Henriks Stenson gave plenty of punters a surprise by playing terribly around Bay Hill last week and he missed the cut. I didn’t see much of the action but with his course and current form it was very unlike the ultra-consistent Swede. That lost us 7 points though nevertheless and unfortunately it’s a rather tough looking betting heat again this week with the WGC Match Play. I have also had a quick look at the alternate event in Puerto Rico.
Total 2017 pts advised = 129
Total 2017 pts returned = 77.66
ROI = -39.8%
WGC Match Play
The WGC Match Play is back at Austin Country Club for a second year and we are now into the third edition of the round-robin group format. While proving popular with most players and indeed sponsors, there are some that preferred the old set-up as Stenson stays away for the second year running having not enjoyed the format change in 2014. He isn’t the only big player missing though as Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler and Justin Rose join him in skipping the event this year but we still have 64 of the world’s best 69 players gathered.
The course sits at 7169 yards and from last year’s coverage it looks truly spectacular. It is a parkland course set along sprawling hills giving rise to some elevation changes and undulating fairways very akin to some British links courses. There are also a lot of deep,menacing bunkers that give it a further links appearance. While the fairways appear to be of average width they will certainly not feel that way standing on the tee. There are many hidden tee shots where the players are forced to carry valleys or shape the ball around trees. The numerous dog legs and elevation changes will also bring about some blind approaches and it appears that accuracy will be important this week. Whenever a course has elevation changes then distance control becomes absolutely paramount. Players will have to trust their yardages and commit to them in order to find both the right areas of the fairways and indeed the greens. As we have come to expect from a Pete Dye design (Sawgrass, RBC Heritage, Whistling Straits), the greens are relatively small and they are undulating and tiered. Accurate approach shots will be required to find the correct portion of the green to allow a makeable birdie putt. But there will be many flags that simply have to be avoided with run-offs and green side bunkers aplenty. There are lots of aggressive players that fare well in match play golf but this week I think it will very much need to be controlled aggression rather than firing at every single flag. Although it must be noted how many holes can be overpowered on the layout. The very first hole is a drivable Par 4 for the longest in the field and just like at Dove Mountain, length off the tee certainly helps in Austin.
So I’m looking for someone who hits plenty of fairways and greens but isn’t afraid to attack pins when the chance is there. They must also have a solid match play pedigree, be that from the World Match Play or strong showings in The Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup or perhaps The European Tour’s own match play events. With this being a Pete Dye design I’d certainly like them to have some form at his courses and perhaps also be a decent exponent of links golf. Form on similar TifEagle bermuda greens will also be useful and luckily that was in use last week at Bay Hill.
Regular readers will know I’m a huge fan of Patrick Reed but I was surprised to see that I haven’t actually backed him to win this year yet. In fact the last time I think I tipped him was at the Ryder Cup when he handled the pressure brilliantly to deliver 3 1/2 pts as top US player. That was his 2nd top scoring Ryder Cup in just his 2nd event. That is quite a record and on both occasions he won his singles match, famously defeating McIlroy last year and also taking care of in-form Henrik Stenson in 2014. On his only Presidents Cup appearance he halved his singles match with Louis Oosthuizen. He is yet to properly set the WGC Match Play on fire but I’m sure that is only a matter of time. In 2014 he won his first game against Graeme Delaet but lost out to George Coetzee on the 3rd play-off hole. In 2015 the first time that they brought in the group stages, he won 2 and lost 1 which meant he was going home. Last year in his home state though was his best showing yet, winning all 3 of his group games only to meet Dustin Johnson in the knockout rounds where he went down 3&2.
So if we look at his professional match play golf in elite competition it makes for very impressive reading. He has played 12 matches and won 8 1/2 of them giving him a winning record of 70.83%. I would imagine only Jason Day can boast those sort of figures and while he should always be respected, Reed is twice the price here. We have seen over recent years how crucial scrambling skills can be in match play and there are few better around the greens than Reed. Even if his long game isn’t up to its best then his short game and strong mentality will make him very hard to beat this week.
Louis Oosthuizen really should have fared a little better in the Match Play in Perth last month eventually losing at about the 5th sudden-death hole in the quarter finals. Only eventual winner Brett Rumford played better golf than him and while he should have seen Adam Bland off in the regulation 6 holes he was still extremely impressive on the sudden-death 90 yard play-off hole. Bland had the honour and kept piling the pressure on Louis by knocking it in stiff. But completely unflustered, Louis kept firing it as close if not closer but it was just a matter of time before something gave. It was 5th time lucky for Bland as Oosty hit it in the bunker but it was yet another display of the South African’s ice cool demeanour in match play.
In his earlier years he didn’t have a great record in this competition but the new group-stage format seems to have really turned his fortunes around. In both 2015 and 2016 he won all 3 of his group games and he only lost out to Jim Furyk (QF) and Jason Day (Final) respectively. Indeed he also lost to Jason Day in 2014 when the Aussie was winning it first time round so it usually takes some inspired play to get rid of him.
Year after year we see the saw the same names excelling in this when it was a straight-knockout event and I’d expect to see a similar pattern occur in the new format. In the two editions so far Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen were the only two men to make both quarter-finals. I think both players will go well again this week but McIlroy is at single figures and Oosthuizen can be backed at 50/1. He is in the same group as Matsuyama which means one of them will be going home early but Matsuyama’s form has tailed off a little and Oosthuizen won’t be phased by Matsuyama’s tee-to-green accuracy.
McIlroy is no doubt the man to beat this week and while you can’t eat value, I think both Oosty and Reed look overpriced in a format they enjoy on a course that suits them. They are drawn to meet in the semi-finals should they both progress and while you normally see people pick from different halves, at least they can both yield returns unlike if they were to meet earlier.
For something a little different I’ve included a match winner treble for Day 1 (Wednesday, its an early start this week!).
Tyrrell Hatton is currently one of the most in-form golfers in the world and while things are bound to take a nose-dive sooner or later, I think the adrenaline of all these big tournaments will keep him going at least through the Masters. Charles Howell’s form hasn’t been great over the last few weeks and he has a poor record in the WGC Matchplay. I think Hatton’s game is better suited to one on one golf and expect him to get off to a good start here.
Ryan Moore made the quarter-finals here last year and arrives in decent form. He knows he will need to win this to have any chance of getting to the knockout stages as he is in the same group as Jordan Spieth. Yuti Ikeda has been in woeful form so far in 2017 missing the cut in both his Asian Tour starts. He would have missed the cut last time out in Mexico too but for it being a 4 round tournament and he finished down the field in 61st. If Moore plays anywhere near his best he should win.
Matt Fitzpatrick faces a tougher task against Kevin Na but he is a far more accomplished player now than this time last year when he was a little steam-rollered by a tough group including Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson. He finished 7th on his first professional Masters start, made his debut in the Ryder Cup and collected two more European Tour titles. He will be confident of a good showing this week unlike Na whose game isn’t where he wants it to be with form figures of MC-MC-52.
Puerto Rico Open
Danny Lee rounded off last week with the lowest round in the field on Sunday and that highlighted him as a player to watch this week. Unfortunately the bookmakers are also onto him but that finish of 17th arrived after a 22nd the week before and interestingly they were preceded by 5 missed cuts. It looks like Lee has found something again with his game and if thats the case then there aren’t too many in Puerto Rico with more ability. Lee had an excellent Amateur career which culminated in winning the US Amateur and the Johnnie Walker Classic on the European Tour. He has won on the main Tour before at the Greenbrier in 2015 and also finished runner-up at this very tournament in 2014. He looks worth an interest here now he is playing well again.
Summary of bets
Louis Oosthuizen – 1pt ew @ 50/1
Patrick Reed – 1pt ew @ 40/1
Danny Lee – 1pt ew @ 30/1
Match winner treble – 2pts @ 5.65 (Hatton, Moore, Na)
Weely pts advised – 8pts
2017 total pts advised – 135pts