The Open – Betting Preview

With four golfers in the places it was another good week but with the way Zach Johnson and Ryan Fox finished their rounds it was a little annoying to have their place returns diluted. Ultimately it was another profitable week though and keeps confidence high ahead of arguably the highlight of the golf year, The Open Championship.

2017 pts advised =322 pts

2017 pts returned = 240.36pts

ROI = -25.36%

In case you missed it, to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the blog I’m running a competition this week for the grand prize of £10! To enter simply retweet the preview and reply with a guess of how many players will finish the tournament under par. Please add a winning score as a potential tie-breaker.


The Open

This is the third time that I have previewed The Open and on both the previous occasions I anticipated the usual Open weather resulting in a proper test of links golf. Despite two brilliant tournaments, that didn’t really materialise at either St. Andrews or Troon. The players were taken off the course during the only strong winds at St. Andrews while Stenson and Mickelson exchanged weekend blows on a sun-drenched yet rain-softened Ayrshire coast last year. With everything we have seen before at Royal Birkdale however, the traditional Open enthusiasts should get their wish this week.

royal-birkdale-golf-club-2

While not being a classic out and in links course, every other aspect of a traditional links course is present at Royal Birkdale. Fairways sculpted into the dunes with rugged fescue all around, strategic pot bunkers in the fairways, large green complexes with swales and run-offs and more often than not a stern breeze whistling through it. While there are some undulations it is one of the flatter courses on rotation and 2008 champion Harrington claims it to be a very strong but very fair course that isn’t tricked up at all. What you see is what you get with the course and the majority of tee-shots are elevated meaning a clear view of where the drives are going. That is in complete contrast with the U.S. Open at Erin Hills where the players were faced with several blind tee-shots and aspects of a course like this can be key for many. Some golfers will be far more relaxed with this week’s driving lines and we may see the likes of Johnson, Rahm and Pieters in a better light here. Although it is worth noting that Birkdale has been claimed to be one of the toughest driving courses on the rotation. The fairways are narrow enough and the bunkers are as penal as you will see. Unlike some shorter links courses the bunkers can’t just be flown so strategy will be required off the tee.

In 2008 the field scrambled at just 42.6% which is the 3rd lowest in the last 15 years. The greens were also very hard to hit as the field managed just 53.7% which is actually the lowest total in the last 15. It may sound like I’m stating the obvious but you really only want to consider players this week that can continue to hit greens in difficult conditions and also scramble well around tightly mown links run-offs when they do miss the greens. That is what I focussed on but there are also some other key elements to Royal Birkdale from a historical point of view.

Key trends from the previous 9 Royal Birkdale Opens;

7/9 were already Major champions prior to Birkdale win

6/9 were or would go on to be a multiple major winner (the 9 have 34 majors between them now!)

5/9 were from the U.S.A (13 of the last 22 Open winners too)

3/9 were already Open winners (another 3 would go on to win The Open again)

The finishing position of the 9 Birkdale winners in the previous year’s Open;

1954 Peter Thomson – 2nd in 1953

1961 Arnold Palmer – 2nd in 1960

1965 – Peter Thomson – 24th in 1964 (already won at Birkdale in 1954)

1971 – Lee Trevino – 3rd in 1970

1976 – Johnnie Lee Miller – 3rd in 1975

1983 – Tom Watson – 1st in 1982

1991 – Iain Baker-Finch – 6th in 1990

1998 – Mark O’Meara – 38th in 1997 (was 3rd at Birkdale in 1998 and also won the Lawrence Batley International there in 1987)

2008 – Padraig Harrington – 1st in 2007

Essentially all these just tell us that this week’s Open will be won by a classy golfer who is already a major winner (or expected to become a multiple winner) and has a very strong bank of Open form already. Where does that leave us then?

I have thought Rickie Fowler was going to win The Open every year since his impressive showing at Sandwich in 2011 in dire conditions when he finished 5th to Darren Clarke. Indeed I have bet on him every year since and therefore I can forgive anyone who dismisses my main tip this year on grounds of me becoming obsessive! But this looks like the most traditional combination of both course and weather that we have seen since 2011. Birkdale looks absolutely perfect for Fowler and it has also come at a time when he is in brilliant form.

Rickie-Fowler-Cover

Whether or not you subscribe to the theory that he is the best active player without a major, nobody can deny that he has paid his dues already at the relatively young age of 28. Yet until his final round at Augusta I had personally never seen him do much wrong in contention for one of the Majors. That Sunday round alongside Spieth was a concern but he flew out of the blocks at Erin Hills in a fashion that suggested he had already forgotten about it. The fact that he finished 5th that week was actually testament to his grinding skills. He clearly wasn’t playing his best from Friday onwards yet he managed to just about hang around most of the tournament when Koepka, Fleetwood and Harman were playing their very best golf. He has held his form nicely since with a 3rd place finish at the Quicken Loans before crossing the Atlantic for his links warm up at the Scottish Open.

Over the weekend in Scotland Fowler cut the figure of someone who was merely sharpening their game ahead of the real tournament. I got the impression that he wasn’t overly worried about being off the pace and was happy to avoid the mental strain that comes with being in contention. With regards to trying to peak for this week, I believe his 9th place finish was ideal preparation. His 2017 has not only been succesful from a results point of view but his stats are excellent yet again this year. Fowler ranks 9th in scrambling, 3rd in total driving, 8th in strokes gained: approaches and 3rd in strokes gained: putting. It is no coincidence that he has contended at both this year’s majors as his whole game is as good as it has ever been.

For me, Rickie is ready and I believe this is his time if he is to go on to be the outstanding links player of his generation that I think he can be. He has already won around Gullane and finished 6th at Royal Aberdeen which are two visually similar courses to Birkdale.

The recent trend of experienced Open winners is certainly relevant but at the same time the nine Birkdale winners were an average of 31 yrs old when they won. Given Fowler came on the scene so early he is probably as experienced at 28 as the average golfer at 31 as this is his 8th Open already. Indeed the last three Birkdale winners played in their 8th Open respectively at 31, 34 and 31. I’m going to have 3pts ew at 14/1 with Skybet’s 10 places offer and a further 2pts win at Betfair’s 18.0

I’m going to take three more proven links players as back up to Rickie Fowler. Firstly the reigning Champion Golfer of The Year, Henrik Stenson. I was gutted not be on last year after making him my main tip at St. Andrews the year before. I can’t even remember why I left him out now, possibly as I hadn’t forgiven him for an average showing the year before. This year he hasn’t been playing his best but things have picked up a little and his stats have improved over the last few weeks. Despite finishing down the field in 26th, he was 1st in the all-round ranking last week, let down only by his putter as he ranked 1st in fairways and 12th in GIR. But not making birdies won’t be too detrimental this week as the bulk of the field struggle their way to par. His slow start to the year means we can still get roughly the same price as last year. If we consider the relatively poor form of many of the world’s top players and that he is now a major winner, this looks to me like some value. Stenson was also tied 3rd here in 2008 as he shot the best round in the field on the windiest day we have seen for years at an Open. He also has a very strong record at Opens where scrambling is tough. In the last 10 years his finishes when the field got up and down less than 50% were as follows; 2nd-68th-3rd-13th-3rd (the 68th coming during his slump year of 2011). He is expected to put up a strong defence this week.

Henrik

I badly wanted to include Justin Rose again but I still can’t get over his missed cut at Erin Hills so instead I’m going to include his good friend Ian Poulter. Poulter was runner-up here in 2008 as he handled the brutal winds better than everyone bar Harrington. His recent up-turn in form ahead of his return to the scene of his best Open performance is timely and it means he looks a shade of value, especially after faltering a little on Sunday to ease his price again. Despite the many that condescend to Poulter by criticising his sometimes average ball-striking, make no mistake that there are very few in the game who have maximised their talent quite like Poulter. He has had a similar career to Darren Clarke and I wouldn’t put it past Poulter to stick a cherry on top at the age of 41 much like his Ryder Cup captain did 7 years ago.

Regaining his PGA Tour card for this year when he thought he had lost it has given him a new lease of life and will have realigned his perspective. Playing without too much pressure he has managed a 2nd at the Players Championship and just last week his whole game was in excellent shape as he finished 9th at the Scottish Open on a proper links course in very typical Open weather. Some will be quick to point out how poorly he played in that final round but this was the first tournament in a while where he would have expected to win going into the final round. The refresher course can only have helped him with regards to next time he is in the final group and his record in contention in general is a good one. He ranked 9th in fairways at Dundonald and 20th in greens so that level of accuracy will help him at Birkdale. Skybet’s 60/1 doesn’t give us much juice on the win portion but again the 12/1 for a top 10 finish looks very nice given he has made the top 10 in three of his last eight Open appearances.

Steve Stricker fits the profile of a Birkdale winner absolutely perfectly, so much so that I’m going to get involved in several markets with the 50yr old Wisconsinite. The Open didn’t used to mean that much to Sticker and he has skipped it in the past. But now in his Senior years he relishes any chance to still play in a major and that has shown in his results. Amazingly he hasn’t missed a major cut since 2009’s US PGA Championship. That is 24 consecutive cuts which returned 13 Top 20 finishes. He was tied 16th at both this year’s Masters and Erin Hills so my main bet will be in the Top 20 market but I think there are plenty reasons to think he can go even better.

Stricker was 4th in last year’s Open at Troon as he minimised mistakes over the weekend and slowly crept up the leaderboard. But he was also 7th in 2008 when Harrington won and both those results align perfectly with previous Birkdale winners. If we also consider that the last 6 Open winners have been aged 40-39-25-43-42-41 then we can see that it isn’t just a myth that experienced players fare well in The Open. Stricker seems to tick so many boxes that I can’t believe the 230.0 that was available on Friday on Betfair. Hopefully some of you might have noticed my tweet and got on board but I still think the 170 is a good price and I also like Sky Bet’s 100/1 with 10 places on offer. That gives us 20/1 about a top 10 which seems like an absolute gift from a value point of view even if the win portion is probably about right. I’m advising 1pt win on the Exchange at 170, 1pt ew with Sky Bet @ 100/1 and also 2.5pts Top 20 @ 7/2. At the very worst we get the chance to cheer on one of the good guys in golf knowing that he should at least make the cut given his current streak of 24 not out. From there his experience and temperament could see him out stay plenty over a tough looking weekend.

I had been eyeing up a top 20 bet on Paul Waring for a few weeks so when he shot a 78 on Saturday I was a little bit miffed. But he closed with a 69 and I think he has the right sort of combination of steady tee-to-green game, solid putting stroke and a liking for tough conditions. Waring was 19th at Birkdale in 2008 but he is a far better player now and is enjoying his best year on Tour. I think he looks a solid bet for another Birkdale Top 20 at a general 10/1.

My last top 20 bet is quite a speculative one at the price but Paul Broadhurst perhaps shouldn’t be 33/1 for a top 20 considering he qualified for this by winning last year’s Senior Open at Carnoustie. Obviously it is a huge jump in class but Broadhurst was always a fine links player such was the quality of his short game. He is 51 yrs old now but we all remember how close Greg Norman and Tom Watson came to winning this so I see no reason why he can’t make the cut and if the wind gets up he should enjoy the test more than most.

Others who came close were Haas, Leishman and Snedeker but they haven’t repaid the faith shown in them over the last two years so instead I will monitor their progress and perhaps get on in-play if they start well.

First Round Leader

As well as winning The Open in 2015, Zach Johnson has built himself quite the Open record and he has made the last 10 cuts in a row dating back to 2006. I couldn’t say for sure but I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t the only player to have done that. His results in that time have been increasingly impressive too; 20-51-47-76-16-9-47-1-12. While his return to form at the John Deere Classic was interesting, I don’t think one performance on his favourite course is enough to suggest he has fully turned the corner, however, it will mean that he arrives at Birkdale full of confidence. It could be that he flies out of the blocks and continues where he left off so I was considering him for 1st round leader even before I looked at his recent Thursday knocks at The Open.

Starting with his most recent, Johnson’s run of ten consecutive Open weekends opened up with rounds of 67-66-71-66-65-72-72-70-73-73. The last five in particular are impressive but just two of those were over par in 10 years and he would have given some sort of each way returns in the first round leader market in four of the last five years. He looks a great each way bet to start well again even if his poor 2017 suggests he might fall away as he struggles to put four solid rounds together.

In most of the last 10 Opens we have seen an old head flirt with the leaderboard throughout the tournament but even on the occasions where they fell away quicker than Greg Norman or Tom Watson did, there has always been someone fighting the good fight for the older generation on day one. From last time at Birkdale in 2008 there has been an over 40 in the first five every year; Norman, Watson, Daly, Jimenez, Lawrie, O’Meara, Furyk, Goosen and last year both Stricker and Mickelson. So it looks perfectly fair to expect some senior representation again this year.

I’m not going to dive into another market with Steve Stricker although hopefully he can start well. Instead I am going to add Paul Broadhurst in the 1st round leader market too. He might not manage the physical exertions of 4 rounds at this level but he has an early tee-time and hopefully he can start strong.

Lastly I’m going to include Jason Dufner for no more reason than I have a feeling he could start well this week flying in completely under the radar. Dufner has missed his last two cuts since winning at Memorial but we can forgive that and prior to those his previous opening rounds read 74-69-73-69-68-71-68-68-70-71-71-65-68. He will enjoy the accuracy test off the tee and has a nice early tee time. With the weather forecast changing every hour I have stuck with the morning starters who will at least see the greens at their best.

For one last bet I’m going to have a double on what are for me the two outstanding candidates in the remaining majors, Fowler, as already covered, and Jon Rahm for the US PGA. His win in Ireland was excellent and he just keeps getting better. The Quail Hollow course will be set up perfectly for him and I think he will be the man to beat. The 20/1 currently available looks generous.


Summary of Bets

The Open

Rickie Fowler – 3pts ew @ 14/1 (Skybet 10 places at 1/5 odds) and a further 2pts win @ 18.0 on Betfair.

Henrik Stenson – 1pt ew @ 25/1 (Skybet)

Ian Poulter – 1pt ew 60/1 (Skybet)

Steve Stricker – 1pt win @ 170 on Betfair Exchange, 1pt ew @ 100/1 (Skybet) and 2.5pts Top 20 @ 7/2

Paul Waring – 1pt Top 20 @ 10/1

Paul Broadhurst – 0.5pt Top 20 @ 33/1

 

Zach Johnson – 1pt ew @ 80/1 – 1st Round Leader

Paul Broadhurst – 0.25pt ew @ 300/1 – 1st Round Leader

Jason Dufner – 0.5pt ew @ 125/1 – 1st Round Leader

0.5pt ew double Rickie Fowler to win The Open and Jon Rahm to win US PGA @ 356/1 (10 places and 5 places with Sky Bet)

 

Weekly pts advised =  23.5pts

2017 pts advised = 342pts

 

@theGreek82

Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – Betting Preview

Minnesota witnessed one of the most rowdy and high profile Ryder Cups we have seen for some time over the weekend and Patrick Reed stole the show on his way to landing our Top US Points Scorer bet. That was about the only thing to sing about though as US ran out comfortable 17-11 winners and while I enjoyed it immensely, I think the Reed/Mcilroy and Mickelson/Garcia contests masked a slightly uneventful Friday and Saturday. I may be in the minority but for me the opening two days just didn’t have the back and forth battles that we have seen in recent times and I think only four matches made it to the 18th in the first four sessions. That, together with a feeling that Europe were always facing an uphill task after losing the first session 4-0, resulted in a tournament that lacked any real excitement for me. Of course the atmosphere through-out and the two epic singles battles will probably mark Hazeltine down in history as one of the great editions but for me it wasn’t a patch on Medinah. Although that is probably just because Europe got so comprehensively beaten!

The Patrick Reed bet has helped keep the blog in profit but its only slight and an outright winner is required sooner rather than later. The results are now standing at;

Total points advised – 794.50

Total points returned – 801.39

ROI – 0.86%

This week we don’t have any action on the PGA Tour as they take a week’s break before returning with the 2017 season. That leaves us with just the European Tour’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.


Alfred Dunhill Links Championship

With no fewer than six of the European team scheduled to tee it up in Fife and Angus on Thursday, the tournament may well prosper from a US Ryder Cup win. A couple of days’ worth of partying wouldn’t have been the ideal preparation for Clarke’s men and given the manner of their defeat we can probably expect most of them to arrive in Scotland keen to banish those memories and get back to their normal Tour schedule.

Unfortunately though it isn’t quite your normal stroke-play event this week as the Dunhill Links takes the form of a pro-am and each player plays a round at all three of the links courses along with their often “celebrity” amateur of choice. The cut then falls after three rounds with those who make it continuing on to a final round at St. Andrews on Sunday. The other two courses on rotation the first two days are Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. They all play to a Par 72 with Kingsbarns playing the easiest, Carnoustie always playing the toughest and St Andrews somewhere in between.

There will be numerous American amateurs taking part and that will no doubt involve a lot of ribbing directed at the Europeans so while in recent times players have played well after being involved (Kaymer won this the week after his Ryder Cup debut in 2010) I’m not convinced that we will see those six men in the right sort of head space to be winning this week. The only one that would appeal in any shape or form would be Thomas Pieters who played superbly last week to top score across both teams. His putting in particular was brilliant and I only recall seeing him miss about three putts inside 20ft from Fri evening onwards. Given this is always a birdie fest then he would normally be expected to go well but with a heightened profile his price is down to 16.0 and I think he can be left alone.

With the action taking part in autumn on Scottish links courses you would probably expect scoring to be tougher than in the summer but the courses are all set up quite short with easy pin locations and slow greens to allow the amateurs to enjoy themselves. That’s not to say that they don’t all play like links courses however and the tournament is always won by a proven links exponent. That will be even more crucial should the wind get up as forecast this week.

Looking at recent winners we can get an idea of the type of player that has won here. The last two winners, Thorbjorn Olesen and Oliver Wilson, both had runner-up finishes in the event previously and when David Howell won the year before that he was confirming the long standing opinion that he is a great links player. He also had finishes here of 3rd, 6th, 8th and 5th earlier in his career.

Historically the home players do well with 11 of the 15 winners hailing from Great Britain or Ireland so they would make a good starting point here.

What they do off the tee this week is of very little consequence as recent winners have ranked well down driving distance and driving accuracy. It is all about hitting as many greens as possible and then holing as many of the chances as you can. Normally a birdie fest would favour the stronger putters and while the list of winners does throw up some excellent putters, the slow, easy greens allow poorer putters to contend as long as their short stick gets a little hot.

The last 5 winners have averaged 24th for GIR and 27th for total putting. They also finished 1st, 12th, 4th, 1st and 2nd for total birdies during the week and for those looking at a stats approach I would suggest those three to be the main players. I’m also not going to look too far beyond the home-grown players with plenty of in –form options to choose from.

A very strong field is assembled and the market is dominated this week by the European Ryder Cup team along with class-acts Branden Grace, Louis Oostuizen, Bernd Wiesberger and Alexander Noren. I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised to see any of them win but none of them appeal as a betting proposition. While I have touched on the fact that Kaymer won here the week after 2010’s Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, that was a short journey from Wales and he was also making it as a member of a winning team. A case could be made for Thomas Pieters and Cabrera-Bello this week but it is asking a lot for them to be ready to fly out of the blocks on Thursday and a good start is usually required here.

There are two players that I really like this week and I can’t separate them so I’m splitting stakes and taking two Englishmen against the field this week.

I’ve had Tommy Fleetwood marked down for this for a little while such has been the quality of his iron play over the last 2 months. It’s just a shame the bookmakers have taken all the juice out of his price given his strong event form. His results here read 13th -2nd -5th -55th -5th so you can see why they fear him this week. Fleetwood has long been touted as a future Open champion given his ability on links courses. He hails from Southport and was brought up around some of the best links in England. His only win so far has been down the road in Perthshire when he won the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. That has always been a title that has gone to solid links players given the undulating and exposed course plays a lot like its neighbours on the coast.

Fleetwood’s last three tournaments yielded finishes of 10th, 7th and 13th and they were the result of some improved numbers as he now sits 3rd for GIR over the last 3 months. He also ranks 37th for birdie average and handles the wind very well indeed.

His 2nd win on Tour has been a long time coming but his recent upturn of form makes him a huge player this week and he might take some inspiration from seeing his peers playing at Hazeltine. His price is shorter than I would have liked but he still looks an excellent each way bet here at 30/1 with the best bank of course form on offer.

Ross Fisher turned his form around completely last time out in Germany as he finished 2nd to Alexander Levy. The Englishman fits the profile of previous Dunhill winners perfectly as he has a previous Top 5 in the event and he also used to be top-class reaching the World’s Top 10 if I remember correctly during his career year in 2009. Two years ago this was won the week after the Ryder Cup by an ex member of the European team in 2008, Oliver Wilson. He came from nowhere to win and it looked like he maybe got a bit of a kick up the rear end due to where his career had ended up relative to those who he played alongside in 2008.

It’s possible Fisher might have a similar reaction to last week’s tournament in Hazeltine but even if he doesn’t he looks a great bet coming off his recent play-off defeat. In that European Open he ranked 1st for total driving, 1st for total accuracy and 1st in the all-round ranking. It was only his ranking of 20th for total putting that prevented him winning but if it hadn’t been cut to 54 holes then I have no doubt his long game prowess would have got the better of Levy whose own game was beginning to unravel. That was still a putting improvement however for a player who has always been held back by his limitations on the greens. If he can keep that level of putting going this week then he will be very dangerous.

I expect him to play well again on a set of courses he knows and with question marks about a lot of the market leaders I think there is a fair bit of value in his odds of 40/1.

I’m a huge fan of George Coetzee and given his excellent putting ability on links greens I will probably continue to back him whenever he plays in Scotland. I will certainly continue to back him when the price is right and after some injuries and loss of form he is priced up like a nobody in Scotland this week. (He actually confirmed on Twitter today that is ankle is back to full strength) Let’s not forget that since he finally got his first European Tour win in February 2014, only Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett have more ET wins. He also shares the St. Andrews course record (62) from 2012 when he finished 5th in this event and he has finished 15th and 18th in the Open. Not to mention a play-off defeat in 2011 at Gleneagles so he is comfortable playing in the UK. Odds of 13/2 don’t accurately reflect his top 20 chances in my opinion and he looks well worth getting onside.

Joakim Lagergren finished 4th here last year and sits in 6th place in birdie average over the last 3 months. That alone was enough to interest me but the youngster’s only win actually came in Northern Ireland on the Challenge Tour. It wasn’t on a links course but it confirms that he is comfortable playing in the cooler, windier conditions in the UK. His recent finishes haven’t been great but that was the same last year so he has probably been waiting for conditions to suit. He also ranks 6th in Par 4 scoring average over the last 3 months so his game must be in decent shape.  Looks to have a good chance of another Top 20 and is probably over priced to get one on last year’s showing.

 


Summary of Bets

Dunhill Links

Tommy Fleetwood – 1.5pts ew @ 30/1

Ross Fisher – 1pt ew @ 40/1

George Coetzee – Top 20 – 2pts @ 13/2

Joakim Lagergren – Top 20 – 1pt @ 13/2

Weekly pts advised – 8pts

Total pts advised – 802.50pts

@theGreek82

The Ryder Cup – Betting Preview

Last week’s Fed Ex Cup showdown at the Tour Championship was without a doubt the best finish we have seen since they revamped the season finale. The whole round was filled with excitement and McIlroy looked completely out of it right up until he holed out for eagle on the 16th. Ryan Moore and Kevin Chappell both played amazing rounds and there wasn’t a great deal more that they could have done. It is surely just a matter of time before Kevin Chappell wins on Tour given the quality of his performances in contention. The one thing that is holding him back is the fact that he goes well on tougher courses which normally brings the best players to the top of the leaderboard. That shows with the calibre of player that he has finished runner-up to this season; Day x2, DJ and Rory McIlroy. Chappell should be watched closely during the Fall Series when the game’s leading lights will be taking a break after the Ryder Cup.

Castro and Berger improved as the week went on but they were never close enough to warrant any excitement and in Europe none of the Top 20 bets featured in the weather interrupted European Open.

This week its Ryder Cup time and if we can’t find a winning bet then the blog will dip into negative ROI for the first time since before last year’s US PGA Championship. Fingers crossed!

Total pts advised – 787.50

Total pts returned – 793.79

ROI – 0.8%


Ryder Cup

Whichever side of the “pond” you hail from there is something magical about the Ryder Cup and it truly transcends golf. Sports fans all around the world follow the Ryder Cup regardless of origin though and over the last decade it has firmly established itself as one of the great sporting events.

There are many reasons for this but for me the fact that it brings out the patriotic, team mentality of both the players and the fans, is the most important. With the game being such an individual one at times for the players, they all thrive on being part of a team again and that captures the imagination of the fans. (Or at least the European players do!)

Everyone will no doubt have their own favourite Ryder Cup moment from over the years but I’d wager the majority hold one of the famous pieces of sportsmanship as their most cherished. Despite some of the uglier scenes witnessed during the 90s, the Ryder Cup has become synonymous with sportsmanship and my own personal favourite was Phil Mickelson’s thumbs-up to Justin Rose at Medinah in 2012 after the Englishman had holed a monster-putt on the 17th to even the match up. Things were heating up massively and without thinking the American immediately congratulated Rose on his putt and it will stand in my memory as long as the comeback itself.

I was lucky enough to attend all three match days at Gleneagles two years ago and while it was brilliant to experience the atmosphere of a Ryder Cup first hand, you lose a little something at the same time. Anyone who has watched a Ryder Cup from start to finish can testify just how exciting it can be and yet when you are there you obviously miss a lot of shots. I’d recommend going to one Ryder Cup to everyone but just like Jason Day, I’m massively looking forward to watching this one from the comfort of my sofa. It will also make trading any bets a lot easier.

Whether we need to give too much consideration to this year’s course I’m not that sure, but certainly in my head I think Europe normally favour the more classic courses as they tend to play more narrow, fiddly courses on Tour. Hazeltine is by no means the toughest course you will see in the US but it isn’t normally one that can be overpowered. That is usually down to the narrow fairways and the rough being grown when hosting a championship but from the early pictures the rough doesn’t appear to be penal at all with a maximum of 3.5 inches in the primary. That will no doubt be a deliberate move from the US given that they have several bombers in their team and the course measures a lengthy 7600 yards. At both the 2002 and 2009 US PGA Championships held at the course, total driving and greens in regulation were of paramount importance and and with recent heavy rain I think long, accurate drivers should enjoy Hazeltine again this week. Indeed Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Henrik Stenson all finished inside the Top 10 in 2009 and at their best they are brilliant off the tee.

On the whole however it is a course that rewards a good all-round game with plenty of birdies available and that always makes for a great Ryder Cup. While grinding out pars can be exciting in stroke-play formats, in order to engage the fans, putts have to be holed in this format. We can certainly expect that as the bent grass surfaces look absolutely perfect and will be set up to a fair 12.5 on the stimpmeter.

Such has been Europe’s domination in recent times, the US set up a “task force” team to get to the bottom of why they were performing so badly. That itself will surely put a lot of pressure on some of the players, especially the ones that were actually involved in the task force like Phil Mickelson. I’ve been expecting the US to win this throughout 2016 but the market favoured them so much that it was looking hard not to have a bet on Europe in the outright market. But as strongly as the price of 3.2 was pulling me towards a bet, my overall feeling that USA will prevail was pulling me away. So in all reality I was struggling to advise a bet in the outright market even before the odds changed at the start of the week. US are now around 1.7 with Europe 2.92 and that appears to have removed the bulk of the value on the away side.

However, given that I think it will be another close competition, it looks like a good play to get involved in some of the correct score markets. There are numerous possibilities but in the 18 tournaments since the event became USA v Europe, the score has been 14 ½ to 13 ½ on seven occasions. I’m expecting a tight contest so it makes sense to back the tightest of wins for both sides and also a little saver on 15-13 to the US side who are deserving favourites on home soil with the best team on paper.

Some players take to match play golf and some don’t and that is very much worth remembering when looking at the side markets this week in Minnesota. If we compare the records of two Ryder Cup stalwarts that aren’t actually present this week we can see that often a player will continue to play the same throughout their Ryder Cup career. In Ian Poulter’s case he has been a great Ryder Cup player right from the start of his career while Jim Furyk has never managed to turn his record around and has only ever had a winning record at 1 of his 9 Ryder Cups. Yet there is no question that the American major winner has had the better career. The format just isn’t for everyone and while it can be very hard to predict which rookies will play well, we shouldn’t ignore the information that we have to hand. Further still we should use it as a focal point in deciding which players to back.

Patrick Reed is exactly the sort of confident, aggressive golfer that you would expect to be suited to matchplay golf so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise in 2014 when he top scored for the US team with 3 ½ pts from a possible 4. Reed has also been in good form of late with a win just four weeks ago at Bethpage Black, another championship course. His East Lake performance wasn’t great but in all reality once he knew he was beaten he would have been focussing on the Ryder Cup and certainly wouldn’t have been pushing himself over the weekend. Reed is capable of the sort of magic on and around the greens that we often see at Ryder Cups and while a solid tee-to green game will no doubt be more beneficial in winning matches, if you can’t make the pressure putts in the Ryder Cup powder keg atmosphere then tee-to-green prowess will only get you so far.

When you consider the abundance of talent that the US team possess it is possible to make a case for several of their superstars being top US points scorer, but I don’t believe any of the cases are as compelling as Reed’s. I think he could go on to be a Ryder Cup superstar in the mould of Ian Poulter and I’d expect him to play a minimum of 4 matches here. If he can get 3 ½ points then he should at least contend but if he is allowed to play 5 matches then he could prove very hard to beat in the market.

I’m adopting a similar approach to the top European market and given that only Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Segio Garcia and Henrik Stenson look guaranteed to play at least 4 matches, I’m focussing on them. At a silly short price and coming just 5 days after he won $11.5 million at the Fed Ex finale, I am happy to dismiss McIlroy. I know he has changed his tune lately but given the euphoria of winning on Sunday and that he once called the Ryder Cup an “exhibition match” he looks far too short at 4.6 for a player with a solid if not spectacular Ryder Cup record.

I found it harder to separate the other three though and while I would normally lean to the ice cool Swede, his recent withdrawal due to his knee flaring up is an issue. I think it will probably stop him playing 5 matches whereas Justin Rose looks almost certain to play every session. Rose has an absolutely brilliant Ryder Cup record, twice beating Mickelson in the singles in 2008 and 2012 and winning a half against Hunter Mahan in his other singles match. In his three appearances he has finished with 3pts (from 4) in 2008, 3pts (from 5) in 2012 and 4pts (from 5) in 2014 when going unbeaten. That gives him a winning percentage of 71% and with his buddy Poulter not being present that is a better record than any of his team mates. Garcia’s winning percentage of 64% is almost as impressive but when we look at his last two Ryder Cups in the USA then he appeals less than the Englishman. He won just 1 pt from 4 at Valhalla in 2008 and 2pts from 4 at Medinah. Furthermore I don’t see him as having an obvious partner and he doesn’t have the record of teaming up with rookies that you would expect for a player of his experience. Just once since 2004, when he accompanied Luke Donald to a couple of foursome points, has he even played with a rookie and that was in 2012 when he and Nicholas Colsaerts were beaten by Dufner and DJ. I’d expect Sergio to play his part given the year he has had but I don’t think he is as likely to play all five matches as Rose.

Just six weeks ago Rose was winning Olympic Gold in Rio so we know his game is as good as ever. He also didn’t play last week and he missed a large chunk of the year through injury. That means he will be fresher than most and everything looks to be in his favour for another strong showing. In typical Rose fashion he ranked 1st in total driving on his last start at the BMW Championship and we know that will serve him well at Hazeltine. He looks a very solid bet at 7.6 especially when we consider the likelihood of him rekindling his perfect partnership with Stenson.

Given Rose and Reed were the two winners at Gleneagles it looks like a very obvious couple of plays but in recent times that is exactly what has happened in these markets. The last four Top European Points scorers have been Rose, Poulter, Poulter, Poulter and while the US team have been a little less obvious their best player has always been one with a strong match play record.

I fancy them both strongly in their respective Top US/EUR markets so it makes sense to back them both in the Top Overall Points Scorer market too, perhaps for smaller stakes though given only one of them can win. In a sense it is making a very similar bet twice and if both players should struggle then they will obviously lose two bets rather than one. But I’m happy to take the chance and back them twice where an early point on Friday will surely bring with it some trading potential should anyone wish to exit the bet early.

There are two other bets that I like here this week and they are the Top Rookie Points Scorer and also the Top Wildcard Points Scorer.

With all the talk about Ryan Moore on Sunday evening, once he was finally announced it was hard to fathom that he is still a Ryder Cup rookie. He is a 4 time winner on Tour with a wealth of experience in both stroke-play and match-play in his Amateur days. When going toe to toe with McIlroy at the Tour Championship he showed just how tough he is and I think Davis Love would be foolish not to fully utilise his form player. If he can play 3 or 4 matches then he should be able to accumulate more points than most of the rookies and I see Willet and Koepka as his only real dangers. While Koepka’s aggressive style could help him rack up a few wins and Willet is a former WGC match Play semi-finalist, I’m not convinced just how many matches they will play. If the US task force have picked up on anything from their last three defeats it is surely the need to play their form players and I’m hoping Ryan Moore will benefit from a more logical US approach. If he does then he looks a cracking bet at 11/2.

The problem with my wildcard fancy is that Ryan Moore is also in this market which complicates matters but hopefully Moore can outscore his fellow rookies and still fall ½ a point short of Lee’s total and therefore both bets will win!

There are a host of reasons why Lee Westwood may well play 4 matches, being rested only for Saturday’s four balls I would imagine. He is in decent form, he has a great Ryder Cup record, he has the experience required to help out rookie team mates but most importantly Darren Clarke trusts him 100%. During the last three Ryder Cups Westwood has played six matches with rookies, winning 4 ½ points from them. With six rookies on the team it’s imperative that they find their feet early and Clarke knows he can rely on Westwood to bring out the best of them. I can see him taking Danny Willet under his wing on Friday and if they start well then it could be a fruitful partnership for Europe. Three points could do it in the wildcard market and that looks more than possible for a player with a 61% record in foursomes.


Summary of Bets

Patrick Reed Top US Points Scorer – 1pt @ 7.6

Patrick Reed Top Overall Points Scorer – 0.5pt @ 15.5

Justin Rose Top European Points Scorer – 1.5pts @ 7.2

Justin Rose Top Overall Points Scorer – 0.5pt @ 15

Back USA 15-13 EUR (10.5), USA 14.5-13.5 EUR (12.0) and EUR 14.5-13.5 USA (12.5) all 0.5pt

Back Ryan Moore Top Rookie Points Scorer – 1pt @ 11/2

Back Lee Westwood Top Wildcard Points Scorer – 1pt @ 6/1

Weekly pts advised – 7pts

Total pts advised – 794.50

AT & T Byron Nelson and Irish Open – Betting Preview

Another poor week leaves the profits at a low for the year and without having seen much golf over the weekend I can only go on the highlights package. From what I saw Day’s length off the tee combined with accurate approach play, laser putting and a field leading 85% scrambling was just too much for everyone else. It was simply more of the same from the Aussie and when all aspects of his game are working that well then I’m not sure anyone will be able to keep up with him this year.

It was annoying to see Day hose up just 1 month after we backed him for The Masters but so far it has been a very tough season with as many 1000.0 shots winning as favourites. I fully expected Day to carry on his brilliant form into 2016 but so far he has proven tricky to catch on the right week. He obviously had the short game to go well at Sawgrass but his course form was distinctly average. With yet more lightning greens at the US Open venue at Oakmont next month he will surely be the favourite to win and add to his US PGA Championship from August.

In Europe it another difficult week that involved so much guess-work with regards the course and the low-grade field. That is why I kept stakes low though so while The Players was a bit of a disaster there was very little harm done with a few small bets in Mauritius.

The results are now as follows;

Total points advised – 606.5

Total points returned – 722.80

ROI (since July 2015) – 19.2%

This week the PGA Tour returns to normality with the AT & T Byron Nelson from TPC Fours Seasons Las Colinas in Texas and The European Tour finally returns to Europe for some of the higher quality tournaments with the Irish Open from K Club near Dublin


AT & T Byron Nelson

Jason Day himself is a former winner here but doesn’t tee it up this week and a quick look at all the recent winners of the Byron Nelson seems to throw up a combination of strong drivers of the ball, good wind players and great putters. From a stats perspective total driving is in fact the standout with the last 5 winners having averaged 10th in total driving. While putting wasn’t overly crucial in 2011 and 2012 the last 3 winners have ranked 2nd, 2nd and 3rd which backs up my original thoughts.

A further look into how those 5 winners have done their scoring at TPC Four Seasons throws up another valuable trend as the 5 have all been excellent on the Par 4s. That is to be expected on a Par 70 but nevertheless they have ranked 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 2nd on the Par 4s during the week of their win and it looks like another handy string to the bow this week.

The course is a long Par 70 layout and at 7160 yards with just two of the longer holes then it makes perfect sense that long, straight driving helps to get it done at TPC Four Seasons.

johnson-dustin-OK

Dustin Johnson is without a win since March 2015 but some of the quality golf that he played during 2015 was overshadowed by his high-profile collapses. DJ took apart most of the Major courses over the first two days with his power game and when he is driving it even remotely straight and putting ok he is a threat no matter who is in the field.

TPC Sawgrass clearly isn’t his track however and it was interesting to see him record his highest finish at the course last week (28th). He ranked 8th for driving distance and that will set him up nicely for TPC Four Seasons where the softer, slower greens will help cover up his relatively weak short game and allow him to attack the flags with more wedges than most. Despite the brown greens being almost impossible to hold last week he still hit 68% of the greens and that isn’t too shabby around Sawgrass.

Johnson also happens to be one the best wind players around and that is important on any Texas course where the wind blows more often than not. Indeed he has four Top 10s in 6 efforts here and it clearly fits his eye.

Although there hasn’t been a win for a while Johnson still sits in 9th place for the all-round ranking over the last 3 months so his game can’t be far off and perhaps the most encouraging aspect is that he ranks 9th for total putting over that same period. Day’s win stopped the run of huge price winners on The PGA Tour and when that last happened in February the next few Tournaments were shared out amongst the game’s top table.

A similar thing could happen again this week as the first few players in the market will be determined to try to keep pace with the World Number 1 player. With Spieth having missed the cut last week I think 2nd favourite DJ looks to be the most likely winner and while 10.0 may appear short it shouldn’t be forgotten that he is a 9 time winner on Tour capable of blowing most fields away when at his best. It will be important for him to get over the line again sooner rather than later given last year’s woes but when he does win again it will no doubt be away from fast greens like Chambers Bay and this looks like the perfect set-up for him to get back in the winners enclosure.

The last two weeks have provided very differently priced winners on the Exchange. James Hahn went off at 1000.0 and Jason Day was around 13.0 last week. So as we have one from the head of the market I have decided to compliment Johnson with two outsiders.

Andrew Loupe finished 4th two weeks ago at The Wells Fargo and I think he has the right combination of power and putting that could see him go well on his 2nd look at the course. He currently sits 6th in driving distance for the last 3 months and 11th in total putting. He is rather wayward off the tee but with that not having been quite as crucial recently I think 150/1 is huge for a player that finished 4th last time out and is putting that well.

Hudson Swafford stopped a run of 3 missed cuts with a 57th at The Players Championship but it was his opening 66 that got my attention as we haven’t seen him on a leaderboard for a little while. He fell away as the greens firmed up over the weekend but it’s possible that he found something before the Thursday as prior to that 66 only 2 of his last 16 rounds were in the 60s with nothing better than a 69. Although scoring was low on the Thursday that is still quite a place to shoot your lowest round in months and he finished 7th in total driving for the week. If he found something off the tee at Sawgrass then the slower greens could be exactly what he needs this week and he looks to be a big price at 250/1.

One final thing of interest I found was a course link to Atlanta Athletic Club which hosted the 2011 US PGA Championship. Four of the first seven players home there have all won the Byron Nelson which seemed quite pertinent. Unfortunately that hasn’t thrown up anything too interesting but I did see David Toms at 690 on Betfair and that seemed quite high. He won his US PGA around Atlanta Athletic Club in 2001 and then also finished 4th there in 2011. Given he was seen finishing 14th at the RBC Heritage a few weeks ago and the recent high price winners I thought he was worth a small win bet with a view to trading out should he start well.


Irish Open

As soon as I noticed that the Irish Open was moving to K Club this year one player jumped out at me such is his connection with the course. Lee Westwood will be hoping that this connection can have a positive influence on the latter stages of his career. Having had a poor 2015, Westwood will be desperate to try to qualify for his great friend Darren Clarke’s Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine in September.

I don’t think there could be a better place for Westwood to lay down a marker than the K Club. Firstly he has won around the course twice, in 1999 and 2000 with Clarke himself winning the following year. This began Westwood’s affinity for the course but it was the emotional 2006 Ryder Cup that has firmly etched this Golf course into the careers and lives of both Westwood and Clarke.

Clarke’s wife lost her battle with cancer just 6 weeks prior to the Ryder Cup and Clarke bravely decided to still take up his wild card spot, with Westwood being Woosnam’s other pick. They teamed up for a perfect record winning both their four-balls matches. Westwood would also half both his foursomes before winning his singles match to leave himself as the top scoring player with 4 points out of 5. Europe earned a resounding 18 ½ -9 ½ win and the scenes at the K Club were some of the most emotional we have witnessed in the Ryder Cup.

There isn’t a single doubt that Westwood will be part of Clarke’s team in September, it’s just a matter of whether he can qualify, do enough for a Captain’s pick or have to make do with being one of Clarke’s vice captains. But any win between now and August would probably be enough for the Ryder Cup stalwart and I think he has a great chance this week.

While not a links course there will be plenty of similar weather in store for them and Westwood won’t be phased by that at all. In addition to his 2 wins at the course he has another 5 European Tour wins in England and Scotland so he is right at home in the cold, damp, windy conditions that are forecast for the week.

Although his K Club history was what highlighted Westwood, he also arrives in fairly decent form having last been seen finishing 2nd at The Masters. Only Danny Willett can boast a better piece of form in the field so he looks a great price at 33/1 to go well on a course that suits him perfectly.

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The K Club course is an inland parkland course and it was designed by Arnold Palmer. It stands at 7350 yards long but yielded some fairly low scoring when it hosted The European Open from 1995 to 2003 and again in 2005. A look at those leaderboards together with the Ryder Cup and it seems that keeping the ball in play off the tee is crucial. That will only be accentuated some 10 years on with the growth of many trees on the course.

With Westwood a strong fancy based on course form I wanted to make the other two picks about current form and suitability to the course.

Joost Luiten has been playing some brilliant golf so far in 2016 with form figures of 44-2-2-MC-6-15-18-13-5 and the only thing missing is the win. Luiten is used to playing in the wind and one of his 4 wins was on the exposed Kennemer Links course in Holland. He also has a win in Wales in fairly miserable conditions so he will be relishing this opportunity with his game in such good order. That Wales Open win was around another Ryder Cup venue at Celtic Manor and with Luiten desperate to make his debut in September it won’t be lost on him that he has the chance to win around the 2006 host course too.

Luiten has been going off at fairly restrictive prices lately such is his form but with the strong field gathered in Ireland this week he looks a fair each way price at 33/1 where his 2016 ranking of 6th for total driving should help him considerably.

I’m going with another poor weather specialist in Ross Fisher at what looks to be a great piece of value. Fisher won this title in 2010 at Killarney Golf Club and like Luiten he also has a KLM Open title amongst his European Tour wins. Fisher hits the ball long and straight (4th in 2016 total driving) and that helps him in the wind. His home course is Wentworth and he can handle swirling winds through tree-lined courses better than most.

He was last seen in China where he finished in 44th after struggling to get to grips with the quirky nature of the greens. But two starts before that he played at the tough Valderrama course where he contended with his excellent ball-striking but ultimately his putting wasn’t quite up to scratch and he finished in a tie for 6th place. He led the field in the all-round ranking however and I think that is a better idea of where his game is at.

With his strong record playing in poor weather, his proven ability and his current form, 50/1 looks fairly decent despite this field strength. Fisher is a former World No 15 player and he has  already played in a Ryder Cup so he will also relish a chance to fire himself up the European Points list with a contending performance in a country where he already has a win to his name.

I will just go with 2×3 doubles this week as Swafford is a bit more of a hunch pick and a player I think could win soon at a big price rather than one that I definitely expect to play well this week.

Summary of bets

AT & T National

Dustin Johnson – 2.5pts win @ 10.0 on Matchbook exchange

Andrew Loupe – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1

Hudson Swafford – 0.5pt ew @ 250/1

David Toms 0.5pt win on Betfair Exchange @ 690

Irish Open

Lee Westwood – 1.5pt ew @ 33/1

Joost Luiten – 1pt ew @ 33/1

Ross Fisher – 1pt ew @ 50/1

2×3 0.25 ew doubles (DJ 9/1, Loupe) + (Westwood, Luiten, Fisher)

Weekly outlay – 15pts

Total outlay – 621.5pts

@theGreek82