Last week’s Sony Open saw the unusual occurrence of a top-10 devoid of a name that had played the Tournament of Champions, and yet eventual champion Si Woo Kim won his fourth PGA event, all on Bermuda greens.
Sometimes, like picking the week that a poor putter knocks in 30-footers, it’s just picking the right stat on the right day.
The tour makes the annual return to southern California for the charity pro-am event, where in its 63 history many courses have played host to the great and the good of the entertainment world. And Bill Murray.
For us, concerned with only who might win and at what price, we return to a three course rotation on which one one player in the last 16 years has won in under 20-under and an in an event that has seen four of the last 10 winners start at triple figures, with Adam Long going off at 500-1+.
Put simply, the set-up is too easy to enjoy it too much, players won’t miss many greens, and, as Adam Long said, “you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over.”
The front of the market is classier than normally found here, but with the combined price of the top eight, we are asked to take around 4-6 that any of those win. Sure, that’s highly likely, but many of that octet have thrown away winning chances over the last few months, and the obvious man to beat, Jon Rahm, threw his hands in the air last year, calling this a less than satisfactory set-up.
In an event that is worth looking at after the cut – the average halfway position of winners over the last five years is 8th – the suggestion is to play a touch lighter than usual, with just two selections in the pre-event market.
Short tracks that reward consistent tee-to-green and putting efforts see me look for ‘The Real JT’ at every opportunity, and at 60/1 I can’t resist putting James Tyree Poston up as the best of the week.
Winner of the 2019 Wyndham Championship in 22-under, from course specialist Webb Simpson, JT confirmed then his love for Bermuda greens, something he had shown when seventh here and sixth at Harbour Town a few months earlier. The Wyndham, incidentally, home to a trio of wins by Davis Love III, a confirmed Pete Dye specialist.
Fast forward to 2022 and, after a solid all-round performance at sub-7000 yard River Highlands, the 29-year-old comfortably won the John Deere Classic, where he again proved too good for some charging rivals, from tee-to-green and on the dancefloor.
Poston’s best form outside of his two wins is at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, another specialist Dye/DL3 track, where he has a record of 3/mc/8/6 and where he has ranked in fifth and seventh place for tee-to-green.
After a solid top-10 at the top-class Tour Championship at the end of last season, Poston comes here after a solid run of 21st at the RSM, the same at Kapalua and 20th at last week’s Sony, ranking 6th and 13th for tee-to-green in both of the more suitable, shorter tracks, all of which have Bermuda greens.
Now teetering on the edge of the world’s top 50, Poston probably can not compete on the longer, elite courses. He’ll need to take advantage of ‘his’ tracks, and, with a 7th and 25th already in his locker around here, this event is most definitely one of those.
I’d like to have been with Andrew Putnam, playing excellent golf, making his last 13 cuts, and holding an enviable course record, but at the same price as last week he’s just left out given the tougher opposition. Top that with a tendency to throw away a weekend lead (Barracuda, AT&T and the RSM just a couple of months ago) and I’d rather be with Alex Smalley who has gone the opposite direction, now trading at more than double his price for the Sony just seven days ago.
The 26-year-old Duke graduate played in both the 2019 Arnold Palmer and Walker Cup sides, finishing with a record of three wins from four at each, before gaining his PGA Tour card when recording three top-five finishes and two top-15s on the KFT, eventually finishing 12th on the 2021 KFT finals lists.
Included in his 2021 season was a 14th at Corales, and he showed that to be no fluke when finishing in the top 15 at both Bermuda and Houston, both with similar greens as he will find this week.
2022 was a big year for Smalley, starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, finishing in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.
Since October, Smalley has made five of seven cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking.
The second-season player was always on the back foot at Waialae last week, finishing the first round way down the pack after the first round. Cross that out and I’m struggling to see why he’s been dismissed by the oddsmakers for his second attempt at a course that found him ranked top-10 off the tee just 12 months ago.
There is a lingering fantasy around Luke List, whose 11th at the long Kapalua course might indicate a solid run this week. Given his first two wins came at Pete Dye related tracks (South Georgia designed by Davis Love, five time champion at Harbour Town) and Sawgrass Valley (the very name giving away its Dye/Bermuda links) he is clearly one to watch, even if he is simply one of the worst putters on tour.
He may be left behind by a few around this putter-heavy track, but he has a best of a 6th place finish in 2016 and a pair of top-22 finishes over the last two seasons. List should only have to flip wedges to many of these greens, and should he simply finish field average in putting as he did when finding over 11 strokes on the field at Torrey Pines (yes, 11 strokes. Plus 11 strokes) he will land a top-20 wager.
- J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
- Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
- Luke List TOP-20
2023 Abu Dhabi Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
Just days after the inaugural running of the Hero Cup, we get the chance to see the first full-field event of the 2023 DP World schedule.
For the second year, the Yas Links provide the venue for the well-established Abu Dhabi Championship, but last year’s leaderboard showed not much has changed, with a board of ‘linsky’ players and also those with firm form-lines in this part of the world.
Last year’s champion, Thomas Pieters, is one of 18 players that took part at ADGC last week, and he heads a defending leaderboard that included the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Victor Dubuisson, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton and more than a handful of others that appear regularly in the Middle East, Portugal, Holland and Denmark – just some venues that offer clues to regular top-10ers.
Continental Europe won last week’s renewal of what was in effect the old ‘Seve Trophy’ but that shouldn’t stop a strong showing from many of the beaten side. Opting between the likes of Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry is as tough as it gets, all having top class links form and a promising ending to the 2022. Still, combine them with Alex Noren, playing well but winless since July 2018, and the coupled odds offer somewhere around 85-40. Despite their obvious claims, that doesn’t appeal.
It is the next group that appeals mostly this week and, whilst Thomas Pieters holds very solid claims for going back-to-back here, the pair of Robert Macintyre and Adrian Meronk are the first to go into the plan.
142 yards. Too many swear words ?
— Robert MacIntyre (@robert1lefty) December 7, 2022
I’ll admit a weakness for the Scot, whose talent has still not reached anything like a ceiling, but Ryder Cup year may see him raise his levels, particularly having told The Telegraph that:
“Playing for Europe has been one of my life goals since I started to believe I was half decent at this game. I’ve played Walker Cup and now I want to appear in the best event in the world and a lot of the older guys––the likes of Sam (Torrance) and Stevie (Gallacher) who we’ve spoken to here this week have told me it would be the best thing to do in my life. And I’ve got a great opportunity to do that.”
Bob’s claims to a place in the European locker room will be far stronger with a place inside the world’s top 50, which gives him access to all the majors and top events around the world.
He’s been there before, after his first win on tour, a strange lockdown-influenced event in Cyprus, but the victory was no surprise given his three runner-up finishes and a 6th at The Open in his inaugural year (2019) after which he received the Rookie of the Year award.
Available for all the four majors in 2021, he finished tied-12th at Augusta and eighth at Royal St. George’s, an event that may be significant this week.
Down the stretch on Sunday, Bob looked set to finish inside the top five before a pulled tee shot on the final par-5 (14th), a move that cost him a bogey. If I was to take just one of the recent Opens as a guide, the 2021 running may be the one.
Whilst the wind was only a zephyr, and disappointing for such a contest, conditions may well mirror the type we see this week. If not, the leaderboard certainly gives some idea with Jon Rahm in third place (three wins and a place in Dubai), Lowry and Viktor Hovland sharing 12th, Paul Casey in 15th and Sergio Garcia also just inside the top-20.
All those named have terrific form not only in the UAE but also in the immediate vicinity, and it seems the same with those beaten in last season’s Italian Open.
Held at the Marco Simone Club – this year’s Ryder Cup venue – Bob shot a final round, and best-of-the-day 64 – to reach a play-off against Matt Fitzpatrick. Winner with a birdie at the first extra hole, he also left behind the likes of Victor Perez, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jorge Campillo, all fine exponents of links golf, whilst he also joined Nicolai Hojgaard in a tiny Marco Simone winner’s club, the latter beating Tommy Fleetwood and Meronk for his maiden victory.
Macintyre followed his second victory with a top-10 at classic Le Golf National, top-20 at the Alfred Dunhill Links (11th into payday), top-10 at Valderrama and a closing 18th in Portugal at least two of those being a form guide to Yas this week.
The 26-year-old has admitted he often tries ‘too’ hard and that he plays his best golf when happy and relaxed. Having left the course yesterday with a 4&3 victory alongside Seamus Power and a heavy singles victory over Noren, he should be spot on.
In contrast to the first selection, Adrian Meronk was on the winning side over the weekend, and comes here as another improving 20-something.
Although the Pole was ranked around 200th at the end of the 2020 season, he caught the eye when running-up to Christiaan Bezuidenhout at Leopard Creek in November of that year, seemingly a tad naïve when challenging.
That immaturity is now a distant memory, replaced by a player that had three top three finishes in 2021, and topped by a closing top-10 finish in Dubai.
Having gone on many ‘to follow’ lists for 2022, the 29-year-old withdrew midway through this event before compensating his fans with four top six finishes in seven starts, three in this part of the world.
Belgium and the Netherlands saw Meronk finish in a closing sixth and third, the latter finish at Bernardus Golf (significantly designed by Kyle Phillips) before his (almost telegraphed) victory at Mount Juliet saw him follow in the footsteps of Lucas Herbert, another wind and links specialist.
11th in France and 22nd at the multi-course Dunhill Links works for me, as does his finish to 2022 – seventh at the DP finale, in fifth at halfway in Brisbane, and his impressive second victory at this level, by five shots at the Australian Open.
That win, by a handful from proven links and top-class players such as Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee raises the Pole to yet another level, and now just inside the world’s top 50, a huge effort that sees him receive the ultimate invite:
— Adrian Meronk (@AdrianMeronk) December 23, 2022
With confidence at a high, expect the Polish hero to enjoy the expanses of Yas Links, as he did when sitting inside the top-20 for the three rounds he did complete last year.
Nicolai Hojgaard has already been referenced as the winner of the 2021 Italian Open, and that win alone might be enough to stir interest, but take into account many of his best performances and he appeals greatly at anything around 50/1.
The more flamboyant of the twins is much more of a bully on the course than his brother, Rasmus, for whom he deputised for at the Hero Cup. That decision was justified after an unbeaten 3.5 points saw him produce one of the more surprising performances of the weekend and that encourages me to take the hint soon after a 10th place finish Australian Open, where he was never off the front page at any point.
Second place at both the Portugal Masters and KLM and, of course, a win at Ras Al Kaihmah read nicely for this week’s test, whilst he can add a fourth place to his UAE record having finished strongly on his debut at the DP World Tour Championship.
Ignore the missed cut last season as the 21-year-old was lying in 17th place after the first round before experiencing very tough conditions – eventual winner Thomas Pieters was also one that was over par for Friday.
With this track sure to suit his distance off the tee – Pieters and Hovland ranked top 10 in that regard – and with his confidence up after holing the winning putt for Continental Europe, this should be time to be with him.
It’s hard to believe that a player would win two events in his rookie year and also come within a whisker of his third title, yet be triple digits for this week.
In Ewen Ferguson there is a player that not only showed class in difficult conditions in Qatar (Meronk in third) but also only got done by a superstar putting performance when going for the three-timer in Denmark.
At all three victories, the Scot ranked highly in all tee-to-green aspects, something he found again towards the end of 2022, at Mallorca and the Gary Player GC. Whilst his excellent short game was lacking towards the end of the year, I’m prepared to err on the side that says it had been a long, if successful, first foray at the highest level, one that could have seen him win Rookie of the Year, although ultimately beaten to that by Thriston Lawrence.
Having been one of the success stories of the 2022 Players To Follow column, the 26-year-old more than paid his way, and it’s worth taking a chance that comes out and performs in similar conditions.
I’m watching former star Joost Luiten like a hawk, as his back-form hints to a great week now he and his health are back to something like their best, but the final selection goes to Marcus Helligkilde, another highlighted in last year’s column, and once again in 2023.
Whilst his overall profile is sketchy, we should remember that the Dane missed the middle few months of 2022 with a persistent shoulder injury, before doing enough to retain his DPWT card, something that looked unlikely as the tour approached the autumn months.
Having seen the likes of Jordan Smith and Brooks Koepka graduate from the Challenge Tour with success, much was expected of Helligkilde as he made his way through his rookie year on tour, particularly after three wins led him to a comfortable championship.
The season started in pleasing enough fashion, opening his first look at Yas Links with a 69 to lie inside the top 20, before a mid-event 66/67 saw him lie in ninth going into Payday at Ras. Back in the Middle East, the Dane came from outside the top-50 to finish 12th in Qatar and the sharks were buzzing for a coup in the near future.
However, after a couple of months, Helligkilde revealed he had been suffering with a shoulder injury for a while and would require surgery, something that meant taking at least six weeks off tour.
He admitted he was nowhere near 100 percent when re-appearing at the Irish Open, but a mid-point 22nd was encouraging, as was the trip to the KFT where he performed with credit at both the co-sanctioned events.
Among a large amount of DPWT players at the Barbasol, Helligkilde recorded 16 out of 18 greens-in-regulation on his way to a bogey-free third round of 66 before following up with the same figure on payday, resulting in a move from 64th at halfway to 8th when the cheques were being handed out.
The following week, the Dane was never outside the top-22 in finishing 13th at the Barracuda, both weeks suggesting he was close to being back to his best.
By finishing 4th in Ireland and 8th in his home event, the ‘Made In Himmerland’, Helligkilde showed he can perform when necessary, his top-30 at the Spanish Open enough to secure a place inside the top-100 on the Race To Dubai.
The Dane is far better than that number and, now injury free, is hopefully in a position to show his best, in conditions that will suit a player for whom the middle of the green is always a target.
- Robert Macintyre WIN
- Adrian Meronk WIN/TOP-5
- Nicolai Hojgaard WIN/TOP-5
- Ewen Ferguson WIN/TOP-5
- Marcus Helligkilde WIN-TOP-10
The Wedge Guy: Make 2023 YOUR year for better golf
Regardless of your average scores or the way you play the game, the mass appeal of this great game of golf is that you can always get better — and shooting lower scores regularly makes the game even more enticing and addicting. From my feedback, it seems that the GolfWRX readers are pretty evenly divided between those who put emphasis on the actual score at the end of the round and those who are more likely to evaluate the day on the number of good shots they hit, or their avoidance of the really bad ones. But no matter which camp you find yourself in, the pathway to enjoyment is the same.
The USGA had an ad campaign a while back featuring the late and superbly great Arnold Palmer, with the campaign slogan “Swing Your Swing.” The point of it was that we all have a golf swing that has produced a number of wonderful shots — thought maybe on too rare an occasion. Some swings are fundamentally more sound than others, of course. And some of us are blessed with more natural athletic abilities, body strength and flexibility, or just outright skills. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get that swing of yours to repeat more reliably and hit a higher percentage of good shots without committing to a swing overhaul. Very few of us have time for that kind of commitment.
You’ve heard the old answer to the question “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.” Improving your golf game has to be accomplished in that same “one bite at a time” manner. So, let me offer you a few suggestions for the first few bites to improve your rounds this year.
- Give your body a chance. The golf swing is a very athletic motion that requires much more of your body in the way of flexibility than strength. And most adults are guilty of letting their flexibility wane as they get older. I cannot tell you how important it is to stretch . . . not just before each round, but on a daily basis. If you will incorporate even just 3-5 minutes of stretching into your daily routine, not only will your golf swing improve dramatically, but you will feel better all around. I guarantee you it will make a difference.
- Give “your swing” a chance to repeat. As I mentioned, we all have a swing that has shown the ability to produce a good, or even great, golf shot on an occasional basis. So, how do we get that to happen more often? It’s a matter of paying attention to your set-up and ball position. Some time back, a very accomplished custom fitter friend of mine shared some data he had collected on golfers of all skill levels, regarding their consistency of set-up and ball position. What he showed me is that the higher the handicap, the less precise the golfer was in his or her alignment and set-up to the ball. For your swing to repeat, you simply have to be consistent in the position of the ball in two directions – how far it is from you, and where it is located with regard to the lead foot (the left for right-handed players), and in the alignment of your body to the target line. The advice of another great teacher whom I was privileged to meet was to never hit a ball on the range without your alignment stick in place. That way every swing – especially in your pre-round warm-up – is also a piece of practice on good alignment and ball position. It takes no athletic ability to give yourself a chance at a good shot by getting the pre-swing part of it right.
- Chill out and lighten up. In golf, just as in life, stress is a killer. When we are over a shot and feel stressed – which happens all too often – our grip tightens and our body tenses up. Those are killers to the smooth, flowing action that the golf swing, chipping/pitching motion or putting stroke all require. Facing any golf shot – even if it’s just a three-foot putt or a simple chip shot – causes us to tense up. Before each shot, pay attention to your stress level by focusing on your grip pressure. And then lighten up and execute the shot.
I hope these three tips will help you get ready for the 2023 golf season and make it your best one ever, regardless of how long you have been playing. It’s never too late to get into a path of improvement with golf. That’s one of the wonderful things about this game.
2023 Sony Open: Betting Tips & Selections
After the limited field of elite players at the Tournament of Champions, The PGA Tour makes the brief journey to Waialae, where a full field awaits the starter.
As opposed to the wide fairways and huge greens of the long Kapalua, the Sony Open asks for a more measured approach, with accurate driving and pin-point irons the required assets for this 7000-odd yard test.
Whilst we have over 100 more players here this week, the list of winners suggests that a run-out at last week’s event is an advantage, with only two of the last 11 champions devoid of form at the previous week’s jamboree.
That should narrow the field down somewhat but, in Cam Smith and Russell Henley, we have one that was to be a future major winner, the other a victor at Mayakoba, a weird but significant form link with fellow winners of both events Matt Kuchar, Patton Kizzire, and Johnson Wagner.
The top of the market sees the superstar that is Tom Kim rank clear favourite at 11/1. The brilliant 20-year-old is having the time of his life on tour, flying at the Presidents Cup, having Christmas dinner with the Spieths, and now heads the market of a full-field PGA Tour after just 10 or so outings.
Everything about him is simply top grade. His iron play is as good as anyone seen in the last couple of years, he arrives off a 5th place at ‘unsuitable’ Kapalua and it’s hard to see him knocked out of the frame at worst. It makes obvious sense to have him as a saver if that’s your way of playing.
Instead, I’m taking a chance with Corey Conners to reward loyal backers with his first win since the Texas Open in 2019.
The Canadian 31-year-old finds greens for fun, ranking 12th and 13th for tee-to-green through the past two seasons. Of course, it’s his short game that lets him down, but has some of his best putting figures on these greens, as well as finishing 4th and 12th at the coastal Bermuda surfaces of Harbour Town, and recording high finishes at Bay Hill and Sawgrass.
Top-20 finishes in Mexico and at Muirfield provide the correlations, whilst three improving top-10s at Augusta confirm he has the class.
The last few winners had experience of this tight circuit before their wins, and with a course average of 67 and finishes of of 11/12/3/39, Conners follows a similar pattern to Matt Kuchar, Cam Smith and last year’s champion Hideki Matsuyama.
With the first selection taking away any temptation to be with recent Mayakoba winner Russell Henley, back him up with K.H Lee, a player that has very few weaknesses, something required around a track with heightened rough that will force a smart short game at times this week.
The Korean had a stellar 2021 on tour, proving far hardier than Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele when running up to Brooks Koepka at the Phoenix Open before winning the first of his back-to-back Byron Nelson championships. Of note is that close behind, even if beaten, were Patton Kizzire, Ryan Palmer and Matsuyama, all past winners of this week’s event.
Recent performances suggest the 31-year-old is still at the top of his game, and worthy of his ranking inside the top-40 of the world.
20th and fifth at the first two FedEx play-off events, he ended his year with a third place finish at the high-class CJ Cup before finishing seventh last week at the ToC, again displaying his excellent skills on and around the TiffEagle Bermuda greens.
There are plenty of flakey players ahead of him in the market, and KJ probably deserves to be ranked closer to them, given his win record. If it got a tad windy over the weekend, expect to see him launch up the board as he did in Scottsdale. He ranks the best of the three bets this week.
All four of this year’s players to follow turn up this week, but with all making their debuts on the course and for their first outings of the year, a ‘watch’ is very much the order of the day.
Instead, I am in again with one of last year’s ‘follows’ in Greyson Sigg, winner of ‘Rookie of the Year’ on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020/21.
Another from the production line of quality Georgia Bulldogs graduates, the 27-year-old highlighted his early career with a closing 59 on the Mackenzie Tour, before a memorable couple of years on the KFT resulted in running-up at the Tour Championship, recording eight top 10 finishes and two victories. At the Knoxville Open, Sigg shot 61 in the opening round, whilst his second victory, in Idaho, came courtesy of three rounds of 65, consistency at its best, beating J.J Spaun, Aaron Rai and Mattias Schwab, all with similar games that match a test such as this.
He’s taken his time to find his feet at the top level but since October has finished 9th at Jackson, 11th at the Bermuda (sixth after three rounds), and 16th at the RSM, fighting back after a third round had dropped him from inside the leading 20 to outside the top 40. In between, the 42nd at Mayakoba looks poor on face value, but he was well inside the top ten after 54 holes.
All three late 2022 efforts rank amongst his best 15 results of his career, so it’s safe to assume Sigg is getting there and displaying the promise of his early days.
Although not long off the tee, Sigg is one of the straighter hitters on tour, surely an advantage at Waialae. With a four-round sighter here in 2021, and with three of his most recent results coming on Bermuda greens, he can give us a run at a decent price.
- Corey Conners Win/Top-5
- K.H Lee Win/Top-5
- Greyson Sigg Win/Top-10
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