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
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