Places for Aphibarnrat, Jones and Eddie Pepperell made it a good week and we are back in profit again heading into the second major of the year, or the third from last shot at glory as I’m going to call it…..Considering none of them were really in contention through the week it was pretty good to get three returns and boosts the confidence ahead of trying to pick apart the strongest field in golf. Results are as follows;
2019 pts advised = 228
2019 pts returned = 245.46
ROI = 7.66%
As someone who doesn’t really like change, the new major schedule is going to take a lot of getting used to. Right now the thought of having another major this week is extremely exciting and then very quickly the U.S. Open will arrive. However the thought of having to wait some 9 months for the next major after Rickie Fowler lifts the Claret Jug in July isn’t such a pleasing proposition. Why dwell on that now though! Lets just enjoy what we have on the horizon and in this week’s case it’s a breathtaking event. With Tiger back on the major train, numerous world class players all with strong cases to be made and a US PGA with the deepest field in golf there should be no end of drama. The fact that Bethpage Black is hosting only boosts that idea as we get a long, tough U.S. Open style course but set up a little more favorably as is the US PGA norm.
Bethpage Black is a 7468 yard par 71 and is widely regarded as one of the toughest courses in the U.S. Opened in 1936 and designed by the famous A.W. Tillinghast it is a parkland course and features poa annua greens much like all his courses in the greater New York area. We have seen it in use a few times lately with it hosting the 2012 and 2016 Barclays Championship and going further back the 2002 and 2009 US Opens. The two US Opens saw winning scores of -3 and -4 while the Barclays were a little easier at -10 and -9 respectively. I’d expect to see a similar set up to the Barlcays events and anyone getting to double figures will surely be towards the top of the leaderboard come Sunday night. Form on other Tillinghast courses always stacks up and Phil Mickelson in particular boasts an impressive major record on them back in the 2000s when his courses were never far from the major rota. Baltusrol GC, Winged Foot, Bellerive and Ridgewood CC are perhaps his most famous courses away from Bethpage, while Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines are two other similar championship layouts with poa greens.
The underlying difficulty at Bethpage is just how relentless the course is and the players won’t be able to lose concentration for a second this week. It isn’t a tricked up course that will be unfair and everything is laid out in front of them, good shots will be rewarded and everything else punished. We won’t see the rough overly thick I don’t believe but courses in the New York area are always lush green so it still won’t be easy to hit greens out of the rough. As ever the bombers will be hitting their approach shots from considerably nearer the hole and this is a feature at every long championship course now despite even the “thick rough” US Open narratives we hear every June. Lately almost every name on a major leaderboard is someone that regularly gets it out there over 300 yards off the tee. That’s not to say shorter hitters can’t prevail but they will need to have their iron game seriously dialled in this week. The forecast rain early in the week is only going to compound that with fairway run-out probably minimal. The majority of the greens at Bethpage are also raised up and heavily protected by bunkers so a high-ball flight will be required to hold the greens. Everything about this week is suggesting to me that power will be the number one attribute yet again.
With these well protected and raised greens not only will approach shots be crucial but distance control in particular. Players will be forced to carry their numbers perfectly to reach and then hold greens and going at flags won’t be nearly as important as just finding greens in regulation. There is a reason Colin Montgomerie came closest to winning a major at Tillighast’s Winged Foot. The green complexes are similar and there were few better in the game at hitting their approaches pin high than Monty in his pomp. So players that can hit their irons consistently the right distance should go well this week, therefore GIR will be important but also some applied knowledge away from the stats. Players like Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia have always been superb at hitting their numbers so anyone that you consider to have that trait is probably worth a second look.
While the rough might not present US Open style problems for approach shots it will be interesting with regards to scrambling around the greens. Last week at Trinity Forest we saw tightly mown links style aprons and run-offs which allowed lower bump and runs around the greens. Bethpage will be more like what we see at Augusta and Torrey Pines where touch and imagination will be required to save par when missing the greens.
Looking at past statistics at Bethpage only serves to confirm the importance of the long game. The four winners there (Reed 2016, Watney 2012, Glover 2008 and Woods 2002) have ranked 13th, 2nd, 4th and 1st in GIR while they were also 28th, 9th, 3rd and 2nd in total driving. Nick Watney scrambled terribly when he won but so did most of the field as they averaged just 45% success in getting up and down. The other three winners were 10th, 8th and 12th for scrambling. Obviously none of the 4 putted terribly but their averages for total putting were 45th, 21st, 9th and 43rd. Only 2016 has the full strokes gained breakdowns and Reed was 27th in strokes gained: putting while Scott managed to finish 4th despite ranking 76th that category! Reed ranked 3rd in strokes gained: tee to green. From a scoring point of view both Barclays winners came 1st for par 5 scoring but both Major winners were 1st in par 4 scoring. With one less par 5 in play for majors than normal I’d probably make the par 4s more important especially as the majority are rather long.
One additional observation from the stats is how the winners here didn’t do anything badly and the two Barclays winners were 8th and 4th in the all-round ranking while both Major winners ranked 1st. So you could just skip the rest and go straight to the all-round ranking stat on the PGA Tour website and back the first 3; Thomas, Koepka and McIlroy. Interestingly all three of those have won the US PGA in the last 5 years! This even further highlights the need to be doing most things well in the run-up to a PGA Championship. I have actually gone a little further down that all-round ranking and my main two picks sit 7th and 8th respectively.
Jon Rahm has delivered for me in the last two majors and I firmly believe he is trending towards a major so the calendar change looks ideal for him. While he enjoys Augusta there is no question that a US PGA looks his best chance of getting off the mark. So getting to play PGA-Masters-PGA is going to be of benefit to him and all the other bombers too. A long and difficult US Open course set up for a US PGA has Rahm written all over it for me.
When the US PGA followed the WGC Bridgestone in the schedule there was one of the strongest trends in golf relating to a high finish the week before. It made so much sense as it is almost impossible to come out on top of the deepest field in golf if you aren’t playing well coming in. Not only does Rahm tick the form box but he won his most recent start at the Zurich team affair alongside Ryan Palmer.
This season Rahm ranks 2nd in strokes gained: off the tee while he backs up that power with 62nd in strokes gained: approaches and 59th in strokes gained: putting. But for those who don’t like these modern stats approaches Rahm probably ranks close to 1st in the sarcastic “strokes gained: golf shots” category. There are very few in the game that seem to just always find a way of getting the ball in the hole, even when he is having a tantrum and behaving like an idiot he will follow a petulant double bogey with a run of birdies and his sheer determination seems to lift his game for the big events. His win on his debut at Torrey Pines in 2017 pretty much announced him as a future major winner. He took a little time to get used to major golf but I believe he now knows what it takes and is definitely managing to rein in the emotions a little. He has finished 9th-4th in his last two majors and I think that is a sign of things to come over the next 15-20 years. Even at just 24 there is a feeling that he is focussed mainly on the majors and I think he is a cracking each way bet at 18/1 to carry on his run and contend again.
I also put Jason Day up for the last two majors and I have to keep to the same theme again with him having also delivered at the Masters. Everything applies to Day that applies to Rahm pretty much but we get the added bonus of some course form and being a proven major winner. He played in both the Barclays events in 2012 and 2016 finishing 24th and 4th respectively and with the set up being similar I’m expecting a big week. Day absolutely loves Tillinghast courses even beyond Bethpage having finished runner-up at Baltusrol, contending for 3 rounds at Bellerive and he has three Top 20s at Ridgewood. He also knows how to win on poa greens as a two time winner at Torrey Pines and I really think that course could be a good marker for Bethpage (Watney and Woods have both won there and Glover has a 3rd and 4th). He has played just once since the Masters but kept things ticking over nicely with a 24th at Quail Hollow which will have been a fitting warm-up for Bethpage. As ever he is putting brilliantly this season ranking 11th in strokes gained: putting and he is 5th in strokes gained: off the tee. It has been his iron play that has held him back this year but he usually manages to up that for the big events. If he is injury free then everything else looks to be in his favour and we can expect another big week at a very fair 25/1.
I really wanted to add Patrick Reed too and there is no question he is a good price at around 60/1. However I just don’t think he has shown enough recently despite being the last man to win around Bethpage. Instead I’ll add three more at bigger prices who should all be suited to the course.
Patrick Cantlay showed at the Masters just how good he is and his rock-solid tee-to-green game makes him another who could rack up top 10 finishes on these sort of courses for years to come. After nearly winning at Augusta he went on to contend again the very next week at The Heritage and he will arrive at Bethpage in a bullish mood. That Masters T9th was his first major top 10 and going straight to another suitable course there is a great chance of us seeing his 2nd top 10 arrive at the earliest opportunity. Cantlay is 10th in strokes gained: tee to green and leads the Tour in par 4 scoring but it’s his short to mid range putting that can let him down. However with Bethpage not really being focussed too much on the putting, another ball-striking clinic should see him towards the upper echelons of the leaderboard again come Sunday.
I will probably bet Hao Tong Li for a Top 20 finish in every major for the foreseeable future while we are still getting as good a price as 6/1. I’m also including him as an outright bet due to the 10 places on offer. Li’s power game off the tee together with his accurate mid to long iron game make long championship courses ideal for him so I expect him to rack up the high finishes in such events going forward. He is 12th in strokes gained: tee to green on the European Tour while his proximity numbers on the PGA are impressive. He is 1st for approaches from 175-200 yards while he is 16th from 150-175 yards in the rough. Li also holes out brilliantly under pressure and scrambles very well making him a far bigger threat than 125/1 suggests. He is also in fine form having finished 4th last time out in China.
I figured I might as well keep both of the Zurich winners on the team as Ryan Palmer loves Tillinghast courses and played superbly alongside Rahm. He has been 13th and 24th on his last two visits to Bethpage while he has been 5th on both his Ridgewood CC appearances. Considering he was having a quiet enough season some of his stats are also excellent for this. He ranks T3rd in Par 4 scoring and 32nd in strokes gained: approaches while he still retains a lot of his power and it’s his ability out of the rough that makes him look quite interesting. He ranks 5th in GIR from anywhere other than fairway and 16th in proximity to the hole from approaches from the rough. Both these will be crucial and arriving in confident mood after his win Palmer should enjoy himself here. I’m going to have a small play in the outright and the top 20 market.
A ball-striking test on a long, soft course where putting shouldn’t matter and Lucas Glover won the last major held there. If ever there was a course to play Keegan Bradley then this is surely it! Bradley’s putting woes are well broadcast these days but he remains one of the best tee-to-green operators on Tour. He is 10th in strokes gained: tee to green and 12th in total driving. He hits his irons higher than probably 99% of players in the game and he will relish the difficult ball-striking test. I’m not sure I can advise an outright bet on him but at the same time I couldn’t put anyone off a small play at 300+ on the Exchange. Instead I’ll go 1pt top 20 at a massive 6/1.
Sung Hoon Kang actually shot a low round of the week 64 at Bethpage in 2016 and with the form he has shown this season he looks worth a small play in the Top 20 market. Having got his maiden win last week I’d expect him to carry that form over and play well this week. He has played in 5 majors to date and never missed a cut so he shouldn’t be overawed by the occasion. The Sunday Bethpage 64 helped him to 18th and a repeat of something similar looks possible
Ryan Moore hasn’t done much lately but his course form is strong enough to side with here and he is another lover of Tillinghast designs having won his US Amateur around Winged Foot and he was 7th here at the Barlcays in 2016 and 10th at the US Open in 2009. Moore’s distance control is superb and that’s why we usually see him play par 3s so well. He is also a very straight driver of the ball and while he might struggle to contend with the bombers here I think a Top 20 is definitely achievable and he looks a little over priced to do so at 5/1.
I was going to leave it at that until I noticed Adam Scott’s price just before I was about to post. He is around 40-50/1 to win but also a general 2/1 for a Top 20 (3.45 on the Exchange!). Considering how solid his tee-to-green game is the 2/1 made me look closer. Scott has finished inside the top 20 at 28 of his 72 majors but looking more recently when he developed a real consistency at that level it gets even better. He has been in the top 20 on 22 of his last 37 majors working out at 59% or a 1.68 shot going on history alone. Even looking at all 72 majors he is 39% or a 2.57 shot. But if we consider how much better Scott is on a rain softened course and that he has been top 20 in 6 of his last 8 US PGAs then this really does look like a solid bet worth getting properly stuck into. But we’re still not done! Scott was also in the top 20 on his last two starts with a 12th at the Players and 18th at the Masters. He was also 4th the last time he played Bethpage Black! I’m going to finish with a confident 4 points @ 2/1 on value alone. (If you have a Betfair account he is currently 3.45 on the Exchange)
As ever a few small fun bets in the first round leader market. I could have ended up with 8 but have narrowed it down to 4 bets all at decent odds. I realise that’s maybe too many for people to be backing but I’ve backed them all so felt like I had to include them.
I don’t usually like to double up in this market by Ryan Palmer’s case looked a little too compelling. He sits 16th in 1st round scoring and has started quite quickly in the past on rain softened major courses, notably a 65 at Valhalla when McIlroy won his 2nd PGA. He opened with a 67 at Torrey Pines and a 68 at Ridgewood in September. He has a later tee-time of 12:32 but it might pay to spread it around a little as the weather could be changeable.
Emiliano Grillo was 2nd at Bethpage last time in 2016 and he opened with a 67 for 3rd place after round 1. In the two majors he has played on Tillinghast courses he has opened with a66 at Baltusrol in 2015 and a 69 at Bellerive last year. Grillo is a long and straight driver who chipping and putting on greens that don’t have too much bite. With so much rain forecast ahead of Thursday he should enjoy the conditions. He sits in 30th for 1st round scoring this year and from a tee-time of 12:32 he looks interesting.
Justin Harding started his Masters career well with an opening 69 and went on to finish in 12th position. He has maintained his form since then and most recently finished 10th last week at Trinity Forest. He drives the ball long and straight and currently sits 5th in total driving. His approach play isn’t quite up to the same standard as the rest of his game but he is actually very good from the rough currently ranking 1st in proximity to the hole from the rough. His ball flight might be a little too low to contend if things firm up over the weekend but he could start well on a receptive course from an early tee-time on Thursday (07:29).
Unfortunately another double up here with Adam Scott but conditions will just be too ideal on Thursday to leave him out. He has a habit of starting majors fast so looks worth siding with from a 7:40am tee time when the poa greens will be at their best.
Summary of Bets
Jon Rahm – 3pts ew @ 18/1
Jason Day – 2pts ew @ 25/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)
Patrick Cantlay – 1pt ew @ 40/1
Hao Tong Li – 0.5pts ew @ 125/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 6/1
Ryan Palmer – 0.5pts ew @ 150/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 15/2
Keegan Bradley – 1pt Top 20 @ 6/1
Ryan Moore – 1pt Top 20 @ 5/1
Sung Hoon Kang – 1pt Top 20 @ 15/2
Adam Scott – 4pts Top 20 @ 2/1
Ryan Palmer – 0.25pts ew @ 110/1
Emiliano Grillo – 0.25pts ew @ 95/1
Justin Harding – 0.25pts ew @ 100/1
Adam Scott – 0.5pts ew @ 40/1
(all outrights are 1/5 odds 10 places with Betfair or Skybet, Top 20s general price. All 1RL are 1/5 odds 8 places Betfair)
Weekly pts advised = 26.5pts