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It's time to have some punting fun at the Greenbrier Classic this week and no we aren't backing Tiger Woods! After a tough few weeks betting-wise, the 6th renewal of the Greenbrier Classic at Old White TPC throws up an interesting conundrum and the potential for some big returns. Form goes out of the window and the PGA Tour's lesser lights and rookies have a riot. Appleby, Stallings, Potter Jr, Blixt and Cabrera are the 5 Greenbrier Champions to date with Appleby ending a 4-year winless drought in 2010 here at the shortest odds for the winners to date of 80/1.
We had some success here last year with a change of strategy. Although Angel Cabrera won at (100/1), we landed George McNeill at 100/1 each-way plus a part each-way return on Bud Cauley at 160/1. In 2013 Jonas Blixt (125/1) finished ahead of Steve Bowditch (600/1), Matt Jones (250/1), Johnson Wagner (400/1) and Jimmy Walker (60/1) in what was another result for the bookmakers. So I'm digging into the field again this year with an eye on a bigger price and a couple of interesting Top 10 angles.
Over at Le Golf National outside of Paris, Paul Williams is expecting a heat-wave and a firm golf course that will not be for the faint-hearted. The Open de France is always a highlight of the European Tour and you can read his thoughts on that event here.
2015 Punters League
3 entries last week selected a transatlantic Larrazabal and Watson combination with Paul Leahey also having the trump card of Henrik Stenson, which delivered him the weekly free bet prize. Sean Colgan still leads overall league after 25 weeks. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 6 players across the Greenbrier and the Open de France on our facebook group now!
As per last week where Brian Harman, Graham Delaet, Carl Pettersson and Luke Donald grabbed Open Championship qualifying spots, a further 4 spots are up for grabs in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia this week on the PGA Tour. Here's my Greenbrier Classic preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: The host course is stacked full of history. Old White TPC at The Greenbrier Resort (to give the course its full title) had Sam Snead as a head pro in 1944 and hosted the Ryder Cup in 1979. An original MacDonald design, the course was face lifted in 2010/11 so as to make it more of a challenge for the PGA Tour pros. Since then it's proven a sterner test, but it's still likely that well over 20 birdies will be required for victory this week. The course is tree-lined and classical with a 34/36 front/back split - indeed the front 9 features no Par 5s and the closing hole is a 179 yard Par 3.
Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia: Designer: MacDonald/Raynor 1914, with PGA Tour Design renovation 2010/11; Course Type: Classical, Resort; Par: 70; Length: 7,287 yards; Water Hazards: 10; Fairways: Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass 3"; Greens: 7,000 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; Stimpmeter: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.78 (-0.22), Difficulty Rank 27 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.87 (-0.13), Difficulty Rank 25 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.10 (+0.10), Rank 26 of 48 courses.
Course Overview: At 7,287 yards Old White TPC is a scoreable Par 70 where every type of player can contend. The course and surrounding Greenbrier resort is within a National Park in the Appalachian mountain range. The course is 2,000 feet above sea level and that's a great advantage for the shorter hitters who can easily add 15 yards to their driving this week. The course also has large 7,000 sq.ft average Bentgrass greens which will play softer in 2015 after some heavy thunderstorms in the build-up to the event. All in all we should expect lower scoring this term with only the lightest of breezes forecast.
Winners: 2014: Angel Cabrera (-16); 2013: Jonas Blixt (-13); 2012: Ted Potter Jnr (-16); 2011: Scott Stallings (-10); 2010: Stuart Appleby (-22).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Greenbrier predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the Top 5 of the Predictor include Bubba Watson (Predictor number 1), Kevin Na, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed and J.B. Holmes.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the RBC Heritage & Shenzhen International and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2014: Cabrera 100/1; 2013: Blixt 125/1; 2012: Potter Jnr 500/1; 2011: Stallings 175/1; 2010: Appleby 80/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for White Sulphur Springs is here. Electrical activity on Friday and Saturday deluged the course with 80mm of rain and further storms during tournament week cannot be ruled out. A softer course and light breezes should see lower tournament scoring.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors:
Analysing the final stats of the last 5 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages: Driving Distance: 24th; Driving Accuracy: 33rd; Greens in Regulation: 22nd; Scrambling: 24th; Putting Average 6th.
So let's take a view from players as to just what are the key attributes required at Greenbrier this week:
Jonas Blixt: "I mean, considering last year it was quite soft, I thought the golf course just had a few holes where you needed to make pars, and the rest of the golf course was pretty much birdiable everywhere. Hitting a good shot on 16 to get a good chance to making birdie, 16, 17, the same thing. There are a bunch of birdie holes, and that's why I was so surprised that I found myself in contention where I didn't make any birdies the last day, a bunch of pars and maybe one or two bogeys and I was right there.."
Steve Stricker: "Yeah, it's a good course. I was talking to somebody earlier. I don't know if it favours any type of golfer here. I don't think it favours a bomber. I don't think it favours a short hitter. You'll have to give yourself opportunities out of the fairway, for sure. The rough is just thick enough where it's hard to control. If you're in the rough, you can't be as aggressive into the green. So it's playing pretty long too. The fairways are soft, but they'll dry out a little bit as we get going on. But it's going to take a well‑rounded player playing at the top of his game this week. You're not going to fake it around here at all, I don't think. It's a good course, and it's a good test.."
So we face a tournament this week where reasonable golfing logic tends to be thrown aside. Qualification for the Open Championship is naturally a huge carrot for the PGA Tour's rank and file and that shouldn't be underestimated, but from a player motivation perspective it's also worth recognising a couple of things. This tournament slots in after the recent rigours of Colonial, Muirfield Village and Chambers Bay. It's also only 2 weeks until the Open Championship and it's worth remembering that 4 players who have not already qualified and who finish in the top 12 at Old White TPC will secure places in The Open Championship.
The tournament itself tends to be a putting contest where short-game specialists or in-form ball-strikers can contend. Incredibly the close of the regular FedEx Cup series is also just around the corner and there are plenty of players who are fighting for their 2015/16 playing privileges. Now player interviews from previous tournaments here quote that the Greenbrier Classic has a 'small event' feel to it, so it's no real surprise to see that Stallings and Potter Jnr won their first ever PGA Tour titles here and that the tournament is perennially contended by a host of Tour maidens and players who are fighting for their PGA Tour futures. That's why I've gone for a range of players this week with their prices allowing flexibility in the number of names in this week's portfolio.
My selections are as follows:
PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau has been massively impressive this season and sits a lofty 41st in the FedEx Cup standings behind only Daniel Berger in the race for Rookie of the Season. The next target on the horizon has to be qualification for the Open Championship which I think the Utah native is more than capable of achieving here at Old White TPC. A form line of 25(River Highlands)-14(Chambers Bay - his Major Championship debut)-8-(Muirfield Village)-10(TPC Four Seasons)-19(Colonial)-16-(Quail Hollow) is impressive stuff and includes some classical tracks that link in well for this week. Finau, who is an out-and-out bomber, will be making his debut this week at Old White TPC and I'm sure he'll love the format which isn't overly penal from the tee. Linkable web.com results in 2014 at Highland Springs CC (11th) and Willow Creek CC (5th) jump from the page and Finau's equal best finish on the main Tour this season at TPC Summerlin (7th) highlights that altitude golf is a friend rather than a foe.
At 115th in the FedEx Cup, Seung-yul Noh will be keen to progress in the standings this week and there's no doubt that the San Diego, California based South Korean is starting to play some excellent stuff right now. A win at TPC Louisiana last year means that the 24 year-old is fully exempt for 2014/15, but Noh undoubtedly has loftier ambitions starting with top Tour performances over the next couple of weeks which could lead to qualification for the Open Championship. Seung-yul will know that he needs to make some serious progress if he wants to qualify for the International President's Cup team, but it's abundantly clear that he's hitting greens and putting really well at the moment and opening rounds of 68-67-67 on his debut at Old White back in 2012 highlight a player who's comfortable on the course and at altitude.
At 134th in the FEC (123rd Money List), Bo Van Pelt is perilously close to the PGA Tour trap-door and he knows it, needing to finish in the Top 125 to maintain full playing privileges for 2015/16. He's likely to have a Top 50 Career Money Leaders exemption to throw at the problem if he doesn't reach that goal, but his 7th place finish at River Highlands last week seems to suggest that BVP is practising hard right now and his results have been much better from Harbour Town onwards. Ranked 6th in All-Round in Connecticut and finally his ball-striking and a warmer putter are starting to marry up. Recent winners Jonas Blixt and Angel Cabrera both have a positive classical course CV and both were course debutants, so I can see Van Pelt liking his first visit to The Greenbrier.
The ubiquitous 'horses for courses' pick Charlie Beljan finds himself again in West Virginia at Old White TPC where he's finished 3rd and 11th in 3 appearances here. Outside of the FEC Top 125, Beljan would undoubtedly love to qualify for the PlayOffs for only the second time in his career and the 30 year-old, who is based in Arizona, has been striking the ball really well of late. 18th at Chambers Bay a fortnight ago was a career best Major and his ice-cold putter has started to thaw at just the right time. Has always played far better at lower scoring tournaments so worth a small interest this week in my opinion.
Top 10 Market
The nature of this tournament has thrown up a series of quirky results so I'm going to back 3 more players in the Top 10 market:
Chad Campbell has a history of playing well at altitude and his 3rd and 2nd place finishes at Augusta link in well with the past 2 Champions here Jonas Blixt and Angel Cabrera. 2nd at the Omni Tucson National Golf Resort (2003), 2nd + 3rd at TPC Summerlin (2008 and 2009) and 1st at PGA West (2006) highlight a golfer who's comfortable with thin-air golf and low scoring. At 99th in the FEC, Chad is one Top 5 away from earning his full playing privileges after burning a Top 50 career earnings exemption to play this season. His game is definitely on the up with excellent Bogey Avoidance and positive putting of late.
Adam Hadwin is far from guaranteed a second year on the main Tour at 114th in the FEC (116th Money List), but the 27 year-old Canadian helped his cause no end in May with a cracking 5th at Colonial. Was 32nd here on debut back in 2011 and Hadwin has an altitude CV that catches my eye. His only other Top 10 this season was at TPC Summerlin and Hadwin has had decent finishes at both Willow Creek CC and the Country Club at Soboba Springs on the web.com - a course where past Old White contenders Stephen Bowditch, Keegan Bradley, Ted Potter Jnr. and Jonas Blixt all have Top 4 finishes.
Cameron Percy is best remembered for his play-off defeat to Martin Laird at TPC Summerlin in 2010. Fact is that the 41 year-old Australian has always struggled at Tour level, but he's undoubtedly Bentgrass green positive and a recent run of 15th at TPC San Antonio, 10th at TPC Four Seasons, 18th at TPC Southwind and a fighting 54th last week at River Highlands have given him a squeak of obtaining status for 2015/16. 30th here in 2013 after Friday and Saturday rounds of 68-65 had put him in line for a Top 10 finish. Percy is playing far better these days and putting really well over his last few outings.
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