The Alfred Dunhill Championship in Malelane South Africa marks the start of the new European Tour season. The first points of the new Race to Dubai will be awarded just a week after the last race was won by Rory McIlroy showing just how hectic the schedule of world golf is. Not that you’ll find golf fans complaining. The Alfred Dunhill Championship may lack some of the glamour of the sponsor’s other event around the best links courses in Scotland but it is still a very popular tournament.
Hosting duties for the championship have been taken up by Leopard Creek Country Club since 2004 and the incredibly picturesque Gary Player-designed track is once again going to be brightening up your living rooms this week. The par 72 course plays around 7,300 yards and is a polarising test of golf. While winning scores here have been as low as 24 under, the course had a stroke index of almost 73 last year. The players have to keep their ball out of trouble here while a solid short game is very important as it is difficult to hit a massively high number of greens in regulation.
As you would expect, this is an event which is very popular with some of the best South African golfers. The last four winners of the Alfred Dunhill Championship have all done so on home soil and the defending champion is also the bookies’ favourite to win this time around, Branden Grace.
When Grace won here last year people in the know where already aware of his talent but it is fair to characterise this season as a real breakthrough for the 27-year-old. He finished third in the Race to Dubai and won many fans all over the world. Grace is a short price to defend his title at Leopard Creek at 4/1 with Ladbrokes and there are concerns about whether his short game will hold up to the challenge but he is a class player and you have to ask yourself how gutted you’d be to see him hack up once again (he won by seven strokes in 2014).
The biggest challenger to Grace may just be the man who is one place below him in the outright betting, Charl Schwartzel. The 31-year-old has an incredible record at this tournament with three wins and four runners-up finishes. Like Grace, it is difficult to ignore Schwartzel’s claims this week. He has played very well over the past six weeks or so culminating in a tie for fourth in Dubai last week and again, is it really worth leaving him out at 13/2 with Coral?
As we’ve chosen two short priced players so far it’s time to have an each way bet at bigger odds and the man for the job is Brandon Stone. The young South African is tipped to have a solid career on the European Tour and having made the step up from the Challenge Tour. Stone claimed his first professional win last week on the Sunshine Tour so he is in great form ahead of another tournament in his homeland. Back him each way at 80/1 with Betfred for what could be a very nice profit.
The curtain will be brought down on another season of the European Tour come Sunday as the winner of the Race to Dubai is crowned on the 18th green of the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates. Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett are the men in pole positions with each player knowing that a win will guarantee them the top prize in European golf, but five other players also have a shot at the title.
Whichever player wins the top prize, they will have to stop the challenge of Henrik Stenson. The 39-year-old Swede may be out of the running for the Race to Dubai rankings but he has won this event twice in a row and has hit an amazing 100 greens in regulation out of his last 109 holes at the Earth Course. Stenson looked good when finishing tied for third in Shanghai last week and at a venue that he loves so much it is difficult to ignore his claims in Dubai. He’s got the power, the accuracy and the putting needed to defend his title once again so make sure you bet on him at 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
Who else is in with a shot of winning around the Greg Norman, par 72 Earth Course? Well, at 7,675 yards this is clearly a course that favours those players who can give it some welly off the tee. It is also important to keep the ball out of trouble. The event organisers have tried to increase the length of the rough to bring down scoring and there is water to be hit on many of the holes. The other thing to take into consideration is a proven ability around desert courses.
When you look at the criteria needed to pick a winner Rory McIlroy’s name certainly pops up. He may be the pre-tournament favourite at 5/1 with Betfred but there are many reasons for that. The world number three is looking to end a year which has included plenty of lows with a major high, he absolutely loves playing golf in Dubai (having taken last week off he’s arrived nice and early for the tournament) and he is a previous winner at the Earth Course. Rory has been threatening something special for some time now and everything looks set for a big week from the Northern Irishman so ignore him at your peril.
The two selections so far have been pretty obvious but that is how golf betting goes sometimes. To balance up the staking plan a bit it is time to have an each way bet on an outsider and the choice is the evergreen Thongchai Jaidee. Last week at the BMW Masters Jaidee showed that he has the long game to cope with a course that many people thought was simply too long for him. The most successful Thai golfer of all time finished tied for third, just one shot away from a spot in the playoff and he could well upset the odds once more this week so get on board at a tasty looking 40/1 with Bet365.
The RSM Classic is the final PGA Tour event of 2015 before it shuts down for the Christmas break. The popular event has been part of the Tour since 2010 although it has undergone a few changes for the 2015 renewal. The sponsors have changed their name and the event organisers have been able to increase to field to 156 players by adding an extra course to proceedings.
The Sea Island Golf Resort has always hosted this event but in previous years the smaller field competed exclusively around the Seaside Course. The 7,005 yard track was originally two separate nine hole courses but Tom Fazio combined them into one real test of links golf in 1999. The players will also play one round at the Plantation Course which is a similar length but is only a par 70 compared to the Seaside’s par 70 layout. The Plantation is inland so will be affected less by the costal winds that will be a major consideration throughout the week although thankfully the weather forecast looks mild so we should get a full 72 hole competition that finishes on Sunday.
The addition of the Plantation Course makes it a bit more difficult picking a winner but we can be assured of one thing, the RSM Classic title is going to a player who putts well. Putting average and the number of one putts have always been the key stats for this event do don’t expect that to change.
Given that putting is important it is no surprise to see Graeme McDowell in the field. The Northern Irishman has not been himself over the past year or so but he put all those travails behind him last week when he putted his way to victory at the OHL Classic. McDowell showed all of his experience to edge out Russell Knox and Jason Bohn in a playoff and a cool head will be very important on St Simons Island. This season has already shown that it pays to back in-form players so have a punt on GMac at 25/1 with Coral.
When considering a bet for a course where putting is the most important aspect, it is hard to look past Brandt Snedeker. The 34-year-old American is a dream to watch for golf fans, there’s no messing around he just gets up and hits his shot whether he’s on the tee, fairway or green. This season alone he ranks fifth for shots gained from tee to green and he’ll love the tricky challenge of the two Sea Island courses so get on board at 33/1 with Bet365.
The final player to bet on this week is Peter Malnati. The American won his maiden PGA Tour event at the Sanderson Farms Championship and placed tied for 10th last week thanks, in large part, to his ability with the flat stick. It may have taken a little while for Malnati to make his breakthrough but he looks like a seasoned tour pro and with his incredible putting stats he could double up at odds of 80/1 with Coral.
The Race to Dubai has nearly reached its climax and after this week’s BMW Masters there will be just one more event of the European Tour season. Following on from the HSBC Champions the European Tour remains in Shanghai and the Lake Malaren Golf Club. There is sure to be another huge following from the local fans who will be keen to see some of the biggest names in golf and particularly the Shanghai-raised Li Haotong who knows this place as well as anyone.
The 7,594 yard, par 72 Masters Course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and it plays as long as that yardage suggests. The fairways are relatively easy to hit and it is flat until you get to the greens which are incredibly slopey and difficult to read. Given the length of the track it is no surprise that the bookies fancy the chances of the likes of Henrik Stenson and Branden Grace but right at the top of the betting is Englishman Justin Rose.
Rose is thoroughly enjoying his golf at the moment and he is in pole position to make it back to back wins in China following his triumph at the UBS Hong Kong Open three weeks ago. Having tinkered with his equipment, Rose has picked up an extra bit of distance which will help him at a course where he has performed well in the past. The 35-year-old has also tinkered with his putter and if he can read the greens accurately and get the ball to the hole he should win this at odds of 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
The strength of the field reflects the importance of this event. If Rose were to win he would be in an incredibly strong position for the final event next week given the absence of Rory McIlroy but another player who can give himself a great chance of being crowned the best golfer on the European Tour is Branden Grace. The South African has had a brilliant season with perhaps the highlight coming in the Presidents Cup where he was a constant thorn in the side of the American team. Grace averages over 300 yards off the tee and hits well above half of all fairways. He’s a good putter and his short game will allow him to be close enough to the hole to take his chances. Grace is 18/1 with Bet365 which represents good value.
For an outside shot at glory at the BMW Masters, have a small stakes punt on Alex Noren. The 33-year-old Swede has really struggled after suffering tendonitis in his wrists but he did get a win at the Nordea Masters back in June and he’s shown some good glimpses at other times. In 2012 Noren placed sixth at the Masters Course when he showed how capable he is to control his ball flight in the wind. His chances are probably helped if the wind gets up but even if it stays calm, Noren has a better shot than the odds of 200/1 with BetVictor suggest so take the bookies on with an each-way bet.
There are only two more events on the PGA Tour before it winds down for the winter break. This week sees the OHL Classic, which was the first PGA Tour event to be held in Mexico this century and has gone from strength to strength since its inaugural event in 2007. Initially the tournament was held as an alternate event on Tour but it is now a fully-fledged PGA tournament which carries 500 FedEx Cup points for the winner and a Masters invitation.
El Camaleón Golf Club has always hosted this event and that hasn’t changed this year. Some big stars on the PGA Tour will compete around the 6,987 yard par 71 course. Given that this is by no means the longest course on Tour this is an event which will be decided more by accuracy off the tee than length although Charley Hoffman ranked fifth for driving distance when winning last year. The most important stat to point towards success at ‘the Chameleon’ is greens in regulation, you’ve got to hit the greens to have a chance of winning here.
This year the popularity of the OHL Classic is clear by the calibre of players competing. Matt Kuchar is perhaps the biggest name of the lot and he has been installed as the bookies’ favourite. When you think of the measured, accurate game needed to challenge the top of the leaderboard at El Camaleón, Kuchar is one of the first names to pop into your head. He is one of the most consistent players in the world and although he almost always finds a way to go low wherever he plays, it is this sort of course at which he excels. He’s making his debut at this event but at 14/1 it could be a winning start for Kuchar.
Graeme McDowell is a man in desperate need of a good tournament. He has endured rather than enjoyed the last year of golf but there are good signs of recovery for the Northern Irishman. His ball striking and driving have improved and he’s been there or thereabouts without really threatening those at the top of the leaderboard. He’s not one of the biggest hitters and his greatest successes have tended to come on tricky, tight courses so this could really be a tournament that suits GMac and allows him to get back on track at odds of 35/1 with Bet365.
Harris English won the OHL Classic in 2013 so he’ll turn up full of positive memories which should push him on to have another good week in Mexico. English has built his game around a very impressive ability to hit greens in regulation and then take the chances that are served up for him. So far this season he’s not exactly pulled up any trees but what a chance he has to get some early FedEx Cup points on the board. So, he’s got the game to go well and the history at El Camaleón, making the 25/1 that BetVictor are offering on him winning yet again looks very generous.
Shanghai is the destination for the final World Golf Championship event of the season this week. These events rank just below the majors in the golfing calendar so there is a predictably strong field assembled in Shanghai. The 78 players will compete around the Sheshan International Golf Club which is hosting this tournament for the 10th time.
Sheshan is one of the most popular courses in the professional ranks but last season the players didn’t find it to be the birdie fest that it was in years previous. The course is always having subtle adjustments made to it but the scoring was affected last season by the decision to keep the rough long. Gone was the score of 24 under par that saw Dustin Johnson win in 2013 as Bubba Watson and Tim Clark made it to a playoff having shot 11 under. This year the conditions are going to be largely the same so this will be a real test of the best in the business.
This has always been a difficult tournament to predict, largely because of the nature of the course. Oftentimes a course will favour a certain style of play but Sheshan is a well-balanced track that will test all facets of those competing. However, last season the change in conditions meant that those who ranked highly in terms of scrambling and who putted well had an edge on the rest of the field. This time around it is worth siding with players who are going to make the most of their scoring opportunities once again.
That probably rules out Rory McIlroy who is the pre-tournament favourite with the bookies. The world number three looked very strong in Turkey last week but he just couldn’t “get the ball in the least number of shots” as he put it. He will once again go up against Jordan Spieth, who does not possess Rory’s brilliance with the long game but who is widely regarded as the best putter in the world. McIlroy has placed in the top six every time he’s competed at the HSB Champions but of the two front runners Spieth is the player to side with at 17/2 with Coral.
Justin Thomas will have plenty of backers this week. The 22-year-old is tipped for big things and got his first PGA Tour win last week at the CIMB Classic. The par fives at Sheshan are not the gimme birdies that most longer holes are for the top pros, which should give Thomas an edge as he is the best in the game when it comes to par five scoring. He’s obviously in great nick and represents fantastic value at 33/1 with Ladbrokes despite the step up in class here.
As this is the second event in the Race to Dubai Final Series it means something a bit extra for the 44 European Tour players in the field. One man who could do with the bonus points awarded this week is Lee Westwood. The popular Englishman looked in fine form last week in Turkey and having finished runner up here on two occasions Westwood must be worth an each-way shot. He’s worked very hard on his short game and putting so add him to your bets at 66/1 with Betfred.
The Sanderson Farms Championship allows some of the lesser lights of the PGA Tour to take centre stage this week. With some of the biggest and best players in the world teeing it up half way around the world at the WGC event in Shanghai, we’ve got a very intriguing tournament on our hands in Mississippi. The Country Club of Jackson is the host for the second year having had a solid debut last year when Nick Taylor’s 16 under par was enough to claim the title.
The Sanderson Farms Championship has been moved around quite a bit on the PGA Tour schedule but it has always been played as an opposite event – sometimes to the Open, sometimes to the Ryder Cup but it seems fixed now in place opposite the HSBC Champions. Still, there have been some high profile winners in the shape of Bill Haas, Luke Donald and Chris Kirk so all those in the field this week can use the event as a springboard to further success.
The par 72 course plays a challenging 7,354 yards which means that this is going to be a week for those who can hit the ball a long way. The course is actually a composite of nine holes from two of the courses at the incredible facility so expect a variation in scoring between the front and back nines which is something to keep an eye on if you are getting involved in-play.
This season on the PGA Tour has been all about the rookies. There have been just three events, two of which were won by players in their first full season as PGA Tour players while Justin Thomas’ win last week was the first of his career. That trend could well continue as eight players have claimed their first victory at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Jason Bohn is the clear favourite with the bookies this week and he does look to have a great chance of winning his second PGA Tour win. The 42-year-old will have to cope with the length of the course as he is by no means the longest hitter in the field but he makes up for that with his accuracy and enviable short game. Bohn is also a great putter and on a course that will provide scoring opportunities he’ll take many of them so back him at 12/1 with Ladbrokes.
Shawn Stefani may not be the youngest player about at 33 but he is still looking for his first PGA Tour win. He’s a proven winner on the Web.com and has shown he’s capable of competing with some of the best players in the world. He’ll need to keep the ball out of trouble but this could be his time at odds of 70/1 with Bet365.
The final player to back this week is Ollie Schniederjans. The 22-year-old only turned pro towards the end of last season following a stellar college career. Schniederjans made his mark on the game at the Open Championship and he’s got a great game around the greens will help no end. At 40/1 with Coral Schniederjans could add his name to that list of rookie winners.
The European Tour final series gets underway this week with the Turkish Airlines Open. The event is once again taking place around the Montgomerie Course at the fabulous Maxx Royal Resort. This is the first time that this event has kicked the finals series off but they have still managed to assemble a stellar field of 78 players. Rory McIlroy will no doubt draw the headlines and attention but in the time since he last competed on the European Tour a number of players have improved and he’ll have to be at his best to win and extend his lead in the Race to Dubai rankings.
The 7,132 yard course is a par 72 but not in the traditional sense. There are five par fives on the layout and some shorter par fours which the longer hitters will be having a whack at. Make no mistake, this is a course where distance is important and each player will be looking to play some aggressive golf to give them the best chance of winning (on that note, John Daly at 500/1 with BetVictor anyone?)
Everybody knows how difficult this year has been for Rory McIlroy. Last summer he was at his unbeatable best but he’s been nowhere near there for a while now. A combination of the ankle injury he picked up whilst having a kick about and the putting woes that have crept into his game means he is in need of a boost at the end of this season. This could be the place that Rory gets his swagger back. He’ll be one of the biggest hitters in the field and just needs to make sure that he converts the chances that he’ll undoubtedly give himself. His approach play will be just as important as his putting but he looks set for something special at a decent 9/2 with Coral.
Andy Sullivan will be licking his lips at the prospect of competing alongside Rory once again. Sullivan won his first European Tour event in South Africa way back at the start of the season and has followed that up with two more wins including his incredibly impressive performance at the Portugal Masters. He spoke about how much he enjoyed playing with McIlroy during the Desert Swing earlier on in the year and if Sullivan plays to form there’s no reason he can’t be playing alongside him again in the final group on Sunday. At 22/1 with BetVictor he looks a very good bet for yet another success this year.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat is one of the most hit and miss players in the professional ranks. From week to week he can go from being a hopeless also ran to a champion. The 26-year-old has won three times on the European Tour already making him the youngest Asian player to do so. His swing may be all hands but he generates great power and he’ll be up there in terms of distance of the tee at the Maxx Royal. Aphibarnrat is not the sort of player to be phased by the surroundings or the competition so profit from a good week from him at 40/1 with Betfred.
With the HSBC Championships taking place next week a number of PGA Tour players have taken the opportunity to get a head start on the jetlag by playing at this week’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia. The tournament has only been part of the PGA Tour schedule for two years previously and is the only event co-sanctioned by the PGA and Asian Tours without the involvement of the European Tour.
For the past two years the CIMB Classic has been played around the West Course at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club and this year is no different. That’s great news for Ryan Moore who is looking to win here for the third year in a row. He’ll only have to beat a limited field of 77 other competitors but among them are major champions and Ryder Cup winners so he’s sure to be pushed all the way.
The West Course is one of just five par 72 courses on the PGA Tour that measure under 7,000 yards but it is ranked as the toughest of the lot. Kuala Lumpur often has very humid conditions so the ball tends to stick on the fairways making the course feel and play much longer that its 6,985 yards. The flip side of the conditions is that the ball should stay on the greens if the players manage to hit them and greens in regulation percentage has proved to be a vitally important indicator of success at this course.
Not only is Henrik Stenson the highest ranked player in the field and the bookies’ favourite but no player hit a higher percentage of greens than him on last season’s PGA Tour. The 39-year-old has one of the highest ball flights in the world of golf which allows him to stick the ball to the putting surface with even the longest irons in his bag. He’ll no doubt be hitting his trusty three wood off the tee a great deal this week so finding the fairways should not be an issue either. As ever, the putter will be the key club for Stenson but if he has a good week putting he’ll look a big price at 7/1 with Coral.
Stenson will receive a great deal of attention from the galleries in Kuala Lumpur as will Sergio Garcia. Both players have decided to miss the Turkish Airlines Open in favour of the CIMB Classic and both have a good shot of winning. Unlike Stenson, Garcia has recent form here having tied for second last year and with his unbelievable iron play the 18/1 that Betfred are offering looks too tempting to ignore.
Stenson may have topped the GIR stats last season but the man topping them this time around is Stewart Cink. The veteran American hit over 80% of greens last week at the Shriners Open but was unable to convert enough of his chances to trouble the top of the leaderboard. At a course where scoring should be more difficult he may be able to grind his way to a good four rounds and at 150/1 with Ladbrokes he looks the best outside shot for an each-way bet.
The new season of the PGA Tour got off to a great start last week. Emiliano Grillo came through a tense play-off against Kevin Na to win the Frys.com Open and we should be in for another special tournament this week. A good field will tee it up in Las Vegas for the Shriners Open held at TPC Summerlin. Rickie Fowler is the standout name but the galleries will also be entertained by the likes of Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Walker and Brandt Snedeker.
Make no mistake about it, this is going to be a birdie fest. The 7,255 yard course ranked as the easiest par 71 course on the entire PGA Tour last season with any player who didn’t make four birdies losing ground to the rest of the field. In the last five years no score worse than 20 under par has been enough to win this event.
At such an easy course putting is going to be vital this week. As they say on the PGA Tour, “these guys are good”, so each player is going to give themselves plenty of chances to break par. Taking advantage of those opportunities is what will separate the winner from the rest of the field. Of course, hitting the ball close to the hole is also going to be important but don’t worry about distance off the tee. 7,255 yards may look long but the effects of altitude means that Summerlin plays nothing like that yardage.
Rickie Fowler is the clear favourite in the bookies’ outright market and for good reason. He has three wins in the last five months including at the incredibly competitive Deutsche Bank Championship during the FedEx Cup playoffs. The 26-year-old has one of the best all round games in the world but not many people would know that he ranked fifth in terms of total putting last season. He will have as many chances as any other player and certainly has the ability to take advantage so it is hard to avoid the appeal of backing him at 11/1 with Coral.
Another one of the best putters in the field is Brandt Snedeker. At a time where slow play is one of the biggest problems with the game of golf, the way that Snedeker plays is incredibly refreshing. Whether hitting irons, chipping or putting, he gets up to the ball with a plan and executes quickly. He’s never possessed the most distance of the tee but will make the most of the altitude and the easy course so he looks a very good price at 28/1 with Betfred.
Jimmy Walker is a player who generally gets off to a fast start when a new season rolls around. In the past couple of years his best form has come at the turn of the calendar year but he’s got a Frys.com Open win under his belt from 2013 and there is nothing stopping him from getting another October win at the Shriners. A solid iron player, Walker will hit greens for fun and when he is on form, the American is one of the best putters around. So, back him each way at 35/1 with Betfred.