From Bermuda to Mexico, a well-worn path for the PGA Tour as it winds down towards the more novelty events on the approach to Christmas.
With five of the last six winners scoring 20-under or better (Patton Kizzire was just one off that total in 2017) it’s clear this 7000-yard-and-bits course is open to attack from these players, but it still needs a bit of thought.
Most of the contenders over the years point out that the key to being able to throw those darts is getting the ball on the fairway, and whilst that helps every week of the year, with the forecast rain and greens that will run slower than tour standard, there is a premium on good driving – as two-time champion Viktor Hovland said, “there’s a lot of trouble on both sides and being a straight driver and good off the tee, that helps me.”
Quality tee-to-green play is always the first on the list, but players hitting irons from the rough or worse, will find it tough to keep up the birdie chase. Look to Hovland again, this time for the perfect example.
When winning in 2020, the Norwegian saw his tee shot on the 72nd hole just stay on the short stuff – a yard wrong and he was in sand or the rough, and probably would not have given himself such a simple birdie opportunity, holed to beat a charging Aaron Wise (to the chagrin of myself amongst many others!)
Course comparisons are clear – look for those that excel in windy conditions, that constantly find greens, and are coming here with confidence in their putter. Simples.
I’m not sure what to make of former world number one Scottie Scheffler.
The 26-year-old went from the best player not to win a tournament to the best player in the world in the space of a few weeks, before cementing that position with a victory at the most traditional of indicators, the Masters.
Then it all went a bit tired. He should have won the Charles Schwab (former Mayakoba winner Brendon Todd and a certain Tony Finau split 3rd and 4th) to make it five wins in the season. He then had chances at the U.S Open at Brookline and at the final qualifier before the ‘big one’ (so the PGA Tour says), where he allowed an easy lead to slip right away, giving Rory McIlroy the impetus to reclaim the top spot, rightly as it turned out, after his recent run.
Scheffler now comes off a recent outing at the CJ Cup, where again he was thrashed by McIlroy and many of the rivals he faces this week.
If he’s a ‘no’ that leaves dual defending champion Hovland, the afore-mentioned Wise, Collin Morikawa and Aaron Wise to fill the market at 20-1 and less.
Hovland makes obvious appeal and there is little to argue against bar his single-figure price. Morikawa’s putting has returned to the disastrous figures of his early career and Wise just sees too short for his win record.
Sitting brightly amongst those is Tony Finau and, despite the lack of a recent outing, he is easily the highlight of the week.
Where to start? The 33-year-old finally shook off his own Puerto Rico curse when winning the 3M Open, in the process beating Emiliano Grillo (three top-10s here) and followed up a week later when waltzing home at the Rocket Mortgage Classic by five shots from the elite Patrick Cantlay, sixth here in 2019.
I fancied him to get the hat-trick at the FedEx St.Jude after leading the tee-to-green stats by a mile over the previous fortnight, but he could never recover from some wayward driving. Still, an ever-present fifth place is hardly tear-inducing.
After an opening 77, the BMW Championship was a washout and he may well have been feeling the efforts of the previous month when again starting slowly at East Lake before a best-of-Sunday 64 launched him inside the top-10.
That eye-catching effort was surely a prompt to be on him when he re-appeared and I have no problem with the two-month break given he was runner up at the Mexico Open three weeks after The Masters and seems to have had a jolly good time in the interim.
Welcome to Beef's Golf Club, @TonyFinauGolf!
— Beef's Golf Club (@BeefsGolfClub) October 25, 2022
Apart from elite form over the last few months, Finau finished his season ranked 12th for approaches, fifth for greens-in-regulation and in the same position for tee-to-green, all aspects that give him that look of Hovland, no bad thing here.
Previous years have seen the ‘Big Break’ graduate finish in the top echelons for all those vital statistics – it has been a constant, but he now adds confidence with the putter, a facet that has seen him ranked in the top-20 in six of his last nine completed outings.
From six outings at El Chamaleon, he has two top-10 finishes and one 16th and is, of course, a far better player now.
Relevant course comparison form includes a pair of runner-up finishes at Riviera, linking him with winners Hovland and Kuchar, while you can add 2019 winner Todd to those two for form at the Pheonix Country Club and the Charles Schwab.
Farmers sees his form sit alongside efforts from Hovland (again) and 2012 champion John Huh, who turns up at only half-a-dozen courses each year whilst Hovland also won this after Puerto Rico, another 20-under track. And on and on.
Leaving the salivation over Finau’s chances, much of the rest of the field looks limited in their chance to beat the top half-dozen.
However, I’ll back up the main selection with a smaller wager on Tom Hoge, a player who has found his level over the past couple of years after looking as if he would become a journeyman, clocking up the dollars with the odd top-10.
Life changed with the victory at Pebble Beach in February, when he beat proven costal player Jordan Spieth, Cantlay (4th) and Matt Fitzpatrick (6th) but it was possibly telegraphed with his fifth at Torrey Pines, third at the Sony in Hawaii, two top-10s at Sea Island and front page finishes in Texas and three times at the Barracuda.
The victory was a step up for the 33-year-old but he has kept up that level of form with top10 at the US PGA, 3M, Tour Champpionship, Shriners and Zozo. The 13th place finish at the CJ Cup meant Hoge had now five top-13 payouts from the same amount of events.
Returning to the course at which he was third in 2020, Hoge has that fine mix of course form mixed with improving current form, all based on the quality of his iron play for which he ranks around 10th on average for his last six completed starts.
Whilst we can surmise Finau’s current form, Hoge is already showing up on the 2022/2023 wraparound stats – sixth in greens-in-regulation, 20th for tee-to-green – whilst over three months he is 11th for all-round ranking, the highlights being 23rd for greens, and 19th for putting average.
Do that this week and he contends strongly.
34-year-old Jason Day completes the trio of each-way bets this week.
Despite his many issues – withdrawals through injury or illness and personal tragedy – the Australian has somehow come through and, whilst he may never approach his former number one ranking, looks on his way to getting somewhere inside the top-50 and those all-important invites to the majors.
It seems as if Day has been around forever but surely because he was a constant on the leaderboards of all the majors – second, third, fifth and 10th at the Masters, four-time runner-up and three top-10s at the US Open, and the sole major victory and five top-10s at the US PGA – impressive stuff!
History dictates he is plenty good enough to be winning an event like this, and recent evidence also suggests getting on before he does finally get over the line once again, adding to his 12 PGA Tour wins.
After years of back problems, Day bounced back to form at the Farmers in January, when he couldn’t hold on to a third-round lead, missing the play-off by a single shot. Still, this was encouraging to say the least, and Day was happy:
“The last couple years have been a bit of a struggle,” he told Golf Digest “But I think more so it’s a real positive, not only personally with my back and then when I get on the golf course I feel good.”
Clearly, the enforced slower and gentler swing has done the trick, although he admits it’s by necessity, ” The good thing is I need to work on my swing because if I don’t then certain things can creep in and I can hurt my back again. So I’ve got to always be cautious of that.”
Since that bronze medal, the two-time Torrey Pines winner has finished 15th at the Wells Fargo, top-20 at the Rocket Mortgage and recently eighth at the Shriners and 11th at the CJ Cup, where at both events he was better as the event wore on.
He went birdie-crackers during the last round at Las Vegas, and whilst the CJ Cup probably asked too much of his driving, he ranked 11th in approaches, 19th tee-to-green and also for putting. At both Day also found greens-in-reg and was smart around the greens.
The easy 2015 PGA champion looks to be close, and at the prices, looks well worth the chance to prove it.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 9, 2022
Finally, take a chance with arrow-straight Greyson Sigg to land the top-10/top-20 bets.
Much of what is good was written around 11 months ago in the 2022 Players To Watch column, but it’s worth re-iterating that the 27-year-old was one of a host of top-class KFT graduates from the Lockdown years, something that may have disguised his individual talent.
The two-time KFT winner, including the Knoxville Open – an event that Patton Kizzire (2017 Mayakoba champ) has won – has taken his time to show his best on the main stage, but his best includes a top-10 behind Finau at Twin Cities and at the Sanderson Farms, where he came from 25th overnight courtesy of a final round 67 on a tough Sunday.
At last week’s Barracuda Championship, the former Bulldog lay in eight after the first round and sixth going into payday but, on another tough final day, a one-over 72 was still plenty enough to finish in 11th, his fifth cut in a row.
Sigg simply cannot compete on the big tracks, ranking well outside the top-120 over the last three months, so look for him on all the circa-6800/7000 yard tournaments, as we have here this week, a course on which he recorded the joint-lowest round of the Sunday with a 64 last year.
- Tony Finau WIN
- Tom Hoge WIN
- Jason Day WIN/TOP-5/TOP-10
- Greyson Sigg Top-10
- Greyson Sigg Top-20
The Wedge Guy: What really makes a wedge work?
Having been in the wedge business for over thirty years now, and having focused my entire life’s work on how to make wedges work better, one of my biggest frustrations is how under-informed most golfers are about wedges in general, and how misinformed most are about the elements of a wedge that really affect performance.
That under-informed and misinformed “double whammy” helps make the wedge category to be the least dynamic of the entire golf equipment industry. Consider this if you will. Golfers carry only one driver and only one putter, but an average of three wedges. BUT – and it’s a big “but” – every year, unit sales of both drivers and putters are more than double the unit sales of wedges.
So why is that?
Over those thirty-plus years, I have conducted numerous surveys of golfers to ask that very question, and I’ve complemented that statistical insight with hundreds of one-on-one interviews with golfers of all skill levels. My key takeaways are:
- Most golfers have not had a track record of improved performance with new wedges that mirror their positive experience with a new driver or putter.
- A large percentage of golfers consider their wedge play to be one of the weaker parts of their games.
- And most golfers do not really understand that wedge play is the most challenging aspect of golf.
- On that last point, I wrote a post almost two years ago addressing this very subject, “Why Wedge Mastery Is So Elusive” (read it here).
So now let’s dive into what really makes a wedge work. In essence, wedges are not that much different from all the other clubs in our bags. The three key elements that make any club do what it does are:
- The distribution of mass around the clubhead
- The shaft characteristics
- The specifications for weight, shaft length and lie angle
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up.
For any golf club to perform to its optimum for a given golfer, these three key measurements must be correct. Shaft length and lie angle work together to help that golfer deliver the clubhead to the ball as accurately as possible time and again. If either spec is off even a little bit, quality contact will be sacrificed. The overall weight of the club is much more critical than the mystical “swing weight”, and I’ve always believed that in wedges, that overall weight should be slightly heavier than the set-match 9-iron, but not dramatically so.
We encounter so many golfers who have migrated to light steel or graphite shafts in their irons, but are still trying to play off-the-rack wedges with their heavy stiff steel shafts that complete prohibit the making of a consistent swing evolution from their short irons to their wedges.
That leads to the consistent observation that so many golfers completely ignore the shaft specifics in their wedges, even after undergoing a custom fitting of their irons to try to get the right shaft to optimize performance through the set. The fact is, to optimize performance your wedges need to be pretty consistent with your irons in shaft weight, material and flex.
Now it’s time to dive into the design of a wedge head, expanding on what I wrote in that post of two years ago (please go back to that link and read it again!)
The wedge “wizards” would have you believe that the only things that matter in wedge design are “grooves and grinds.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Grooves can only do so much, and their primary purpose is the same as the tread on your tires – to channel away moisture and matter to allow more of the clubface to contact the ball. In our robotic testing of Edison Forged wedges – on a dry ball – the complete absence of grooves only reduced spin by 15 percent! But, when you add moisture and/or matter, that changes dramatically.
Understand the USGA hasn’t changed the Rules of Golf that govern groove geometry in over 12 years, and every company serious about their wedge product pushes those rules to the limit. There is no story here!
For years, I have consistently taken umbrage to the constant drivel about “grinds.” The fact is that you will encounter every kind of lie and turf imaginable during the life of your wedges, and unless you are an elite tour-caliber player, it is unlikely you can discern the difference from one specialized grind to another.
Almost all wedge sole designs are pretty darn good, once you learn how to use the bounce to your advantage, but that’s a post for another time.
Now, the clubhead.
Very simply, what makes any golf club work – and wedges are no different – is the way mass is distributed around the clubhead. Period.
All modern drivers are about the same, with subtle nuanced differences from brand to brand. Likewise, there are only about four distinctly different kinds of irons: Single piece tour blades, modern distance blades with internal technologies, game improvement designs with accented perimeter weighting and whatever a “super game improvement iron” is. Fairways, hybrids, even putters are sold primarily by touting the design parameters of the clubhead.
So, why not wedges?]
This has gotten long, so next week I’ll dive into “The anatomy of a wedge head.”
Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: 2023 PGA Merchandise Show recap
All the new interesting things we enjoyed and appreciated.
2023 Ras Al Khaimah Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
The conclusion to last week’s Dubai Desert Classic was almost perfection.
The scant amount of viewers on a Monday morning would have been treated to a surely scripted play-off between world number one Rory McIlroy and his LIV nemesis Patrick Reed, bar that damned 13-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole. It was, of course, a fitting start to the year for the world number one, and an ending that the week deserved after ‘Tee Gate to Tree Gate,’.
With our main man, Lucas Herbert, playing some sublime golf in behind and finishing strongly in third despite the absence of luck on the Saturday greens, it showed the DP World Tour in a cracking light.
It’s a shame this week doesn’t.
We move from the quality of Dubai to a standard DPWT field and, while favourite Adrian Meronk is improving fast and now up to 52nd in the rankings, the long,wide, forgiving nature of Al Hamra makes this nothing more than a bosh-it, find it, hit it, putt it, competition. Links-like it may be, but with no wind forecast, this won’t hit anywhere near the heights of the previous two weeks.
Previous DPWT winners here – Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard – suggest length is the one factor that separates the medalists from the also-rans and is the key factor behind high-level tee-to-green numbers, certainly rather than accuracy.
There isn’t really any option but to look at the handful of true links players at the top and it’s only narrowly that Victor Perez gets the vote.
Splitting last year’s winners (for there were two Al Hamra events in 2022) Ryan Fox and Nicolai Hojgaard is tough but I’ve always felt the Frenchman is capable of a higher level of play and he is the selection in front of favourite Meronk, even if they both have similar course and recent form.
I rarely get him right – backing him twice over the last six months – even if he has won two titles in the space of seven months.
Still, this is another day for the Frenchman (and me) and for a winner of the Dunhill Links, the Dutch Open and three weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, he may actually be overpriced at 16/1.
It’s tough to find any better ‘standard level’ links form lines than beating the likes of Matt Southgate, Joakim Lagergren, Tommy Fleetwood, Tom Lewis and pals in Scotland, and beating Fox in a play-off at Bernadus Golf. However, he was at it again at Yas Links, leaving behind the names Min Woo Lee, Francesco Molinari, Alex Noren and Tyrrell Hatton – all synonymous with the test he faces this week, on the same paspalum greens and with opposition of higher class than three-quarters of this week’s field.
Perez looks to have produced evidence that a golfer is at their peak at 30-years of age producing an outstanding bunker shot to win his latest trophy, with a sound coming off the club reminiscent of his play at Wentworth in 2020, when splitting Hatton and Patrick Reed.
Although this is his first outing here on the DPWT, he has a seventh and second place from two outings on the Challenge Tour and he is in the right form to take those figures one better.
Third for total driving over the last six months, Perez ranks in the top-10 for ball-striking over the same period (11th over three months) and arrives here in confident mood, telling reporters:
“I’m looking forward to playing at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship for the first time. I got the season off to a great start at the Hero Cup followed by my first Rolex Series win in Abu Dhabi, so this is a great chance to keep the momentum going and secure more Race to Dubai and Ryder Cup points,” before adding:
“I’m playing great golf at the moment, and I’m hoping it continues in Ras Al Khaimah.”
Perez is a confident selection, but back him up with another proven rip-it merchant in Callum Shinkwin, who has come in a few points since the market opened but justifies the move after an excellent top five in Dubai.
First thing we know about the three-time winner is he hits it a mile, ranking in the top-10 for off-the-tee ten times since the start of the 2022 season, including being in the top three in the two events 12 months ago. That itself is worth noting, as are his best efforts away from the victories- at Fairmont, the Dunhill Links and last week in Dubai, all with pointers to this week’s test.
There was nothing wrong with mid-20 finishes here last year, the first just a couple of days after destroying the course in a fun Texas Scramble pairs, and he will surely take comfort in lying up there with Rory McIlroy last Monday, matching those final two birdies.
Another around that ‘magic’ age, this is a course that will give Shinks every opportunity to play shorter irons into the targets and, with last week’s top-10 ranking for putting, this may be the time to go with the Moor Park magician.
I can’t see a shock result here this week – the top lot have perfect conditions in which to show their class – but I’ll be looking at the top-10/20 markets for the following:
Tapio Pulkkanen – Trilby-wearing Finn that hits the ball a country mile. Trouble is, half the time he does not know in which direction it’s travelling. Here, with accuracy not a factor, he can take inspiration from last season’s seventh place in the first of the back-to-back events, when a three-over back-nine cost him a place in the medals.
20th just seven days later shows he can play the track, whilst best efforts over the last 12 months include a third place at the Czech Masters, 10th at the Dunhill Links and third in Portugal, again all events with a leaning to the type he’ll take part in this week. Given his tied-second in Prague a year earlier, we can surmise he repeats form at tracks that suit.
It isn’t impossible he suddenly finds his form on tour, and with an inkling he’ll ‘do a JB Hansen’ and go crackers for a spell. This would seem the perfect place to start.
Julien Guerrier – Third at Hillside and Celtic Manor last season show the former winner of The Amateur Championship (at Royal St. George’s) still has what it takes to compete at this slightly lower level. Add top-15 finishes at Denmark, Spain, Germany and Mauritius – all with front-rank putting stats – and it’s easy to see the two-time Challenge Tour winner having some effect in the top-20 market.
A sixth and eighth-placed finish at the Rocco Forte in Sicily behind Lagergren and Alvaro Quiros (both who turn up when they sniff links from a mile away) reads well, and his repeat performances at his home country, Portugal, Spain and Prague show he performs where he has good memories.
With four outings here, split between the Challenge Tour and the DPWT, the Frenchman can continue an improving course record of 19/13/9.
Jack Senior – I’m convinced that 34-year-old Senior is a better player than his current ranking outside of the top-500 in the world, and although it has been a while since his win at Galgorm Castle in 2019, he has racked up top-10 finishes at Gran Canaria, the Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club (behind Min Woo Lee, Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick), Mallorca and on the Spanish mainland.
Back at Galgorm, he was tied-13th last year, a repeat result that sits nicely with his 23rd in Mallorca, and top-20s in Prague and Denmark, courses already highlighted as associates to Al Hamra.
I’m happy to ignore last week’s missed cut as it was his first outing since October, and he’s of enough interest back on a course on which he has a sixth, 11th and 19th place finish in three tries at the lower level.
I’m expecting one of the top eight or 10 to prove too good, but these events often throw up names on a surprise leaderboard, and it will take just one hotter-than-normal week with the putter for that to happen.
Victor Perez – WIN
Callum Shinkwin – WIN/TOP-5
Julien Guerrier – TOP-10 TOP-20
Tapio Pulkkanen – TOP-10 TOP-20
Jack Senior – TOP-10 TOP-20
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