Shane Lowry just managed to snag a full place with most of the bookmakers offering 7 places for their home based event. He looked to be striping it most of the weekend but just couldn’t get the putts to drop. Paul Dunne was a very deserving winner but he wasn’t someone I fancied on a new course like Close House. Generally when shifting to a new venue you want to side with solid tee-to-green games but it was Dunne’s sublime short-game that won him the trophy. He has that very rare ability of chipping the ball almost stone dead from anywhere around the green and that masked a very average ball-striking round for him on Sunday where he hit just 6 fairways and 11 greens in reg. Should we return to Close House in the future it’s worth remembering how key scrambling can be there as some of the greens are small and very fiddly.
Ashley Chesters looked like bagging the Top 20 effortlessly but unfortunately the pressure of being in the final group on Saturday was a bit much and he had a horrible weekend as nerves took over.
The Presidents Cup was a little bit of a non-event and I really shouldn’t have got involved. I knew that from the start though and need to be more disciplined and just leave events like that alone.
Total 2017 pts advised = 442 pts
Total 2017 pts returned = 359.6 pts
ROI = -18.65%
No sooner has the 2017 season finished but the 2018 season is underway and in all honesty it feels rather daft to have such a short break. That is even more apparent this year by the Monday finish of the Web.com Tour Championship which leaves the 25 players who have earned their card just two days to prepare for their assault at the main Tour.
The starting point is The Silverado Course at Napa in California and with it having hosted since 2014 we have a fair idea of what is required to win. The course is a par 72 and so stands fairly short at just 7200 yards meaning it isn’t usually over powered. It is tree-lined and although not overly narrow, positioning off the tee is crucial as the courses main defence are the slick, small greens. Approaches have to be from the fairway in order to hold the correct area to allow up hill putts as the greens become very difficult if out of position. The greens are poa annua so only those confident on the surface will fancy tricky 5ft downhill putts for par. Therefore proximity to the hole and poa annua putting will both be key this week. While the stats don’t suggest driving accuracy is too crucial, with thick rough and difficult flag locations, players will need to have full control of their golf ball and bombers are likely to struggle unless taking a more strategic approach off the tee this week.
The Fall Series provides a very welcome change to the betting landscape for punters having struggled to pick which one of the world-class players was going to win over the last 6 weeks. We are back to wide open fields without the majority of the game’s best players and we often see big price winners at this time of year. If you like a player here this week then don’t be put off by the price. Although it might pay to consider whether those who contended on Monday at the Web.com will be fully prepared for this just
Such is Kevin Na’s form around the Silverado course he was already on my shortlist for this before the horrific events unfolded in his home town of Las Vegas. It feels a little uneasy putting him up now but we only have to look at Stacey Lewis in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey hitting her hometown of Houston to see how such tragic events can give them a sense of perspective or in Lewis’ case a drive to donate as much money as possible. Quite how this will affect Na we really can’t be sure but its clear from a golfing point of view that the course suits so I’m happy to get behind him here despite claiming I would never back him again! Na is a nervous character that often seems overwhelmed when he is in contention so playing this week with his thoughts elsewhere might just free up his pre-shot routine should he find himself on the leaderboard on Sunday.
Na was 7th here last year and 2nd the year before that and the shorter track together with the requirement for accurate approaches is right up his street. In 2017 Na ranked 5th for Scoring Relative To Par on Approaches from 125-150 yards and he will find himself in that range more often than not around Silverado. The scoring stat rather than just proximity to hole is often more telling as we know he is taking his chances. Na is a solid enough putter and he has shown over the years he is comfortable on poa annua, none more so than when he was 7th at Oakmont’s U.S. Open last year but he also came 4th at Riviera in February. One of his main strengths is his scrambling which well help him over the weekend as the greens firm up. His recent form is good with a 4th and a 6th in his last four tournaments.
Pricewise it’s always a bit of a conundrum with Na as his win price always seems short yet his high number of top 5 finishes can help counter that somewhat. He has 8 placed efforts from his last 52 tournaments and 14 from his last 100. There’s also something quite genuine about him and I can’t help but root for Na so I would love to see him get his long overdue 2nd PGA Tour win here. Not going to argue that there is much value in 28/1 but similarly I think it’s a fair price with his combination of course and current form.
Martin Laird started playing some very good golf at the tail end of the 2017 season so a stop at one of his favourite courses looks very timely indeed. Laird has one of the highest ball flights on Tour with his irons and that helps him find the right portion of these slick greens. His record at the course is very good reading 8th-63rd-3rd and these are precisely the sort of tournaments that the Scot thrives in. He targets these weaker events as great opportunities to contend and although he hasn’t won in 4 years he is a 3 time winner who doesn’t usually back up when the chance to win is there.
His last few results of the season were solid but ultimately too late to make a mark on the Fed Ex Play-offs. He closed the season going 20th-40th-44th and on that last start at the BMW his tee-to-green game was brilliant and he was only let down by the putter. A return to poa annua might help counter that and he generally performs well on the rougher surfaces having ranked 14th on the greens here last year. If he has kept his swing ticking over the last two weeks he will hopefully play well again.
Luckily Chesson Hadley wasn’t at the business end of last week’s Tour Championship on the Web.com so he will be fresher than most of the 2018 new batch this week. But he was the outstanding player on the 2nd Tour having topped the final money list so he doesn’t quite arrive on Tour under the radar. Hadley has the big plus of having had his Tour card before though, even notching up a win at the Puerto Rico Open in 2014. Hadley also has three other wins on the Web.com Tour. His record around the course is quite poor but he is playing far better lately and won just three weeks ago at the Albertson Boise Open which features poa annua greens. In fact three of his professional wins have come on the surface so he clearly enjoys putting on poa. Hedley ranked 6th on the PGA Tour in GIR over the last 6 months and while that is for quite a small sample size he also ranked 14th on the Web.com for the same stat over the 2017 season. Hadley will be determined to make his mark this time around on Tour and this looks like an ideal starting point.
Scott Brown always seems to be underestimated by the bookies and that looks to be the case again with quotes of 100/1 in a couple of places. Brown is coming off a very good 2017 where he was runner-up twice, in the team event in New Orleans with Kisner and at Riviera. He also recorded his best major finish to date with a 13th at the US PGA in only his 4th appearance at one of the big four events. It is the Riviera finish that stands out though, highlighting that he is happy putting on poa annua greens. He missed the cut here in 2015 but was 12th in 2014 when playing better. Brown will arrive full of confidence after a good finish to his summer and should go well.
I wanted to tip Andres Gonzales this week but unfortunately he isn’t in the field. Instead I will finish with Daniel Summerhays. He is a player who has really struggled to get that elusive win on the PGA Tour but one thing he doesn’t struggle with is poa annua greens. In 2016 he finished 3rd at the US Open and 8th at the US PGA, both of which were played on poa annua greens. He hasn’t done brilliantly at the course yet but he has made 2 out of 3 cuts and he did rank 6th in putting in 2014. It’s rather speculative but at these odds (150/1) he is always worth consideration on poa greens.
Alfred Dunhill Links
This week’s Dunhill Links sits in its usual spot on the European Tour and having been on the go since 2001 almost everyone knows what to expect on the East Coast of Scotland this week. It takes the form of a pro-am across three courses during the first three days so the courses are set up extremely easily for the celebrity hackers. With the spot in the calendar being in October in Scotland we don’t see any of the hard and fast conditions that are prevalent at The Open. The greens and fairways are soft so trouble is even harder to find than usual at St Andrews and Kingsbarns. Carnoustie is usually a little more difficult but even still it will need the wind to blow to prevent rounds in the 60s being the norm. The flags are also very favourable to allow the amateurs to enjoy their experience so with all that combined you can see why the winning score is usually in the 20s under par. St Andrews and Kingsbarns both have wide open fairways and plenty of drivable par 4s so power is very much a weapon this week. Ultimately though, it is all about making birdies so aggressive iron play and a hot putter will be the order of the week in Fife and Angus.
After a round at each course everyone who makes the 3rd round cut plays the final round at the home of golf and things get a little more serious on the Sunday. The forecast for the whole week is a steady wind throughout but I’m hoping the rain stays away as I’ll be at one of the courses for the first round on Thursday.
Ryan Fox went firmly into the notebook for this after his superb summer of Links golf. Fox finished 5th at Le Golf National, 4th at the Irish Open and 4th again at the Scottish Open confirming himself a very strong links and bad weather player. The fact that he went a little off the boil through August and September isn’t of too much interest to me and merely serves to give us a good price here. His brilliant July guaranteed his Card for next year so it was no surprise to see him take some time off after the Open and US PGA and he would have needed a few events to blow the cobwebs off on his return.
The Scottish Open 4th is the one that interests me most with it having come at the Kyle Phillips designed Dundonald Links course. Kingsbarns is another Phillips design and together with St Andrews and Castle Stuart they are probably the 4 widest championship Links courses you will see in the UK.
Therefore we would expect Fox to be suited by them as most of his mistakes come with the big stick in hand. Fox hits it further than pretty much everyone on Tour and he will eat St Andrews and Kingsbarns up. He is aggressive with his irons and his putting improves on grainy links greens. The New Zealander first plied his trade on the PGA Tour of Australasia so is at home on the grainier surface as well as exposed golf courses. Having been brought up on firm, fast courses he has also shown he is comfortable knocking the ball down and chasing it onto the greens when conditions dictate.
This whole set-up just looks absolutely perfect for Fox and despite this being his debut in the event I think the easy set-up will help him adjust and he has already played St Andrews in the 2015 Open when it was set-up considerably tougher than it will be this week. Quite how he might fare at the tougher Carnoustie I don’t know but while it will be harder than the other two courses this week, it will be as soft so scoring should still be good. That will also suit a player who ranks 2nd for birdie average over the last 3 months. Fox looks like the best piece of value in the field to my eye at 66/1.
While Fox is a confident pick I also want a few players onside that have more recent form in the bag. Step forward George Coetzee yet again. I’m not going to bang on again about Coetzee too much but he is such a good links putter I’m pretty much going to continue to back him in this event whenever he is bigger than 33/1. There are few players who have been in better form over the last month and bizarrely it has been his long game that has had him at the right end of the leaderboard lately. If he keeps that up, the extra room off the tee will take the pressure off his driving and his short game skills should help this birdie machine contend again this week. Ranks 6th in the all-round so with every part of his game in decent nick the timing of this event is ideal for someone who jointly holds the course record at the Old Course.
I’m in danger of going overboard and backing 7 or 8 players this week. I have to give Marc Warren another go after playing well at Close House. Warren is another sublime putter who thrives on links greens. He was 5th last year and is back in form again at the right time this year. His wild driving has been stopping him contending on Sunday recently but again he will be able to relax on most tee shots this week and let rip. He ranked 19th for GIR and 19th in putting so he should be looking forward to returning north to his homeland.
Joakim Lagergren is a very straight-forward pick this week. He has finished in the top 10 the last two years, returning a Top 20 bet for me here last year at a great price. That left me regretting not putting him up each way as he finished 4th. Not going to make the same mistake this year, especially at 90/1. The young Swede has one of the most silky smooth putting strokes you will see and enjoys the easy pro-am set up here. It takes the pressure off his tee-to-green game which isn’t always a strength. Everyone hits these huge greens so it’s often a battle between the putters and those who aggressively fire at every flag. Lagergren likes to do both so can be expected to go well again at a tasty enough price.
I was going to have a 5th pick of Robert Karlsson given how well he played last week. He opened at 175/1 with bet365 and with him being a past winner of this event that looked far too big. He has been cut into 125/1 which looks about right for someone who has struggled for so long. But I think he is still perhaps value to finish inside the Top 10 at 12/1.
Finally I’m also having a bet on Florian Fritsch for a Top 20 here. Fritsch is perhaps most famous for his fear of flying and he will be playing his 7th week out of the last 8 while we have been in Europe. Keeping hold of his card when he can only play half the schedule is very tough but he is learning to make the most of his strong periods of form and he usually has to play every event this time of year. Fritsch was 7th here last year and 19th the year before on his debut so he clearly enjoys the format. So with a 100% record of top 20s in the event he looks a rock solid bet at 5/1. I will have 2pts on this to return stakes for the event should everything else go wrong.
I’ve got bit carried away this week but both events are good betting heats so hopefully the extra picks pay off this week as I try to sneak back to level for the year.
Summary of bets
Kevin Na – 1.5pt ew @ 28/1
Martin Laird – 1pt ew @ 50/1 (Unibet, 888)
Chesson Hadley – 0.5pt ew @ 60/1
Scott Brown – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1 (Unibet, 888)
Daniel Summerhays- 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 (Unibet again!)
Ryan Fox – 1.5pts ew @ 66/1
George Coetzee – 1pt ew @ 40/1
Marc Warren – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Joakim Lagergren – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1
Robert Karlsson – 1pt Top 10 @ 8/1
Florian Fritsch – 2pts Top 20 @ 5/1
Weekly pts advised = 18 pts
2017 pts advised = 460 pts