Back to Lay
The central reasoning behind all of the following bets can be found in the vast bank of previous form at Sawgrass. This course is a place you either love or hate, so if a player hasn't shown much of a liking before, they're out of my reckoning. For those that have thrived here before, the conundrum is choosing the ideal market.
To start, a combined back-to-lay on two classy characters who most certainly have the game for Sawgrass. Rickie Fowler looked a likely winner all weekend last year and went down fighting to Matt Kuchar with a brilliant finish down the brutal closing stretch. Market confidence is weak right now after a few bad results, but it's worth remembering he's only played three times since giving Tiger a run for his money at Bay Hill.
Winning this title in 2009, with plenty to spare, was probably the high point of Stenson's career and until last week's missed cut he looked very close to his best again. I agree with Mike Norman, who recommends backing the Swede each-way, that wider form showing him rated fourth and first for driving accuracy and greens in regulation respectively this season amounts to exactly the right skills-set. The trading plan is to back each man for three units, then place an order on each to lay 18 units at [10.0], therefore at least trebling our money if either hits the target.
A study of this pair's respective Sawgrass records can only point to one conclusion. For some reason Rose seems to hate the place, never making the top-20 and only making one top-30 in nine attempts. In stark contrast, Donald has made six of the last eight top-30s here, three times inside the top-six including both the last couple of renewals. I'm wholly in agreement with Steve Rawlings regarding Luke, who seems certain to be there or thereabouts.
Tim Clark was nearly added to that back to lay plan, but the 2010 champion may represent better value in other markets. Clark headed his country's list at the Masters, which is no mean achievement given that all the leading South Africans enjoy stellar records at Augusta. The complete opposite applies here.
Charl Schwartzel's best Sawgrass result is 26th, Louis Oosthuizen has missed both cuts, Rory Sabbatini has never made the top-25 and Branden Grace faces a tough task on his course debut. Even the legendary Ernie Els and Retief Goosen had worse records than at most other top courses in their prime. Ernie never made a top-five here, while Goosen only has one top-ten to his name. Basically, this may not take much winning.
The other good way of backing Clark is in the finishing position markets, as his relentlessly accurate driving usually ensures a respectable result. Prior to winning in 2010 he'd finished ninth and last year's top-25 reads very well considering he was doing very little elsewhere at the time. This season has been much better, finishing runner-up in the Sony and registering top-25s on his last two.
Ben Crane has a similarly consistent record here, making the top-six every year between 2008 and 2010. With a recent fourth place in the bag, he's worth a speculative punt at big odds. So is Brendon de Jonge, whose long game accuracy should be well suited to Sawgrass and enabled a top-15 finish last year.
For this less ambitious target, the name of the game is finding very accurate drivers. Hit fairways and greens at Sawgrass and you'll be making good ground as so many others find the hazards. Clark ranks second in that discipline. David Toms' game might be in decline but he's still one of the straightest around and, with 13th place at the Masters, showed he's still a force on his day. Having made the top-ten in three of the last four Sawgrass renewals, this is one of his best chances of the season.