The Tour Championship and European Masters both tee off this week. Golf pundit Jason Daniels is here to provide us with some insight and betting tips ahead of the action.
*Prices subject to change
18+ | BeGambleAware.org
And just like that, the PGA Tour season is about to end.
Never mind the whys and wherefores of compacting for majors into a three-month period, September sees the always-confusing Tour Championship and the fight for the supposed best player on the tour.
Just 30-players vie for the FedEx Cup title, and the staggered start offers just those in form a chance to win the big bucks, with four-time 2022 winner Scottie Scheffler the player with the best overall seasonal record, and thus a starting handicap of 10 strokes.
The full list of the handicaps is here, and as seen, the likes of K.H Lee, J.T Poston and others not known by just two initials, are asked to surrender 10 shots to the world number one, eight to last week’s BMW winner Patrick Cantlay, and four to the names Cam Smith, Tony Finau and Rory McIlroy amongst two others.
Full respect to those above him in the stagger, and I fear Xander of all, but I can hardly believe that Rory McIlroy has only won once in 16 events this season.
Whilst the Northern Irishman justified favouritism in Canada, this season has seen him being let down by either the driver or the putter, and hence the elusive second win just hasn’t been forthcoming.
It looked as though he would convert for an emotional win at St. Andrews but it just didn’t happen, admitting:
“I tried to stay as patient as possible, and I kept hitting good putts. I hit a good putt on 13 … 14 … 15 … 16 … 17. I was hitting good putts. They just weren’t dropping.”
“There’s a lot of putts today where I couldn’t just trust myself to start it inside the hole. I was always starting it on the edge or just outside, thinking it was going to move. More times than not, they just sort of stayed there.”
And that has been Rory’s season – it simply has just not happened despite having one of the best tee to green games in the world..
In fact, Rory ranks the second best according to official strokes-gained figures just behind Will Zalatoris, another whose season could have said to be very good but not great, were it not for that last-minute win at the first of the FedEx trio of events.
Ranking #2 in driving distance isn’t the be-all-and-end-all here, but Rory won this in 2019 despite losing strokes off the tee and with his irons back in style – his finishing three birdies in three holes on Sunday resulted from irons to eight, five, and six feet – and him ranking a long-term top-3 player for tee-to-green, I am of the opinion he could win this comfortably, make it three wins from nine starts and head whatever format this new PGA Tour is going to take.
There are few I could trust to give Scottie a six shot start, but should he manage that, giving four to Patrick Cantlay, and less to the rest, is well within his grasp.
With few of the market leaders in the form that tempts me to go in at the prices, I’ll stick with last week’s main selection, Antoine Rozner, as the main bet for the win at stunning Crans-sur-Sierre.
The European Masters is a long-standing event, often marked as a ‘must-go’ by many of the tour, with the atmosphere and tricky but negotiable course appealing to those with a penchant for things other than long, dull, bombers tracks. It’s therefore no surprise that Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn, David Lipsky, Richie Ramsay and Matt Fitzpatrick are on the winner’s roll call, although last year’s front two, Rasmus Hojgaard and Bernd Wiesberger show that the long-hitters can prosper, taking advantage of simple chip-and-putts on the shorter holes.
Let’s therefore get with the Frenchman once again, on a course that will suit a player bang in form and, like McIlroy, just waiting for that week when everything just clicks.
As mentioned in last week’s preview, the two-time winner is now on a long run of positive tee-to-green figures, his last seven events since June showing a progressive profile, with last week’s figure of plus-11 being the highlight of his increasingly impressive run.
At the Czech Masters, Rozner was the best player on the park for overall driving, iron play and green-finding, and only a rough three rounds with the putter (okay, very rough) cost him several paces better than the eventual 13th.
It won’t take much to see this winner in Dubai and Qatar get over the line again, and with a third place finish at Valderrama, a perfect link to many of the recent winners, he can justify the repeat support.
Ewen Ferguson owes this column nothing after winning twice this year, his three wins in the first eight months justifying his inclusion in the pre-season Players To Follow column.
Whilst that isn’t necessarily a reason to include him this week, I’m struggling to see why a two-time winner is trading at higher prices than maiden Richard Mansell or Matt Wallace, classy but winless since 2018.
Let’s not forget that the Scot should be a three-time winner, having let a lead slip through the final round in Kenya, and it is that form and the win in Qatar, that gives the belief he will take to this place on debut.
Now within the top-25 on tour for driving accuracy and 5th for greens, this is all reflected in his strokes-gained stats.
Since Kenya, in March, the 26-year-old has racked up 17 positive figures for his iron play to go along with one less for tee-to-green. His last three starts have seen an aggregate of around nine shots off the tee, 10 shots for approach and 22 shots tee-to-green. Impressive stuff at this level.
Experience helps here, but Ferguson can make it a hat-trick of winning debutants after Hojgaard and Soderberg.
Marcus Helligkilde can follow compatriots Hogjaard and Bjorn to the Swiss crown.
Winning three times on the Nordic golf tour is a sign that something may happen, particularly around The Alps, but the 25-year-old has shown enough to think he is plenty more than that and certainly enough to think he can compete strongly at this level.
On his second season on the Challenge Tour, Helligkilde proved he had learned a lot from his initial spell of two years previous, winning twice (in Finland and Switzerland) before nabbing his third victory at the Grand Finale, enough to land him the number one ranking on the tour.
It looks as if he is also learning quickly at the top level and, after a slow start, finished strongly in Qatar to finish 12th (outside the top-50 into Sunday) before lying top-25 at halfway in the Irish Open and taking a couple of weeks to the other side of the Atlantic.
There he thrived with an eighth and 13th place finish at the Barbasol and Bermuda championships, ranking highly for tee-to-green play and finishing in amongst regular PGA Tour players.
The missed-cut at Fairmont is forgivable given the vagaries of the weather, and after losing a good third-round pitch (11th) at Celtic Manor, bounced back to top form with a top-five at Galgorm Castle, a venue that has ties here, before a win in minor company last week.
The third Dane to win the Road to Mallorca, he can become the third Dan to win at Crans.
Ashun Wu is a name that turns up when the course suits, but it is Sebastian Soderberg, with an iron game to match the best on the tour, that is selected, despite being hard to read. Incredibly impressive with his tee-to-green game at Celtic Manor during Lockdown, he showed equally good form when running up at Valderrama and Mallorca, two events he should have, and deserved to have, won.
The Swede turns up at the right courses so I am not concerned about recent form, which is perhaps a tad better than the figures look at initial glance, the 46th at the Irish Open disguising a top-five placing at halfway, whilst he was inside the top-30 at halfway before fading at Fairmont. Looking at his best results this year, a second place at the British Masters came after three missed-cuts, whilst the top-5 at the Dutch Open followed another weekend off.
It is, however, the overall body of work that prompts interest at anything over 70-1.
Two wins on the Challenge Tour include a three shot defeat of Romain Langasque in Kenya, boosting three wins at Nordic level, whilst best efforts on the European/DP Tour include the victory here, second places at Valderrama and The Belfry and third at the Nordea event, allying him with Alex Noren and Matt Fitzpatrick.