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.
It’s a South African tournament once again for the European Tour players this week as, along with the players of the Sunshine Tour, they descend on the Pretoria Country Club. The club are hosting their first European Tour event although it has been used as a venue on the Sunshine Tour previously. The course measures 7,063 yards and is therefore not the longest challenge on tour this season. It is however, one of the most beautiful as it’s set in Waterkloof, a gorgeous suburb of Pretoria.
The defending Tshwane Open champion is Ross Fisher. Although the tournament is being held at a different course, he will be confident of a good week. Fisher has only played in the Dubai Swing and the WGC event at Doral last week and has been used to competing against top-quality fields. He was 23rd last week against some of the world’s best so his game is in good shape. The bookies think that he is the man to beat as most of them have him as favourite. Ladbrokes go 14/1 about the Englishman’s chances and it’s tough to look past him – he is the class act here and in decent form.
Trevor Fisher Jr, the winner of last week’s Africa Open, is looking to go back-to-back this week but it’s another South African who offers a bigger appeal. Jaco van Zyl could well have pushed Fisher Jr and certainly would have finished in the top five were it not for some disappointing putting. Van Zyl is a Pretorian native so will be fired up to play his best golf in front of a supportive home crowd. At odds of 20/1 with Coral, Van Zyl looks a solid choice for an each-way bet.
Andy Sullivan is the in-form player in South Africa this season. He has already won twice but he will need to turn it on away from Johannesburg where he has been so successful. The Englishman missed the cut last week so will be hoping to ensure that was just a blip in an otherwise impressive season. One of Sullivan’s big strengths is his driving and he can get close to hitting par fives in two which may be beyond some of the other major challengers in the field. He can be backed at 16/1 with Bet365 and should push the leaders all the way.
The last player to consider this week is the South African Keith Horne. Horne’s worst performance at this course was 30th but that was way back in 2006 and he has improved in more recent appearances. Horne is appealing because the course should play to his strengths and because he has two top 10 finishes already this season. Horne has only finished in the top three once on the European Tour but this co-sanctioned event is his best chance to arrest that run of form. Horne is 50/1 pretty much across the board so backing him each-way is the best way of approaching him. In a well-balanced tournament, it is tough to pick whether the winner will come from one of the home players or not so backing a selection of golfers is prudent.
Dustin Johnson won last week’s WGC Championship at Doral thanks in no small part to his long game. Johnson drives the ball miles and is as accurate as he is lengthy with his long irons. This week, at the Valspar Championship, length will play second fiddle to accuracy, planning and precision. The Copperhead Course, at the Innisbrook Resort, Florida, is not a course that can be easily overpowered. Instead, the player who walks away with the 500 FedEx Cup points will have plotted their away around the course best and their caddie will have earned their 10% share of the $1,062,000 winner’s cheque.
When you talk about accuracy and a patient approach to the game of golf, two names from this field jump out straight away. They are Luke Donald and Jim Furyk. Let’s begin with the Englishman. Donald, the former world number one, has had real troubles with his game in recent years. He has swapped coaches and gone back and forth between swings in an attempt to gain more distance off the tee. In the off-season he went back to his original swing and has looked more comfortable in his events so far. That comfort hasn’t turned into results though as Donald has missed three cuts out of six events but he placed seventh at the Honda Classic and had some good moments at Doral. What makes Donald so appealing this week is his record at Innisbrook. He won here in 2012 and has been sixth or better in his last four outings. At 30/1 with Coral, Donald is one to add to your each-way bets this week.
Furyk is, like Donald, one of the most popular players on the PGA Tour. Since winning the FedEx Cup in 2010, the American has been winless on tour even though he has held a handful of 56 hole leads. His inability to convert good starts is close to becoming a habit that Furyk needs to break sometime soon if he is to add to his career winnings of over $62,000,000. Furyk is shorter than Donald in the betting at a best price of 22/1 with Bet365 as his game is in good shape. He is picking and choosing his events this year and hasn’t finished outside the top 20 in the three he’s played in so far. He was the most accurate driver last week and has won at this course so he’s another to back each-way this week. He might not win but a place is a great shout.
The betting this week is headed by Adam Scott (14/1 with Coral) and Jordan Spieth (16/1 with BetVictor). Both of them have the game to do well here this week but the final recommendation is Matt Kuchar. Kuchar’s game has been there or thereabouts recently but it’s his long-term form that’s most impressive. Over three years his average finishing position is 20th and although he’s never won at Innisbrook, he is one of the most consistent players on tour who can bide his time and wait for opportunities to present themselves. Kuchar is 25/1 with Coral and if you back him each-way you can rejoice every time you hear the cry of “Kooooooooch” as he sinks yet another putt.
The African Open, taking place in East London, South Africa, is another event which is co-sanctioned by both the European Tour and the Sunshine Tour. Following on from Andy Sullivan’s victory at the Joburg Open, the South African golfers in the field will be looking to bite back and continue with a run that has seen home golfers win the last five of these tournaments.
The 156 competitors (half coming from each tour) will be competing at the East London Golf Club, a 6,616 yard par 70 course that offers some spectacular views of the surrounding Eastern Cape. The course underwent significant renovation in 2007 when many new bunkers and greens were put in. Along with these new tests, the coastal wind and occasional marauding monkey will pose their own unique challenges.
Sullivan won his second consecutive tournament in Johannesburg last week at the Joburg Open, following January success in the South African Open Championship. He is therefore very much the in-form golfer and is as short as 8/1 with some bookies. He’s only played in two tournaments at the East London Golf Course. He missed the cut in his first but placed fifth in the second. No doubt he has improved as a golfer in the last year and will go into the event with no fear. The best price available is 10/1 with BetVictor for a man who should be in contention at the weekend but will have plenty of stiff local competition.
One of those local players who looks set for a good week is Jaco van Zyl. He has placed in the top five of the last four African Open tournaments and finished tied second at last week’s Joburg Open. Van Zyl is extremely comfortable at this course thanks to his experiences here and the fact that his game is seemingly tailor-made to cope with the challenges presented. He has been outclassed in strong fields before but as a 16/1 each-way shot with BetVictor, he is a certainty to add to the betting slips this week.
Another South African golfer aiming for the championship this week is Tjaart van der Walt. The 40-year-old will be out to avenge his poor showing here last year when he could only muster a 60th place finish. He placed inside the top five in the two tournaments previous to that which is a better reflection of his abilities around this course. He has three top ten finishes to his name on the Sunshine Tour so far this season so his game is clearly in decent enough shape. You can get 33/1 on him to win generally but the bookies seem undecided about his chances so that may well get bigger as the tournament gets closer.
David Howell had a good week at the Joburg Open and came up agonisingly close as he had to put up with playing second fiddle to Sullivan. The normally laid-back Howell has only played twice in East London but his last event here saw him card three rounds under par. If he can use the positives of last week in the African Open, he could well return a profit on an each-way bet at odds of 50/1 with Bet365, but Van Zyl remains our top tip.
The top 50 players in the world will converge on the Trump National course at Doral in Miami for the first World Golf Championship event of the year. The Cadillac Championship is a limited field event that is co-sanctioned by the European Tour, the PGA Tour, the Japanese Tour, the PGA Tour of Australasia and the Southern African Tour. With the best players from each of these tours competing in an event without a cut, this is the biggest event in the world of golf so far this year.
Rory McIlroy once again tops the outright market. By making him favourite, the bookies are hoping that punters won’t be put off by Rory’s surprising missed cut at last week’s Honda Classic. It was the first time since 2013 that Rory didn’t make the weekend and he will be sure to have worked hard on the range to put his problems to one side. It’s always dangerous not tipping the world number one to win, but at best odds of 11/2 and without a win at the Cadillac, it’s best to go with different options. For a start, you can get 25/1 on defending champion Patrick Reed. His challenge at the Honda fell apart last week as he seemed to uncharacteristically falter under pressure. That will give him all the motivation he needs this week.
The next player to have a good look at is Henrik Stenson. This will be the Swede’s first event in America after slowly finding his form in the Desert Swing events. He improved from missing the cut in his first tournament of the season to narrowly finish outside the top 10 in the next two. Last year he placed 16th here but with his power and experience as a multiple tournament winner, he’s capable of a big week at 33/1. He’s best backed at each-way terms at that price.
Lee Westwood’s 25th place finish at the Honda Classic may not look like outstanding form but he managed to survive the horrible weather in Florida and make the weekend, the same of which can’t be said of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson or Justin Rose. Westwood has the battling qualities to make the best of a bad situation and is comfortable amongst the top players in the world. He may not have a Major to his name but his big tournament experience will be a serious positive this week. He goes off at a big 66/1 with Coral. Back him each-way and he could provide a nice big return on your investment.
Outside of the top names who have always been fixtures at the Cadillac Championship, there are a few players making their bow here who could upset the odds. From the European Tour, the likes of Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood and Bernd Wiesberger will all be testing themselves against the best but the debutante who most appeals is Danny Willett. The Yorkshireman has worked hard on a back injury that saw him withdraw from the Malaysian Open and is desperate for good form in the States before his first crack at the Masters. Willett can be backed at 125/1 with Ladbrokes and is as good a long-shot pick as you’ll get in this field.
The European Tour made history with some of its recent events. In Thailand and in India they co-sanctioned events with the Asian Tour which have never before appeared on the European Tour’s schedule. The next few events are also co-sanctioned – this time with the Sunshine Tour – but the tournaments are much more familiar to players and fans alike. This will be the ninth edition of the Joburg Open in a row and it is held over the two courses at the Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club.
The East Course measures a tough 7,600 yards and is perhaps best known for the signature 10th and 11th holes. These brutes are thought to be the longest back-to-back par fours in world golf, coming in at a combined yardage of well over 900 yards. The West Course is a few hundred yards shorter and offers a tantalising risk-reward challenge. They both play to a level par of 72 but scoring is generally lower on the West Course. Make sure to make a note of that if you look to get involved in-play at any stage. If a player is making headway on the field and is on the East Course, you know he has an advantage going into his next round.
Since the event has been included on the European Tour, South African golfers have dominated. Six of the tournament winners since 2007 were playing on home territory. It makes sense then, that defending champion George Coetzee is the bookies’ favourite. Coetzee has yet to record a top-ten finish this season even in the recent Dimension Data Pro-Am which took place in South Africa. He will be disappointed if he doesn’t challenge here but it seems prudent to look to other challengers this week.
The first contender of note is the promising Tyrrell Hatton. The 23-year-old has been ever-improving having come from the Challenge Tour last season. He finished tied second at last year’s Joburg Open and is an unflappable character. At 33/1 with Ladbrokes his price appeals for an each-way bet.
Next, we look to a South African to do the job on home soil. Thomas Aiken has never won this tournament even though he has the tools to shoot a low score on both courses. He did hold the lead last season but a final round of 74 saw him finish tied-fifth. The 31-year-old has 11 professional wins so he knows what to do to combat Sunday nerves and is therefore recommended at 25/1 with Coral.
Another player who finished tied for fifth place in the 2014 event was Andy Sullivan. The 28-year-old Englishman has already won on the Sunshine Tour this year when he scooped the prize in January’s South African Open by chasing down Charl Schwartzel who had a seven-shot lead. He also has a top-five place on the European Tour in 2015 at the Dubai Desert Classic. Sullivan is a player in form so Bet365’s 16/1 for him to win is very appealing.
The final bet is a long-shot. Matthew Fitzpatrick only turned professional this season and therefore needs to qualify for the 2015 Open, a tournament in which he made the cut as an amateur. He’s displayed decent form so far and will be chasing the Open spot that winning the Joburg Open guarantees. At 150/1 generally, he is good value for a final each-way bet.
The Honda Classic boasts arguably the strongest field of any PGA Tour event so far this year. Most of the top players have picked and chosen the events of the ‘West Coast Swing’ that they played in. Some players don’t like playing in pro-ams or events set over a number of different courses, but they pretty much all want to play in the Honda Classic. The emigration of European Tour players who also play on the PGA Tour continues with Lee Westwood, Victor Dubuisson and world number one Rory McIlroy all making their PGA Tour bow this week.
The Champion Course at the PGA National was specifically designed to host big events. It has hosted major championships and Ryder Cups and has been redesigned by Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear introduced one of the most feared stretches of holes with the “Bear Trap” which comprises holes 15, 16 and 17. Along with the other tweaks that Nicklaus added in 1990 and 2014, the par 70, 7,140 yard track will require top-notch course management.
Last year, McIlroy was in control on Sunday until he hit the water at the 16th and took a double bogey. He made a four-man play-off which was won on the first hole by Russell Henley. This time around, McIlroy is the stand-out favourite. The best price available on the Northern Irishman is 4/1 with Betfred which is miles shorter than second-favourite Dustin Johnson who is 16/1 generally. That price may be bordering on the ridiculous for such a competitive field but Rory won this tournament in 2012, finished first and second in his last two events and is just so good that you may as well back him for insurance purposes.
Away from Rory-mania, let’s have a look at some bigger priced contenders with the game to challenge at the Honda Classic. Another European, Paul Casey, is the first to have a look at. The former Ryder Cup player has suffered with a host of injuries in recent years but his career is currently on an upwards trajectory. He made the play-off at last week’s Northern Trust Open after re-establishing himself on both tours last season. Casey is a general 50/1 in the outright market which offers each-way appeal but the recommendation is to back him at 23/5 with BetVictor in the top 10 market. Another week of improvement beckons.
Next it’s time to plump for a fan-favourite to get back into form. Luke Donald was once ranked as the number one player in the world but the last couple of years have been something of a nightmare for the Chicago-based Englishman. A couple of seasons of coach-swapping and swing changes have resulted in Donald trying to go back to the swing which brought him success. His horrible form has masked green shoots of recovery in his game and given that he generally plays well around the Champion Course, the price of 80/1 with Coral is worth an each-way play for small stakes.
With the migration from the European Tour to PGA Tour almost complete for those who hold cards on both tours, there will be a very strong European presence at the Honda Classic. Many of the top Europeans live in Florida also, so get on the 5/6 that BetVictor are offering for the winner to come from outside America to hedge your bets if your individual picks don’t quite come off.