Unless you are lucky enough to be on the winner it is very frustrating when a tournament is cut to just 54 holes. It brings fortune into the equation that little bit more and that is exactly what happened in South Africa. When the announcement was made on Saturday the leaderboard was extremely bunched together and with only one round to go it meant that the cream (George Coetzee!) had less chance to rise to the top. He did his best though taking advantage of the soft conditions to fly through the field and he found himself joint leader when he stood on the 16th tee. Unfortunately he finished bogey-bogey-birdie to finish on -12 when you have to feel -14 in the clubhouse would have been enough given how nervous all the leaders looked. The fact -12 couldn’t hold onto a place was all the more annoying. In the US Kevin Kisner was on the fringes over the first two days but a 66 on Saturday pulled him into T8th and a place looked a possibility. I’m not sure what happened to him overnight however as he came out and shot a 76 on Sunday.
The results now stand as follows;
2017 pts advised = 97pts
2017 pts returned = 68.66pts
ROI = -29.22%
This week we have the first World Golf Championship of the year and the European Tour has an alternative event with the Tshwane Open from Pretoria.
WGC Mexico Championship
This week after a nine year connection with Doral’s Blue Monster, and rather aptly just a 4 year term with the course under it’s Trump guise, the WGC Cadillac Championship is no more and it has ventured over the border to Mexico for the first WGC of the year at Chapultepec Golf Club.
It’s timing couldn’t be better with so many of the game’s big names arriving with a 2017 win already under their belt. While this will surely make for an exciting tournament, the change of course brings with it quite a challenge for punters. With 9 years worth of course form as a WGC, it was very clear the type of golfer that prevailed at Doral and latterly the shorter hitters had almost no chance at all as the bombers overpowered the course. The last proper tournament to be held here was in 1991 so there isn’t much course form to go on however I have done my best to find out as much as I can about the course and my first instinct is that we shouldn’t see this course over-powered.
The 7330 yard, par 71 course was designed by two Scottish brothers, Willie and Alex Smith from Carnoustie, around the time when Scots were very much the talking point of US golf in the early 1900s. Donald Ross was at the fore front of that and he himself had links to Carnoustie with the first 3 club professionals at his East Lake design all hailing from the Angus town. Indeed the first of those was Alex Smith himself. This suggests to me that they probably shared a lot of Ross’ design philosophy and the course certainly doesn’t look unlike some of his tree-lined courses in the US like East Lake and Sedgefield.
All 18 holes are available to view on You Tube and one of the first things that is noticeable is the sheer number of trees that surround the fairways. But these don’t just line the fairways, they seem to completely shape the tee shot where the driving lines are very tight. In addition to that the greens also appear to be partially blocked out by trees from certain areas of the fairways. This looks nothing like the sort of tree-lined fairways we see at Augusta where there is room to bomb the ball over and around the trees into wide open landing areas. To me it appears more along the lines of the tighter, fiddly courses we see more of in Europe. At 7330 yards long and playing as a Par 71 it is easy to think that the coruse will play very long but I don’t think that will be the case. The course is at severe altitude so the ball will travel around 10% further than normal and two of the three par 5s measure over 600 yards which takes into account a lot of the extra yardage. Only the likes of Dustin Johnson will be able to get home in two on those and even then he will require two brilliant shots. If we look at the rest of the holes then we see a lot of short par 4s and I think they will be key this week with strong wedge players coming to the fore.
At altitude distance control becomes even more important and on a course where I expect accuracy to be key then I think approach play will be the deciding factor this week. The greens are also relatively small and are apparently very fast with Bubba Watson suggesting they were towards 13 on the stimp already. Only the most accurate will be able to hit and hold the right area on the greens
With a very strong case to be made for all the market leaders its very hard to pick between them and with them all trading at 15/1 or below, I decided to instead look further down the field at players that might be suited to the course and can be found at fair each way prices.
It looks to be absolutely ideal for Jason Dufner and to make things even better, he arrives in some fairly decent form. He has only played 4 tournaments so far this year but has finished 21st-MC-25th-14th so he looks to be trending in the right direction. Stats wise he sits 20th in total driving for the 2017 season and he also ranks 12th in Par 4 scoring.
Dufner has shown over the last 5 years that he excels on tough driving layouts and he has an excellent US Open record to back that up. But when playing well his iron game can also compete with the best in the game. Especially when wedges are the name of the game as I expect them to be this week with 6 Par 4s under 410 yards and two monster par 5s which will be a wedge in for the bulk of the field. His ball-striking to win his 2013 US PGA Championship was incredible and he left so many approaches inside 10ft it was too much even for the always accurate Jim Furyk.
But should I be wrong with my assessment of the course, Dufner can also compete on bombers courses. His recent record around Doral is very solid with a 12th, 9th and 11th in the last 4 years.
A lot is said about Dufner’s weakness on the greens but just two starts ago at Torrey Pines he ranked 4th for putting and while he does have problems from 10ft and in, he is an excellent lag putter which will help him on these fast, undulating surfaces. If it turns into a birdie fest then he might begin to fall behind but I’m expecting a relatively difficult week and he showed last year at Oakmont that he can handle fast greens. In case he gets competitive but is ultimately overtaken by some of the bigger names I’m also having a saver in the top 10 market.
The course also resembles Wentworth with tree-lined fairways and tricky, fast greens. This made me think of 2015 BMW PGA winner Byeong-Hun An. “Benny” has been in good form since taking up the chance to play on the PGA Tour last year and so far in 2017 his results read 13-49-6-55.
As well as his BMW PGA win, An won the 2009 US Amateur around the tree-lined Southern Hills course and his first professional win on the Challenge Tour was on yet another tree-lined course in Switzerland which was also played at a slight altitude. He is clearly a player that enjoys having his shot-shape dictated to him on the tee as the more space he has, the more erratic he can be.
At his best he is a brilliant ball-striker and his win at Wentworth was very much Matsuyama-esque such was his perfect control of the golf ball from tee-to-green. His short iron approaches have been back to their best in 2017 and he sits 7th on the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole from 125-150 yards. He has been threatening to win again and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it came in this good a field. He looked over priced when he opened at 100/1 and although he has been cut to 80s I still like him a lot each way considering we only have 77 runners.
Bill Haas was a little screwed over by the draw at Riviera when he was last seen two weeks ago but nobody played the weekend better and he arrives here in excellent form. The combination of kikuyu fairways and poa annua/bentgrass greens will be right up his street as he is a Riviera specialist and it features the same grasses.
Haas is normally renowned for his long, accurate driving so the course looks like it will be ideal for him and the rest of his game looks good too. Par 4 scoring will be important this week and is also usually a good indicator of all-round game. He ranks 3rd in that for 2017 and he also sits 1st in scrambling should he miss these small greens. I have long thought that Haas has another big win in him and while I’m not convinced that it will be a major, he does have a good record in WGCs and this tournament in particular. At Doral he had three Top 10s from seven appearances and he has also showed that he can travel well with two further top 10s at the WGC HSBC in Shanghai. He looks to be a decent each way price at 80/1.
There are two additional place markets that I like through the course conditions and they are Fabrizio Zanotti and David Lipsky. I’m not sure I can see either placing here but a top 20 certainly isn’t stretching the imagination.
Zanotti has shown throughout his career that he thrives on tree-lined courses and on his last start he was seen winning on one in the Maybank Championship in Malaysia. He also finished 2nd to Fitzpatrick at Woburn in 2015 and that is one of the tightest courses seen on either Tour. This is undoubtedly a big step up in class but as well as liking the course he will handle the conditions no problem too. He hails from Paraguay but more interesting still is that he won the 2006 Mexico Open just 20 minutes north of Chapultepec. That means he has everything in his favour this week, tree-lined course, current form and experience of the altitude conditions. Looks to be priced up as an unfashionable European Tour player and that makes his top 20 price look like a standout piece of value here.
David Lipsky chased Zanotti home in Malaysia last month showing he too enjoys tree-lined courses but it is his win at Crans Golf Club in Switzerland that looks most pertinent here. It is a course at over 5000 ft altitude so he will have faced similar issues with distance and club selection. Additionally the course features a lot of shorter par 4s as per Chapultepec. Course specialist Thomas Bjorn is a two-time winner at Crans and at his peak he was one the best wedge players in the world. I expect Lipsky to thrive on the par 4s in Mexico and arriving in good form he also looks a very nice Top 20 price.
This week in South Africa we have an even worse field than last week so as you would expect George Coetzee is an even shorter price. But yet again he has won at the course and Pretoria Country Club is actually his home track. Given that I think he would have won with a 4th round last week, I think he is a very worthy favourite this week. I don’t see any great need to complicate matters having focussed largely on the WGC this week and everything that I said about him last week applies again here.
Being just 40 miles to the north, the course will have had all the rain we saw in Joburg last week too so there won’t be too much run on the fairways. I have seen reports that the rough is extremely penal there this week so the soft conditions will help the wayward Coetzee stay in the fairways. From there he will attack all the flags again this week and if he putts like he did last week I don’t think are too many that can keep up with him here.
I noticed Joakim Lagergren is in the field again and given he is one of the better putters already on Tour I’m going to have a small Top 10 bet on him too as he has shown already in his short career that he can handle grainy greens.
Summary of Bets
Jason Dufner – 1pt ew @ 80/1 and 2pts Top 10 @6/1
Byeong-Hun An – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1
Bill Haas – 0.75pt ew @ 70/1
Fabrizio Zanotti – 1pt Top 20 @ 8/1
David Lipsky – 1pt Top 20 @ 7/1
George Coetzee – 1.5pts ew @ 10/1
Joakim Lagergren – 1pt Top 10 @ 4/1
Weekly pts advised = 13pts
2017 total pts advised = 110pts