Apologies to any regular readers as Cheltenham took up most of my time last week so I didn’t get a chance to have a look too closely at the golf. I did manage to watch the final round though and McIlroy was extremely impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him putt that well and it couldn’t have come at a better time for him with just over 2 weeks to go before the Masters. It really couldn’t be set up any better with the majority of the game’s best players all in fine form. Before then we still have the 2nd WGC of the season with the match play event in Texas
2018 pts advised = 103pts
2018 pts returned = 92.69pts
ROI = -10%
WGC Match Play
The WGC Match Play is back at Austin Country Club for a third year and we are now into the fourth edition of the round-robin group format. Some players have enjoyed the move away from straight knockout while others aren’t quite as taken and again there are a few of the world’s best missing here; Rose, Fowler, Koepka and Stenson all sit out of a tournament that still hosts 64 of the world’s top ranked 70 players. Unfortunately that still means no Tiger who has only managed to get to no. 105 despite his recent form in elite fields.
The course was designed by Pete Dye and the par 72 course sits at 7169 yards while being rather spectacular to the eye. It is a parkland course set along sprawling hills giving rise to some elevation changes and undulating fairways very akin to some British links courses. There are also a lot of deep, menacing bunkers that give it a further links appearance. While the fairways appear to be of average width they will certainly not feel that way standing on the tee. There are many hidden tee shots where the players are forced to carry valleys or shape the ball around trees. The numerous dog legs and elevation changes will also bring about some blind approaches and it appears that accuracy will be important this week with the irons. Whenever a course has elevation changes then distance control becomes absolutely paramount. As we have come to expect from Pete Dye designs (Sawgrass, RBC Heritage, Whistling Straits, PGA West), the greens are relatively small and they are undulating and tiered. Accurate approach shots will be required to find the correct portion of the green to allow a makeable birdie putt. But there will be many flags that simply have to be avoided with run-offs and green side bunkers aplenty. There are several examples of very aggressive players who play well in match play but similarly steady players that keep mistakes to a minimum can also thrive in the format. The greens are TifEagle bermuda which was also in use last week at Bay Hill.
Just like stroke-play there are often different ways to succeed on a course but from what we have seen in the two editions in Austin so far, aggression and power are very advantageous indeed. When we look at the 2 winners to date at Austin Country Club (Dustin Johnson and Jason Day) there are a few things that jump out. Firstly they are two of the best players in the world, who were both on extremely hot winning runs at the time, each playing the best golf of their career. Secondly, they are two of the biggest hitters in the game and they used that length to dominate their matches on the relatively short course, attacking the flags and driving the greens wherever possible. Thirdly, they both had plenty of form on Pete Dye courses, particularly Whistling Straits where Day won his PGA and DJ should have won his in 2010. Johnson had also already won around Dye’s Crooked Stick course in 2016 while Day would go on to win the Players Championship at Sawgrass just 2 months later.
It is that profile of the two winners that led me to my main bet this week and that is Jon Rahm. I’d expect him to be popular this week so I’ve tried to post this a little earlier than usual to try to get a good price but it’s also worth noting that it is a Wednesday start this week in Texas. Rahm is another powerhouse off the tee and he is probably the only player that can compete with DJ and McIlroy in terms of power and “strokes gained: off the tee”. Rahm has already won this year in February but perhaps the most interesting thing about that win with regards to this week is where he got his win. It was at the Careerbuilder Challenge which involves two rounds at Pete Dye’s PGA West Course and also involves bermuda greens. Rahm’s form has tailed off a little since that win but he has still finished inside the top 30 on all 4 starts. There has been quite a bit of discussion about Rahm already this week as he apparently hit a 59 in a practice round at Austin Country Club on Monday (Note: sounds like it wasn’t actually at Austin CC after all). We also know he can do that in competition as he made the final last year only to lose 1 up to a red-hot Dustin Johnson. He has shown already in his short career that he thrives on the same sort of courses as both Johnson and Day so he looks the absolute standout candidate to follow them as winners of the WGC Match Play. With a win this calendar year and already having won on a Dye design he is also a great trends pick and looks like the best bet in Texas this week. But an extra little sweetener is that the form of those at the head of the market has resulted in recency bias probably giving us a price that is perhaps two or three ticks bigger than it should be. Obviously anything can happen in match play but in recent times this event has gone to one of the very best players so let’s have a confident each way bet on the world number 3 at 14/1.
I didn’t want to get too involved in this prior to the draw but there are two others that I quite like and I’m going to have a small bet on them both and hope they are all in different groups. As annoying as Paul Casey is, a confident PC in a match play tournament is a massive threat and he will be absolutely buzzing coming into this event after finally getting his 2nd PGA Tour win. We know he won’t be in the slightest bit phased by taking on the big names here and with his match play pedigree he could go deep in this tournament. Last year he won all three of his group games but lost to an inspired Tanihara in the first knockout match. Given how cocky Casey is you wonder whether he gave Tanihara the respect he deserved last year and I don’t think we will see him make the same mistake again this year. Casey is a two-time runner-up in this event while he has also won the European Tour’s Volvo Match Play event. He also has a very decent Ryder Cup record having won 56% of his available points. He doesn’t have a win around a Pete Dye course but he has been runner-up at both Crooked Stick and TPC River HIghlands. Worth a nice back up ew bet at 22/1.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat owes us nothing after winning the Perth Super 6s in February but he is playing some of the best golf of his career right now. He has won again since then when playing back on the Asia Tour and he also recorded his best WGC finish to date in Mexico where he was T5th. With all his travelling I’m not too worried about his missed cut at Bay Hill last week and he will be fully prepared having made the shorter journey from Florida. With two match play titles already we know he enjoys the format where he can be his ultra aggressive self knowing that he has the short game to back it up should he find trouble. That can be demoralising for opponents in the match play format and two years ago the only game he didn’t win in the group stages was against DJ, only exiting after a further play-off hole against the world no. 1. In most editions of this event we see a slightly left-field European Tour player make good progress and with the way Kiradech is playing that could easily be him this week. (Aphibarnrat has now been drawn in the same group as Jon Rahm, typical!! Anyway for those who don’t think it makes any sense backing them both just leave Aphi out or lower the stakes even more, I’ve stupidly backed them both already)
Adding one more Group stage bet for a further interest. With the form that Casey and McIlroy are in together with their confidence levels and match play pedigree, I expect them to come flying out of the blocks and win all 3 matches. Matt Fitzpatrick and Brian Harman are potential banana skins but I think the double looks rock solid at around 4.35.
Corales Puntacana Championship
I’ve not spent a great deal of time on this but I do like to follow players that have gone well in similar tournaments before when the PGA Tour leaves mainland U.S. The Web.com has several tournaments on their schedule down in both Central and South America. This week the location is the Dominican Republic which lies opposite Puerto Rico to the west and the course is stunning. It’s a cliff side resort course and it doesn’t look too dissimilar to the likes of Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Kapalua. The course has been used twice before on the Web.com with Dominic Bozelli winning in 2016 and Nate Lashley in 2017. Neither man lines up this week however.
The course is a Tom Fazio design and being by the sea it is obviously very exposed. The fairways look wide enough and the rough isn’t overly penal either which suggests that when the wind blows the course can be testing enough. That looks further highlighted by a lack of green side bunkers and most of the greens appear to have an open route in allowing the more imaginative players to flight the ball down and run the ball in should the wind blow. There is a lot of sand in play off the tee however with many fairway bunkers and also sandy waste areas. The greens are sea paspalum as is often found in PGA Tournaments played in climates closer to the equator.
Graeme McDowell looks the absolute standout bet to me here this week and it’s no surprise that the early 33s disappeared fast. GMac should absolutely love conditions at Corales Golf Club with some of his finest results having been recorded on similar set-ups. He won his 2010 U.S. Open around Pebble Beach while he has also won the OHL Classic which played on sea paspalum down in Mexico on another resort course by the sea. He also has 4 top 10s around Fazio’s PGA National course and his home U.S. course, Lake Nona, is another Fazio design. The only thing that might go against him this week is the length of the course but at his best McDowell is miles better than the majority of these and if he plays well I’d expect him to push on over the weekend and show everyone that he really belongs in Austin this week.
I did look at a few of the Web.com players who are used to the climate and the sea paspalum but ultimately we don’t really know how a lot of them will fare here so instead I have gone with the historical class angle. We often see older PGA winners finding some form again at the alternate events, most recently Aaron Baddeley when winning the Barbasol Championship in 2016 and before that Geoff Ogilvy at the 2014 Barracuda Championship. Notice that they were both multiple PGA Tour winners and they are both Australian. Stuart Appleby is a little older than both at 46 years old but his last top 5 on the PGA Tour happened to arrive at an alternate event last July. So given he has such strong form at Kapalua, where he won three times in a row from 2004-2006, it seems fair to think his form could pick up again on another exposed resort course. Appleby was always a strong wind player and he had a fine Open Championship record. It could be complete coincidence but I’d wager it is more likely the spike in confidence that such players get from not having any of the current elite players in the field. That makes them believe they can win again and at odds of 200/1 I’m happy to believe too, at least until Thursday night!
Summary of Bets
WGC Match Play
Jon Rahm – 2pts ew @ 14/1
Paul Casey – 1pt ew @ 22/1
Kiradech Aphibarnrat – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1
Group Winner Double – McIlroy Group 6 + Casey Group 10 – 2pts @ 4.35
Graeme McDowell – 1pt ew @ 25/1 (1/4 odds 5 places)
Stuart Appleby – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Weekly pts advised = 12pts