Both Jazz and Kieffer returned the each way money last week but things could have been even better as they were poised in 3rd place entering the final round. Hend holed two monster putts on his front 9 though and after a couple of other huge tree breaks it never really looked like anything but his day.
On the PGA Tour all the picks did terribly and missed the cut so we won’t dwell on that…..
This week we have 3 events to look at where I’ve got at least one bet in each, the WGC Match Play, Hero Indian Open and the PGA Tour alternate event in the Dominican.
2019 pts advised = 132
2019 pts returned = 142.75
WGC Match Play
The WGC Match Play is settled into the new format now and that’s what 64 of the world’s best face again at Austin Country Club in Texas. They have been drawn into 16 groups of 4 with only the group winners advancing to the last 16 knockout stages over the weekend. They will each play one match a day from Wednesday to Friday so please note the early start this week. The course was designed by Pete Dye and the par 72 course sits at 7169 yards and is rather spectacular to the eye. It is a parkland course set along sprawling hills giving rise to elevation changes and undulating fairways very akin to some British links courses. There are also a lot of deep, menacing bunkers that give it a further links appearance. There are some driveable par 4s as well as 4 relatively short par 5s.
Whenever a course has elevation changes then distance control becomes absolutely paramount. As we have come to expect from Pete Dye designs (Sawgrass, RBC Heritage, Whistling Straits, PGA West), the greens are relatively small and they are undulating and tiered. Accurate approach shots will be required to find the correct portion of the green to allow a makeable birdie putt. But there will be many flags that simply have to be avoided with run-offs and green side bunkers aplenty. There are several examples of very aggressive players who play well in match play but similarly steady players that keep mistakes to a minimum can also thrive in the format. Just like stroke-play there are often different ways to succeed on a course but from what we have seen in the three editions in Austin so far, aggression and power are very advantageous indeed.
If we look at the three winners to date in Austin then something very obvious stands out (Bubba, DJ and Day). They are all elite bombers who were enjoying very good seasons and had all won that year already. They had all won majors and multiple WGC events. Despite the somewhat fortuitous nature of match play golf none of the winners were even close to a surprise. The new format may also have something to do with that but I’m not looking too far down the market for my main bets and I’m keeping with the same profile that has succeeded in the previous 3 events.
I suppose the obvious place to start would be with the two favourites Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson. Two of the most powerful players on Tour, both have won this year, both are in great form and both have won this title before. Yet despite my wish to stay at the head of the market I don’t think I quite want to be backing them at just 10/1 in this type of event where 4 of your best rounds guarantees nothing. You would also surely get a better price just backing him to win each match and then reloading the returns (not that simple as 3 group wins not required but hey ho). It isn’t quite the crap shoot some will suggest but a difficult group and one poor round can still send you home on Friday. Instead I’m going for the next player in “strokes gained: total” and that is Justin Thomas at a more appealing 20.0 win only on the exchange. He doesn’t quite have that 2019 win but he fits the profile perfectly apart from that. He isn’t having his best season with the driver, only ranking 38th in strokes gained: off the tee, but that has been met with yet further improvement in his iron game as he currently sits 4th on Tour in strokes gained: approaches. Thomas also ranks 10th in scrambling and 1st in par 5 scoring. That is a very strong combination if he brings his A game to Austin this week. In his early career he didn’t particularly stand out as someone who thrived in match play but we have to re-evaluate that given the heights he hit in 2018. Not only did he make the semi-finals here, losing only to the winner, but he refused to wilt in Paris at the Ryder Cup. While his team-mates were spraying the ball everywhere at Le Golf National, Thomas stood up and showed how adaptable he has become by taking 4pts from 5. I think the new Thomas that we have seen over the last 2 years is one that will be a formidable match play opponent for years to come and he looks to have a great chance of grabbing his second WGC this week.
Instead of having a few big each way picks I’m having another win only from the top in the shape of big Jon Rahm. His form has taken a huge upturn in the last month having started 2019 rather slowly. He does have a win this season but just not a PGA Tour recognised event despite the Hero World Challenge being an elite field. Rahm also showed his suitability to the course on his debut when he marched to the final only to find DJ just too good. I imagine expectations would have been very high last year for the cocky Spaniard so a group stage exit might have given him a reminder that you can’t get everything your own way in Match Play. His numbers have also been improving and he ranks 2nd in strokes gained: off the tee which is crucial. If he brings the approach game that we saw at Sawgrass then I’d expect another strong showing like 2017.
It is surely a matter of time before he starts winning big titles and these days the ideal preparation for winning a major seems to be winning a WGC. With a reasonable group he should make it through to the knockout stage and nobody in the field would relish playing him head to head this week. Both Rahm and Thomas are in the tough half of the draw and on paper would face DJ and Rory in the semi finals respectively. But there will be chances to hedge if we make it that far and I’d give them a good shot at winning those matches anyway.
Backing outsiders in this can very quickly go wrong and Abraham Ancer might just lose his first match to Paul Casey to all but lose the bet. But at odds of 125/1 with 8 places he surely makes the last 8 more than just once in 26 attempts from this group. Therefore I think we are getting a very solid each way price but I also think he will be suited to a match play event in Texas. You don’t win an Australian Open without having both a strong short game and ability to play in the wind. Both those attributes will help him this week and if he can avoid defeat to Casey he might just play his way into this Tournament. Ancer is a long enough driver of the ball but he is also accurate and ranks 23rd in strokes gained: off the tee. That is always valuable at Austin Country Club and he was last seen finishing 12th on another Dye course at Sawgrass. He ranks 29th in scrambling and 44th in strokes gained: approaches for the season. He doesn’t have much match play experience of any note but that hasn’t stopped a few debutants running deep in this event before. Worth a little go in the hope Casey maybe isn’t fully wound up on Wednesday after his Valspar win on Sunday.
Benny An was on my short list for this but was then given a pretty awful draw alongside both Tommy Fleetwood and Louis Oosthuizen. However the way An has been playing, particularly scrambling, I think he maybe still has a chance. Fleetwood has been putting probably as poorly as An himself so that match will be interesting on the greens. Oosthuizen finished runner-up to Casey at the weekend but he only hit 6 of his greens in regulation on Sunday and he wasn’t much better through the week. Oosty will have to improve his approach play if he wants to get out of a group that features 3 tee-to-green machines. If Benny can hole a few putts (I know, fat chance of that!) then I think he can get more competitive than his price suggests. He sits 11th in strokes gained: off the tee, 50th in approaches and he is 2nd around the green. Small stakes each way at 100/1 and cross our fingers!
Hero Indian Open
The DLF Golf and Country Club in Delhi is probably about as quirky and trappy a course as we will see in professional golf and therefore punters have learned it’s not an event to waste that much time on. The propensity for event ruining bad bounces off a rock means that fortune certainly plays its part more than it does at other events. Although that shouldn’t detract too much from the two very deserving winners the course has thrown up.
With all this in mind then the best angle in is probably to play a couple of bigger prices. However there aren’t too many that I like the look of so instead I’ve decided to go with two in form players that owe me nothing after returning the place money last week. Both Sharma and SSP arrived in decent form so with good GIR numbers last week, Jazz Janewattananond and Max Kieffer appeal again. They are both fairly horrible prices at first look, especially for 2 players chasing their first ET win. But we have to be flexible on a week like this where the field strength isn’t great and Jorge Campillo is among the favourites. If I wasn’t playing with last week’s profit I could maybe pass but both should enjoy this test and they showed that last week with Kieffer ranking 2nd in GIR and Jazz 1st in driving accuracy. Jazz actually also came 3rd for putting despite missing practically everything on Sunday. His whole game really is in great shape and given he didn’t look like he was scared to win I make him the man to beat this week. Take Kieffer as a solid each way back-up plan again.
Corales Puntacana Championship
Just the one pick here that interests me in the alternative event and that is Curtis Luck. The event the last couple of years has turned into somewhat of a short game battle and few in the field are better equipped than the young Aussie. He isn’t the best ball-striker in this field by any stretch but with wide open fairways and big, straight-forward paspalum greens, the majority of the field will be finding a high number of greens. He finished 13th last week at the Valspar which was his best finish of the season. He was 3rd in putting and 12th for scrambling. If we see that level of short game again then he should relish this course.
Summary of bets
WGC Match Play
Justin Thomas – 2.5pts win @ 20.0 on Exchange (anything down to 17.0 looks fair)
Jon Rahm – 2pts win @ 20.0 on Exchange (again anything down to 17.0 fine)
Abraham Ancer – 0.75pt ew @ 125/1 (1/5 odds 8 places Betfair/Paddy Power)
Benny An – 0.5pts ew @ 100/1 (1/5 odds 8 places)
Hero Indian Open
Jazz Janewattananond- 1.5pt ew @ 16/1
Max Kieffer – 1pt ew @ 22/1 (both 1/5 odds 7 places)
Curtis Luck – 1pt ew @ 50/1 (1/5 odds 7 places)
Weekly points advised = 14pts