Last week was a huge disappointment with none of our guys in Europe doing anything after Thursday while in Canada Tony Finau fought back brilliantly on Friday and Saturday before having a shocker on Sunday. He was probably running on empty by then but he looks to me like a future Glen Abbey winner and I think he is also worth keeping a close eye on the next two weeks.
2018 pts advised = 341.50
2018 pts returned = 346.52
ROI = 1.5%
Since 2007 the WGC event from Firestone has sat in the slot ahead of the US PGA on the schedule and in that time it has given the players a nice preparation week ahead of the year’s final major. The test is usually very similar, suiting big hitting, in-form golfers and that has given punters some nice trends to follow. Unfortunately that is all set to change as the PGA moves to May next year. So this is the final chance we get to survey the Firestone field ahead of the US PGA but it also looks to be the best pointer in some time.
Firestone Country Club is a Robert Trent Jones re-design and it sits as a 7400 yards Par 70 with some monstrous Par 4s and the longest Par 5 on Tour. The US PGA is always set up to play as long as possible and this year is no different with Bellerive at some 7500 yards. But the most important factor is that Bellerive is also a Robert Trent Jones design. Form at his courses normally carries over well as he generally sought to design a course where bogeys were easy to come by but pars were somewhat more difficult, That can be seen perhaps best of all at Valderrama in Spain where the winning score is usually single figures under par.
The similarity between the two events coupled with the tournaments being back-to back has brought about a telling stat where the last 10 US PGA winners have finished in the Top 28 at Firestone. Those who aren’t getting too involved from a betting point of view this week should pay close attention to their fancies for Bellerive next week as that trend looks to be as important as ever.
Firestone has been the host of this event in some capacity since 1962 so there is an abundance of course form and over the years a typical sort of winner has been established. The fairways are of average width but unlike most courses there are no dog legs and they all play perfectly straight. This puts straight, accurate drivers at an advantage even before the lush green rough is considered. The last 5 winners have averaged 17th for driving accuracy and while you can get away with missing fairways, you need to be a good long iron player from the rough to get anywhere near the greens. On the long par 4s a missed fairway can result in an approach shot of 200 yards + for most of the field and that is something that not all players are comfortable with.
The greens, while perceived by some to be small, average 7,600 ft in area so they are actually on the larger side. However many of them are elevated with steep slopes and different tiers which make them harder to hold. They also run towards 13″ on the stimpmeter so they should play very fast.
With a field average GIR of 58% over the last 5 years we can see how hard it is to hold the greens. That brings scrambling into the equation and while the likes of Mahan and Johnson don’t immediately stand out as excellent scramblers, they did very well around the greens during the week of their win.
Most winners of the WGC at Firestone are world-class and usually a major winner already. Since 1999 only Hideki Matsuyama (2017), Shane Lowry (2015), Hunter Mahan (2010) and Craig Parry (2002) haven’t won one of the main 4 tournaments and even then Matsuyama’s major win is very likely still to come. To further make the point about class, since 2005 every winner bar 3 has finished that season in the Top 3 of the PGA Tour’s All Round Ranking.
Since 2009 the worst that any winner has finished in that season’s total driving rank is 45th. Seven of the last 10 winners ranked inside the top 24 for strokes gained: off the tee while two of the outliers were Tiger Woods who was often the exception to rules. So they have to be fairly long and fairly accurate drivers to have any chance of winning at Firestone. Eight of the last 10 had already finished inside the top 10 at one of the years majors while 7 of them had already won that season. It isn’t a venue where players tend to just happen across some form and it is usually won by someone whose name has been at the top of the leaderboards most of the summer.
However with all that said the winner usually does most things well as 8 of the last 10 winners finished 1st in the all-round ranking during their win. The following is also their season end rankings in the same stat for the year they won 4-5-n/a-2-1-1-2-36-1-31. That is very impressive and while you certainly want to look at ball-strikers first, such is the test at Firestone it looks imperative that every part of the game is already in order.
Despite there being a couple of negatives, pretty much everything else screams Tommy Fleetwood to me this week here. His 2017 was so good that it looked like he might struggle to follow it up but so far 2018 hasn’t been too shabby either. While he hasn’t won since January it is his consistency at the big events that first put him in my head for Firestone. Four of the last five winners here had finished inside the top 32 at all five of the year’s big stroke play events up to that point (3 majors plus WGC Mexico and The Players). There are definitely attributes required to win here but more often than not it is won by one of the summer’s standout golfers and there is no doubting Tommy falls into that category. He was 14th in Mexico, 17th at the Masters, 7th at the Players, 2nd at the U.S. Open and 12th at the Open. So not only is he top 32 but he is top 20 in all 5 and his win is surely coming.
While he is probably ready to win a major already we often see players do these things gradually by winning a WGC event first. Rose, Day, DJ, Scott, Reed have all won WGCs recently on their way to Major success. We know Firestone rewards long and accurate ball-strikers and we know Tommy is just that. His stats are extremely impressive this year and back up his case further. The most intriguing one is the all-round ranking that we mentioned and Tommy sits in 3rd on the PGA Tour ranking below only Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas. He is also 12th in strokes gained: tee to green and a rather surprising 13th in strokes gained: around the green. Tommy isn’t the best of putters but his lag putting has improved drastically and with a difficult week likely we should see two putt pars as a pretty good score on most holes. Lots of these slick greens will be missed and only the best ball strikers will be able to hold them. His odds of 28/1 aren’t fancy by any means but considering his profile they are perfectly fair. This is his 2nd look at the course where he came 28th on his debut last year.
Patrick Cantlay is finally showing himself to be the elite ball-striker that was promised after his brilliant amateur career. He has had some personal difficulties too so the fact that he is where he wants to be and still only 26 is impressive and still leaves him plenty time to make his mark. He got his maiden win in October and has pushed on well this year with his most recent outing being 12th at The Open. That was on the back of 30th in Mexico, 23rd at The Players and 45th at the US Open. Not spectacular but just the sort of steady performances that tells me his long game is in good shape for a test like Firestone. Cantlay also ranks highly in the all-round ranking in 12th spot while he is 9th in strokes gained: tee to green. It’s maybe a lot to expect him to win on his debut but I can see him getting involved at least and maybe nabbing a place. A bet on the criminally slow Cantlay also comes with the added bonus that if he struggles it means we don’t actually have to watch him play any shots!
Emiliano Grillo won on his very first start with a full PGA card way back in October 2015 at the Frys Open. His career hasn’t quite continued on the upward trajectory that many expected but again it was his all-round ranking that really perked my interest this week. We know he is a brilliant ball-striker and there are few better drivers in the game but his short game can let him down. Sitting 11th in the all-round ranking makes me think this sort of test is coming at the right time. He doesn’t have the bank of summer form that I would ideally be looking for but he was 14th here two years ago on his debut and I really like the course for him. Grillo also ranks 24th in strokes gained: off the tee and does have some ok form in 2018 with five top 10s so far. Ranked 2nd in total accuracy on his last US start so if we forgive his missed cut in the Open he looks a great bet at 125/1. The 4/1 for a top 20 also looks like a nice price.
It’s very possible that Firestone is too long for Andrew Landry but I can’t leave him out here at a monstrous price of 400/1. The main reason is the fact that he contended at Oakmont along with two Firestone winners Dustin Johnson and Shane Lowry and I looked into why that might be. The main reason seems to be that Landry is very proficient playing approach shots out of the rough. In 2016 he led the Tour in proximity from the rough while this year he sits 6th in the same stat. The rough was lush green at Oakmont in 2016 and we see the same every year at Firestone. The two courses are just 2 hours away so climate and conditions will be similar with both courses being a mix of bentgrass and poa annua so I’m sure he will feel comfortable. Certainly comfortable enough to back each way at 400/1 with 6 places! Landry is also a steady driver and sits 43rd in strokes gained: off the tee which is impressive for a shorter hitter. That combined with his impressive approach play from the rough should help him go well around Firestone. I’d say the 300/1 would still be a decent price should the 400 dry up. I’m also having a back-up top 20 bet at 10/1 should he take to the course but just find a dozen or so too good.
Others that were close include Matsuyama who looks like some serious value at 45/1. I’m sure you could back that blind here at Firestone and make profit going forward but I just don’t think his long game is where it needs to be. Webb Simpson owes me nothing after The Players’ win and he is still playing very well but I think Firestone may just be a bit long for him. He has never won on a course longer than 7250 yards and even then that was a Par 71. A 7400 par 70 is probably pushing it for Webb but I’d expect another top 20 finish and I’m going to have a small play on that too.
I’m not including full previews for the other events this week but a few bets caught my eye.
I stupidly backed Shane Lowry thinking that the Barracuda was played on another Robert Trent Jones track but I was muddling this up with another alternate event with a similar name. The Barbasol, held two weeks ago, was played at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail for 3 years while this week’s Barracuda is actually a Jack Nicklaus course. Anyway he returned to form last week at another Jack Nicklaus course in Canada and these alternate events are often won by someone with a bit of historical class perhaps motivated by not being in the week’s main event. Worth a small interest at 25/1.
I noticed a tweet from somebody over the weekend (I can’t remember who) stating that Ollie Schniederjans made more birdies than anyone over the first two days but he still managed to miss the cut. It might be that this Stableford type of event is exactly what he needs if he is racking up big numbers and this drop in grade should also help. Has some form on Nicklaus courses too as he lost a play-off at TPC Cartagena in Colombia on the Web.com two years ago.
I put Ariya Jutanugarn in a couple of different accumulators last week so watched a fair bit of the Ladies Scottish Open over the weekend. There was some pretty grim weather at times and her scrambling was out of this world, something that is always crucial in links golf. Gullane is a proper links test just like they face this week in the Ladies British Open at Royal Lytham. That week of acclimatising will have the best player in the ladies game 100% prepared for this week and to be honest I thought she would be a little shorter than 10/1. I’m going to have a small win bet on the brilliant Thai.
Summary of bets
Tommy Fleetwood – 1.5pt ew @ 28/1 (1/5 odds 6 places Betfred)
Patrick Cantlay – 1pt ew @ 50/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Emiliano Grillo – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 6 places) and 1pt top 20 @ 4/1
Andrew Landry – 0.5pt ew @ 400/1 (1/5 odds 6 places Boylesports) and 1pt Top 20 @ 10/1
Shane Lowry – 0.75pt ew @ 20/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Ollie Schniederjans – 0.75pt ew @ 40/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Women’s British Open
Ariya Jutanugarn – 2pts win @ 9.2 on Betfair Exchange
Weekly pts = 14