Valspar Championship and Hero Indian Open – Betting Preview

Fabrizio Zanotti saved the week for me and in truth his presence on the leaderboard was one of few that signalled they were playing a tight, tree-lined course. Despite a brilliant tournament, the bigger hitters still managed to overpower the course and the top 10 featured 5 of the game’s very longest. It really wasn’t to be expected but in the current golfing  landscape it feels like there isn’t a course around that can’t be somewhat tamed by sheer power. Of course the USGA would beg to differ and they may serve to remind us at Erin Hills in June at the US Open just what they can do with 7800 yards and 12″ rough!

In South Africa George Coetzee had an absolute shocker in the rain on Friday to miss the cut and while not overly surprising, it was a little annoying having kept the faith at a short price.

Zanotti’s Top 20 keeps some small returns ticking over but only an outright win will bring 2017 back into profit.

2017 pts advised = 110pts

2017 pts returned = 78.66pts

ROI = -28.5%

This week the PGA Tour heads back over the border to Florida and the European Tour moves north to India.

Valspar Championship

With the WGC Mexico out of the way all roads lead to Magnolia Drive and The Masters now. With just 4 weeks to go the elite players will be trying to perfect their schedule to allow for the correct balance between being prepared and yet still relatively fresh for Augusta. This leaves us trying to work out whether to plump for the big names again or “fade the chalk” as I have seen several US Fantasy Golf players talk about in recent weeks. (a term used for leaving out the big players)

Dustin Johnson won again last week for the second time in a row and on both occasions he was an obvious favourite. From the 9 tournaments in this calendar year, Justin Thomas has won 2, Dustin Johnson has won 2, with Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Hudson Swafford taking home the others. With Rahm’s already lofty reputation, only Swafford’s win could be described as left-field and the game’s best players have completely dominated so far in 2017.

The course itself at the Valspar, The Copperhead at Innisbrook, also lends itself to big name winners with Charl Schwartzel and Jordan Spieth having won the last two but moreover 7 of the 16 champions are major winners with KJ Choi a Players Champion and Luke Donald a WGC Champion and ex World No. 1 on top of those seven.

The course is a 7340 yard Par 71 and it usually plays quite tough. The last 5 winning scores average around -9 and while it was always a tough track before 2015’s renovations, the greens were somewhat harder to hit last year. The fairways are tree-lined and while they are not as tight as last week, the short grass itself is narrower than the average tour fairway. There isn’t usually one attribute that stands out more than others here as Copperhead normally plays as a fair but tough course that tests all aspects of the game. With last year’s edition being the only one since the changes I suppose it should warrant closer scrutiny than it’s predecessors. If pushed for one important stat I suppose GIR looked just about the standout last year.

Chris Kirk looks to be the best piece of value in the field to my eyes at 80/1. Kirk is a 4-time winner on Tour and while he is without one since 2015 at Colonial, he is always a threat on shorter, tree-lined courses in the south-east. Out of his 6 wins as a professional, 5 of those have come in the south east and a big part of that is his love for bermuda greens which are more prevalent in the east.

Kirk made his debut here back in 2011 but then never appeared again until last year where he finished 42nd. That will have  given him a good reminder of the course and on a 2nd successive look I think we can expect him to get competitive given what we saw from him last time out. That was a month ago at Pebble Beach and he ranked 2nd in driving accuracy and 5th in GIR while only managing to finish 39th and struggling on the poa annua surfaces. If he brings that long game prowess to bermuda greens then 80/1 could look big over the weekend for this excellent putter. From a scoring point of view his 2017 season also makes for good reading as he ranks 12th for birdie average and 7th for bogey avoidance. Being ranked so highly in both of those surely means his game is right where he wants it to be with another win not too far away.

There are several that appeal in the 40-80/1 bracket but most of these haven’t been kind to me lately. Most notably Jason Dufner last week in Mexico. Yet I keep being led back to the two big names that share favouritism, Henrik Stenson and Justin Thomas. As big a fan as I am of Henrik Stenson, it’s hard to know how well he will have recovered from his illness in Mexico. Justin Thomas is a far bigger headache as virtually everything he has done this year has been brilliant up until his final round on Sunday. I think that can easily be forgiven as that was his first time in the heat of the battle in a WGC but there is still something in the back of my mind that tells me Thomas’ time at the very top will be short-lived. I can’t put my finger on it but I see him more as a Top 20 player rather than a Top 6 going on long-term.

However he showed last week that right now he is very much an elite player and that will make him hard to beat here. I’m going 2 points win only at 13.5 on the exchange. If he fancies it this week he may be hard to stop on Sunday without the likes of DJ and McIlroy chasing him down.

With place bets having been kinder to me lately I’m completing this week’s line up with two who players that like the course but never, ever win. Graeme Delaet isn’t someone I have backed all that much but I know he has frustrated many. His tee-to-green game is excellent but over the last few years he has putted like a drunk Lee Westwood. That doesn’t stop him from being competitive on trickier courses and while the greens won’t be as slow as they were last year, his approach game will help him again on a course where his ranking of 1st for GIR last year was accomplished with just 69%, which is on the low side for a regular Tour stop. He is in good form with recent finishes reading 9th-17th-10th and having finished 5th here last year and 8th in 2014, I think he looks a good bet for another Top 10 this week.

Charles Howell III hasn’t won since 2007 but he sits 21st in the career money list on the PGA Tour. That tells you everything you need to know about him and he is a cash cow on the courses he likes. Copperhead is one of those with form figures the last three years of 5th-10th-14th. Having not missed a cut since October he looks nailed on for a Top 20 here but I’m going to be a little bit more bold and go with a Top 10  at a better looking 7/2.

Hero Indian Open

At first glance this week’s Hero Indian Open looks a nightmare, on second glance it still looks a nightmare. Five of the top seven in the market are streets ahead of the field on pure talent and the other two were 1st and 2nd last week in Pretoria. But none of the five bigger names; Lahiri, Cabrera-Bello, Uihlein, Coetzee and Aphibarnrat appeal at these prices. With the exception of Rafa, they are among some of the most inconsistent players around on the European Tour. While the other 4 have shown they have what it takes to win, they can be as likely to miss the cut as contend and that makes them hard to like at such low odds. Coetzee would normally appeal at 25/1 in this field but there is just no way I can back him for a 3rd week in a row, even if he has been good to me the last 3 years. Rafa on the other hand is the model of consistency but backing him to win at any price is frustrating enough, nevermind just 11/1 having travelled from Mexico. Just like with the silly short Dean Burmester last week (14/1), I’m happy to miss out if RCB does finally get his 3rd win some five years after his 2nd win

Speaking of Burmester, he finds himself toward the head of the market with the others this week and while we have seen several back to back winners recently, the travel from SA together with the celebrations of his first win will surely prevent him from turning up at 100% and can be easily overlooked.

So the event looks a little tricky before we factor in the fact that we are on a new course at the DLF Golf and Country Club resort. On top of that come conflicting reports of its length so I’m not going to get too bogged down with the course this week. We know it is long, wide open and in India and that is good enough for me.

Jorge Campillo also looks a little short but he really is knocking very loudly on the door and he didn’t do much wrong last week when finishing runner-up. That was his second runner-up finish on Tour with the other one coming at this resort on the Arnold Palmer course which apparently uses some of the same holes as this week’s Gary Player design. While last week’s course was a little bit fiddlier, it was also a Player design so he would appear to enjoy his courses. This week’s apparently favours the longer hitters and that won’t stop Campillo as he ranks 49th in driving distance. Most courses in India feature difficult green complexes so I’m sure we can expect the same here but Campillo ranks 24th in putts per round in 2017 and very few of those above him are teeing it up here.

It’s not an original pick but he is a player that I have followed closely the last 2 years and I’d be annoyed to miss out on his maiden win here so I’m going to have a small bet despite his odds of 25/1 feeling a little restrictive. With lots of recent short price winners on both Tours sometimes we have to move the goal posts a little.

There really isn’t a lot else to get me too excited here as the field is a mix of relative unknown Indian players, Asian Tour members and European Tour journey men. The likes of Marcel Siem and Edoardo Molinari look overpriced but in truth their terrible form probably allows for that and makes it hard to fancy them. Jason Scrivener interest me again but most of his best results are in his homeland but I may look to get him onside in play should he start well.

The only other player that interests me is Dylan Frittelli who closed out the Tshwane Open with 65-68 over the weekend to suggest that he could well be rounding back to form. He hasn’t done too well yet in his career on the main European Tour stage and his best results have tended to come in either South Africa or Australia. Worth a small top 10 play here in India where he will be more relaxed out of the spotlight.

Summary of Bets

Valspar Championship

Chris Kirk – 1pt ew @ 80/1

Justin Thomas – 2pts win @ 13.5 on Betfair Exchange

Graeme Delaet – 2pts Top 10 @ 9/2

Charles Howell III – 2pts Top 10 @ 7/2

Hero Indian Open

Jorge Campillo – 1pt ew @ 25/1

Dylan Frittelli – 2pt Top 10 @ 5/1

Weekly pts advised – 12pts

Total 2017 pts advised – 122pts



RSM Classic and DP World Championship – Betting Preview 

Another week on the PGA Tour and yet another long odds surprise winner. This time Pat Perez obliged after some 7 years without a win and having missed the bulk of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury. In truth he had shown something having returned to Tour with a 33rd and 7th before Mexico but few could have predicted him winning in such fashion and it was another excellent PGA Tour week for the bookmakers. Bradley and Huh both played quite well without ever really threatening to do anything and finished inside the Top 25.
Events were a little more straight-forward in South Africa with Alexander Noren picking up his 4th win in his last 11 starts to fire himself to World No. 9 which is by some distance his career high. After Thursday I was actually feeling quite good about the Stenson bet as he was traded at a low of around 2.8 but that feeling was short lived as he struggled badly on Friday and was always just too far behind to mount a proper challenge to either his compatriot Noren or the impressive Wang while he was out in front.

The results are as follows;

Total pts advised =  846pts

Total pts returned = 825.56pts 

ROI = -2.5%

After 2016 is finished I plan to continue with the results over calendar years rather than ongoing. As ever though, I will make results available to anyone who might want them.

This week we have the final official PGA Tour event of the year with the RSM Classic and the 2016 European Tour season culminates with the DP World Championship in Dubai.

                          RSM CLASSIC

We cross back over the border this week for The RSM Classic which will take place at Sea Island Golf Club, Georgia. It is in its seventh running and it was previously known as The Mcgladrey Classic until last year due to a change of sponsor. The resort itself is very picturesque and has resulted in many Tour pros setting up home in the Sea Island area. Indeed this tournament was actually initiated by Davis Love III and Zach Johnson who are two of the biggest names to live there. There are several other players who reside there and it is definitely worth paying close attention to those who will be able to sleep in their own beds this week while playing on a course they know intimately. As well as possibly living in the area we should also take note of those who regularly play well in the area and indeed those that attended The University of Georgia. Last year’s winner Kevin Kisner was a “Georgia Bulldog”, he was born and bred just over the border in South Carolina and he had a fairly solid bank of form around the East coast area. Those were the heady of days of 2015 however when there seemed to be a little bit of logic to golf betting and Kisner was indeed a very obvious winner.

This week there are two courses in play as they all have a round on the Plantation Course (7,058 yard Par 70) as well as the main Seaside Course (7,055 yard Par 70) before those that make the cut continue over the Seaside at the weekend. Both courses are fairly short with a good spread of trees and water in play. Length off the tee isn’t really a huge advantage around Sea Island and therefore it is another week where the shorter hitters usually contend. The fairways aren’t overly narrow but finding the correct landing areas is imperative to getting close to the flags on the Seaside Course. The greens on both courses are on the larger side and are bermuda.

The last 5 winners are a mix of accurate drivers, neat and tidy wedge games but above all strong putters; Kevin Kisner, Robert Streb, Chris Kirk, Tommy Gainey and Ben Crane being those five men. A look at the stats from recent renewals backs that idea up. Kevin Kisner ranked 9th for GIR, 3rd for scrambling and 2nd for total putting last year. Robert Streb ranked 1st in total putting and Chris Kirk, while not putting as well as usual, ranked 15th for GIR and 5th for scrambling. Tommy Gainey and Ben Crane both won their titles with a brilliant display on the greens, each ranking 2nd for total putting.

Having watched Kisner’s win very closely last year the one thing that caught my eye was how he peppered the flags and then appeared to hole everything in the 5ft-20ft range. The same could often be said about an in-form Chris Kirk or Robert Streb which got me thinking whether there was any one stat that might link the Sea Island winners. To me, “Scoring relative to par from approaches 125-150 yards” looks pretty much perfect. It is better than simply looking at proximity as it also takes into account whether a player is actually taking advantage of repeatedly hitting their wedges in close to the pin. Streb, Kirk and Kisner all ranked inside the Top 10 for this stat in either the season of their win or the season just finished. Beyond the normal stats I think this looks to be a very important one this week and we should also consider the 100-125 and 150-175 yard categories to allow for the longer and shorter hitters. Kisner had also shown a liking for bermuda greens earlier in the year when finishing 2nd at both Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass.

With the way 2016 is going I should really know better than pick someone so obvious but I’ve been over this a few times and I simply can’t get away from Chris Kirk this week. I know he is probably too short a price but so too are most of the market leaders. Kirk is actually the slight favourite for this at around 18/1and while you could look at Jim Furyk at 35/1 and baulk at him being double the price, you could also look at Charles Howell III (35/1) and wonder how Kirk is only half of his price. Ultimately, the odds that someone is prepared to take on a player can be very personal and there will be many this week that will easily dismiss Kirk at the odds. But I have just about made peace with the fact that I’m going to back him as I actually think he might win. Kisner was similarly short last year and I still backed him and that worked out ok. It could just be that Sea Island is a good venue for those expected to go well and how badly we need one of those!

Chris Kirk has everything going for him this week and more. As the 2013 winner here we know he likes the course, he studied in Georgia, he lives nearby, and he followed up his win with a 4th place finish as defending champion. Another solid showing last year resulted in a T18th when he was in fairly poor form and still suffering from a slight President’s Cup hangover having made his U.S. team debut the previous month.

However this season he has three top 10s from just four tournaments with the pick of those a runner-up finish at The Sanderson Farms. When finishing 7th last week he ranked 5th for total driving and 2nd for GIR and when his long game is that strong he is a real danger, especially in this relatively week field. His putter actually let him down a little last week but there is no way he will let that happen again on these bermuda greens which he knows as well as anyone.

While I was keen on Kirk long before I saw his price, it was his stats that pushed me over the line and helped me to take the short price. After establishing that “Scoring – Approaches (RTP) from 125-150 yards” would be important I noticed that Kirk currently sits in 20th for that stat but also 31st for  the 100-25 yard category. We know he is keeping the ball in the fairway so with several short par 4s I’d expect to see him with plenty of birdie putts inside 20ft and there are normally very few better from that range, certainly in this field. Kirk currently ranks 10th for strokes gained: putting and a solid 45th for scrambling.

The shock winners can’t continue all season and while it didn’t work last week with Bradley, this method did work very well at the RSM Classic last year so with the only negative being his price, Kirk is a confident selection to win his 5th PGA Tour title playing in his own back yard.

As an alternative to the favourite, Jamie Lovemark looks an excellent each way bet at 80/1 off the back of his 9th place finish on his debut last year, but if we explore further then the value looks to be standout this week. He drove it further than everyone that week but he also hit more greens than anyone else which can normally be a very hard thing to do around Sea Island. His stats are looking good again this year for this test as he sits 39th in strokes gained: putting, 17th in scrambling and 23rd in “Scoring RTP from 100-125 yards”. That will be the range that he will find himself having left for his approach on a lot of these Par 4s given his length off the tee.

Lovemark is another player who was threatening to win last season but so far he has eased into the 2017 season. He is playing well though and with a 35th place finish last week I think he will arrive at Sea Island with fond memories of the course from last year and hopefully he can improve on his second look. 

Trey Mullinax is yet another in the long list of 2017 exciting young rookies and while he hasn’t performed as well as the likes of Cody Gribble or Seamus Power yet he is of interest this week at a course that suits. The best part of Mullinax’s game is his putting so he was on my shortlist before I discovered he was one of the many PGA Tour players that practice regularly at the Sea Island Performance Centre. This means he will be familiar with the course and might help explain how he finished 25th last year on just his 3rd PGA Tour start. Mullinax ranks 6th for birdie average over the last 3 months and 9th in Par 4 scoring over the same time so this probably looks the best course for him so far this season. He looks well worth an each way interest this week at 150/1.

             DP World Championship

The Final Series on The European Tour has taken a bit of a bashing lately but the Tour has definitely been helped out by the way events have panned out on the Race to Dubai. It’s still relatively open with Henrik Stenson, Danny Willet, Alex Noren and Rory McIlroy all still in with a mathematical chance of winning the 2016 title. This should make for an exciting tournament and hopefully the finale that the European Tour deserves.

The course is the Earth Course at the Jumeirah Estate in Dubai as has been the norm since 2009. It is an extremely long course at 7675 yards and subsequently over the years it has always been won by some of the best ball strikers the European Tour has to offer.

Two of those lead the way this week in Rory McIlroy and Henri Stenson and few could argue with that given we have to go back to 2011 to find a different name on the trophy. They are both very short prices and while either one of them could win by 10 strokes here it certainly looks worthwhile trying to find some each way alternatives in a market that they dominate.

With Victor Dubuisson hovering on the leaderboard in South Africa on Sunday I’m sure there were many waiting on his price on Monday morning given his strong form at the Earth Course here in Dubai. He has finished 9th, 2nd and 3rd on his three appearances to date so when some firms opened at 90/1 then people must have thought Christmas had come early and he was very quickly cut. Unfortunately I missed that and now there is only a little bit of 45/1 around but with his whole game looking sharp last week that still rates a bet for me.

His long game in particular was in fantastic shape last week as he ranked 2nd for total driving and 4th in GIR, which is generally the skillset that wins this. The brutally long course demands distance off the tee and accurate long irons into the heavily undulating greens which are well protected by bunkers and water. 

Away from McIlroy and Stenson, Dubuisson probably has the best course form and is a very obvious pick so even at 45/1 he looks a solid each way prospect. He has had a poor 2016 but at his best he is top class and we know he can win in this strong a field having twice won a Final Series tournament in Turkey. Hopefully last week was the enigmatic Frenchman returning to somewhere near his best and if that is the case he should contend again on a course that suits his eye.

Last year I was ruing not backing Andy Sullivan in the outright market at around 50/1. I fancied he would go well but only backed him in the Top 10 market. After chasing McIlroy home last year his price is nowhere near as fancy this time around but all the same logic applies. His long game has been back to its best over the last couple of months and despite appearing to have a poor Ryder Cup, Sullivan actually played as well as McIlroy in the opening session, if not better than, and was a little unlucky not to play again until the Sunday.

Last week in South Africa he ranked 4th in total driving and 21st in GIR which helped to 2nd in the all-round ranking and a 3rd place finish overall.

I didn’t love his price when he first opened on the Exchange but there is still some 25/1 around and that looks like a perfectly fair price. The same names always appear on the leaderboard in Dubai each year and after a brilliant debut last year I’m sure we will see the smiling Nuneaton man in contention again this year.

With Stenson and McIlroy no doubt set to fill two of the places I’m keeping my outright bets at two and instead having a small Top 10 bet on someone who is having an excellent year. I’ve had a little success with Tyrell Hatton this year despite missing out on his win. He started badly in the feature group last week alongside Stenson and Willet but away from the spotlight he rallied well to finish 25th and his driving was on point as he finished 11th for total driving. He is another player with a good record around the course despite his tee-to-green game not being anywhere close to this year’s standard in the past. He finished 6th on his debut immediately getting to grips with the greens and he then returned a 13th last year. Hatton is a far more accomplished player now and has his European Tour win to prove it. He plays his best stuff on links and desert tracks with an 8th place finish in the Dubai Desert Classic in February this year before his excellent Links performances this summer culminated in a St Andrews win at the Alfred Dunhill. At 3/1 he looks a rock solid Top 10 bet this week in a field of just 60.

                  SUMMARY OF BETS

RSM Classic

Chris Kirk – 1.5pt ew @ 18/1

Jamie Lovemark – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1

Trey Mullinax – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1

DP World Championship

Victor Dubuisson – 1pt ew @ 45/1

Andy Sullivan – 1pt ew @ 25/1

Tyrell Hatton – 1pt Top 10 @ 3/1

Weekly pts advised – 10.5pts

Total advised pts – 856.5pts