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Sentry Tournament of Champions prop bets: Marc Leishman the man to back in Maui

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It’s ToC week at the Plantation Course this week at Maui, and wide fairways, huge greens, good putting and low scoring will be the result unless some unforecast severe wind arrives.

Players have had a month off from competitive action, so there is a chance we will see a repeat ‘shock’ winner as we did last year when Harris English putted his way to a playoff victory, but eventual winners tend to be in the top-10 of the betting market, and Matt Vincenzi has covered the outright bets here.

With a limited field of recent winners, there are rarely big priced specials to take advantage of, especially as history dictates that players thrive after their initial course/event outing.

Indeed, Tiger Woods took a 5th on debut before winning in 2000, whilst every champion from Steve Stricker in 2012 onwards improved on their first, second, or even sixth piece of Kapalua form.

Using that, here’s the best of this week’s props. 

Jason Kokrak – Top 5/Top 10 – +500/+200

36-year-old Kokrak has been a late bloomer, known in the past for top-10 finishes but never as a winner, but after three official victories in 13 months (four including a pairs event), has now risen from outside of the top-100 to be a top-20 player.

Whilst his end-of-year double (Houston Open/QBE Shootout) is perhaps of lesser value than that of Viktor Hovland’s, both his wins were on Bermuda greens where he beat tournament favorite and Bermuda specialist Sam Burns, a player who trades at half Kokrak’s price despite the selection having had a course outing.

That 35th on debut was nothing to shout about, but, as discussed above, many future winners come on bundles from their initial outing. Long off the tee, he sits comfortably inside the top-50 on tour for approaches over the last season-and-a-bit (top-10 in this week’s field) and top-10 overall for strokes-gained-putting (in first place over the last 12 weeks). Go old-fashioned, and Kokrak sits inside the top-30 on tour for putting average, sixth for par-3’s (the toughest holes on this week’s track) and around 15th for the par-fives.

Translate that to a no-cut, shortened field, and a repeat of his first win at Shadow Creek is certainly no pipe-dream.

Marc Leishman – Top 5/Top 10 – +400/+170 (DraftKings)

The well-travelled Aussie may not have the all-round game to win the gold medal unless the wind blows enough to affect those at the top, but with four course outings under his belt and a game in pretty suitable form when we last saw him, he can land a place on the front page.

Winning the Travelers at River Highlands puts him alongside English, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, all winners at Maui, whilst three top-10s at The Masters gives credence to Spieth’s comment that the slopes on the greens at both Augusta and the Plantation course have similar problems to conquer.

As for the 2021 season, the tied-fifth at The Masters preceded an off-the-card win at the pairs event, the Zurich Classic, where he and compatriot Cameron Smith beat South African veterans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, whist another top-five at River Highlands again showed how Leishman repeats form at the same tracks year-in-year-out.

In four outings since the 2021 playoffs, the 38-year-old has finished a fast-finishing fourth at Silverado, whilst another flying finish saw him record a place better at the Shriners Children’s Open behind Sungjae Im, a strong fancy for many this week. The CJ Cup was one of ‘those’ but for an eye-catching closing 64 whilst he led the field after a day one 65 in Houston before finishing inside the top 20.

Two recent top-four finishes at the Sony Open further illustrate how well he plays on the island, and he can put up a solid show this week in preparation for another tilt at Waialae.

Marc Leishman to beat Talor Gooch, Harris English and Brooks Koepka – +275 (DraftKings) 

With group bets, the key is finding weak links and players that can be red-lined immediately.

With Leishman in the plan already, look for weaknesses amongst his opposition and in both the last quoted, there are genuine reasons to think they might struggle this week.

The case against Koepka is pretty clear. Sure, he has that third place on debut here in 2016, but a final round 71 meant he actually got beaten by nine shots, whilst he has only broken 70 once in eight rounds since. Indeed, through 2017 and 2018, when winning five events including three Majors, he recorded rounds at Plantation of 78 twice, 76, 75, 74 and 73.

Koepka turns up at events that matter most, whether it be ‘those’ four or at grudge television matches, and although a ninth-place finish at the recent Hero World Challenge was a boost after a period of poor results, he had every chance of winning until blowing up with a final round 74. With fitness always a doubt, this doesn’t look like the week to be with Brooks.

Defending champ, English, putted his way to the title last year after an approach game that would have seen him rank top five, at best, in previous years. However, since losing his trusty old putter grip after the Ryder Cup, the five-time winner has had a rough time, with a pair of missed-cuts sandwiching a withdrawal from the CJ Cup with a back injury.

The last time we saw English was a tied 14th at the 20-runner Hero, a result that was helped by a third-round 63, a rare beast in the Bulldog’s recent record.

Whilst he’s had time to recover from the ailments, the flat stick will prove a major part of this week’s winning armoury and, until that prowess returns, I easily passed him over.

The case against Gooch is harder to make given an improving profile that has seen him rise to 33rd in the world rankings after a win at the RSM Classic.

However, despite some excellent recent results, including a pair of top-five finishes at Sawgrass and Silverado, neither of those was on debut, and he will need to buck trends to improve that this week.

Plenty of recent winners at Maui have finished mid-division on their first run – Patrick Reed was 16th, Justin Thomas 21st, Xander Schauffele 22nd – and supporters of the Oklahoma Sooners should be happy with anything approaching that, in readiness for the season proper.

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Club Junkie: Building a Tiger 3-iron and the most comfortable golf shoes I have ever worn!

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Tiger’s new 3-iron is a P770 head with a Dynamic Gold Mid shaft! I have a P770 head laying around so I decided to build it up with a different shaft, but I was inspired by Tiger! Walk through a few clubs that are going into the bag this week for league. And finally review of what might be the most comfortable shoes in golf, The Asics Gel-Kayano Ace!

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The Wedge Guy: Do irons really need to go longer?

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At Edison Golf, we put high emphasis on getting the right lofts in our customers bags to deliver precision distance gapping where distance control matters most – in prime scoring range. Our proprietary WedgeFit® Scoring Range Analysis helps us get there, and one of the key questions we ask is the loft of your current 9-iron and pitching wedge.

Please understand I have been collecting this type of data from wedge-fitting profiles for over 20 years, and now have seen over 60,000 of these. What’s interesting is to watch the evolution of the answers to those two questions. Twenty years ago, for example, the 9-iron and PW lofts would typically be around 42-43 degrees and 46-47 degrees, respectively. By 2010, those lofts had migrated downward to 40-41 degrees for the 9-iron and 44-45 for the “P-club”. (I began to call it that, because it’s just not a true “wedge” at that low of a loft.)

But how far are the irons makers going to take that lunacy? I see WedgeFit profiles now with “P-clubs” as low as 42-43 degrees and 9-irons five degrees less than that – 37-38 degrees. The big companies are getting there by incorporating mid-iron technologies – i.e. fast faces, multi-material, ultra-low CG, etc. – into the clubs where precision distance control is imperative.

Fans, you just cannot get precision distance control with those technologies.

But the real problem is that golfers aren’t being told this is what’s happening, so they are still wanting to buy “gap wedges” of 50-52 degrees, and that is leaving a huge distance gap in prime scoring range for most golfers.

So, to get to the title of this post, “Do Irons Really Need To Go Longer?” let’s explore the truth for most golfers.

Your new set of irons features these technologies and the jacked-up lofts that go with them, so now your “P-club” flies 125-130 instead of the 115-120 it used to go (or whatever your personal numbers are). But your 50- to 52-degree gap wedge still goes 95-100, so you just lost a club in prime scoring range. How is that going to help your scores?

Please understand I’m not trying to talk anyone out of a new set of irons, but I strongly urge you to understand the lofts and lengths of those new irons and make sure the fitter or store lets you hit the 9-iron and “P-club” on the launch monitor, as well as the 7-iron demo. That way you can see what impact those irons are going to have on your prime scoring range gapping.

But here’s something that also needs to get your close attention. In many of the new big-brand line-ups, the companies also offer their “tour” or “pro” model . . . and they are usually at least two degrees weaker and ¼ to 3/8 inch shorter than the “game improvement” models you are considering.

But really, how much sense does that make? The tour player, who’s bigger and stronger than you, plays irons that are shorter and easier to control than the model they are selling you. Hmm.

It’s kind of like drivers actually. On Iron Byron, the 46” driver goes further than the 45, so that’s what the stores are full of. But tour bags are full of drivers shorter than that 46-inch “standard”. So, if the tour player only hits 55-60% of his fairways with a 45” driver, how many are you going to hit with a 46?

I’m just sayin…

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Opinion & Analysis

GolfWRX Book Review: Phil by Alan Shipnuck

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The most awaited golf book of 2022 is titled “Phil: the Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorized) Biography of Golf’s most Colorful Superstar,” featuring a look at Phil Mickelson’s life and times. Alan Shipnuck, long a respected writer in the golf interweb, has produced another long-form contribution to the vast library of golf tomes. Early leaks did nothing but heighten the anticipation of the residents of golfdom for the book’s release. Shipnuck wrote for GOLF Magazine for years, before heading out with other proven and decorated scribes to form The Fire Pit Collective. His place at GM reveals how he was able to get close to Mickelson and his inner circle. Before we continue on with the book review, it’s important to determine how Shipnuck and I have a cosmic bond. It is summed up in two words.

Bob Heppel

Bob Heppel was the guy who stood me up in the fifth grade, swim locker room. I swung and bloodied his nose. I was more stunned than he was, but I retired as a fighter with a debatable record of 1-o. Alan Shipnuck tells a similar story in the introduction to his most recent literary effort. No kindred-spirits malarkey here; the type of coincidence that the cosmos allow on occasion.

How does the book read? Well, it has an element of stream of consciousness, combined with a heavy reliance on anecdotal sequencing. It is necessary to stack story after story, to connect the dots of a sometimes-indecipherable image. That’s Phil, to a T (or a P.)

Back to me for a moment. I received the digital copy of the volume about three weeks before the release date of the paper edition. On Friday the 13th, I finally opened the PDF. As I held the PgDn button on my laptop, stopping intermittently to catch up, a random turn of phrase caught my attention:

a man’s man with big calloused hands and the briny demeanor that came from having been at sea for weeks at a time. 

It takes a special awareness of how language intersects with life to string words like that together. Those words describe one of Phil Mickelson’s grandfathers. Shipnuck gives us so much information on Phil’s ancestor that we forget for a moment, that this is a book about Phil. This is a good thing, because we need to learn about the others that helped to forge the Phil Mickelson from whom we cannot avert our eyes.

The chapter in the book that will most ally you as a Mickelson sympathizer is, predictably, the one about Winged Foot and the 2006 USGA Open. The one that will most distance you from Lefty, is the one that begins around page 150, concerning his gambling habits. The section that will have you question golf administrators in general is the one about the 2014 Ryder Cup. In other words, there are a lot of chapters that expect the reader to suddenly jump up and scream at anyone who will listen, You won’t believe this, but …

At times throughout the reading of this book, you feel like a student in a statistics class. The author presents anecdotal evidence in tens and twenties, and you try to determine if Phil Mickelson is enviable or pitiable; sincere or counterfeit; ultimately, good or bad. And then, Shipnuck delivers a knockout punch in which he melds the detached storyline of wealthy professional golfers with the reality in which the rest of us live. Shipnuck resists the temptation to offer too many of these body blows; the book is, after all, about Phil Mickelson.

At about the midway point of the book, it is revealed that Mickelson might have something of a James Bond complex, a need to put himself at greater risk than before, to determine if he can handle the pressure. This notion explains a purported interest in gambling, or a suggested enthusiasm for abandoning the US PGA tour in favor of mideast money; the latter would be the straw that broke the back of Mickelson’s most loyal sponsors.

Without giving too much away, nor attempting to drive the reader toward any sort of conclusion (which would probably have been impossible, in hindsight) there are two, late-volume sequences that lead us toward an understanding of Phil Mickelson and of Alan Shipnuck’s intent:

even Mickelson’s failings feed his image as an uninhibited thrill-seeker

This is the image that he has cultivated over the course of a lifetime. It is the gift that his parents and his grandparents bequeathed to him.

In his public statement, Mickelson allowed that his comments were “reckless” but couldn’t resist making himself both the victim and the hero of his narrative …

This statement reveals the cleverness of Shipnuck’s efforts. He allows the readers to determine which one Mickelson is. My guess is that the readership will be split down the middle. As if I needed to tell you, go buy this book. You’ll enjoy revisiting the glory days of the southpaw, but be warned: you won’t feel the same about him when you turn the final page.

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