Safeway Open and Alfred Dunhill Links Championship – Betting Preview

Shane Lowry just managed to snag a full place with most of the bookmakers offering 7 places for their home based event. He looked to be striping it most of the weekend but just couldn’t get the putts to drop. Paul Dunne was a very deserving winner but he wasn’t someone I fancied on a new course like Close House. Generally when shifting to a new venue you want to side with solid tee-to-green games but it was Dunne’s sublime short-game that won him the trophy. He has that very rare ability of chipping the ball almost stone dead from anywhere around the green and that masked a very average ball-striking round for him on Sunday where he hit just 6 fairways and 11 greens in reg. Should we return to Close House in the future it’s worth remembering how key scrambling can be there as some of the greens are small and very fiddly.

Ashley Chesters looked like bagging the Top 20 effortlessly but unfortunately the pressure of being in the final group on Saturday was a bit much and he had a horrible weekend as nerves took over.

The Presidents Cup was a little bit of a non-event and I really shouldn’t have got involved. I knew that from the start though and need to be more disciplined and just leave events like that alone.

Total 2017 pts advised = 442 pts

Total 2017 pts returned = 359.6 pts

ROI = -18.65%


Safeway Open

No sooner has the 2017 season finished but the 2018 season is underway and in all honesty it feels rather daft to have such a short break. That is even more apparent this year by the Monday finish of the Web.com Tour Championship which leaves the 25 players who have earned their card just two days to prepare for their assault at the main Tour.

The starting point is The Silverado Course at Napa in California and with it having hosted since 2014 we have a fair idea of what is required to win. The course is a par 72 and so stands fairly short at just 7200 yards meaning it isn’t usually over powered. It is tree-lined and although not overly narrow, positioning off the tee is crucial as the courses main defence are the slick, small greens. Approaches have to be from the fairway in order to hold the correct area to allow up hill putts as the greens become very difficult if out of position. The greens are poa annua so only those confident on the surface will fancy tricky 5ft downhill putts for par. Therefore proximity to the hole and poa annua putting will both be key this week. While the stats don’t suggest driving accuracy is too crucial, with thick rough and difficult flag locations, players will need to have full control of their golf ball and bombers are likely to struggle unless taking a more strategic approach off the tee this week.

The Fall Series provides a very welcome change to the betting landscape for punters having struggled to pick which one of the world-class players was going to win over the last 6 weeks. We are back to wide open fields without the majority of the game’s best players and we often see big price winners at this time of year. If you like a player here this week then don’t be put off by the price. Although it might pay to consider whether those who contended on Monday at the Web.com will be fully prepared for this just

Such is Kevin Na’s form around the Silverado course he was already on my shortlist for this before the horrific events unfolded in his home town of Las Vegas. It feels a little uneasy putting him up now but we only have to look at Stacey Lewis in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey hitting her hometown of Houston to see how such tragic events can give them a sense of perspective or in Lewis’ case a drive to donate as much money as possible. Quite how this will affect Na we really can’t be sure but its clear from a golfing point of view that the course suits so I’m happy to get behind him here despite claiming I would never back him again! Na is a nervous character that often seems overwhelmed when he is in contention so playing this week with his thoughts elsewhere might just free up his pre-shot routine should he find himself on the leaderboard on Sunday.

Na was 7th here last year and 2nd the year before that and the shorter track together with the requirement for accurate approaches is right up his street. In 2017 Na ranked 5th for Scoring Relative To Par on Approaches from 125-150 yards and he will find himself in that range more often than not around Silverado. The scoring stat rather than just proximity to hole is often more telling as we know he is taking his chances. Na is a solid enough putter and he has shown over the years he is comfortable on poa annua, none more so than when he was 7th at Oakmont’s U.S. Open last year but he also came 4th at Riviera in February. One of his main strengths is his scrambling which well help him over the weekend as the greens firm up. His recent form is good with a 4th and a 6th in his last four tournaments.

Pricewise it’s always a bit of a conundrum with Na as his win price always seems short yet his high number of top 5 finishes can help counter that somewhat. He has 8 placed efforts from his last 52 tournaments and 14 from his last 100. There’s also something quite genuine about him and I can’t help but root for Na so I would love to see him get his long overdue 2nd PGA Tour win here. Not going to argue that there is much value in 28/1 but similarly I think it’s a fair price with his combination of course and current form.

Martin Laird started playing some very good golf at the tail end of the 2017 season so a stop at one of his favourite courses looks very timely indeed. Laird has one of the highest ball flights on Tour with his irons and that helps him find the right portion of these slick greens. His record at the course is very good reading 8th-63rd-3rd and these are precisely the sort¬† of tournaments that the Scot thrives in. He targets these weaker events as great opportunities to contend and although he hasn’t won in 4 years he is a 3 time winner who doesn’t usually back up when the chance to win is there.

His last few results of the season were solid but ultimately too late to make a mark on the Fed Ex Play-offs. He closed the season going 20th-40th-44th and on that last start at the BMW his tee-to-green game was brilliant and he was only let down by the putter. A return to poa annua might help counter that and he generally performs well on the rougher surfaces having ranked 14th on the greens here last year. If he has kept his swing ticking over the last two weeks he will hopefully play well again.

Luckily Chesson Hadley wasn’t at the business end of last week’s Tour Championship on the Web.com so he will be fresher than most of the 2018 new batch this week. But he was the outstanding player on the 2nd Tour having topped the final money list so he doesn’t quite arrive on Tour under the radar. Hadley has the big plus of having had his Tour card before though, even notching up a win at the Puerto Rico Open in 2014. Hadley also has three other wins on the Web.com Tour. His record around the course is quite poor but he is playing far better lately and won just three weeks ago at the Albertson Boise Open which features poa annua greens. In fact three of his professional wins have come on the surface so he clearly enjoys putting on poa. Hedley ranked 6th on the PGA Tour in GIR over the last 6 months and while that is for quite a small sample size he also ranked 14th on the Web.com for the same stat over the 2017 season. Hadley will be determined to make his mark this time around on Tour and this looks like an ideal starting point.

Scott Brown always seems to be underestimated by the bookies and that looks to be the case again with quotes of 100/1 in a couple of places. Brown is coming off a very good 2017 where he was runner-up twice, in the team event in New Orleans with Kisner and at Riviera. He also recorded his best major finish to date with a 13th at the US PGA in only his 4th appearance at one of the big four events. It is the Riviera finish that stands out though, highlighting that he is happy putting on poa annua greens. He missed the cut here in 2015 but was 12th in 2014 when playing better. Brown will arrive full of confidence after a good finish to his summer and should go well.

I wanted to tip Andres Gonzales this week but unfortunately he isn’t in the field. Instead I will finish with Daniel Summerhays. He is a player who has really struggled to get that elusive win on the PGA Tour but one thing he doesn’t struggle with is poa annua greens. In 2016 he finished 3rd at the US Open and 8th at the US PGA, both of which were played on poa annua greens. He hasn’t done brilliantly at the course yet but he has made 2 out of 3 cuts and he did rank 6th in putting in 2014. It’s rather speculative but at these odds (150/1) he is always worth consideration on poa greens.


Alfred Dunhill Links

This week’s Dunhill Links sits in its usual spot on the European Tour and having been on the go since 2001 almost everyone knows what to expect on the East Coast of Scotland this week. It takes the form of a pro-am across three courses during the first three days so the courses are set up extremely easily for the celebrity hackers. With the spot in the calendar being in October in Scotland we don’t see any of the hard and fast conditions that are prevalent at The Open. The greens and fairways are soft so trouble is even harder to find than usual at St Andrews and Kingsbarns. Carnoustie is usually a little more difficult but even still it will need the wind to blow to prevent rounds in the 60s being the norm. The flags are also very favourable to allow the amateurs to enjoy their experience so with all that combined you can see why the winning score is usually in the 20s under par. St Andrews and Kingsbarns both have wide open fairways and plenty of drivable par 4s so power is very much a weapon this week. Ultimately though, it is all about making birdies so aggressive iron play and a hot putter will be the order of the week in Fife and Angus.

After a round at each course everyone who makes the 3rd round cut plays the final round at the home of golf and things get a little more serious on the Sunday. The forecast for the whole week is a steady wind throughout but I’m hoping the rain stays away as I’ll be at one of the courses for the first round on Thursday.

Ryan Fox went firmly into the notebook for this after his superb summer of Links golf. Fox finished 5th at Le Golf National, 4th at the Irish Open and 4th again at the Scottish Open confirming himself a very strong links and bad weather player. The fact that he went a little off the boil through August and September isn’t of too much interest to me and merely serves to give us a good price here. His brilliant July guaranteed his Card for next year so it was no surprise to see him take some time off after the Open and US PGA and he would have needed a few events to blow the cobwebs off on his return.

The Scottish Open 4th is the one that interests me most with it having come at the Kyle Phillips designed Dundonald Links course. Kingsbarns is another Phillips design and together with St Andrews and Castle Stuart they are probably the 4 widest championship Links courses you will see in the UK.

Therefore we would expect Fox to be suited by them as most of his mistakes come with the big stick in hand. Fox hits it further than pretty much everyone on Tour and he will eat St Andrews and Kingsbarns up. He is aggressive with his irons and his putting improves on grainy links greens. The New Zealander first plied his trade on the PGA Tour of Australasia so is at home on the grainier surface as well as exposed golf courses. Having been brought up on firm, fast courses he has also shown he is comfortable knocking the ball down and chasing it onto the greens when conditions dictate.

This whole set-up just looks absolutely perfect for Fox and despite this being his debut in the event I think the easy set-up will help him adjust and he has already played St Andrews in the 2015 Open when it was set-up considerably tougher than it will be this week. Quite how he might fare at the tougher Carnoustie I don’t know but while it will be harder than the other two courses this week, it will be as soft so scoring should still be good. That will also suit a player who ranks 2nd for birdie average over the last 3 months. Fox looks like the best piece of value in the field to my eye at 66/1.

While Fox is a confident pick I also want a few players onside that have more recent form in the bag. Step forward George Coetzee yet again. I’m not going to bang on again about Coetzee too much but he is such a good links putter I’m pretty much going to continue to back him in this event whenever he is bigger than 33/1. There are few players who have been in better form over the last month and bizarrely it has been his long game that has had him at the right end of the leaderboard lately. If he keeps that up,¬† the extra room off the tee will take the pressure off his driving and his short game skills should help this birdie machine contend again this week. Ranks 6th in the all-round so with every part of his game in decent nick the timing of this event is ideal for someone who jointly holds the course record at the Old Course.

I’m in danger of going overboard and backing 7 or 8 players this week. I have to give Marc Warren another go after playing well at Close House. Warren is another sublime putter who thrives on links greens. He was 5th last year and is back in form again at the right time this year. His wild driving has been stopping him contending on Sunday recently but again he will be able to relax on most tee shots this week and let rip. He ranked 19th for GIR and 19th in putting so he should be looking forward to returning north to his homeland.

Joakim Lagergren is a very straight-forward pick this week. He has finished in the top 10 the last two years, returning a Top 20 bet for me here last year at a great price. That left me regretting not putting him up each way as he finished 4th. Not going to make the same mistake this year, especially at 90/1. The young Swede has one of the most silky smooth putting strokes you will see and enjoys the easy pro-am set up here. It takes the pressure off his tee-to-green game which isn’t always a strength. Everyone hits these huge greens so it’s often a battle between the putters and those who aggressively fire at every flag. Lagergren likes to do both so can be expected to go well again at a tasty enough price.

I was going to have a 5th pick of Robert Karlsson given how well he played last week. He opened at 175/1 with bet365 and with him being a past winner of this event that looked far too big. He has been cut into 125/1 which looks about right for someone who has struggled for so long. But I think he is still perhaps value to finish inside the Top 10 at 12/1.

Finally I’m also having a bet on Florian Fritsch for a Top 20 here. Fritsch is perhaps most famous for his fear of flying and he will be playing his 7th week out of the last 8 while we have been in Europe. Keeping hold of his card when he can only play half the schedule is very tough but he is learning to make the most of his strong periods of form and he usually has to play every event this time of year. Fritsch was 7th here last year and 19th the year before on his debut so he clearly enjoys the format. So with a 100% record of top 20s in the event he looks a rock solid bet at 5/1. I will have 2pts on this to return stakes for the event should everything else go wrong.

I’ve got bit carried away this week but both events are good betting heats so hopefully the extra picks pay off this week as I try to sneak back to level for the year.

 


Summary of bets

Safeway Open

Kevin Na – 1.5pt ew @ 28/1

Martin Laird – 1pt ew @ 50/1 (Unibet, 888)

Chesson Hadley – 0.5pt ew @ 60/1

Scott Brown – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1 (Unibet, 888)

Daniel Summerhays- 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 (Unibet again!)

Dunhill Links

Ryan Fox – 1.5pts ew @ 66/1

George Coetzee – 1pt ew @ 40/1

Marc Warren – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1

Joakim Lagergren – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1

Robert Karlsson – 1pt Top 10 @ 8/1

Florian Fritsch – 2pts Top 20 @ 5/1

 

Weekly pts advised = 18 pts

2017 pts advised = 460 pts

@theGreek82

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Scottish Open and John Deere Classic – Betting Preview

It was a profitable week and therefore I can’t really complain, especially with the way Ryan Fox holed two lengthy par putts on 17 and 18 to hold onto 3/4 of the place money. But Russell Henley was a little disappointing on the Sunday given he was surrounded by less experienced players and he never really mounted a challenge. Kelly Kraft birdied the 17th to tie for 5th and that halved our returns. Michael Kim also did all the hard work for a back door top 20 only to go and double bogey the straight-forward 18th hole to fall one shot out of the top 20.

There were 19.94 pts returned and hopefully the next winner isn’t far away. The European Tour continues its links trail this week and hops over the Irish Sea to Ayrshire for The Scottish Open and the PGA Tour holds its customary pre-Open John Deere Classic.

Total 2017 pts advised =309pts

Total 2017 pts returned = 222.11

ROI = – 28.12%


The Scottish Open

After very little wind to speak of last week in Ireland and a soft, receptive course, scoring was very low and players and fans alike will be hoping for more of an Open warm-up this week in Ayrshire. But I’m not convinced that we will get one here although higher winds are forecast than in Ireland last week. They are coupled with rain though and it sounds like we will see another soft course where links specialists may have their advantage removed somewhat. While Jon Rahm won last week with his combination of power and touch around the greens he didn’t really have to change too much of his game as the soft greens and minimal wind allowed more of a target golf tournament. There was plenty of trouble off the tee at Portstewart but the course was short enough that Rahm could still muscle his way out of the fescue. This was highlighted by him hitting 82% of the greens despite only finding half the fairways.

This week’s course is a new one to the rotation but it is on the much trodden Ayrshire golf coast just north of Turnberry and Troon. It is relatively short at just over 7000 yards so if the wind doesn’t get up we could see another birdie-fest this week.

It is a Kyle Phillips design and in keeping with his mantra the fairways are very wide with the focus on tactical approach shots. The greens are huge allowing for lots of different pin placements which will give the organisers the chance to toughen things up should the weather stay benign. Phillips has designed several courses currently used on Tour but perhaps the most pertinent this week will be Kingsbarns. It is used on the Alfred Dunhill Links rotation and every year it plays as the easiest of the 3 courses. Its fairways are some of the biggest you will see on a links course and while Dundonald’s don’t appear quite so wide, I think the bomber types will be well suited to the relatively new Ayrshire track. The greens are well protected and have some undulations so it appears to be all about getting close to the flags, lag-putting well when they end up 60ft across the green and scrambling from tight lies at the bottom of run-offs. If the wind doesn’t materialise then again the best way of getting close will be with as much loft as possible, just like Jon Rahm managed last week. However if it does blow then the links specialists will feature on the leaderboard and must be given respect. Therefore it may well pay to side with players who are adaptable and can thrive in both environments.

Other Kyle Phillips designs to note are PGA National (Nordea Masters 2014, 2015), The Grove (British Masters 2016), Verdura Golf Resort (Sicilian Open 2012, 2017) and Hilverschume (KLM Open 2010, 2011, 2012). He also helped with remodelling works at Celtic Manor and Valderama. A look through these leaderboards repeatedly throw up the same sort of players. Long drivers who hit high numbers of greens in regulation in windy/tough conditions and scramble well when they miss. This has given me a specific skill set to focus on and I have found two at the head of the market to focus on.

I have left Rickie Fowler out this week largely due to the price and the fact that he might want tougher driving conditions to be seen at his best. Additionally I think he will be using this as a stepping stone to Birkdale where I make him the man to beat barring a horror show here. Despite leaving Fowler out I feel like I have still gone a little Jeremy Chapman here by picking two out of the front 6 but then again it is hard to argue with his record so I’ll crack on.

I haven’t tipped Alex Noren for a while but his chance of going back to back looks very strong. Noren won last year around Castle Stewart and that is another links course with wide open fairways. He has won at two other Phillips courses already with his win at The Grove last year following up his 2015 win around his home PGA National course. He also finished 3rd in the Alfred Dunhill Links in 2012 and reached the final of the Paul Lawrie Match Play around Archerfield Links last year. Add to this the fact he has won 6 of his last 28 regular European Tour events and you realise that the price of 16/1 isn’t actually a bad one at all. Simply put Noren is one of the best players on the European Tour, he has become a prolific winner and he is suited to this test perfectly. Room off the tee, a windy course and tricky green complexes where scrambling is key, this is what Noren is all about and therefore he rates a solid each way bet in his quest to defend his title.

Five years ago for Alex Noren you could have read Branden Grace. He was winning lots of regular Tournaments on exposed courses where his then deadly short game helped him to excel in the wind. But Grace has actually worked very hard on his long game and his most recent win at Harbour Town on the PGA Tour required a great deal of accuracy both off the tee and with approach shots. Unlike Noren however, Grace has built up a strong Major record over the last few years, so much so that in the U.S. he is perceived as a steady major type who enjoys a difficult tee-to-green test. But this is a far cry from the deadly putter who first came on the scene back in 2011 and in his 7 wins on the European Tour he has averaged -18. Three of those have been on links courses with his 2012 Alfred Dunhill win (including a course record 60 around Kingsbarns!) preceding two Qatar Masters titles. There is no question that his short game is at its best on slick, grainy greens like he was brought up playing on in South Africa. Grace finished 2nd at Castle Stuart when Mickelson won in 2013 and that was further proof that he will enjoy this sort of test. He has also been dismissed a little in the market and I think he looks to be a nice price at 25/1.

George Coetzee probably gets tipped a little too often in this blog so some may want to leave him out this week but I can’t at odds of 100/1. He has missed his last two cuts but this test is right up Coetzee’s street. He excels on wide open links layouts like this where his wild tee shots go unpunished and he can show off his short game skills. Coetzee shares the course record of 62 at the Old Course at St. Andrews and has also gone low at Kingsbarns which helped him finish 3rd in the Alfred Dunhill in 2012. He also came 3rd at Castle Stuart in 2011 and lost in a play-off at Gleneagles that same year. That form in Scotland shows just what he is capable of with a little room off the tee helping to keep the big numbers of his card. Those who think he is a little out of his depth in this sort of field are pointed to his 7th around Whistling Straits in the 2015 U.S. PGA. It is hard to know which Coetzee will turn up this week but at the price he looks to be excellent value to me.

Ryan Fox deserves another shot this week as he played superbly in Ireland to finish in a tie for 4th. Most of his mistakes came from his wayward tee shots so the big-hitting New Zealander will relish the extra space here. The rest of game was strong last week as he ranked 9th in GIR and he looked comfortable adapting his game to links conditions.

 


John Deere Classic

With focus very much on the Scottish Open I haven’t had too much of a look at the John Deere. The short course at Deere Run always comes down to who combines their wedge play and putting best of all and that is why Stricker, Zach Johnson and Spieth have had somewhat of a monopoly over the last 10 years. They are three of the best wedge players and putters we have seen in recent times so those are certainly the attributes to focus on this week. In terms of stats then strokes gained: putting, one putt percentage, proximity to hole and scoring relative to par from approaches 100-125 yards and 125-150 yards all look key this week.

With a relatively weak looking field I have decided to keep this very simple and back both Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson. As everyone knows their records around Deere Run are immense and while Johnson is in fairly poor form, Stricker has actually been playing very well this year. He finished 16th at both the Masters and U.S. Open making him one of only five men to return top 20s in both majors. The other four are Koepka, Matsuyama, Kuchar and Fowler which is lofty company to be keeping at 50 years old. Stricker has three wins and two other places at the course, most of these coming after his 40 birthday when he was already playing a fairly limited schedule. So arriving off a light 2017 won’t have too much of an impact and he should play well. Davis Love III showed just last week how the seniors can still contend when conditions allow and I expect Stricker to continue to fly the flag for the veterans this week.

Zach Johnson is harder to make a case for but with little else taking my eye here I decided he was worth a go due to the ridiculous course record he owns. His recent results are 34-3-2-2-1-3-21-2 and while he hasn’t been at his best this year he has gone off sub 20/1 here ever since his win and I think given his record the 28/1 still has some value in it with no Jordan Spieth in the field. He also ranks 25th in one putt percentage so if he can give himself chances then he should manage to get competitive on greens he knows better than anyone.

Finally I have added Wesley Bryan as a back-up to the two course horses incase neither are quite at it this week. Bryan is an excellent putter and I didn’t expect him to get his first win around such a fiddly track like Harbour Town. However it is another short course where he would have been using a lot of wedges for his approaches. Despite a recent drop off in his form, his stats are still excellent for this sort of test. Bryan is 5th in one putt percentage, 7th in scoring relative to par from 125-150 yards and 25th for the same stat at 100-125 yards. Deere Run should play to his strengths and as a winner just 10 weeks ago I thought he looked a fair price at 80/1 although I’m not so excited about the general 66/1 around now. However I had already decided to back him so I’m still going to have a small each way interest.


Summary of Bets

Scottish Open

Alex Noren – 2pts ew @ 16/1

Branden Grace – 1pt ew @ 25/1

George Coetzee – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1

Ryan Fox – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1

John Deere Classic

Steve Stricker 1.25pt ew @ 28/1

Zach Johnson – 0.75pt ew @ 28/1

Wes Bryan – 0.5pt ew @ 66/1

 

Weekly pts advised = 13pts

Total 2017 pts advised = 322pts

@theGreek82