I should be feeling refreshed after a week off the previews but I must admit I’m struggling to care too much about this week with the Ryder Cup looming and that might be the same for anyone finding themselves lagging behind off the pace at East lake this week. Despite my initial ambivalence though I’ve managed to get quite heavily involved!
Two weeks ago Nach Elvira grabbed us a place and that kept the blog creeping ever closer to being back in profit. One good week will turn it all around again…….
2018 pts advised = 424
2018 pts returned = 413.2
ROI = -2.55%
I must admit despite my love of East Lake I really found it hard to get any excitement for this with Ryder Cup looming next week. To be honest I’m not sure why they have these back to back with the majority of players involved in both events. For some this will be a bit of a nuisance as those languishing down in 25th-30th can’t really have any significant impact on proceedings and would surely rather be in France preparing. For others towards the top of the Fed Ex rankings they will be dreaming of a $12m pay-day on Sunday but to be honest most of the guys wouldn’t even really notice it in their bank accounts. I’m struggling to find any sort of angle in from a motivational point of view and therefore this has all the makings of a damp squib of a tournament where the likes of Bryson, Rose and DJ could find themselves playing their own tournament over the weekend.
But we may as well look at the design as East Lake is a bit of a gem and one of designer Donald Ross’ finest efforts. It is a long and strategic par 70 with dog-legged fairways that wind their way through the trees and around the East Lake itself. The challenge is an all-round one as no aspect of the course is easy. The correct side of the fairways are required in order to again find the right area of the green and all this demands accuracy over power which is so often the case on Ross courses that stand the test of time better than most classical layouts. Rees Jones carried out a redesign in the late 90s to help bring it back to Ross’ original design while also allowing some future proofing. The result has been a course that has the held the Tour ending event ever since 2004 and it still presents a very fair challenge.
Greens in regulation is usually the name of the game at East Lake but as important is leaving the ball below the hole. Most of Ross’ courses have greens that slope back to front meaning that long is no use and distance control is paramount to ensure that you don’t short side yourself. Ball-strikers come to the fore which we can see not only from East Lake leaderboards but at most Donald Ross designs in general. The only other regular stop of his on the PGA Tour is Sedgefield and the form stacks up between the two, even more so now that they both have bermuda greens. Indeed the last two Wyndham winners have both won at East Lake. Other courses used recently include last week’s Aronimink GC, 2014 US Open venue Pinehurst No. 2 and 2013 US PGA host Oak Hill. Before Schauffele last year, the previous 8 Tour Championship winners were all inside the top 35 at Pinehurst while 4 of the top 10 at Oak Hill are now East Lake winners. As Justin Rose proved when he nearly doubled up at Aronimink, Donald Ross form nearly always repeats itself. Indeed that leaderboard wouldn’t be the worst starting place for research ahead of this week where 4 of the top 8 have won here before.
Brooks Koepka certainly has a point when he suggests he doesn’t get the credit he deserves and that looks to stand true with the bookmakers this week if nobody else. Koepka is 5th in the betting this week at 14/1 and behind Rose, McIlroy, DJ and JT. In the last two seasons those 4 men have 1 major between them while Brooks has 3. “But Koepka isn’t suited to East Lake!” I hear you shout. Well I’d maybe tend to agree with that but for someone who didn’t like it last year he did rather well by finishing 6th. The only one of those ahead of him here in the betting was JT who finished 2nd to lift the Fed Ex Cup. “But he’s in poor form!” Not really. Koepka signed off his first look at Aronimink with 65-66 over the weekend which followed a 12th and an 8th in the first two play-off events. Of course his previous event before the play-offs was the small matter of his US PGA win. On the season he ranks 10th in bogey avoidance which is always key here and he is 12th in strokes gained: tee to green.
Yet again Koepka is being massively under estimated and 14/1 looks a fantastic price. Koepka has stated himself that he often struggles to focus on some of the regular events, instead needing the intensity of a major to bring about the required concentration. I’d wager that lifting the Tour Championship, Fed Ex Cup and Player of the Year all in one swoop will have Koepka massively focussed heading to Atlanta. To me that makes him possibly the most dangerous player in the field and he really should be a lot closer to Rose in the betting. With it being the final event of the 2018 season I’m keen to secure a profitable season so I’m going in heavy on Brooks to try to take advantage of the value.
Francesco Molinari looks worth a bet here as the course could almost be custom-built for the tee-to-green machine. Find the fairway, hit the green and two-putt for par will do no harm at East Lake especially as things firm up over the weekend. Molinari has held his Open winning form over and was 8th last time out at Aronimink. He will arrive for his Tour Championship debut oozing confidence and decent week with the putter should see him go well. For good measure he was 23rd at Pinehurst in 2014 and 33rd at Oak Hill where he ranked 1st in GIR and 2nd in fairways hit!
Despite nobody having won the Tour Championship twice in a row and only Phil having even won twice at East Lake, I think Xander Schauffele looks to be a nice enough price to do just that. He arrives off the back of a 3rd place finish at Aronimink where he ranked 3rd in the all-round ranking. When all parts of his game are working he usually goes close and in theory winning here on his debut should be a lot harder than winning again this time. His best results this season have again been at difficult championship layouts with a runner-up finish at the Players being followed by another 2nd at Carnoustie. He seems to enjoy a tee to green test and I don’t imagine last year’s performance was a fluke.
The Portugal Masters heads to Vilamoura and the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course for the 12th time, which gives us a very nice bank of form to look at. The course is a wide open, exposed par 71 where its relative lack of length and minimal rough allow low scoring and very straight forward conditions. Everyone in the field will find themselves hitting in excess of 65% of these huge greens and more often than not that results in a bit of a putting competition. The bombers have the advantage that they can let rip and not be penalised but they will also be able to be more aggressive with their approaches and find the right area of the greens.
Last year’s winner certainly isn’t what you would call a good putter but Bjerregaard gave himself so many looks with his brilliant approaches that he found the pace early on and went on to rank 1st in the greens. He was chased home by Marc Warren who hit 82% of his greens despite ranking 3rd last in fairways hit from those that made the cut. In 2016 Harrington was similarly wayward with both his driving and approaches yet his short game display rolled back the years as he averaged just 25 putts per round. The 2015 winner Andy Sullivan did most things well but perhaps most striking was the fact that he got up and down for par on all 13 occasions where he missed a green.
This helps confirm what we know about the Dom Pedro course and it is the sort of skill set required at similar events like the Qatar Masters and the Alfred Dunhill Links. There are many repeat offenders on those leaderboards and they are worth a look at to potentially help with angles in this week.
With just 4 regular season events left many of the players will find themselves looking at the Race To Dubai rankings to see what is required of them. This will differ greatly across the field as some simply look to secure their 2019 card while others aim to break into or consolidate their position in the top 60. Then of course we have the top tier of players who will be looking to take advantage of 10 of the 12 Ryder Cup players being absent as they jostle for position at the top of the rankings. The whole narrative begins to make for an interesting event, even if eyes are already being drawn to France and Le Golf National. This motivation angle has helped me find some attractive looking bets as those trading under 20/1 all look short enough to me. With as many as 8 places being paid this week I think there is definitely some each way value to be had.
There is simply no way for me to avoid backing my main man George Coetzee here at 50/1. Putting an indifferent summer aside it looks a massive price when we consider he was 7th here last year. Last week in Holland Coetzee was back to letting rip off the tee as he ranked 1st in driving distance. This is an aspect of his game that has been up and down as he has tried to find a balance between accuracy and distance off the tee. That won’t matter too much in Vilamoura as you can pretty much hit it sideways off the tee and still have a chance of finding the green. Coetzee will then be aggressive enough with his short irons to go flag-hunting and very few in the field putt better on these grainy types of greens. Coetzee is currently outside the top 60 on the Race To Dubai so he knows he has to finish the season strongly. Despite that position of 66th though he still ranks 9th in putts per round and 42nd in scrambling. If he has a decent week with the approach play I’d expect another contending performance on a course where his results read 7-31-21-6-3.
My next bet is another repeat offender and one that I definitely want to be onboard for when he gets his first win. For Ryan Fox it is very much a matter of time and he fits a similar profile to last year’s winner Lucas Bjerregaard. Both had been posting plenty of top 10s and contending in very strong European Tour fields throughout the year. Fox was extremely unlucky not to win in Ireland when Knox scuppered him with consecutive 40ft putts on the 18th hole. The wider links fairways allowed Fox to let rip and he ranked 3rd in GIR for the week. Indeed Fox ranks 20th for the season in GIR and despite his missed cut here last year he should really be perfectly suited to the exposed course. I’m in danger of backing him at restrictive prices but I have to give him another go on a layout like this. Fox ranks 11th on the Race To Dubai rankings and the only man above him in this field is favourite Olesen. That suggests maybe 33/1 isn’t too bad at all with 8 places as he looks to break into the top 10.
I couldn’t decide between Jordan Smith and Nino Bertasio for a 3rd pick so instead I’ve added them both. Smith showed a glimpse of his 2017 form again last week as he ranked 10th at the KLM Open. That was another trending performance as he had been 36th in Czech Republic before a 20th place finish in Denmark. Smith ranked 1st in the all-round ranking last week and while this is his debut at the course he has a 6th at the Qatar Masters where form always ties in nicely with the Vilamoura course. He looks a very solid each way prospect at 50/1.
Bertasio was 12th here last year and that makes sense as you would expect him to enjoy the extra space off the tee. He was tipped to go well last week in KLM but he didn’t hit enough fairways or greens. Both of those will be considerably easier to hit this week with wide open fairways and big undulating greens. Bertasio is a deadly putter who will thrive on the well maintained grainy surfaces and enjoy the difficult lag-putting from distance. As ever he is in a lofty position in most of the short stick stats; 15th in putts per round, 12th in one putts and 29th in strokes gained: putting. He will be confident of improving on last year’s result and is worth a small each way play at 80/1.
Summary of Bets
Brooks Koepka – 3pts ew @ 14/1 (1/5 odds 5 places general)
Francesco Molinari – 1pt ew @ 25/1 (1/5 odds 5 places)
Xander Schauffele – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (1/5 odd 5 places)
George Coetzee – 1.25pt ew @ 45/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Ryan Fox – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (Skybet)
Jordan Smith – 0.75 pt ew @ 45/1 (Skybet)
Nino Bertasio – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 (Skybet)
Weekly points advised – 17pts