In truth last week I really shouldn’t have bothered putting any bets up at all. I didn’t have the chance to do as much research as normal but as I backed a few I felt obliged to put them up. Another week where I only manage to stick the bets up I would recommend in advance that all readers just ignore me!
2018 pts advised = 277.50
2018 pts returned = 327.69
ROI = 18%
Quicken Loans National
Tiger’s event returns for its 12th running and after lots of venue changes luckily there isn’t another change of course and we return to TPC Potomac which came back on the schedule last year for the first time since 2006. Kyle Stanley pipped Charles Howell III to the title last year and that pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the course. It’s all about career ball-strikers. Fairways and greens then repeat. Stanley putted terribly but still won around a layout with narrow fairways and slick, hard to hit bentgrass greens. He ranked 1st in GIR along the way. With talk of the rough being up again this year that looks like the best route in again. Find someone who has the ball on a string from tee-to-green and don’t worry too much about the fact they have been putting like an 18 handicapper. The test of accuracy is enough that a hot putter should not be required. It obviously won’t hinder on any week but if they can’t find the short grass then it won’t matter. Stanley ranked 47th in total putting while Howell was 21st last year. A look at previous winners at TPC Potomac also flags up the need for hitting greens. Ben Curtis was 2nd in GIR in 2006 and Adam Scott was 1st in 2004.
Brilliant ball strikers who can’t putt? Step forward Keegan Bradley. He was 5th here last year but for some reason he isn’t playing this week. Most annoying as this would have been a great chance for him to get that rather elusive 4th win.
David Lingmerth’s 2018 hasn’t been going according to plan at all but he posted his first top 20 of the season last week at the Travelers. So his confidence might be boosted ahead of a return to a course where he was the 36 hole leader last year after opening with a pair of 65s. The weekend didn’t go to plan but it certainly tells us that he likes the course. Lingmerth is a regular for the blog and he maybe isn’t for everyone but I’m hoping last week might be a turnaround so Potomac looks the ideal course for him to continue his improvement.
Rory Sabbatini missed the cut last week but prior to that he had been playing some decent golf in 2018 and he has recorded 8 top 30 finishes. The highlight of those being a 5th at the Valspar in March. His stars aren’t particularly good for this but I’m having a speculative punt on him largely due to his dated course form. The course has undergone a major redesign since but Sabbatini won at Potomac in 2003 and he finished 3rd a year later when defending. The South African also ranked 1st in the all-round ranking both years so I’m putting some faith in the course still fitting his eye and perhaps bringing back some fond memories of a time when Sabbatini was a very accomplished PGA Tour player. There’s not much to get excited about here this week so it looks like an event where taking a chance on some historical class might be worthwhile.
Byeong-hun An looks as good an option as any for a 3rd pick. His ball-striking has been brilliant of late and he got involved for us for the first 2 days at the US Open. I backed him there for his ability to hit hard and hast greens and I think that makes him look like a sensible play again here. He very nearly got his first PGA Tour win a few weeks ago when he lost a 3 man play-off to Bryson Dechambeau. The 3rd man was none other than last year’s Quicken Loans winner Kyle Stanley, which further suggests the course should suit. Benny was 29th here last year but I’m expecting him to improve for another look and he is far more comfortable on Tour this year. He is another player that I keep backing but it is surely a case of when rather than if with him and there isn’t a great deal to beat this week.
Open De France
This week in France not only do we have one of the best courses on Tour and also one of the strongest events year after year, but there is an added interest. The host course Le Golf National is also hosting the Ryder Cup in late September which brings about a very intriguing aspect to an already exciting betting heat. Bizarrely only Justin Thomas has made the trip from the prospective U.S. team but pretty much everyone competing for a spot on the European team is in the field. With the exception of those that are pretty much locks; Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. This means that the 2nd tier of European players will be absolutely desperate to show Thomas Bjorn just how well they can play the course. Especially given how competitive the 4 captain picks will be at the end of the summer. Who will cope with that added pressure? Who might come through from under the radar to grab a Rolex Series win and throw their name in the hat? Which Ryder Cup veteran might return to form at a course they know better than most? It looks set to be an excellent event with many different stories unfolding as the week progresses.
The course is an exposed inland links but it also has lots of water in play. It’s a 7330 yard par 72 that generally tests most aspects of the game and it is a course that really can’t be overpowered. Such is the undulating nature of the ground, missing the fairways can be doubly punished. The rough has so many slopes and hillocks that not only can the golf ball be nestled in thick green rough but the player could be standing on a 30 degree incline while trying to gouge their ball out. Bubba Watson famously found this out when he appeared here back in 2011 and he struggled to a 74-74 missed cut. That requirement for accuracy off the tee is further boosted by a look at recent winners; Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thongchai Jaidee and Bernd Weisberger. With relatively small, undulating and fast greens, accuracy is also paramount with the irons. The last 5 winners have ranked 1st, 18th, 2nd, 22nd and 1st in GIR. As like any course with an undulating, exposed links nature, scrambling is also hugely important. Fleetwood’s poor course form prior to winning last year can probably be attributed to his short game improvement. Again the last 5 winners ranked 9th, 2nd, 3rd, 15th and 2nd in scrambling.
Of further interest here will be how bad they decide to leave the rough this week. There is no question that letting it grow for the Ryder Cup will benefit the European team and with so few US players in the field it will probably pay to have it playing as similarly as they can to September.
Le Golf National is one of those classic tests that simply rewards well struck shots and while one big number can ruin a round there are enough birdie opportunities out there for a player willing to plot their way around the course. While the powerful Justin Thomas has more than enough ability to win here on his debut I’m certainly leaning to those who have experience of the course and perhaps the more patient types. Jon Rahm probably doesn’t quite have the temperament yet to win around here for me and I’m also happy to leave him out. With power taking a bit of a backseat many of the shorter hitters will be targeting Le Golf National as a chance to make some good money in a Rolex Series event.
Tommy Fleetwood returns looking to defend the title he won here last year and for me he looks the man to beat. Luckily the presence of Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas in the field gives us a decent price about Fleetwood and having thought about it I simply have to back him. He is in better form than anyone in the field and despite his previous poor form at the course, you would struggle to design a better course for Tommy than an exposed links course with a premium on accurate ball-striking. Tommy showed us in January that he is now not only comfortable winning but also defending titles as he successfully retained the Abu Dhabi Championship. His missed cut last week doesn’t worry me too much as he was no doubt still coming down from the excitement of being properly in contention at the US Open. Fleetwood is a player that I often shy away from backing as it took me a while to believe the hype as I really didn’t rate his short game. But while I still don’t think he is a great putter he has very much improved his scrambling and he does seem to at least hole his share of longer putts now. With his tee-to-green game currently being well inside the top 10 in world golf, he only needs to putt averagely to beat fields like this on a course like this. I really think he will contend again and I think we are getting a very fair each way price to have a confident bet on.
I did consider leaving it at that but I couldn’t resist a small play on somewhat course specialist Mike Lorenzo Vera. With so many repeat top 10 offenders at Le Golf National I think there is a good chance he can go well again on home turf. He looks to have improved again this year and has been threatening to win throughout 2018. It would be a hell of an effort to get his first European Tour win in his national Open but making the each way money looks well within his capabilities. Last year he finished 3rd and in 2015 he finished 6th. Having taken his game to a new level I think the 66/1 looks a shade too big.
I’m also struggling to leave Rafa Cabrera-Bello out here given his brilliant form and his 4th place in 2016. He has been threatening to win a bigger event than this so far in 2018 but he showed with last year’s Scottish Open win just what he can do at this time of year in these sort of fields. We backed him a few weeks ago and he delivered the place money to continue his run of impressive results on the European Tour. RCB ranks 3rd in scrambling on the ET for 2018 and he is another whose short game improvement has helped him perform on a consistent basis in any field in the world. At times earlier in his career he was difficult to watch such was the chasm between his tee-to-green game and his short game. With that no longer being the case it is possible to back him with the confidence that you should get a run for your money at a venue like Le Golf National. Much like Fleetwood an exposed links type course where accuracy is crucial should play to Rafa’s strengths.
Martin Kaymer has made the top 20 here 8 out of his 11 events with six of those being top 10s and of course one of those being his 2009 win. He has also posted top 20s in 4 of his last 6 European Tour events. He loves the course and it suits his all-round game. It has been well documented lately that his chipping yips have been holding him back a little but there were signs of improvement in that area last week as he finished runner-up to Matt Wallace in Germany. His odds are suggesting he has a 36% chance of posting a top 20 whereas his course form tells us that is more like a 73% chance. I think a player of his ability arriving in form looks massively over priced for a top 20 here and it ranks one of my more confident bets this year. I’m staking this to pay for the rest of the bets in the tournament should he oblige
Summary of bets
David Lingmerth – 0.75pt ew @ 50/1 (1.5 odds 6 places Betfred)
Rory Sabbatini – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Benny An – 0.75 pt ew @ 40/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Open De France
Tommy Fleetwood – 2pts ew @ 14/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Rafa Cabrera Bello – 1pt ew @ 20/1 (Skybet)
Mike Lorenzo Vera – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
Martin Kaymer – 4pts Top 20 @ 7/4
Weekly pts advised = 15pts