Farmers Insurance 2021
Anticipation to expectation. Frustration to damage limitation. At the halfway stage, we had unfortunately lost the two players involved in the alternative market bets, but we did have the halfway leader in Sungjae Im in the outright portfolio. Not only that, but the backup of Abraham Ancer sitting in a tie for second. Saturday was turgid. As surprising as it was disappointing. Im got far too aggressive from positions that didn’t call for it, and Ancer simply couldn’t buy a putt. The latter did rally to give us a full dividend on the place, but all told I was expecting better after 36 holes played.
Aaron Baddeley had opened well himself. Recovering from a poor start, he sat on -4 after 18 holes, and I quietly fancied his chances of building on it. There were far too many errors on Friday though, and along with the usually very reliant putter deserting him, they meant a weekend off. Sepp Straka just played awful.
At the business end, Tony Finau passed up another opportunity to bag that much sought after second PGA Tour win. It is the first time I would agree that he looked shifty under pressure. Many, even most, other occasions he has been undone by someone else just playing excellent golf on Sunday. Now Si Woo Kim produced exactly that to win, and Finau did shoot 4 under par himself, but his putting stroke was very tentative all day. I still feel that he gets a bad enough beat off punters and press. Winning is tough. Tommy Fleetwood has amassed quite the amount of Top 10s on the PGA Tour also, and is without any wins, yet doesn’t seem to have that Timeform squiggle. Yes his wins on the European Tour buy him pardon to some extent, but the argument is valid.
Over in Abu Dhabi, Lucas Bjerregaard didn’t reward speculative support, but did give cause for early optimism when I woke Friday morning. 17 holes through his delayed first round, he sat on -5 and in a tie for 4th. A bogey on the last, and a triple bogey shortly after on his first hole of the second round put paid to that! He displayed much promise over the 4 days though, and is worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks in slightly lesser grade.
The slightly sub standard fields, and birdie fest layouts will start to be replaced this week by more star names and some of the Tours better courses. This week sees it head to Torrey Pines, which will be the home of the 2021 US Open in a few months time. A massive bonus for viewers is that the Pro-Am aspect has been jilted due to the ongoing pandemic. This will surely make for more enjoyable viewing, especially over the first two days. Enjoyment is obviously always enhanced by having players backed in contention come Sunday, so hopefully we can do just that here.
The opening two days will see both the South Course, and slightly easier North, in use. The South is an absolute brute, a Par 72 coming in at 7700 yards. As you would imagine a course where Tiger Woods has won 8 times, hitting the fairways isn’t the most important thing. With that you would expect the bomber to really prosper. But when you have Brandt Snedeker as a multiple winner, Ben Crane and Scott Stallings also on the roll of honour, and KJ Choi a regular contender, it suggests that any type of player can thrive here. Previous course experience has been pretty crucial. Jon Rahm winning on debut is a rare occurrence, but he is a rare talent. Course form is also a very good indicator here, with many players habitually producing good performances and high end finishes year on year. Stallings aside, shocks are not the norm, the cream tends to rise to the top and I expect more of the same this time around.
Players of Interest:
I backed Jon Rahm here 12 months ago, and he went into the final round with a one shot lead. A very poor front 9 there dented those lofty expectations, and he ultimately finished runner up, beaten by a single stroke. He clearly has every chance again at the venue which provided him with his maiden win on Tour, but quotes of 13/2 this time haven’t enticed me in. It was suggested that back trouble was the reason behind his withdrawal last week, and though I didn’t see that substantiated, it has to be a slight worry which hasn’t been factored into the betting here. He is also still bedding in a new set of clubs, and they are just two little niggles I could do without at the price.
For me RORY MCILROY should be tournament favourite, and is the most likely winner. He played in the final 3 ball with Rahm and Ryan Palmer last year, and they all seemed to drag each other down in the early stages of it. My worry ahead of that renewal regarding Rory, was that he would maybe benefit from another bit of course experience. 5th in 2019, 3rd last year he not only now has that all important bank of experience, but has also more than suggested that this will be one of those venues that he will consistently play well at. Nobody needs me to tell them what a superb talent the Northern Irishman is. It is that talent that sees so much demanded of him, and why when he isn’t winning regularly that it is an apparent disappointment. It can be easy to get lured into backing him when he is showcasing his best, and strutting down the fairways, but there will always be courses that will provide better opportunities to get him on side and I feel this will definitely be one of them.
I backed Rory in the delayed 2020 Masters, slightly against my usual mantra with him there, and though he did repay each way support he once again alluded to the sickening pressure he feels playing there. I do feel his showing there, and watching how impressive DJ was, reignited that hunger and passion that was maybe missing through the early ‘Covid months’. He mentioned last week that he had taken very few days off since Augusta, and seems eager to get to where he feels he belongs, at the top of the world rankings. He had his annual calendar curtain raiser in Abu Dhabi last week, and though plenty will crab him for not converting another round one lead, he played more than well enough to suggest he is in very good heart. Maybe having done more work than normal over the Christmas period, he might have seen it as the opportunity to finally sink that Abu Dhabi curse, but he once again had to settle for a podium finish. It was at this stage last year that Rory threatened to win a number of tournaments. 3rd here, 5th at the Genesis and filling the same position at both the WGC and Arnold Palmer, he was doing everything except winning.
The 4 time Major winner is the ultimate confidence player, and he seemed very happy with the state of his game last week. We didn’t see that post lockdown last year, and I do feel we are now about to see vintage McIlroy once again. He has not only been spending plenty of time with his coach of late, but also seeking advice from the revered Butch Harmon. He is showing all the right signs that he means business. When Rory is focussed and confident, I still feel he is probably the world’s best. Throw in a course that seems absolutely made for him, and the fact that he isn’t even favourite, and I feel he has to be backed. When on song, it is very rare for Rory to produce a poor performance. He churns out top 10s and 5s for sport. Though a better field than last week, there are still many of the games elite missing here. No DJ, no JT nor Bryson. He has often started a couple of points shorter with all those in the line up, and the 8/1 on offer here is enough to draw me in. The 8/5 for a top 8 is also too big, hence the choice to go each way.
Given Xander Schauffele’s abject displays here to date, surely he should be more than 4 points bigger than the headline selection. I am a massive fan of the X Man, but I’m not sure he is the biggest fan of this week’s layouts. 4 missed cuts in 5, and a mediocre 25th on his other appearance won’t send him here brimming with confidence. There is no reason why he shouldn’t thrive on this week’s test, it’s a US Open style course that rewards accurate long iron play. He will no doubt master it in time, but at the moment he seems short enough all things considered.
There are many who view Harris English as a bona fide top 10 in the world player. I don’t. Not yet anyway. To me he is always a shade under priced, and he can win without me. Patrick Reed didn’t fare any better last week than he did at Kapalua, and until he gets to grips with what he is working on, I can leave him be.. He putts Poa better than anyone, but that alone won’t get it done this week.
Having been on Sungjae Im the past two weeks, it would be galling where he to win here. That is no reason to bet him though, and there aren’t enough others to warrant getting involved.
Much harder to leave aside was Hideki Matsuyama. His long game was glorious at Waialae, but not unsurprisingly his putter was cold as ice. He is a player who doesn’t win often enough for one of his innate talents, but when he does it usually comes off a performance like what he produced at The Sony. He simply had it on a string. 28/1 is bloody tempting, but it will just be a watching brief for me ahead of next week. He seems to putt better at the TPC Scottsdale than anywhere else, and if he is as prolific again from the fairways this week, he will be a big player there in a week’s time.
Also, hard to leave aside was Tony Finau. Like Hideki, I just prefer a few others at the prices. He has been excellent here on his 6 visits, never finishing worse than 24th. 4th in 2007, he has also twice been 6th, and clearly relishes the task at hand. The putter let him down badly on Sunday, losing over 3 shots to Si Woo Kim and nearly 5 to Cantlay on the greens over the closing 18 holes. But he didn’t have a poor day. He shot the 10th best score of the day, which is not shabby. He just didn’t play well enough. Tough school. He did however bomb out on his next outing after a close shave in last year’s Phoenix Open, and again after a near miss at the US PGA. I can just about let him run here, with a view to getting with him next week, if the price is right.
Impossible to leave out is last year’s winner, MARC LEISHMAN. The Australian was very much below his best for the latter half of 2020, but a glimpse of that best at Augusta has been a kickstart to getting the defending champ back in tournament contending shape. His display from the fairways at The Sony was excellent, and if he is as dialled in here with his approach play, he will go mighty close. He putted relatively poorly there, but I wouldn’t worry about that with him. He grew up playing on these Poa Annua greens, and it was the putter which ultimately got him over the line here 12 months ago. Runner up here in 2010 and 2014, he has other top 10s in 2011 and 2017, so he clearly wasn’t winning out of turn. Just as clear is how well suited he is to this week’s test. With a bit of wind forecast on Friday, that will be no detriment to our man either.
Lack of confidence seemed to be as big a problem as anything else post lockdown last year, and that Augusta showing seemed to be the catalyst in getting his head space right again. The last time he defended a title was in the 2018 Arnold Palmer, and he produced an excellent showing there, finishing 7th. That also comes on a classical layout such as this, that has always brought the best out of Marc. Well able to convert when given the opportunity, all looks in place for him to put up a stern defence this week. 33/1 is big enough for me to get involved.
Though I am very keen on the chances of the above two, I would view MATTHEW WOLFFE as the best bet at the prices this week. I mentioned 7 days ago that the birdie fest at La Quinta may not be up his street. I also indicated he may be one of the higher profile players to miss the cut. As it was he needed a Friday 67 to make it, but he showed enough over the 4 days to suggest he is ready to take high rank here. He showed in the latest US PGA and US Open’s that the tougher the test, the more dangerous he is. He will never be the best putter on the planet, but when greens in regulation, and solid approach play are the order of the day he will typically shine. Had he putted any way well on the final day, he may well have won at Harding Park. His approach play however was stellar, and it’s that game that will be demanded here. With no amateurs present, and a US Open looming for Torrey’s South Course, I could see the set up being a bit tougher than is usually the case in late January. That will suit Wolffe just fine. His 4th place finish at Winged Foot, came like Harding Park on Poa greens, a type which can be a great leveller as bad putters won’t be the only ones missing on these imperfect surfaces.
I alluded to earlier, how winning on debut here is very rare, and last year was the first time Wolffe teed it up at Torrey. An opening 76 was a baptism of fire, but this kid learns fast, and over the next 54 holes he was only one shot worse than the winner. I couldn’t have him as the same price as Scottie Scheffler, and 8 points bigger than English. Coming off the back of a nice pipe opener last week, which culminated with an excellent all round display on Sunday, I feel he will go close here.
Take out Stallings, and the last 7 winners have gone off 6/1, 14/1, 18/1, 40/1, 18/1, 12/1, 45/1. I don’t expect a shock here, and won’t apologise for finishing with two more at around the 40/1 mark.
I suggested prior to The Sony that ADAM SCOTT may benefit from another 4 rounds under his belt, and that his putting left a lot to be desired. The putting will always be a worry with the Australian, but on these greens I am prepared to take my chances. 3 of his PGA wins have come on this surface, and though I am sure he will miss more than the one 4 footer this week, so too will others. That is what is the great equalizer on Poa, and if it comes down to performance from the fairway, well then Scott will be hard to beat. Like Leishman, he thrives on ball striking classical layouts, and it is perhaps a surprise he didn’t bother showing up here until 2019. What was no surprise was that he took to it like a duck to water, finishing runner up to another of that ilk, Justin Rose. I said prior to The Sony that it would be unlikely Scott could reproduce his superb display from the fairways at Kapalua. He wasn’t far off doing so. Two weeks off stellar approach play suggest his long game is very near it’s best, and something even average on the greens this week will likely see him right in the mix. He’s certainly a bigger price than I expected, and 45/1 can’t be let go.
It may end up being a week of tearing the hair out, with the amount of typically average putters I am adding to the team sheet, and I’ll finish with one more. The man who can potentially infuriate more than any other, but again more prolific on Poa greens than any other type, BUBBA WATSON. The world and it’s mother seemed to want to be with the mercurial left hander ahead of Augusta at odds of just 30/1. I could understand why his chance was respected there, but couldn’t understand the price. His poor performance didn’t justify my opinion, but certainly didn’t lead me to think I was wrong. His tee to green game ahead of The Masters was superb, only terrible putting cost him victory at both The CJ Cup and The Zozo. 5th is strokes gained off the tee this term, and 4th for stroke gained on approach, he has very few peers tee to green. He doesn’t have the benefit of a run out this calendar year yet, but suh i the talent of the man it’s not a major worry. More important is his state of mind. He’s a strange one. To my eye the ideal scenario is for Bubba to come to a venue where he has previous, where he feels he has a viable chance, but where others aren’t putting undue pressure on him. As such it is no surprise he has such a poor record as a defending champion, wherever that may be, and indeed one of his best displays in a defence came here in 2012.
He will be somewhat under the radar this week, Rory and Rahm hogging the limelight, and Finau batting off questions about his lack of W’s. But it is certainly a venue he will feel he can conquer once again. It may appear odd that he hasn’t played here given that 2011 success, but I wonder whether Pro-Am’s and all that goes with them are really his thing. He hasn’t bothered with Pebble Beach much either. That can be another advantage this year, 12 months on from when he made his first appearance in 6 years to finish a fine 6th behind Leishman. That came off a 6 week break, the same as this year, as he had a perfectly acceptable performance in the QBE Shootout in mid December. Like Rory, there are certain courses where I would always have a second look at Bubba, and this is definitely one of them. Six times a winner on Poa greens, the 40/1 on offer here when he doesn’t have the likes of DJ or JT to contend with seem perfectly acceptable to me.
More outright selections than will be the norm, and unusually for when I am backing 5, there are none over 45/1. But all represent value in an event I expect to be dominated by the top of the market.
I do think COREY CONNORS is worth backing here. I feel there is more of a gulf in class between him and his counterparts than the market allows for. He hasn’t played since early December, but when returning off an even longer break post lockdown, he notched an immediate Top 20 at the Charles Schwab. His game appeals as very much the identikit for this week’s test. Long enough off the tee, hitting more fairways than most, he revels from there in. 6th in 2020 for greens in regulation, and 32nd from limited starts this term, he won’t find as much trouble as others will this week. Lying 58th in the OWGR, he will be keen to start well and push himself towards the golden highway of the top 50. If he picks up where he left off in 2020, he won’t be long in cracking that milestone. He made his last 7 cuts, which included 3 Top 10’s and 5 Top 20’s. One of those Top 10’s was at Augusta, another famed second shot golf course. And where multiple winners here, Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker, have also thrived. He made his debut here in 2018, and played very solidly, winding up in 29th after a poor Sunday in tough conditions. I envisage Conners having a decent 4 days here, and all told the majority of the opposition don’t really frighten me.
Roger Sloan had a decent week going until Sunday last week, his back pedalling there would certainly be a worry for anyone getting involved here. If mistakes creep in at Torrey, big numbers await. Mackenzie Hughes is second favourite for this section, and the likely danger. But in four starts here he has never bettered 29th, and I think he is more suited to easier layouts where he can get it on the dancefloor quicker, and let his putting take care of business. His tee to green game has never been top tier, and will go some way to explaining why he has never broken 70 on 12 rounds on these two courses.
I know a few subscribers took the 11/8 on offer on Adam Hadwin landing this section last week, and a Sunday charge just about got the job done. He is pretty much an event specialist at the Amex though, something which can hardly be said for him here. He has never bettered 32nd in 5 attempts, and coming off the back of one of his poorer Amex showings, he is hard to make a case for.
All told, this section should not take much winning. If Conners picks up where he left off in December he should have shots to spare. With the carrot of moving into the Top 50 firmly dangled in front of him, I expect him to come well prepared. I would make him an even money shot, and view the 6/4 as a decent bet.
Top Continental Euro:
Jon Rahm is the clear and obvious favourite here, and will admittledy take a deal of beating. At 4-5 though he is taking up a fair chunk of the market, and I do see some each way value further down. That comes in the shape of RORY SABBATINI. We had fair success with the now Slovakian in this and Top 20 markets last term, and as ever I am keen to get him onside at venues where he has previous. I disregarded his chances pretty swiftly last week, and I have to say I was surprised how well he played at a venue he had shown no aptitude for before. His 12th place finish came courtesy of a negative strokes gained putting figure, and just highlights how good his tee to green game was. That is what gets it done at Torrey. He has often produced his best here, and given how good his game looked last week, he will be relishing his return here.
At 20/1 I prefer to play him each way here than take 5/1 for a Top 20 Finish. I think finishing inside the top 20 would likely give us a place dividend here, and then we always have the chance of the 20/1 winner if Rahm underperforms.
Viktor Hovland missed the cut on debut here in 2019, and is shy of experience on the tough South Course as a result. His game does look made for the demands of Torrey, but 7/2 doesn’t offer any value here. Alex Noren has a playoff defeat to his name here, but even though there were signs of life last week, he still seems to be struggling to put it all together. Sepp Straka may well bounce back from last week’s abject display, and isn’t a bad price here at 18/1. At two points bigger though, it is the claims of Sabba that I prefer.
Top 20 Finish:
I had been hoping to get Ryan Palmer on the team sheet here, but as I type the top price of 5/2 just isn’t big enough. Also in that 2018 playoff with Noren, and ultimate winner Jason Day, Palmer returned the following year with another excellent showing. 13th there, where a Saturday 75 took him out of contention, it was a Sunday shitshow that cost him last term. Playing in the final 3 ball with players of the calibre of Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy can be intimidating for even the best in the game though, so that surrender is excusable. What is clear is that the game of Palmer is perfectly suited to the demands of what lies ahead this week, and given how good his game looked at Kapalua, it is easy to see him going well once again.
If 3/1 does materialise, I would recommend a 5pt stake in this market.
A very competitive section this week. I haven’t yet discussed Jason Day who is a two time winner here alongside a further 3 Top 10’s. Quite the event specialist. I have backed him a couple of times, including in that 2018 playoff win, and always felt the Pro Am aspect of it suited him much better than some of his counterparts. Many were beaten before the start as don’t have the patience for the 6 hour rounds that are inevitable in that format. Day loves nothing more than a slow round!! One would still have to respect his chances here, though I do feel he is the wrong favourite for this section. He has the added unknowns of a new coach and clubs this week also. I would have both Leishman and Scott shorter. I wouldn’t be backing one over the other though, and dutching them would pay approx 6/5 at current best prices, which would have our points staked this week quite high. At short odds I prefer the Top Canadian bet. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Aaron Baddeley produced a decent week!
Coral + Ladbrokes now both offer 4/1 on each of Leishman and Scott. This represents a 6/4 chance of one of them landing this section. I won’t offer it up as a recommendation, as I have put up both in the outright, and don’t want too many eggs in the one basket. For those that can get one, and want an extra wager, it does represent a decent bet now.
Top South African:
I have just come down on the side of not plumping for outsider of 4 here, Charl Schwartzel. I feel this could be a section easy won, as I have my doubts about the other 3. His promising display last Thursday was built on the foundation of a hot putter though, and with the top price of 9/2 being just borderline backable and only available with Skybet, I won’t recommend him. I will back him myself I 5/1 is offered anywhere attainable.
A few subscribers have contacted each week asking for a suggested multiple on the ‘Top Nations’ markets. It’s a tough one to ever put up, as is rare for any one firm to be top price on all players I would be interested in. For those interested in that type of thing to small stakes, I would suggest the following.
Top European: Rory McIlroy 15/8*
Top Asian: Hideki Matsuyama 9/4*
Top Canadian: Corey Conners 6/4*
Top Australian: Adam Scott 4/1* & Marc Leishman 4/1*
*These are Coral/Lads prices which work out best for multiple purposes.
That’s it for this week. In truth we haven’t had much to cheer yet, but the winners will come. Golf betting is a game of patience and discipline. It’s a long old road to the end of the year, there will be many highs and lows. The trick is not to get too excited about either!
3.5pts ew Rory McIlroy 8/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH) *Coral/Lads/Betfred are 8/1 to 7 places
1pt ew Matthew Wollfe 33/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH) *Also 33/1 to less places with Unibet, Betfred +365. 30/1 with Skybet 8 places. All fine.
1pt ew Marc Leishman 33/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet/888) *Currently 34 on Betfair’s EW 10 places market, let that market develop and 38 may be attainable
.8pt ew Adam Scott 40/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/BFSB) *Scott has just been ‘Coleyed’, hence the price drop, 40/1 is still perfectly fine.
.8pt ew Bubba Watson 40/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet/PP/BFSB/Boyles/888) *45/1 available with Unibet + 365 to less places. 40/42 will probably also be attainable on Betfair EW 10 places market in due course
8pts Corey Connors 6/4 (Coral/Lads/365/Skybet)
Top Continental Euro:
1pt ew Rory Sabbatini 20/1 (⅕ odds 3 places, 365) *Not all firms priced up here yet. I would prefer the 3 place option. If you can’t avail of that, back him win only. And take the 15/2 now available with PP/BFSB for a Top 20 Finish as a replacement for the place part of the bet.
Pre Event Running Totals 2021:
Hopefully a good week ahead. More points staked than will normally be the case in a non major week, but all are worthy plays.