Northern Trust Open ~ 2021
“Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” Apparently!! After a slow start to his final day, Russell Henley looked set to be the man to break that door down as he held a two shot lead on the 11th green, with a 10ft birdie to come, and his closest pursuer staring bogey up ahead. He managed to 3 putt that green, missing par from 2ft, and proceeded to bogey the next also. That 15 minute spell saw the wheels come off, and it was probably ominous from there. He did really frighten the hole with his birdie effort on 18 to win it, it looked in with 5ft remaining, but his subsequent miss to make the playoff certainly frightened my cat. Annoying.
Thankfully Rory Sabbatini finished well, holing a 7 footer on his last hole to cement a win in the Top Cont Euro section and share Top Euro with Rose (that would have hurt). But it did for much of the week promise to be the big hitting win we need, and deserve, after much ill luck when it matters. It’s coming.
Indeed we could have had another rod in the outright fire but for a quadruple bogey out of the blue for Johnny Vegas on Saturday afternoon. He ended up being only 3 shots out of the playoff, not close enough to even yield a place dividend.
It was an entertaining finish for sure, with the 6 man playoff producing a scarcely believable first hole. 6 pars that all looked anything but at various stages.
Though I don’t agree with the stagger start for the Tour Championship in two weeks time, the work put into the FedEx Cup format has certainly made for an exciting 3 week spell. And with all the right names having had at least reasonable seasons, everyone you would want to be still in the pot, is. That makes for perhaps the strongest field of the year heading for this week’s Northern Trust Open, which returns to Liberty National Golf Course in New Jersey. A lengthy Par 71 at just over 7400 yards, a strong tee to green game here would be what I am basing much of my selection process around. We have little in the way of course form to go on, and that which we do could be said to be contradictory. This event, and the weeks to come are typically fought out by players enjoying a rich vein of form, and this year is unlikely to deviate much from that.
It’s hard to predict just how tough this week will play. Rain is forecast, and may make the opening two days that bit easier. But if that doesn’t arrive in force, fast conditions will make this a real test, and in any case by the weekend that firm terrain should return to produce an exciting finish.
Players of Interest:
Once again it is Jon Rahm who heads up the market, and deservedly so. He doesn’t seem to have a bad week in him at the moment, and missing the last couple weeks due to yet another positive Covid test may end up a blessing in disguise come East Lake. He was 3rd here in 2019, and possesses the perfect game for this layout, but I just prefer a few others this week. I am hoping we may see a bit of early rust.
I am going to leave the head of the market for now, and head a bit further south for my headline selection. We find COREY CONNERS at the 55/1 mark (66/1 with 365 to 5 places), and it’s a price I feel has to be availed of. A factor in all but one Major this term, Conner’s stock is firmly on the rise, and on a course that promises to reward his superb tee to green game, he can now notch the big win his season’s play deserves. 9th in strokes gained off the tee, 14th in both approach and GIR, 13th tee to green, it has to be a surprise that the Canadian hasn’t banked a win in 2021 yet. His game on and around the greens has been what has been holding him back, but when you see Adam Scott and Graham DeLaet filling the first two spots here in 2013, you wonder should you be placing much weight on those categories this week.
He was 21st here on course debut in 2019, and though that was the year of his sole win on tour to date, I have no doubt he is a far superior player now. Those experiences in contention at recent Majors will have hurt at the time, but will now provide a stern bank of knowledge for when he is next in contention. Given the current state of his game, his very promising display here two years ago, and that this is typically a time of year when he thrives, that next time could certainly be this week. Liberty National isn’t a links course, but with it’s exposed nature it can give off a links feel. Conner’s display at Royal St George can definitely be construed as a positive on that front. He is double the price of some players that I would have him shorter than, and I feel he is cracking bet this week.
Dustin Johnson showed more promise at bothe The Open and recent WGC, but to me he still isn’t fully engaged. I’m surprised he is second favourite here, and offered no appeal at the price.
Like Conners, this is a test that should really suit Collin Morikawa. He’s just a shade short for me here though. Justin Thomas continues to struggle with the putter, and that is certainly affecting his confidence. He’s getting to a price now where you could just back him due to it, but I prefer too many others at similar or shorter odds.
Webb Simpson once again had a high end finish at Wyndham, but he also had a couple of very poor holes, and his main asset still doesn’t look back to it’s best. That may be a worry here. Scottie Scheffler has continuously raised his game for the bigger events, but his price factors that in, and Abraham Ancer certainly hasn’t been missed by the market.
I do however like a few at the head of the market, maybe one too many, but all three are worthy bets in my opinion.
First up is JORDAN SPIETH. I won’t deny I am a massive fan of his, and maybe drawn to him more often than I should be, but there is a lot to like this week. Liberty National is pretty wide off the tee, wider indeed than most layouts. This is definitely a help for a man who does struggle for accuracy off the tee. Rough isn’t hugely penal here either, and that can help Jordan’s mindset from the off. This really does set up as a second shot golf course, think Augusta, recently think Royal St George. Then you really do think Jordan Spieth. The 3 time Major winner has few peers from the fairways in, and given his unerring consistency since the Phoenix Open, he promises to be a big factor here.
I didn’t like his chances at Southwind, I don’t feel it is really a course made for him, yet he still produced a decent finish there. Prior to that he was 2nd at RSG, top 20s at the US Open and Memorial, 2nd at Charles Scwab, winner in Texas, 3rd at Augusta. Alongside Rahm, he has been dancing nearly every dance this term, and at a course I really expect him to relish, he can notch his second win of the term. 19th here on debut in 2013, the year after he turned Pro, it was a final round 73 which took the gloss off an otherwise excellent week. He returned here in 2019, when going through a slump in form, yet produced plenty of fireworks to ultimately finish in the top 5. In far better shape this time around, he will relish the task ahead. Winner of the FedEx Cup in his all conquering year of 2015, he is working his way back into that sort of form again now, and can put himself into pole position for a repeat with a win this week.
RORY MCILROY did us a favour when successful at the Wells Fargo, and now is the time I feel we should be weighing in with him again. Even the most casual of golf observers can tell you Rory has been struggling for his best since, and in reality it was a hot putter that did the damage at Quail, but recent signs are certainly more promising. Rory’s game has always been about dominance from tee to green, and at Southwind last time he looked very close to what he once took for granted. The putter didn’t cooperate and that, and a poor opening round, ultimately led to him not really contending. But I don’t get bogged down on how Rory putts, he can win putting averagely if he is at his best from the tee, and those signs on his most recent start suggest a corner has been turned. That will be a massive confidence boost to a player who has been working so hard on his game, and going through changes that come with a timeline. So much of this sport is in the head (just ask Russell Henley!), and I feel Rory will approach this with that all important strut this week.
He alluded to the returning crowds at Quail Hollow being a factor in helping him over the line, and bemoaned the lack of spectators ahead of the Olympics. This New Jersey/New York cword this week will likely be the loudest we have come across since Covid reared its ugly head, and it can be another small positive for the case of McIlroy. It’s a time of year he has typically thrived in, he has 5 victories in FedEx events to his name, and I feel number 6 is a real possibility this week. If the storms materialise ahead of the off, the soft conditions certainly won’t hinder our man. At 22/1 on a course that should really suit, coming in off his best driving display in a long time last time out, he has to be backed.
I really didn’t want to be putting up 3 players at 25/1 or less here, but when BROOKS KOEPKA was pushed out to that figure, I felt compelled to back him. It was only two weeks ago that I had a confident bet on him at less than half the price in a similar field, minus Rahm, at the WGC. The overreaction to that poor performance is just too big for me. Prior to that his game had been in superb shape, and I have never been one to give up on someone due to one below par showing. Especially when it came about due in the main to a misfiring putter. He holed nothing, and with his game around the greens being poor, it meant plenty of missed putts were for par. He was still very good from the tee there, and at the prices on offer this week, that showing is more than forgivable. Many question Brook’s motivation now Major season has ended, and his abject display and general demeanour there, gave them fuel for their fire. But though he may indeed have not been too bothered once his chance of winning was gone early doors, I don’t doubt for one second that he will be up for this. DJ, Rory, Spieth, they have all landed the FedEx Cup, and Brooks will be eager to add his name to that list. Before Bryson anyway!
Tee to green is what Brooks is all about, and that’s just what we are looking for here. It’s also a venue that requires more than a bit of thought, and the tougher it plays at the weekend, all the better for his chances. 25/1 on an in form Koepka in a top class event where his juices will surely be flowing, is too big for me.
Nominating 3 players at 25/1 and less certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel, but I don’t see the point in putting up longer priced players for the sake of it if I don’t see value in their price, or a real chance of them winning. I do see both in Spieth, McIlroy and Koepka.
One player at a working man’s price who I do believe to be worthy of inclusion, is JASON KOKRAK. He was disappointing in missing the cut when we were on last week, but as I mentioned when discussing Brooks, a sample size of two rounds isn’t going to put me off a week later at an inflated price. I won’t rehash over what I said last week, it all still applies here though, and from on correlating courses an added boost. Many more qualified than me, have noted the similarities between Shadow Creek and this week’s layout, and that was the venue of Kokrak’s most recent win on Tour. He also played very well on the links of Royal St George recently, and though things went pear shaped after a bright start last week, at 70/1 here I am prepared to forgive that.
Top 20 Finish:
I had intended to play Jhonattan Vegas in this market, but had hoped for 5/1 to get involved. That now looks unlikely to become available, so I have left him to one side.
One player I am more than happy to get involved with at the price on offer is K.H. LEE. Winner of the Byron Nelson in May, Lee went off the boil for his next few starts. No surprise at all there, a maiden win on the PGA Tour was a massive deal for the Korean, and he was entitled to celebrate and all that goes with it. He has now made his last 3 cuts though,and signs are becoming ominous that he is ready to get involved again. 6th at the 3M open before finishing down the field after a very positive start to the WGC, his ball striking display last week at Sedgefield was absolutely top drawer. Indeed he led the field in strokes gained tee to green, and was 2nd in strokes gained off the tee. Quite simply he putted deplorably, which resulted in him only finishing 24th. Obviously if he once again performs as poorly on the greens, then we will be in trouble, but it is certainly a positive that the Byron win came on this week’s surface of Bentgrass greens. At a ball striker’s layout, I like the chances of KH getting involved. If he happens to putt well, he could very well upset plenty of bigger names.
Top Rest of World:
I make no apology for going to the window again with COREY CONNERS. I do really like his chances of getting involved this week, and this market takes out most of the players I would be worried about. And it doesn’t leave many that I am fearful of.
Hideki Matsuyama had the weekend off last week, but may need a proper week of rest. He has had a busy time of it. Adam Scott brings some sexy course form figures, but he has to prove last week wasn’t a one off, his long game had been strangely out of kilter until then. One also wonders how he reacts to throwing the event away on the first playoff hole. Abraham Ancer is just too short all round in my opinion, indeed I would rate Conner’s chances here as pretty much the equal of the Mexican. Instead we get 14/1 on the selection, compared to 7/1 on the market favourite.
I’m very keen to have Conners onside here also.
I do like the chances of Jhonattan Vegas again this week, but like the Top 20 market I was expecting just slightly bigger than the prices on offer.
I will however have a small bet on K.H. LEE here also. Just the type to thrive around here, he has been typically cast aside by the market makers, and at 40/1 he is worth a second investment here.
Top GB & Ire:
It’s a rare week, where most of my outright bets have also featured earlier in the outright staking plan. Maybe it’s not for everyone, potentially over-egging the pie as such, but I do like the chances of those put up and see further value in these sub markets.
There was so much promise in the final 3 rounds of RORY MCILROY’s WGC display that I really am expecting a hot end of year from him. The work in progress seems to be nearing fruition, and whilst the market hasn’t reacted to it, I am keen to get stuck in.
Like the European section last week, I think this is a rather weak affair. Shane Lowry should enjoy this layout, but I would hazard a guess he may have enjoyed his time at home a bit too much to be fully ready for this! Seamus Power will have a job re-scaling the heights he hit which culminated in his recent maiden Tour win.
Four of Matt Fitzpatrick’s last seven PGA outings have been well below par, and he will need to find his best i feel here to be beating Rory. All told I feel there is plenty of soft, if not quite dead wood in this, and the 5/2 on offer on McIlroy is bigger than I expected.
2pts ew Jordan Spieth (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/PP/BFSB)
1.5pts ew Rory McIlroy 22/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH) *20/1 8 places with Sky/888/Betfred acceptable 1.2pts ew Brooks Koepka 25/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH)
.8pt ew Corey Conners 55/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, WH/Skybet) *66/1 with 365 and BV to less places
.5pt ew Jason Kokrak 70/1 (⅕ odds 8 places, Skybet/Betfred) *80/1 365 5 places – anything 66/1+ to 8 places is fine
Top 20 Finish:
2.25pts Kyoung-Hoon Lee 8/1 (WH/Mansionbet) *7/1+ acceptable – currently 8.6 on exchange, bigger will become available
Top GB & Ire:
6pts Rory McIlroy 5/2 (WH/Coral/Lads/PP/BFSB) *Currently 3.7 on SBK Top Rest of World:
1.5pts ew Corey Conners 12/1 (¼ odds 4 places, WH/Bet365)
.5pt ew Kyoung-Hoon Lee 40/1 (¼ odds 4 places, WH/Bet365)
Running Totals 2020:
Best of Luck all, I will be back with the BMW Championship at the same time next week.