Matsuyama turned the clocks back 10 months to produce one of the great final rounds at Firestone on Sunday to win comfortably and give me a much needed 20/1 winner. His ball-striking was near perfect as he fought off a stellar leaderboard and despite all the noise about McIlroy this week Matsuyama has to be considered the man to beat. More about that shortly.
That leaves the results creeping slowly back to a positive ROI but I still need a strong finish to the year so hopefully we can find some more profit this week at the final major.
2017 pts advised = 353.5pts
2017 pts returned = 294.36pts
ROI = -16.7%
US PGA Championship
For the last two years I have spoken about this being the least exciting of the majors and also “glory’s last shot” but given how excited I am about it I’m going to forget those tired clichés. Yes we will have to wait 8 months for the next major and yes it probably is the least significant of the four but this week we have the best field of the year assembled at a very fair, classical golf course where the bulk of the field have had a chance to play before. It’s a level playing field, a great course and most of the game’s big names arrive in good form, can we ask for much more? …….a Tiger Woods’ return maybe……
The course is Quail Hollow which has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003 so many of the field will have played it but not quite in its current guise. It was originally designed by George Cobb in 1961 but Tom Fazio has been back a couple of times recently to help tweak the course to get it set up to host the US PGA. Normally the course has played as quite a long Par 72 but the course has been lengthened in the last year and will play as a 7600 yard Par 71 brute this week. The greens changed from bentgrass to bermuda in 2014 and at the same time they removed lots of trees from around the greens in order to help look after the putting surfaces. Some trees were also removed from the fairways so a course that always suited long drivers is set up even more for the bombers this week.
Recent champions include Rory McIroy, James Hahn, JB Holmes and Rickie Fowler while Phil Mickelson has a host of top 10 finishes and considers the course to be one of his favourites.
One of the telling stats at recent PGA’s is that the winners of the last 10 have all finished in the top 22 of the WGC Bridgestone at Firestone. In 9 of those it was played the week before with last year being the exception due to the Olympics. While stats like that are obviously there to be broken, it is one of the more robust. It makes perfect sense that the winner is arriving in good form and also a classy enough player that they were in the restricted WGC field the week before. I haven’t followed it with every selection but when you look at the big names who meet that requirement there are plenty who are expected to go well this week. To add a little extra excitement Jordan Spieth bids for the career grand slam for the first time here too.
I’ve been back and forth with whether or not to put Hideki Matsuyama up again this week and I can see both sides of the argument here. He hasn’t yet won a major and he will have a lot of pressure on him here to win having romped home last week. His price of 12/1 looks to not really take much of that into account and it does feel a little restrictive. But on his side is how brilliantly he holds his form and the knowledge that if he plays like he did on Sunday he will win. There aren’t too many in the field that arrive here in that position and in truth we still don’t really know how good Hideki is going to be as he is still just 25 years old. I can’t leave him out but if you are struggling with the price just watch the highlights from Sunday again! I won’t repeat any of the stats from last week regarding his exquisite long game but I will add in that he has progressive form figures at Quail Hollow of 38-20-11 and as Dave Tindall pointed out in his excellent preview, Matsuyama has won twice already on bermuda greens in Phoenix.
If we look at Betfair we can still get 14.0 and I’m going win only as if he plays to his best and contends, I don’t expect anyone to get the better of him on Sunday with such positive recent final round memories for the Japanese star.
I’m not at all happy about it but after quite some consideration I decided I have to back Adam Scott here at 45/1. I know he is a terrible putter inside 10ft but he was a terrible putter inside 10ft at the Masters in 2013, just not quite as terrible because he had the long putter. But with any player there has to be a point where they can be backed regardless of such things and I think the 45/1 more than factors in his frailties on the greens. When he won the Masters it poured with rain a lot of the week and the greens were as soft as we have seen them. That certainly removes some of the advantage that good putters have on the greens and it also heightens the advantage that long drivers get off the tee. That is why we so often see the likes of McIlroy, Scott, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson go well when it rains as they carry the ball so far with their towering ball flights.
Scott has the all important Top 22 finish last week as he snuck into 13th after firing 3 rounds in the 60s. Scott also has an impressive bank of form in the year’s final major with 10 career top 25s, 4 of those being top 10s. The bulk of that is recent form too with top 25s in 5 of the last 6 US PGAs. Scott also has some strong Quail Hollow form with 3rd, 8th, 16th and 17th place finishes mixed together with three missed cuts. Despite him not being at his best this year he still ranks 17th in the all-round ranking on Tour and also 17th in strokes gained: tee to green. Scott might not hole enough putts to come out on top but 45/1 on a rain softened, 7600 yard course is just too generous an each way price to pass up.
I have no better idea than anyone else which Si-Woo Kim will turn up this week or how fit he might be but while markets rightly focus more heavily on form, they can sometimes be too quick to dismiss class, which, as Bill Shankly fans will tell us, is permanent. Kim, who is still just 22, has already won The Players Championship on bermuda greens and his other PGA Tour win was just 100 miles up the road at Sedgefield Greensboro. That win in the Wyndham was also on bermuda greens so it’s clear he putts better on that surface. Quite what gets his long game going I don’t know but he ranked 6th in GIR at Firestone and the last cut he made was at the US Open where he finished 13th. Kim clearly enjoys playing on the big stage and he looks massively over priced here at a general 200/1. He may well miss the cut but the price is just too big for someone who beat the best field assembled so far in 2017 just three months ago.
Tony Finau looks an interesting outsider this week given his solid record early on in his major career. He has only played in 6 to date but he has returned four top 30s with his first two yielding a 14th in the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay and a T10th later that year at Whistling Straits. He missed a couple of cuts last year but also has an 18th and 27th at the last two Opens. Finau is one of the longer drivers on Tour (6th in DD) but he is also very aggressive which is probably reflected in the fact that he is 14th for Birdie average. What is perhaps more surprising though is that he is 6th in GIR as someone who fires at almost every flag would be expected to short side himself and miss quite a lot of the trickier greens. The big hitter also sits in very good company in strokes gained: off the tee as he is 4th behind Rahm, Garcia and Dustin Johnson. Finau certainly appears to have the perfect game for a US PGA set-up and given his results in other majors he appears to thrive in major conditions in general. Unfortunately the bookies have also picked up on this and he has been cut into 80/1.
With his preference being for bent grass greens it could be that he doesn’t make enough birdies this week on the trickier bermuda surfaces but with rain forecast that could be an equaliser on the greens and his profile looks bang on for this test. Furthermore while he may well be better on bent grass greens, he has decent results on other surfaces with a 3rd on the bermuda greens at TPC San Antonio, a 5th on bermuda at the Valspar, a 4th on poa annua at Torrey Pines and his win in Puerto Rico was on sea paspalum greens. Finau may be just be versatile enough where greens are considered.
He has also finished 28th and 16th on his two looks at Quail Hollow. Granted it has changed a bit but with the main change being added length, he will be inconvenienced less than most. He hasn’t been out of the top 40 in his last 8 starts and two of his last three results have been top 10s so with form simmering he looks a solid enough betting proposition. I’m having a small each way bet and also a larger Top 20.
James Hahn has two wins on Tour so far in his career, at Riviera and here at Quail Hollow. Having won on two classical, championship layouts he is firmly on the minds of punters for majors but the trouble is he hasn’t played in enough to be comfortable yet in the big events. Hahn has played in nine to date and while he missed his first four cuts, he made his next five so there is definitely progress. There is no doubt he has the all-round game for majors and he looks worth a small play here in the outright and top 20 markets.
Brendan Steele obliged with a top 20 at the US Open and he actually looked like he might place for a while. Steele has a great skill set for US majors and as ever he stands out on the stats front this week. Steele ranks 18th in birdie average, 16th in strokes gained: tee to green and 33rd in driving distance.
Steele didn’t quite get the all important top 22 at Firestone although he wasn’t far away finishing 24th. But the lanky Texan hit more greens than anybody else on the week and his last three efforts at Quail Hollow have been 14-9-30 so he is clearly comfortable on the course. He putted poorly at Firestone but I’m hoping the switch to bermuda greens will get him back on track. One of his wins was on bermuda at TPC San Antonio and his other was on poa annua so he may prefer putting away from slick bent grass carpets.
With his lofty position at the US Open until the back 9, Steele showed that he isn’t out of his depth in majors so I’m going to play him in the outright and the top 20 again.
Webb Simpson’s form has been very up and down the last few years and despite not being the longest hitters, his form at Quail Hollow together with being a North Carolina native, make me think he will play well this week. An outright bet might well be wasted given his lack of length and his putting woes since the anchoring ban but a Top 20 looks a possibility for a player who has had 5 in his last 9 starts.
My main 1st round leader bet is a little tenuous but at the same time Alexander Levy makes a habit of starting fast in Europe and I think he could take to Quail Hollow this week. I quite like him for two other reasons here though as he has a habit of excelling on rain-soaked courses as he is one of the most aggressive flag hunters around on either Tour. He only knows one way to play and he is a big hitter too so he won’t find the course too long. The tenuous part is that one of his wins came at the Portugal Masters which seems to tie in a little with Quail Hollow for the Europeans. Lee Westwood and David Lynn have both finished runner-up at Quail and won in Portugal while Robert Karlsson has a top 5 at Quail and two runners-up in Portugal. It’s maybe a bit silly but I’m having a go nevertheless at a sporting 175/1 despite him having a later tee-time.
As we all know Alex Noren can get pretty hot and put up some low numbers and he looks primed to go low again in round 1 here with an early tee time. Noren ranks 5th in round 1 scoring over the last 3 months and his final round 68 at Firestone on Sunday threatened to be even better as he raced to -5 on his front 9. For some reason Swedes have a history of starting fast at the US PGA. Of the 41 players to sit in the top 5 after day one in the last 5 years, 5 of them were Swedish. That is quite a high number given their representation in the field. The rest of the breakdown was 17 US, 6 English, 5 Australian, 2 Northern Ireland and one each from Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, New Zealand and Argentina. A completely irrelevant stat really but makes the 66/1 about Noren look generous to me.
One final go at the 1st round leader with Patrick Reed who loves bermuda greens and has been playing ok of late. Nothing more than a bit of a hunch but it also gets an American on the Thursday team.
Summary of Bets
Hideki Matsuyama – 5pts win @ 13.5 on Betfair Exchange
Adam Scott – 1pt ew @ 45/1 (8 places, 1/5 odds Betfair Sportsbook)
Si Woo Kim – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 9/1
Tony Finau – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 7/2
James Hahn – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 and 1pt Top 20 @ 13/2
Brendan Steele – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 and 2pts Top 20 @ 11/2
Webb Simpson – 1pt Top 20 @ 9/2
1st Round Leader
Alexander Levy – 0.5pt ew @ 175/1
Alex Noren – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1
Patrick Reed – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1
Weekly pts advised = 21pts
2017 pts advised = 374.5