Prices used this week are Skybet. Of course, multiples can be placed with various firms but for ease of settling and the site, we have just used one.
All selections are 1/5 odds, with 6 places being paid across both tours this week.
- Pablo Larrazabal 100-1
- Chris Hanson 100-1
- Poom Saksansin 125-1
- Phachara Khongwatmai 150-1
- Harris English 55-1
- Brendan Steele 66-1
- Webb Simpson 45-1
- Adam Hadwin 66-1
*16 x 0.15 ew doubles = total 4.8 points*
Whilst they’ve only played one Maybank at Saujana in it’s current guise, even those with the longest memories are aware that the top-five are often those that can think their way round, shape shots both ways, and avoid bogeys above making eagles. Players such as Jaidee, Jimenez and Levet crop up from past years, and although the 2016 version was played at Royal Selangor, those close behind winner Marcus Fraser were short-track players Quesne and Larrazabal.
There also seems to be a stunning link to the European Masters at Crans-sur-sierre and after the domination of Bjorn and Jimenez, the boards continue to show the same players year after year. To name just some, Willett, Lahiri, Levy, Zanotti as well as those mentioned show up at both. No surprise that both require shot-makers and greens merchants – and if not hitting greens, talented scramblers.
I fell off my chair this morning when seeing the price of 125-1 against last season’s runner-up David Lipsky. Only a final hole eagle from Fabrizio Zanotti stopped the all-American winning his third event and he arrives here after a closing 6th in Dubai, a region he hasn’t previously shown much in. If that wasn’t enough, he has plenty of form in the area including 4th in the Malaysian Open in this grade in 2012, and his biggest victory was the 2014 running of that Crans event. I initially put him in at around 45-1 given the strength on paper and as I write that looks like the general price so unfortunately he needs to be left out.
Last week’s brilliant winner , Haotong Li, could be said to have genuine claims of being shorter than the current 18-1 and although a short price is one I found tough to leave out. 4th at the Nedbank followed last years bronze at The Open, he continues to rack up serious points in the rankings and with a closing 5th here last year appeals of those right at the top. However, following the disappointing run of Fitzpatrick last week when looking sure to challenge pre-event, these prices have to be left alone.
Defending champ Fabrizio Zanotti is another to have been well-backed today and having come off a series of missed-cuts then, it will be of use to followers that an encouraging 9th at Abu was followed by a weekend off in Dubai. Unlike Lipsky though, I don’t feel his current price is justified given his inconsistency, even if conditions suit.
Sticking with just four is tough this week but I’m giving a chance to Pablo Larrazabal, a player I rarely get right but whose price is beginning to look far too big given the basic talent.
The mercurial (use that word when you mean to write unpredictable) Spaniard doesn’t have that much to write home about this year but on the pick of his game he can boast multiple wins in Germany at the tricky tree-lined BMW, a win at the similarly tough Open de France and places at the KLM and Valderama. Possibly more eye-catching are the 7th in Crans (admittedly surrounded by poorer efforts), 3rd at the China Open where the top lot included players showing relevance to this week’s challenge (Levy, Wiesberger, Soomin Lee et al) and form in Malaysia reading 29/6/20/8/6. Recent comments indicate he has worked hard over the break and was encouraged by recent play. It is a toss-of-a-coin which one turns up but we get that with a few players (Olesen springs to mind, winning when he is a big price) and he won’t mind playing conditions at all and can certainly scramble as well as anyone.
Poom Saksansin has plenty of improvement left at 24-years of age and may be ready to step up a notch in similar style to many of the Asian players. After winning his maiden in October 2016, he finished a closing 13th a week later before injury struck and he took the rest of the year off. He may well have then needed the run in Mayanmar a year ago and as such the missed-cut here is forgiven. Since then the young Thai has finished top-30 in the European Open in Portugal, top-20 in Crans, won his second Asian Tour title and recorded a series of decent finishes at the HSBC at Sheshan, Hong Kong and three recent home tour events reading 10/12/7. It is encouraging that he won two from three at the Eurasia Cup in between all this including a singles defeat of Paul Casey and that 10th last week at Mayanmar and I fancy him to continue the upward curve.
As said, restricting this to four was tough so despite the effort I’m not.
The final places go to Chris Hanson and Phachara Khongwatmai.
For Hanson I have to presume this course will fit his game and whilst he has steady finishes at Crans, I would expect him to beat a best of 13th there at some point soon. Without able to rely on a long driving game, it’s all irons and scrambling to make the score and it’s encouraging he led the latter stat last week on a course that wouldn’t have suited. Indeed, the Englishman has only just reverted to a different manufacturer for his driver and perhaps these clubs are now bedding in – that final round 65 certainly stands out. He tends to go on streaks of good play and has enough form at the likes of Valderrama, Close House and Morocco to think that three-figures probably underestimates certainly his chances of placing. It won’t harm his mental state that good friend and similarly-aged Chris Paisley has found his form in no uncertain terms and I’m certain he wins one to match that.
Khong is of interest after opening up here last year with a 65 before proving inconsistent through the weekend but finishing 20th. Winning his first professional event at 14, he was always going to be under the spotlight but has proven to be up to the task having backed that up at the end of 2015 (at 16) beating Jaidee at the Boonchu Ruangkit in this part of the world. Ranking 3rd in last seasons Asian OOM came courtesy mainly of running-up to Justin Rose in Indonesia and whilst two outings in top-class in the desert aren’t much to note, he preceded those with 2/3 at the Eurasia Cup and a tight loss to Wiesberger. He will be far suited to the demands of this week’s challenge and at the price is well worth a go.
I haven’t found the Pheonix event to be quite as interesting a study and it seems pretty easy to put together a shortlist of 12-15 players. Course form continues to repeat here with Matsuyama coming here after stunning event form of 1/1/2/4. Indeed, having won after moderate efforts in preceding events, he may well be encouraged after impressive recent form, including last weekend’s 12th when 5-under should have been around 25th but the early starters plodded round without expectation and had their feet on the sofa whilst the majority of the top lot went backwards.
Away from the obvious favourite the same faces show up time and again and it was a matter of prices that appeal.
We were on Harris English last week and he was our best finisher of the week in 8th. That continues his revival after a torrid 2017 when slipping from top-80 in the OWGR to outside the top-250 and after a closing 11th at the CareerBuilder he may well continue some impressive event form.
Ignore last season when he was totally out of sorts and concentrate on his best Pheonix figures of 3rd in 2016 and a top-10 and top-15 in five previous starts. He led the scrambling stats last week, crucial here in a pressure-cooker atmosphere and looks certain to now make his way back to the top echelons of the rankings.
I’m surprised another of last week’s selections, Brendan Steele, can be backed at a bigger price just a few days later. Having been within striking distance of a place, his back-9 was a work of horror, recording five bogeys in six holes, eventually signing for a 76. Winner of the Safeway Open in back-to-back fashion, he had previously looked like continuing his progression through the ranks and having improved from a ranking of 150+ to 45th in three seasons, that mini-blip was a tad disappointing but maybe it was simply that.
Clearly relaxed on the course, he spends his time recording podcasts with the hoi-poloi of music and golf and with an event record that reads three top-6s and two top-20s in six starts he is another that surely must go well and has been pushed out only because of a lousy half-dozen holes.
Huge cases can be made for the likes of Berger, An, Bradley, Kooch and Stanley away from the very top but the final couple of votes go to Webb Simpson and Adam Hadwin.
Simpson picks himself and I felt his price would be more 30-1 than the current 40-1 and bigger in a place. The 32-year-old often turns up at the same places and is surely going to well-fancied for the Wells Fargo and Wyndham. Before then he can continue recent course form of 2/14/10/8/8, that runner-up last year courtesy of a play-off loss after a stunning 64. He didn’t play last week so stayed out of the horrendous conditions on Sunday and whilst he let us down at La Quinta, his form since becoming comfortable with the putter has been consistently good enough to bring him back into the world top-50.
Canadian Hadwin has had a fairly meteoric rise to the top. Touted on the Canadian Tour, he won the web.com rankings in 2014 before improving through the next couple of years, culminating in a third-round 59 at La Quinta to finish runner-up and a maiden victory at the Valspar a few weeks later. In between a 12th round here supplements a solid 17th in 2016 and an end of year ranking of 60.
Interestingly, the 30-year-old played La Quinta/Farmers/Pheonix trio in 6/63/17 in 2016 and 2/49/12 last year, so the recent 3rd and 35th is perfectly poised for a similar result in Arizona.
What do you want? Blood?