Today I have a special guest post from my brother Ciaran Meagher who is previewing the 2017 Hero World Golf Challenge.
Below is my preview of the Hero World Challenge, featuring the return of the once nigh unbeatable Tiger Woods. It’s not part of the main season as such, and wouldn’t generally be one i would cover, but such is the hype surrounding the return of the 14 time major winner that I thought I would air my thoughts. A quick intro of myself first.
I have been betting on golf since 2008, taking it far more seriously for the last 5 years, with 2017 seeing me first start to publish previews for a successful website. That sojourn saw me preview 22 events, with the end result being 678 points returned from 512 staked, and an excellent ROI of 32.4%. Obviously there is a massive variance involved in golf betting, with great years not necessarily meaning you have it cracked, nor are poor years a sign that you have no clue. When betting at the odds normally associated with 156 man fields, a golf bettor has to be prepared for some barren periods. Luck as ever will play its part, and while Matthew Southgate obliging in the Top English market at 45-1 by one shot in the British Open, and Jordan Smith topping the same section in the USPGA at 22-1 by the same margin could both have easily gone the other way, there were many examples of other close calls doing exactly that. Like in all forms of gambling good luck and bad luck invariably evens itself out, and if you can be on the right players at the right prices, you should make it pay long term. My staking plan typically involves backing players in the outright market to win approx 30 pts on the win part of any bet, and to get back 20pts off any selections in the alternative market. It will rare to deviate much from this, unless being particularly strong on one selection. That happens to be the case this week.
Onto this week’s fare, and it is a relatively easy task facing these elite performers. Albany Golf Club featuring an unusual 5 par 5s, not surprisingly is already looking to favour the longer hitters. With 2 par 4s also likely to be driveable most days, it is going to require birdies and plenty of them to be successful here.
It would be rude not to start with the greatest player of all time, Tiger Woods. He will dominate much of the pre tournament chat, and most of the tournament tv coverage, but what really can be expected from him this week? As a devoted fan, I would be delighted with 4 pain free rounds, and some promise to take forward. When reappearing here last year, he made 24 birdies. This amount was matched only by winner Hideki Matsuyama who himself made 22 birdies and 2 eagles. That Tiger finished on 4 under, 14 shots behind the victor shows just how many mistakes he also made. That is near certain to happen again this week, on his first competitive outing since the beginning of the year, and quotes of 33-1 are laughable. He is surely nearer a 100-1 shot here, and Sky Bets 4-1 on him to finish last is certainly bigger than I expected to see.
The head of the market is dominated by golf’s 3 biggest names Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. None make any appeal to me at current odds.
Firstly to the World number One, and though at one stage threatening to run away with the HSBC Champions in Shanghai at the end of October, DJ is not a player I have any real interest in at this time of the year. A Sunday 77 there resulted in him throwing the title away, and though he is a much tougher individual now as regards closing events out, it may still weigh on his mind the next time he sees the lollipop. My main reason for opposing him though, is that I just don’t believe he does anything over the bare minimum in the practice department during the Tours downtime. He will need to be at his best to top this field, is priced up as if he will be, so is best left alone for me.
Justin Thomas has been a revelation these past 13 months, numbering 6 wins in a period where he also claimed the much sought after Fedex Cup. It is 6 weeks now though since he lifted the CJ Cup, and even when winning the SBS Tournament of Champions at the beginning of the year, he had had an outing in the Franklin Templeton 4 weeks earlier. This event, at Albany and in years previous at different venues, is habitually won by someone who has a more recent outing to their name. That JT has had such a successful year to celebrate, suggests he is all the more likely to have taken his eye off the all in the intervening period. He also has no course experience, and as he is heading the market he has far too many negatives for me.
Jordan Spieth done me a big favour in the aforementioned British Open last year, but there is no room for sentiment in gambling, and off the back off a lacklustre showing in Australia last week, I feel he is also underpriced here this week. Winner of this title in 2014, he has finished 4th and 6th in the two renewals at his track. Not bad results by most people’s standards, but seeing as he arrived as 7-2 and 6-1 fav those years, off the back of much more promising previous outings, you sense maybe he would prefer it went back to Isleworth Country Club. His 4-10ft putting is still a bit off it’s best, and with a mass of birdies needed to be successful here, I don’t want to be on at 6-1 that he makes enough of them.
Recent, and recent winning form has been a good guide to finding winners of this event in the past, and I think it will be no different this time around. Hideki Matsuyama was on an absolute winning rampage when successful here last year, Bubba Watson came off the back of a top 5 3 weeks previous in 2015, and Jordan Spieth arrived fresh from victory in Oz. Hideki was playing ridiculously good golf this time last year, but seems at odds with his game at the moment. He will no doubt rediscover his brilliance, but I think a deserved extended break wouldn’t do him any harm.
Having been a bit of a nearly man, not always producing under Sunday pressure, BROOKS KOEPKA blew any doubts about his temperament out of the water with a scintillating success in the US Open. Having then gone close in the British Open, showing some resolution and a B Game not always associated with him, he had a bit of a mini slump. Come the Tour Championship though he was back challenging, and a successful Presidents Cup campaign preceded a fine runners up effort in Shanghai. Though a relatively poor field admittedly, what he then done in the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan suggested we have a player out of the top drawer right at the top of his game at the moment. That is exactly the criteria typically needed for success here, and I think it will take a big effort to defeat the big Floridian here this week. Though only 7th and 13th in his two previous visits here, everything about the venue screams Brooks Koepka. Par 5 scoring will obviously be a huge determining factor for the ultimate victor. 3rd in par 5 scoring for 2017, I expect him to take these holes apart in his current form. All things considered I would make the reigning US Open champ favourite here, and though the early 12-1 has dried up, 10-1 is still more than big enough to be getting involved. Take Paddy Powers 10s if you can, as they are offering the extra place.
There are quite a few players I give next to no chance here this week. Certainly less chance than the market suggests. Henrik Stenson declared after a very poor showing in the Turkish Airlines Open that he would be missing the remaining events of the Final Series due to a rib injury. That is less than a month ago, and I cannot for the life of me imagine he has done much if anything practise wise since. He was drafted in here after a couple of withdrawals, and quotes of 18-1 would do very little for me.
Matt Kuchar to my eye is not the player he was two years ago, despite going oh so close to a first Major in the summer. Even at his best he found winning difficult, and though it’s not impossible he fills a place, I can’t see him winning here this week. He is one to avoid going forward for me.
All credit to Tommy Fleetwood for ultimately lifting the Race to Dubai title, but I wouldn’t be surprised ig that proves the highlight of his career. I think he is slightly below the top table, and in any case it would be a massive ask for him to go to the well again this after such a punishing schedule. Both mentally and physically.
I am a fan of Alex Noren, but just question his belief in his own ability. On more than one occasion early last season he stated how difficult he found it adapting to the PGA Tour. He seemed short on confidence, felt he didn’t really belong. Though playing very well, it questioned his ability to get it done. When he arrived back to Europe for the PGA at Wentworth he duly settled back into his comfort zone, and gave me a nice winning week in the process. Tackling this field swarming with the world’s elite, may just have him out of his comfort zone mentally, and I will be steering clear.
Akin to Fleetwood, Justin Rose arrives off a successful period, but a very hectic one. The deflation felt at not securing the DP World Championship and ultimately the R2D, may see him slightly below that recent level here. Even if guaranteed to be at his peak, I wouldn’t fancy the 9/10-1 available.
I’ve battled hard with myself over my next selection, not least because it means putting up two players at no bigger than 10-1, but if ever RICKIE FOWLER is going to get back in the winners enclosure, this may well be it. He is a player I have regularly immediately disregarded due to the combination of his regular SP and the his very poor wins to runs ratio. But with so many doubts over so many of the top players here, it is a massive opportunity for Rickie to get the monkey off his back. Justin Thomas struggled a bit in contention until this time last year, and Brooks Koepka shirked his fair share of winning opportunities also. I believe a player needs a ‘moment’ to change his career, and this could be Rickie’s. I don’t have Rickie in with the Lee Westwoods of the golfing world, certainly not yet anyway. I believe he will shed his major tag, he just isn’t aggressive enough from the front just yet. He really should have won his latest outing in the OHL Mayakoba, but that recent outing of 4 rounds in the 60s does send him here in good form. Third on both his previous two visits to this venue, there is not much to not like about Rickie’s chances, apart from that inability to close out tournaments. I do believe the pressure will be less on him on a Sunday here though. It’s an end of year jolly, and there will be more following Tigers pairing than the final two out! In an 18 man field, with quite a few having next to no appeal,I think Rickie just about qualifies as a bet at 9-1.
One player I am interested in further down the market is KEVIN KISNER. Like JT, he makes his debut in the event, but is a vastly bigger price. He wound up his 2016/17 season with a fine third at East Lake, proving to the wider public that he really does belong at the top table, and he confirmed his game is still very much on tap when a excellent 4th at the RSM Classic just a fortnight ago. Kisner is a player I feel will continue to develop and prove a top notcher for years to come. 33-1 is big enough to tempt me here. He doesn’t have that inflated status just yet, and unlike some here who may be just happy to go through the motions if not in contention, Kisner will be off for his life here. With that in mind, along with his current well being, the 20-21 on offer(11-10 with a couple of online firms, more may go this when everyone priced up) for him to notch a Top 10 Finish, looks quite above his real price in my opinion. I would make him a strong 4-7 shot, and believe he is worth backing in this market also.
Of the rest of the field, it was only Patrick Reed who was of any interest to me. Had he been 25s with 5 places, I would have got involved.
I don’t expect Francesco Molinari to win this week, but could envisage him outperforming market expectation. I would have been interested in him in Top European or Top Continental Euro, but his position as outsider of the field in the outright market isn’t reflected in the alternative markets. At least not by the firms yet priced up. I don’t think the 5-1 and 15-8 respectively are below what they should be, but would be hoping they may be improved upon when more firms decide to price them. I would be very weak on the chances of his opponents in them markets, and are worth keeping an eye on. Anything over 9-4 for Top Cont Euro, or 6s for Top Euro, would definitely be worth getting involved in.
4pts ew Brooks Koepka 10-1 (⅕ odds 5 places)
3pts ew Rickie Fowler 9-1 (⅕ odds 4 places)
.9pt ew Kevin Kisner 33-1 (⅕ odds 4 places)
10 pts Kevin Kisner 20-21 Top 10 Finish
Best of Luck All. If anyone not subscribing to Paul Jones who I write the golf previews for, is interested in having access to them for the coming season for the very small fee of €5 per event, or would like samples in the form of copies of last years previews, they can contact me directly on Twitter @CiaranMeagher3