Kevin Na saved the day with a brilliant 61 on Sunday to finish 4th but at the same time left me (and him no doubt) cursing his shocking closing 9 holes on Friday when 3 shots clear. In truth it was very much in keeping with his recent career, capable of brilliance yet always susceptible to a wobble when that elusive win appears on his horizon. But he backed up the thinking that he remains a brilliant each way bet when conditions and price suit.
The BMW PGA was a hugely frustrating event as both Southgate and Westwood spent most of the tournament inside the top 20 only to fall down the leaderboard when it mattered. The outright bets fared worse although EVR and Hebert clearly enjoyed the test even if they never threatened the upper reaches of the leaderboard.
2018 pts advised = 225
2018 pts returned =306.24
ROI = 36%
The PGA Tour heads to Jack’s place this week and there is certainly a fitting field strength for the legend of the game. I’m not sure I’ve seen this good a field for a regular Tour event since I’ve been following the PGA Tour. It’s absolutely chock-a-block rammed full of talent and 8 of the top 10 in the world are in the field. This makes it look like an absolute minefield in betting terms but with firms going to 7 and 8 places there may be some each way value further down the market.
Muirfield Village was opened in 1976 and has hosted The Memorial Tournament ever since producing an impressive roll call of winners. Named after the site of Nicklaus’ first Open Championship win the course itself is 7337 yards long and the fairways are of average width. There isn’t too much immediate trouble barring some lush green rough and it is very much a typical Nicklaus course as it is all about the approach shots and then what you do on and around the greens (the challenge usually increases the closer you get to the green on his courses) . Recent winners have been accurate drivers but a look at the stats confirm Muirfield Village’s increasing difficulty as you get nearer the hole. The last 5 winners have averaged just 23rd for total driving yet they have averaged 14th for GIR and 16th for scrambling. While putting is always important, Memorial is usually won with approach play but perhaps the most apparent stats information is how well those 5 winners have fared in the all-round ranking, suggesting the importance of doing nothing badly during the week rather than perhaps doing any one thing brilliantly. The average all round ranking for the last 5 winners is 3.8 and with such an elite field assembled here this week it looks a prudent play to side with someone whose whole game is decent order. With fast, undulating, elevated greens, Muirfield tests all aspects of the iron game and it is a ball striker’s course undoubtedly. Approach shots need to be kept on a string to score well and Matsuyama who won this three years ago has some of the best distance control in the game as does 2013 champion Kuchar.
In addition to previous form around Muirfield, other Nicklaus tracks are worth looking at too, Glen Abbey GC which hosted the Canadian Open in 2004, 2008, 2009, 20013, 2015, 2016 and 2017; Sherwood GC which hosted Tiger’s World Challenge from 2000-2013, Valhalla where Rory Mcilroy won the USPGA in 2014 and the Old White TPC which hosts the Greenbrier Classic and was redesigned by Nicklaus in 1976. The CareerBuilder Challenge has also featured a couple of his courses in recent years. There are a few more used in Europe but not too many of this field will have played them.
Patrick Reed very nearly backed up my faith in him at the Wells Fargo when he finished in the dreaded 8th and I can’t help but back him here again at the prices. This is a very strong field but he still appears to have been dismissed a little too easily again at 33/1. Reed has always enjoyed Jack Nicklaus designs and logically that sits nicely with his game as he also improves as the clubs get shorter through the bag. The Nicklaus form is sneakier than most however, Nicklaus’ PGA West was one of the courses in play when he won the Humana Challenge and he properly announced himself on the world stage at the Nicklaus designed Gleneagles in the 2014 Ryder Cup. He also came runner-up at the European Tour’s BMW Masters around yet another Nicklaus course, Lake Malaren. For good measure his only appearance at Glen Abbey produced a 9th place finish where he scrambled brilliantly around the tricky green complexes.
Muirfield Village is probably a little narrower than Reed would ideally like but he was 8th there in 2016 while hitting 66% of his fairways so he can handle the tee-shots well enough. In fact given that he ranked 72nd in total putting it’s amazing that he managed anywhere close to 8th. Especially when we consider that 73rd, 74th and 75th in the field for putting that week finished 69th, 69th and 73rd respectively. But Reed is putting a lot better again this year and sits 58th in strokes gained: putting so looking at everything together I’m sure if he can keep the ball out of the trees he will go well again. He ranks 7th in the all-round ranking over the last 3 months and Muirfield Village is above everything else a very good all-round test. Again not being given the respect he deserves, he looks a must bet at 33/1 with 8 places.
Jonny Vegas has won the last two events at Glen Abbey and to be honest I’m backing him mainly on that form. He hasn’t been doing much lately but that was the case last year when he defended his Canadian Open title after missing 4 straight cuts. Glen Abbey clearly suits therefore I’m assuming Muirfield Village should suit despite 3 poor efforts so far and I think he should improve on his best finish of 56th. Vegas is also a former winner of the Humana / CareerBuilder and that event has been a good fit recently with Memorial as Dufner and Lingmerth contested a play-off there in 2016. It’s a fairly speculative bet but we get a very juicy 200/1 here so what’s not to like?
If I’m right about the CareerBuilder then I simply have to give my man Andrew Landry another go again this week after delivering in Texas for us at 150/1 last month. He came 2nd at the CareerBuilder this year behind Jon Rahm but a further look at his Web.com career also suggests he should take to Muirfield Village on his debut. His first professional win was the Karibana Championship at TPC Cartagena which is another Nicklaus course down in Colombia and he routed the field by 5 shots. It is a wider course than Muirfield but we know Landry is a very accurate driver of the ball and the greens there are very fast. Landry also showed his ability on slick greens at Oakmont two years ago when he contended most of the way at the U.S. Open so he shouldn’t be phased by the speed of these greens. It would be a heck of an achievement to win in this company but at odds of 200/1 the each way portion makes a lot of appeal.
I felt I had to add a 4th this week when I saw Xander Schauffele’s price of 80/1. I can’t believe the over reaction to his missed cut last week when just two weeks prior to that he was finishing 2nd at TPC Sawgrass. Looking at his career so far he is a player who has to have played the week before in order to see him at his best. He teed it up the week before both his wins and also before his best major finish of 5th at last year’s U.S. Open. It was the scene of his first win though that first got me looking at him this week, the Greenbrier at the Old White TPC. Jack Nicklaus carried out a complete overhaul of the course back in 1976 and the over all test is quite similar to that of Muirfield Village. Schauffelle is also a player whose best asset is his all-round game, he doesn’t really do any one thing spectacularly well but there really isn’t a weakness to his game and he enjoys these sort of courses that test all aspects of the game. Looks massively over priced so I couldn’t leave him out despite this being his debut at the course.
After three editions at Golf Club Milano and a nice bank of course form, the Italian Open is on the move again so it’s back to square one for golf punters and probably most of the players too. Gardagolf Country Club near Brescia is the new host course and it hasn’t been seen on the main Tour since 2003. Mattias Gronberg took that title while Bernard Langer closed out his win in 1997 on the final hole against Olazabal. I’m not sure we will get that level of drama or quality golf this week but it looks like a great course even if the field isn’t what it would have been here 21 years ago.
The championship course is made up of two 9 hole courses named Rosso and Bianco and while both similar, Rosso is more open and undulating and Bianco is a bit tighter with lots of water in play. An immediate look at some photos of Gardagolf suggest the test won’t be too different from last week and both the winners confirm that. Gronberg is far from a household name but he did win 4 times on the European Tour, K Club, Crans and Randpark GC were the other three courses and he also lost in a play-off at Woburn. Langer obviously won on many different courses in his career but he is a 2-time winner around both Wentworth and Augusta while he has also won at the K Club. K Club isn’t quite as tight as Wentworth or Crans but all these courses look like being good pointers in this week on a course where there are some very abrupt dog-legs within the tree-lined fairways.
When I think of tree-lined tracks one of the first names that pops into my head these days is Matt Fitzpatrick and after a decent showing last week he looks to be in with a great shout in Italy. Fitzpatrick has already won around Crans and Woburn in his short career confirming that he is happiest where finding the fairways is a bit of a challenge. Additionally his U.S. Amateur win came at tree-lined Brookline Country Club which is quite similar visually to Gardagolf. Fitzpatrick was 8th last week and will take confidence from his best performance since January. Looks ready to add to his 4 European Tour titles and he will know he has to lift his game through the summer to keep his Ryder Cup place. Not the fanciest of prices but looks a perfect course for a rejuvenated Fitzpatrick and we shouldn’t forget that his poorer run of form was at a far higher grade on the PGA Tour.
Fabrizio Zanotti is a 2-time winner on Tour with both having come in the last 4 years but he is far from consistent. He is the sort of player you want to back at three figures when in reasonable form and playing on a course where driving accuracy looks to be important. Few hit more fairways than the Paraguayan and he isn’t too shabby when it comes to getting over the line either. He won a 4-man play off for his first win defeating Henrik Stenson, Cabrera-Bello and Gregory Havret who had 14 European Tour wins between them at the time. His 2nd win was at the Maybank Championship around Saujana GC where finding the right area of the fairway is key. So it looks like the course should suit him and he comes in off a 15th place finish at Wentworth. He ranked 9th in total accuracy there and 10th in the all-round ranking so to me he looks an excellent piece of each way value at 100/1.
Rafa Cabrera Bello played the final three rounds last week better than everyone bar Molinari, Noren and Kinhult so he will be arriving full of confidence to a course that should suit his neat and tidy game perfectly. I mocked Jeremy Chapman last week for putting up 4 of the first 7 in the market but yet again his top-heavy approach yielded profit. I’m taking a leaf out of his book this week as I think this could be a course where the class-acts find themselves in contention on Sunday. He is one of the few who will have played an event here before back in 2006 and his record in Italy is decent with 6 top 10s from 15 events. Like Fitzpatrick he will be targeting these Rolex Series events as good chances to consolidate his Ryder Cup position so I’d expect another strong showing. He actually led the field in both putting and fairways hit at Wentworth so a slight improvement in his normally excellent approach play would make him hard to beat.
Summary of bets
Patrick Reed – 1pt ew @ 33/1
Andrew Landry – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 17/2
Jonny Vegas – 0.75 pt ew @ 200/1
Xander Schauffele – 1pt ew @ 80/1 (all 1/5 odds 8 places Pady Power)
Matt Fitzpatrick – 1.5pts ew @ 16/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Fabrizio Zanotti – 0.75 pt ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Boylesports)
Rafa Cabrera-Bello – 1.5pt ew @ 22/1 ( 1/5 odds 7 places Coral)
Weekly points advised = 15 pts
2018 pts advised = 239pts