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The World Challenge is always difficult to make decent profit from. The 18 man event, held this year for the final time at Sherwood Country Club (before a move to Isleworth Country Club, Florida in 2014) features a seriously select field with Hunter Mahan being the lowest world ranked player at No. 30. The reduced field equals lower Each Way payouts of 1/5 odds on the Top 4 from the mainstream bookies. With ties always likely and Bubba Watson the current outsider at 40/1 this makes profitable Each Way backing nigh-on impossible.
Naturally the presence of Tiger Woods at his own tournament also adds its own complications. World Challenge Average Scores make for interesting reading as Tiger's average of 68.43, or -3.57 per round across 11 tournaments, highlights how Sherwood ranks with Torrey Pines, Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Congressional and Firestone South as Tiger's happiest hunting grounds. To make this clear, since his victory here in 2011, Tiger has won at Bay Hill, Muirfield Village, Congressional, Torrey Pines, Doral, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass and Firestone South. Let's face it, TW is a course specialist and his 5 Wins and 4 runners-up finishes in 11 attempts here at Sherwood makes the 5/2 on offer (3/1 on Monday was readily snapped up) a fair, if unappealing, price.
From a profit perspective I won't put anybody off backing the World Number 1 this week and I'm sure many of you will fancy the Woods - World Challenge / Stenson - Nedbank Challenge double. However I'm going to go for a different strategy this week by taking Tiger out of the equation with a selection of win-only bets across a couple of 'without Woods' markets.
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One thing is for sure, quality players win at Sherwood CC. Tiger Woods (6 times), Graeme McDowell (2 times), Davis Love III (2 times), Jim Furyk (2009) and Vijay Singh (2008) are all Major winners. The Nicklaus design is a 7,023 yard Par 72, which is classical in its nature with tree-lined fairways, multiple doglegs and plenty of elevation changes. The course isn't long by modern standards but the classical parkland style punishes errant drives and approach shots. Although a Par 72, average green size is only 4,800 sq.ft. and the bentgrass/poa annua mix greens will run faster than last year. This part of California has seen a particularly dry autumn, so the players will need to master firmer conditions with blustery conditions forecast for Saturday.
Sherwood is a stiff test where placement off the tee is vital. However it's also a scorable track for those who are tactically adept on technical challenges and who can hit the short stuff regularly off the tee. Indeed longer hitters can avoid using the driver on a large number of holes and all 4 of the Par 5s are more than reachable. An aggressive but accurate wedge game is essential as is the ability to make birdies with G-Mac amassing 20 birdies in 2012 and 1 Eagle and 23 Birdies in 2010. Not to be outdone Tiger shot 2 Eagles and 20 Birdies here in 2011. Tiger Woods is the only player to have successfully defended the title here back in 2006/7. There aren't many doubts that Tiger Woods will be a factor this week in California, but I'm going for 3 players who I think will at the very least push him close, win only w/o Woods. My selections are as follows:
Rory has been practising hard of late and sure enough the results have finally arrived. The seeds were sown prior to the Kolon Korea Open back in October (2nd) and were nurtured with a 6th at the WGC HSBC and 5th at the DP World Tour Championship. So last week's victory at the Australian Open held at Royal Sydney, beating into the bargain one of the most in-form players in the world Adam Scott, should not be taken lightly. McIlroy has straightened his driving, his Greens in Regulation numbers have been excellent since Lake Malaren and sure enough confidence has spread to the putter. The World Number 6 shot -18/270 last week around the classical Royal Sydney which is a 6,938 yard Par 72 and from past experience when Rory hits winning form it tends to stick around. For me McIlroy won't dine out on his long awaited first victory in 2013 and his confidence and motivation will be high this week on a course where he finished a creditable 4th (-11/277) on debut back in 2010. His performances at PGA National, Abu Dhabi, Sheshan, Fanling and Sentosa correlate brilliantly with G-Mac whilst performances at Doral, Muirfield, Congressional and Firestone South correlate equally as well with TW. Fact is, when on form Rory thrives on tighter classical / technical courses, where driver off the tee isn't always required and where his total driving and +200 yard shot making can access Par 5s in 2 shots. It's also worth noting that G-Mac won at Sherwood after long journeys from Dubai, so don't let the travel aspect put you off. RESULT: 11th
If there is another 'must back' player in the field this week at Sherwood it has to be Ian Poulter. Poults has played well since TPC Boston and his current form since then reads 9(TPC Boston)-44(Conway Farms)-15(Lake Malaren)-2(Sheshan)-5(Montgomerie Maxx)-2(Earth Course). His current game is strong on all fronts right now with accurate driving, combined with Top 10 GIR% performances at TPC Boston, Montgomerie Maxx and Earth Course. Indeed Poulter's form always comes off of the back of confidence generated by periods of excellent ball striking and sure enough his putting average performances across Lake Malaren, Sheshan and Earth Course read: 1st - 3rd - 3rd. A cumulative 2 Eagles, 71 Birdies and 15 Bogeys across China, Turkey and Dubai is the kind of scoring that will get the job done at Sherwood this week and decent career Top 5s across Doral, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass Abu Dhabi, Le Golf National, Valderrama, Sentosa and Fanling tie in perfectly. 5th and 6th here in 2009/10, Poulter has won tournaments in November or December each year since and including 2009. RESULT: 7th
I'll close 2013 with a cheeky punt on Keegan Bradley to be Top American w/o Woods at a decent 11/1. Getting your head around who will be motivated at these small year end 'invite only' tournaments is key, as year after year winless players (in the season prior) with motivation such as Furyk & G-Mac (09), Woods (10), Woods & Zach Johnson (11) and G-Mac (12) have finished in the Top 2. For me Keegan Bradley falls very much into this category and the 2011 PGA Champion's attitude can't be faulted as he has been very active (unlike Stricker Furyk and Mahan) since the end of the FedEx Cup Play Offs. He hasn't won since the WGC Bridgestone Invitational back in August 2012, and that has to grind for a player who is clearly one of the most competitive on the PGA Tour. His game always suits tighter, technical tracks, where accuracy off the tee is rewarded with a nice short iron approach and the Boston-born 3-time winner will be hungry for a strong performance on a course where he finished a close 2nd to Graeme McDowell 12 months ago. Led after 36 holes in Kuala Lumpur last month and has finished in the Top 20 across his last 5 PGA Tour events. RESULT: T13