It was a victory for a tee-to-green prowess last week as two of the game’s better ball-strikers both got it done despite their usual struggles on the greens. Unfortunately both players were tipped on the blog a few times last year and in hindsight neither were particulalrly surprising winners.
In the US Hudson Swafford has been playing some brilliant golf tee-to-green but never seemed to make any putts when it counted. He certainly hadn’t thrown any Tournaments away to date and was actually quite impressive down the stretch on Sunday even if he did have a wobble on Saturday.
Tommy Fleetwood was perhaps even more impressive in Abu Dhabi as he held off a host of top-class challengers to finally get his 2nd win after collecting his maiden victory at Gleneagles in 2013. The Southport man hit 66 out of 72 greens in Abu Dhabi and was giving himself putt after putt. Fleetwood is very similar to Westwood at his peak in that their below average putting is accentuated by their relentless approach play. It can seem like every time you see them on the TV they are missing a putt from 15ft but on some courses that is ok. Others were struggling to find the greens so just hitting them in the correct number was enough to come out on top as others made mistakes around him.
There were no returns last week despite Hatton being the 3rd round leader in Abu Dhabi.
That removes the early profits and 2017 is as follows;
2017 pts advised = 31
2017 pts returned = 29.54
ROI = -4.7%
Farmers Insurance Open
Tiger makes his much anticipated return to the PGA Tour this week and there couldn’t be a more fitting place for him to return than Torrey Pines. He has won this Tournament 7 times along with a US Open in 2008 which was his last major win. It’s anyone’s guess where he will finish but the signs were good in December so hopefully he will go well as it would be great to get to see a fit Tiger Woods compete again in 2017.
They will play two courses this week, with one round on the easier North and one round on the South course prior to the cut. After that it is two more rounds on the South course. The North course has undergone a substantial renovation since last year but with only one round to play and the South course being so much tougher, I’m not going to guess how this will effect things.
The South course is a classic US championsip layout, playing long at some 7600 yards with narrow fairways and fairly slick greens for a non major. The greens are poa annua whereas the new greens on the North are now bentgrass.
Being a coastal track in California, form can tie in well with Pebble Beach and many players go well at both courses.
Last year the wind played a major part in proceedings on the Sunday as Snedeker shot an early 69 only to see all the leaders fall by the wayside. By the time they completed on Monday they had all gone backwards and he came out on top for the 2nd time.
The forecast isn’t for anything like that level of wind but it is usually a factor at some point over the four days.
Previous course form stacks up very well around Torrey Pines and as well as Tiger’s 8 wins there are many others who crop up on the leaderboard again and again.
Both Snedeker and Woods are two of the best at avoiding bogeys so they always fair well on tough courses. That can often be attributed to both strong scrambling skills and good putting.
I’d make bogey avoidance, scrambling, three-putt avoidance and driving distance the key stats this week but course form is perhaps more crucial than anything.
Gary Woodland looks to me like the standout bet this week. At the head of the market we have the old dilemma of whether we want to take single figure prices about Jason Day and Dustin Johnson and I think there are enough reasons to look beyond their class at a tough Championship venue like Torrey Pines. Day still hasn’t quite shown us that he is fully over his back injury and DJ doesn’t have the best of records there despite him normally enjoying tough, coastal layouts. He has also flown back from Abu Dhabi this week and that has to be another negative.
Woodland was in 2nd place there last year heading into the final round but along with 99% of the field he struggled as the wind got up and made the course extremely difficult.
He is an immense talent and has been with Butch Harmon for some time now. At his peak he doesn’t have any real weakness and given Harmon’s track record I would assume they will be leaving no stone unturned in trying to maximise Woodland’s unquestionable talent. His substantial length off the tee will always help him on tough Championship layouts and despite the fairways being narrow at Torrey Pines, history tells us that it pays to get as close to the green as possible. The last five winners have ranked 48th, 1st, 24th, 2nd and 1st for driving distance and that 48th was Snedeker last year which may be a little skewed by the brutal wind.
The greens are slick and it will certainly pay to attack them with as much loft as possible. Jimmy Walker proved this around another championship layout at Baltusrol when winning the US PGA Championship in August. He missed more fairways than most but such was his ability to find the greens with his short irons, he was still able to putt his way to victory.
Woodland is by no means anywhere near as good a putter as Walker but like Walker he generally goes better on Poa Annua greens. That is what he will face on 3 of his rounds this week and hopefully that will bring about the improvement needed on the greens. Last time out at the Sony his game was in fantastic shape as he finished in 6th place. He ranked 4th for GIR and 9th for scrambling which helped him finish 2nd in the all-round ranking. All this was continuing where he left off in 2016 as he made it to the Tour Championship where he finished 10th and he rounded the year off with a 2nd place at the OHL Classic. He hit more greens than anyone that week and ranked 1st in the all-round. For the 2017 season he currently sits 18th in bogey avoidance and 22nd in scrambling.
It’s clear this is a player whose game has been firing on all cylinders for some time now and that was exactly the case with Hudson Swafford last week who finished up the 2016 season ranked 10th in the all-round ranking. Gary Woodland finished in 23rd and it can be a very good indication of future winners. They have both maintained that into 2017 as they rank 16th and 29th respectively.
To me Gary Woodland’s game is in the perfect place to tackle Torrey Pines. There won’t be as many putts holed so he won’t have to all of a sudden start putting the lights out. A small improvement on a more suitable surface should see him go close.
There are a few other decent outright each way prices but I’ve sided with John Huh this week. He is a very solid player who enjoys tougher tests of golf. He finished 8th in this last year while ranking 2nd in total accuracy.
While he hasn’t exactly flown out of the blocks in 2017, prior to last week’s missed cut he did have back to back 27th place finishes. He currently ranks 15th in scrambling and 31st in bogey avoidance and at 150/1 I think he looks over priced thanks to last week’s missed cut.
Another player who I can’t leave out at 200/1 is Cameron Smith. He showed at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay how much enjoys a proper test of golf as he finished 4th in his very first Major. He has had some mixed results but always looks more comfortable where par is a good score. He also missed the cut last week but he should be suited far more to this test and before the Christmas break he signed off with a runner-up finish in the Australian Open and a 15th in the Australian PGA. He has missed the cut on both his appearances here but I’m still convinced it should suit him so he is worth a small play.
The final bet is a rather left field Top 20 bet on New Zealander Steve Alker. He is a bit of a journey man but has shown a liking for windy courses in the past when he finished 19th at The Open in 2012 around Royal Lytham. Having gained his 2017 Tour card he has performed ok so far and finished 25th last week at the CareerBuilder. It’s entirely possible that Torrey Pines will be too long for him but if conditions do become difficult he looks over priced for a Top 20 at 20/1 in places.
The Qatar Masters is played around Doha Golf Club and it is an exposed course that has historically been a course where good links players prosper. The course correlates well with Gleneagles, The Portugal Masters, Alfred Dunhill Links and The Open itself.
I don’t really like the front of the market with so many of the players that will probably play well all looking too short. So instead I’m going to play three longer prices to small stakes but include a bigger bet on a them in the place markets.
First up is the Challenge Tour graduate Alexander Bjork who finished 7th on the Road to Oman to gain his 2017 card. During that successful campaign the highlight was winning the Le Vaudreuil Golf Challenge in France in July.
He hasn’t played Qatar before, in fact he has only made 6 European Tour starts but that hasn’t held him back so far. He missed the cut on his first start when playing at the Madeira Open in 2014 but in his next 5 starts he didn’t finish worse than 45th. Indeed 4 of them have been this season and he arrives with form figures of 17-45-7-13 which stands up against most of this field.
He did visit the Emirates twice last year on Challenge Tour duty finishing 32nd in U.A.E before confirming his card by placing 7th in the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Oman.
Most Swedish players tend to enjoy links courses due to being familiar with playing on exposed, windy courses. I’m hoping that will be the case with Bjork and so far in his career he already has an 8th place finish in Scotland at Aviemore which is an exposed course not too dissimilar to Gleneagles.
In his four starts so far he has struggled to put all aspects of his game together in any one week but he led the field in South Africa in GIR and was 3rd in fairways hit. He followed that up by ranking 11th in scrambling and 29th in total putting last week in Abu Dhabi.
He is flying under the radar a little and I think subsequently we are getting quite a good price about someone with his form figures. He looks to have a great chance of another Top 20 even if he can’t contend.
A little low on time to cover the others here so it will be brief.
Benjamin Herbert has played well here twice before finishing 20th last year and 10th in 2015. He has a game very well suited to a links challenge and he also fisnished 10th at the Portugal Masters which ties in well with Doha Golf Course.
He has been threatening to win on The European Tour but hasn’t quite contended down the stretch yet. His prolific career on the Challenge Tour tells he isn’t afraid to win though and he remains a player worth watching through out 2017.
Chris Paisley finished his 2016 season very well with a 3rd place finish in Italy and a 5th place at the Portugal Masters.
He has missed both his Qatar Masters cuts to date but he looked a far more confident player last year and has a 12th place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links which is another tournament that links well with Qatar. He warmed up nicely last week finishing 29th in Abu Dhabi where he putted very well. That well help him around the Doha course where putting is always crucial.
As a final little point, Paisley was part of the same Walker Cup team as Fleetwood in 2009 so hopefully he may take some extra motivation from Fleetwood’s win last week.
I’m also going to have a Top 10 double on last week’s two winners as they should both enjoy their respective tests and I don’t see winning as any sort of reason to halt their brilliant form.
Summary of Bets
Farmers Insurance Open
Gary Woodland – 1pt ew @ 40/1
John Huh – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1
Cameron Smith – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1
Steve Alker – Top 20 – 1pt @ 20/1
Alexander Bjork – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 3/1
Benjamin Hebert – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 3/1
Chris Paisley 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 8/1
Hudson Swafford and Tommy Fleetwood – 1pt Top 10 double @ 19.25
Weekly pts advised – 12pts
Total pts advised – 43