Last week looked like being another fruitless week until Nino Bertasio played two solid rounds over the weekend in Morocco to land a share of 5th place at 125/1.
Kevin Chappell stormed to favouritism after the 1st round at Quail Hollow but I’m not sure what happened to him after that as he started spraying the ball all over the place and he gradually slipped down the field. The rest of the bets did very little and with 8.13 pts returned for Bertasio the results are as follows;
Total points advised – 594.5pts
Total points returned – 722.80pts
ROI – 21.6%
The Players Championship
As The PGA Tour season finds itself halfway between the first two majors of the year what better place to slot in what is now unofficially known as the “5th major”. It is of course The Players Championship held at the stunning TPC Sawgrass and we have one of the best quality fields that we will see all season. Rickie Fowler looks to shake off last week’s poor final round and defend the title he won so brilliantly last year with a run of 5 holes of some of the best golf I have ever seen.
All of the “big three” are here together with another 43 of the Top 50 ranked players and they make up an impressive field of 144.
At just 7215 yards, TPC Sawgrass isn’t a long course by modern standards but that is perhaps fitting of what Pete Dye was attempting to do with his Florida gem. In 1980 he sought to design a course that tested all aspects of a player’s game and favoured no particular type of player. He has certainly achieved that as the recent list of winners includes some of the most varied players you could imagine. Tiger Woods has overpowered it on just two occasions but even then that was as much down to his touch on and around the greens. Short, accurate types like Fred Funk and Matt Kuchar have won. Ball striking machines Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson both won there in their youth and the enigmatic Mickelson also managed a win. While this does indeed tell us that any type of player can win I still had a look at the stats for the last 10 winners to see if there was anything that they happened to all do well during the week of their win.
The least important aspect at TPC Sawgrass would appear to be off the tee as the 10 winners have averaged 35th for driving distance and 23rd for driving accuracy. That’s not to say that you can afford to drive the ball wildly as it is undoubtedly easier to hold the small greens from the fairway. But statistically anyway The Players Championship isn’t usually won or lost with the driver.
The lowest ranking appears in scrambling and that is usually the main attribute that I consider for Sawgrass so that makes perfect sense. The 10 winners ranked 12th but that improves to just 6th if you remove Garcia’s rather bizarre ranking of 57th when he won in 2008.
Just pushed into 2nd was greens in regulation as the same 10 averaged 13th place for greens hit but again removing Fowler’s abnormally high-ranking from last year then this becomes an average ranking of just 7.
Looking beyond attributes for a moment there is an interesting pattern of the last 10 winners all having recorded a Top 16 finish previously at TPC Sawgrass but also having plenty of experience as they won their title at an average attempt of 7.4. This isn’t a course that beginners tend to fare too well on and even when 26-year-old Fowler won last year he was having his 6th look at the course. Four of those previous 5 attempts were missed cuts but the one time that he did make the weekend he finished 2nd. I would think twice about backing debutants or anyone that hasn’t shown at least something at the course before.
TPC Sawgrass’ iconic hole is the island green, Par 3 17th in and it completes a very tough set of Par 3s. Indeed of the last 10 winners, 6 have played them under par so I would expect minimising bogeys on the short holes to be crucial again.
Stats wise then we are looking at someone who can hit a lot of greens, is excellent at getting up and down, plays Par 3s well and is a strong putter on fast Bermuda greens. The course backs that up as Sawgrass has some of the smallest greens on Tour at 4500 sq ft. They are surrounded by sand and water hazards throughout so accuracy and particularly distance control is needed to hold the greens. They also feature lots of typical Dye run-offs so hitting the greens really isn’t easy at all. Of course when the greens are small and so hard to hit, that makes getting up and down all the more important as so many greens will be missed.
Given the overall quality of the field this looks a wide open contest and while any of the front 3 in the market could win this I think there are enough question marks to warrant taking them on. Rory Mcilroy has played very well at the last 3 Players Championships but he just simply isn’t playing anywhere near his best and is easily left alone. Jordan Spieth hasn’t been seen since Augusta and if he starts well then he may be the man to beat but in truth we don’t yet know just what effect that 12th hole will have on him. I’d wager not as big as you might think but he has to remain a watching brief for now. Jason Day just doesn’t appear overly comfortable around Sawgrass and with 3 missed cuts from 5 attempts he surely can’t be backed at just 12/1.
It’s defending champion Rickie Fowler next in the betting and he looks the most likely winner to me and was very close to being the pick. But the pressures of defending (nobody has ever successfully defended at Sawgrass) coupled with last week’s poor final round made me think twice. I also backed him here last year at somewhere nearer 50.0 so its hard to pull the trigger at just 18.0 even though he is a vastly improved player. With four players trading under 20.0 in this good a field and both the last two PGA Tour winners having gone off at 1000.0, there must surely be some value down the field and that is where I have decided to look.
Bill Haas has looked like a player that is going to win a big tournament for some time now. He is a 6 time winner on Tour and has a very solid all-round game with no real weakness. In fact it is probably the fact that he is seldom exceptional at any aspect that stops him properly contending at Majors. But TPC Sawgrass looks like it should be ideal for the North Carolina native and it seems Haas himself is starting to realise that. This will be his 10th look at the course and it is quite a mixed bag up until recently. His first seven efforts returned finishes of 72-MC-MC-39-MC-25-MC but in 2014 it appears on paper at least that Haas realised how important the Par 3s are and went about addressing that. He played them in a combined +20 during those first 7 years but on his two most recent starts he has played them in -2 and subsequently finished 26th in 2014 before finishing one shot shy of the play-off last year. The short holes at Sawgrass are no place to be attacking flags and chasing birdies so a simple change of attitude for a player of Haas’ calibre may have been all that was required.
While he missed the cut last week at The Wells Fargo I’d prefer to focus on his results prior to that as he hasn’t played Quail Hollow well at all recently. After an excellent 24th place finish at The Masters, Haas played the following week at Pete Dye’s fiddly Harbour Town course and performed well finishing 14th. His approach play caught the eye on a set of greens that are actually even smaller than those at Sawgrass. He ranked 4th for greens in regulation and if he brings that level of accuracy to Florida this week then I’d expect him to go well again.
From a stats perspective his game also looks to be in fine fettle. For the last 3 months he ranks 22nd in GIR, 29th in scrambling, 17th in Par 3 scoring and he sits 30th in strokes gained: tee to green for the season so far. While his putting could have been better this season he still averaged 28 putts per round last week when missing the cut and he has form on fast bermuda greens having won 3 of his 6 titles on the surface.
He is arriving in form, goes well on Pete Dye courses, has played well at Sawgrass before, has the required experience of the course and also has exactly the type of complete game that you need to win a Players Championship. With it looking like a wide open tournament I think that combination makes this multiple winner look like a great piece of value.
Luke Donald finished 2nd a few weeks ago at Harbour Town and that immediately put him back on my radar. For years he was one of my favourite players and although Golf was stuck a little bit in the post-Tiger Woods’ dominance doldrums at the time, it was still a tremendous achievement to reach World Number 1. His game suffered though as he changed his swing in an attempt to add some length to his game. In hindsight this was a foolish move as he plummeted down the rankings and he is now without a win in Europe or the US since 2012. So often is the case with elite Sportsmen that they keep striving for perfection but in some cases it is surely better to focus on what has made you the player that you are. In Donald’s case it was undoubtedly his ability on and around the greens and at his peak there was probably no better short game. This means that the Sawgrass test should suit him down to a tee and he has some favourable results at The Players finishing 4th in 2011 and 6th in 2012.
Donald decided to change his coach last year and go back to basics, focussing on regaining his brilliant short game. This has reaped rewards so far and over the last three months he sits 3rd in scrambling, 29th in GIR and 5th in bogey avoidance. His runner-up finish at Harbour Town doesn’t appear to be random fluke, moreover it seems that as his short game is improving he is regaining his confidence and he has said as much in recent interviews.
Tiger Woods in 2013 and Martin Kaymer in 2014 were two cases of former World No. 1s returning to glory at Sawgrass and I think Luke Donald could easily follow suit. He will arrive with little pressure and that can only help the Englishman. Even at his best he sometimes struggled at Majors when he was expected to go well so with the focus firmly away from him he will be able to let his chipping and putting do the talking here. For a player of his undoubted ability, 125/1 looks a very fair each way price.
As I’ve gone with largely big value prices this week I decided to have four outright picks. The last two are a couple that have been in my Sawgrass notes for a few years and I couldn’t leave either of them out this week.
David Lingmerth finished 2nd at The Players on his debut in 2013 before missing the cut the year after when not playing very well. He never qualified last year but will be very much looking forward to his return this week. His accuracy together with his normally great touch around the greens makes him a great fit for Pete Dye tracks and his best result of the season so far involved 3 rounds on Dye’s PGA West in California when he finished runner-up to Jason Dufner in the Career Builder Challenge. His season hasn’t quite kicked on like he would have hoped from there but he played well over the weekend at Quail Hollow to set his game up nicely for another go at TPC Sawgrass. He ranked 9th in the all-round ranking there and he currently sits 16th in proximity from 150-175 yards and 23rd in 175-200 yards. That sort of accurate approach play is why he goes well on Dye courses and if he putts well then he hopefully he can contend again at a reasonable price.
David Hearn is another with a very high recent finish around Sawgrass as he finished 6th in 2013 after a commendable 26th on his debut the year before. Hearn was actually in the Top 8 going into the weekend last year but final round nerves led to a 78 which resulted in a 42nd place finish. I’m sure he will have learned from that and he arrives in ok form having finished 13th and 20th before last week’s missed cut on a course that is too long for him.
But Hearn has the perfect game for this course as he sits in a strong position in most of the key stats; 41st in GIR, 35th in scrambling and 25th in Par 3 scoring. He looks massively over priced at 275/1 this week. I’m also backing him for a Top 20 at 8/1
I considered backing Chez Reavie in the outright too but instead I will just have a play in the Top 20 market. He is a brilliant stats fit this week as he ranks 31st in GIR, 9th in scrambling and 34th in Par 3 scoring. Reavie also ranks an impressive 20th in strokes gained: tee to green so despite me not having forgiven him for finishing 7th at 250/1 earlier in the season I need to have some money on him here.
Another European Tour event, another new course with very limited course form to go on. After just one running at The Heritage Club last year, they have upped sticks to The Four Seasons Golf Club at Anahita and at first look that appeared to make for a betting nightmare. But there have been a few editions of a low-grade limited field event (Mauritius Golf Masters) and having found the leaderboards for 2014 and 2015 there is a bit of an agnle in. Confidence again won’t be high though so this will be reasonably brief and I won’t be advising the full 3×3 doubles either. Instead I will have 4 small each way interests.
The Four Seasons course stands at around 7500 yards and looks to play every bit of that. It is an Ernie Els design and it looks like he has designed a course that he himself would go well on. It is built into the surrounding natural landscape and that gives the terrain a links appearance, especially towards the greens that have runoffs and hidden bunkers like in Scotland. With Els’ love for links golf it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his vision incorporates such features.
Both the 2014 and 2015 Tournaments were actually won by the same person, Englishman Max Orrin. He is in no way a house hold name but almost immediately I after I discovered that on Sunday I saw his name creep ever closer to the leaderboard in Morocco. That was a difficult test week with the winning score being -5 and that was also the case here as he won with winning totals of -6 and -9, albeit just over 54 holes.
Any value has almost certainly gone as punters and bookmakers alike have latched onto his excellent course form. But despite Mcgowan going terribly last week with similar low-grade course form, I can’t leave Orrin out this week. There were some decent players in the fields when he won and he must love the course to have won there twice. It’s not a great each way price but he arrives in form after a 22nd place finish in Morocco where he ranked 2nd for total driving and 1st in the all-round ranking. There really isn’t a lot to beat here and we saw how difficult most players find winning last week as the lead changed hands every 5 minutes on Saturday and Sunday at Golf Club Dar Es Salaam. At least Orrin has two Challenge Tour wins to his name in addition to the wins here.
It is an obvious bet but with very little to go on I’m going to have a small play on him and also a couple of hunch bets based on those who should be suited to the course.
Orrin tends to go well on long, tough courses and it looks fair to assume that is what Four Seasons entails. Ernie Els himself thrived on courses that put a premium on long and accurate ball striking and if we look at others on the two leaderboards then most of them are big hitters. Colsaerts, Carlsson, Hebert and Gros have all finished in the Top 5 and it looks a sensible angle in.
Jamie Mcleary caught my eye at the bottom of the market and I was surprised at just how big his odds were in this field. The Scot is a long and accurate driver of the ball who to be fair has done very little at European Tour level but he does have two Challenge Tour wins. One of them came in Scotland in Aviemore on The Spey Valley course and while inland it plays very much as a links course and he has also won around St Andrews as an amateur.. He missed the cut last time out in Morocco but prior to that he ranked 1st for total driving in Shenzhen and also on the last cut he made in Australia. He also finished 7th at The Tshwane Open in February where the leaderboard was littered with big hitters. With the long game of the utmost importance this week I think there is a chance he might pop up randomly on the leaderboard here. In a very basic field 300/1 is well worth a small stakes investment.
Adrian Otaegui has promised good things in short bursts over the last couple of seasons but then he disappears just when you think he might be ready to contend on a course that suits. He is a bit of a bomber and often his driving accuracy stats are terrible. But last week he led the field in fairways hit and was 3rd in GIR. That upturn brought about a 22nd place finish which was his best since August last year. It could be that he has found something with his long game and the 160/1 that Bet 365 are dangling could be huge for someone who ranked 6th in the all-round last week at another tough layout.
Finally I can’t resist a small saver on Hennie Otto. He has been massively out of form lately but he still looks a decent price at 40/1 against this field and he usually appears more comfortable in Sunshine Tour sanctioned events like this. He has a 5th and 10th at Ernie Els’ Copperleaf course and from what I can find they look quite similar.
Summary of Bets
The Players Championship
Bill Haas – 1pt ew @ 100/1
Luke Donald – 1pt ew @ 125/1
David Lingmerth – 0.5pt ew @ 100/1
David Hearn 0.5pt ew @ 275/1 (Bet365) + 1pt Top 20 @ 8/1
Chez Reavie – 1pt Top 20 @ 8/1
Paying 6 places this week with most bookmakers
Max Orrin – 0.5pt ew@ 40/1
Hennie Otto – 0.5pt ew @ 45/1
Adrian Otaegui – 0.5pt ew @ 160/1 (Bet 365)
Jamie Mcleary – 0.5pt ew @ 300/1
Weekly outlay – 12pts
Total outlay – 606.5pts