It was a fairly rubbish week but yet we still had Thomas Pieters on the leaderboard going in to the final round with a chance to save us with some returns. Unfortunately he played like we know he can with wild errors thrown in at exactly the wrong time. He even managed to bogey 3 of the last 5 holes to fall out of the places.
That leaves the blog chasing its tail a little with no returns but as always one week can turn that around and there are two excellent events this week as the 2019 season really begins to take shape with two very deep fields.
2019 pts advised = 23.50pts
2019 pts returned = 0pts
Farmers Insurance Open
Torrey Pines is a long, championship course so obviously a strong tee-to-green game is going to be of use with plenty of trees and lush rough. However year after year it is the challenge of the greens that separates the field, especially over the weekend as they firm up and play the final two rounds on the demanding South course. The greens are very small, well protected and they are also surrounded by thick green rough with very little graduation at all from the green. To make matters worse the greens are also very hard and fast, more so over the weekend. This puts an emphasis on brilliant approach play and scrambling. Torrey always has some of the lower GIR numbers for the field with the last 5 events having a field average of 62% of greens hit. The South Course stands at a massive 7700 yards long so the more specific GIR numbers from 200 yards plus are also worth a look.
With Jason Day and Tiger Woods both multiple winners that tells us that finding fairways isn’t perhaps the be-all-and-end-all here. Indeed if we look at the last 5 winners here they averaged just 40th for driving accuracy. While the numbers for GIR are certainly better, the same 5 winners averaged 13th, it is probably scrambling that is the most important indicator with the last 5 winners also averaging 13th for the week in that department. When the wind blows on the this exposed layout this becomes even more vital with the small greens even harder to hit. Currently the forecast doesn’t look particularly windy however.
Many of these early season events see lots of PGA Tour rookies win or contend and that is down to a combination of some straight-forward courses and the elite players often taking an extended break. That all changes here at Torrey Pines though as experience is crucial at the course and with scoring a lot tougher we don’t often see too many 300/1 debutants on the leaderboard. Repeat winners are a regular occurrence here with Tiger Woods having famously won this event 7 times as well as a U.S. Open here while Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker are both dual winners in the last 7 years.
Despite knowing the sort of player that will prevail, it doesn’t make it any easier to find the winner. Scrambling figures are in their infancy this year but are worth a look at together with last year’s numbers. Or even better you can look at Tour Tips stats for free throughout January and they will show you stats over the last 3 months giving perhaps a better idea of where different parts of people’s games might be. The PGA Tour website’s stats pages have two important categories for the week; approach proximity over 200 yards and GIR from over 200 yards. A quick look at both these in any season often show up those who perform best on long, championship courses.
You hear people say “they did everything but win” quite a lot and often with varying degrees of accuracy. In 2018 Tony Finau really did do everything but win and usually without doing too much wrong either. No event more so than in Shanghai in October when he went toe-toe with Xander Schauffele down the stretch only to lose to a birdie at the first play-off hole. He would again finish second on his last start of the year in the Bahamas when only Jon Rahm got the better of him. A win for Finau would have capped a superb year that was arguably the most consistent on Tour. He posted five runner-up finishes, 13 top 10s (with 3 of those in majors) and finished 7th on the money list while also earning 2 points on his Ryder Cup debut. In fact his $5.6m haul is the second highest total in history for a player without winning an event. While the win never came it might actually have a positive effect in the early stages of 2019 as his hunger for that 2nd win will still be present. A tough championship style layout is exactly what this elite tee-to-green player needs and that has been apparent in his four starts to date. He has finished 6th-4th-18th-24th here and the only negative about backing him here is that its his first start of the year.
Stats wise he was 21st in GIR from 200 yards+ and 23rd for approach proximity 200 yards+ in 2018 while he currently ranks 4th in scrambling over the last 3 months. That isn’t always a positive with his game and might be that extra little improvement needed to get him over the line.
Kyle Stanley famously threw this event away in 2012 when giving up both a six shot 3rd round lead and a 3 shot lead standing on the 18th tee. He would amazingly rally the next week to get his 1st PGA Tour win at TPC Scottsdale but despite his reliable tee-to-green game he took 5 years to get his 2nd win. That came in the summer of 2017 and he has looked a far better player in the 18 months since.
This season so far he ranks 1st in GIR from approaches over 200 yards and 4th in proximity to hole from the same range. He also sits 5th in scrambling and these suggest he is primed for another go at Torrey Pines where he has made his last 4 cuts. With scoring difficult his often suspect putting shouldn’t matter too much as birdies will be a lot harder to come by than so far this season. I’m expecting a strong week so will double up with a top 20 bet.
CT Pan was 2nd here two years ago and is another whose strength is his long iron game which is handy as he isn’t the longest off the tee. He currently sits 7th in GIR for approaches over 200 yards and last season he ranked 6th. He was 51st last week but that birdie fest wouldn’t have suited him too much. His odds of 80/1 aren’t massive but they perhaps tell the story of how close he looked to winning last season on Tour. He bagged his 2nd runner-up finish as well as a 4th place at the Dell Technologies play-off event. Probably worth supporting here again.
Sean O’Hair has the all-important mix of a strong long iron game and a good touch around the green so I’m not too sure why he has such an awful record here at Torrey Pines. He came 9th last week where he ranked 11th in ball-striking and I’m hoping he can go well at a huge price.
Dubai Desert Classic
With the exception of 1999 and 2000 every other edition of this event has been hosted at the Emirates Golf Club on the Majlis course. In all that time it has been both a bomber’s and ball striker’s dream with wide open sight lines off the tee, typical of a desert course. With heavily contoured, fast greens it ultimately turns into a battle of approaches where only those with the most dialled in irons will be able to contend. With fast greens and many different tiers, an imaginative short game also helps with lots of difficult up and downs. I’ve seen some talk this year of the fairways being harder and faster this year having not been over-seeded. This will probably put a little bit more of an emphasis on control of the ball off the tee however driving distance will still be crucial. Long and accurate drivers should prosper.
Jordan Smith has become rather consistent on ball-strikers courses but he tends to finish around 14th without threatening the leaderboard. I’m hoping things will be different this week having warmed up nicely with rounds of 72-66-70-70 for 11th place last week in Abu Dhabi and he ranked 4th in the all-round. He is someone who always ranks highly in total driving particularly in the desert and he ranked 1st in that department at the Dubai World Championship. That was during a run of 10 made cuts to close the year with the last time he sat out the weekend being the US PGA. So last week was just a continuation of really solid performances and I’m hoping he will peak in Dubai. Both his Challenge Tour wins were in the desert with them coming in Egypt and the U.A.E. The Al Hamra Golf Club in U.A.E in particular resembles this course with undulating, exposed fairways. He has been cut to 45/1 but I still think that is a nice each way price given how consistently he has been playing. Hopefully some readers picked up a better price in the week when I tweeted on Monday.
Jason Scrivener was 16th last week and he ranked 1st in driving accuracy and 10th in GIR. The harder and faster the conditions the happier Scrivener is so if the fairways do play as suggested he won’t be phased at all. These slick, grainy desert greens are ideal for him too as he grew up playing on similar back home in Australia. He is also an excellent scrambler I’m expecting a big week from one of my favourite outsiders. Scrivener can hold his form quite well once he is playing well so I’m going to include a Top 20 bet here in case the field ends up being a little too deep for him to worry the leaderboard. He was 6th here last year which confirms the theory and while he is proving to be popular this week I still think the 80/1 is fair.
I’ve looked long and hard at the head of the market to find a potentially more solid selection and there isn’t that much to like at the prices. I really wanted to include Rafa Cabrera-Bello as the 2012 winner absolutely loves it here. Unfortunately he is just too short as a single option at 18/1 given how seldom he wins. Thorbjorn Olesen always makes appeal in the desert though and he is probably a shade of value at 40/1. He is far more prolific than RCB and his course form reads 29-32-8-MC-5-3-42-MC. Last week will have blown the cobwebs off and if it has he should get back to the form he showed in the 2nd half of 2018 which was excellent. I’m going to add him as a bit of a saver from the head of the market similarly to how I backed Pieters last week. Hopefully he can have a better Sunday!
Summary of bets
Tony Finau – 1.5pts ew @ 22/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Betfair)
Kyle Stanley – 0.75pt ew @ 70/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Skybet) and 2pts Top 20 @ 7/2
CT Pan – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 8 places PP)
Sean O’Hair – 0.5pt ew @ 200/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Dubai Desert Classic
Jordon Smith – 0.75pt ew @ 45/1 (1/5 odds 6 places general)
Jason Scrivener – 0.75pt ew @ 80/1 (1/5 odds 6 places Skybet) and 2pts Top 20 @ 11/4
Thorbjorn Olesen – 1pt ew @ 40/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Weekly points = 16pts