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Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Masters 2016 - Making the Shortlist, Part 3

41 players remain in the pot for consideration for this year's Masters following the initial two culling exercises! Those to be chopped at this stage required special attention. World golf at the moment maybe in the post Tiger Woods era, but it's certainly in one of the most exciting periods ever as we, the golfing spectators, fans,bettors, and fantasy gamers look on and listen to various comments on the "Big-3", the "Big-4" every week. There's no doubting that Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy have started to dominate the big events more recently but we would be foolish to exclude Adam Scott, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler not to mention self proclaimed TOP-5 player Patrick Reed who is getting closer by the day to that position. Dustin Johnson can also throw his hat in the ring if he can shrug off the choker label in a biggie and Justin Rose looks like he intends to sit inside the World's TOP10 for quite awhile yet too. Henrik Stenson completes the TOP10 World ranked players and you could easily look at these players and settle on your Masters Shortlist from this list alone.

The bookies have the Masters priced up tightly this year and who can blame them! Its certainly promises to be the closest Masters in many a year, and we've had exciting Masters recently, but we could truly see any one of ten players in contention come "back-9", Sunday 10th April. As bettors on golf tournaments we are looking for a potential value price on a player that can contend here for either an outright punt, TOP10 placing or indeed for a trade on the exchanges and with the Worlds TOP10 closely priced, we should be able to find some value in there somewhere. My shortlist is being drafted with TOP10/possibly TOP20 markets in mind with a possible back-to-lay trade to consider also. Given the golf markets on the exchanges do tend to support the popular players, this years Masters market could see one of the leading five players being in the mix right from the off, thus making any potential trades on bigger priced players harder to come by whatever their scores may be. Nothing is more truer of the saying "Majors start back-9 Sunday" than here at Augusta and it may prove to be the case when trading the outright market for this year's installment.  With that in mind, I'm focused more on the outright and TOP10 markets and my shortlist will be concluded based on the intention to bet in those markets.

The eleven players listed below are chopped from my staking shortlist this year which will leave me with 30 players to consider my outright/TOP10 and possible TOP20 bets for the 2016 Masters. In doing so, I know I will have included players that a few regular golf punters will be backing each way to win The Masters, the likes of Brooks Koepka, Hideki Matsuyama, Branden Grace and Justin Thomas. Thomas makes his debut and on that basis alone its easy to cull him at some point but history books can be re-written and there's no denying that JT has the game to compete at Augusta, and he's not discarded lightly. On the basis that we have a lot of live contenders this year, I can't see any value in backing him this time round despite the 125/1 on offer. Matsuyama is a player I wanted to get onside. He won the recent Phoenix Open and was sixth at Bay Hill and eleventh at Riviera. If his putting was in better nick he would be on my final list and  indeed if bigger than the 40/1 being offered too. Brooks is a popular pick but despite very consistent performances he should be more of a TOP10 bet here and is a reluctant omission at this stage. If my final staking plan does show Koepka on it, it will be because I've got 7/1 on a TOP10. Will I ? Branden Grace maybe better suited to later Majors in the year and at the same price as Koepka I'd much prefer to be with the American for this.

Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na are two players in decent form but they're not for me this week, and JB Holmes and Jamie Donaldson are two that could surprise and at 250/1, the Welshman might be worth another look. I've axed Graeme McDowell at this point too, despite two TOP20  finishes in 2014 and 2011 but its the MCs in his other four visits that puts me off. Troy Merritt also gets axed at this stage, based on lack of course experience. Tiger Woods, was on my entry list and whilst I do believe we will see Tiger back playing at the top again, sadly it wont be for awhile a yet and he gets an early bath fro me at this stage too.

With the list now down to 30, the research to find some decent bets continues and I'll aim to settle on my final 20 over the next day or two when I put up that list here on the blog in Part 4 (to receive this in your inbox click here => Please send me the BirdieClub Posts for free


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Masters 2016 - Making the Shortlist, Part 2

My second cull in a process to arrive at a shortlist of potential bets for this years Masters will include eight Major Champions who have won thirteen Majors between them, of which, six were Masters ! Berhard Langer winner of two green jackets, Freddie Couples and Vijay Singh make up the over 50 years of age brigade in this culling and history has shown that this age group won't win (Nicklaus being the eldest at 46). But history has also repeatedly shown that past winners do tend to surprise, especially in the opening round, and Singh in particular could be a surprise packet early rounds following some decent form of late.(T 6th at the Honda Classic). Angel Cabrera at 46 years of age this time round could also put in a bold showing but with the quality of young guns in the line-up this year, it's hard to see him contending for TOP10. Trevor Immelman will enjoy his visit here again as past champion and he can continue to build on his game as he makes an effort to return to winning ways but it won't be anytime soon. As for the other Major winners to be culled from my shortlist, Martin Kaymer has never got to grips with Augusta and is out of form for almost twelve months now, whilst Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley have yet to show that they can contend here also (Simpson best 28th; Bradley 22nd). Thongchai Jaidee has found Augusta to be a tough track in his four visits since 2006 with a best finish of 37th two years ago.

Recent winner at Pebble Beach, Vaughan Taylor who also turned 40 years of age in March produced a TOP10 back in 2007 sandwiched between two missed cuts should be treating this years participation as a bonus and could be relaxed enough to make the cut and perhaps make a run at TOP20 but it is a big ask. Billy Horschel, Robert Streb, Harris English and Scott Piercy have little course form to fall back on here and had they been challenging of late maybe I would consider them, especially Streb but they too face the chop early. Kevin Streelman was T12th in 2015 but for an expectant wife due any minute he may have survived the cull at this point but it is hard to see him donning the green jacket this year. The English boys, Chris Wood and Matt Fitzpatrick are scratched too, the latter will have plenty of time over the years to get the experience of Augusta National before contending. Some players that will be backed by some punters that are on this culling include Danny Lee, Bernd Wiesberger, Soren Kjeldsen, Anirban Lahiri, Victor Dubuisson, Shane Lowry and Byeong-Hun An. Lahiri may go best of these.

In a field that may be the shortest ever , around 88, I have now eliminated a further 24 players in addition to the 26 from Part1. The 24 culled as I narrow down towards a final shortlist are:

1. Byeong-Hun An
2. Bernd Wiesberger
3. Shane Lowry
4. Billy Horschel
5. Danny Lee
6. Scott Piercy
7. Soren Kjeldsen
8. Robert Streb
9. Thongchai Jaidee
10. Chris Wood
11. Matt Fitzpatrick
12. Anirban Lahiri
13. Victor Dubuisson
14. Martin Kaymer
15. Harris English
16. Webb Simpson
17.  Keegan Bradley
18. Kevin Streelman
19. Vaughan Taylor
20. Vijay Singh
21. Angel Cabrera
22. Berhard Langer
23. Freddie Couples
24. Trevor Immelman

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Masters 2016 - Making the Shortlist, Part1

The eagerly awaited first Major of the year is almost upon us, as the World's best golfers go in search of a coveted green jacket the first weekend in April. Horton Smith (left)  was the inaugural winner of The Masters, and in 1949 along with the first recipient of the Green Jacket, Sam Snead, he was presented with his green jacket for his wins in 1934 & 1936. (The jacket was later auctioned in 2013 for a record €682,000). Jack Nicklaus has won the most jackets with six victories, the last of which came in 1986 at the age of 46 years. Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods have won four whilst Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Sam Snead have three. Since the first Masters in 1934, only five golfers have won the "Grand Slam" (Masters, US Open, The Open & PGA Championship) ; Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Whilst the "Slam" has eluded some of the game's greats, (Trevino, Watson, Nelson and most recently Mickelson) all eyes will be on Rory McIlroy again as he attempts to join this elusive club. Widely regarded as a Masters Champion in waiting, McIlroy will face stiff competition in 3 weeks time in the shape of defending and World Number One , Jordan Spieth, in-form PGA Champion, Jason Day, in-form former Masters champion, Adam Scott and of course twice Masters Champion and winner of the recent Northern Trust Open, Bubba Watson as he attempts to complete the "Slam" by winning The Masters. Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson will be looking to win their first Majors and it's not beyond the possibility that they could do so here.

It will be a limited, invitational field of ~90 players that will descend on Magnolia Lane and from the invitations, it's fair to say that we can eliminate a number of those immediately from the possible winners list. Former champions are entitled to return each year, don their Green Jacket and attend the traditional Champions Dinner, and contest the Par-3 contest and Masters Tournament. It must be a great honour to do that each year, year in year out without really having a chance to win another. As time goes by, the older players would normally be first to be scratched off the list. I've hovered over the delete button on my database over players like Berhard Langer, Freddie Couples and Vijay Singh as these players continue to surprise and put in solid Masters performances. They have survived the first cull from my shortlist this year again too. Not such good news for Sandy Lyle, Mike Weir, Larry Mize, Mark O'Meara, and Ian Woosnam. Sadly, twice winner, Jose Maria Olazabal will not tee it up this year due to ill health. Some of the other "oldies" that we can start to eliminate are Davis Love, Darren Clarke, and Tom Watson and it would be highly unlikely that 45 year old Thongchai Jaidee should win his first Major here too.

Debutantes don't normally win at Augusta either, indeed we have to go back to Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 for when that was last achieved, but records are there to be broken and we may have a real contender in the shape of Bryson Dechambeau who turns pro after he makes his Masters bid as an amateur. I make him one of eighteen debutantes this year, but he's not alone in avoiding the first cull. The other debutantes that I've left in the filter are Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner and Troy Merritt.

Completing my first cull for the 2016 Masters is Sang-Moon Bae who unfortunately is back in Korea completing Military Service.

The final field will not be finalized until after the Houston Open, so those hovering around the World's TOP50 at present are fighting to gain that invite and will do so in the WGC Match Play and Houston Open. Its unlikely that other Tour winners between now and Sunday 3rd April, not already qualified will make the starting line-up.

As I won't be getting involved in the WGC Match Play this week nor the Puerto Rico Open (PGA Tour), I hope to filter down the shortlist in plenty of time before the Masters tees off April 7th. I've backed three players already in Adam Scott @ 33/1(now 14s), Justin Rose @ 30/1 and Mark Leishman @ 100/1. As I write now, I fancy the chances of Scott, Bubba and Day the most. I don't dismiss the chances of Jordan and Rory lightly !

My initial cull for the 2016 Masters is below ; 26 players eliminated as potential winners.

Who will be next for the chop ?

1. Andy Sullivan
2. Russell Knox
3. David Lingmerth
4. Emiliano Grillo
5. Smylie Kaufman
6. Kiradech Aphibarnrat
7. Fabian Gomez
8. Jin Cheng
9. Romain Langasque
10. Cameron Smith
11. Daniel Berger
12. Derek Bard
13. Paul Chaplet
14. Sam Schmitz
15. Jim Furyk
16. Sang-Moon Bae
17. Steven Bowditch
18. David Love III
19. Darren Clarke
20. Mike Weir
21. Mark O'Meara
22. Tom Watson
23. Sandy Lyle
24. Larry Mize
25. Ian Woosnam
26. Jose Maria Olazabal



Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Hero Indian Open 2016 - Khan Rashid sail to Victory ?

European Tour action returns to Delhi GC for the second time this week and we'll be treated to a different type of golf game to that what we have been viewing the past few weeks. A tight course measuring just 6900 yards will see a lot of players taking irons off the tees to ensure some accuracy from tee to green. It's a course that has been used extensively on the Asian Tour and a lot of the home players as well as their fello Asian Tour peers will have played this course a number of times. Indeed the field this week sees a number of multiple course winners teeing it up on Thursday.

The Course

Delhi GC is a very tight 7,000 yard course which will punish any errant shot. Trees galore from tee to green means those with a wayward drive will struggle to post a score. Players need accuracy throughout and it won't hurt to have a solid scrambling game this week. As alluded to in my post for this event in 2015, the course has a lot of affinity with Australian golfers.

The Ones to Beat

Home favourite Anirban Lahiri will defend his title that he won in dramatic fashion from his compatriot SSP Chawrasia in a playoff twelve months ago. Lahiri has played eight events on the PGA Tour this season producing results of 21-40-28-mc-33-39-mc-28. He has been in much stronger fields this season and will be the one to beat this week on home turf!

Ireland's Pádraig Harrington will play here for the first time and as indicated during his commentary stint on Sky Sports last Saturday night during the Valspar Championship, he hopes to gain some confidence in a smaller ranking field and apply himself under tournament pressure come Sunday. The Dubliner obviously fancies his chances so in this weakish field, but Delhi GC may have other ideas! In fairness though, Pádraig has the game to plot his way round and post a score that will ask  a few questions. Joost Luiten has had a terrific start to 2016 where he has produced six TOP20s from all six starts. Four are T10s and 2 are TOP5s. He should keep that momentum going this week too and would be on nearly everyone's initial shortlist. So too, should the Malaysia Open Champion, Marcus Fraser. I tipped Fraser here in 2015 and I'm inclined to look at the Aussie again this week too, especially as he is in better form this time round having won in Malaysia last month ! He was third here last time and could have won but for a cold putter on the Sunday. He backed up his win in Malaysia with a TOP15 in Perth before storming to a first round lead at Doral on a course not really suited to his game. He's had last week off to relax and should be confident of another good showing here this week.

Selections


Whilst Lahiri and Luiten are the two players to beat this week, I do think Fraser can atone for his near miss last year and capitalize on recent good form. He's taken to win his second tournament of the season. Rashid Khan is a player to look out for this week too. Like many of compatriots playing here this week, he has solid course form having won the 2014 SAIL Open here following his 2nd place finish the year previously. A New Delhi native, he grew up as a caddie at the course and was introduced to golf there by his uncle who was attached to Delhi GC. Khan should be quietly confident of improving on his TOP25 finish here last year and has been in solid form of late with a TOP25 placing in Thailand. He was 11th at the recent Panasonic Open in November on this course too suggesting he does play better when back home and he's worth a bet in the TOP20 market.

Finally, Carlos Pigem has been teasing leaderboards of late, particularly in Thailand where he played strongly in his opening two rounds only to fall back down for a 40th placing. The Spaniard has finished 4th on this course at the aforementioned Sail Open and arrives having posted a  number of TOP30s in his most recent starts prior to Black Mountain.

1.5 pts WIN M. Fraser @ 19.00

1.5 pts TOP20 C. Pigem @ 6.50

3.0 pts TOP20 R.Khan @ 4.50

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

True Thailand Classic - Black Mountain GC 2016


European Tour action heads to Black Mountain GC in Hua Hin, Thailand this week where local boys, Thongchai Jaidee & Kiradech Aphibarnrat hope to make their mark after some eventful few weeks for both. Whilst Jaidee was falling ill with a fever in Malaysia, his compatriot was off getting married before taking on the big boys at Doral. They will both be glad to be back at home and relax, and Jaidee will do so at his home beside the ninth green this week. With home comforts at his disposal, he is sure to be well tuned for a big week where he and all his compatriots will be incentivized to win the "Pride of Thailand" trophy come Sunday evening.

The Course

The first staging of the Thailand Classic at Black Mountain GC was twelve months ago although the course has been used a number of times on the Asian Tour. The par-72 is located at the foot of the Black mountains in a valley that is conducive to wind and is regarded as one of the finest courses in South East Asia. It has very strong links with Sweden and many of the Swedish pros are spending their time out here during the European winter so expect to see the likes of Pelle Edberg, Johan Carlsson, Rikard Karlberg and co. play well this week. Johan Edfors, who won on this course back in 2009 speaks highly of the course and the resort in the video below.




Water is aplenty throughout but scoring shouldn't be severe and those with a good approach game should do well, but those with the local knowledge will have an advantage as Andrew Dodt showed by winning last year on the back of previous course form.

Market Leaders

The betting market is led by the flying Dutchman, Joost Luiten, who has kicked off his 2016 campaign in a determined fashion. No doubt the Ryder Cup is in his mind and he'll be looking to build on that solid start to 2016 from which he has played five tournaments producing no worse than 15th finish. (results read 5-5-13-8-15). It is his first visit to Black Mountain GC although he has had decent form in this part of the world with ten TOP25s in his last thirteen starts in Asia. He heads the betting market ahead of the two local favourites but its the veteran, Jaidee that I'd prefer here if he has fully recovered from the virus he picked up in KL that prevented him from moving onto Doral last week. He went close here in 2015 when finishing a shot behind Dodt. His previous two visits in 2010 & 2009 yielded fifth and seventh places, so he has the course knowledge; a win would complement the experience. Kiradech is returning to some of the form he showed in 2015 but with a postponed honeymoon to consider and talk about when back amongst his home people, he may just find this week to be a big ask given the pressure to perform following a grueling week at the Blue Monster. Behind these in the betting comes Thomas Pieters and Peter Uihlein who should also play well. Whilst the Belgian makes his debut here, Uihlein will be keen to show what he can do again having had to withdraw after two rounds when nicely positioned after 69-70 start, due to illness twelve months ago. I was close to backing Pieters for this week it has to be said and I've decided to leave the American out purely on price. I backed Prayad Marsaeng here last time where he opened with a nice 67 before going through the motions to finish T25th. The 50 year old has been in form of late and could surprise again this time round having won at the course in 2014.

Ones to watch out for!


Whilst Prayad Marksaeng and Miguel Angel Jiminez take on the younger guys this week, it could pay to watch out for the youngster, Phachara Khongwatmai who at just sixteen has been showing some real potential. Now in his second season as a pro, the Thai kid has already won four times and has qualified for The Open at Troon next July. He has his card secured for the 2016 Asian Tour and can take this week as a real opportunity to assess where he is amongst the big boys as form has dipped since his Open qualification display last December before finishing fourth at the Bangladesh Open.

Selections

It's a tough week to work out if there is any real value to be had and it might be prudent to concentrate on the market leaders again if going ahead with a bet. Last week was a disaster for the blog where Bill Haas never got going and big hitting Scott Hend just couldn't handle the Blue Monster this time round but he may feel more comfortable in this field if not too exhausted from last weeks exploits. But for me, I'd be happy to pass on him this week despite being a much weaker field.

As mentioned above, if fully fit, Thongchai Jaidee is the man to beat this week. He can be backed @ 15.00 which is a couple of units higher than my tissue and knows the course as well as anyone. There is nothing better then winning your home Open, other than a Major, and Jaidee may have sidestepped last week to ensure he is recovered and fit for this- let's hope so! He was runner up last year when he really should have won and he missed a tiddler on the 72nd hole to make a play-off. That will have hurt and he can go one better this time. Jaidee played eighteen European Tour events in 2015, making the cut in fifteen. He produced nine TOP20s (50%), of which six were actually TOP10s (33%). Three of those were TOP5s and he had a W at the European Open. From his five starts this year, Thongchai has already a TOP10 and a further TOP20 in the locker emphasizing the consistency around the forty six year old and he makes a solid case for a win in his homeland.

My initial tissue price for Johan Carlsson may have been a bit too high as on close inspection the Swede has been playing a lot more consistent of late than ever before. One of those Swedes that spends time here at Black Mountain in the winter, Carlsson will see this as a home game this week and he can capitalize on that recent form with a bold effort. His last four events have yielded solid results of 18-13-16-7 and he was seventh twelve months ago too. Whatever about my tissue being a bit out, I do think 45/1 is a bit short but I like his TOP20 chances @ 3.25

Mikko Ilonen last played here in 2010 & 2009 but missed the cut on both occasions but he arrives in fine form this time round and is not without a chance. As alluded to here on the blog in my preview of the Perth International, the Finn had a fine spell prior to it yielding returns of 22-13-16 in the desert and a 12 in Malaysia. Karrinyup didn't appear to be a course of his liking and so it proved with a MC there. Black Mountain should be right up his alley and arriving fresh this week could see him contend and he's included in the TOP20 market @ 2.75

Staking Plan

1.25 pts WIN T. Jaidee @ 15.00
2.75 pts TOP20 J. Carlsson @ 3.25
2.00 pts TOP20 M. Ilonen @ 2.75

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Will the "Big 3" be trumped at the Monster - Cadillac Championship 2016


The first of the 2016 World Golf Championships returns to Donald Trump's Doral on Thursday where Dustin Johnson will defend. The course having undergone huge development over two years ago, saw scoring dramatically higher in 2015 & 2014 than in previous years, and reports from the course this year suggests that the course has been re-altered to give the not so bigger drivers a chance by replacing bunkers in some of the fairways, but by all accounts, the course still remains a brutally long course. Dustin led JB Holmes and Bubba Watson home twelve months ago and it looks as if the bigger hitters should fare as well again this time round. These three are currently within the TOP-7 on the PGA Tour for Driving Distance this season, just ahead of the in-form, Adam Scott, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy. The cream usually rises to the top here at Doral and the roll of honour reads a who's who of World Golf, which I suppose is just what a World Golf Championship should produce. It's a very competitive championship where favouritism is contested between the defending champion, Bubba & Rory. Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day are are all well supported too but Spieth arrives out of form somewhat, lacks the distance of these guys and is drawn alongside Rory which seems to result in being out scored by the Irishman more often than not. Rickie looks tired from endeavours the past few weeks and Day has no course form worth talking about. Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose just behind them in the betting make far better appeal. With Justin Rose firmly in my thoughts for Augusta I'm hoping for a decent showing here without a "W" come Sunday. Bubba declared this week that the course is playing soft and long this week which further emphasizes the importance of being a big hitter to contend and therefore I have to look at those top players who can bomb it down there!

The shortlist for this week includes all decent drivers of the ball with perhaps the exception of Bill Haas. Bill is no slouch at an average of 285 but he will lose a lot of distance to the aforementioned bombers above but he has solid form at Doral on both the old and new designs.If anything his returns the past two stagings are probably his finest having finished 7th and 6th. I like his chances to perform well without maybe winning so a TOP10 bet @ 7.00 makes some appeal for me. Ever consistent, he may just be contented to finish as high as possible here and that will do me fine.




Likewise, in the TOP20 markets I am drawn to two non-PGA Tour players in the form of Ross Fisher and Scott Hend. 
The Aussie is a bomber, who averages over 300 yards and has Doral form by his TOP20 finish of two years ago. His price of 9.00 with Paddypower is very tempting. He missed the cut last time out in Malaysia but his TOP10 in Dubai previously is worth noting. A recent winner in Macau also, the Brisbane boy won't be fancied by many but the sports car fanatic could be a surprise packet where his driving will serve him well. Ross is a bit short for my liking but the course should be to his liking.


So, who will win this week? Bubba is bound to go close again as will Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott and of the three I'd have to go with Bubba. We saw in 2015, Spieth dominating for a period before Jason Day grabbed the limelight for a month and a half and the trend has continued in 2016 with Rickie Fowler dominating the form books early on. Adam Scott does appear to be the player in the dominant form at present alongside Bubba, and it wouldn't be a surprise at all should he go back to back. Its that open this week and it's a week I'm prepared to ignore the outright markets as I cant differ between Bubba, DJ & Adam so I'll stick with Haas in the TOP10 and shout on Scott Hend for a TOP20.

Selections:

3.50 pts TOP10 B.Haas @ 7.00
2.50 pts TOP20 S.Hend @ 9.00