Happy New Year!
Of course it would make perfect sense to start a golf season in the first week of January, and with an invitational tournament comprising the PGA winners from 2022, but this is golf.
Instead, we have the 13th event on the wraparound 2022/23 schedule and an elite event that, once again, cannot tempt Rory McIlroy, the present world number one.
That seems more of a loss to viewers than to Rory himself, but add that to the loss of Cameron Smith and the tournament loses some of its edge, no matter the quality that remains on show.
18+ | BeGambleAware.org
The defending champ won’t be present this week……but the defending Masters champ will be!
In terms of winner-finding, judging which players are ‘ready’ to win after the Christmas break is always a tad of guesswork, although there are a few clues from recent years.
Ignoring the ‘silly season’ events, the break after the Hero World Challenge and QBE Shootout seems to make no difference to winners here, and students of ‘current form’ could be in clover.
From Justin Thomas in 2020 to Steve Stricker in 2012, every winner of the ToC has played in the previous season’s World Challenge, with Dustin Johnson’s 14th the worst finish of all the contenders in this formline, and whilst neither of the last two winners took part in Albany before their respective victories, both had good recent form – Cam Smith with a run of 9th, 15th and then tied fourth at the RSM Classic, Harris English with a pair of top six finishes, at Mayakoba and the almost matching the Aussie star’s finish at Sea Island.
Hints of quality play in windy conditions will help, but it’s the accuracy of the approaches that counts here. Every player should hit a large percentage of the greens, but the downhill fairways will often aid the longer drivers, leading to more than the average number of wedges. From there, putting counts aplenty on the newish Bermuda greens – every one of the last five winners has finished in the top two for putting average.
There was a time when Scottie Scheffler was an automatic each-way bet every week.
Sadly, that was well before he became a win machine, picking up four trophies in six events, including his first major, The Masters, in early 2022.
Augusta creates a nice link via Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth amongst others but that run stopped much of the general 28-1 we could get week-to-week. and now firmly lodged in the top three of the world, the only thing missing from the 26-year-old’s current resume is, bizarrely, a win.
Since Augusta, Scottie has had chances to win at the Charles Schwab (play-off loss to Sam Burns), U.S Open, BMW, Mayakoba (final round 62) and last time at the Hero World Challenge, the last two events significant in their own way.
There is absolutely no issue with the tee-to-green play of the world number two, ranking in the top 10 for ten of his 23 ‘official’ outings last year, and any lack of a victory is all down to the putter.
The flat stick started to misbehave at around ‘Open’ time, but I have this (unproven) thought that his deflating loss to Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship was the start of his putting woes. As Rory et al closed on his significant lead, Scheffler’s game fell away, leading to an extremely unreliable short game, something that continued at the CJ Cup.
However, once the main season was out of the way, he ditched his Masters-winning putter and took out an old blade, resulting in a 68/62 weekend in Mexico and just 25 putts on payday.
Granted, he didn’t improve by a great deal in Houston but it was still a better figure, and he then played a top-class game throughout the bag at the Hero Challenge, impressing with a 10-under over the weekend.
Proven in the wind, and in top-grade competition, he will be well aware of what he needs in order to hold off the likes of this week’s favourite Jon Rahm, from taking his slot. With enough time to get over 2022, Scheffler can improve on his debut here in ’21, and score at the second time of asking, putting him alongside five recent winners that proved victorious on their second outing.
Picking between Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau was a tough choice, but Cantlay seems very hard to win with and my original pick, Finau, regrettably misses out as the last time he returned from a break, he ruined a great run (and my bet) by missing the cut in Mexico.
Xander simply looks like a rock-solid wager in every aspect, and 11/1 does provide some each way value in a limited field.
After a modest 22nd on debut in 2018, the current world number six came from fourth place overnight to win the following year and backed up his solid course form with a play-off defeat to Justin Thomas 12 months later, fifth in 2021 (a poor third round costing him) and last season’s 12th place.
The 29-year-old has a very similar game to many of the elite, with a runner-up and third place finish at Augusta perhaps giving him the edge in course comp form, whilst recent form sees him land 6th at the Tour Championship, 9th at the Zozo and crucially, fourth place at the Hero. Confidence isn’t an issue when you can add those finishes to three victories throughout the year, as well as holing the winning putt at the Presidents Cup.
CUP SECURED 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/fRTfDr4pKb
— Xander Schauffele (@XSchauffele) September 25, 2022
Unlike many, there should also be few doubts that Xander is ready to perform for the first time out each season and, for me, he rates equal to his similar-sounding namesake.
It was very tempting to stick with the top of the market and that’s probably where the winner comes from.
However, in a field of just 39 players, the each-way and top-10 value lies with the under-rated Irishman, Seamus Power, who not only brings solid recent form into the event but plenty of form in coastal conditions. It is also his second outing here, to boot.
The 35-year-old has taken his time getting into the top echelons of golf but having been ranked #429 at the end of 2020, has made his way to 113th after his six-hole play-off win at the Barbasol, and to 32nd when winning in Bermuda last October.
Now inside the top-30, Power comes into the event after a bronze medal at Mayakoba (in front of Scheffler, Hovland and Morikawa) and, although not qualified for the Hero, he placed in the top five at the RSM, giving him those links to the previous two winners.
In slight negative for his putting stats when 15th here on debut in 2021, he was 15th for tee-to-green, something he could well improve on after the experience of that first outing, especially as he ranked a lowly 25th after the first round.
In terms of class, 2022 saw his first full year at the majors with results reading top-10 at the PGA, ties-12th at Bethpage and top-30 on his first look at Augusta, so with no worries on that score he looks a bit of value for a sneak inside the places, or a top-10 if odds become available.