Paul Krishnamurty previews events on both the European and PGA Tours with a view towards finding value trades among players available to back at 99-1 or bigger...
"Ben Crane ticked every box in my research process and this is a prolific (five-time) winner of lesser PGA Tour events in good form. Sunday's 13th was his third such finish in five starts...Stats wise, he scores well in all the right categories."
Back Ben Crane 3u @ [160.0]
While differing fundamentally in terms of their course, strength of field and likely betting trends, both of this week's events make plenty of appeal. The Irish Open is the latest elite class Rolex Series event and a pure, classic links test, where the cream is broadly expected to rise to the top. In contrast, the Greenbrier Classic is one of the least prestigious PGA Tour fixtures, played on a short, very old par-70, and may well be the likeliest main tour event of the year to produce a shock winner. History certainly points that way.
Such is that history, there was a temptation to focus our outsider-hunting plans solely on the Greenbrier. At [80.0], last year's champ Xander Schauffele was relatively obvious compared to what had come before. This column had the winner, Jonas Blixt, at [130.0] back in 2013. However where there's a links, there's always an angle to be found and I couldn't let the Irish Open pass without at least one bet at inflated odds on the exchange.
Shinkwin a must-follow on return to links
Indeed, three outsiders in Ireland featured strongly on my shortlist. The selection was unavoidable, given vows made about backing him on links courses, but I wouldn't deter anyone from backing all three. Prior to last year's Scottish Open, I made positive comments in that regard about Callum Shinkwin, only to swerve him and spend the entire weekend with head in hands as he traded down from [330.0] to [1.01], even if he did ultimately blow it.
Shinkwin remains a superb prospect - both powerful and a superb ball-striker - and his form on a few links starts is eye-catching. Prior to that second place at Dundonald, he'd finished eighth at Castle Stuart. He's also fared well in high-class European events from the Open de France to eighth in the recent Italian Open. Callum is a long way from the finished article and wildly inconsistent but at odds of [280.0] I'm perfectly happy to take a punt that he'll reaffirm that liking for links. In the long run, I think this sort of golf will bring out his best - especially if the wind gets up.
The two alternatives are around the same odds. Austin Connelly [240.0] produced an outstanding performance to finish 13th on last year's Open debut at Royal Birkdale. There appear to be plenty of similarities between that test and Ballyliffin - notably regarding the big, undulating greens, and the Canadian has bits and pieces of form since. Joakim Lagergren [300.0] won the Sicilian Open in May and has an excellent record in the Dunhill Links. The Swede's forte is short-game and that must bode well here.
Crane ticks all the right Greenbrier boxes
Such has been the unpredictablity of leaderboards at the Old White Course, there may be a smarter way to back an upset than poring through dozens of largely out-of-form outsiders. Steve Rawlings goes through the history in his comprehensive preview and he's starting out by laying almost every player trading under [100.0]. It is hard to think of a tournament where such a lay strategy makes better sense. However he's also dug out a few outsiders and I'm in total agreement with this one.
Steve shrewdly took bigger odds at the start of the week but I can't think of many scenarios where [160.0] was more appealing. Frankly, Ben Crane ticked every box in my research process and this is a prolific (five-time) winner of lesser PGA Tour events in good form. Sunday's 13th was his third such finish in five starts.
Stats wise, he scores well in all the right categories. Third for par-four performance among these over the past year. 25th on the overall strokes gained putting stats, and third among these for putting average in the past three months. He's even got some form at altitude, twice finishing 11th at Montreux, including last year.
Cejka's altitude pedigree offers a clue
That altitude angle is never an easy one to investigate because players don't get too many opportunities to prove themselves or learn it. Here's one who's been thriving in these conditions for decades. Cejka was a course specialist at Crans Sur Sierre during the 1990s, was runner-up at Castle Pines (formerly home to The International) in 2004 and has four top-12 finishes at Montreux to his name.
Admittedly all that was a long time ago and one must question how effective the German is now at 47. There's plenty to suggest he is. Cejka was runner-up at Summerlin last term (another putting contest) and made the top-ten here and at the OHL. There's less to write home about this term but he's driving accurately and has putted well on his last three starts, earning top-40 finishes in each. That represents enough encouragement for me given the altitude angle and he wouldn't be the biggest shock winner of this event by any means.