Golfing’s great take to Austin GC this week for the WGC Match Play, but the jamboree makes little appeal as a betting medium as far as pre-event odds are concerned.
Though the event doesn’t contain the likes of Cam Smith and pals from the LIV Tour, most of the world’s top lot take part in a tournament that is great fun to watch but, from my point of view, is only worth jumping in once the group stages are sorted. Good luck if you play.
Instead, we’ll hop off to the Dominican Republic for the Corales Puntacana Championship, where world number 90 Wyndham Clark heads the market.
After making seven straight cuts, and having a better chance of winning last week’s Valspar than the eventual fifth place suggests, he is probably the right favourite. However, quotes of single figures are incredibly short and I’d much rather be a layer of the win than a backer.
The last five Corales champions have averaged a world ranking of around 219th, with 2021 winner Joel Dahmen the highest ranked at 79. Given that and the unpredictability of the coastal winds, this is the chance to get with some bigger prices and progressive golfers whilst the elite play around in Texas.
According to 2018 victor Brice Garnett, this is a second-shot course, whilst previous contenders talk of the importance of mid-long range irons. The course won’t play its full 7600-plus yards, but with little punishment off the tee, those bombers that rank highly in long par-4s and par-5s will have an advantage.
Clearly, being coastal leads us to other clues, and all the last five champions have top finishes at the likes of Puerto Rico, Houston, Hawaii, Bay Hill, Pebble Beach and especially Mayakoba.
Sadly, the last-named Mexican track has gone over to LIV but at least for now it remains hugely relevant, with Dahmen, Graeme McDowell and Brice Garnett with top finishes at El Chameleon. Meanwhile, last year’s winner Chad Ramey, had previously recorded top-20 at Bermuda and fifth at Puerto Rico.
Akshay Bhatia - Each Way33/1
Best Bet - Akshay Bhatia
Full respect to the top lot, but given the recent ranking of the winners, the pair of improving youngsters make obvious appeal given their world ranking of around 280, almost certainly a number they will leave miles behind in time.
Runner-up behind the equally promising Michael Thorbjornsen at the 2018 US Amateur, the highly decorated junior star turned pro after contributing two points from three matches at the U.S victory in the 2019 Walker Cup.
Mixing various tours and invites, the 21-year-old finished a closing ninth at the 2020 Safeway Open before a short 2021 season that saw a 30th at Pebble Beach (top-10 at halfway) and a top-60 when debuting at the U.S Open.
2022 started well with a two-shot victory in the Bahamas on the KFT and whilst he racked up two further top-20s, they were not enough to gain his PGA Tour card.
After the conclusion of the ’22 season, Bhatia’s performances have been improving steadily, with a 17th in Bermuda followed by 45th at the RSM, and fourth when defending his Great Exuma Classic title, and seventh at the second Bahamas event a week later.
49th at the Honda disguises that he was 16th at the cut mark, and his fast-finishing second place at Puerto Rico just three weeks ago is further evidence of his ability in similar conditions.
Latterly, the Wake Forest graduate (see Webb Simpson, Cameron Young amongst many others) missed the cut at Copperhead, but again lost sight of his 21st position after the first round.
In the top-30 after his first round on debut in 2020, he said, “The more experience I can get, the better I can learn for myself,” and that certainly seems the case for a player that should play with a tad more confidence now he has secured Special Temporary membership on the PGA Tour.
Ryan Gerard - Each Way50/1
Danger - Ryan Gerard
He may be two years older than Bhatia, but the 23-year-old is a novice at pro golf.
Having only played eight times on the Canadian Tour – containing one victory, a third, fourth and eighth place finishes, five times on the KFT – including a career-best third place in Columbia, and four events on the PGA Tour, there is no way of knowing how high the ceiling is for the Jupiter resident.
Take a chance we reach somewhere near that, this week.
It’s a small sample but having qualified for the Honda Classic via Monday Q-school, Gerard opened with a 69/63 to lie third at halfway, before finishing with a final round 67 and sole fourth place behind play-off candidates Chris Kirk and Eric Cole, and one place ahead of Shane Lowry.
That unexpected effort got him into the Puerto Rico Open, where he again defied expectation, always being in the top-20 before recording an 11th place finish.
Last week, he needed better than 54th place to earn his STM to Bhatia’s club, but whilst that proved a bit too much, showed plenty in recovering during his second round just to make the cut.
Ryan Gerard needs a two-way T54 this week to clinch Special Temporary Membership.
He was +1 through 13 holes, right on the cutline.
An inside look at how his last five holes played out @ValsparChamp. pic.twitter.com/s3vrrzEeXK
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 18, 2023
Gerard’s form is certainly a small sample size, but there is enough there to think he can step up again in this field.
He has that Spieth-type feel on the odd occasion we have seen his play, and he believes he should be here, telling the PGA Tour reporters that:
"But it's definitely something that I'm not surprised that I'm in this position. I may be surprised that I'm here this early in my career, but I've always kind of felt like I wanted to be here, and I was going to do whatever I could to make that happen."Ryan Gerard
Others to note - Kevin Chappell - Brandon Matthews
Far more experienced than the top two selections, Kevin Chappell appeals on best form.
Kevin Chappell - Each Way90/1
Formally 23rd in the world, the 36-year-old has dropped to outside the top 600 but has dropped hints over the last two weeks that he may be approaching the play that won the Texas Open, run-up at Sawgrass, and finish top-10 in four majors.
Since his body broke down in 2018, golf has been a struggle, and he has not recorded a top 10 since the CIMB in October of that year. However, after missing nine of his last 10 cuts, the Californian resident has improved to 29th at Palm Beach Gardens (round positions 84/48/50/29) and 15th at Puerto Rico (47/54/33/15).
Strokes gained were positive throughout at the Honda, and he’ll hope to at least repeat last season’s 15th here, when again coming from way off the pace after the opening round. That effort was one of the highlights from the last 18 months or so, alongside repeat efforts at the Honda (13th) Texas (18th) and Barbasol (21st).
The work after major surgery may have taken taken longer than originally anticipated, but he says he handled the recovery badly. Perhaps that’s now a bad time gone, and Chappell can start making his way back up to where he belongs.
Brandon Matthews - Each Way150/1
Brandon Matthews makes a little appeal at three figures, particularly on his win here on the Latino America Tour. This massive driver led those stats twice on the KFT and at the Sanderson Farms, and ranked second behind Rory McIlroy at the Honda Classic, when also being top 10 for greens-in-regulation.
He has a way to go on overall PGA Tour form, but Joel Dahmen won after missing six of seven cuts and whilst the selection’s three wins are at the KFT level, he made the cut on his only major attempt – at Brookline – and we all know one mammoth driver that took courses apart from time to time.
Cameron Percy - TOP-109/2
Top-10 Banker - Cameron Percy
I looked closely at Aaron Baddeley. The ultimate family man loves a test in the wind and comes here having shown a tad more consistency this year in better class. However, he loses out to his compatriot, Cameron Percy.
The 48-year-old Australian veteran may only have one KFT title to his name, but if we are going to make money out of him, it’s likely to be at one of these coastal ‘opposite’ events.
With top-10 finishes at likely locations such as Bay Hill, Deere Run, Puerto Rico and Panama, Percy’s game is testimonial to his heritage, ranking top-10 finishes aplenty in his homeland.
Best finish in 2021 was a seventh place at Puerto, and he repeated that same number a year later, just three weeks before finishing in the top five at this event.
2022 saw Percy mix with higher grades when eighth at Sedgefield and whilst he missed the cuts at both the RSM and his home Open, he was lying 29th and 25th after the first rounds respectively (6th after round two in Oz).
This season has seen just two cuts from five starts, but there is relevance in a 12th at Honda, and a closing 16th last week at Innisbrook, certainly enough to believe that he can carry on a solid Corales record of two top-eight finishes over the last two outings.