Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Masters 2015 Betting Preview

There is a new era upon us as we head down Magnolia Lane this year for the first Major of 2015. A change of guard in the shape of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and others vying to dominate the sport. All young guns ready to take over from the Tiger Woods era. As I write this post it looks as if Tiger won't make Augusta but Rory is already a comfortable World Number One with 4 Majors in his locker with just the green jacket missing to complete the "Slam". The Irishman goes searching for a hat-trick of majors having won The Open & PGA Championship last summer and arrives in good form despite not having won since Dubai in the last week of January. Having missed the cut at the Honda Classic, Rory followed up with a 9th at the WGC Cadillac and 11th at Bay Hill. To complete the Slam, Rory has to deal with the added pressure of joining that elite group of players to have won all 4 golf majors, an added pressure that I believe Rory can use to motivate himself. He knows he can win here and it's highly likely that he will win a green jacket some day, the question is, will it be this year ? The bookies think so, and make him the favourite at 6/1. Rory's form at Augusta is ok, having produced results of 8-25-40-15-mc-20 the past 6 years. He infamously blew up in 2011 when it looked odds on he would win taking a 4 shot lead into that final round, a lead he still held entering the back 9. A triple at the 10th and a double on the 12th saw the lead evaporate and Rory would eventually sign for an 80 and tie for 15th. Those demons are long since gone as Rory won his first major just 2 months later at Congressional GC when winning the US open and has moved on to a much higher level since. What he can take form his Augusta experiences is that he can play the course well and contend. That experience is crucial as results down through the years shows that having that course experience is vital and its the one major where certain players tend to contend time and time again, and has often happened, age and recent form are no barriers once they step on to this hallowed turf. Tiger, if he makes it, will be relying on all that experience if he is to indeed contend.

Referring to the 2011 Masters, the leaderboard throughout that final round saw quite a number of players exchange the lead and its worth noting that these players are the usual crew that vie for the title or have indeed since, won eventually. Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Jason Day all held the lead at one point and even Tiger, who started the day 7 shots back, got to the lead before the 12th put paid to his chances as it did Rory's. Looking at my preview last year, I alluded to 16 players that had won at Augusta in recent times and what Augusta experience they had before winning, and the trend speaks volumes. Taking these trends on board, then you may ask why is Bubba Watson not favourite this week ? In my opinion, he should be.

Bubba loves Augusta, twice winner in 3 years and has since become a lot more consistent.His form in 2015 is superb having won the HSBC Championship in dramatic fashion, Bubba went on to record TOP10s at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the Phoenix Open, and the recent WGC Cadillac at Doral. His only non TOP10 finish this year was his T14th at Riviera. Those last two outings augurs well and act as a good guideline for Augusta as form on those courses usually point to a good showing here.Bubba is available at double the price of Rory on Betfair at 13.00, and I know betting wise who I'd rather have my money on between the two! The only question mark around him is can he defend the title this time around? He certainly couldn't cope with the pressure of defending two years ago and made public his discomfort in arranging the menu etc. for the Champions Dinner. Having gone through it before though should make it much easier this year and I fully expect Bubba to be in the mix this year again,if not win.

Last year I backed Dustin Johnson.....and I did the same again this year before he teed it up at Torrey Pines in February @ 60.00 believing he would come in with the betting with some solid performances. I've backed him @ 50.00 and @40.00 since and his best price now sits @ 19.00. He's in great form having won at Doral, and losing a playoff at Riviera when he looked certain to beat James Hahn in the playoff. Like McIlroy, DJ has moments of form at Augusta and he opened with a superb 67 in 2013 before coming a cropper on the back 9 in his second round. A learning experience I hope. DJ finished T13th that year, his best finish here to date. He was 30th on his debut in 2009. If he brings his A game here this week and shows the patience and control that has served him well thus far in 2015 then he can win. He has the long game and his short game is superb at the moment and he knows how to compete in the pressure come back 9 Sunday. He may tempt some @ 19.00 still but I'm glad to be on board early.

I've yet again got Lee Westwood in the book for this year's instalment!. Holding firm @ 65.00, the Englishman has maybe had his chances to win a Major and perhaps the price is holding in the widely held belief that we have a choker on our hands and can't close the deal. His stats may back up the Sunday wobbles, but I also believe he has been a bit unlucky. Has he got the bottle to compete here one more time? Absolutely! Since 2007, Lee has not only made the cut, but he has produced 4 TOP10s, 2 T11ths and a 38th finish and a 30th.Breaking that down over the last 5 years reads as 7-8-3-11-2. He made no impact on the par5s twelve months ago, his short game is somewhat improved and maybe that's in part to playing his second full season on the PGA Tour having relocated there last year. In his 6 starts on the PGA Tour this season, Lee has returned 5 TOP20s and a 25th. Looking at results at Doral & Copperhead, we find Lee's game in good shape and with his wealth of Augusta experience I see no reason why he can't go close again this time round. I've been on board with Lee a few times here and I'm happy at the price to stick with him given his recent form,but it's his Augusta form that cannot be ignored.

Whilst Henrik Stenson, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth will be many peoples picks this year, and with a lot of decent Augusta form between them, this years Masters will truly be the most open for quite some time. I wouldn't discount any of them. Some English players will have their backers apart from Westwood, most notably the in-form Ian Poulter and Paul Casey(if he qualifies). Poults likes it here, and should probably have won at PGA National instead of Padraig. Poulter can boast results of 20-mc-7-27-10-20-25-13 the past 8 years and he arrives this time in better shape than ever before. Casey is having an excellent season and was beaten in the playoff alongside Dustin Johnson to James Hahn at Riviera recently. He was 3rd the week after at the Honda Classic, a shot shy of the playoff alongside Poulter. Augusta is a course that suits but he hasn't played here the past two years but boasts three TOP20s from 2009-2007.

I have also backed a couple of Georgia boys in Chris Kirk and Russell Henley @ 200.00 and 250.00. The former has gone off the boil in recent weeks so I'm really hoping he can have a good week in Texas to bring some momentum into The Masters. If he brings last Autumn's form here he'll definitely have a great week to back up his debut TOP20 twelve months ago.

Henley could be the real surprise packet this year, he missed the cut on his debut but finished in the top 30 last year and is showing a real liking for the difficult tournaments. He knows Augusta well, is very comfortable amongst his peers on Tour now and can utilize his solid putting game to score well. We've seen the local boys go so well in the Texas Open with Jimmy Walker & Jordan Spieth leading the way, so I'm hoping the same happens here.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

WGC - Cadillac Championship 2015 - Doral, Florida

The first of the WGC's tees off this Thursday at the Donald Trump Doral Resort in Florida where Patrick Reed will defend his title. The newly revamped course seemed to have reduced the scoring twelve months ago but in fairness the weather too may have had an effect. One thing to note I suppose is, that some players returning to the event this year will have had the experience of the new layout and some won't. General consensus though is that the course suits those with good driving-distance stats and those with good Major pedigree, as the course has always thrown up a winner from the cream of world of world golf. Understandable of course given that the TOP50 in the world normally play this, but it is those who normally win Majors or at least win the big events that do best here. Course experience should be key, but Reed won here on his debut last year ! Jamie Donaldson was runner up to Reed in only his 2nd visit so perhaps we don't need to read too much into the course experience but I never discount experience when it comes to a tournament of this stature, where patience is key. Last years winning score was 284 (-4), a whole 15 shots more than Tiger's in 2013.Over the preceeding 5 years the winning score ranged from 269-272 so despite the weather conditions, it seems the course has indeed toughened up. Apart from Reed, only Nick Watney is the only other non-Major winner of this event at Doral with Tiger, Phil, Ernie, Justin Rose & Geoff Ogilvy also taking the honours.Time will tell if Pat Reed adds a Major (I believe he will, and soon)

When the scoring is high, I expect those with fine US Open pedigree to come to the fore and one player in particular always comes to my attention here and that's Graeme McDowell. The 2010 US Open Champion has excellent form at Doral having finished T9th last year to complement his previous form of 3-13-42-6. Both he and Luke Donald will take a lot of inspiration from Harrington's win at the Honda Classic. Donald tweeted his praise of Harrington's hard work to get back to the winner's enclosure and he too could find something this week on a course that he has had decent success on. But for his 2nd round, 82 last year (average 76 for the day) he could have grabbed another T10 but he's shown signs of a return to form of late and could go well. That said, its the Irishman that I really fancy the chances of this week. The new Dad, (aren't they all at the minute on Tour?) seems well settled of late and having missed the cut last week , he will be nice and fresh and raring to go. Missing the cut one week hasn't prevent Gmac from the winning the week after in the past anyway. He's one for the big events and he'll be all out to add to his Major tally this year on courses that will suit at Chambers Bay & Whistling Straits. His first test comes this week and if he shows the level of sharpness as he did in Dubai at the end of January just gone, he could be challenging at a nice price of 75.00

Whilst the Africa Open takes place this week also, South African Charl Schwartzel looks to continue his good affinity with Doral having tied alongside Graeme McDowell last year here on the back of previous results of 16-4-24-2. Its been awhile since the former Masters Champion went in on the PGA Tour but so too was the wait for last week's winner, Harrington. He did have a strong Open & PGA Championship last year when finishing 7th & 15th respectively. He topped the par 4 scoring average on tour last season and if he can keep up his approach play of this season and start making one or two more putts he could find that long overdue win, just like Padraig did, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey and Oliver Wilson did in recent times. He's worth a play @ 120.00 on the exchange.

Staking Plan (7.5 pts)

1 pt WIN. G.McDowell @ 75.00
0.5 pts WIN C.Schwartzel @ 120.00

3 pts TOP10 G.McDowell @ 5.00
2.5 Pts TOP10 C.Schwartzel @ 8.00

Monday, 2 March 2015

Africa Open 2015

This blog had the winner at East London last year as Thomas Aiken ensured the title stayed on South African soil once again but the defending champion won't be here this week as he heads off to Florida to partake in the WGC Cadillac at Doral. Indeed, this week's event in South Africa sees a "weakish" local team square up against their European Tour counterparts in the co-sanctioned event. Andy Sullivan will try to win his third event in seven outings here and to be honest he could very well do so and at prices available between 12/1 to 18/1 he could tempt a few punters.

The course is short, 6,600 yds approximately, and calls for good wind players, moreso this week as wind is forecasted. Returning to action this week is Bristol's finest, Chris Wood who was runner up in 2011 and is well known for his wind prowess. I'd rather stand back this week and see how he fares following his long layoff due to wrist injury and take my chances on a couple of players that just might excel in the conditions.

First up is last week's TOP20 collect, Adrian Otaegui @ 50/1. The Spaniard is very accurate off the tee and arrives in excellent form having produced a TOP10 in Johannesburg on the back of a 12th in India and a 25th in Thailand. He missed the cut in his season's opener at the Alfred Dunhill Championships but has made the cut in the other 4 events showing progressive form. East London and the weather will suit as his TOP15 finish last year shows and there was much to like about his final round effort in India. The San Sebastien native has been well tipped by his fellow, more illustrious compatriots to excel on tour and he makes a lot of appeal this week where everything looks like its about to click for the young man. I'm certainly not deserting here having been on board the past two weeks.

Steve Webster is on my shortlist this week and despite now being the World Ranked 297, I've left him off the final staking plan. Surely that ranked player cannot win three weeks in a row to follow James Hahn and Padraig Harrington? It could be an incentive indeed, but he seemed very nervous in that final round in Joburg last week so it's a relunctant pass for me. Instead, I'm drawn to his compatriot, Tom Lewis, who has been a bit too quiet of late although in similar trends to Otaegui, Lewis has now made the cut in his last 4 events having missed out in Abu Dhabi. A TOP25 last week following on from T25 in Thailand suggests his game is not far away. The 2011 Portugal Masters Champion, in only his third start as a professional (was it really 4 years ago?)backs up his pedigree as a good wind, links type player having won the Boys Amateur at Royal St Georges and the St Andrews Links Trophy as an amateur.Incidently, Lewis won the the Boys Amateur the year before Otaegui took the title! Looking at Lewis' form on courses similar to this week (links/wind types) it makes sense to have an interest this week when considering he was 8th in Morocco last year, 15th at the Open de Espana, 15th in Denmark, 36th at the KLM, and 58th in Portugal, not to mention his T3rd at the Dunhill Championship in 2013. He's on the staking plan this week @ 80/1.

If the title is to remain on home soil then the best chance must surely rest with in form and course specialist, Jaco Van Zyl (16/1) and Darren Fichardt (25/1). The former has finished 5-2-4-4-28-5 the last 6 years whereas the latter has produced results of 5-W-18-mc-mc-2 in his last 6. Both arrive in great form but I will complete my team with siding with "veteran", David Howell who put in a great effort last week to finish T2nd. 14th at the Alfred Dunhill Links last year, and 15th at The Open, again suggests the Englishman excels on these course types and he should be motivated this week having secured qualification for this year's open at St Andrews with last week's finish. 50/1 outright seems to be a decent price in this field.

Staking Plan (15 pts)

1 pt WIN A.Otaegui @ 50/1
1 pt WIN T.Lewis @ 80/1
1 pt WIN D.Howell @ 50/1

5 pts A.Otaegui @ 5/1
3.5 pts D.Howell @ 7/2
3.5 pts T.Lewis @ 6/1