Jimmy Walker was a very deserving champion at the US PGA but it was a little bit annoying given how much I focused on the poa annua greens in my research. Walker has often been dubbed the “Prince of Poa” but in truth he was virtually impossible to find without a Top 10 since early March. Year after year the US PGA is the one non-specialist major that is won by someone who has had a great season and is arriving with their game at its best. I guess that is why I was surprised to see him play so well for the four days and I wouldn’t have been alone in expecting Day to catch him.
Emiliano Grillo nearly made it a profitable week on his own but I don’t think playing with Day for the last 36 holes suited him and he slipped out of the Top 10 over the weekend. Ultimately the tee-to-green test became a bit too easy for the field and he probably needed tougher conditions to prosper over the weekend. He did return 13pts on Thursday though with the each way portion of the 1st round leader bet. That was a little annoying too as he was only denied a share of 1st by a 31ft Walker putt on the toughest hole on the course. That leaves the results as follows;
Total pts advised – 741.50
Total pts returned – 793.79
ROI – 7.05%
This week we have the Travelers Championship on the PGA Tour and the 2nd running of the Paul Lawrie Match Play in Europe.
It’s back to regular PGA Tour golf as we move further north to Connecticut for The Travelers Championship. The course is TPC River Highlands and while not being an original Pete Dye design, he redesigned it in the early 80s before a further redesign by Bobby Weed in 1989.
After some very high-profile tournaments lately this feels like a bit of a come down tournament and my first thoughts were that this wouldn’t be won by anyone that contended last weekend.
But on further inspection of the field, it isn’t that deep so I’m not going to write them off as they haven’t travelled too far for this and some of those played some very impressive golf at Baltusrol.
I do however think that the Tournaments that fall between the US PGA and the Fed Ex series usually require some form of extra motivation, be it trying to get on the Ryder Cup team or trying to make it into the Top 125 on the Fed Ex list. A quick look at the head of the market though and we can see that a lot of those players fall into that first category; Patrick Reed, JB Holmes, Matt Kuchar, Brooks Koepka, Jim Furyk, Shane Lowry, Daniel Berger and Kevin Chappell will all still hold ideas of making it to Hazeltine. While the majority of players from the 100-150th bracket of the Fed Ex list also tee it up. This makes it look a far tougher task than I first thought.
The course is a short one at just 6820 yards but it isn’t too tight so it can be overpowered as Bubba Watson showed us last year and previously in 2010 when he registered the first of his 9 PGA Tour titles. Short hitters have also prospered here however so it’s not all about power off the tee. With the Tournament having been held here since 1984 there is plenty of course form to look at but there have been some small renovations carried out since last year. Some 45 bunkers were removed and replaced with new ones in more strategic places to allow for the distances that modern drives are carrying. It is hard to say just what effect this will have but on paper it looks like a little more care will be required off the tee than previously.
As with most Pete Dye courses, approach play accuracy is paramount even if that hasn’t been reflected in the stats recently. Bubba only ranked 42nd for GIR last year but Casey and Harman who followed him home ranked 1st and 2nd respectively. Perhaps more crucial than GIR is proximity to the hole as the last 5 winners usually rank highly in that category, particularly from the 150-175 yard range.
Statistically putting has been the most important factor on these average sized bent grass greens. They feature many famous Dye runoffs and hitting the correct portion of the green is important to avoid finding these. Looking at previous winners I make putting from 5’ to 15’ quite important here as that is often the key range for Bubba Watson. His pin-seeking approaches leave him with a lot of putts in that range and whether he contends or not can come down to how many of those he holes.
Most of the winners have form on other Pete Dye courses so it is certainly worth looking at results at Harbour Town (RBC Heritage), TPC Sawgrass (Players Championship), TPC Louisiana (Zurich Classic 2014-16), PGA West Stadium Course (CareerBuilder Challenge) and Whistling Straits (US PGA Championship 2010 and 2015).
I’m largely looking for someone with form at Dye courses, some extra motivation to win this week and some current form. Bubba Watson heads the market here and that is perfectly fair given he is the class act in the field and also a two-time course winner. He has been poor enough of late though and the relocated bunkers are enough for me to look beyond him this week.
Branden Grace is harder to look beyond though given the way he was striking the ball last week. He putted poorly but the South African has always performed better on faster greens so I don’t think that will be a massive issue. While the soft greens didn’t aid his putting last week I do think they perhaps helped his tee to green game. Grace has an extremely low ball flight that can sometimes run him into trouble on faster conditions. Everything stuck last week though and he ranked 6th for GIR.
He is very tempting but a missed cut here last year is enough to scare me off as 2nd favourite. The fact he was the last winner on a Dye course at Harbour Town might have negated that for me had he been available at over 20/1 but odds of 16/1 look a little restrictive.
Paul Casey has been playing some decent golf lately, most recently his T10th at the US PGA Championship. While that was a major championship, it didn’t quite have the tee-to-green test that you would expect at a US Major. So the fact that Casey, an excellent ball-striker, managed to finish so high up makes me think his game is primed again for TPC River Highlands. He finished 2nd there last year on his first appearance so coming off a good week in New Jersey I’m sure he will be expecting to challenge again on his second look at the course.
Casey ranks 3rd on Tour for GIR from 150-175 yards and just last week he hit 62/72 greens in regulation which was only bettered by Louis Oosthuizen. He was also impressive on the Par 4s ranking 2nd in Par 4 scoring and that is always a crucial stat with the last 5 winners at River Highlands having ranked 1st, 1st, 2nd, 16th and 2nd on the Par 4s.
He is a relatively obvious pick but the 28/1 looks fair when we consider the 2016 he has had on the whole. His 4th place at The Masters was his best ever Augusta result and you have to go back to 2007 to find the last time he had two major top 10s in the same season. He also finished 16th at Firestone last month which was a place that he shared with last week’s winner Jimmy Walker. A decent showing at Firestone has long been a good indication of where a player’s all-round game is at.
Casey did not renew his European Tour membership this season much to the annoyance of many in the media. So while that firstly tells us that he no longer has any interest in playing in the Ryder Cup, it also tells us that he is determined to finish his career off strongly in the US. To date he only has one PGA Tour title to his name but he has been getting closer the last few years since his form returned. 2015 saw two play-off losses and with no Ryder Cup to think about I think it is safe to assume that he is looking to have a real run at the Fed-Ex Cup this year. Winning this week would be a perfect start and would allow him to miss a week of the final series should he require the break.
Everything looks to be in his favour in Connecticut and the 28/1 about this GIR machine looks a solid each way play at a course that we know suits.
The best piece of value in the field looks to be Billy Hurley III at 150/1 this week. It is only 6 weeks since he was winning the Quicken Loans National at Congressional CC and yet he is priced up here alongside some players whose recent achievements are nowhere close to that.
It’s not like he has lost his form either having recorded his best ever major finish of T22nd at Baltusrol last week. Hurley has an accurate tee-to-green game and he currently ranks 5th in proximity to the hole but also 5th from the all-important 150-175 yards range. His putting isn’t too shabby either and last week he ranked 12th for total putting. That sits nicely alongside his 2016 ranking of 20th in the one-putt percentage category.
Unfortunately he doesn’t have a great deal of form on Pete Dye courses but he has made both cuts here, finishing 57th in 2014 and 47th in 2012 when a far less accomplished player. He also has a 31st at Harbour Town a couple of years ago and his win at Congressional was on bent grass greens. His game should suit TPC River Highlands and if that is the case then the 180.0 looks an absolute steal for an improving, confident player with a recent win tucked away who will be looking to finish his breakthrough season with a strong run into the Fed-Ex Series.
I did look for a third pick and Webb Simpson was very close but 33/1 looks just a little bit short for someone who still hasn’t quite got to grips with the short putter yet. He is worth keeping an eye on though incase he drifts on Wednesday as his long game looks nearly back to its best.
Paul Lawrie Match Play.
After just one running at Paul Lawrie’s home course, Murcar Links, this is on the move already down to the exclusive Archerfield Links in East Lothian. Archerfield is fast becoming one of the most expensive courses in the UK and subsequently is a course that is kept in excellent condition. There are two courses on site, the Dirleton Links and the Fidra Links and it is the latter in use this week.
Being along the coast less than a mile from Muirfield the Fidra course is unquestionably a links course but it is also, rather differently, a parkland course as the first 12 holes run through woodland. This will make for an interesting test this week and while last year’s competition can well be used as a starting point, Murcar is a shorter, more classic links layout whereas despite the trees, there is definitely more room off the tee at Archerfield and the rough doesn’t look to be too penal at all.
The only course form of any note is the Ladies Scottish Open and I did find an interesting angle through East Lothian’s own Catriona Matthew who won there in 2011 and 2013. Matthew is very much a links specialist and as well as winning a Women’s Open she has also won at Barseback and Gleneagles in her career. They are both perfect examples of courses that mix links type terrain with parkland. Just last week we saw Matthew contending at another parkland course at Woburn, a course that links specialists have always fared well on which was evident with 4 previous Open champions in the top 7.
A look at the European Tour result from Woburn helps further highlight this. It was won by Matt Fitzpatrick, a former boys Amateur champion and solid links player. In behind were Soren Kjeldsen and Shane Lowry, two former winners of the Irish Open on links courses.
So in a round-about way all I’m suggesting here is that we can paint quite a good picture of the type of player that might go well on this course. They should have a solid links pedigree, preferably in Scotland but also have played well on British parkland courses like Woburn and Wentworth where the wind can feature quite heavily.
Given this is a match play tournament rather than stroke play, anyone we are backing should have some form in the alternative format. That isn’t so easy however as there aren’t a lot of professional match play tournaments around for those outside the upper echelons of the game. The Volvo World Match Play, the Eurasia Trophy and last year’s running of this is about the height of it if we assume that none of this field is good enough to have played in the Ryder Cup.
That would be a hasty assumption though and my main play for the Tournament actually has two Ryder Cup performances to his name and a fairly decent record at that winning 3 ½ pts out of 5. Granted they were back in 2004 and 2006 when he was at the peak of his powers but he has rounded back into form in recent weeks with a 45th place finish at the Scottish Open coming before an excellent 22nd at The Open at Troon.
David Howell has won at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship as well as Wentworth and the highlight of his career came in 2005 when he successfully went head to head down the stretch with Tiger at the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai. He also made the semi-finals of this very tournament last year at Murcar Links.
At his best he is a grade above most of these bar the front three in the market but yet Howell is available at 50/1 whereas Wood, Noren and Fitzpatrick are all trading under 20/1. We know the random nature of match play means that it can pay to take the larger prices so Howell looks exceptional value this week on a course that should suit in a format he is proven in.
Despite his price Matt Fitzpatrick is very hard to leave alone as he meets all the relevant criteria. Strong links player (albeit as an amateur), has won at Woburn, good match-play record from his illustrious amateur career and fairly good recent form having won just 7 starts ago in Sweden. His run of 5 missed cuts would be a worry but he stopped the rot at Baltusrol and he will welcome this change of format.
It’s just his price that I’m not really happy with here but I’m going to include a small bet on him purely because I can’t leave him out. *He has been drawn against Thomas Bjorn so I’m keeping it win only. If he gets past the Dane then he could go on a run.
David Howell is by far my most fancied player this week but keeping with the Ryder Cup theme I’m going to take a very speculative punt on Oliver Wilson. He played on the last losing European side in 2008 but managed to win 1 of his 2 points. He isn’t in the greatest of form but he is a huge price and he has shown before that he can win from virtually nowhere. When he won his Alfred Dunhill Links title in 2014 he had form figures of 47-MC-MC-MC and this week he arrives with a similar looking 57-58-MC-MC-45.
He led the field for putting on the way to that 45th place finish at the Nordea Masters and on his last start he hit 76% of GIR so it isn’t all bad for the Englishman .
He can also boast a play-off defeat at Wentworth in 2008 and I just think he looks a little over priced here. The course should suit and he has more top-class match play experience than the bulk of this field. If he can get through his first match then his confidence might just pick up and he could massively outplay his odds of 200/1 in this tricky betting format.
These were all picked out prior to the draw but luckily they are all in separate quarters so I’m happy to stick with them. Hopefully they can all make it to the semi-finals!
Summary of Bets
Paul Casey – 1pt ew @ 28/1
Billy Hurley – 0.75pt ew @ 150/1
Paul Lawrie Match Play
David Howell – 1pt ew @ 50/1
Oliver Wilson – 0.25pt ew @ 200/1
Matt Fitzpatrick – 1pt win @ 16/1
Weekly points – 7 pts
Total points advised – 748.50