Things didn’t go at all according to plan in South Africa but it was a good week in Hawaii as 90/1 shot Kevin Kisner returned a full place. He probably looked the least likely of my three at the halfway stage but he shot a brilliant 60 on Saturday to fly up the leaderboard. With Thomas so far in front Kisner obviously had very little chance of winning but he played well again on the course as expected.
It was Thomas’ 2nd win in a row and he is the first person since Tiger Woods to win two consecutive PGA Tour events by 3 shots or more. Just when it appears that the upper echelons of the game appear to have formed some sort of leading pack away from the rest, another golfer throws their hat in the ring. Firstly Jason Day joined Spieth and McIlroy, then Dustin Johnson, closely followed by Matsuyama and now Justin Thomas has entered the conversation. I’m not sure if he will quite be able to match them over time but he has some serious ability and he is now in the Top 10 in the world for the first time. Luckily he takes a rest this week along with some other big names and that leaves us with a very attractive betting heat.
Kisner’s place leaves the 2017 results in healthy profit early on;
2017 points advised = 18 pts
2017 pts returned = 29.54 pts
ROI = +64%
But that might very well be short-lived as there are a lot of players I like this week on both Tours!
Previously called the Humana Challenge, the CareerBuilder Challenge made it’s bow last year and along with the sponsor change came a couple of new courses. So it will pay to be a little weary of overall form prior to last year. One of the new courses brought in was Pete Dye’s PGA West Stadium course and as that is played twice by all those making the cut so it is probably the most important to look at. Especially given that the other two courses play a little easier.
That was the method I adopted last year and it found me David Lingmerth who came agonisingly close to giving the blog a 60/1 winner but he lost out thanks to a couple of outrageous pieces of luck that fell Jason Dufner’s way. I picked Lingmerth due to the form shown on Pete Dye tracks and given the other names on the leaderboard, Dye form will be of the utmost importance yet again this week. Courses of his that are currently on rotation are TPC Sawgrass (The Players Championship), Harbour Town (RBC Heritage), TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic), Crooked Stick (2012 & 2016 BMW Championship) and Whistling Straits (2010 & 2015 US PGA Championships).
Despite Dufner and Lingmerth being the two play-off protagonists, driving accuracy wasn’t all that important from a statistical point of view but finding the correct area of the fairways is important in order to get near the flags . They both hit lots of greens and holed more than their fair share of putts which is usually a good combination anywhere but especially on Dye courses. The flags can find themselves in difficult places on his often small, undulating greens so the field tend to miss plenty of greens and rack up three-putts.
Jamie Lovemark could well be the big Twitter gamble this week with his combination of course and current form. Last week he finished T4th and in this Tournament last year he was 6th. He has also looked like a winner in waiting over the last 18 months and those factors combine to give us a fairly miserable 35/1. His whole game looked quite sharp last week as he ranked 7th in the all-round ranking. However there is no question that his strength lies on and around the greens and if it wasn’t for last year’s high finish I might not have been convinced this was the best event to back him in. But a further look at his results shows that his best finish to date on Tour came around TPC Lousiana when he was runner-up to Brian Stroud last year in the Zurich Classic. As previously mentioned that is another Pete Dye layout with water in play where accuracy is also crucial.
Given Lovemark isn’t always the most accurate player there must be something about Dye designs that he enjoys and maybe the more difficult nature helps focus his mind. This year his stats are good so far though as he ranks 43rd in strokes gained: approach to the green and 19th in strokes gained: putting. His iron game is not overly strong however the more loft he has in his hands the better he is. That helped him here last year around the TPC Stadium course as it is a fairly short course. Dufner and Lingmerth are both excellent wedge players which confirms how important the short irons will be this week.
The final clincher which made me brush off the 35/1 was how he usually holds his form and last year when he finished 7th at the Sony Open he followed it up with another top 10 so it looks very likely that he will play well again.
Kevin Kisner has been good to the blog and after returning the each way money last week I can’t leave him out. He has been cut into 40/1 but that is more the sort of price we should expect on this classy performer. Last week I alluded to his love of bermuda greens but he also has a very impressive CV on Pete Dye courses. In the space of 1 month in 2015 he lost two play-offs on Dye courses. Firstly to Jim Furyk at Harbour Town and then to the red hot Rickie Fowler at The Player’s Championship.
I normally think of Kisner as a player who goes well in high scoring events yet his only PGA Tour win was on -22. He didn’t play here last year but I think the combination of two easier courses together with a tougher Dye course will suit him perfectly. Last week he didn’t do anything brilliantly but he also didn’t do anything poorly ranking 10th in the all-round. The highlight was a 3rd round 60 and he kept that going on Sunday so hopefully his putter can stay hot this week.
So far in his career he has 17 PGA Tour top 10s and 8 of those have come together in sequence so he is another that is very capable of holding his form.
I’m not sure I can leave Lingmerth out after playing so well last year. He hasn’t done much lately but he was 60/1 last year and odds of 66/1 are just too tempting. This course seems to suit his accurate game perfectly and he is a good putter on bermuda greens as he has shown both here and at TPC Sawgrass. I’ll be gutted if he wins so I’m going to have a small bet on him just incase.
I’m going to complete my line-up with yet another player who performed well last week, Chez Reavie. There is every chance it will be the last ever time I back him as he is a player that can promise so much before ultimately letting you down. But the truth his he is playing too well to leave out in an event that should suit him.
He finished 8th last week in Hawaii despite a poor week with the putter but the rest of his game was on point as he ranked 1st for driving accuracy and 3rd for GIR. Reavie finished 17th in this last year where again his tee to green game was excellent but he was let down by the putter. A slight improvement with the short stick will hopefully see him in the mix again come Sunday.
Abu Dhabi Championship
The European Tour leaves South Africa this week for the start of the Middle East Swing and the Abu Dhabi Championship. Now in its 12th running at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship there is lots of form to go and it is usually a course where the same sort of players do well year after year. Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer are both multiple winners and Rory McIlroy has 5 runner-up finishes in a tournament that is usually his first of the calendar year.
The course is a long one at some 7600 yards and while it’s by no means a wide open bombers paradise, there is some margin for error off the tee as long as the water is avoided. The biggest challenge lies with hitting the often elevated and undulating greens. Once on them, the greens are as pure as the players will see on the European Tour but they do have that desert grain which can play a lot like links greens.
The first week back of 2017 on the PGA Tour I completely ignored late 2016 form and I’m not prepared to make the same mistake twice. Therefore I have gone with three players who are all in the 2nd tier of players this week. While Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler must all be respected, there are enough reasons to look beyond them this week at their prices. Dustin Johnson has never even been to Abu Dhabi before this week never mind played the course. Henrik Stenson has fairly poor record here despite the course appearing to suit the Swede’s game. Rickie Fowler was in poor form throughout the end of 2016 and as defending champion he will do well to contend this week.
First up is the precocious talent of Thomas Pieters. Even after his back-to-back wins towards the end of 2015, few people could have imagined that he would reach such levels as quickly as he has done. To finish up his Ryder Cup debut as the top overall points scorer was an immense effort and highlighted him as someone to watch very closely again this year.
With his power game not every course will suit the Belgian bomber but he has shown that he loves the Abu Dhabi Golf Course with form figures of 2-4-MC. It is a very straight forward pick but with the presence of DJ, Stenson and Fowler at the head of the market we can get 22/1 about Pieters and I think that looks a very fair price. His form after the Ryder Cup wasn’t great but that is more than understandable. During the summer he probably wasn’t even expecting to be on Darren Clarke’s team so to have the experience that he did at Hazeltine must have been somewhat overwhelming. He goes well fresh though having placed here on his first start in both the last two years and given his status in the game now, his 2017 will be all about winning titles and performing in majors. He looks to have a great chance of the former this week.
Matt Fitzpatrick won the DP World Championship in Dubai in November and that course has many similarities with this week’s course in Abu Dhabi. Both are set in desert conditions with plenty of water in play and they suit quality links golfers perfectly. He missed the cut on his debut and could only finish 26th last year but if we delve into that 2016 performance we can see that he was only held back by the putter as he ranked 4th for GIR and 1st in scrambling. He has always been a streaky putter but he has improved a great deal in that department over the last year. So much so that he ranked 1st for total putting during that World Championship win and the greens he faces this week are very similar.
He is young and hungry for success with an old head and while he will have no doubt enjoyed his Christmas break he will be more than ready for his first start of 2017. At first look 30/1 might seem a little skinny in this company but Fitzpatrick shouldn’t be taken lightly this year. Two European Tour wins last year alongside a 7th place at the Masters suggest he is very much here to stay as one of the leading lights on the European Tour. If he putts well then I expect him to contend for the first time in Abu Dhabi and start a successful Middle East swing where all three courses should suit his game.
Tyrrell Hatton should have won the DP World Championship but Fitzpatrick managed to pip him after Hatton found water off the tee on the 18th. It was a shame for Hatton who had played brilliantly all day until that point. After marking him down as a great links golfer, I was annoyed to miss out on his placed effort at The Open and his first win at the Alfred Dunhill. He continued his form throughout 2016 and he looks another to look out for in 2017.
He finished down the field in 46th in Abu Dhabi last year after he was also let down by his putter. But he ranked 1st in total driving and ball-striking and the two previous years he finished 6th and 10th. Both the years that he finished in the Top 10 this event was actually his first of the year whereas last year he had played in South Africa the week before. The extra preperation time should help him continue where he left off last year.
They are 3 fairly obvious picks at odds that maybe won’t excite the more speculative punter, and with three of the last four winners in Abu Dhabi being surprise winners, they may have a point. But they are all still relatively young and with all three on upward curves in their careers I think they represent very solid each way bets.
Summary of Bets
Jamie Lovemark – 1pt ew @ 35/1
Kevin Kisner – 1pt ew @ 40/1
David Lingmerth – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Chez Reavie – 0.5pt ew @ 75/1
Abu Dhabi Championship
Thomas Pieters – 1.5pt ew @ 22/1
Matt Fitzpatrick – 1pt ew @ 30/1
Tyrrell Hatton – 1pt ew @ 28/1
Weekly points advised = 13pts
Total points advised = 31pts