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The 23 players who can win the Masters

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Each year for the Masters, I create a filtering process to help determine the players who are most likely to win the green jacket based on criteria that have strongly predicted outcomes at Augusta. I usually get the list down to roughly 20-25 players.

Last year, Dustin Johnson was one of my 21 players who could win the Masters. Dustin was at 9/1 odds. The other top finishers, like Cameron Smith and Sung Jae Im, were filtered out unlike previous years where players that were in contention were typically shortlisted. My theory on that is that due to the tournament being played in November, the course was not playing as firm and as fast as it normally does, and that allowed players who typically do not get through my filter to get into contention.

Before I discuss my picks for this year’s Masters, I want to go over what I call the “critical holes” for Augusta National. The critical holes in any tournament are the ones where the top finishers typically gain the most strokes on the field, as well as where the greatest deviation in scores exist. One of the interesting aspects about critical holes is that they often change over time due to changes in the course conditions, course design or a change in player strategy, which can create a smaller deviation in scores.

This year, the projected critical holes are No. 8, 13, 14, and 15.

The 15th hole, Firethorn, should be considered the most pivotal hole on the course as over the last five Masters the top finishers in the event have gained 0.391 strokes per round on the hole.

Moving on to the tournament, I filtered out the amateurs and all first-time professional attendees. The Masters has only been won once by a first-time attendee: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in the inaugural event

  • Joe Long (a)
  • Robert MacIntyre
  • Carlos Ortiz
  • Charles Osborne (a)
  • Tyler Strafaci (a)
  • Will Zalatoris

Despite being first-time invitees, the data likes both Ortiz and Zalatoris as they would have gotten through all of the other filters to be selected as players that could win the Masters.

I also filtered out eight past champions I do not believe can contend at Augusta National anymore

  • Fred Couples
  • Bernhard Langer
  • Sandy Lyle
  • Larry Mize
  • Jose Maria Olazabal
  • Vijay Singh
  • Mike Weir
  • Ian Woosnam

The Zach Johnson debate

Every year I do my Masters picks, it’s always pointed out that I do not pick former Masters Champion Zach Johnson due to his lack of length off the tee. Augusta National greatly favors long-ball hitters. They can play the par 5s more like par 4s, and typically the longer hitters can also hit the ball higher so they can get their long approach shots to hold the green more easily.

When Johnson won the Masters in 2007, the event featured record-low temperatures in the mid-40s and wind gusts of 33 mph. This made it very hard for any player to reach the par 5s in two shots and allowed Johnson to get into a wedge contest on the par 5s, his strength.

This week the forecast is calling for high 70’s to low 80’s with winds topping out at only 10 mph. There are some scattered showers in the forecast that may soften up the greens and give shorter hitters more of a chance to win.

But I believe that it will not be enough to take the advantage away from the longer hitters.

Therefore I filtered out the following players.

  • Abraham Ancer
  • Brian Gay
  • Brian Harman
  • Mackenzie Hughes
  • Zach Johnson
  • Kevin Kisner
  • Matt Kuchar
  • Francesco Molinari
  • Kevin Na
  • C.T. Pan
  • Ian Poulter
  • Patrick Reed
  • Webb Simpson
  • Henrik Stenson
  • Robert Streb
  • Michael Thompson
  • Brendon Todd

A part of the game that is just as critical as distance is the trajectory height a player can create. Last year, I filtered out four players for hitting the ball too low. Out of those four players, the best finish was Patrick Reed at T10. I use a combination of max height, carry distance, and launch angle to determine if the following players hit the ball too low to win at Augusta.

  • Daniel Berger
  • Christian Bezuidenhout
  • Patrick Cantlay
  • Cameron Champ
  • Harris English
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick
  • Lanto Griffin
  • Jim Herman
  • Matt Jones
  • Sebastian Munoz
  • Victor Perez
  • Xander Schauffele
  • Bernd Wiesberger
  • Lee Westwood

Since the inauguration of the event, there have only been two winners of the Masters that have previously never made the cut: Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 and Gene Sarazen in 1936. Let’s filter them out as well.

  • Max Homa
  • Jason Kokrak
  • Joaquin Niemann
  • Hudson Swafford
  • Matthew Wolff

I will also filter out the players who missed the cut at San Antonio. Historically, players that miss the cut the week prior have a substantially lower likelihood of winning the following week compared to the players that made the cut in the previous week or did not play at all.

  • Tony Finau
  • Phil Mickelson
  • Danny Willett

Lastly, I have filtered out the weak performers from the “Red Zone,” approach shots from 175-225 yards. While Augusta is known for its greens, the winners are determined mostly by the quality of their approach shots throughout the event. In fact, 11 of the last 12 champions have hit at least 49 greens in regulation during the week.

  • Jason Day
  • Tommy Fleetwood
  • Dylan Frittelli
  • Billy Horschel
  • Brooks Koepka
  • Martin Laird
  • Scottie Scheffler
  • Charl Schwartzel
  • Adam Scott
  • Cameron Smith
  • Jimmy Walker
  • Matt Wallace

That leaves the following 23 players who can win the Masters:

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Stewart Cink (450/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson DeChambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Tyrrell Hatton (45/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Sungjae Im (40/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Si Woo Kim (125/1)
  • Marc Leishman (110/1)
  • Shane Lowry (110/1)
  • Hideki Matsuyama (45/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Louis Oosthuizen (75/1)
  • Ryan Palmer (150/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Justin Rose (80/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
  • Justin Thomas (12/1)
  • Bubba Watson (55/1)
  • Gary Woodland (150/1)

Here are my personal top-10 picks

  • Paul Casey (45/1)
  • Corey Conners (80/1)
  • Bryson Dechambeau (11/1)
  • Sergio Garcia (50/1)
  • Viktor Hovland (33/1)
  • Dustin Johnson (9/1)
  • Rory McIlroy (18/1)
  • Collin Morikawa (30/1)
  • Jon Rahm (12/1)
  • Jordan Spieth (11/1)
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Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2018 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @Richie3Jack. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: March 2014 Purchase 2017 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Garrett

    Apr 13, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    Next year Ill just put 20 on each of those 23 players and there’s no way i can lose!!

  2. Joel

    Apr 11, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    Are we ever going to give this guy the credit he deserves? Holy moly. So many years of getting this right. I even told me buddy that this was the year he’d finally be wrong (I thought Schauffle would win) but nope.

    Huge congrats to both Hideki and R3J.

  3. Bruce Gordon

    Apr 7, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    Wrong. Lee Westwood will win this year, JT is 2nd.

  4. kevin

    Apr 7, 2021 at 9:07 am

    jon rahm is due

  5. Gordy

    Apr 7, 2021 at 8:17 am

    I think using trajectory is pretty good idea to filter out golfers. As someone who plays on a course that is very hilly like Augusta National, how high you hit your ball off the drives(especially up hill) really plays a factor. Or even down hill allows you to roll out even further. Clear advantage for folks who hi it higher and carry it further.

  6. Evan

    Apr 6, 2021 at 10:30 am

    Reed not long enough?! He’s longer than plenty of your potential winners.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 6, 2021 at 2:00 pm

      He’s lost considerable amount of distance this year. He’s ranked 150th in Adjusted Driving Distance on Measured Drives (where they use driver). He’s also hitting the ball much lower.

      • Evan

        Apr 6, 2021 at 3:10 pm

        Thanks Rich, that’s surprising – wouldn’t of put him down as a shorter hitter. Still, he’s a winner for sure and I think he’s got a chance.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 6, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      Reed currently ranks quite low in Adjusted Driving Distance for measured drives. His speed has slowed down considerably this year and he’s hitting the ball much lower.

  7. Phil Underhill

    Apr 6, 2021 at 9:53 am

    What club are you basing trajectory from? – Presumably driver. Which I think is a mistake, plenty of players hit their irons high but choose to play a lower lofted driver (or choose to hit with a negative angle of attack). I certainly don’t think hitting the ball low off of the tee is a disadvantage there

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 6, 2021 at 2:02 pm

      It is based off the driver using carry distance, launch angle and max height to determine. I can just say that ever since I’ve been doing it I’ve had tremendous luck with it. If the conditions called for rain I would not use it for a filter.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 6, 2021 at 4:04 pm

      Here’s a list of the players I’ve filtered out for a low trajectory since I started doing this column in 2013. 50 players in total, 23 (46%) went on to miss the cut. Only 4 (8%) finished in the top-10 and only 1 (Jimenez in 2014) finished in the top-5.

      https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1GefucgTSKwoBSvTnsqY5KNBgRWAKz21fy5S4w3EHIUA/edit?usp=sharing

  8. freeze

    Apr 6, 2021 at 8:28 am

    Collin Morikawa is 126 in distance, why wasnt he eliminated? CT Pan out drives him and he was. The red zone isnt 175-225, its a 100 and in. Your list is a joke, you didnt even follow your own metrics

  9. Ryan

    Apr 6, 2021 at 5:35 am

    Do you use solely PGA tour data? Would be interesting to see if there is less predictive power for guys who play primarily on a different tour, which means they have less PGA tour rounds in stats. The more I think about this the more it makes sense though. Great stuff.

  10. jgpl001

    Apr 6, 2021 at 3:52 am

    Cink really? More chance of me winning this week, no disrespect to Cink who was a really good player, but he is long past his prime and totally incapable of competing at this level anymore

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 6, 2021 at 2:13 pm

      Cink was the biggest surprise and him winning would make him the oldest winner in major championship history. However I don’t use age as a filter as players that get thru the filters, regardless of age, have routinely gotten into contention. The reason why older guys like Cink don’t get thru the filter very often is that when they get that age they tend to not hit the ball far enough, high enough or basically just aren’t very good anymore.

  11. Colin

    Apr 6, 2021 at 3:02 am

    Unclear why Molinari “can’t win” given that he led in the final round in 2019 and has improved his driving distance considerably in the past 3 years or so. Poor form aside, does he *really* have less chance than Cink??

    • Christian R

      Apr 6, 2021 at 7:11 am

      I agree.
      Cink can just loop for Frankie. Maybe.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 6, 2021 at 2:17 pm

      The problem with looking at the driving distance metrics on the Tour Web site is that they are not adjusted for schedule. Playing a course like Phoenix where the ball travels far is different than playing a course like Pebble Beach where the ball doesn’t travel nearly as far. I base my distance filter on Adjusted Driving Distance which factors in schedule and Molinari is *shorter* this year than he was 3 years ago. 3 year ago I also shortlisted Molinari and had him in my top-10. But this year he didn’t get thru the distance filter.

      I got this complaint a few years ago about Paul Casey who didn’t make it thru the trajectory filter despite playing well. And then he badly missed the cut.

  12. TacklingDummy

    Apr 5, 2021 at 10:26 pm

    Interesting reasons for filtering out. Personally, that wouldn’t be by criteria for filtering players. I would add to the possible win list along with most of the 23 players: Jason Day, Tommy Fleetwood, Billy Horschel, Brooks Koepka, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Xander Schauffele, Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari, Kevin Na, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Henrik Stenson

    It is the Masters. There are so many top players that just find another gear at the Masters no matter how they have been playing of late.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2021 at 11:46 pm

      The filters are based on statistics and past trends of the last 25 Masters tournaments. They are not subjective filters, but objective filters. A player that did get filtered may overcome what based on history and trends has typically projected them to do poorly.

  13. DJ

    Apr 5, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    man you have some terrible short game (putting included)players in….si woo, Hideki, Hovland

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2021 at 11:44 pm

      The Masters isn’t a putting course. It’s an approach shot play course. The long hitters can afford themselves some shorter shots into the green, but if their iron play is poor they are going to have tough road ahead of them even if they are hitting short approaches into the green. Short Game around the green usually doesn’t come into play, but if you’re not dead last and you strike the ball well you’re not going to have to worry about it. I think the course plays firm with a small breeze and will favor the longer hitters in the end.

    • TWick

      Apr 12, 2021 at 4:42 pm

      This aged poorly.

  14. Vic Hardy

    Apr 5, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    I’m not a golfer but live in Augusta and always watch the Masters, even attended it once.

    This is interesting from a statistician’s perspective. If I look at the world rankings, both Johnson and Rory are I believe in the top 10. Spieth is down in the 60’s but just had his first win in 4 years. Bryson is ripe for a win.

    I’d put my money on Johnson.

  15. paul

    Apr 5, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Connors hits it so low….how did make it through?

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2021 at 1:24 pm

      Connors currently ranks 136th out of 219 players in Apex Height and 121st in Carry Distance. He’s basically at the threshold of trajectory.

  16. Dpd901

    Apr 5, 2021 at 12:37 pm

    Gene Sarazen didn’t win the first Augusta National Invitational, Horton Smith did. Sarazen won the 2nd

    • Jake

      Apr 5, 2021 at 9:31 pm

      Sarazen won the first Masters.

      Prior to that it was Jones’ white man only event.

  17. Chuck

    Apr 5, 2021 at 12:18 pm

    Did you have Danny Willett as a possible in 2016?

    He’s a past champion, a top-100 OWGR player, and has shown at least some form this year (despite a MC last week). Yet you don’t even have him mentioned.

    • Eric

      Apr 5, 2021 at 12:38 pm

      Actually, he included Willett in the “Missed cut at San Antonio” group…

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 5, 2021 at 1:28 pm

      I had Willett shortlisted in 2016. And Willett was filtered out for MC’ing at San Antonio.

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Opinion & Analysis

2023 Farmers Insurance Open: Betting Tips & Selections

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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:

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.

Recommended Bets:

  • Tony Finau Win 
  • Jason Day Win-Top-5 
  • Luke List Top-10 
  • Luke List Top-20 
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2023 American Express: Betting Tips & Selections

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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.

Reccomended Bets:

  • J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
  • Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
  • Luke List TOP-20
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2023 Abu Dhabi Championship: Betting Tips & Selections

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Just days after the inaugural running of the Hero Cup, we get the chance to see the first full-field event of the 2023 DP World schedule.

For the second year, the Yas Links provide the venue for the well-established Abu Dhabi Championship, but last year’s leaderboard showed not much has changed, with a board of ‘linsky’ players and also those with firm form-lines in this part of the world.

Last year’s champion, Thomas Pieters, is one of 18 players that took part at ADGC last week, and he heads a defending leaderboard that included the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Victor Dubuisson, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton and more than a handful of others that appear regularly in the Middle East, Portugal, Holland and Denmark – just some venues that offer clues to regular top-10ers.

Continental Europe won last week’s renewal of what was in effect the old ‘Seve Trophy’ but that shouldn’t stop a strong showing from many of the beaten side. Opting between the likes of Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry is as tough as it gets, all having top class links form and a promising ending to the 2022. Still, combine them with Alex Noren, playing well but winless since July 2018, and the coupled odds offer somewhere around 85-40. Despite their obvious claims, that doesn’t appeal.

It is the next group that appeals mostly this week and, whilst Thomas Pieters holds very solid claims for going back-to-back here, the pair of Robert Macintyre and Adrian Meronk are the first to go into the plan.

I’ll admit a weakness for the Scot, whose talent has still not reached anything like a ceiling, but Ryder Cup year may see him raise his levels, particularly having told The Telegraph that:

“Playing for Europe has been one of my life goals since I started to believe I was half decent at this game. I’ve played Walker Cup and now I want to appear in the best event in the world and a lot of the older guys––the likes of Sam (Torrance) and Stevie (Gallacher) who we’ve spoken to here this week have told me it would be the best thing to do in my life. And I’ve got a great opportunity to do that.” 

Bob’s claims to a place in the European locker room will be far stronger with a place inside the world’s top 50, which gives him access to all the majors and top events around the world.

He’s been there before, after his first win on tour, a strange lockdown-influenced event in Cyprus, but the victory was no surprise given his three runner-up finishes and a 6th at The Open in his inaugural year (2019) after which he received the Rookie of the Year award.

Available for all the four majors in 2021, he finished tied-12th at Augusta and eighth at Royal St. George’s, an event that may be significant this week.

Down the stretch on Sunday, Bob looked set to finish inside the top five before a pulled tee shot on the final par-5 (14th), a move that cost him a bogey. If I was to take just one of the recent Opens as a guide, the 2021 running may be the one.

Whilst the wind was only a zephyr, and disappointing for such a contest, conditions may well mirror the type we see this week. If not, the leaderboard certainly gives some idea with Jon Rahm in third place (three wins and a place in Dubai), Lowry and Viktor Hovland sharing 12th, Paul Casey in 15th and Sergio Garcia also just inside the top-20.

All those named have terrific form not only in the UAE but also in the immediate vicinity, and it seems the same with those beaten in last season’s Italian Open.

Held at the Marco Simone Club – this year’s Ryder Cup venue – Bob shot a final round, and best-of-the-day 64 – to reach a play-off against Matt Fitzpatrick. Winner with a birdie at the first extra hole, he also left behind the likes of Victor Perez, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jorge Campillo, all fine exponents of links golf, whilst he also joined Nicolai Hojgaard in a tiny Marco Simone winner’s club, the latter beating Tommy Fleetwood and Meronk for his maiden victory.

Macintyre followed his second victory with a top-10 at classic Le Golf National, top-20 at the Alfred Dunhill Links (11th into payday), top-10 at Valderrama and a closing 18th in Portugal at least two of those being a form guide to Yas this week.

The 26-year-old has admitted he often tries ‘too’ hard and that he plays his best golf when happy and relaxed. Having left the course yesterday with a 4&3 victory alongside Seamus Power and a heavy singles victory over Noren, he should be spot on.

In contrast to the first selection, Adrian Meronk was on the winning side over the weekend, and comes here as another improving 20-something.

Although the Pole was ranked around 200th at the end of the 2020 season, he caught the eye when running-up to Christiaan Bezuidenhout at Leopard Creek in November of that year, seemingly a tad naïve when challenging.

That immaturity is now a distant memory, replaced by a player that had three top three finishes in 2021, and topped by a closing top-10 finish in Dubai.

Having gone on many ‘to follow’ lists for 2022, the 29-year-old withdrew midway through this event before compensating his fans with four top six finishes in seven starts, three in this part of the world.

Belgium and the Netherlands saw Meronk finish in a closing sixth and third, the latter finish at Bernardus Golf (significantly designed by Kyle Phillips) before his (almost telegraphed) victory at Mount Juliet saw him follow in the footsteps of Lucas Herbert, another wind and links specialist.

11th in France and 22nd at the multi-course Dunhill Links works for me, as does his finish to 2022 – seventh at the DP finale, in fifth at halfway in Brisbane, and his impressive second victory at this level, by five shots at the Australian Open.

That win, by a handful from proven links and top-class players such as Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee raises the Pole to yet another level, and now just inside the world’s top 50, a huge effort that sees him receive the ultimate invite:

With confidence at a high, expect the Polish hero to enjoy the expanses of Yas Links, as he did when sitting inside the top-20 for the three rounds he did complete last year.

Nicolai Hojgaard has already been referenced as the winner of the 2021 Italian Open, and that win alone might be enough to stir interest, but take into account many of his best performances and he appeals greatly at anything around 50/1.

The more flamboyant of the twins is much more of a bully on the course than his brother, Rasmus, for whom he deputised for at the Hero Cup. That decision was justified after an unbeaten 3.5 points saw him produce one of the more surprising performances of the weekend and that encourages me to take the hint soon after a 10th place finish Australian Open, where he was never off the front page at any point.

Second place at both the Portugal Masters and KLM and, of course, a win at Ras Al Kaihmah read nicely for this week’s test, whilst he can add a fourth place to his UAE record having finished strongly on his debut at the DP World Tour Championship.

Ignore the missed cut last season as the 21-year-old was lying in 17th place after the first round before experiencing very tough conditions – eventual winner Thomas Pieters was also one that was over par for Friday.

With this track sure to suit his distance off the tee – Pieters and Hovland ranked top 10 in that regard – and with his confidence up after holing the winning putt for Continental Europe, this should be time to be with him.

It’s hard to believe that a player would win two events in his rookie year and also come within a whisker of his third title, yet be triple digits for this week.

In Ewen Ferguson there is a player that not only showed class in difficult conditions in Qatar (Meronk in third) but also only got done by a superstar putting performance when going for the three-timer in Denmark.

At all three victories, the Scot ranked highly in all tee-to-green aspects, something he found again towards the end of 2022, at Mallorca and the Gary Player GC. Whilst his excellent short game was lacking towards the end of the year, I’m prepared to err on the side that says it had been a long, if successful, first foray at the highest level, one that could have seen him win Rookie of the Year, although ultimately beaten to that by Thriston Lawrence.

Having been one of the success stories of the 2022 Players To Follow column, the 26-year-old more than paid his way, and it’s worth taking a chance that comes out and performs in similar conditions.

I’m watching former star Joost Luiten like a hawk, as his back-form hints to a great week now he and his health are back to something like their best, but the final selection goes to Marcus Helligkilde, another highlighted in last year’s column, and once again in 2023.

Whilst his overall profile is sketchy, we should remember that the Dane missed the middle few months of 2022 with a persistent shoulder injury, before doing enough to retain his DPWT card, something that looked unlikely as the tour approached the autumn months.

Having seen the likes of Jordan Smith and Brooks Koepka graduate from the Challenge Tour with success, much was expected of Helligkilde as he made his way through his rookie year on tour, particularly after three wins led him to a comfortable championship.

The season started in pleasing enough fashion, opening his first look at Yas Links with a 69 to lie inside the top 20, before a mid-event 66/67 saw him lie in ninth going into Payday at Ras. Back in the Middle East, the Dane came from outside the top-50 to finish 12th in Qatar and the sharks were buzzing for a coup in the near future.

However, after a couple of months, Helligkilde revealed he had been suffering with a shoulder injury for a while and would require surgery, something that meant taking at least six weeks off tour.

He admitted he was nowhere near 100 percent when re-appearing at the Irish Open, but a mid-point 22nd was encouraging, as was the trip to the KFT where he performed with credit at both the co-sanctioned events.

Among a large amount of DPWT players at the Barbasol, Helligkilde recorded 16 out of 18 greens-in-regulation on his way to a bogey-free third round of 66 before following up with the same figure on payday, resulting in a move from 64th at halfway to 8th when the cheques were being handed out.

The following week, the Dane was never outside the top-22 in finishing 13th at the Barracuda, both weeks suggesting he was close to being back to his best.

By finishing 4th in Ireland and 8th in his home event, the ‘Made In Himmerland’, Helligkilde showed he can perform when necessary, his top-30 at the Spanish Open enough to secure a place inside the top-100 on the Race To Dubai.

The Dane is far better than that number and, now injury free, is hopefully in a position to show his best, in conditions that will suit a player for whom the middle of the green is always a target.

Recommended Bets:

  • Robert Macintyre WIN
  • Adrian Meronk WIN/TOP-5
  • Nicolai Hojgaard WIN/TOP-5
  • Ewen Ferguson WIN/TOP-5
  • Marcus Helligkilde WIN-TOP-10
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