Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Rich Hunt’s 2014 Pro Golf Synopsis, which can be purchased here for $10.
This past season, PGA Tour players made an average of 39.8 percent of their birdie putts from 5-to-15 feet while making 52.6 percent of their par-or-worse putts from the same distance. That means that Tour players make a higher percentage of par-or-worse putts than they make birdie putts from the same distance.
Why? To explain, I’ll start with the numbers.
Here’s a list of the 10 Tour players who saw the largest drop-off in their birdie make percentage from their par or worse make percentage:
Only two players on the PGA Tour — Luke Donald and Kevin Streelman — made a higher percentage of their birdie putts than par-or-worse putts from 5-to-15 feet in the 2013-2014 season.
At first, I thought Tour players made more par-or-worse putts than birdie putts because they were more likely to have birdie putts that were downhill. Studies done by golf researchers show that in general players make a higher percentage of uphill putts from the same distance than downhill putts.
The other premonition I had was that on par-or-worse putts Tour players were more likely to have gotten a feel for that particular green. More often than not, Tour players are trying to make a birdie with either a putt on the green or a chip from just off the green. They get a better feel for the green on the putt or chip and then have a better understanding of how to make the next putt.
In February 2011, in the American Economic Review authors Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer examined this in the article titled Is Tiger Woods Loss Averse? Persistent Bias in the Face of Experience, Competition, and High Stakes.
Pope and Schweitzer’s premise is that Tour players are often suffering from loss aversion, as they make a lower percentage of birdie putts than par putts. The term loss aversion more or less means that the Tour golfers are more averse to losing strokes to the field by three-putting and missing their par saves versus gaining strokes by making birdie putts.
The article examines the misses of Tour players through ShotLink data. They tested to see if there was a bias by Tour players in the direction of their misses (left or right) and found none. What they did find, however, were three major points:
- Tour players miss birdie putts short of the cup a higher percentage of the time than on par-or-worse putts.
- Tour players miss more birdie putts early in events.
- Tour players miss a higher percentage of birdie putts short of the cup earlier in events.
That’s how they came to their conclusion of loss aversion — Tour players are missing birdie putts short of the cup because they are afraid of hitting them too far past the cup and three-putting. And with par-or-worse putts, Tour players are missing them past the cup because they are averse to losing strokes and therefore willing to hit putts with a more aggressive speed to make sure the ball gets to the hole.
Hot Putters Misses vs. Cold Putters Misses
After discovering these miss biases based on the length of the putt, I started to examine the players who finished in the top-5 and the players who finished in the bottom-5 of the PGA Tour’s Strokes-Gained Putting statistic each week. There were some distinct patterns that the top-5 putters and the bottom-5 putters had with their misses.
Inside 20 feet
Regardless of how well the player was putting during a tournament or whether their putts were for birdie, par or bogey, the vast majority of misses ended up long of the cup. However, the bottom-5 putters would have around 8-to-10 percent of their misses end up 1 foot or more short of the hole. They would also have 10-to-15 percent of their misses end up 3 feet or more past the cup on putts inside 20 feet.
That tendency is in line with Pope and Schweitzer’s findings — the putts that missed well short were almost always birdie or eagle putts, while the putts that missed well long (3 feet or more) were almost always par or worse putts.
The misses were far more consistent with the “hot putters.” There was almost never a putt inside 20 feet that they missed 1 foot short of the hole or worse. In fact, they would rarely miss more than 3 inches short of the cup and it was usually on a green where the putt had a large amount of break, so it is more difficult to hit the putt at the right speed.
On the putts they missed long, hot putters missed 78 percent of them from 6 inches past the cup to 3 feet past the cup. Simply put, their speed control was much better than cold putters that week and even when they missed the putt they almost always had enough speed to get the ball to the cup.
Outside 20 feet
Putts longer than 20 feet are a little trickier in terms of recording the data. A golfer who misses a 25-foot putt by 6 feet generally made a much worse putt than a player with a 75-foot putt that missed by 6 feet. This is the first thing to take into account — how much remaining distance divided into the length of the original putt.
As I mentioned earlier, the general findings were that most putts from outside 20 feet– whether they were birdie or par putts — were missed short of the cup. There were very few par putt attempts outside 20-feet compared to birdie or eagle putts, however.
Once again, the hot putters had much more consistency. They kept 95 percent of the putts they missed outside 20 feet in a 3-to-10 percent leftover range. Further, they were more likely to miss long on putts outside 20 feet. Seung Yul Noh was a good example of this when he won the 2014 Zurich Classic, as he only missed two putts outside 20 feet short of the cup for the entire event. His first such putt did not come until late in Round 3.
Cold putters kept 88 percent of their missed putts outside 20 feet in a 3-to-10 percent leftover range. This begs the obvious question of why don’t they miss more outside that range if they are putting so terribly? The answer is that putts inside 20 feet are more makeable and there is a great deviation in the percentage of putts made from inside 20 feet. Putts from 3-to-15 feet separate the best putters from the rest of the Tour, so when a player is putting poorly it is usually due to their performance inside 20 feet rather than putts outside 20 feet.
In the end, hot putters tend to be much more consistent with their speed on their misses than cold putters. This simply means that when players are putting well their speed control is at its best and when they are putting poorly their speed control is normally at its worst.
True Putting Speed vs. False Speed
As I was working through the data, one client asked me why Tour players miss a higher percentage of birdie putts inside 20 feet even though they are usually missing those putts long of the cup? It’s an excellent question because if loss aversion is the issue and the player is still hitting putts inside 20 feet to the cup or past the cup, then loss aversion should not be a real issue.
Looking at the distance past the cup, however, is NOT an analysis of the speed of the putts. Speed is distance traveled over a period of time. Looking at the distance the ball has traveled past the cup is only looking at the distance traveled variable and does not include the time variable. This has caused many people to mistakenly believe that hitting a putt 17 inches past the cup is considered optimal speed for making the putt. Not only is that not a measurement of speed, but research from golf instructors such as Geoff Mangum, David Orr and Mark Sweeney show that even if we were to use the variable of distance past the cup, 17 inches past the hole would NOT be the optimal distance.
The main point is that there is NOT one optimal distance to miss a putt past the cup even if you are to use that as a measurement. On slower putts, which are either slower on the stimpmeter or uphill putts, the optimal distance past the cup is shorter.
On a very slow green on a steep incline, the optimal distance past the cup may only be 3 inches. On a very fast green with a steep downward slope, the optimal distance past the cup may be 30 inches.
In reality, the actual optimal speed as noted from experts that have researched this is 2-to-3 revolutions per second. This can cause a variety of distances past the cup depending on the green surface and the slope.
This comes back to the question of why Tour players are missing more birdie putts inside 20 feet if they are still getting to the hole? My answer is that their speed is still likely too slow when it comes to birdie putts. And the players who are “cold” tend to get confused and frustrated and end up ramming a few putts well past the cup. From there, everything goes haywire. Even the best birdie putters on Tour may have the natural instinct to hit their birdie putts at a speed of 1 revolution per second rather than 2-to-3 revolutions per second. They may even end up trying to counter that by hitting a couple of birdie putts inside 20 feet at 4 revolutions per second. They end up controlling their impulse to hit putts too softly and then hit them too hard compared to weaker putters.
And when polling Tour players and caddies as to what players they feel hit their putts the “firmest” on Tour, the top-5 players were Brandt Snedeker, Jimmy Walker, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Russell Henley.
Here’s how those players finished in Birdie versus Par+ Make Percentage from 5-to-15 feet:
Only Snedeker ranked better in Par+ putts than Birdie putts, but he also saw the largest regression by his standards as he fell to 27th in Putts Gained, his worst season putting on Tour since 2008. While the poll was hardly scientific, it gives some indication that there may be something to using an aggressive speed on birdie putts.
The most negative part of struggling with loss aversion is how it affects golfers on other putts, particularly birdie putts during the round. The research data performed on the players who putt the worst in an event showed that they often miss well short on a birdie putt and then counter that by doing the exact opposite and hitting a future birdie putt too hard.
I wanted to take these findings and not only help players make more birdie putts, but also decrease their odds of three-putting as well. One of the things I have discovered with limited data is that the Tour players who used the AimPoint Express method increased their make percentage from outside 15 feet by 1.6 percent. For a Tour player, that equates to roughly 12 more putts made per year. While that may not seem like much, that can be worth roughly $325,000 for the season. That number also does not account the decreased likelihood of three-putting. After all, if you’re making more putts then you’re more likely to have closer second putts and you’re more likely to not three-putt.
I would also recommend that golfers try to find what I call their “aversion point.” I did this with myself and a few of my friends. We plotted roughly 10 rounds of putting. It is vital that you actually record this in a round of golf rather than on the practice green, because you are trying to determine where your loss aversion occurs.
Here is a real life example of a round of putts that I plotted. I sorted them in order of distance starting with putts of at least 5 feet.
This chart is indicative of other rounds I recorded. While a Tour player’s aversion point on a putt seems to be at 20 feet, I would start to miss putts short of the hole once I had a putt that was 15-feet long. I did make two 25-foot putts, but they were both downhill so it was easier for me to get the ball to the cup. For others, the aversion point may be at 25 feet or at 8 feet. The players I plotted were no worse than 3 handicaps and typically their aversion point was from 15-to-20 feet.
While I try to avoid giving actual swing and putting instruction advice in my book, the 2014 Pro Golf Synopsis, my recommendation after speaking to several putting instructors is that if you are trying to force yourself to hit a putt with a higher rate of speed, the goal is to NOT try and hit the ball harder. Instead, increase the length of your putting stroke.
The visual for myself is to get an idea of what stroke I think I need to make on a putt outside 15 feet and then go with a stroke that is a little longer with the same rhythm and tempo so the ball gets to the hole on putts outside 15 feet.
2023 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Betting Tips & Selections
Here we go again.
After the multi-course American Express and the two-track Farmers, the PGA Tour arrives at the legendary Pebble Beach for this week’s AT&T.
Shorter than the average tour event, the coastline course/s deliver a reasonably simple test for the high-level celebrities and their professional playing partners, but this changes dramatically should any of the famed coastal weather arrive.
Bad enough for those paid to hit a dimpled ball, it can turn an amateur’s enjoyable (and expensive) round into something horrendous like this.
Three players clearly stand head-and-shoulders above the rest, both in terms of quality and world ranking, and they do have figures that justify that – in spades.
Favourite Jordan Spieth is the King of Pebble. His record here is unsurpassed, and he relishes the challenges of this seaside terrain.
However, with no serious turn in conditions, I’m not sure his current game is much to go on. The 29-year-old has missed the cut in two of his last six starts, the best results coming in limited field events at two of the FedEx play-off events and the Tournament of Champions.Not as if Spieth needs to be in form – he won the RBC Heritage last year after a run of mc/35/35/mc, but even a win, runner-up, third , fourth, seventh and ninth, it always feels as if you take your life in your own hands when backing him at 10/1 and less.
Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland make up the elite trio, all residing in the top-16 of the world rankings.
Both justify being alongside the Texan at the top of the market, although until last season’s closing sixth place finish, only Fitz’s 12th at the 2019 U.S Open was worth noting from an event formline of missed-cut and 60th.
Interestingly, the Norwegian matched that finish three years ago, becoming low amateur for the second major in a row, and both are hard to argue against.
With combined wins in Mayakoba, Puerto Rico and Dubai, as well as top finishes at various Open championships, conditions suit both equally well. Choosing between them is tough enough, but with home players winning 27 of the last 30 events held here (17 of the last 18) and with doubts about the motivation for playing this week, they can all be left alone at combined odds of around 9/4.
The draw is probably as crucial here as any other event, with Pebble Beach having some of the smallest greens on tour and Spyglass Hill being affected occasionally by similar winds. Make the score at Monterey Peninsula, if at all possible.
Despite the quality up front, the section that includes defending champion Tom Hoge, Maverick McNealey, Andrew Putnam and Seamus Power has equally strong credentials for the title.
Hoge aims to become only the second player to defend this title since 2000 and, whilst playing as well as ever, is no Dustin Johnson, whilst it’s hard to put McNealey in front of the Irishman given the latter’s 2-0 lead in PGA Tour wins, and 3-zip if you count the KFT.
Power ranks in the top echelons of players with form at short courses and is easy to make a case for in an event at which he opened up a five shot lead at one point last year, before finishing in ninth.
The 35-year-old has never been better, now ranked inside the top-30 after a season that included that top-10 here and again at Southern Hills, a top-12 behind Fitz at Brookline, third at Mayakoba and fifth at the RSM. The highlight, of course, was the victory in Bermuda, sitting nicely with his first victory at the Barbasol, that Kentucky event showing links to proven coastal/short course player Kelly Kraft (runner-up here to Spieth in 2019) and Aaron Baddeley and Kevin Streelman, with six top-10 finishes between them at the AT&T.
Rather like the player he beat in that Barbasol play-off (J.T Poston) Power is fairly easy to read, and although the very nature of pro-ams doesn’t suit everyone, the course make-up suits perfectly.
Usually consistent and in the top echelons for tee-to-green, greens-in regulation, and for up-and-down, Power comes here looking to recover from an unusually poor performance on the large Abu Dhabi putting floors. Certainly the figures look awry compared with his 10 strokes gained for tee-to-green and 12th for around-the-green, and it’s easy to see improvement in California, where in 2022 he lay in fourth place into Sunday at the pro-am at La Quinta, as well as a previous ninth place finish at the Barracuda (fifth into Sunday).
He’s the best of the week but I’m also including:
Alex Smalley – We were on 26-year-old Smalley for the American Express a few weeks ago and he was going well until the PGA West (Nicklaus) caught him out, causing a drop into 62nd from 21st place, and close to two of the other three selections this week, as well as Garrick Higgo, who just missed out due to lack of experience here.
The recovery into a place just outside the top-20 was impressive, though, with a final round 63 comprising 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation, as well as making all his putts under 10 feet.
Those sorts of figures have been expected from the outstanding Duke graduate, who made his PGA Tour debut as an amateur at the 2017 U.S Open. Since then, it hasn’t been plain sailing, indeed he has yet to win an event despite an excellent return to this level in 2022.
Starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, he then finished in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.
Since October, Smalley has made seven of nine cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking and significant given the test this week..
He couldn’t get it going at Waialae for the Sony but followed up the La Quinta effort with a top-40 at Torrey Pines, when his tee-to-green game was again perfectly respectably ranked in 33rd given the strength of the field.
Runner-up in the Dominican Republic, fourth and 15th in Houston, and with form at Colonial and Bermuda, this looks the prefect test for a player that at least had a look last year, and that the bookmakers simply cannot make their mind up about.
Robby Shelton – Makes his event debut here this week in his second time at the top level, but the former Walker Cup player has enough relevant form to make him of interest, particularly after a sixth place at the multi-course American Express a few weeks ago, his best finish in California so far.
Shelton included Scottie Scheffler and Ben Griffin as play-off victims when winning two of a total of four KFT events in 2019 and 2022, coming here after making eight out of ten cats (yeah, I know) since arriving back on tour in September.
Best efforts are 15th at the Shriners and a top-10 at the RSM, but let’s also throw in a sixth at Mayakoba, 11th at the Honda and a top-20 in Texas.
This is a drop in class, and significantly in distance, from Torrey Pines and I’d expect to see more advantage taken here.
Harrison Endycott – One of the Player To Follow for this season, it’s hard to work out exactly what the 26-year-old Aussie wants in terms of course set-up, but given his heritage and junior career, it’s fairly certain he can play well in the wind.
Having made his way through the grades including a win, two top-10s and two top-20s on the KFT, he wasted little time making his mark at the highest level, finishing tied-12th at the Fortinet in California, a joint best-of-the-day 65 launching him up the board on day three.A month later, Endycott started the Bermuda Championship with a pair of double-bogeys before signing for an opening nine-under 62, the catalyst for another career top-10, and in November he overcame a poor opening round at his home PGA Championship (111th) before flying through the field as the event progressed, finishing a never-nearer 18th behind Cam Smith.
Even the missed-cut at the Australian Open was not devoid of promise, an opening 68 seeing him start the second round in 7th place.
With a pedigree in Australia and a residence in Scottsdale, I’ll take the chance he will find something back in California, scene of the best of three events in 2023 – 22nd at the American Express – when his game showed the all-round prowess it did in Scottsdale – top-11 in approach and top-15 tee-to-green.
- Seamus Power – WIN
- Alex Smalley – WIN/TOP-5
- Robby Shelton – WIN-TOP-10
- Harrison Endycott – WIN/TOP-20
2023 Farmers Insurance Open: Betting Tips & Selections
Get your bets on earlier than usual this week as the Farmers Insurance Open runs Wednesday to Saturday, the advancement of a day avoiding a clash with the NFL Conference Championship games.
We raise the bar a notch as the tour reaches Torrey Pines, a course used for this (and related) events since 1968, although the current set-up on the South Course now measures almost 1000 yards than the one seen 55 years ago.
Now utilising the easier North Course for one round, players will still need to have their grinding game as the weekend progresses over a course re-configured for the 2021 U.S Open – won by this week’s hot favourite Jon Rahm – and one that has seen the last three winners score no better than 15-under.
As my learned GolfWRX colleague says:
The real 2023 PGA Tour season begins today. Let’s go!
— Matt Vincenzi (@MattVincenziPGA) January 23, 2023
While last year’s winner Luke List was a shock, beaten play-off rival Will Zalatoris certainly fits the bill in becoming the last of a long line of contenders at Torrey that have challenged at the majors.
Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Justin Rose and, of course, seven times Torrey winner Tiger Woods, would all be seen as elite in their time, and you can confidently add the likes of runners-up Tony Finau, Adam Scott and Xander Schauffele to those.
Greens change to Poa Anna this week, and with the home course possessing suitably tough greens, players need solid tee-to-green games to remain with a chance down the back-stretch on Saturday afternoon. Forget the pitch and putt of La Quinta and friends, this week is far from a repeat.
You would be forgiven for thinking this is the Woods era, a solid 4/1 shot heading the market.
Tiger he is not, but having won four of his last five events and winning the Farmers here in 2017 and the U.S Open four years later, Jon Rahm carries almost unbeatable status into this week. However, much depends on getting the right draw over the first two days – at the price he can be left alone.
With the trophy likely to go to one of the better fancied players, here’s a chance to select two or three from the next half-dozen and still look at a better return than backing the favourite – and, for me, Tony Finau and Jason Day fit the bill.
Unlike someone like J.T Poston, I can’t seem to call Tony Finau right, but if he is ever going to repay the faith, it is here.
Having raised his game to another level in winning back-to-back at Minnesota and Detroit, the 33-year-old was fancied to go well in Mayakoba. Naturally, he missed his first cut since the US Open in June, subsequently gagging up in Houston, making it three wins in seven starts – not Rahm (or Scheffler of early ’22) but not far behind.
Fancied to do another back-to-back special, Finau then withdrew from the RSM Classic before probably needing the run-out when 7th at the Hero World Challenge. – extremely frustrating but, on face value, continuing a career-best run.
2023 has seen encouragement in both starts, with eight rounds in the 60s leading to a seventh place at Kapalua and a most recent 16th at last week’s pro-am jolly, where he came from outside the top 60 on Thursday and from 34th at the cut mark.
Finau’s tee-to-green game remains of the highest class, ranking ninth in ball-striking over three months and third over six, but it’s now matched by a putting prowess that takes advantage of his constant green finding.
Events may be limited, but over the last 14 rounds or so, Big Tone leads the tour in putting average, beating even the likes of flying Jon Rahm. Sure, you can regard that as a skewed stat, so take it over another 12 weeks and he is in third – remarkable for someone that just a year ago was known for missing the vital ones.
Take the 2021 U.S Open away and Finau has four top-six finishes and a pair of top-20s here, and ignore last year’s missed weekend too – he was in the top-10 after the first round and was simply not at the races on day two.
Finau’s record on poa greens reads well enough – he won the Rocket Mortgage, and has top-10s at Riviera, Winged Foot and Olympia Fields, the latter pair giving credence to the Torrey/majors connection, whilst connecting Memorial form sees him record two top-10s and two top-15 finishes.
Being unconvinced that either Zalatoris’ or Justin Thomas’ games are pitch perfect, TF looks the best challenge to the favourite.
The favourite’s record in California is almost too good to be true, with four wins, seven top-5s and three top-10s but if anyone can challenge that, it’s surely Jason Day, who looks as if he is now fully recovered from injury and personal tragedy.
Winner here in 2015 and 2018, the Aussie also boasts a runner-up, third and fifth place around tough Torrey and an average position of 15th from 14 Pebble Beach outings. He loves California.
Having dropped from world number one to outside of the top-100 in five seasons, the 35-year-old has fought back from adversity to make his way back up the rankings, helped by a pair of top-10 finishes at, no surprise, Pebble and Torrey.
In order to protect what has been a fragile back, the 16-time major top-10 star reached out to swing coach Chris Como, formally an aide of Tiger Woods.
“Going into this year I did some swing changes with my coach, and I feel like those are slowly cementing themselves in there,” Day said on Golf Channel.
“I’m shallowing it out,” Day continued. “The swing has changed dramatically. It took me about a year and half to get the body correct, and the body movement correct until I could actually get into shallowing it out correctly.”
Judged on the latest figures, it seems to be coming together nicely.
Day ended 2022 with four cuts from five, including 8th at Shriners, 11th at the CJ Cup, 21st at Mayakoba and 16t in Houston, and last weekend finished in the top 20 at La Quinta having been third after two rounds.
16th for ball-striking over the last three months, slightly better over six, his top-30 for driving accuracy has led to a similar ranking for greens found. Take that, and any improvement, into an event he enjoys more than most, and we have a winning formula.
Away from the top, it’s hard to get excited about the chances of many.
Having nabbed a big-priced second last week with one of the 12 Players-to-Watch 2023, it is tempting to go back in again on Davis Thompson on a course that may suit even better. However, hitting 14 out of 18 greens at the Stadium Course is a far cry from a debut at Torrey Pines and he may just need the sighter.
Taylor Montgomery calls himself after his fourth top-five in just nine full-time starts on the PGA, particularly after a debut 11th as a sponsor’s invite last year. Prices in the 20s don’t appeal at all against proven and regular winners though, so take a chance on another top finish from the defending champion Luke List.
For someone that believes List is Dye-positive, his first win on the poa greens of Torrey Pines was a bit of a shocker.
I put the 38-year-old up as a lively top-10 bet last week, when the thought process was that this long driver should only need to drive and flip to the greens, but sadly his game was all over the place. However, I’ll take another chance in conditions that clearly suit last year’s play-off victor, a win that came off four straight cuts here that included a 10th and 12th placed finish.
Since the start of the 2022 season, List has 11 top-25 rankings for driving, five for approaches and seven for tee-to-green, whilst it was only a couple of starts ago that he matched the best at Kapalua.
As for the fabled short stick, it’s a case of being with him when he just works better than field average – 6th at Bethpage Black, in two of his four completions at Riviera and in three of five outings at Silverado, all of a similar grass type.
Players constantly repeat form here at Torrey, so whilst he may not do a 1-2 or, indeed, a 2-1 on the lines of Mickelson, Day, Snedeker and Leishman to name a few, List is very capable of pulling out a finish on the first two pages of the board.
- Tony Finau Win
- Jason Day Win-Top-5
- Luke List Top-10
- Luke List Top-20
2023 American Express: Betting Tips & Selections
Last week’s Sony Open saw the unusual occurrence of a top-10 devoid of a name that had played the Tournament of Champions, and yet eventual champion Si Woo Kim won his fourth PGA event, all on Bermuda greens.
Sometimes, like picking the week that a poor putter knocks in 30-footers, it’s just picking the right stat on the right day.
The tour makes the annual return to southern California for the charity pro-am event, where in its 63 history many courses have played host to the great and the good of the entertainment world. And Bill Murray.
For us, concerned with only who might win and at what price, we return to a three course rotation on which one one player in the last 16 years has won in under 20-under and an in an event that has seen four of the last 10 winners start at triple figures, with Adam Long going off at 500-1+.
Put simply, the set-up is too easy to enjoy it too much, players won’t miss many greens, and, as Adam Long said, “you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over.”
The front of the market is classier than normally found here, but with the combined price of the top eight, we are asked to take around 4-6 that any of those win. Sure, that’s highly likely, but many of that octet have thrown away winning chances over the last few months, and the obvious man to beat, Jon Rahm, threw his hands in the air last year, calling this a less than satisfactory set-up.
In an event that is worth looking at after the cut – the average halfway position of winners over the last five years is 8th – the suggestion is to play a touch lighter than usual, with just two selections in the pre-event market.
Short tracks that reward consistent tee-to-green and putting efforts see me look for ‘The Real JT’ at every opportunity, and at 60/1 I can’t resist putting James Tyree Poston up as the best of the week.
Winner of the 2019 Wyndham Championship in 22-under, from course specialist Webb Simpson, JT confirmed then his love for Bermuda greens, something he had shown when seventh here and sixth at Harbour Town a few months earlier. The Wyndham, incidentally, home to a trio of wins by Davis Love III, a confirmed Pete Dye specialist.
Fast forward to 2022 and, after a solid all-round performance at sub-7000 yard River Highlands, the 29-year-old comfortably won the John Deere Classic, where he again proved too good for some charging rivals, from tee-to-green and on the dancefloor.
Poston’s best form outside of his two wins is at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, another specialist Dye/DL3 track, where he has a record of 3/mc/8/6 and where he has ranked in fifth and seventh place for tee-to-green.
After a solid top-10 at the top-class Tour Championship at the end of last season, Poston comes here after a solid run of 21st at the RSM, the same at Kapalua and 20th at last week’s Sony, ranking 6th and 13th for tee-to-green in both of the more suitable, shorter tracks, all of which have Bermuda greens.
Now teetering on the edge of the world’s top 50, Poston probably can not compete on the longer, elite courses. He’ll need to take advantage of ‘his’ tracks, and, with a 7th and 25th already in his locker around here, this event is most definitely one of those.
I’d like to have been with Andrew Putnam, playing excellent golf, making his last 13 cuts, and holding an enviable course record, but at the same price as last week he’s just left out given the tougher opposition. Top that with a tendency to throw away a weekend lead (Barracuda, AT&T and the RSM just a couple of months ago) and I’d rather be with Alex Smalley who has gone the opposite direction, now trading at more than double his price for the Sony just seven days ago.
The 26-year-old Duke graduate played in both the 2019 Arnold Palmer and Walker Cup sides, finishing with a record of three wins from four at each, before gaining his PGA Tour card when recording three top-five finishes and two top-15s on the KFT, eventually finishing 12th on the 2021 KFT finals lists.
Included in his 2021 season was a 14th at Corales, and he showed that to be no fluke when finishing in the top 15 at both Bermuda and Houston, both with similar greens as he will find this week.
2022 was a big year for Smalley, starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, finishing in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.
Since October, Smalley has made five of seven cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking.
The second-season player was always on the back foot at Waialae last week, finishing the first round way down the pack after the first round. Cross that out and I’m struggling to see why he’s been dismissed by the oddsmakers for his second attempt at a course that found him ranked top-10 off the tee just 12 months ago.
There is a lingering fantasy around Luke List, whose 11th at the long Kapalua course might indicate a solid run this week. Given his first two wins came at Pete Dye related tracks (South Georgia designed by Davis Love, five time champion at Harbour Town) and Sawgrass Valley (the very name giving away its Dye/Bermuda links) he is clearly one to watch, even if he is simply one of the worst putters on tour.
He may be left behind by a few around this putter-heavy track, but he has a best of a 6th place finish in 2016 and a pair of top-22 finishes over the last two seasons. List should only have to flip wedges to many of these greens, and should he simply finish field average in putting as he did when finding over 11 strokes on the field at Torrey Pines (yes, 11 strokes. Plus 11 strokes) he will land a top-20 wager.
- J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
- Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
- Luke List TOP-20
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