- Matt Fitzpatrick 18-1
- Jorge Campillo 70-1
- Stephen Gallacher 70-1
- Andrew Johnston 125-1
- Brendan Steele 50-1
- Kyle Stanley 60-1
- Kevin Streelman 80-1
- Harris English 110-1
16 x 0.15 ew @ 4.8 points staked
The usual trio of events has been disturbed with the usual ‘middle’ event in Qatar being shunted into next month although that really shouldn’t disrupt any thoughts that the Dubai Desert Classic remains a very similar test to the previous week, this time Abu Dhabi.
With a roll-call of winners including Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett and Stephen Gallacher amongst other illumanti of the golfing elite, this is again an event that will have a Links bent to the final leaderboard and similar comments apply here as they did just seven days ago.
As always, it was tempting to bet ‘without the front four’ here but such are the claims of Matt Fitzpatrick that I have to include him, and confidently with any of those ahead of him in the rankings.
At just 23, this top-class player already has four main tour wins to his name, significantly a stunning victory in the Dubai finale just over a year ago. Previous winners have arrived with a good-looking line of recent form and course form and with a worst finish of 19th in his last ten starts, and a closing 5th here last year on his third attempt, everything looks ripe for a very strong challenge from a player with consistently high quality stats. The length of the tee may be an issue but it has failed to stop him in similar class and his efforts with the short stick after quality approach shots are a dream to watch.
Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston was a sensation last season, embracing food adverts in The States, chest-bumping everyone in sight and taking on hundreds of radio and television appearances. Whilst that may have put dollars in the bank, he drifted from a high of 86th in the world rankings in 2016 to 180th by the end of last season.
Having taken a short while to establish himself at this level following an excellent Challenge Tour stint, 2016 saw him finish top-10 in The Open at Troon alongside three further top-10s, a 3rd in Switzerland and an outstanding victory at always-tough Valderrama.
Last year saw little of note as the American dream took precedence but it looks like his talent is back on show after a 9th last week when a cold putter resulted in a blank front-nine on Payday. He tweeted that the change in golf ball means he feels more comfortable with the ‘softer’ new type and as a player that thrives on confidence, he looks very short odds to improve on two previous moderate outings here. Wind would be an asset rather than a hindrance and the tougher it gets, the better he should show.
I’m very tempted with the likes of Callum Shinkwin, Ryan Fox, Jordan Smith and Nino Bertasio at big odds for various reasons but will be looking for first-round leader odds for these players and the third vote goes to Jorge Campillo, a player who never wins but loves it in this part of the world and is quite capable of nicking a place at nice prices.
Although not vital here, it is encouraging to see the Spaniard ranking top-10 for driving accuracy last week. Given his decent length and approach play, this improvement may see him with an advantage over similarly priced players and it really will be a matter of the putts dropping, something never guaranteed but factored in the price.
Although Campillo has never confirmed the huge promise of his amateur career, he has enough efforts in the desert to think that slight improvement will see him closer than midfield and first-round-leader backers may also note his last three first round scores here have seen him rank 10/13/8 by the end of Thursday play.
Final play speaks for himself. Links specialist Stephen Gallacher won back-to-back here in 2013/2014, was tied second the previous year and 3rd to McIlroy when defending the ‘double’ in 2015. These are stunning figures that could be ignored on recent form bar the fact he finished 9th here last year after two missed-cuts in Abu and Qatar. Clearly he comes alive here and whilst a lower field finish last week is of no interest, his approach play stats are well out of line – if that first outing for a couple of months brings him on, he could look big at the current show.
Over at The Farmers, big hitters will clearly have some advantage but they can’t just slug it out there. Rough is up so whilst getting it out there will be useful, there is a slant of keeping it on the fairway to attack the tough greens in strong coastal winds. Winners have shown a mix of recent and course form but clearly knowledge of conditions will help and whilst players can win after poor previous efforts, only the brilliant Jon Rahm defied the debutantes curse.
Rickie Fowler is easily the best pick of the top lot but at 12-1 can be left alone, whilst Tiger Woods at 25-1 is laughable (prepare for egg on face).
First up for me has to be Kyle Stanley, who happens to be born on my birthdate but might be a better golfer than me.
Standing on the first tee of Torrey Pines at the start of the final round in 2012 with a six-shot lead, the tournament was his to lose, and unfortunately that is exactly what he did. Still with a huge chance on 18, slight misjudgement caused a wet approach shot and ultimately a play-off loss to two-time event champion Brandt Snedeker. It happens and the ghost was soon laid to rest just seven days later before a decent 2013 season.
Having then gone missing for a couple of years he took a ‘needed’ rest and grew a beard before slight improvement in 2016 led to an real upturn in form last season when a victory at the Quicken Loans was backed up with four top-10s including top-class events The Players, Memorial and the HSBC Champions, whilst a top-15 here was his best result at Torrey since that torrid Sunday.
Clearly this course suits a man who should be approaching peak at 30-years of age and he can shine this year after the encouragement of a top-10 in Hawaii at which he was 4th going into Sunday.
Brendan Steele has a cracking record in California, winning the Safeway twice (beating subsequent multiple-winner Patton Kizzaire and then Tony Finau, much fancied this week) and running-up at PGA West in the Humana. Whilst his efforts round here aren’t quite as good, his recent stats indicate he may well improve past his two top-20s and he seems to have dismissed that inconsistency from his four rounds. Certainly long and accurate enough to give himself chances, he has been practising at Torrey for a couple of weeks and ranks slightly higher than his current price.
If figures are right, and they might need following blindly, then Kevin Streelman is no three-figure shot this week. A best of 3rd round here in horrid conditions in 2016 stands out but his approach game is consistent enough to give him opportunities to repeat this. That bronze medal followed an season-opener of 11th at the CareerBuilder and he can be expected to improve on his opening 29th at the same event.
It’s very tempting to give former Junior World winner Emiliano Grillo a chance here but he hasn’t done a lot recently whilst ‘marmite’ character Grayson Murray is a three-time junior winner round Torrey Pines, played very well last week, but missed the cut on his debut here twelve months ago.
The final vote goes to Harris English, who finished last week at The Stadium Course with a 5-under back-9 and may finally be back to the form that saw him consistently inside the top-80 in the world.
Interestingly, English often plays well here after a poor lead-in, finishing 2nd here in 2015 after an average Pheonix Open, and his best of 2017 14th here after a missed-cut in Hawaii. That weekend break at Waialae was unusual and given that encouraging closing 11th last week on a course he usually favours, he should bring positive thoughts after landing above average figures throughout his game.