More annoying than Marc Warren’s round on Sunday or Rafa Cabrera-Bello coming up a little short were my two short lists for both events last week. Paul Waring was one of the first on my list for his solid record around Gleneagles while Brian Gay and David Hearn were both on my Wyndham list for their proximity figures. It’s most frustrating to have found the players and then stupidly ignored my own process but I felt I was already on enough outsiders with Kodaira as my main bet. He was shocking and it was very strange to see a player who made cuts at Carnoustie and Bellerive struggle to make pars on one of the most straight-forward courses they will play all year.
Missing out on Waring is tough to take given he was literally the last man off the list and he would have given the figures a timely boost as I dip ever closer to negative ROI. But it shows I’m at least doing something right and perhaps just need to continue trusting the gut even if that ended badly with Kodaira this week. It’s important to remember that we can’t judge value with any degree of hindsight though and the price was still the best piece of value I’ve seen this year. Of course value is highly subjective but the 38th ranked player in the world just shouldn’t have been 200/1 in that field. Nevermind, on to this week.
2018 pts advised = 386pts
2018 pts returned = 391.05pts
The Barclays is no more and after a name change the first play-off event now arrives packaged as The Northern Trust. As is now customary the venue has changed again and we are back to Ridgewood Country Club (7319y Par 71) in New Jersey. It hosted this event previously in 2008, 2010 and 2014 so there is a little course form to look at but with varying weather conditions and ongoing renovations they have played quite differently over the years. The course was designed by the legendary A.W. Tillinghast who was responsible for some of the most esteemed classical courses in the greater New York area and perhaps even the U.S. He designed Winged Foot, Baltusrol and Bethpage Black which have all hosted multiple majors over the years. The course has been reworked by Gill Hanse several times since 1995 as he sought to restore it back to Tillinghast’s original vision. He has widened the fairways, made the greens bigger, renovated the bunkering, removed some trees and since 2014 he has removed the semi-rough meaning that finding the fairways could be crucial this week. Anyone looking for Gill Hanse clues can look at the Olympic Golf leaderboard from Rio or the Scottish Open results at Castle Stuart as they are perhaps his two most famous original designs.
Ridgewood very much resembles the other New York Tillinghast designs in appearance as they are always lush green parkland layouts with heavily tree-lined fairways. Much like Winged Foot however, Ridgewood has an impressive variety of different types and lengths of holes. That helps create a course that tests every aspect of the game and that is evident when we consider Matt Kuchar (2010) and VJ Singh (2008) are both past winners. This year with all the recent rain it sounds like the rough might be even more lush than normal. That will benefit those that stay out of the rough but similarly there won’t be as much roll out so staying out of the rough should be easier in theory. The green complexes are poa annua and having been made bigger, lag-putting could well be crucial this year on greens that will be set-up as quick as possible.
Looking back at the three recent events just confirms this emphasis on doing everything well. Mahan and VJ were both 7th in the all-round ranking when they won while Kuchar ranked 1st during his win. This is something we have seen recently on Tour at other difficult, tree-lined courses as Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka both ranked 1st in the all-round at Firestone and Bellerive respectively. It could be that looking at the top 20 in the all-round ranking might just find you the winner again in a field of this strength on such varied and classic design as Ridgewood. From a scoring point of view the three winners all performed well on the Par 4s with Mahan and Kuchar both ranking 2nd in par 4 scoring and VJ ranking 6th. That is to be expected on a classic design where over powering the par 5s isn’t always possible so a look at recent par 4 scoring averages may also be worthwhile.
Jason Day is proving very hard to get away from this week. With course form of 1st-5th and having looked somewhere back to his best on his last few starts he looks like the man to beat, certainly at the price anyway. Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas are ahead of him in the market and while they are probably considered better golfers right now it’s important that we don’t let recency bias cloud our judgement too much. Both those players have been excellent over the last couple of years but if we look at the last 3 years then DJ has 10 wins while Day is sitting alongside Justin Thomas on 9 wins a piece. He belongs up there in the market having found his form again this year. I’ve been guilty of following him unsuccessfully at times but with his brilliantly consistent Fed Ex Play-Off record I’m going to give him another go this week. The stat legend that is @JustinRayGC tweeted the best scores to par over the last 4 years of play-offs and Day is miles ahead.
Jason Day -128, PaulCasey -96, Dustin Johnson -94, Rickie Fowler -86.
He confirmed his suitability to Tillinghast courses with poa annua greens when he chased home Jimmy Walker at Baltusrol in 2016’s US PGA and then also finished 4th at Bethpage Black in that same year’s Barclays event. Back him to continue his play-off form on a course that he clearly loves.
Hideki Matsuyama looks to be a huge price on a ball-strikers course given that he looked to be getting back to form last week at the Wyndham. He put up his best GIR performance of the year hitting 83% and while we know Sedgefield isn’t the longest he still hit more greens than both Snedeker and CT Pan who came 1st and 2nd. It was back to the usual poor putting with Matsuyama but this looks like the sort of course that he will relish if he can keep the ball on the fairway. It’s tree-lined but with enough room so that he won’t feel too intimidated on the tee given his driving troubles this year. The right to left dog-legs will suit a player who thrives on similar shaped fairways at Augusta. There are definitely more in form players but there probably isn’t any better value if his long game is getting back in tune. Prior to his 11th at the Wyndham he was 39th at Firestone and a respectable 35th at the US PGA. A player of his ability has to bounce back at some point and the play-offs might just be ideal timing for him. A value play surely if nothing else.
I was very enthusiastic about Ryan Moore’s chances until I looked at his course form. But having regretted not backing Paul Waring last week on form reasons I’m not going to dwell on Moore’s 3 missed cuts at Ridgewood. Instead I’m focussing on his current form and the fact that the classic Tillinghast design looks custom-built for Moore. The course may well be dominated by a Dustin Johnson or Jason Day if they find their groove off the tee but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see some plotting ball-strikers up on the leaderboard too. Ryan Moore won his US Amateur on another Tillinghast course at Winged Foot and while all his courses differ a little they all have the classic Tillinghast trait of testing a golfer right through the bag. In another slightly tenuous link to Winged Foot, Geoff Ogilvy won the US Open there in 2006 and he has won around the only other course which Mahan and Kuchar have both won, the Golf Club at Dove Mountain. That hosted the WGC Match Play from 2009-2014 and it might also help confirm the type of player that could go well here. Winning the WGC Match Play at that course was often about who could consistently hit the most fairways and greens and Ogilvy, Mahan, Kuchar and indeed Moore all fall into that category. Moore ranks 6th on Tour in Par 4 scoring while he is 30th for strokes gained: off the tee, a very impressive number for a shorter driver. Having warmed up with a 6th at the Wyndham and 12th at Carnoustie in July I think he is rounding into form at just the right time for both the play-offs and perhaps a very late run at the Ryder Cup team.
This looks to me like Kevin Na’s sort of course and that might just be the case looking at his results here. His course form reads 31-36-9 with the 36th having come when the course was soaking wet and would have played too long. In 2008 he was 31st but led the field in GIR while the 9th was a very reasonable effort in 2014. For several years you had to back Na with the caveat that you would probably get a run for your each way money even if the win portion was very unlikely to come your way. But with Na having finally stopped the 8 year rot at The Greenbrier in July there is still plenty of time left for the 34 year old to enjoy the latter years of his PGA Tour career in a similar manner to Matt Kuchar and Jimmy Walker. Since that win his results have been trending again with a 51st at Carnoustie, a 31st at Firestone and an impressive 19th at Bellerive where the bombers dominated. He ranks 6th in Par 4 scoring over the last 3 months, 2nd in scoring relative to par for approaches from 150-175 yards and 41st in the same category from 175-200 yards. Na currently sits 6th in strokes gained: around the green too and is one of the best scramblers around. That will be important in the lush green side rough at Ridgewood. These should all serve him well around this classic layout. Na is in good enough form that 80/1 looks a fantastic each way price
I’m getting a little carried away here and wanted to back a 5th in the shape of Luke List but instead I’ll just have a top 20 bet on him. List has been showing up all year on ball-striking courses and he should enjoy Ridgewood given he ranks 5th in strokes gained: tee to green. The clincher for having to include List was that he lost in the US Amateur Final to Ryan Moore at Winged Foot. Looks a solid bet at 9/2.
With the 7467 yard par 72 Albatross Golf Club now hosting for the 5th year we have a very clear picture of what is required to win this event. The course plays long and while there is plenty of water in play the majority of it only really becomes an issue on approaches. The landing areas are wide enough and both Thomas Pieters and Haydn Porteous were able to drive it as long as they liked without worrying too much about where the ball ended up. Paul Peterson was the opposite in 2016 when he won as he hit 83% if his fairways. What all 4 winners have done to date though is hit plenty of greens and putted brilliantly. There is no question that the bombers have an advantage here though as that extra loft in their hands allows them to attack the well protected greens. Don’t dwell on Paul Peterson and follow the profile of players like Porteous and Pieters would be my advice this week, even if I haven’t found too many options myself.
This means we should be looking at stats like birdie average, driving distance, par 5 scoring, strokes gained: approaches and also players who have been putting well lately.
Lucas Herbert has been having a very strong 2018 season and he has been doing that with limited status on the European Tour. Last week’s 5th in Sweden was his 4th top 10 of the year and it also continued a nice trend of results for the young Australian. He made the cut at Carnoustie before a 29th in Germany and 18th in Fiji heading into last week. I’m not sure he is ready to win just yet in the way that Porteous and Pieters were here but he fits a very similar profile. They are all young, aggressive golfers who hit the ball a mile and can score very well when the putter behaves. Granted that is more often than not with Pieters and Porteous while Herbert seems a little more streaky with the short stick. His long game wasn’t amazing last week but I think he looks very worth following here as he is scoring well. He is 18th in birdie average for the season, 26th in driving distance and 38th in strokes gained: approaches so statistically he should be a good fit.
I badly wanted to back Ryan Fox here this week and I’m a little surprised he isn’t playing as he has the perfect profile for this. Lucas Bjerregaard also appealed before I noticed that he withdrew last week. He should probably be monitored in play along with the always difficult to back Johan Carlsson. He is another who should be suited to the layout but given he has only finished MC or top 30 so far in 2018 it is probably worth waiting until the half-way point to see which version of the inconsistent Swede turns up. So I’ll just leave it at the one bet I think in a tough looking betting event where the favourite Pieters could hose up by 8 if he arrives with the right attitude.
Summary of bets
Jason Day – 2.5pts ew @ 14/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Skybet)
Hideki Matsuyama – 1pt ew @ 40/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Ryan Moore – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Kevin Na – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 8 places)
Luke List – 2pts Top 20 @ 9/2
Lucas Hebert – 1pt ew @ 33/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Weekly points advised – 14pts