfer running on empty and desperate for a break after playing 26 times on his first proper year on Tour.
He hit 75% of greens at Glendower last year and ranked 1st in the all-round ranking. As is the case with Stone, Bezuidenhout is another young player whose talent is still not quantified. The each way price of 50/1 looks very fair even just to follow some of the bigger names home. But with very little scar tissue in his short career, if he finds himself in contention again this week he might just be able to take advantage of any slip ups from the 3 at the head of the market.
There are a couple of others that came close but ultimately so early in the season I don’t want to get carried away in a tournament that doesn’t look too exciting as a betting prospect. So I’ll leave it at the two South Africans this week.
Summary of Bets
Daniel Berger – 1pts ew @ 45/1
Kevin Kisner – 1pt ew @ 90/1
Zac Blair – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1
South African Open
Brandon Stone – 1.5pts ew @ 15/1
Christiaan Bezuidenhout – 0.5pt ew @ 50/1
Weekly pts advised = 9pts
2017 pts advised = 18pts