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We didn't snag 40/1 winner Matt Kuchar last week - congratulations if you did - but 80/1 tip Andrew Putnam certainly gave us a run for our money - he was the co-leader up until the 13th on Sunday. Since 2013 I have now backed 3 runners-up at the Sony Open, so I can't complain, although it's a tad frustrating! Marc Leishman also returned a share of the each-way place at 20/1 and, all in all, my 4 tips all placed within the top 13.
Before we talk Desert Classic, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook - you can Join Here.
Low scoring won't abate this week as the PGA Tour reaches California for the freshly titled 'Desert Classic' at PGA West. It was latterly known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, but I'll always remember this as the Bob Hope Classic. It used to be played over 4 courses and 5 days, but thankfully this Pro-Am now takes in 3 resort courses over a traditional 4 day format. Low scoring yet again will be the order of the day and, with light winds forecast, we could well see something similar to Jason Dufner's 2016 total of -25/263 being needed to grab the increased $1,062,000 first prize and a coveted Masters invite for those who haven't received a letter through the post recently.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Abu Dhabi Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Paddy Power are attacking this week's Desert Classic and are offering a record-breaking 8 places each-way at 1/5 odds. 8 places each way on the Desert Classic has never been chalked-up before and with strong prices to boot. If you haven't already got a Paddy Power account then new customers can access a £/€20 risk-free bet which is refunded in CASH if it loses + an additional £/€5 Same Game Multi Bet. 18+, T&Cs apply: Promo code YSKA30 required – use this qualifying link to claim.
Course Guide: A 3-course rotation always makes the Desert Classic a unique proposition on the PGA Tour. The PGA West facility hosts 3 of the 4 rounds at the TPC Stadium Course (Host Course) and Tournament courses. The TPC Stadium course hosts 36 holes including the final round. A 5 mile drive is required to the 3rd course in the tournament rotation, namely La Quinta Country Club. This tournament is the ultimate resort course challenge with 3 short Par-72 courses featuring extremely receptive and pure TifDwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis green complexes.
TPC Stadium, PGA West, Palm Springs, California: Designer: Pete Dye, 1986; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,113 yards; Fairways Bermudagrass with Ryegrass; Rough: Bermudagrass with Ryegrass, 2"; Greens: TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa Trivialis; Stimpmeter: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2016: 70.82 (-1.18), Difficulty Rank 41 of 50 courses. 2017: 71.59 (-0.41), Difficulty Rank 30 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.18 (-0.82), Difficulty Rank 36 of 51 courses.
Tournament Course, PGA West: Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1987; Par: 72; Length: 7,159 yards; Greens: TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2016: 68.94 (-3.06), Difficulty Rank 49 of 50 courses. 2017: 70.74 (-1.26), Difficulty Rank 39 of 50 courses. 2018: 69.45 (-2.55), Difficulty Rank 50 of 51 courses.
La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta: Designer: Lawrence Hughes, with Pascuzzo re-design, 1999: Par 72; Length: 7,060 yards; Greens: 4,000 sq.ft Bermudagrass with Ryegrass and Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.68 (-1.32), Difficulty Rank 41 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.49 (-2.51), Difficulty Rank 41 of 43 courses. 2017: 69.64 (-2.36), Difficulty Rank of 49 of 50 courses. 2018: 68.83 (-3.17), Difficulty Rank of 51 of 51 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Stadium (Host Course) and how they compare to recent courses that we've seen on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus designs include:
Course Overview: Since 2012 the CareerBuilder Challenge has played a 3-course rota over 72 holes. 2016 saw the TPC Stadium Course added to the rota as the host course (36 holes including the final round) and the Nicklaus Tournament Course was also added for the very first time. TPC Stadium hosted a round of the Bob Hope Classic back in 1987 and has been home to the PGA Tour Q-School numerous times including 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2012. The Nicklaus-designed Tournament Course shared hosting duties across these Q-Schools as well.
The TPC Stadium host course is a Pete Dye design and is viewed by many as the sequel to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The course features its own island 17th hole which will play as a 165 yard par-3 this week. As per last year, TPC Stadium will play as a 7,113 yard, Par 72 and has plenty of water in play. With a scoring average of 71.18 in 2018 it had a difficulty rank of 36 of 51 courses on the PGA Tour last season, in comparison to 50th for the Tournament Course and 51st for La Quinta.
Statistically TPC Stadium is an interesting course where flagrant power is seemingly negated a little. The par-5s played tough - 13th hardest on Tour for Birdie or Better Conversion - 12 months ago, especially compared to both the par-3s and par-4s which still yielded plenty of birdies, despite strong wind on Saturday. That comes across in the Going for the Green statistics where TPC Stadium ranked in the lowest 16 courses on Tour where players were aggressive. Those that went for the green saw little success - Hit Green %: 4th lowest - Birdie or Better: 11th lowest. Brute power alone doesn't work here - instead crisp wedge play from within 125 yards is critical. Scrambling on the course is easy for these PGA Tour pros and the TifDwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis greens are pure enough that One-Putt Percentages have been the best, 6th best and 2nd best on the PGA Tour over the course of its opening 3 appearances in the Desert Classic.
With warm and calm conditions forecast, both the Tournament Course (look for Nicklaus course experts) and La Quinta Country Club are there to be taken apart. Both of these courses ranked as the easiest and 2nd easiest courses on the whole of the PGA Tour in 2018. And as we know, the PGA Tour likes low scoring.
The Desert Classic follows a pro-am format similar to the AT&T Pebble Beach but with the pro-am being played across the first 3 days of competition as opposed to all 72 holes. A cut is then made for the final round at the TPC Stadium Course venue on Sunday. If more than 78 golfers survive the scheduled cut then only the top 60 players and ties will play. A 156 player field allied to the pro-am nature makes for painfully slow play which some players can't handle.
This tournament is a testament to US resort-style golf - go low or go home, it's that simple. Since 2012 when the tournament moved to a conventional 72-hole format, -24/264, -25/263, -29/259, -22/266, -25/263, -20/268 and -22/266 have been the winning totals. Birdie or better conversion rates at 36% (2012), 38% (2013), an astonishing 44% (2014 by Patrick Reed), 32% (2015), 42%, 36% and 38% (Jon Rahm 12 months ago) are traditionally some of the highest we see all year.
Winners: 2018: Jon Rahm (-22); 2017: Hudson Swafford (-20); 2016: Jason Dufner (-25); 2015: Bill Haas (-22); 2014: Patrick Reed (-29); 2013: Brian Gay (-25); 2012: Mark Wilson (-24).
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 | Combined Stats.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Charles Howell III, Corey Conners, Scott Piercy, Chez Reavie, Jon Rahm, Ryan Palmer, Abraham Ancer, Andrew Putnam, Patton Kizzire and Zach Johnson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the WGC-HSBC Champions and Sanderson Farms Championship, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2018: Rahm 10/1; 2017: Swafford 66/1; 2016: Dufner 40/1; 2015: Haas 30/1; 2014: Reed 135/1; 2013: Gay 80/1; 2012: Wilson 125/1; 2011: Vegas 200/1; 2010: Haas 100/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 56/1; Overall Average: 87/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for La Quinta, California is here. Weather in the main looks okay for the Desert Classic. Rain on Saturday, Sunday and potentially in tournament week may well leave some cut in the fairways for Thursday. Greens are always watered and responsive here. Showers on Thursday itself cannot be ruled out. From Friday onwards, expect little breeze, plenty of sunshine and comfortable temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. Scoring should be low enough.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winners since 2016 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the Desert Classic sets up with the 3-course rotation and what skill sets the course favours:
Jon Rahm: "This area, the courses are always in really, really good shape, so it's tough to pick one. But just because I'm familiar with it I would say the Nicklaus, just because I played it, I mean, this would be about my ninth round on this golf course, so I know it pretty good. But again, I feel like any other person, when you have a good day, any course is fit for you. It's about making good shots. Well, yeah, I mean I've been living in this area for five years and most of the college tournaments we played was around here, so exactly, we played here - we played the Norman course as well - I'm just familiar with this type of golf course.
The Stadium Course, it's a Pete Dye design, where I played four years of my life, it's a Pete Dye design. Very, very similar type of golf. You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important. With the small greens, you have water in play, you need to be more precise, clearly the hardest golf course. If you can have 5- or 6-under there you're going to pick up a lot of shots. So hopefully have an organized round like I did yesterday, not have to fight too much to shoot under par."
Hudson Swafford (TPC Stadium): "Absolutely, yeah, no, this is a tough golf course. When you come to the desert, all you think is birdies, usually the scores yield birdies. But this Stadium Course has kind of changed that. I know there is a lot of good rounds out here, but one errant shot, it's very penalizing. So you got to be super patient on this golf course."
Jason Dufner: "I came out before I went to Sony and played these golf courses, both of them, twice. Spent some time out here practicing and playing. So I felt good. We have had some great weather, obviously that helps. The courses are in great shape. So I'm pretty comfortable right now.
The Stadium Course, it's a difficult golf course. There's a little bit of room to play off the tee, in my opinion, but if you get off the path a little bit, you can get into some trouble. He's got some water out there, he's got some tricky bunkers, you get some uneven lies here and there. The greens kind are difficult. They run on some angles and there's some slope. So it's definitely the most difficult of the courses we have played here in the desert area. But today it just was one of those days, but I had a wedge in my hand. So just be aggressive. I know that, if I miss, it's a soft fade to the right, so I can manage that."
Kevin Na: "It's quite a bit of a change. The Nicklaus, no. But the Stadium, yes. We get to play these courses every year and you get comfortable. You don't even have to have play a practice round, you just want to go out and - we're playing holes just to see how the course is playing, how it's bouncing, the firmness or the wetness, whatever the rough might be. But it's a big change. I think the Stadium's going to play a lot more difficult than the Palmer Course, in my opinion. But the Nicklaus Course will be about the same."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners since the tournament moved to a 72 hole format:
Form of winners since 2012:
Course Rotation since 2016:
5 of the last 7 winners, namely Jason Dufner, Bill Haas (2015), Patrick Reed, Brian Gay and Mark Wilson, had all won PGA Tour titles on Bermudagrass greens prior to capturing the title here in La Quinta. Defending champ Jon Rahm extends that trend slightly, on the basis he'd won the DP Tour Championship on the European Tour at the Earth Course in November 2017, prior to winning this in January last year.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
Recent champions here include Vegas (a Tour Rookie); Swafford, Perez, Hoffman (all 1st time PGA Tour winners); Trahan and Reed (1 Win at the time); Campbell (2 Wins); with Dufner, Gay (3 Wins) plus Wilson (4 wins). Bill Haas has won this title in both 2010 and 2015, being his 1st and 6th PGA Tour titles. The very elite Jon Rahm won this 12 months ago - he had won 3 main Tour victories in 2017, one of which was a PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines. Pick the bones from that!
Rahm last year finished 2nd at Kapalua 2 weeks before winning this tournament. Hudson Swafford in 2017 finished 13th the week before at Waialae - he had been T3 after 54 holes. 2016 saw Jason Dufner win this after another showing the week before at Waialae. He ultimately finished 9th at the Sony Open, and had been 6th after 54 holes.
So what's the right recipe for success this week? Well if previous renewals are anything to go by then all types of player can thrive here, both the long bomber and the accurate ball-striker. However the winner will need to hit a minimum of 72% of Greens in Regulation and that's quite a challenge as the greens at the Stadium and La Quinta are substantially smaller in size than Waialae last week and much smaller than Kapalua a fortnight ago. It goes without saying that a warm putter is essential, but as well as making birdies it's absolutely imperative to keep your scorecard clean. The perfect game looks to be a good ball-striker who's feeling confident in his ability with the putter and to make plenty of birdies right now.
My selections are as follows:
Jon Rahm 4pts Win 7/1 with *For the latest bet365 Opening Account Offer details see below, use bonus code SPORT100
"Yes, two years in a row on Tour that I've won three times worldwide, so if I can accomplish that again, it will be obviously a huge year, winning both tours again would be something amazing. First thing in mind is to defend my title in Palm Springs. That's the next thing I've got to do." These are the words of Jon Rahm during the Desert Classic Media Conference in December. The Spaniard clearly holds PGA West and this tournament in very high regard, "I mean, there's so many great things I can say about this event. Obviously it's an event that I really want to win again. It was really important to me because it's not only a great event with a lot of history, with a legacy of a lot of great players, but it's one of those course - the Nicklaus course at PGA West is one of them that I played quite a few times as an amateur, an amateur event in Palm Springs every year, and we stayed at La Quinta and we actually had a great time."
Naturally Rahm moved to the United States and played collegiate golf for the Arizona State Sun Devils, Phoenix. The World Number 7 now lives in the desert golfing commune of Scottsdale, Arizona and as we know his knowledge of and liking for desert golf is top-notch. 5th at TPC Scottsdale in 2015 as an unknown amateur, Jon has gone on to finish 16th and 11th in his home town. 15th at TPC Summerlin back in 2016, Rahm has also shown his liking for the desert when playing the Earth Course in Dubai. The DP World Tour Championship winner in 2017, he finished 4th when defending that crown in back in November.
Recent form is very strong with 8th (Sentry), 1st (Hero World Challenge) and 4th (DP World Tour) in his last 3 events. 4th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 6th for Strokes Gained Approach and 4th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green at Kapalua, an improving putter saw rounds of -4/69 across both Saturday and Sunday on Maui. I genuinely think that successfully defending his first ever professional title will be a big motivator for Rahm this week and if his 4th place in only his second defence is anything to go by, I think he can take the title this week in a weak field. It's a huge opportunity for the Spaniard.
Abraham Ancer 1.5pt EW 40/1 with Get £10 'Back Up Bet' for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply** (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Abraham Ancer, relatively fresh from a victory at the Australian Open, must be a danger this week in Palm Springs. 2017/18 was undoubtedly a breakout season for the upwardly mobile World Number 57 who started to rack-up top 5 and top 10 results aplenty. 9th at El Camaleon, 8th at the Golf Club of Houston, 4th at TPC Potomac, 5th at Glen Abbey and 7th at TPC Boston were delivered by a strong driving and tee-to-green game - ideal for the challenge this week. TPC Boston was his biggest performance on the PGA Tour to date as he led after 54 holes at a tournament which included the biggest names in golf. The Oklahoma-based Mexican though has continued to kick on with 5th at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and 4th at the Shriners Open at TPC Summerlin the last time he played desert golf. His Australian Open victory saw him beat the likes of Matt Kuchar, Cameron Smith, Brandt Snedeker, Byeong-Hun An and Brendan Steele, but as per my Andrew Putnam tip last week, he finds himself outside the Masters, PGA Championship and the WGC-Mexico Championship despite his lofty position in the OWGR, which is sure to keep motivation high in Presidents Cup year. 23rd for Total Birdies and 2nd for Proximity to Hole so far on the PGA Tour this season, Abraham was an eye-catching 13th for Greens in Regulation last week and 12th after 36 holes. The improving sort who could win his maiden PGA Tour title this week at this low key affair.
Luke List 1.5pts EW 50/1 with Bet £/€5 get £/€20 for new customers, 18+, T&Cs apply*** (7 EW, 1/5 odds):
Undoubtedly a talented sort who's long overdue a maiden PGA Tour title, I like the look of Luke List this week on his 2019 PGA Tour debut. 6th here in 2016, List also featured heavily in his 2017 opener at the Sony Open where he was 6th after 36 holes, so I'm not overly concerned that this is his first outing in January. However what we saw towards the latter end of 2018 was that Luke is playing some fantastic stuff. 4th at the Safeway Open, 4th at the RSM Classic and 3rd at the QBE Challenge late in December - when teamed with Charles Howell III - the Californian is undoubtedly firing on all cylinders. He also goes well on TifDwarf Bermudagrass putting surfaces as 6th here at PGA West (2016), 2nd at CC of Jackson (2016) and 4th at Sea Island in November indicate fully. Already ranked 4th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 7th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green this season, the 33 year-old also sits 28th for Greens and Regulation and 54th for Proximity to Hole. 16th for Proximity to Hole and 9th for Putts per GIR at the RSM on his last PGA Tour start highlight for me a player who's right to follow this week.
Corey Conners 1pt EW 66/1 with £/€20 risk-free bet**** for new accounts, 18+, T&Cs apply (8 EW, 1/5 odds):
We discussed Corey Conners on last week's Golf Betting System podcast and he's undoubtedly a player we're very sweet on at the moment. After Monday qualifying into the Sony Open last week, he performed brilliantly shooting 68-67 and then 64-64 over the weekend to finish a hard-charging T3 in company with Marc Leishman, Chez Reavie and Hudson Swafford. Now ranked at 19th in the FedEx Cup, Conners in his second season on the PGA Tour looks the sort who could progress rapidly. He became visible to punters at the Valspar Championship when the unknown Canadian led from Thursday through to the start of the Sunday around the tight and treacherous Copperhead course. Next appearance was at the alternate event at Corales Golf Club, where he sat 2 shots back of eventual winner Brice Garnett after 54 holes before tamely falling away. That clearly knocked his confidence as the only other sighting of Corey last season came at Colonial where impressively, on course debut, he was 4th after 54 holes after shooting a Saturday -7/63. An eventual 7th was a PGA Tour best and showed he was acclimatising. Now back in his second season, the 27 year-old has already finished 2nd to Cameron Champ at the CC of Jackson, 23rd at Sea Island and now 3rd at Waialae. Interestingly all of those courses feature TifDwarf bermudagrass greens, as does the 3-course rota this week. 79th for Driving Accuracy, 25th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 7th for Greens in Regulation, 11th Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 44th for Total Birdies and 4th for Proximity to Hole this season on the PGA Tour make him perfect for the task ahead at PGA West, where he finished 50th on debut last term. When it comes to Birdie or Better Conversion last week at the Sony Open, he was second only to Matt Kuchar and I think he has a real chance to take his maiden Tour victory this week.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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