While there were some returns last week it was yet another frustrating week. Dubuisson was the 3rd round leader in Dubai only to tread water on Sunday and find himself having to get up and down on 18 just to get us 2/5ths of the place money. Tyrell Hatton played brilliantly as expected and easily won the Top 10 bet but for the second year running at the DP World Championship I was left ruing the decision to only have a top 10 bet rather than go each way on the eventual runner-up.
On the PGA Tour Chris Kirk was one of the many fancied runners who somehow missed the cut and to be honest I’m quite looking forward to a the Christmas break on the 2017 PGA Tour season as it is proving even more difficult than 2016. Such is the depth on Tour now almost anyone in the field can come from nowhere and win these regular Tour events now and while that can throw up some tasty prices, if we look at last week’s play off protagonists then it feels like you might as well just pick a player at random at the moment!
Jamie Lovemark finished in the agonising 6th place last week but he was actually 3 shots adrift of 5th and never really looked like getting involved after a poor 3rd round.
The week returned 8.9 points which leaves things as follows with just three previews left this year;
Total pts advised = 856.50
Total pts returned = 834.46
ROI = -2.57%
This week we just have the one event and that is the World Cup of Golf in Australia.
WORLD CUP OF GOLF
If people looking in at Golf at the Olympics thought it odd how few of the golfing elite sought an Olympic Gold medal then they would be completely amazed at the even more blasé attitude towards the World Cup of Golf. The football World Cup is probably the 2nd biggest sporting event in the world but yet Golf’s equivalent is usually nothing more than an end of season jolly and a chance to play competitively around a different course. Both those aspects apply perfectly this week as the list of those who have passed up the chance to play this week is a very long one but yet those who have committed get the chance to play on one of the best courses in the world – Kingston Heath.
Played every two years around the world the competition is made up of 28 teams of two men representing their country. The highest ranking players from the first 28 countries are given the option to play with a teammate of their choice, should they not wish to take their chance then the next highest ranked is given the option and so on. In terms of format we will see a mix of better ball and alternate shot across the four days with the winning team being that with the best stroke-play score after four rounds on Sunday. The individual trophy has been scrapped this year after it overshadowed the team event somewhat in 2013.
The host course Kingston Heath is part of the famous Melbourne sandbelt and it’s often considered Australia’s finest design. These days it is used sparingly for tournaments so it’s great to see competitive golf back on the famous layout. Recent competitions held there include the 2009 and 2012 Australian Masters and the 2000 Australian Open.
The course was historically considered a brute and used to play to a par of 82 but these days it is just of average length as a 7087 yard Par 72. Its prestige comes from being a fantastically strategic course with fast fairways and greens as you would expect on a sandbelt course and it is expected to play very much like that this week. That will make avoiding the bunkers crucial as they are strategically placed and very deep but the sand itself is shallow. With Alistair Mackenzie having been responsible for their placement back in the 1920s they resemble classic links bunkers with high lips and greens falling away from the greenside traps. This will make par an extremely good score on any hole where a bunker is found.
The previous edition of the World Cup was held at Royal Melbourne and was won by the best team on paper in Adam Scott and Jason Day. Given how tough a test we see on sandbelt courses I think it will be prudent to look towards the best ball-strikers again this year as you simply can’t hack it around Kingston Heath and hope to make a score. That is backed up even further by the two rounds of alternate shot where accurate players always prosper.
Upon a first look at the field the first thing that hit me was the disparity between the best teams here and the worst. We have seen lesser lights raise their game for the World Cup in the past but at one end we have the likes of Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell and at the other end we have SSP Chawrasia and Seenappa Chikkarangappa and Miguel Tabuena and Angelo Que. As a result I think we can dismiss a large number of teams from this event and instead focus on the teams with two players that regularly perform on the top two Tours.
The three teams mentioned already (US, Australia and Ireland) are the only three to have two players who have both won on the PGA Tour. On paper alone that puts them well ahead of the next group of teams which are those that include two players who have both won on either the PGA Tour or European Tour. These include England (Chris Wood and Andy Sullivan), Thailand (Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnat), Denmark (Soren Kjeldsen and Thorbjorn Olesen), Sweden (Alex Noren and David Lingmerth), Italy (Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero), Belgium (Nicolas Colsaerts and Thomas Pieters) and China (Ashun Wu and Hai Tong Li). Away from those there are another two teams with one top class player and another solid pro who for the sake of these rankings can be considered along-side these teams. These are Japan (Hideki Matsuyama and Ryo Ishikawa) and South Korea (Benny An and KT Kim). Two other teams are deserving of an honourable mention as Jon Rahm has only just turned professional and he will play alongside the ever-improving Rafa Cabrera-Bello for Spain while Jaco-Van Zyl is a very accomplished player even if he hasn’t managed the elusive European Tour win that his teammate George Coetzee eventually got in 2014.
I find it very hard to see any of the rest having the combined ability to compete with these teams and therefore that gives me a rather long short-list of fourteen teams. If it were being played on an easier course then we might see a more competitive event but I’d expect the gap between first and last to be a substantial one after 72 holes around Australia’s finest test of golf.
Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker are surely priced on reputation and their country alone as they have both been playing some fairly mediocre golf of late. In fact if we remove Walker’s leftfield US PGA win then he only has one other Top 10 since March. Fowler has picked his form up a little with a Top 10 in the WGC HSBC event but on the whole 2016 has been forgettable for him and we simply don’t know which Rickie will turn up in Melbourne. Despite the layout no doubt suiting Fowler’s game they can be easily dismissed as 2nd favourites at just 8/1 and the bookmakers are beginning to agree as they are being pushed out slowly.
Adam Scott and Marc Leishman are harder to ignore as the home favourites. Scott is the world number 7 and won the Australian Masters around Kingston Heath in 2012 whereas Leishman’s game is perfectly suited to sandbelt golf and he was born in Victoria. But Leishman has been playing poorly lately and Scott was disappointing around Royal Sydney GC last week where he could only finish 14th in a fairly weak field. Again they are priced more on Scott’s lofty reputation in the game and probably shouldn’t be as short as 5/1 here.
But we don’t have to look much further down the market as the team I like most is the 3rd favourite Japan. For as long as the competition has existed they have taken it very seriously and with two wins and four runner-up finishes they are the 7th most successful country. They last won it in 2001 but they were T3rd last time out at Royal Melbourne in 2013 and Ryo Ishikawa finished T5th in the individual event. Ishikawa returns this year but he happens to have the most in-form player in world golf alongside him in Hideki Matsuyama. Matsuyama has current worldwide form figures of 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 1st, and since he found something with his putting stroke he has looked almost unbeatable. Ishikawa has been playing some fine golf himself with a win on the Japanese Tour followed by a 2nd, a 3rd and then a top 10 on the PGA Tour in the CIMB Classic last month.
With Ishikawa’s experience of sandbelt conditions together with Matsuyama’s almost peerless ball-striking this partnership will take a lot of stopping by the field gathered in Australia. As we enter summer down under you can expect conditions to be fairly hot but these two are one of the youngest teams in the competition with only France having a lower combined age. They won’t tire over four days in the heat and Matsuyama usually performs even better in warm, dry conditions. One of his PGA Tour wins was in the Arizona desert and he also performed admirably around a dried out Muirfield when finishing 6th at The Open as a 21 year old playing in just his 2nd professional Major.
The hard and fast conditions of the course will require accuracy in all parts of the game and Matsuyama has perhaps the best distance control in the world with his approaches. That will help him hit more of these slick greens than everyone else.
With top-class, in-form competition thin on the ground in Melbourne this week I’d expect the Japanese team to show their class and it wouldn’t surprise me if they won this going away such is the level that Matsuyama has been playing to lately.
It’s hard to be too confident given how difficult the 2017 PGA Tour season has been so far but Reed obliged last time we had a change of format at the Ryder Cup so let’s take advantage of another change and have a decent win bet on the Japanese at a very fair 10.5 on the exchange but also a place bet whereby we will get all stakes back for a Top 4 finish.
I might add an outsider to place later in the week but wanted to get the best price possible posted early on Japan.
Summary of bets
Japan – 3pts win @ 10.5, 2pts Top 4 @ 2.5
Weekly points advised – 5pts
Total pts advised – 861.50pts