Have you claimed your free £10 bet from Sky Bet, no strings attached and no deposit required? click here to claim yours today!
Happy New Year to you all and welcome to 2017 on the PGA Tour. After enduring no PGA Tour golf in December we're back ready and raring to go, so what should we expect in 2017? Well the Major Championships are all back in their traditional positions with visits to Erin Hills (Wisconsin), Royal Birkdale and Quail Hollow (North Carolina) across the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship respectively. New host courses on the Tour include Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City for the opening World Golf Championship in March plus visits to Eagle Point GC (Wells Fargo), TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm (Quick Loans) and Glen Oaks Club (Northern Trust Open, previously The Barclays).
Jason Day and Rory McIlroy start 2017 as the top 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, with both announcing new moves equipment wise. World Number 1 Day has moved to Nike for footwear, apparel, headwear and gloves. McIlroy's move though is far more fundamental with a change to Callaway woods and irons, an Odyssey putter and Titleist ball (Pro V1x) and wedges. Worth bearing in mind for next week when the Northern Irishman is sure to go off as the short-priced favourite at the South African Open.
Before we talk Kapalua, it's time to highlight our GBS Punters League. Now into its 7th season, the Punters League starts in Hawaii this week and runs through to the week of the DP World Tour Championship in mid-November. We are excited to announce that Paddy Power are again sponsoring the competition with a £/€250 free bet first prize for the overall League Champion plus £/€25 free bets for each of the weekly winners. Entry is exclusively via our lively Facebook Group. Good luck and note that the deadline for this week is the first tee time on Thursday.
We can also announce the 5th successive running of our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365, who have put a total of £250 in free bets up for grabs to the winners. The competition is in the form of a one-and-done, so all you need to do is give us a single player for each of the 4 Majors to enter - full details are here.
2017's PGA Tour action kicks off as ever on the island of Maui, Hawaii. The traditional 'Tournament of Champions' winners-only event is always an interesting affair on a spectacular and unique coastal course. Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Danny Willett are no-shows leaving a high quality field of 32 to slug it out for a well respected title. With 5 of the world's top-10 in attendance, namely Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson, we aren't short of quality this week in an event where a chunky 50 OWGR points are up for grabs.
With the interest in Fantasy Golf growing, I've also written a dedicated preview for Draftkings for the SBS Tournament - click here to read it.
Course Guide: From a course design perspective, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw these days are most famously known for their renovation masterpiece at Pinehurst Number 2 which of course hosted the 2014 U.S. Open. However their Plantation Course design at Kapalua, which was opened in 1991, is no ordinary golf course as it sits perched above the Pacific Ocean. A Par 73 format which is unique on the PGA Tour, the course is synonymous with long drives, aggressive play and impressively low scoring. Scratch a little deeper though and it becomes apparent that the course can be mastered just as well by shorter, accurate types who can putt the lights out over 4 days of competition.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua, Lahaina, Hawaii: Designer: Coore & Crenshaw, 1991; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 73; Length: 7,452 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways Bermudagrass; Rough: Bermudagrass, 2"; Greens: 7,120 sq.ft TifEagle Bermudagrass; Stimpmeter: 10ft. Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.44 (-2.66), Difficulty Rank 48 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.11 (-0.89), Difficulty Rank 32 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.58 (-2.42), Rank 47 of 48 courses. Course Scoring Average 2015: 69.93 (-3.07), Difficulty Rank 52 of 52 courses. 2016: 69.81 (-3.19), Difficulty Rank 50 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for the Plantation Course and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Overview: The scoring at Kapalua is always shaped by the strength of the local winds. For 2017 expect light Trade (easterly) breezes which will make the course play shorter than 12 months ago. Plantation seems long at circa 7,450 yards but the course plays as a Par 73 via a unique 36/37 Par split and is famous for having 11 par-4s and only 3 par-3s. In total the layout features 6 sub-400 yard par-4s. This makes it possible to score heavily with 13 of the 18 holes last term playing easier than their par. The course has the largest amount of elevation changes on the whole PGA Tour creating blind shots and plenty of uneven lies. Large greens feature extremely grainy TifEagle Bermudagrass with plenty of contours. This combination puts a premium on accurate approach play from the fairway, allied to excellent lag putting to minimise the inevitable long distance 3 putts.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua is easy to misread. At over 7,400 yards and with some of the widest fairways on the PGA Tour, it would be easy to look exclusively for bombers to dominate here. After all, most people remember the closing, downhill par-5 18th hole where brute power gives those that are blessed with length from the tee a real eagle opportunity. However although Dustin Johnson won here in 2013, brute force and high standard ball-striking aren't enough to unlock the secrets of a format that demands a birdie or better on 1 in 3 holes to contend for victory.
Instead the key to this test tends to be top-class wind play allied to conquering the uniquely contoured and huge 7,000+ sq.ft average green complexes that feature TifEagle Bermudagrass. Eagles and birdies are on offer to those who can putt well on greens where getting close to the hole is a particularly difficult task - indeed Kapalua has ranked inside the top-4 most difficult courses in terms of Proximity to Hole every year since 2011. Tie that difficulty in getting close to the pin in with the fact that putts are tremendously difficult to read, grain is a huge feature and that there are huge variances in putting speed dependant on whether a putt is uphill, flat or downhill. Therefore it becomes clear that course experience is vital. Top quality putters who can compile low scores through astute birdie making in tandem with top-notch scrambling to minimise bogeys should undoubtedly be favoured.
Winners: 2016: Jordan Spieth (-30); 2015: Patrick Reed (-21); 2014: Zach Johnson (-19); 2013: Dustin Johnson (-15, 54 holes); 2012: Steve Stricker (-23); 2011: Jonathan Byrd (-24); 2010: Geoff Ogilvy (-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 SBS Tournament predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Hideki Matsuyama (No.1), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Italian Open / Boise Open and includes both PGA Tour, European Tour and web.com Playoff events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2016: Spieth 5/1; 2015: Reed 22/1; 2014: Zach Johnson 14/1; 2013: Dustin Johnson 14/1; 2012: Stricker 17/2; 2011: Byrd 50/1; 2010: Ogilvy 9/1; Average: 18/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Maui is here. The main pointer in 2017 looks to be wind conditions which tend to prove pivotal here. The Plantation Course should see 13 to 15 mph breezes across the full 4 days of competition. Winds will be from the north east, known locally as Trade winds, and they will make the course essentially play a little shorter (12 months ago we saw opposite Kona breeze). All in all the wind is pretty normal for this event, so again expect low scoring as conditions will be fine and there has been a smattering of rain pre-event.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners here since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the Plantation Course sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Jordan Spieth: "Whether it's a short putt, or long, you just really got to hit it. I played a couple putts today - trickiest reads for me were ones where the entire mountain and grain is going one way, but you're on the back side - like putts like I had on 17. I had one where that back side of that green's pitched back the other way. You want to play gravity, but you know there's an effect from the hill, from the slope and you know there's an effect from the gradual slope down the mountain and the grain. And each time I try to almost out smart it and play it towards the water and it actually turned back into the hill. So I'll keep a note of that. But for the most part, if you're hitting anything from really five feet out into the grain uphill, it is just tough to hit hard enough. Especially in the last group because they get a little spiked up and they're even slower."
Patrick Reed: "The golf course fits my eye really well. A lot of the holes, seems like I can work it right-to-left and I've worked really hard this off-season on not only working the ball right-to-left but also working it left-to-right, so I can have both shots."
Zach Johnson: "Well, I guess there was an intimidation factor there just because of the length of it. You know, score card length, and you get a few winds out here where the course does play long. You know, you get the trades, it doesn't feel like it plays that long. But I was intimidated, not necessarily just because of the yardage, though. Because of the greens. They're just so hard to putt. I mean they're big; they're undulating. A flat putt is pretty slow. The ones down grain are super fast. The ones in the grain are obviously super slow. So the greens are still intimidating. What I've grown to know is you're going to hit good putts and they're just not going to go in, because there's so much break. So once I embraced that fact, I think things have kind of settled down a little bit mentally. It's just hard. Everybody is going to hit it you're going to hit a lot of fairways, you're going to hit a lot of greens and you're going to miss a lot of putts."
Geoff Ogilvy: "Does it help to hit it long around here? It helps, I think. I don't think I'm long anymore. I'm long enough. It gives longer hitters room to have at it, you know. There's a lot of holes here where you just hit it as hard as you can and have a little bit of concern for where it goes but a lot less than normal. So I guess it's an advantage to hit it long because you can, it's always an advantage to hit it long. There's a lot of holes here where it's probably a super advantage. Like 18 is unreachable for the non-long guys but the long guys, it's exponential. Every ten yards you hit it, you get an extra 20 yards. But a good wind player and a good putter is going to do the best out here I think."
Steve Stricker: "Yeah, you have to learn here. It takes a while to learn here. It's a little bit different than what we are typically used to. There's big undulating greens, a lot of slope in the fairways. But I think the biggest challenge is the greens and the wind once you get on the greens. The wind can blow and make putting very difficult, and even the roll out in the greens that we typically have, which we are not seeing as much here. So it's a challenge to hit some of these shots, and you expect that ball to roll out or release a lot, and it's not now. So that's a little different, too, and something to get used to. But it's a course where a lot of local knowledge helps you out a lot and the more times you play here, the better off you are."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Coore/Crenshaw designs include:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their group and winning score since 2010. Full First Round Leader stats are here.
All winners here since 2009 have played the tournament at least once before securing victory and that highlights the quirky nature of the course and especially the vast, undulating, grainy TifEagle Bermudagrass greens. They are extremely difficult to read so look for excellent putters who are comfortable on Bermuda. For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Kapalua is a course where Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation take something of a back seat. Instead the key to success here is accurate approach play and conversion of scoring chances with the putter. Course conditions for 2017 sees pretty light Trade wind breezes which should aid scoring. Slow greens here at 10 on the Stimpmeter are the norm as green complex undulations demand receptiveness. I can see circa -22/270 or even slightly lower being the target score required.
7 of the last 8 winners here all played competitive golf in the previous December, be that in Australia or at Tiger's Hero Challenge and/or the Franklin Templeton Shoot Out. Working forward from Vijay Singh in 2007, all winners here at Kapalua had shot -19 or lower to win a PGA Tour tournament previously in their career.
Bookmaker Offers. Only Paddy Power have extended their EW terms this week, going 5 places each-way at 1/5 odds:
My selections are as follows:
It's fair to say that when Hideki Matsuyama is putting confidently he's extremely hard to beat. The Predictor Model Number 1 has undoubtedly been playing the best golf in the world over the autumn and I can see no reason why he won't go extremely close again this week at a Kapalua course where approach proximity is so vital. Wins at the Japan Open, WGC HSBC Champions (-23/265), Taiheiyo Masters (-23/265) and the Hero World Challenge (-18/270) have been impressive. Taking his last 4 outings, including the CIMB Classic where he finished 2nd behind Justin Thomas with a score of -20/268, Hideki has made 4 Eagles and 100 Birdies, converting a Birdie or Better across 35.4% of the 288 holes he's played.
3rd at Kapalua on course debut 2 years ago when he co-led with Jimmy Walker after 54 holes, the Japanese No.1 made 23 Birdies and a field best 3 Bogeys before a disappointing single birdie over the final 9 holes saw him miss out on a play-off with playing partner Jimmy Walker and eventual winner Patrick Reed by a single shot. Back then I had Matsuyama down as negative on Bermudagrass greens, but since he moved to Orlando, Florida his performances have become far stronger on the surface - 2016 featured 6th at Bay Hill (TifEagle Bermuda), 7th at TPC Sawgrass, 3rd at Sedgefield and 5th at East Lake, before his win at Albany GC at the start of December - a course which features a similar TifEagle Bermudagrass putting surface to this week's Plantation Course. Hardly a surprise when you're practising so much in the Sunshine State. So if the 24 year-old starts the New Year in exactly the same vein as 2016, it will undoubtedly be hard for the other single-digit priced contenders, namely Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson or a rusty Jason Day, to stay in his slipstream. RESULT: 2nd
Brandt Snedeker loves Hawaii so much that he arrived on Maui on Boxing Day and as we know he absolutely thrives when it comes to both coastal golf and the West Coast swing. Buoyed by delivering a fantastic 3 points from 3 matches at the Ryder Cup, Sneds travelled directly to Fiji and won the co-sanctioned European Tour event with ease in tough, windy conditions he excels in. Brandt then went on to finish 25th in Japan at the Bridgestone Open and 45th in the RSM Classic before ending his year with a creditable 6th in the Hero World Challenge and 8th with Jason Dufner when defending their Franklin Templeton Shootout title in Florida. So he ended 2016 busily and in half decent form - that makes him a huge danger this week on the Plantation Course where he's finished 3rd twice in 2013 and 2016.
A November switch in coach from Butch Harmon to Sea Island-based John Tillery has been welcomed by Brandt who bases himself in Georgia and when he's comfortable mentally results come, especially on the West Coast where he's won 4 of his 8 Tour titles. Wins at Torrey Pines (2012 & 2016) and Pebble Beach (2013 & 2015) are surrounded on his CV with strong finishes at Waialae (2nd 2015), PGA West (8th & 10th 2010/12) and TPC Scottsdale (2nd 2013) plus a couple of U.S. Open top 10s at Pebble Beach and Chambers Bay. In terms of shooting low scores, 3 of Brandt's wins have come with resort scoring totals of -22/266, -19/267 and -22/265. With his play into late December combined with his result CV, Snedeker is undoubtedly the sort of player who wins this season opener. RESULT: T14
From further down the betting, I think Justin Thomas is a real danger this week. From an identikit winner perspective, we're looking for a player who's comfortable on Bermudagrass greens, can hit the ball close with their approach play and who, when they win, shoot extremely low totals. The 23 year-old, University of Alabama produced Thomas ticks all of these boxes. Tough 3rd and 10th place finishes at PGA National and Copperhead last term show an aptitude for TifEagle greens and Justin is definitely Bermudagrass positive as he also has top 10 finishes across Waialae (his 2015 season opener in next door Honolulu), PGA West, Quail Hollow, TPC Sawgrass, East Lake and CC of Jackson. 3rd and 6th at the Players Championship and East Lake last term stand out for me as we now see a player who's comfortable mixing it in some of the highest profile tournaments.
Justin though shows far more on tracks where Eagles and Birdies are the real currency. Take his debut performance at PGA West in 2015 in his rookie season when we were on board at 66/1. He co-led after 54 holes and was still right in the mix until he found a watery grave at the 16th, finishing an eventual 7th at -20/268. The same season saw him finish 5th at Deere Run (-18/266) where he co-led after 36 holes, but it took until November 2015 for him to wrap up his first title in Kuala Lumpur where he beat Adam Scott by a single shot with a -26/262 total. Fast forward to this autumn where he returned to Malaysia and shot an amazing -8 on the final day to defend his CIMB title from Hideki Matsuyama with another low total of -23/265. He can definitely shoot low! Has since bounced back with a 4th in the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and finished 5th with Smylie Kaufman in the Franklin Templeton Shootout, so was playing competitive golf as late as mid-December. RESULT: Winner
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel