This week we have two limited field events, with the Nedbank Challenge, which has now been increased from a 12-man field, to a 30-man field, and the World Golf Challenge, which is an 18-man invite only golf event hosted by World No.1 Tiger Woods. There is also an event co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tour, but with what can only be described as a poor field, my interest is fairly low.
First to look at, the Nedbank Challenge, the 30-man event held in Sun City, South Africa. The players will be trying to navigate their way around the Gary Player Country Club, which is plenty long enough at 7,831 yards. With narrow fairways, and small greens, of which are protected by bunkers, accuracy should be very important here. You do want to be long enough to attack the par 5s on this course, and although previous winners of this event vary in distance off the tee, none of them are slouches off the tee.
There have been a few multiple champions in the past, with two of them returning this year, there are also two other past champions in the field this week, so experience could give them the edge. One of those past champions this week’s favourite Henrik Stenson, who comes in at a best price 3/1 (Bet365, Ladbrokes, StanJames), and there’s no real reason to not fancy him again this time out. Both times that he’s won recently, at the Tour Championship (PGA Tour) and the DP World Tour Championship (European Tour), I’ve not backed him due to the wrist injury he’s had. In the week leading up to both events he was struggling with the injury, and has gone on too win in style, winning the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai in the process, and with a nice break since that last win, he should be ready to go again. At 3/1, even in a 30-man I’m happy to leave him out (as an individual bet anyway) as I think there’s value in other players to challenge him. He does have some fine form here though, with his four visits in the course resulting in finishes of, 2-1-4-2, so if you’re not put off by his short price, I cannot find any reason to oppose him.
Even in such a small field, there are some decent prices available, and although it’s hard to look past Stenson, I really do think there are some genuine challengers, at what looks like great value even in the limited field.
Here are my selections for the Nedbank Challenge!
Ernie Els 22/1 (General) 2.5pts e/w: Ernie Els is one of the players I’m backing to take on the heavy favourites this week, and that is because of his wonderful record at this course.
Els is one of the two multiple champions teeing it up this week, with Sergio Garcia the other, and Els just pipped him to the post here. Not only does Els offer more value, as Garcia comes in at 14/1, but Els just gets the better of him, with three wins here, to Garcia’s two. Admittedly Els has played here more often, but for me they could both easily come in at the same price, and I’m happy with 22/1 for such a proven winner.
Not only does he have a great record here, but Els has also had a pretty solid year on the European Tour, winning the BMW International Open, and also finishing in the top-6 at both the U.S Open (T4) and the BMW PGA Championship (T6), so there’s no reason to believe this seasoned-pro is ready to slow down yet. He finished T11 on his most recent start , the WGC-HSBC Champions, and he’ll be looking to add to his good year here, at a course he loves.
I cannot see Els’ playing badly here, especially as he’s played well in recent weeks, and you have to go back to 2003 to find a time when he has played badly here. He finished 17th, out of 18 entrants in 2003, just one year after he won the event for a third time, but I can definitely look past that. In 2003, he won five events, two on the PGA Tour, and three in Europe, so it may just be at the tail end of the year that he had run out of steam, something that won’t be an issue this time around. Having not played for five weeks, Els should feel fresh, and ready to compete here at the Gary Player Country Club.
It’s not very often you can get a three-time course winner, especially of Ernie Els’ quality at 22/1 and I definitely feel he represents good value this week, even more so in a 30-man event.
Joost Luiten 28/1 (StanJames) 2.5pts e/w: Joost Luiten, like Ernie Els is a player I always look at in a European Tour field, and with this being a smaller field, with similar competition Luiten once again stands out.
As mentioned previously, Gary Player Country Club demands accuracy, with narrow fairways and small greens, an area that Luiten himself excelled in, in his 2013 European Tour season. He ranked 9th in Driving Accuracy, and 13th in Greens in Regulation, and with him being fit again, he definitely looks to me, to be a good fit here at this course. With him winning twice this year and constantly challenging you would be forgiven for forgetting just how average Luiten’s short game as a whole is, and that’s when he wins, when he’s on form, on and around the greens. He ranked 48th in Putts Per GIR, 97th in Putts Per Round, and a very lowly 148th in Sand Saves, so that his short game is certainly an area he will want to improve on. Hopefully he can have one of his better week’s in these areas and have a really good week, off the back of some decent performances in recent weeks.
Since being forced to withdraw from the BMW Masters with injury, Luiten made a return in the last two events of the “Final Series” at the Turkish Airlines Open and the DP World Tour Championship. Overshadowed by the drama that was unfolding at the top of the Race to Dubai standings, Luiten put in two very good performances, finishing T18 in Turkey, before ending the season with a 4th place finish in Dubai. This would of again added to the Dutchman’s confidence, and he is showing all the makings of becoming a really solid European Tour player for years to come, hopefully starting straight away this week. If he can stay injury free, 2014 could be a massive year for him, and what better way to get off the mark then with a win, in a field full of top class acts.
I was leaning towards favouring experience on this course, and Luiten certainly doesn’t offer that, with no previous efforts here in the Nedbank Challenge. What he does offer though is a game that should suit this type of golf course, and I’m hoping that is the case. Half the field are in the same boat as Luiten, with no past course experience, so at 28/1 he looks decent value, again in a small field. He’s a similar price to win in larger fields, sometimes shorter and although there’s some players this week that are a cut above his usual competition, he has proved last time out in Dubai when 4th, that he can mix it with the best.
Northwestern Mutual World Challenge
This is Tiger Woods’ invite only event, and this will be the last time it will be hosted by Sherwood Country Club, at least for the mean time anyway. At just over 7,000 yards it’s one of the smaller courses these guys will play over a year, and it’s accuracy that will be rewarded this week. Between 1999-2008 the event was competed by 16 players, but since then it’s been increased, still only to 18 however, so again, there’s not a huge amount of choice when it comes to betting this week.
When looking at past form in this event, the same players perform well, and others not so much. On the face of it, you wouldn’t really want to take on the World No.1 in his own event, that he’s won five times, in a year he’s also won five events, but I do believe he can be beaten. In the market, the bookmakers have priced Rory Mcilroy as the next best challenger at 6/1, and why not after a brilliant win last week? Yes Adam Scott should of won, and he did indeed open the door for Mcilroy at the very last hole, but Rory hung in there, for his first win of 2013, when it looked as if the year would end in disappointment. He’s played at this event once, back in 2010, finishing an impressive 4th on debut, but since has not returned.
Unlike the Nedbank Challenge, where there’s plenty of débutantes, the World Challenge will only see one new face this time around, and that’s 20-year old PGA-Tour winner Jordan Spieth. Spieth has had a wonderful first year on Tour, taking full advantage of his special-temporary membership, up until his win, where he gained his full card. He went close to adding to his win at the John Deere Classic, where he beat Zach Johnson, and David Hearn in a play-off, but lost out to another first-time winner Patrick Reed at the Wyndham Championship. He is certainly worthy of his invite to this event, and I don’t see why the course wouldn’t suit him, but I will look at players with past form instead.
Obviously with Tiger winning this event five times in the past, you do have to wonder if he’s going to beaten, but he has lost in the past. Graeme McDowell beat him in a play-off in 2010, and the Northern-Irishman has a superb record in this event, second only to Woods. G-Mac has played here on three occasions, winning twice and finishing runner-up in the other, and again he’s another player that will take some beating here at Sherwood.
In an 18-man field, the rank outsiders, Bill Haas and Bubba Watson come in at 45/1, so it’s an event where you have to the field-size in to perspective when looking at the odds, and therefore be clear in what looks good value.
With all this in mind, I have two players who I’m keen on to take on Tiger in his own event, so here are my picks for the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
Graeme McDowell 12/1 (General) 5pts win: As mentioned, McDowell has a tremendous record at this event, and I can definitely see him adding to his current total of three wins in 2013.
G-Mac will be keen to take advantage of the fact that this is the last year of this event being held at Sherwood Country Club, and he will be ready to seal the hat-trick before the move to Isleworth Country Club.
The evidence is there for anyone to see, three attempts, two wins and a runner-up finish, and he’s third favourite, what more can you want? Of course, you may think that 12/1 is short, but this is a major winner, who’s won on both sides of the Atlantic, so there’s really no downside to him this week for me. He won at the RBC Heritage this year, his first win on the PGA Tour schedule, beating Webb Simpson in a play-off, so he really is having a great season.
On top of all this, there are only two other players that have won this event in the field this week, Woods and Jim Furyk, and the latter has not won in three years. With Tiger the only one who can boast a better record, it’s really difficult to be put off G-Mac, and I certainly haven’t been.
If this is all not enough, then I’m not sure how to convince you further. He’s 12/1, when he could easily be the same price as Mcilroy and although he may not have the amount of talent the two above him in the betting possess, he certainly knows how to win, and has beaten Woods in a head-to-head situation at this course. He is what I would describe as incredible value in this size of field, and if isn’t at the top, or thereabouts on Sunday I would be extremely surprised.
Hunter Mahan 25/1 (General) 2.5pts e/w: Although he hasn’t won this year Hunter Mahan has had a very solid season, and could of definitely won on more than one occasion.
Firstly, Mahan lost to Matt Kuchar in the WGC-Accenture Match-Play, an event Mahan had one the year previously, and since then he competed on multiple other occasions. Next up came his efforts in the U.S Open, where he eventually came T4, despite being right in the mix for the win half-way through round 4. Again in the next major, Mahan was right up there, and again he finished inside the top-10. This is when the real break came, he looked right in control at the RBC Canadian Open, where he was the 36-hole leader. Turns out his wife had other plans! Mahan and his wife were expecting their first baby, and that weekend his wife went into labour, therefore leading to his withdrawal, allowing Brandt Snedeker to take the win.
So why do I like Mahan this week? Well he never really lost his form, he finished inside the top-25 in each of the FedEx Cup play-off events, T4 being the best of the four results at the BMW Championship. Add to this his impressive course form, ever since his first effort in 2008.
Looking at his form here, Mahan has finished 9-4-5-3, and considering his best performance came on his debut, there’s no reason why he can’t get the win here, after four previous showings. He’s had plenty of downtime since the last event on the 2013 PGA Tour season, and he will come into this event as fresh as possible.
His price of 25/1 definitely appeals, with three finishes in the top-5 showing great consistency in this event, so with each-way terms paying top he’s definitely a player I wanted on side. All the signs suggest Mahan could have a great 2014, and this would be the perfect springboard for that.
Total Points staked this week: 20
Profit/Loss for 2013: +65.25
With two small fielded events this week, there’s not going to be a long odds winner, but there is definitely value to be had, and I’m hoping I’ve highlighted it in this article. You may of noticed earlier that I said I did not back Stenson in an individual bet, and I haven’t but I have included him in a treble. The treble I’ve gone for is Stenson at the Nedbank, Woods at the World Challenge and Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is favourite for the Hong Kong Open. Jimenez has three wins on the course they are playing at this week, and in such an average field there’s no reason why he can’t make it four. All three are single digit odds to win, but as a treble it pays over 125/1 and I’ve taken a chance on that. Enjoy the golf this week, and good luck with your bets!