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Patton Kizzire, an 80/1 shot with Betfred pre-event, was a well-deserved winner of last week’s Sony Open after a gruelling 6-hole playoff with James Hahn. Kizzire is one of those players that punters like as 4 professional wins and 2 runner-up finishes in the last 30 months highlights a player who isn’t afraid to win and mix it with the big names. Kizzire, like Dustin Johnson the week before, was within the top 4 of my published predictor model – something that’s well worth looking at each week. An each way return for this column was delivered by 20/1 shot Brian Harman, who needs to start converting more contending performances into wins at the short prices now available on him.
Low scoring won’t abate this week as the PGA Tour reaches California for the CareerBuilder Challenge at PGA West. Formerly the Bob Hope Classic played over 4 courses and 5 days, 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 -25/263 being needed to grab the $1,044,000 first prize and a coveted Masters invite for those who haven’t received an invite through the post recently.
Course Guide: A 3-course rotation always makes the CareerBuilder Challenge 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.
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.
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.
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: The CareerBuilder Challenge since 2012 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 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. Q-School qualifiers (and their Q-School finishing positions) in this week’s field can be seen below:
The host (36 holes) TPC Stadium 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 71.59 in 2017 it had a difficulty rank of 30 of 50 courses on the PGA Tour last season, in comparison to 39th for the Tournament Course and 49th for La Quinta.
Statistically TPC Stadium is an interesting course where power is seemingly negated a little. The par-5s played very tough – 6th 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 relatively difficult weather conditions. That comes across in the Going for the Green statistics where TPC Stadium ranked in the lowest 10 courses on Tour where players were aggressive. Those that went for the green saw little success – Hit Green %: 4th lowest – Birdie or Better: 8th lowest. Brute power alone doesn’t work here – instead crisp wedge play from within 125 yards was 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 and 6th best on the PGA Tour over the course of its opening 2 appearances in the CareerBuilder.
With warm and calm conditions forecast, both the Tournament Course (look for Nicklaus course experts) and La Quinta Country Club were taken apart in similarly favourable weather back in 2016. Both ranked in the 3 easiest courses across the whole of the PGA Tour, only beaten by the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
The CareerBuilder Challenge 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 and -20/268 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% and 36% (Swafford 12 months ago) to this point are traditionally some of the highest we see all year.
Winners: 2017: Hudson Swafford (-20); 2016: Jason Dufner (-25); 2015: Bill Haas (-22); 2014: Patrick Reed (-29); 2013: Brian Gay (-25); 2012: Mark Wilson (-24)
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 5 of my published predictor are Brian Stuard, Chez Reavie, Webb Simpson, Peter Uihlein and Austin Cook.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Italian Open / CIMB Classic and 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: 2017: Hudson 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; Average: 97/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 67/1.
2017: Thursday: Overcast, with light morning rain. Mostly sunny in the afternoon, with a high of 64. Wind W 8-15 mph. Friday: Overcast, with intermittent rain throughout the day. High of 61. Wind NE to SSE 8-15 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 63. Wind NW 10-15 mph, with gusts of 25 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with intermittent rain throughout the day. High of 61. Wind SSE 8-15 mph.
2016: Thursday: Clear skies with an afternoon high of 74 degrees. Wind SE 4-8 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 73 degrees. Wind SE 5-10 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 71 degrees. Wind SE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with an afternoon high of 82 degrees. Wind NW 7-15 mph.
The latest weather forecast for La Quinta, California is here: The weather here last year saw rain and strong breezes in play across the 4 days. Very non desert-like! This year will see typical, perfect scoring conditions, with only a strong breeze present on Friday afternoon. No rain is forecast, whilst temperatures start at 24 degrees Celsius on Thursday but drop to a more European 17 degrees across the weekend.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the winner and runner-up from 2016 & 2017 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this 3-course rota test:
Tournament Skill Average:
So let’s take a view from players as to how the CareerBuilder sets up with the new course rotation and what skill sets the course favours:
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, I got oy in the world, 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 6 CareerBuilder winners since the tournament moved to a 72 hole format:
Incoming form of winners since 2012:
5 of the last 6 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. 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. Pick the bones from that! Back in 2006, Bermudagrass specialist Chad Campbell finished 2nd at Waialae and went on to win the Bob Hope Classic (as it was formerly titled) the following week. The renowned ball-striker putted sensationally well in Honolulu and took that form on the plane to California when he beat Parnevik and Verplank in a play-off.
Since Campbell’s victory, no player has won at PGA West coming off anything better than a 9th place finish – that being 2016 champion Jason Dufner. 4 years ago, Patrick Reed broke the trend of winners playing Waialae/PGA West which had lasted since 2007. Bill Haas went one better in 2015 when he won at PGA West for the second time on his seasonal debut. His previous appearance had been at Sheshan at the HSBC Champions in the autumn where, by his own admission, he played abysmally to finish 48th.
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 75% 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. 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:
Russell Knox 1.5pt EW 66/1 with Stan James
Russell Knox is hard not to like this week, again at a target price I particularly look for at this tournament. The Scottsdale, Arizona resident has featured well in recent tournaments and where metronomic greens in regulation is critical for success, you have to like his chances at a tournament where he finished 13th in 2014 and in doing so ranked 4th for Strokes Gained Putting. 9th at El Camaleon (where was tied 3rd in the field for Birdies or Better), 37th at Sea Island and 10th at Waialae is decent enough form looking at past winners here and his performance last week in Honolulu featured 4th for Greens in Regulation, 9th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 17 Birdies and 2 Eagles. He’s in decent enough nick that’s for sure and it’s well worth remembering that Knox has won professional titles at -25/263 (2011 Chiquita Classic), -20/268 (2015 WGC- HSBC Champions) and -14/266 (2016 Travelers Championship). A course strategist is how I would describe Knox and his results across Waialae (10th, 11th and 13th), PGA National (2nd 2014, 3rd 2015), Harbour Town (9th 2014, 2nd 2016), TPC Sawgrass (17th and 19th doesn’t tell the whole story) and El Camaleon (2nd 2016, 3rd 2017, 9th 2018) really link from a correlating courses perspective. Naturally PGA National is a Jack Nicklaus design, with Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass being Pete Dye designs; El Camaleon has seen PGA West champions Mark Wilson, Brian Gay and Pat Perez triumph at in recent times. Undoubtedly Knox’s confidence is building nicely and I think the switch to shorter courses – he hasn’t played this 3-course rota to date – will really suit him this week. RESULT: T29
Chris Kirk 1pt EW 60/1 with Betfred
Chris Kirk is another who fits the bill very well this week. A player whose recent form reads 10-4 should be taken seriously, but there’s plenty of juice in his price this week to include him, especially as the Georgia-based 32 year-old shot 69-66-68 to be 8th here after 54 holes 12 months ago. A 4-time PGA Tour winner, Kirk won his first ever title on the Nicklaus-designed Annandale track in 2011 shooting -22/266 and Chris in many ways reminds me of a Jason Dufner-sort, i.e. an experienced PGA Tour winner who slowly but surely is coming back from a barren time. 7th last week in Strokes Gained from Tee to Green, Kirk has always been very comfortable on the TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens of Waialae (5th 2013, 2nd 2014, 10th last week), PGA West (7th 2011) and Sea Island (1st 2014, 4th 2015, 4th 2017) and other results across Colonial, TPC New Orleans, Glen Abbey and TPC Boston, tie-in perfectly. Fast starts across both Sea Island and Waialae are a perfect foil for what we are looking for here this week and Kirk shot an Eagle and 19 Birdies in the RSM and 1 Eagle and 18 Birdies at the Sony Open last week. In my mind he’s ready for his 5th PGA Tour victory. RESULT: MC
Jhonattan Vegas 1pt EW 66/1 with Coral
Let’s be frank you never really know what you are going to get from Jhonattan Vegas but he’s undoubtedly turned a corner over the last 20 months and he currently sits at 39th in the OWGR. So 66/1 about a player who finished 7th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he shot 2 Eagles and 20 Birdies in 20+ mph winds, at a tournament which he won in 2011 seems a little on the generous side to me. A ball-striker by trade, Vegas has always been happy on the west coast and winning scores of -27/333 and -21/267 across 2 of his 3 PGA Tour victories tell you exactly where he is at when it comes to resort course style birdie blitzes. Wins here at PGA West and twice at Glen Abbey have featured Jack Nicklaus courses and 5th at TPC Louisiana (2016) and 7th at TPC Sawgrass (2012) also highlight that he can play more than adequately on Pete Dye designs with a little space to work with. 9th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 12th in Strokes Gained Putting on the treacherous greens at Kapalua show the Jhonattan is confident with his putter right now and 34th here 12 months ago which featured an opening -7/65 when he was putting poorly suggests he has a real chance this week. RESULT: T11
J.J. Spaun 1pt EW 80/1 with Coral
Another who falls into the first time winner category is J.J. Spaun who I’m more than happy to snap up at 80/1. A 2016 web.com Tour season which included 2nd at the Utah Championship, 6th at the Price Cutter Championship and 2nd at the Air Capital Classic undoubtedly grabs my attention from a correlating course perspective. And remembering the brief, we’re looking for a ball-striker who of late has shown the ability to score heavily. J.J. sits 52nd in Total Driving, 13th for Strokes Gained Approach the Green and 17th for Strokes Gained Tee to Green on Tour season-to-date and 9th in my 10-week rolling Greens in Regulation tracker. 5th for Total Birdies and 21st for Proximity to Hole season-to-date is also spot on for the CareerBuilder Challenge. 9th at Torrey Pines, 4th at TPC Scottsdale, 3rd after 54 holes at Montreux and 1st after 54 holes at TPC Summerlin, all since becoming a PGA Tour professional in 2016, highlight a liking for the West coast and desert golf in particular. 2nd at Sea Island in November showed that Spaun is learning from his contending performances and he started well here 12 months ago shooting -6/66 in Round 1 for 6th spot. A closing round -4/66 at Waialae shows that the rust is clearing away nicely and I can see the Californian going really well in his home state this week. RESULT: MC
Beau Hossler 0.5pt EW 300/1 with William Hill
I will close with Beau Hossler who at this free scoring event, could be a real danger. 66/1 as close as the RSM Classic in November. 10th at the Sanderson Farms and 7th at the Shriners shows what kind of talent we’re dealing with here. Beau was 3rd after 54 holes in Jackson, and in Las Vegas he shot a field-leading -5/66 in the teeth of the Saturday wind to take a step further and lead after 54 holes. 2nd at the Air Capital Classic at Crestview CC in Wichita appeals – PGA West champions Dufner, Vegas, Perez and Swafford have all performed well there, and despite missing the cut on his 2018 debut last week, Hossler was still hitting 80.6% Greens in Regulation. Of the rookies, he could be a real surprise this week. RESULT: T20
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Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:00GMT 15.1.18 but naturally subject to fluctuation.