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The Barracuda Championship for me is all about spotting players who'll arrive in Reno, Nevada with real motivation and an improving game. A rash of withdrawals from players like Jason Bohn and Carl Pettersson on Monday was hardly a surprise as they now have no real need to play this 'second division' tournament. Played at the Nicklaus-designed Montreux Golf and Country Club, the field is the standard collection of struggling Tour pros, many of whom are fighting for their lucrative careers. The full 2-year PGA Tour exemption available to the winner is a huge carrot, as is the possibility of harvesting enough Fed Ex Cup points or Dollars to grab a spot in the magical top 125 or even top 150 (partial status for 15/16).
I've always found the Barracuda Championship (formerly the Reno-Tahoe Open) a decent betting tournament and it always fascinates me to see who can raise their game to grab what actually is a huge opportunity in the Nevada hills. Undoubtedly though, the main event of this week is the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone South in Ohio which Paul Williams takes you through here.
2015 Punters League
Troy Merritt winning the Quicken Loans National out of left field was actually selected by a single player in last week's Punters League. Step forward Mark Conneely who landed Merritt at 250/1 plus the weekly winner's £/€25 free bet from Paddy Power. His huge haul of points moves him up to 4th spot in the overall standings behind Sean Colgan after Week 30. New entrants are always welcome, so enter your 6 players across the Bridgestone Invitational and Barracuda Championship on our 2,600-strong facebook group now!
For plenty of Tour professionals this week is the penultimate opportunity to improve their position in the FedEx Cup and Money Standings in a bid to improve their status for 2015/16. Here's my Barracuda Championship preview which walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: Montreux, at 7,472 yards, is a long Par 72 located at altitude in the high Nevada mountains where the ball travels further than normal. Montreux features quite small, 5,500 square feet average sized greens with a bentgrass/poa annua mix construction running to 11.5 on the stimpmeter. Naturally aggressive players should thrive under the Stableford rules, but Montreaux favours players who are decent ball-strikers and those who excel with a mid-iron in hand.
Montreux Golf & Country Club, Reno, Nevada: Designer: Jack Nicklaus 1992; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,472 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bentgrass Ryegrass with Poa Annua; Rough: Kentucky Bluegrass with Ryegrass 3.5"; Greens: 5,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Stimpmeter: 11.5ft.
Course Overview: Montreux G&CC is a typical Jack Nicklaus design that becomes more challenging the closer to the hole location. Fairways are huge and easy to hit giving the most inaccurate a fighting chance. Played at 5,500 feet altitude where the air is dry and thin, long hitters undoubtedly have a huge advantage on a course where 400 yard drives are more than possible on some holes. Longer hitters can reach the 4 Par 5s with 2 lusty blows but can also attack a couple of drivable Par 4s at the 4th and 14th. They also have the advantage of being able to take 3-wood or irons off some of the tees, plus can attack plenty of pin locations with wedges as opposed to mid-irons. Since 2012 this event has been played utilising the Modified Stableford scoring format - you can find out more about how points are accrued here: Modified Stableford System.
Winners: 2014: Geoff Ogilvy (49); 2013: Gary Woodland (44); 2012: J.J. Henry (43); 2011: Scott Piercy (-15); 2010: Matt Bettencourt (-11).
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 Barracuda Championship 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 Brendan Steele (Predictor number 1), Jonathan Byrd, Aaron Baddeley, Jonas Blixt and Robert Garrigus.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to Byron Nelson/Irish Open in May 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: Ogilvy 66/1; 2013: Woodland 40/1; 2012: Henry 40/1; 2011: Piercy 50/1; 2010: Bettencourt 200/1. 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 Reno is here. As you'd expect in Nevada the build-up to the tournament has been dry, but tournament organisers always set the greens to be responsive so as to maximise the number of eagles and birdies. However wind will be much more of a factor in 2015 with desert wind speeds reaching up to 10-15mph in the afternoons with Sunday looking the breeziest tournament day.
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: 11th; Driving Accuracy: 31st; Greens in Regulation: 15th; Putting Average 6th.
So let's take a view from previous winners as to just what the key attributes required are at Montreux:
Geoff Ogilvy: "I mean, every week we play out here is a week of opportunity. I mean, wins go a long way. Doesn't matter which tournament you win. It's been a while since I've been here. I love playing on the West Coast. I live in Arizona, and it's high altitude but it's a similar type of air. It suits somebody traditionally like me. I've always been a birdie/bogey golfer, rather than a par every hole golfer."
Gary Woodland: "You know, it helped my caddie has been here before. But the golf course suits my eye really well. I think length is a huge advantage here. With the altitude I was hitting middle irons into the par‑5s today. I think I hit 2‑iron up on 2; I hit 5‑iron into 8; hit 6 iron into 18. So I'm hitting middle irons into these par‑5s, which helps. Then a lot of the holes I can hit 2‑iron off the tee box. The fairways are wide enough for me and just suits me very well."
J.J. Henry: "I made three eagles throughout the week that in this format is really what it's all about, to capitalize on the aggressive play, make the occasional eagle or extra birdie, and obviously try to avoid doubles or worse. A birdie and a bogey is better than two pars. Again, it's a great golf course. A lot of risk‑reward. Some reachable par‑5s; a drivable par‑4 too based on the tees and the wind direction. So it's just a great venue. Reminds me a lot of the Stableford event we used to play outside of Denver there at Castle Pines. Just a beautiful place to be. It's one of my favourite places anywhere."
This week is all about attacking golf. With eagles worth 5 points and bogeys -1 point, players who can create numerous scoring chances and convert plenty of them will gravitate to the head of the leaderboard. Such a format also rewards those who can take advantage of the altitude which, at 5,500 feet, is the highest tournament location on the PGA Tour. Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy averaged 310 yards from the tee here 12 months ago, whilst Gary Woodland, J.J. Henry and Scott Piercy all averaged over 330 yards in their wins across 2011 - 2014. Naturally this kind of length from the tee unlocks the Par 5s here.
A Top 125 spot in the FedEx Cup or Money List is a critical target for the vast majority in the field this week. Joint-favourite Brendan Steele has the highest FedEx Cup ranking in the field at 56th, followed closely by Kevin Streelman. No winner here since the tournament moved to its current Bridgestone Invitational sharing spot in the schedule has been ranked inside the Top 100 in the rankings arriving in Nevada and both Scott Piercy and Geoff Ogilvy were well outside the Top 125 when triumphing. All winners have also had full PGA Tour status with no winner's exemptions in the back pocket.
Price-wise the sweet spot of winners here seems to be around the 40/1 to 66/1 mark, but after second favourite Scott Piercy's win at the similar level Barbasol Championship a fortnight ago we can't rule out those as short as 25/1 this week in my opinion. Undoubtedly power from the tee seems critical here this week and I have also selected a range of players who have shown either high pedigree in the past, a liking for 'west coast' golf or both. My selections are as follows:
Andres Romero still finds himself in the cold as far as 2015/16 full playing privileges go, but a Top 5 finish here at Montreux would undoubtedly grab the guaranteed Top 125 spot in the Money List that he craves. Playing well for a number of weeks, Andres must have been looking forward to a return to Montreux where, since the change to Stableford scoring, he's finished 3rd (2012), 2nd (2013) and 27th (2014). Romero undoubtedly has the firepower to reach the Par 5s (sits 37th in Going for the Green stats), has found recent consistency with his approach shots and ranks as Number 1 in my rolling Putting Average stats. 3rd at Carnoustie in 2007 and both a European and PGA Tour winner, Romero is a classy sort who finished 14th at the US Open back in June. A motivated Romero is a dangerous customer and although I'd have liked much bigger than 25s this week, his chance is just about that obvious. RESULT: WD
When it comes to 'classy sorts' who have fallen from grace, 2014 Masters runner-up Jonas Blixt clearly shines like a beacon. How Blixt finds himself fighting for his full PGA Tour privileges this week is beyond me, but I'm happy to side with the Florida-based Swede this week on a course that I'm sure the 31 year-old will like. It was only 2012 when Jonas made his PGA Tour debut and his rookie season included 9th at Quail Hollow and 3rd at TPC Four Seasons before finishing 3rd at TPC Summerlin (Las Vegas + altitude) before taking his first PGA Tour title in north California at CordeValle. Another win in the thin air at Old White TPC followed in 2013 before he hit the Major scene with a 4th at Oak Hill in 2013 and that aforementioned 2nd at Augusta National 16 months ago. Ogilvy notes Montreux and its associated Stableford scoring as rewarding the birdie/bogey golfer, so I think Jonas will welcome the format as he needs to at 137th in the FedEx Cup standings (150th Money List). Tournament debutants thrive here and both of Blixt's wins have been on course debut. RESULT: T13
2006 Ryder Cup star J.J. Henry is your typical 'horses for courses' selection this week. 3rd (2002), 4th (2005), 9th (2009) and 1st (2012) in 10 appearances here highlight a ball-striker who feels very comfortable on Montreux's greens and that makes him a danger this week as the 40 year-old needs a strong finish to the season to avoid the stress of the web.com Tour Finals he successfully navigated last year. At 150th in the FedEx Cup standings, Henry is in serious danger of a similar fate, but 5 pay-cheques in his last 6 appearances show that J.J. is both aware of the situation and undoubtedly improving. 3rd in my Greens in Regulation Rankings is worthy of note as is Henry's history of making these lower-grade tournaments work to his advantage - 2nd El Camaleon (2009), 2nd Atunyote (2010) and 1st here (2012). RESULT: Winner
Now four players at triple digits who I think have the skill sets, merits and motivation to potentially challenge.
The enigmatic Robert Garrigus has made the FedEx Cup PlayOffs every year since 2009, but this week's Predictor Number 5 finds himself having 2 tournaments to save his PGA Tour full playing privileges for 2016. None of this is new to Garrigus who spent his early years on Tour scratching for his card, but re-gaining privileges is a far harder task these days. Garrigus ranks 2nd in my resort course analysis and his form at Montreux is unsurprisingly excellent with a 9th in 2009 being followed by a contending performance in 2010 where he was 1st after 36 holes and 2nd after 54 holes. At 173rd in the FedEx Cup standings (184th Money List), it's pretty much now or never for Robert whose linkable record at Kapalua, PGA West, TPC Scottsdale and TPC Summerlin is excellent. RESULT: T15
Steve Wheatcroft will never excite the betting cognoscenti but he has caught the eye on a few occasions in 2015 - the first season where the 37 year-old has already retained full playing privileges. A hard-charging finish at PGA West in January netted 2nd (-21/267) and 8th (-16/264) at Deere Run last month are excellent indicators that Wheatcroft flourishes in resort scoring birdie-fests. Wheatcroft, who is currently 31st in Birdie Average and 24th in Eagles per Hole on the PGA Tour skill rankings, is a 315 yard hitter around Montreux and his growing confidence on the main Tour is clear by the fact that he finished 1st for Birdies at the John Deere Classic and 2nd last week at RTJ. Wheatcroft is putting beautifully of late and his web.com record is also interesting with 2 wins at -29/255 (Maryland GC - 2011) and -24/260 (Hillcrest GC - 2014) respectively. Hillcrest CC is in the neighbouring state of Idaho (Wheatcroft was also 2nd there in 2012) and Steve has also finished 3rd and 6th at Willow Creek CC in Utah. RESULT: T47
Alex Prugh is a west coast specialist who has the straight hitting fire-power to go close this week in Montreux. At 130th in the FedEx Cup (135th Money List), this week is a real red letter day for the 30 year-old whose top finishes are all exclusively on the west coast. 5th at PGA West (2010), 5th twice at Torrey Pines (2010 & 2015), 10th at Pebble Beach (2015), 10th at Riviera (2010) and 2nd at CordeValle (2010) is some collection and a pair of Top 30 finishes at TPC Scottsdale and TPC Summerlin make plenty of sense as well. A 295 yard driver who sits in the Top 20 of my rolling Driving Accuracy and Greens in Regulation tracker. RESULT: T37
It's not often that you get a 150/1 shot in the Top 3 of my published Predictor Model but Aaron Baddeley is often the exception to the rule. Another 'classy sort' who's in real trouble at 146th in the Fed Ex Cup standings (155th Money List), it's been noticeable of late that the former World Number 16, who was a regular in the world's Top 50 as recently as 2012, has actually been hitting far more greens than he usually does. That makes him a huge danger this week on a course where he finished 4th in 2005, especially as he sits 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting and 18th in Eagles per Hole. Baddeley, who is based in Scottsdale, Arizona is a true west coast specialist with wins at TPC Scottsdale (2006) and Riviera (2011) being surrounded by Top 10s across Waialae, Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, TPC Summerlin as well as Omni Tucson National Golf Resort (Chrysler Classic of Tucson). Showed signs at the Barbasol Championship where rounds of 64-72-69-67 grabbed him 10th - his best finish since 4th at TPC River Highlands last term. It's pretty much now or the web.com Tour Finals for Aaron. RESULT: MC