The 2020 PGA Tour season finally gets underway just 3 weeks after the 2019 season finished. Elsewhere the European Tour heads to another new course for the KLM Open and the Solheim Cup takes place at Gleneagles.
2019 pts advised = 427.50
2019 pts returned = 492.73
ROI = 15.26%
The PGA Tour can barely have caught it’s breath here as it returns quicker than pre-season football in Scotland. The next few tournaments are often referred to as the “Fall Series” and they provide a great chance for the new batch of Korn Ferry graduates to make some good money straight out of the blocks. The courses are fairly straight-forward and often low scoring much like they see on the 2nd tier Tour. The fields are also quite poor as most of the top players take an extended break at this time of year.
Bryson Dechambeau is the favourite here and the fact that Viktor Hovland, as brilliant as he is, is the 2nd favourite tells us plenty about the depth of field. The course is TPC Old White at Greenbrier and it’s a fairly average length par 70 at around 7280 yards.
A look through previous winners shows a good mix of players and they did things different ways. Four of the last six winners led the field in putting while the other two both led the field in GIR. So while no one attribute is required, it looks like anyone wanting to win at Greenbrier had better either be pounding the greens or holing everything in sight.
The last man to win here was Kevin Na in July 2018 and given that he also won just 6 starts ago at Colonial I couldn’t believe that he was available to back at up to 50/1 this week. I really don’t understand it and I think we need to have a chunky bet on value grounds alone. Na was last seen withdrawing at the BMW as his wife was about to have their 2nd child. So he might be a little tired but I don’t think that warrants him being 3 x the price of Hovland here who hasn’t even played the course before. I’m not sure if it is the years of slow play or his long game yips that have made him unfashionable but he often goes off at too big a price these days. Na is a seriously good golfer and on a course where driving distance isn’t hugely important he is world class at his best. Lets hope we get some of that “nappy factor” this week! 😉
Robert Streb has some good finishes here and looks worth a go here arriving having regained his PGA Tour card via the Korn Ferry finals. His course form is 11-2-2-71-41 and that’s pretty much why I’m backing him. It’s an ideal stop for his first start back and as a PGA Tour winner he won’t fear too many in this field. With his priority ranking just 32nd from the 50 graduates he will know that he won’t get too many chances on ideal courses in the new year so he will be eager to make the most of this. At 66/1 he could be bigger but it’s a solid enough each way price given his course form.
The KLM Open moves to Amsterdam and the Ian Woosnam designed International Golf Club. It hasn’t seen any main Tour professional golf to date so everyone will be going in relatively blind to the new layout. It has however hosted the Dutch Seniors Open in 2013 and 2014 won by Simon P Brown and Ian Woosnam himself.
The layout looks to be a real mix of holes featuring elevation changes, dog-legs, short par 4s and par 5s and well bunkered, difficult green complexes. They feature several different tiers and are heavily undulating so could well be the main challenge on a par 73 layout which measures under 7000 yards. The most substantial review I found suggested the nature of the tee-shots provide a lot of risk-reward opportunities as they can go round a dog-leg to shave 40 yards off on some holes or attempt to carry water features and bunkers in order to elave themselves shorter irons in to the green. I think we could be set for a fun week and players who are happy to think their way around a course but also play aggressive golf when required should take to the International course.
I’ve been monitoring Jamie Donaldson closely over the summer since he started upping his schedule after hand and wrist injuries. At his best he was a strong driver of the ball and considered it the best club in his bag. After returning it was his long game that he struggled with, particularly his driver. So I thought it was very noteworthy that he has hit more than 70% of his fairways on his last three starts. You have to go back to 2008 for evidence of when he last did that. The confidence that he will have from being somewhere back to his best off the tee will be crucial for him the rest of the season as he looks to retain his card. His iron play is always rather steady and this year is no different ranking 24th in strokes gained: approaches. He is also 2nd around the green and with the multi-tiered, undulating greens both these areas will be crucial. The course resembles that of Gleneagles where Donaldson enjoyed perhaps the greatest week of his career. Both are parkland courses that feature links style undulations and lots of elevation changes. The varied nature of the 18 holes will suit someone who is capable through the bag and experienced enough to plot their way through the risk-reward nature of many of the holes. He signed off in Crans with a 69-66 weekend and if he keeps that momentum with the driver I’d expect him to out play his odds of 100/1 this week in what is a fairly modest field.
As most regular readers will know I like to get George Coetzee onboard whenever there is the potential for difficult greens given he is such a good putter. He can often be too short a price but that’s not the case this week as he is 80/1 in places. Often a wayward driver he should enjoy the shorter nature of the course that will allow him to keep the ball in play. From there he is a very good short iron player when he is on form and with his aggressive wedge-play he can get after the 5 Par 4s under 400 yards. It’s not been the greatest year on the course for George but the short-stick has been as consistent as ever ranking 16th in strokes gained: putting, 14th in putts per GIR and 39th in 3-putt avoidance. He is also 6th in this field for birdie average this season. A short course like this could well turn into a putting competition in benign conditions so it could pay to have one of the best on the greens on the team at a healthy each way price.
The Solheim Cup returns to Europe and it’s Gleneagles turn to host this time around making it just the 3rd course to host both the Ryder Cup and the Soheim Cup and the first in Europe.
It looks very tough to call the winner given the number of rookies on the US team. Team USA are the favourites but with the Asian domination of the womens game, there aren’t too many of the games proper elite here. Lexi Thompson, the world no. 3, is probably the only superstar on show but that will mean that Europe will fancy their chances even if they are a little behind in the world rankings. The outright market isn’t one where you want to have a big bet given the low odds but I’m expecting a tight contest so some correct score plays in favour of a narrow Europe win look a sensible way to have an interest in the outright. But I have managed to find one standout bet in the player markets.
Lizette Salas has been in great form this year with her record in the big 5 majors reading 17-26-5-13-2 and the 2nd place coming on these shores in the British Open at Woburn. Salas is making her 4th Solheim appearance and in a team with 7 rookies that should make her experience vital. That combined with her reliable long game should mean that she plays a minimum of 4 matches and I think that makes her a standout bet in both the Top US market at 8/1 and the Top Overall market at 14/1. Only Lexi and Nelly Korda have won more money than Salas in 2019 and given she took 3pts out of 4 in 2017 I think she has been too easily dismissed in both markets. Not only does she have the runner-up finish in England this summer but on her British Open debut at St. Andrews she was 6th and she was 14th on her last start in Scotland at Kingsbarns in 2017. Both those featured lots of wind and bad weather so with the forecast looking distinctly Scottish over the weekend, Salas should handle the conditions.
My only other bet is one that I have to make on value alone even if it’s a low odds bet and it could go either way! Europe are 15/8 with Skybet to win the opening foursomes session on Friday morning with the tie 13/5 and USA 5/4. Europe have only lost one of the last 10 Solheim foursomes sessions and in that period they lead the shared ball scoring 46-34. In Solheim history I have them down as 58.5-50.5 leaders in this format having won 12 of 27 foursome sessions. Therefore we are essentially backing a historical 2.25 shot at 2.88 and I imagine US were the favourite in plenty of those sessions too. The US team does look stronger but we have seen them come unstuck in both the Solheim and Ryder Cup in this format. For whatever reason the strong team ethic needed for foursomes doesn’t quite come as naturally to them and Europe will know they need to win these sessions again to have any hope. With a largely home crowd (and Scottish Captain) cheering them on early Friday morning and in their favoured format I think the Europeans are over priced here. Europe have been cut since I started writing this as some shrewd money must have battered the opening 15/8 with Skybet. There are still several firms with 7/4 however and I still like that price.
Summary of bets
Kevin Na – 1.5pts ew @ 45/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Robert Streb – 0.5pts ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Coral)
Jamie Donaldson – 1pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
George Coetzee – 0.75pts ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfred)
Lizette Salas – 1.5pts win Top US points scorer @ 8/1
Lizette Salas – 1.75pts ew Top Combined points scorer @ 14/1 (1/4 odds 4 places)
Europe to win Friday Morning Foursomes Session – 3pts @ 7/4
Weekly points advised = 15.5pts