The European Tour remains in China this week with the Volvo China Open taking place in Shanghai. The championship course at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club is flat and tree-lined with plenty of water hazards. The OneAsia Tour shares the sanctioning duties this week but as the course feels European, expect the players from the European Tour to have the best of it.
Alexander Levy goes into this week as the defending champion for the first time. Last year’s China Open was his maiden victory on tour but that win came at the Genzon Golf Club, which played host last week. He’s not played a tournament at the Shanghai course but has spoken of the confidence he has this week. There’s never been a back-to-back winner of the China Open in its 21-year history but Levy is an intriguing option. He couples decent distance off the tee with a high percentage of greens in regulation. The Frenchman’s putting has improved this year so as long as he gets a hang of the track, he could go all the way. Bet365 are offering a tasty 30/1 on Levy so get involved on each way terms.
Another European to take a look at next, in the shape of Englishman David Howell. The 39-year-old is one of the most experienced players in the field. It’s been almost 10 years since he was placed in the world’s top 10, when he held off Tiger Woods to win in Shanghai at the HSBC Champions, but he’s fared well so far on tour this season. He had a shot at winning the Shenzhen International last week but couldn’t quite get his round firing on the Sunday, ending up tied for fourth, good form to take into this week. Winless on tour last season, the bookies have all priced Howell up at 40/1. It’s not the strongest field that will be assembled this season so that’s a very tempting price for an each way bet about a player who should be in contention on Sunday once again.
The final tip for this week is a player who also had a chance of winning last week. Emiliano Grillo ended up tied for 11th, the latest in a series of good performances for the young Argentine. He boasts a stroke average of under 70 shots in his last 15 tournaments and if he puts those sorts of numbers together this week he could secure his first win on the European Tour. Grillo’s game has steadily improved since he first played on tour in 2012. This season he’s hit three quarters of all greens in regulation, averages around 290 yards with the driver and hits 70% of all fairways. Those are impressive stats and point towards him making a major breakthrough at some stage. The bookies believe that he’s dangerous this week as the best price you can get on him is 25/1 with Coral. Take that price with a third each way bet and his breakthrough could land you with a tidy profit, hopefully adding to profits from our other long odds selections.
The PGA Tour continues this week on the second Pete Dye-designed course in a row. This week’s layout at TPC Louisiana is a much longer challenge than Harbour Town at around 7,400 yards off the tournament tees. Like many of the other TPC courses dotted around America, Louisiana is a stadium course meaning that the fans can get up close and personal to the action. Those who turn up this week will be able to get an intimate view of the swings several top, top players, including Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose and Jason Day. Those three head the betting and have each looked impressive at times this season.
There are other big names who will be competing in this popular tournament but it’s the first time for a number of weeks that Jordan Spieth won’t be in the field. The Masters champion takes a well-earned rest but the man who finished joint runner-up at Augusta, Rose looks to have everything set fair for another good week. Rose had a wrist injury that hampered his progress at the start of the season but that had cleared up by the time he teed off in the Masters. Finishing second to Spieth was nothing to be ashamed about that week so he has plenty of positive momentum to utilise in New Orleans. Rose likes the course – he’s gone tied for 10th, tied for 15th and tied for eighth in his last three starts – due in part to his brilliant approach play. Rose is 10/1 to win with Ladbrokes this week and is our first betting tip.
The next player to consider is Rickie Fowler. After a very encouraging last season where he finished in the top five in every major event, Fowler has failed to really kick on this term. He finished tied 12th at the Masters to hint at a return to the type of form that everybody knows he is capable of. The 26-year-old has enough distance to take advantage of the four par fives on the course and leave himself short irons into the strong par fours. If he does narrowly miss the green he’s 100% when scrambling from the fringe while his general scrambling stats are decent this season. Fowler needs to improve if he is to win this week but he’s due a good result and is interesting for an each way bet at 18/1 with BetVictor.
Lastly, let’s look at the chances of Steve Stricker. The 48-year-old was so good last season that he maintained a strong world ranking and FedEx Cup points tally despite playing relatively few events. He went under the knife to fix a problem shortly before Christmas and only returned a fortnight ago at Augusta. There he finished tied for 28th but has finished in the top 15 in each of his last three trips to TPC Louisiana. Currently on a run of 36 cuts made, the consistent Stricker is sure to be there or thereabouts on Sunday and can be backed at a standout 45/1 with Bet365. Get involved with an each-way bet, with Stricker’s superb putting always giving him a chance.
The European Tour returns after taking a two week break around the Masters but this event is a long way from Europe. This week’s action takes place at the Genzon Golf Club all the way towards the southern tip of China, but it is a man from the southern tip of America who leads the billing. Bubba Watson jumped straight on a plane after giving Jordan Spieth his green jacket, fulfilling a promise he made to the tournament’s organisers. It is the first time since 2011 that Bubba has played in a regular European Tour event and he is definitely the stand-out name in a field that otherwise looks like any other tour event.
This is not the first time that Watson has played in China. In fact he has very good memories of his game in the country. Three times he’s played at the HSBC Championship in Shanghai, improving each time until finally winning the event last November. There’s no doubt that the $2.5million prize money helped sway Bubba’s decision but he seems genuinely happy to be an important part of the formation of this tournament. If he is to make it back-to-back wins in China, Bubba will need to adapt to the slower greens but his prodigious distance off the tee will be a very useful weapon on the four par fives, especially given the generously wide fairways. As a player with wonderful control of the ball, he’ll be happy with the course’s humps and bumps. With all due respect to the competition, Bubba is the best player in the field which is reflected in his favourite status and odds of 15/2 with Betfred. Still, it’s generally a good idea to side with the best.
Out of the rest of the field there is one player, who has recently returned from injury, with a good chance of getting back to winning ways this week. That man is Chris Wood. The tall Englishman missed the cut on his first two events of the season in South Africa but reminded everyone of his abilities when finishing third at the Trophee Hassan II. Wood has a mixed record in China, ranging from missed cuts to top 10 finishes. Looking at him you might expect his major attribute to be power but he is much more of a technical player than many give him credit for. His accuracy and touch around the greens allow make the price of 60/1 with Bet365 really stand out for an each-way bet.
The third player to include in your bets for this week is another Englishman, Andy Sullivan. The 28-year-old has had a busy season so far and it could have been busier still had he not fluffed his chance to qualify for the Masters by missing the cut in Morocco. He looked a tired golfer but has had plenty of time to recuperate and could fly out to China whenever it suited his schedule. Sullivan has already won twice on tour this year and has played with some of the world’s finest. He’s an ever-improving golfer who could certainly make it three wins at odds of 33/1 with Coral.
After Jordan Spieth’s wonderful display at the Masters, it is time for the PGA Tour to get going again. Spieth heads the RBC Heritage field that will swap the wide fairways and long holes of Augusta for the Harbour Town Golf Links, one of the tightest but shortest courses on the tour this year.
Harbour Town was one of the first courses that employed Jack Nicklaus as a design consultant. Along with Pete Dye, the Golden Bear’s task was to bring a little bit of Scotland links to South Carolina. They did that by devising a series of tough driving holes, creating small greens that are easy to miss and lining the narrow fairways with trees. When picking players to bet on this week, you can forget driving distance and instead focus on accuracy and approach play.
The first player to look at for glory in the RBC Heritage is Jim Furyk. The experienced American has been playing tournament golf at Harbour Town for almost 20 years, racking up one win and five top 10 finishes. His only top 10 so far this season came at Pebble Beach, another links course that requires patience and positioning. It’s been too long since Furyk won on tour. He needs to get that monkey off his back this season in order for people to stop wondering whether his best golf is now in the past. Coral are offering 25/1 that Furyk will recapture some good form and win this week, which is worth taking at each-way terms.
The second player to consider this week is a certain 21-year-old Texan who’s just added a natty new jacket to his wardrobe. Jordan Spieth has risen to number two in the world ranking but on current form not even Rory McIlroy can live with him. On paper, this is not a course that suits him too well but you could say the same thing about most of the tracks he’s played around over the last month. He has two wins, one second-place and a play-off defeat to his name in his last four starts and also won at the Northern Trust Open in February. Spieth’s success means his prices will be very short with the bookies for the foreseeable future (he’s 13/2 with Coral who are top-priced on him) but playing as he is, it’s tough to leave him out of your options.
Zach Johnson’s form may be someway short of Spieth’s but he will be quietly happy with the way his season is going. He’s missed a couple of cuts but has gone ninth, 20th, ninth in his last three starts. For a player who plots his way around the course with fairly defensive golf it’s a surprise that his record at Harbour Town is not better. He couldn’t get going last year and finished the week without recording a round in the 60s. This time he’s coming of a solid top 10 finish at Augusta and has been talking positively about his game. Coral are offering the best value on Johnson with their 20/1 and five places each-way looking very tempting.
The golfing calendar has plenty of stand-out events on all of the main tours but every golfer dreams of winning one of the four Majors. Of those Majors, the Masters is arguably the biggest of the lot.
There are many reasons for the depth of feeling around the Masters. It is the only Major to be played on the same course every year, the almost mythical Augusta National; the tournament has an incredible history with winners comprising the best players in the history of the game; and, it has produced some of the greatest golfing moments. Who could forget Bubba Watson’s 45-yard hook with a gap wedge or Greg Norman’s collapse in 1996? With plenty of players in with a chance of victory, the 2015 Masters could be one of the best yet.
The clear favourite with the bookies this week is world number one, Rory McIlroy. McIlroy cemented his position at the top of the rankings with a wonderful 2014 summer that saw him win four tournaments including the Open and the PGA Championship. His competitive abilities that shone through in that run can propel him to a Masters victory which will complete a career Grand Slam at the tender age of 25. The best value available for Rory is the 6/1 that Ladbrokes are offering. You can’t often back McIlroy at that sort of price especially at a course that suits his game thanks to its wide fairways, short rough and the fact that it favours players who like to move the ball from right-to-left.
Another player in their twenties who should be in the reckoning come Sunday evening is Jordan Spieth. Spieth finished joint second last year and goes to Augusta with perhaps the best form of any player on the PGA Tour. Three weeks ago he won the Valspar Championship, before finishing second and the Texas Open and losing in a playoff at last week’s Houston Open. Although Spieth hits a very good fade, he can move the ball whichever way the shot requires and he clearly understands which shots to play at Augusta. The Texan is 11/1 with Bet365 to go one better than last year. It is almost inevitable that Spieth will win a major in his career. Few would be too surprised to see him open his account this week.
Our final recommendation for Masters glory is Henrik Stenson who has not had the perfect preparation for this week having suffered with an acute case of man-flu. Like many players, the Swede entered the Houston Open as the course has many similarities to Augusta. However, he was forced to withdraw and has been concentrating on recuperating. It was a shame not to see him at Houston as Stenson has been playing very well this season. He took a while to get going on the European Tour’s desert swing but has placed inside the top five in each one of the PGA Tour tournaments he’s played in. Stenson has an incredible, high ball flight which could be key to stopping the balls in the right places on the fast Augusta greens so Coral’s 22/1 looks generous indeed.
The Houston Open is very comfortable being the warm-up event for the Masters. The course already looked fairly like Augusta when it was completed in 2005, but the organisers made it even more similar in 2007 when the Houston Open was given the pre-Masters billing. Wide fairways, run-off areas around the greens and trimmed rough will await the players at both the Golf Club of Houston and at Augusta National.
Given that many of the big names in the field have historically used the event to get into form before the Masters, there have been some winners of this event at long odds in recent years. Matt Jones and DA Points, the last two winners of this tournament, did so by outscoring more illustrious names. Don’t be surprised if something similar happens this year.
Who, then, to put your money on? Well for starters, look to Shawn Stefani. He has very good memories of this golf course. Last year the sponsors gave him an exemption which came with big pressure. Due to injury he was very close to losing his position on the PGA Tour but managed to claw his way to a fifth place finish, guaranteeing himself a tour card for the rest of the season. Like many players, Stefani enjoys playing golf close to home so the Texan is good value at 60/1 with Coral. He has finished in the top 30 of each of his last three tournaments and like many of the so-called lesser players in the field, would love to upset the odds.
Another big-priced player who can return a profit from an each-way bet is Scott Piercy. The 36-year-old started 2015 brilliantly with a second placed finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Since then he has missed a couple of cuts and placed 30th at best. Piercy made the cut in each of his four outings at the Houston Open with his best finish coming last year when he placed 21st. None of his four rounds were in the 60s so you feel just one good round – hopefully early on in the tournament – will propel him to a top five finish and profit for all who back him each-way at odds of 125/1 with Coral.
The final pick for this week is a player with a much better winning record than the first two. Sergio Garcia has had a three week break since finishing 31st at the WGC event at Doral. He did a similar thing last year when he used the Houston Open as a warm-up for the Masters. That did not stop him playing well though as rounds of 67 and 65 set him up very well and he eventually finished third.
He has looked good so far this year and only a few silly mistakes have cost him even better results. He knows what it takes to shoot a low score around here and his ball striking is good enough to put himself exactly where he needs to be. Sergio has been priced at 25/1 with almost every bookie and it’s also worth considering backing him at 33/1 with Ladbrokes to be the first round leader.
After the disappointment of the washout at the Madeira Islands Open, the European Tour moves on to the – hopefully – sunnier surrounds of Morocco for the Trophee Hassan II. Not only is there prize money and points for the Race to Dubai on offer at Golf du Palais Royal but a number of players in the field can secure themselves a place at the Masters with a good enough performance this week.
A quality field will descend on Agadir including last year’s champion Alejandro Canizares. The strength of the field and the layout of the course are making it difficult for the bookies. They all have George Coetzee at the top of the market at 16/1 but the prices of the next 10 or so players vary quite a bit between firms. Luckily for us, the amount of class in the field means we can have a good crack at finding a winner.
Let’s start with the 2013 winner of this tournament, Marcel Siem. That victory looked as though it would be enough for him to qualify for the Masters but he agonisingly missed out. A repeat of his victory would guarantee a trip up Magnolia Lane for the German and that is well within his reach. Siem has only played four times this season, missing the cut in his two European Tour events before bouncing-back and performing admirably at Pebble Beach and Doral. He can drive the ball over 300 yards which is always a help but he may need to tone that down a bit to maintain accuracy around this links course. Coral are offering the best value on Siem to win at 25/1 which is good value for an each-way bet.
Another man who can make the field at Augusta by winning in Morocco is Alexander Levy. The 24-year-old is just one of a group of young French golfers who are making their way on the European Tour. If Levy manages to get to the Masters and has a good week, he has a chance of bursting through at the highest level like his good friend Victor Dubuisson. In order to do so, he will need to improve on his form at Golf du Palais Royal. In two starts here he’s placed 35th and 37th but those came before his two wins on the European Tour last year. Levy is a good scrambler and tends to place better when his short game is on point. In the dunes and hills of the course this week, scrambling could be a key indicator so get on him each way at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
The final player to consider this week is Tyrrell Hatton. The 23-year-old had a great start to his season when finishing sixth at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship but has since seen a slide in his form. He also didn’t have a great week in this tournament last year. However, he shot a decent 69 in his third round last year a repeat of which would be very handy indeed. Unsurprisingly, his performances are better when his driving accuracy is on point so perhaps it is worth seeing the strength of his game off the tee on Thursday before getting involved at 66/1 with Betfred. If you do take the early price, he has the game to get his first European Tour victory.
The PGA Tour’s ‘Florida Swing’ is now over as the players, caddies, media and tour busses descend on San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open. This is an important tournament for many players in the field who are heading off to Augusta in two weeks as they try to iron out any faults in their game in time for the first Major of the year.
The par-72 course was designed by Greg Norman with some consultancy from current PGA Tour player Sergio Garcia. It is a demanding 7,435 yards off the back tees but the distance challenge will play second fiddle to the task facing the players in terms of accuracy and course management. There are some formidable lies facing anybody who strays off line. Back in 2011, Kevin Na found himself in one of the rocky areas off the fairway on the par-four ninth and took a ruinous 16 shots to get down. Therefore, the winner is likely to have to remain patient, taking their opportunities at select points around the course.
One player who almost always remains patient is Zach Johnson. The eleven-time winner on tour has made the most out of a game that does not include great power. Instead he relies on strategy and a high count of both fairways found and greens in regulation. Johnson goes into this week at odds of 25/1 with Coral which is a very good price. Take that offer at each-way terms as a top five finish is well within his reach.
Another player who looks to avoid danger wherever possible is Matt Kuchar. Kuchar spoke recently about the work he has done with his swing coach Chris O’Connell. The pair have worked on keeping club face closed therefore reducing risk and eliminated all but one miss. Knowing where you miss is a huge advantage on tricky courses and will help Kuchar immensely this week. He will go off at 25/1 with BetVictor which is a very tempting price indeed.
Two of the most in-form players in the world at the moment are at the top of the outright market for the Valero Texas Open. Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have won in recent weeks and are both in with a shot of adding to those wins this week. Johnson (10/1 with Bet365) has never played at TPC San Antonio before but his game is in such great shape that he will be confident playing anywhere. Spieth (8/1 generally) is a Texas native who has just become the third youngest player to win multiple events on the PGA Tour. They may not offer great value but a win for either would be no surprise.
The final player to look at this week is Jim Furyk. It has been too long since Furyk won on the PGA Tour although he has gone into a number on Sunday’s with the lead. Unfortunately for one reason or another those leads have disappeared, but Furyk has played well this season and has finished third and sixth in his previous two Texas Opens. Betfred are going 20/1 that Furyk will go better than that this week; taking him at each-way terms will guarantee profit should he finish in the top five.
Arnold Palmer, known simply as ‘the King’, has hosted a PGA Tour event at his Bay Hill Club and Lodge every year since 1979 and every year he attracts some of the biggest names in golf. Such is the pull of the tournament that Tiger Woods made a big deal publically about the fact that he would not be competing this year.
Instead – as has been the case with many things over the past few years – Tiger’s loss is Rory’s gain as the world number one this week makes his maiden appearance at this tournament. McIlroy is joined by the four other members of the world’s top five, all of whom are at the top of the outright betting. As well as the elite five, major winners and previous winners on tour this year will be competing.
The Bay Hill Championship course may not have a name for its final three-hole stretch, but it remains one of the toughest finishing challenges in golf. The course, measuring some 7,300 yards off the tournament pegs, has undergone some minor changes of late. This will play into the hands of McIlroy as many of his competitors will also be learning about the course as they play it. In fact, many of the changes actually suit Rory’s game. Tree surgeons have tended to a number of big trees and the rough has been scaled back in places. These are encouraging signs for a big-hitter. His disappointing form in America so far (a missed cut was followed by ninth at Doral) make the 13/2 that BetVictor are offering for a Rory win decent value.
Everywhere you look in this field are players you can make a case for. Bubba Watson can win almost anywhere, Jason Day can be unstoppable at his attacking best, Rickie Fowler is looking to build on a very good 2014, Paul Casey and Padraig Harrington have re-found their form. But, one player to pluck from the quality is Brooks Koepka. He’s a big hitter with two wins and three top 10 finishes from his last 11 outings. The course changes can see him improve on his finish of 26th in his first attempt at winning the Invitational last March. Betfred go 35/1 for Koepka to become the first player to win twice on the PGA Tour this season.
The final recommendation for this week comes, unapologetically, out of the top five and that man is Henrik Stenson. Officially third in the world, the big Swede rarely tops the driving distance stats because he generally opts to hit his three wood off the tee. However, don’t let that fool you. His average distance with the fairway wood is 280 yards, longer than many players reach with their driver. That power bleeds down into his irons which allows him to hit shorter irons than most into greens; that really helps when you’re as good with an iron in your hands as Stenson is. He also has a strong partnership with his caddie, Gareth Lord, which saw him win the FedEx Cup in 2013. If that’s not a big-enough build up for his chances this week, Stenson has finished fourth in both his events on the PGA Tour this season. At 10/1 generally, Stenson should push McIlroy and company all the way.
The European Tour takes a step closer to mainland Europe this week with the Madeira Islands Open. The beautiful Portuguese island is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa. A mixture of European Tour professionals and players who play most of their golf on the Challenge Tour will be competing around the Santo de Serra Golf Club with its 6,800 yard course full of humps, bumps and undulating greens.
Given the amount of travelling that the European Tour has done recently – following from the Desert Swing it co-sanctioned events in the Far East, India and South Africa – it is no surprise to see a fairly different field this week compared to last. The bookies seem to be having some trouble pricing the event up as the top 20 or so players have fairly interchangeable prices. Depending on your levels of optimism, that means it will either be difficult to pick a winner this week or that there is some serious value hiding in the outright markets.
We begin the picks for the week with the Irishman, Peter Lawrie. Lawrie didn’t have a good time of it in the two South African events he played in, missing two cuts but he fared better in India, Malaysia and the Middle East. The one-time European Tour winner had to withdraw from the Madeira Islands Open last year and has only one top 10 finish in three years. However, his form has improved in general and he has the sort of plotting game to do well around Santo de Serra. You are well advised to do some shopping around on his price as it varies wildly, but at the time of writing he is best-priced at 66/1 with Bet365. Take that, or better if you can find it, to each-way terms.
Next up, let’s have a look at John Hahn. Hahn is something of a rarity being an American who plays most of his golf on the European Tour. This is only his second time playing in Portugal and his first time at Santo de Serra but he can certainly finish in the top five places at odds of 66/1 with Ladbrokes. One of Hahn’s strengths is his power off the tee, he won’t be able to hit the driver on all of the longer holes here as a more defensive strategy is favoured, but he can utilise his distance to hit shorter irons into more greens than many of his competitors. That control will allow him to place himself sensibly on the greens and nullify the threats posed by the various slopes.
The final player to back each-way this week is S.S.P. Chowrasia. The Indian golfer went off at very short odds on the final day of his home tournament but the pressure got the better of him. He shot his worst round of the week with a 76 and then lost in a play-off. However, the only way to improve in those situations is to experience them so he can take the positives from that and use his careful, safety first strategy to good effect this week. He learnt his golf on short, tight courses which will stand him in good stead around Santo de Serra. That makes BetVictor’s 40/1 on him good value indeed.