It was the best week so far in 2019 as 4 out of 7 bets landed in some form or other. Aphibarnrat got the full place money and the top 20 while Li bagged a small share of the top 20 money. Best performer was Amy Yang however who won in Thailand at 28/1. In total 72.83 pts were returned to take the year into profit and boost confidence ahead of the main part of the season.
This week the PGA Tour heads back north to Florida while the European Tour is back in the Middle East with the Oman Open.
2019 pts advised = 88.50
2019 pts returned = 110.33
ROI = 24.67%
The Florida swing gets underway at PGA National in Palm Beach and it is the first of 4 events in the Sunshine State. The course is a 7140 yard par 70 with water in play and a mix of open holes and tree-lined ones. The fairways are wide enough however and driving accuracy hasn’t been too crucial recently.
Links players tend to play very well here given the similar skill-set. The greens are small and the course is exposed to the elements so a tidy short game is perhaps the most important attribute here and one I have paid close attention to. The lowest winning score we have seen at the course since the switch in 2007 is -13 back in 2010 but only twice since has it been in double figures. This is a coastal resort course but not like the others on Tour, this is a tough test where avoiding bogeys is far more important than racking up birdies. This will require a different mindset compared to many of the events we have seen this year. Mexico last week was pretty tough so while traveling back to the US maybe wasn’t the best preparation, those who teed it up at Chapultepec should arrive with their games primed for PGA National.
Stats wise bogey avoidance and strokes gained: around the green are key. The last 5 winners ranked 1st, 9th, 6th,6th and 9th in scrambling for the week. The last 3 winners finished their winning season 12th, 11th and 21st in bogey avoidance respectively.
I have to go in again on Kiradech Aphibarnrat after landing T3rd place last week. He was under rated last week and on opening show appears to be again. It makes a lot of sense that European Tour players aren’t given immediate respect in the markets for PGA events but the likeable Thai has shown time and time again what a great player he is and beyond just last week’s finish there was a lot to like about his game for PGA National. More often lauded for his short game skills he ranked 5th in strokes gained: tee to green and in elite company that has to make him of interest stepping back down to a fairly average PGA Tour field. Aphi also led the field in scrambling however so his short game was as good as ever, even if we didn’t get to see any of it over the weekend! He has won before on a links course as he took the inaugural Paul Lawrie Match Play title at Murcar Links in 2015 while his win last year at Lake Karrinyup requires similar skills. His Open record isn’t great but a warm weather links course in his current form looks perfect. There is still some 60/1 around but Skybet’s 50/1 with 8 places makes most appeal to me.
Again the first 4 or 5 players in the betting have solid claims but I’ve gone a little further down the market for my next pick. Billy Horschel’s career stalled a little after he won the Fed Ex Cup in 2014 but he has had a win in each of the last 2 seasons so is gradually getting back to where he was. Horschel is Florida born and bred and none of his five wins have come west of Dallas so he will be happy to be back on Eastern Time. With that said though he hasn’t been in bad form at all in the early part of the year with his results reading 45-38-8-25. The 45th in Mexico was let down by a Friday 76 as he opened with a 68 and closed 70-71 over the weekend. Horschel is 42nd in bogey avoidance and he was 7th for scrambling last week, which is impressive as plenty struggled around the tricky green complexes. We know his tee-to-green game is usually pretty reliable and he has been putting fairly well so far this year, ranking 58th with the short stick. Horschell also sits 26th in scoring relative to par from 150-175 yards and that range will be in-play a lot this week. The main reason for the bet however is some strong recent course form. He missed the cut last year but prior to that he went 4th-8th in 2017 and 2016. I think that makes the 40/1 look very fair in this field but I’m probably going to side with Coral’s 33/1 and 7 places.
I’ve been paying close attention to Harold Varner III over the last year or so and I’m convinced he is going to have a good year in 2019. He hasn’t done much at this course in 3 attempts but his last start in Florida was 7th at the Players Championship and he currently ranks 10th in bogey avoidance. For me that should make him a good fit for another course with small, bermuda greens. He has been a little up and down so far in 2019 but there has been plenty to like, namely his 10th at the Phoenix Open when he ranked 4th in GIR. The last two winners of this were ahead of him in 1st and 3rd so I’m hoping we see that HVIII rather than the one who missed the cut at the Genesis. That is entirely possible though as he is another who is more comfortable on the East Coast and is yet to post a top 10 in California. Very little harm can be done backing him at up to 125/1 in this field.
A good previous finish is usually an advantage at this difficult layout so I thought I’d add one more with Sung-Hoon Kang looking a little over priced. He was 10th in 2016 here and some of his best results have come at courses where previous Honda Champions have had success. He was 3rd at the CIMB Classic in 2017, 2nd at the Houston Open in 2017 and 8th at Riviera in 2016. Kang isn’t setting the world on fire stats wise this year but he has been posting some decent finishes. He was 10th at the Sony Open, 20th at Torrey Pines and 14th at Pebble Beach. Skybet’s 125/1 with 8 places is just too tempting.
This is just the European Tour’s 2nd stop in Oman but the course was also in use on the Challenge Tour from 2015-2017. That course is the Al Mouj GC in Muscat and it was met with very favourable reviews from the players last year. It is a beautiful links style course that measures 7365 yards and sits looking out across the Gulf of Oman. As with most of the links style layouts in the Middle East it is exposed to the wind, heavily bunkered and has undulating fairways. However this perhaps more so than any of the others on rotation properly resembles a links course. Several holes really hug the coast line and some of the holes wind there way through big dunes covered in tall grasses. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is actually a UK course but they get to play in wall to wall sunshine so you can see why it is so popular. Last year’s winner Joost Luiten has a very solid bank of links form even if he doesn’t yet have much of an Open record.
While Luiten isn’t renowned for his putting he actually led the field last year in total putting with runner-up Chris Wood ranking 3rd with the putter. Wood is another links specialist however and there were another 3 UK players in the top 10. There are no stats available for the Challenge Tour event so last year’s analysis is pretty much all we have in that department. The course was designed by Greg Norman and while he doesn’t have too many courses on rotation on the European Tour he did design Golf Club El Prat in Barcelona which hosted the 2011 and 2015 Open De Espana. The course is inland but the bunkering and green complexes are very similar.
Mathieu Pavon recorded a 65 last year and also shot 65 and a 66 to finish 3rd around the course on the Challenge Tour in 2015. Last year’s was only good enough for him to finish 31st but he was let down by the putter. That shouldn’t be the case this year though as he ranks 7th in strokes gained: putting. His form hasn’t been great this year so far in similar events but he has shown lots of promise over the last 2 years on Tour so I’m hoping a return to a more familiar course might bring about an improvement. He does have some solid links form with top 10s in the Nordea Masters and the Scottish Open. Worth a go at 80/1 in this sort of field.
I’ve been looking for an opportunity to back Zander Lombard on a proper links course since he showed his hand early on at Carnoustie last year when sitting 6th at half way. He scrambles brilliantly on fast, grainy links greens and despite only finishing 65th here last year I think he should enjoy the course. He was in very poor form last year while his whole game is in great shape this year. That hasn’t always been borne out in his results though but he does have three top 5s world-wide in his last 9 events. The highlight of those being a 3rd place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Championship. It is his stats that really stand out this year though and they suggest that it is just a matter of time before he begins to fulfil his potential. For the 2019 season Lombard is 4th in strokes gained: tee to green and 9th in strokes gained: around the green. Add in the fact he was 1st in putting when during that 3rd at Leopard Creek and he looks to have an excellent chance here if he can put that all together for 4 rounds.
George Coetzee has to get backed this week on value alone. I know he has been in horrid form since winning for the blog early last season but I can’t see how he is as big as 100/1. He shot an opening 67 last week in Mexico and then scared the leaderboard further on Friday with a front 9 of 35. He fell away to finish down in 56th place but it should have given him a boost and this isn’t a very good field at all. At his best he would be somewhere around 25/1 here so I’m happy to take 4x that and just cross my fingers. If conditions weren’t ideal then maybe I’d leave him out but links style desert courses are what Coetzee is all about. He has racked up 9 top 10s in the Middle East already and should go well on his first look at Al Mouj GC.
I normally don’t like backing too many but I got a bit carried away with some of the big prices on Monday so I have 2 more this week for small stakes.
Ashun Wu has form at lots of key courses namely winning at The Dutch Golf Club when he scopped the KLM Open in September (Luiten won there in 2016). His other win came at the Lyoness Open where both Chris Wood and Joost Luiten have won. Wu has a brilliant short game and that proved to be crucial last year here. He is currently 8th in scrambling and 2nd in one putts this year. His results haven’t been brilliant so far in 2019 but this should be right up his street so I’m expecting an improvement on last year’s missed cut.
Romain Wattel is another winner at The Dutch and has lots of links form over his 8 seasons on Tour. He is a very frustrating player to back as he is so inconsistent. It is hard to know whether we will see the player who missed the cut in Saudi or the player who posted a 16th in the Dubai Desert Classic but I don’t think I can leave him out given Betfair’s standout 150/1 with 7 places.
Summary of bets
Kiradech Aphibarnrat – 1pt ew 50/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Billy Horschel – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Coral)
Sung-hoon Kang – 0.75pt ew @ 125/1 (Skybet)
Harold Varner III – 0.75 pt ew @ 100/1 (Skybet)
Mathieu Pavon – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Zander Lombard – 0.75pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
George Coetzee – 0.75pt ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Ashun Wu – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfair)
Romain Wattel – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 (Betfair)
Weekly points advised = 13.5 pts