The Omega Dubai Desert Classic brings the European Tour’s Desert Swing to a close this week and just like the events in Abu Dhabi and Qatar before, the winner in Dubai will have to beat a high class field. From a betting perspective there are a number of players who should be considered dangers this week but once more the man to beat is Rory McIlroy.
Yet again the Emirates Golf Club has hosting duties with the winner being decided after four rounds of the Majlis Course. The par 72, 7,301 yard layout may look like something of an oasis in the desert but the original course designers were under strict instruction to maintain the natural desert flora around the holes. That leads to some challenging lies when tee shots go awry but in general this is a course where distance is more important than accuracy. If you look at the list of winners here – Rory McIlroy, Stephen Gallacher, Alvaro Quiros, Tiger Woods – you find a pattern of top quality players who can hit it miles but who find themselves in trouble multiple times in a tournament.
When McIlroy won here last season nobody hit it further than the Northern Irishman but that wasn’t the only impressive element of his performance. McIlroy ranked highly in terms of greens hit in regulation and also putted very well. The fact that Rory won and hit way over three quarters of all greens in regulation whilst missing more than half of the fairways shows that the rough was by no means penal and that bombing it 300 yards plus from the tee helps massively at the Emirates Golf Club. In his only performance of the season in Abu Dhabi, Rory played very well but just couldn’t take enough chances to get over the winning line. Having had more time to work on his game McIlroy is a worthy favourite at odds of 5/2 with Ladbrokes.
When looking to find players for each way bets to potentially challenge McIlroy it is well worth sticking with those who possess above average driving distance.
The first option to add to your staking plan is Louis Oosthuizen. The South African is not the longest hitter on the European Tour but he regularly gets it out there at over 300 yards which will see him in the right position to score well more often than not. Oosthuizen just couldn’t get enough of a handle on the wind to finish better than joint seventh in Qatar last week but with less gusty conditions forecast he should challenge at 28/1 with Bet365.
The final player to side with this week is Thomas Pieters. The Belgian is one of the very longest hitters in the professional ranks and ever since winning his first two European Tour events back to back, he has looked at home when competing against top class opposition. Like Oosthuizen, it wasn’t Pieters’ week in Qatar but this is a course that should really suit his eye and playing style. At odds of 33/1 with Coral, expect to see Pieters in contention come Sunday afternoon.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open is a tournament that golfers and fans alike either love or hate. It is a historic event which stretches back to 1932 but over the years it has become less well known for big name winners such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Vijay Singh and more for its uniquely raucous atmosphere. It is easy to forget that this is just a regular PGA Tour event when you read that over 400,000 fans descend on TPC Scottsdale and when you get to the par three 16th you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d turned up to the wrong sport.
The 16th is known as the Coliseum and more fans than attend many Championship football matches pack around it creating the most boisterous atmosphere in the whole of golf. Each of the players who tee off have sweaty hands and shaky legs as they know that any shot that misses the greens gets a resounding chorus of boos but the noise that greets a hole in one was described as the loudest cheer in sport by Francesco Molinari who aced the 16th last season.
The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale underwent some major changes, overseen by Tom Weiskopf, last season which were generally well received by both players and fans but with an extra year to bed in, the course is expected to be even better come Thursday morning in Phoenix. It is a par 71 layout which plays around the 7,200 yard mark for the PGA Tour professionals and although it is considered a difficult course, going low is not impossible and it will likely take something around the -15 that Brooks Koepka achieved in winning here last year to take the title on Sunday.
Bubba Watson may have never won the Phoenix Open but with two consecutive runners-up finishes behind him, he goes into the tournament as the bookies’ favourite. Bubba has never finished worse than par in any of his 34 rounds at the Stadium Course and with his mix of prodigious length and incredible shot shaping ability he will be the man to stop this year at odds of 12/1 with Coral.
Brandt Snedeker won a weather delayed tournament at Torrey Pines last week and is well fancied to win in Phoenix but the physical and emotional toll of that win means it is best to avoid him. Better to bet on Rickie Fowler who actually missed the cut last week. Fowler was clearly shattered after his incredible performance when winning in Abu Dhabi and having taken a couple of days off, he should be near his best so the 16/1 Bet365 are offering looks like value.
Billy Horschel was one of the very few players to finish under par in his fourth round at Torrey Pines last week and he spoke during the tournament of how happy he is with his new clubs having swapped equipment manufacturer. The 2014 FedEx Cup winner has not won since winning two of those playoff events but he’s hitting it nicely and has played well here before so take a chance with an each way bet at 66/1 with Bet365.
Last week on the PGA Tour, Jason Dufner and David Lingmerth went to a playoff in the CareerBuilder Challenge with a score of 25 under par. There is going to be none of that this week at the Farmers Insurance Open. The event is split over two very different courses at the fantastic Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, California. The South Course is the longest used in any regular PGA Tour event at a touch under 7,700 yards while the North Course is significantly shorter with an official measurement of 7,052 yards.
Each player will have a round on the North and South Courses before the 36 hole cut is made, after which only the South Course is used. That means a couple of things for the players and for those looking for a winning bet. The first is that it is absolutely imperative to make the most of the round on the North Course. When Jason Day won this event last year it was with a score of -10, the same score held by the 36 hole leader. That shows how tough scoring can by on the South Course, which brings us to the second point. The winner is almost certainly going to be one of the longest hitters in the field whilst also being able to get up and down out of trouble as the fairways and greens are difficult to hit.
Taking what is needed to win into consideration, it is no surprise that Day sits at the top of the betting. Not only is he the highest ranked player in the field with Jordan Spieth being absent but he is the defending champion and has all the distance any golfer could wish for. Day led the driving distance stats, he ranked eighth for scrambling and outscored the field on the par fours. All of that and he’s playing even better now. The 7/1 that Bet365 are offering is probably a very fair price and not one to pass up.
Another player with a huge amount of distance in his bag is Dustin Johnson. DJ had a poor attempt to win here last year but he has finished third here in the past so his course form is not enough to write him off. He’ll hit the ball as far as Day this week and it’ll just take a good week on and around the greens for him to drag himself up to the top of the leaderboard. At 18/1 with BetVictor, Johnson looks like a good value bet.
Jimmy Walker may not have had the stellar start to his season that he’s enjoyed in the past couple of years but he has not been too far away. A 10th and 13th place finish in Hawaii showed signs that he may be getting back to something approaching his best and this is an event in which he has done fairly well. In four starts here he’s got three top 10 finishes and a missed cut so he could just be trending in the right direction. Walker is a tempting 28/1 with Betfred so get on board.
This is a good time of year for the European Tour. At some stages during the season the golf is fairly low quality as the stars of the game go out to compete for the riches on offer in the PGA Tour. But this week we are in the middle of three top class tournaments in the Tour’s desert swing. After Rickie Fowler showed just how good he is when in contention in Abu Dhabi last week, some of the finest players in the game have descended on Doha Golf Club for the Qatar Masters.
Since it was first won by Andrew Coltart in 1998, the Qatar Masters has remained in Doha and become an integral part of the European Tour season. The 7,400 yard, par 72 course has undergone a series of changes as the tournament organisers have sought to improve the quality of the playing surface of one of the oldest grass golf courses in the Middle East. The players competing this week will notice minor changes but they’ve still got to cope with a number of bunkers, water hazards and natural rocky areas. They’ve also got to cope with the desert wind which has had a dramatic effect on this tournament in its past.
The past two champions of the Qatar Masters, Branden Grace and Sergio Garcia, are vying for favourite status with the bookies this week. Both of them have decent chances of winning but at 15/2 with Coral for Grace and 9/1 with BetVictor for Garcia, there are others in the field who offer more value.
The first of those is Bernd Wiesberger. The Austrian pushed hard to win the 2015 renewal of the Qatar Masters but came up just short, eventually settling for a share of third place. It was a combination of Wiesberger not taking his chances and Grace playing some awesome stuff in the home stretch that took the tournament away from the 30-year-old but this time around the tables could be turned. He combines awesome power with a solid short game and at 28/1 with BetVictor he offers good value.
Next, consider another big odds option in the form of Matthew Fitzpatrick. The young Englishman narrowly missed out on being named the European Tour rookie of the season after claiming more top 10 finishes than any other player in 2015. A slight man, Fitzpatrick utilises a low ball flight which gives him a bit of extra distance on firm golf courses and will have the added benefit of lessening the effects of the wind. He’s got to consider himself a top class player now and can win a top class event at 25/1 with BetVictor.
The final betting tip for the week is the ‘Belgian Bomber’, Nicolas Colsaerts. The 33-year-old’s game is based around smashing the ball past his playing partners with brute force before delicately placing the ball on the right part of the greens. It was a fairly forgettable season last year for the popular Colsaerts but he has the tools and the laid back mentality to bounce back this year and should be considered a good outsider for an each way bet at 80/1 with Bet365.
It may be a bit harsh on the four tournaments we’ve just seen in South Africa but for many people the European Tour season really gets going this week with the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. The three events in the Middle East are always exciting and they draw in some great players but there is a special buzz about the 2016 renewal as Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth go head to head for the first time in the year.
While Spieth has never before played in this tournament McIlroy has given it eight previous attempts to win here and although he’s got an incredible record in terms of top five finishes he’s yet to get over the line. The Northern Irishman is though, an excellent proponent of desert golf and when he lifted the Race to Dubai trophy once again at the end of the last European Tour season he did it with one of his finest performances to hold off the challenge of Andy Sullivan at the DP World Tour Championship. Of course Spieth is good enough to win whenever he’s in the field and his winning score of -30 at the Tournament of Champions was phenomenal, but without any experience of this event and comparatively little of golf in the Middle East, Rory makes the biggest betting appeal at odds of 9/2 with Coral.
McIlroy may know this course incredibly well but in case you’re less familiar with it, it is a par 72 layout which can stretch out to 7,600 yards when the holes are playing at their longest. Like many of the best desert golf courses it is flat, contains a great deal of bunkering and is exposed to the windy conditions that are often prevalent. The tournament organisers like to keep the rough pretty punishing so although distance is important at this long track, hitting it miles offline isn’t going to get you near the top of the leaderboard.
When the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship first took its place on the European Tour it was seen as an event in which only the very best players had a chance of winning but more recently there have been some shock winners. Gary Stal made the most of Martin Kaymer’s capitulation last year while none of the three winners before him – Pablo Larrazábal, Jamie Donaldson and Robert Rock – were well fancied. With eight major champions in the field there is as much class about this event as ever but Joost Luiten could upset the odds at 70/1 with Betfred. Luiten has only ever missed two cuts playing in the UAE and he’s finished sixth here two years running so is well worth an each way bet.
Another long shot odds worth an each way punt is Tyrrell Hatton. The young Englishman couldn’t find his best stuff against moderate opposition in South Africa last week but he averages under 70 in eight rounds at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club, has two top 10 finishes in two starts tends to play well on desert tracks. All of that makes the 125/1 that Coral are offering much too big.
The PGA Tour is never an organisation to miss out, so with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy going head to head in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour, the PGA have their own test of desert golf this week with the CareerBuilder Challenge. The first event of the year on mainland USA, not only is this event split over three courses but many of those in the field will never have played competitively at two of them.
The courses may change almost yearly for the CareerBuilder Challenge – formally the Humana Challenge and Bob Hope Classic – but the host city remains La Quinta, California and it is the La Quinta Country Club which is the only course of the three that the event visited last year. The other two courses are the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course and PGA West’s TPC Stadium Course. Every player will play a round each at the three stock par 72 courses before the top 60 and ties go once more around the TPC Stadium Course to sort the winner out on Sunday.
It is 29 years since the 7,113 yard track was included on the PGA Tour after players complained that it was just too tough. It will take some getting used to but the tournament organisers are unlikely to set it up to be too much tougher than the other two courses which are fairly easy tests. The other thing for the players to deal with this week is the fact that the first three rounds are pro-am tournaments.
It’s fair to say that this is a fairly quirky event but that has not stopped the PGA Tour stars from giving it a crack. Patrick Reed is the favourite and highest ranked player in the field but he’ll have competition in terms of the title and the attention of the fans from the likes of Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson and defending champion, Bill Haas.
Reed has shown that he is fine with the nature of this tournament as in winning here in 2014 he carded the 72 hole record of 260 (28 under par). He’ll have to get to grips with the new courses but they are not expected to be overly tough and the perfect weather forecast further adds to the feeling that scoring is going to be low once again. Reed managed second place on his own at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and has six successive top 10s so back him to win at 10/1 with Betfred.
Nobody has won more money at this tournament than Bill Haas who has two wins and one playoff loss to his name. Haas loves playing golf in the Californian desert and a price of 28/1 with BetVictor about a player with such a good record here is surely too big.
The final player to have a bit of a punt on this week is Zac Blair at odds of 66/1 with Bet365. His finish of third in the Sony Open was the best of his career and though his all round game looked good last week it was his putting that was most impressive. Another good week with the putter in a tournament that tends to have low scores would be brilliant and could lead to a handsome payout for punters.
The European Tour is always rejigging its schedule and this season they have kicked off with four back to back events in South Africa the last of which, the Joburg Open, takes place this week. The event is now a mainstay on both the European and Sunshine Tours and apart from the slight change in date little has changed for this year’s renewal.
Once again there is a ridiculously large field of 200 players who will complete two rounds at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club, one around the East Course and one around the slightly easier West Course. Both the layouts are long tracks (7,677 and 7,228 yards respectively) but Johannesburg is 6,000 feet above sea level so the ball travels roughly 10% further through the air, tempering that distance. Even so, big hitters have tended to do well at this event but when it comes to picking a winner a high greens in regulation percentage is the key stat to look out for.
This may not be the best tournament of the year but last year it proved to be an incredibly important one for Andy Sullivan. The Englishman won his second tournament of the year here and used that win as a springboard to a season in which he really announced himself to the world of golf. There are plenty of players in the field this week who will be aiming for something similar.
Of those who could secure their breakthrough win, Tyrrell Hatton looks best placed. He is now an established European Tour player but just needs that win to feel completely at home. His best finish on Tour so far came at the 2014 Joburg Open when he tied for second but there have been a number of other tournaments which he would have won but for the odd poor shot or bit of bad luck. To have the sort of successful career that he craves Hatton will have to keep a lid on his temper which can flare up on occasion on the course but he’s got the skills needed to win an event of this calibre at odds of 22/1 with Bet365.
It is a surprise to see Brandon Stone available at odds of 25/1 with Coral. The South African won his maiden European Tour event last week, which was his second win in three starts in his homeland. In those tournaments he’s not ranked outside the top 10 in terms of greens hit in regulation while averaging over 300 yards with his driver. Stone’s finished in the top 20 here before and his chances must be respected.
The American Paul Peterson has travelled the globe for his shot at the professional ranks, impressing on the Asian Tour in the past few years. He tweeted how happy he is to be heading to South Africa for a chance on the European Tour and he could just well spring a surprise in the Joburg Open. Peterson will go about his business under the radar this week and at 150/1 with Coral he looks a great each-way shout.
Once again the Sony Open in Hawaii is the first full field event on the PGA Tour following the winter break. Before Christmas there were a number of smaller, unsanctioned events with a low key feel and last week 32 players took part in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but over 140 players will tee off in Honolulu on Thursday.
Many of those will be playing in their first tournament of 2016 but that is not generally a good sign when it comes to picking a winner of the Sony Open. 11 of the last 16 winners of this tournament played the previous week at the Tournament of Champions, including Jimmy Walker whose win here last year was his second victory in consecutive years. Walker will be aiming to replicate Steve Stricker, the last man to win an event three times on the bounce, but his poor form makes it tough to back the Texas native even though he clearly loves this place.
The par 70 course is one of the easiest on the PGA Tour with the stroke average coming out just a touch over 69 shots last season. Part of the ease of this course comes because of its relatively short distance of 7,044 yards, but there is also a lack of water hazards (water is in play on only three holes) and the weather forecast is for a mild, pleasant temperature with the wind only picking up on Friday. Without the wind the only real defence that the course has is the rough but the tournament organisers cannot seem to make up their mind whether to make it long and penal or to keep it a relatively easy course.
The other issue that the players will face this week is having to hit the small greens. Previous tournaments point to a high greens in regulation ranking being the key stat when it comes to picking a winner for the Sony Open and in that regard it is tough to ignore the challenge of Russell Knox at 45/1 with Bet365. The 30-year-old became the first Scot to win a WGC event at the HSBC Champions in August and since then he has ranked in the top 10 for greens hit in regulation six times. If he can take his chances he will surely at least go close again.
Brandt Snedeker is another player with a solid iron game who must be fancied this week. The popular American comes off the back of a very good showing at the Tournament of Champions where he finished tied for third and he topped the GIR stats for that event. Snedeker is one of the very best putters in the world so he will take his chances and looks a good bet at 28/1 with Bet365.
Finally, Peter Malnati could be worth an each-way shot at 90/1 with Coral. He won his first PGA Tour event at the Sanderson Farms Championship in November and placed sixth in top quality company last week. He’s playing the best golf of his life and could well make those odds of 90/1 look far too generous.
The European Tour returns after the short winter break and once again we have an event in South Africa to get our teeth stuck into. It’s the third tournament to be held around the southern tip of Africa and there is one more next week before the Desert Swing gets underway. This week’s South African Open may be one of the oldest national golf tournaments in the world but it doesn’t quite have the same buzz about it as the Nedbank Golf Challenge, which closes out the calendar year.
You can always tell how well regarded a tournament is by looking at the field who are competing in it. The South African fans, who have not seen a home winner for three years, will be looking to the likes of Branden Grace, Jaco van Zyl and two time major champion Retief Goosen to arrest that run. Charl Schwartzel, who won the Alfred Dunhill Championship at the start of the year, will be a big miss due to illness.
As well as the big South African players, the course at the Glendower Golf Club will be one of the stars of the show. It is a classic parkland layout with trees lining the fairways, bunkers trapping wayward shots on the fairways and around the bunkers and water which is waiting to mess up scorecards on 11 of the holes. Golf is a hard sport but this is a relatively easy course which requires players to keep the ball out of trouble and hit greens in regulation.
Branden Grace is the pre-tournament favourite for this week’s tournament with the bookies and with good reason. At 14 in the world he is the highest ranked player in the field and although this event does not have the prestige of old it is still a big deal for South Africans to win it. In the past, home players have faltered here because of the weight of expectation but Grace has the mental fortitude for that not to be too much of an issue. Grace will challenge in the very biggest tournaments on both major tours this season and has all the quality to win here at 5/1 with BetVictor.
Another South African with a real chance here but at much bigger odds is Hennie Otto. Otto has already won this tournament once and so has shown that he can overcome the pressure. That win may have come around a different course but Otto grew up just around the corner from Glendower and he talks of playing here as “coming home”. The 39-year-old generally plays well here and is in with a great shout at 60/1 with Bet365.
For an even long odds shot at glory this week, try a small stakes bet on Merrick Bremner. The 29-year-old South African plays his golf on the Sunshine Tour but he shouldn’t be overly worried by the bigger names competing this week. He has won the BMG Classic at Glendower and at 29 will be looking for a breakout win in front of a global audience. Bremner will need his best stuff but at 150/1 with Betfred he’s worth a punt.
The PGA Tour gets back underway following the Christmas break with a cracking event in Hawaii. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is a limited field event in which 32 players who won on Tour last season go up against each other around the beautiful Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui. The qualification criteria for this event means that there are always strong fields assembled but this year’s is particularly special with the top two in the world, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth in attendance.
The Plantation Course is unique on the PGA Tour in that it is a par 73 layout. It is a long course at 7,452 yards but it is a relatively easy course for players of this standard with the average winning score somewhere around -20. The main challenges posed by the Plantation Course are the sloped fairways that will provide all number of difficult lies, the huge greens which provide a big test of putting and the exposure to the coastal winds which have caused havoc in this event’s recent history.
As ever with a PGA Tour event the course dictates the sort of player we should be looking to bet on. This week we should be looking at players who can control their iron shots into the wind, move the ball both ways and who can consistently avoid the dreaded three putt when they find themselves on the putting surface a long way from the hole. We also need to consider that this is a quirky course that makes it very tough for debutants to put a challenge together for this prestigious tournament.
The top two in the world are also the top two in the betting. Both Spieth and Day have come close to winning in their limited starts and both could go all the way but of the two Day makes the best appeal. He shares the course record here and was just one shot off last year’s playoff. Last season he was sixth for strokes gained putting and can cut loose with his driver safe in the knowledge that rough isn’t particularly penal in Maui so back him at 6/1 with Ladbrokes.
When people talk about the incredible number of young players at the top of the game they often throw Patrick Reed in there towards the end of the list. He’ll hate that. Reed wants to reach the very top of the game and his competitive spirit will see him go hell for leather to beat Spieth and Day whenever possible. He’s got great control of his ball flight, is a solid putter and, as the defending champion, knows just what is required to go low here. At 12/1 with Betfred, Reed is a good price to go back to back.
One player worth betting on at longer odds is Jimmy Walker who is 45/1 with Betfred. Walker loves playing in Hawaii and at this time of the season. He made a playoff with Reed last year, displaying his brilliant ball control and impressive putting. Having seen his form tail off for much of last season Walker will be desperate to rediscover that winning feeling and is well worth an each-way bet.