Finally some returns for the year with Scrivener’s Top 20 but it was a real shame not to have a profitable week as both Scrivener and Olesen finished in the dreaded 7th place, one shot shy of the place money. Over on the PGA Finau threatened with a place over the weekend but ultimately didn’t putt well enough for what turned into a fairly low scoring event in the end. The greens were a little slower perhaps than we have seen so barring the down hill putts, there was certainly a chance to be a little more aggressive with the putting and that didn’t suit Finau. He ranked 3rd in strokes gained: tee to green though however so he has to remain firmly on the radar.
I wasn’t sure whether I was going to bother with the Saudi International or not and I fully agree with Brandel Chamblee’s stance which he shared on the Golf Channel’s Morning Drive earlier this week. Ultimately though I’m quite fickle when it comes to betting! There is absolutely no chance I’d ever be going to Saudi if I was a player but whether I have a few bets on the event isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference. I don’t think I’ll be watching however and I’m not going to write much about the event itself but I have found a couple of bets below. You know it’s a strange week when Paul Casey is coming out smelling of roses for being the highest profile player to take a stand.
2019 pts advised = 39.50
2019 pts returned = 7.50
When most fans think of the Phoenix Open they think of the famous 16th hole which features the stadium seating and raucous atmosphere but golf bettors are drawn to the type of player that goes well year after year at TPC Scottsdale. Anywhere that Matsuyama has figures of 1-1-2-4 and Kyle Stanley and Hunter Mahan have won obviously doesn’t put too much emphasis on being a brilliant putter. The course isn’t too long at 7266 yards but it is just a par 71. The greens used to be solely bermuda greens until 2015 but now they are overseeded with some bentgrass. Said greens are very large and they can play quite fast as can the fairways with the desert heat baking them out as the week continues. With the large greens comes the need for aggressive iron play in order to get near the flag. The only way to do that is to find the fairway or get the ball as close to the green as possible off the tee. Last year’s 1st and 2nd backed that up nicely, Woodland ranked 8th in driving distance while Reavie ranked 10th in driving accuracy. Those who can do both of these things will be at an immediate advantage! Stats to consider include the likes of total driving, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity to the hole figures from the 150-200 yard area.
Matt Kuchar looked like the best piece of value when the markets opened at 33/1 but unfortunately most of that is gone. I still like him at 25-28 however and it’s a price that I feel reflects how unfashionable a pick he is rather than his chance of winning or placing. Kuchar has been a top 10 machine in all sorts of fields for the last 10 years but it’s entirely possible that the two wins in his last 3 events might push him on to a different level with a new-found confidence. I’ll be following him closely from now until the Masters but in the mean time I think he rates a rock solid each way bet here. His course form is pretty solid and on his last two visits he fired a 64, that was the lowest round of the week last year and was only beaten by a 63 two years ago. It tells us that he is more than comfortable around TPC Scottsdale and I’m expecting him to hold his form. Without a Phoenix Open missed cut since 2004 this looks an ideal stop for Kuch to continue his 2019 season march.
TPC Scottsdale is always a course that rewards tee to green supremacy so it would be foolish of me to give up on last week’s headline tip Tony Finau after he ranked 3rd in the field for strokes gained: tee to green at Torrey Pines. With scoring lower than usual at Torrey he got a little left behind after a poor week on the greens where he ranked 112th. The big negative however is that he has missed his last three cuts at TPC Scottsdale which is a little surprising. The course really should be ideal and if you keep hitting greens then putting doesn’t matter too much, statistically anyway. Poor short to mid-range putters are also capable of doing well on these greens as they are straight-forward enough without too many undulations or tiers. Finau also ranks highly in some key indicators for Scottsdale, he is 13th in proximity to hole from 175-200 yards and 5th in strokes gained: tee to green for 2019. Having thrown 3 points on him last week I’ll just take him 1pt ew as a back up to Kuchar as I really can’t leave him out when that win looks so close.
Austin Cook makes his first start of the year and I think he can be confident of going well on a course where he finished 31st on his debut. He opened the Fall Series 13-41-MC-11 with the 11th including a GIR clip of 86.1% and DA of 85.7% at Sea Island. He will be full refreshed and looking forward to taking that excellent long game into the new year. Cook ranks 4th in scoring relative to par from 150-175 yards and 20th in proximity to the hole from 175-200 yards. These are key metrics for the course and make him look like an interesting each way option here.
Keith Mitchell didn’t enjoy Torrey Pines too much last week but thick rough surrounding the fairways isn’t really to this bomber’s liking. While you can still find plenty trouble off the tee at Scottsdale there is a little more leeway and fairways are considerably wider. Mitchell ranks 4th in strokes gained: tee to green for the season so far but also 4th in strokes gained: around the green. Scrambling is usually important here so that combination of power and touch will help him. Up until last week Mitchell also ranked 8th in scoring relative to par for approaches from 150-175 yards and with his power he should be in that range plenty this week. 125/1 with 8 places at Paddy Power looks a very fair bet considering he was 16th on his previous start before the MC last week.
A 7000 yard course in Saudi that plays as a par 70 with 12 par 4s. Appears much like any other desert course but perhaps even better maintained. Without much to go on I think the best plan for those wanting to get involved in a rather controversial event is to follow the recent desert form and perhaps bet without the world number 1, 2, 3 and 5!
Aaron Rai looks capable of contending here on a course measuring only 7000 yards (if The European Tour scorecard is to be believed). Rai has already won in Kenya and Hong Kong in his short career so he is obviously comfortable playing around the world. Rai’s tee-to-green game is still in great shape and his 29th last week came with a ranking of 9th in driving accuracy and 12th in GIR. These back up his figures from last season where he finished 21st in strokes gained: off the tee and 7th in GIR. Rai is also a very strong putter and was 21st in strokes gained: putting last year. It’s a bit of a guessing game in Saudi this week and with 4 rock solid favourites at the head of the market I think Betfair’s 80/1 with out Rose, Dechambeau, Koepka and Dustin Johnson could be a nice alternative. He should be primed after his season opener last week and is a player who I expect to push on in 2019 especially on the shorter courses.
Romain Langasque is slowly becoming a very fine desert golf exponent on Tour and with the similarities between that and links golf we perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised. Langasque won the Amateur Championship in 2015 around Carnoustie and he has shown an affinity for both types of golf on the Challenge Tour. The week before his first professional win in France in September he was 5th in Kazakhstan and he held his form after that win too. He recorded a 4th place in U.A.E in the Challenge Tour’s Grand Final before closing the season 23-2-15 in the South Africa swing. His 20th place in Dubai last week was a good first outing of the year and also kept up his remarkable desert figures in which he hasn’t missed a cut on either Tour. He will enjoy the 12 par 4s on the course as he sits 7th in par 4 scoring so far in the 2019 season. I think the way to back him this week is in the Top 20 market although I wouldn’t put anyone off the “without favourites market” either.
Final bet is another player who performed brilliantly in the Middle East on the Challenge Tour and suggested so far in January that he is going to continue in that vein on the main Tour. Adria Arnaus won the Grand Final last year in Ras Al Khaimah which followed on from a 9th in Kazakhstan in September. He then started 2019 with a 22nd in Abu Dhabi and a 29th last week in Dubai. Like many Spaniards he loves playing in these warm conditions and I like the idea of backing him to improve a little and land a top 20. The elite field might just put him off his game but at 11/2 it still rates a decent bet.
Summary of bets
Matt Kuchar – 1.75pt ew @ 25/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Paddy Power)
Tony Finau – 1pt ew @ 20/1 (1/5 odds 8 places PP)
Austin Cook – 0.75pt ew @ 90/1 (1/5 odds 8 places PP)
Keith Mitchell – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 8 places PP)
Aaron Rai – 1pt ew @ 80/1 w/o Rose, Bryson, Koepka and DJ (1/4 odds 5 places) and 1pt Top 20 @ 4/1
Romain Langasque – 2pts Top 20 @ 10/3
Adria Arnaus – 1pt Top 20 @ 11/2
Weekly points advised = 14pts