Despite having had weeks with more points returned it was arguably the most successful week I have had since starting the blog in 2015 after finding both winners. It was a nervy Sunday as Lagergren looked to have blown his chance at one point but a brilliant birdie got him over the line at the first play-off hole against the unlucky Lorenzo-Vera. While he did very little wrong his attitude throughout the front 9 was far too careful and he didn’t really look to attack the course until the Swede had pulled two shots clear. It made it hard for him to properly change his approach having left most of putts short early on. Lagergren on the other hand went out to win the Tournament from the very start and while it ultimately came down to a 50-50 play-off, Joakim looked far more at ease chasing the birdie he needed. It was just rewards for the punters who had followed him closely over the last few years and a very good example of why we shouldn’t give up on young players if they struggle in contention the first one or two times on Tour.
If the European Tour was a nervy Sunday morning the evening should have been a lot less stresssful but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Webb Simpson was going to open the door to the chasing pack. He didn’t really do anything to suggest that all weekend though to be fair and despite my concerns he ran out a very comfortable winner to announce himself back on the world stage. It was an impressive performance and Simpson is worth watching throughout the rest of 2018 now he has properly sorted his putting out.
To top things off Rafa bagged two thirds of the Top 20 money as well to return 80.67 pts on the week and leave the results looking very healthy heading into the summer.
2018 pts advised = 199.50
2018 pts returned = 296.11
ROI = 48.43%
Having been hosted by TPC Las Colinas in some shape or other since 1986, the Byron Nelson is on the move and quite drastically so, if not geographically certainly in a golfing sense. Gone is the lush green ball-strikers paradise where Billy Horschel, Sergio Garcia, Jason Dufner and Keegan Bradley have triumphed in recent years and in its place is the brand new layout, Trinity Forest Golf Club. Don’t be fooled by the use of “forest” in the title however as Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw’s 2014 design is very far from a parkland course.
The course was built on an old land fill site and is a completely wide open, undulating links course. Looking at pictures it is quirky enough for an American links course but Coore and Crenshaw were said to have been trying to emulate the classic British links courses so perhaps more than quirky just think linksy. There are blind tee shots, blind approaches, forced carries, fescue grasses, strategic bunkering, hard and fast fairways and big, difficult green complexes. With nothing else to go on I’m very much adopting an Open championship type approach. I’m looking at good wind players, ability to control distance perfectly, shot-shaping, players who can flight the ball down and imagination on and around links greens. Initial reports suggested that the fairways had been watered to avoid players complaining about how hard they were but a tweet from Billy Horschel contradicted that so we might have to wait and see on that front. However I’ve picked three players who would likely be at an advantage should things firm up.
Brandt Snedeker opened up at very different prices across the firms as he was as short as 33/1 in places yet as big as 60/1 in others. That often tells us there could be some value around as we seldom see one firm offering nearly twice the size of another. The discrepancy seems to revolve around how much importance to put on his current form since returning from injury. The 33/1 perhaps ignores his slow start since an extended lay-off due to a sternum injury while the 60/1 possibly focusses too much on it. I’d make a fully fit, normal Snedeker somewhere around 25/1 here and with a relatively poor field I think he looks a great bet on a new course that should suit him perfectly. Snedeker shot one of the all-time great PGA rounds to win at Torrey Pines in 2016 and that was one of the windiest rounds we have seen in the U.S. He was the only player under par, beat the 2nd best score by 4 shots and the field average by nearly 10 shots. Snedeker is also a two-time winner around Pebble Beach Links which is the only proper links layout on the permanent PGA schedule. He also came 9th in the 2014 U.S. Open around Pinehurst No.2, 8th around Chambers Bay and 9th at Erin Hills to further showcase his ability on U.S. links courses. Indeed he was the only player to finish inside the top 10 on all 3 of those U.S. Open links tests. His Open Championship record may be a modest one but he had a great chance to win in 2012 when he finished 3rd. His demise was ultimately overshadowed by Adam Scott’s late collapse but Snedeker was the half way leader and Royal Lytham is possibly one of the courses that best resembles Trinity Forest to my eye. Both have undulating fairways but are set on rather flat land with no big elevation changes. He comes in off two missed cuts but they aren’t of much concern to me as he has a very miserable record at Sawgrass having missed 7 of his 10 cuts and the other was in the novelty team event at TPC Louisiana. Prior to that he was seen finishing 15th at the Heritage where he ranked 5th in GIR which is very solid for someone who isn’t always the best of ball-strikers. He isn’t the most accurate of drivers either so these open fairways will suit him and allow his shot shaping and brilliant short game to come to the fore. With some nice profit last week we can afford to take a little chance here on Brandt and if he does play well then 50/1 is huge for an 8-time winner on a course that he will enjoy more than most.
Branden Grace and Adam Scott are two links lovers but for me that looks to be represented in their price. While I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see either win, equally I could handle not being on at the prices. Jordan Spieth is obviously the right favourite here but despite being a member at the course I’d want bigger than the current 6/1 on a new course. He should be suited however and may be worth looking at in-play if conditions do end up firm and fast. Matt Kuchar is interesting at 16/1 as he looks like the classic older Open winner in waiting as he has gradually honed his links skills over the years. But he just doesn’t win enough to get excited about on a new course.
Instead I’m going with two outsiders who have both shown enough on links layouts over the years and are experienced wind players. There was a period some 8 to 10 years ago when I thought Ben Crane might win an Open Championship but then his game disappeared for a while. The Texan resident is used to playing in the wind and two of his wins have been at exposed venues like Torrey Pines and Sea Island while his last win was at TPC Southwind which is often true to its name. If we do see a tough test then it might pay to have good short game on side and Crane is still one of the better putters around with some good stats for this test. He is 12th in 3-putt avoidance from outside 25ft which is a very useful indicator of how players will fare on big, undulating links greens as lag putting will be crucial. He is also 11th in putting from 5ft to 10ft so saving par in the wind shouldn’t be a problem for a player so accomplished at holing out.
Greg Chalmers isn’t averse to playing in the wind having won two Australian PGA Championships and two Australian Opens, all on the coast which we know can get pretty windy. The first of those was in 1997 but it took him a while to get his first PGA Tour win, finally landing one at the Barracuda Championship in August 2016. He has hardly been seen on a leaderboard since, but again he has a very good short game which will help him around these tricky surfaces. He ranks 4th in 3-putt avoidance outside 25ft while he is 4th in strokes gained: putting. That’s not all though as he was striking the ball well two weeks ago at Quail Hollow where he ranked 4th in GIR on his way to a 21st place finish. He isn’t the longest of hitters but if the course is firm that won’t hinder him too much here. Could be over priced at 250/1 on a week where outsiders should have a great chance of getting in the mix. I’m also going to have top 20 bets on Crane and Chalmers.
Even the name itself suggests a bit of a random crap shoot of a tournament and that is maybe what we will get with this new event hosted by Thomas Pieters and his family in their hometown of Antwerp, Belgium. With The European Tour already having had two quirkier match play events so far in 2018 this is a further twist still. The field will play 36 holes of stroke-play before the top 64 qualify for the weekend and knock-out matches consisting of 9 holes of stroke-play. If that’s not enough then the course in use for stroke-play is a combination of 9 holes from the North course and 9 holes of the South course and from the little information available it would seem that 1/2 of the knock-out matches are played on one of the 9s and the other half on the other 9. So any angle in this week will surely involve more than a little guesswork.
Both courses are quite flat, parkland courses and they definitely resemble some of the places that we have seen the British Masters at in recent years. The South course looks to be more like the open Close House and The Grove while the North course is probably more like the tighter Woburn and Wentworth courses. The leaderboards at those British Masters and the BMW PGAs at Wentworth could well throw up some clues as to who might make the weekend if nothing else. Once they get to the knock-out stage I think the stroke-play format will require steady golf rather than the aggressive approach that often thrives in match-play. One big number early would put a player right up against it so I’d think twice about backing someone who is known to be too aggressive or incapable of strategising.
Very much in keeping with the Lagergren pick last week I’m going with a player who has been threatening to win lately and despite a missed cut last time out in China he isn’t someone we should be forgetting about quickly. Erik Van Rooyen has exuded tee-to-green class in his debut season on the European Tour and he currently ranks 7th in strokes gained: tee to green (only Pedro Oriol is above him in this field). He is an extremely frustrating player on the greens as the majority of his putts never look like going in the hole at any point but his poor putting really is in direct contrast to his sublime tee to green game. The South African hits the ball long, straight and accurately so can be a threat almost anywhere but so far he has come a little unstuck with Sunday nerves and bad putting at key moments. With very flat greens this week in Belgium they could be a bit of an equaliser so that may not be critical. If he can make the weekend then his long game assurance will make him hard to beat over 9 holes of head to head stroke-play and he looks a nice bet at 50/1 with 4 places and also with 8 places at just 40/1. With us never having seen this event it is hard to gauge whether to play win only or each way but even in a normal week we run the risk of missing the cut so I will stick with each way and advise the 50/1 with the place money paying out on semi-finalists. I wouldn’t put anyone off the 40/1 with 8 places either.
I know Ryan Fox ideally likes a little more room off the tee than we are seeing here but he should enjoy the more open South course at least. I was very surprised he didn’t play last week as the course in Sicily looked custom-built for the bomber. But I’ll bow to his judgement and he must have mapped out a schedule that he is happy with and that includes the Belgium Knockout. It could be that he fancies the format but as I mentioned the other week when I backed him, this is getting to his time of year and if his irons are dialled in then I think we should see the Fox who finished 12th at the Trophee Hassan two starts ago rather than the lacklustre one who was 37th in China the week after. There really isn’t too much to beat here and his form last summer is a step above 95% of this field.
Romain Wattel opened up a huge price for someone who looked to be playing very well at the GolfSixes event. The 80/1 should really have gone but there is still plenty around and with that he will complete this week’s team. Wattel finally got his first European Tour win last year at the KLM and while that was quite an open, linksy course, Wattel also has some solid form on tighter, parkland courses. He was 4th at Wentworth in 2016, 22nd at Woburn and also 6th around Lake Karrinyup which resembles the more open South course. He hit some clutch approach shots and putts from what I saw in the team match-play event and I think he has been too readily dismissed here. At his best he has a solid enough all-round game and although he maybe lacks a little on the mental side of the game, that KLM win could yet be a turning point for a player who is still young (27!) despite having been on Tour since 2010. I think most would find him a formidable opponent in the 9-hole stroke-play format it’s just a case of getting there but at the price we have enough wiggle room to get him onboard.
Summary of bets
Brandt Snedeker – 1.25pts ew @ 50/1 (1/5 odds 6 places)
Ben Crane – 0.5pt ew @ 150/1 (1/5 odds 8 places) and 1pt Top 20 @ 11/2
Greg Chalmers – 0.5pt ew @ 250/1 (1/5 odds 8 places ) and 1pt Top 20 @ 10/1
Erik Van Rooyen – 1.25 pts ew @ 50/1 (1/4 odds 4 places)
Ryan Fox – 0.75 pt ew @ 50/1 (1/4 odds 4 places)
Romain Wattel – 0.5pt ew @ 80/1 (1/4 odds 4 places)
Weekly pts advised = 11.5pts
2018 pts advised = 211pts