Wednesday, 20 July 2016

PGA Championship 2016 - Baltusrol Lower Course

With the dust barely settled on The Open, the fourth and final Major of the year takes place in New Jersey from Thursday 28th July at Baltusrol on it's Lower Course.We were last here in 2005 when Phil Mickelson emerged victorious. The World Number One, Jason Day defends. Jack Nicklaus won two of his four US Opens at this course.

Lower Course

Measuring 7,400 yds, the par-70 for the PGA Championship has just two par-5s...and they come back to back on 17 & 18. That said, the opening hole is a par-5 to its members at 478 yds,it won't be an easy start for the world's elite, indeed nor will any of the opening half a dozen holes. The course suggests accurate driving and perhaps those that can get it down there will fare the best. Bunkers galore adorn the fairways and by all accounts, the rough is quite penal for those not hitting fairways. The signature hole, the 4th is a par-3 over water and has seen many a story over the years as too has the first of the par-5s, the 17th. Not many have reached this green in two over the years so it will be interesting to see how Messrs. Day, Johnson, McIlroy et al fare here. The 7th, normally a par-5 to the members, was ranked the toughest par-4 on the PGA Tour in 2005 and the second toughest hole of all.(Harbour Town #14 ranked toughest) Finally, the 18th yielded just three eagles back in 2005 so we can assume scores will be hard to come by....a target of perhaps of 270 -272 might be enough.

The Contenders

I saw a great tweet form OWGR aficionado. "Nosferatu" (@VC606) on Monday where he reminded us that all four Majors are currently held by first time Major winners ( Day, Willett, Dustin Johnson and now Henrik Stenson). Another interesting tweet was that this time last year, there were five players in the World TOP10 without a Major win, and now there is just two (Sergio & Rickie). It's worth thinking about when trying to pick the winner here. Let's face it, "these guys are good". The PGA Championship, often referred to as "Glorys Last Shot" in the past, has seen many first time Major winners break through in its Championship.

Will Sergio Garcia take inspiration from Stenson's win ? Stenson had been knocking on the door at The Open quite regularly and the Spaniard has been knocking too. His TOP5 at Troon came on the back of a TOP5 at Oakmont. Sergio has been runner-up at Majors on four occasions, twice at The Open and twice in this tournament. Who would have thought back in 1999, at Medinah when he came so close to edging out Tiger Woods after that wonder shot on 16 that he would still be Major-less some seventeen years later? Garcia ranks inside the TOP30 for driving distance (DD) at an average 298 yds.

Patrick Reed is one of those players who appears to be a Major Winner-in-waiting. T12th at Troon came on the back of a TOP10 at Castle Stuart in what has been a very consistent season, without a win. He's posted ten TOP10s on tour this season (only DJ has posted more) and has risen to 14 in the world. This consistency should reward him with a win soon and Baltusrol looks like a course that should suit very nicely. Reed ranks 45th for DD at an average of 295yds.

Brooks Koepka is another knocking on the door for a big one but had to withdraw from The Open with an injury (torn ligaments in his knee). Its doubtful that he will be ready in time for Baltusrol and on the basis of the nature of his injury he is left out of my calculations, which is a shame as I thought the course would suit him greatly.

Kevin Chappell is yet to win on tour but its not without trying. Six TOP10s from his twenty one starts sees the Californian into the TOP10 in the FedEx Cup rankings. Runner-up at both Bay Hill and Sawgrass emphasizes his ability in these fields and he can enter the week in confident mood if looking at his Strokes Gained tee to Green (SG:TTG) where he ranks 10th on tour and SG:APP where he ranks 7th. If Chappell could find a putting week, he has to contend here. As I pen this post he can be backed @ 125/1. He sits inside the TOP50 for driving distance averaging 295 yds. If the link between this and the WGC Bridgestone can be maintained this year (although the WGC and this were moved up due to the scheduling of the Olympics) then Chappell's 3rd place is encouraging

JB Holmes is the longest on tour at present and will be buoyed by his T-3rd at Troon where he was one of only three players to break par each day (Stenson and Mickelson the others). Averaging 312 yds he edges Dustin Johnson slightly in the ranks. He missed the cut at Oakmont but posted T4th at Augusta so his 2016 Major form is strong and shows his best form ever in Majors. It's been a fine comeback following brain surgery in 2011 so soon after he withdrew form the PGA Championship. The Kentuckian has won in each of the last two seasons on tour. Big hitters will be best suited to Baltusrol but Holmes will need to find some accuracy if he's to put that advantage to use here. Now ranked 16th in the world, JB has the potential to put in another solid Major performance this week and make the 81.00 price seem too good to pass on.

Bubba Watson has the power to get it it around Baltusrol this week and he'll prefer the conditions much more than what he encountered in Scotland. Ranks 5th in SG:TTG, Bubba has shown a likeness for the bigger events of late and providing he gets a decent first round under his belt, could be in the mix this week. He's on the shortlist at a general 31.00.

Henrik Stenson finally broke through to end his Major drought and he did it in fine style seeing off Phil Mickelson with a closing 63 at Troon. Up to Number 5 in the OWGR rankings, he completed a memorable couple of weeks of golf for Sweden having won himself in Germany at the BMW International followed by Alex Noren's win in Scotland. Anna Nordqvist was beaten in a playoff for the Women's US Open in between. Stenson is one of the those players who seems to hold form as evidenced by his form of late. 4th at his home Nordea Masters in June came soon after a runner up spot in Houston and a third placing at Bay Hill.Having finished third at the 2013 Open Championship, Stenson closed out the year with the FedEx Cup title and a cool €11M not to mention taking out the Race to Dubai Title as well that year. If looking for Major Championship form, Stenson has played 42 Majors (21*T25s-10*T10s). Whilst often regarded that the Open was probably is best Major it's worth noting that his PGA Championship form is equally as good. His last three PGA returning figures of 3-3-25. He was also 4th & 6th back in 2008 & 2009; that's 4 TOP6 finishes in his last 6 PGA Championships.

Rory McIlroy will tee it up for his 8th appearance at the PGA Championship having won it in 2012 and 2014. He was T-3rd in his debut in 2009 and again in 2010. 17th last year at Whistling Straits was his worse finish in those eight appearances. Baltusrol should suit his strong tee to green game (he ranks 3rd on the PGA Tour). The World Number 4 missed the cut at Oakmont but returned a TOP5 at Troon and will tee it up in his last big event before the Ryder Cup in September having decided to give the Olympics a miss. He'll of course have the FedEx Cup Playoffs before joining his team mates at Hazeltine. Due to get married in December in Ireland, Rory will indeed be making this his final shot at golfing glory for 2016. If it to go the way of the bombers, then Rory has a shot here and despite lacklustre putting performances its hard to ignore the results this season, with a win at The K Club and numerous TOP10s , (10/15).

Dustin Johnson broke his Major maiden tag at Oakmont and he can double up here as his power game is likely to suit. DJ has fond memories in New Jersey too having won The Barclays at nearby Plainfield CC in 2011 (its worth noting that Jason Day edged out Henrik Stenson on that course too in 2015). DJ has solid PGA Championship form which includes his heartbreaking effort at Whistling Straits back in 2010. He has 4 TOP10s from his 6 starts in the Championship. He finished strongly at Troon and will be confident to nab his second Major in one that owes him!

Shane Lowry completes my ten man shortlist despite being off form of late. Well...a missed cut following an horrific opening round on the back of a 36th at Firestone whilst defending, is hardly a worry and he did challenge for the US Open at Oakmont, finishing T2nd!! He did miss the cut in Scotland also. "Shano" loves the big events and he can easily click into gear any given week and I think the course will suit his eye. With just 6 weeks to go before Darren Clarke needs to select his wildcards for the European Ryder Cup team, Lowry needs to produce the goods if he wants to make his debut in the event at Hazeltine. He will also represent Ireland at The Olympics next month so its an event that he should be approaching in confidence. He currently sits 74th in the FedEx Cup standings so will have the Barclays in his schedule for sure. With a clear plan ahead of him it's business end of the 2016 season for the Clara native. Lowry is 10/14 on the PGA Tour this season with two TOP10s (four TOP20s) and ranks 14 for Total Driving. At 80/1 with the books he's worth a flutter but maybe best taken on the exchange at 125.00 for a trading opportunity, if and when it represents itself.

I'll be using the players above to fill some Daily Fantasy teams over at Playon for the final Major of the year if indeed available to play. Whilst the site has been having an awful load of issues since launch, its the only available fantasy sports portal available at present to players in Ireland.

Sign Up here for Playon Fantasy European Tour Events here


3.50 pts WIN R. McIlroy @ 10.00
0.50 pts e/w J.B.Holmes @ 81.00
0.25 pts win S.Lowry @ 126.00 - 2.75 pts TOP20 @4.33
0.25 pts e/w K. Chappell @ 151.00
1.0 pts e/w P. Reed @ 51.00

Monday, 11 July 2016

The Open 2016 - Royal Troon

The third Major is upon us this week as we head to Royal Troon in Ayrshire, Scotland. for the ninth time. The 145th Open will be played over this short 7,000 yd par-71 course for the first time since Todd Hamilton's shock play-off victory over Ernie Els in 2004. Rory McIlroy tees it up looking for back to back Opens as he sat it out last year following a foot injury. Weather forecast looks decent for the week so do expect the scores to be non-Open type, with a score of -12 to -15 likely to be required to lift the Claret Jug.

Often regarded as one of the more boring Open venues, Troon is an old course setup up in two distinct nines, with the outward nine appearing to be easier than the inward. As with any links course, wind will have its say. Stats from 2004 & 1997 will show those with a strong and long driving game will fare well and if the nuances around the greens can be worked out by those getting it close it should be the same again this year. It should be right up Dustin Johnson's creek and he could go back to back having taken the US Open a few weeks ago. Like Tiger Woods and Tom Watson before, DJ warmed up for The Open by visiting Ireland at the weekend where he played Portmarnock GC and The Island GC. I expect DJ to be in the mix come Sunday as I do Rory McIlroy. Some will say Rory is not a links/wind player but I'm not so sure that its as bad as many will make out. A promising amateur career saw him touted as a future World Number One which he duly obliged on, and that amateur career was founded on a lot of links playing. At fifteen he won the first of his West of Ireland Championships, and again at 16 years of age, shot a 61 around Portrush, the venue for the Open in 2019. He opened up with a 69 at Carnoustie in 2007 still as an amateur and has since lifted the Claret Jug, at Hoylake just two years ago. Of the "Big-4" its Rory & DJ for me.

American Dominance

The USA are hoping to continue their dominance at Royal Troon as we have not had a non-American winner there since 1950 (Bobby Locke of South Africa). Prior to Hamilton's win, Justin Leonard prevailed over Darren Clarke in 1997 to follow Mark Calcavecchia's win 1989. Tom Watson won his fourth Jug here in 1982. Tom Weiskopf won seven years earlier and it was Arnold Palmer that started the run in 1962. If the course is to be overpowered this week, we can expect to see a handful of Americans in the mix again with DJ leading the charge. But power was meant to be the key at St. Andrews last year, so it may have been a surprise to see Zach Johnson prevail(he also bucked the stats by winning at Augusta). We have 52 players from the US (33%) so odds are pretty good that one of them can keep the run going.

Rickie Fowler has shown his likeness for links courses and could be a real threat this week but for recent form. Three consecutive missed cuts though were sandwiched between a TOP5 at Quali Hollow and a TOP10 last time out at Firestone. Fowler will play alongside Jason Day and Danny Willet in the opening rounds: a nice draw. He has declared himself as an Olympian for next months Olympics too and could be in bullish mood to return to this part of the world where he won the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen last year. He was also runner up to Rory at Hoylake in 2014.

Brandt Snedeker is an interesting runner this week. Twice winner of the AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, the Tennessee native arguably delivered one of the PGA all-time great rounds last February in capturing his second title there.He narrowly missed out at the Sony Open losing to Fabian Gomez in a playoff. "Sneds" is in form this season and can improve on his best finish T3rd at Royal Lytham and his T11th at Muirfield. At 90/1 - 100/1 he's great value here.

Jim Furyk has six TOP10s from his twenty Open appearances and at age 46 perhaps the second Major is getting beyond him. But the Open, of all Majors has shown time and time again that the more experienced players tend to do well here. Tom Watson should have won in 2009 when he had a shortish putt to win on the 72nd hole, and Greg Norman ran Harrington close in 2008. Darren Clarke and Phil Mickelson won their jugs in their 40s! "Gentle Jim" was fourth here in 1997 behind Leonard, Clarke and Parnevik. He was also runner up to Dustin Johnson at Okamont alongside Shane Lowry and Scott Piercy following his recent return from a lengthy layoff due to injury. The 2003 US Open Champion can be backed around the same odds as Snedeker, again great value.

Zach Johnson will defend this week and he might just do a Padraig on it while he's at it! At 80/1, he too has to be considered. Eighth at Oakmont and tenth at Firestone in his last two starts reads well. He's 9/12 at The Open (hes actually 9/9 in his last nine starts) and has pocketed a win, two TOP10s and a further two TOP20s. No surprise to know that Zach likes a bit of wind too as his wins in Hawaii (twice) and Texas (four) seem to point out. Tight finicky tracks where emphasis is on accuracy seem to fit Zach's makeup and despite Troon offering itself up to the bombers this week, Zach has proven many times he can win on tracks least expected to.

European Challenge

As mentioned, Rory McIlroy will aim to win his successive Open this week and if he gets the putter warmed up he could very well do so. He heads a strong sixty-one European contingent where many of Europe's finest could boast strong current form. 

Sergio Garcia has always threatened to win a jug, and perhaps should have done so at Carnoustie in 2007. He was this blog's selection at Oakmont a few weeks ago and gave us a run. So, can he do so again? There is no arguing with his current form having followed up his US Open performance with a TOP5 in Germany at the BMW International. He was 3rd at Valderrama where he hosted the Open de Espana and went in with a win at the Bryon Nelson on the PGA Tour. At 30/1 and most books offering six players, he'll have his supporters.

Martin Kaymer is winless since Pinehurst 2014 but The Open is one I always felt he could win as well. He has links form, Scottish form and certainly excels in the Majors with two to his name already. He has won the Dunhill Links over St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns, has won the KLM Open at Kennemer and his wins in Abu Dhabi didn't come without a bit of wind about. His PGA Championship win at Whistling Straits can be compared to a links performance too. The German is in solid form (6-41-39-5-7-37-5-13) and is trending towards an overdue win. Troon will be Kaymer's ninth Open. A TOP10 and two TOP12s to date suggest that he can challenge for a Claret Jug. Now ranked outside the World's TOP50, it's time for a return to the winners enclosure and we can take advantage of the 50/1. He plays alongside DJ and Russell Knox with an afternoon tee time Thursday. I like the draw!

Padraig Harrington probably boasts the best links form in the field and warmed up nicely at Castle Stuart last week in finishing 21st. His Open victory at Carnoustie in 2007 came on the back of consecutive cuts in 2004 here at Troon and in 2006. A TOP20 twelve months ago is his best return since his 2008 victory having missed three cuts in '10,'11 and '14. We have a more relaxed and chilled Padraig Harrington these days and his form of late is encouraging and would represent the best value of the more experienced guys with links form. He's only 44 years of age too, so don't write him off. He firmly believes he can win it again and has a lovely group with Louis Oosthuizen and Jamie Donaldson. There's worse 125/1 bets or 10/1 TOP10 bets out there.

Ernie Els has shown he can still contend these days, maybe motivated to put the putting woes behind him that struck at Augusta. He produced a TOP5 at Congressional last month, a course where he won one of his US Opens and he take heart from that result here. Afterall it was here in 2004 that he was beaten by Hamilton in the playoff. He's only missed four cuts in his twenty five Open appearances, has won it twice and recorded a further five TOP5s. It must be noted though, that his Open form really excelled between 1992 -2009 where he produced eleven TOP10s, his worse finishing position being T34th. Remarkably, he missed the cut in 2010 and 2011 after the run before winning it in 2012! Incidently He was T10th in 1997 here at Troon. The 1992 winner, Calcavecchia was T10th alongside him and was 11th in 2004 also. Troon proving to be his favourable Open course. Els can show the same fondness at 160/1 or 12/1 TOP10 (9/2 TOP20).

What about the young Guns?

World golf is changing. The young guns (under 30 years of age) are dominating. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth continue to win the majority of tournaments and world tours can boast similar trends over the past year or so. The PGA Tour has seen the emergence of Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Smylie Kaufman, Harris English, Tony Finau, Russell Henley and Kevin Chappell. Europe can boast Masters Champ, Danny Willett, Shane Lowry, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Andy Sullivan, Thorbjorn Olesen, Matteo Mannasero, Joost Luiten and Thomas Pieters not to mention last years Open story, Paul Dunne. The Asian Tour can boast Anirban Lahiri, Jeunghun Wang, Soomin Lee, Hideki Matsuyama, Byeong Hun An, Seung Yul Noh, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and not least Kyung Tae Kim. Phacara Khongwatami at seventeen years of age could be anything and he'll learn a lot from The Open this week. Can any of them win this week ? Too right they can and its the Asians that I feel could surprise, notably, An and Kim. The latter can be backed at 10/1 for a TOP20 finish and if the seventeen year old from Thailand gets a solid start, he might make the 50/1 TOP20 look stupid.

Who's gonna win then ?

Adam Scott @ 25/1 is worth looking at in my opinion. The South Australian should have won The Open before now yet continues to go close. He took a four shot lead in the final round in 2012 before maintaining the four shot lead with four to play. He lost out to Ernie Els. He hasn't been outside the TOP10 since. Twice a winner already this year, Scott arrives here very much in form having posted a TOP10 at Firestone and TOP20 at Oakmont. The Aussie has been at the course since last Saturday and should be fully prepped. I backed Scott at Augusta and Oakmont and I'm more determined to stick with him here too. A Thursday afternoon tee time with Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson looks ideal too.

Chris Wood is one of the under 30 brigade who seems to be finding his way these days and has constantly produced solid links results over the years. Wood has won in a windy Qatar Masters, and more recently captured the BMW PGA Championship at a windy Wentworth. The Bristol native will make his sixth Open appearance this week having won the Silver Medal in 2008. He was Tied 3rd in 2009 at nearby Turnberry too. He arrives in excellent form having finished T11th in France, and T23rd at Oakmont. He's value at 90/1 here.

Thomas Pieters is the player I think can come through and shock everyone this week. The Belgian can get it down there off the tee and has shown he has the game for links by winning at Kennemer last year. He finished TOP30 last week to follow up from a TOP20 in France. He makes his Major debut this week but wont lack confidence. At 200/1 or more available we can throw a few quid at him for this and the TOP20 is certainly attainable @ 6/1

Richard Sterne has been plagued by injuries throughout his career but it's been a solid 2016 campaign so far for the South African. Two TOP15s the past two weeks suggests his game is there as too did his TOP10 at The K Club at the end of May. Major form isn't great, due mostly to the stop/start nature of his injury affected career but he did post 21st at Muirfield. At 8/1 he could be worth a TOP20 dabble. Good friends of three times Open Champion, Gary Player, Sterne is more than capable here.


2.5 pts win A.Scott @ 25/1 
1.0 pts e/w R.Fowler @ 35/1 (6 places)
0.50 pts e/w B.Snedeker @ 90/1 (6 places)
0.50 pts e/w Z.Johnson @ 80/1 6 (places)
1.00 pts e/w M.Kaymer @ 50/1 (6 places)
0.50 pts e/w C.Wood @ 90/1 (6 places)
0.25 pts e/w T.Pieters @ 200/1 (6 places)

0.25 pts TOP20 - P. Khongwatami @ 50/1