PGA Tour Betting: The players poised for a fast start when golf finally returns

Golfer Kevin Na
Kevin Na, holding one of sport's tallest trophies, will be defending champion when the PGA Tour resumes next week
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Stats-man Andy Swales assesses how the world's biggest stars may respond after three months in the competitive wilderness ...

"The last time the PGA Tour remained silent for longer than three months was when the tournament calendar came to a halt in August 1942. After 11 blank months, the PGA Tour re-emerged in July of the following year."

When top-level professional golf returns to the fairways in less than two weeks' time, the sport will have endured its longest enforced break in almost 80 years.

The Charles Schwab Challenge, which tees off in Texas on June 11, will bring to an end 13 weeks of inactivity on the PGA Tour - the European Tour must wait even longer before resuming in late July.

Not since the Second World War has pro golf been so badly affected and the last time the PGA Tour remained silent for longer than three months was when the tournament calendar came to a halt in August 1942.

After 11 blank months, the PGA Tour re-emerged in July of the following year, but there were just four events on the entire 1943 calendar.

In fact, 1943 remains the only year during the past 160 when none of golf's traditional four major championships were staged.

Top players keen to return

Fast forward to Fort Worth, and a bumper field is expected to take part in the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Rory McIlroy recently indicated he was intending to compete in the first three events following the Tour's resumption.

As things stand, McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas are all set to play Charles Schwab, giving Colonial Country Club its best field for many a decade.

The same is likely to happen at Harbour Town and TPC River Highlands which is bad news for some of the Tour's lower-ranked members.

Even though field sizes have been increased, a number of players will have to sit out events they would normally expect to tee-up in.

The big question for punters is how will the players respond to such a long period between tournaments?

It is probable that most will have maintained a reasonably high level of fitness and will have had access to practice facilities.

But, more importantly, how will this lengthy lay-off due to Covid-19 have affected their mental state and how quickly will they be able to re-discover top gear?

Looking back over the past three years (since January 1st, 2017), I have checked out the performances of the world's top-16 ranked pros following periods of inactivity greater than six weeks.

How much will familiarity play a part?

I have also included a brief summary of their records at Colonial, Harbour Town and River Highlands - the first three venues on the Tour's revised schedule.

Familiarity could certainly play a part in how a golfer responds to such a long time out of action. For example: McIlroy has never competed at Colonial and his only trip to Harbour Town came 11 years ago.

Over the course of a season, players have lengthy periods of inactivity for different reasons.

Some are recovering from injuries, others need to re-charge their batteries, while others have an extended period away from competitive golf in order to make changes to their swing.

This means, when they return to competitive golf, they usually have to kick-start their focus during mid-season, when the majority of Tour members are already in full swing.

Therefore, the only time every year when all players usually begin from scratch, en bloc, is in January.

With the PGA Tour winding down in late November, many players face at least six weeks without any 'significant' competitive action, other than a handful of novelty or invitational events.

Thus, I have included a table to show scoring form during January (over the past four years).

Brief analysis of 'the top-16 seeds' ahead resumption of play next week in Texas:

Rory McIlroy: Has the talent to pick up from where he left off many weeks previous. For example: Didn't play for nine weeks either side of 2020 New Year but tied-3rd on resumption at Torrey Pines. Colonial: Never played in Fort Worth. Harbour Town: T-58 on only previous trip in 2009. River Highlands: Back-to-back T-20s in 2017 and 2018.

Jon Rahm: Out of action for seven weeks last autumn before returning to win the end-of-season DP World Tour Championship on the European Tour. Tops our ratings table for scoring form during January (see table below). Colonial: Podium finish three years ago. Harbour Town: Never played at Hilton Head Island. River Highlands: Two visits, best is T-25 in 2016.

Brooks Koepka: Not the fastest starter after long gaps. One such example came in 2018 when he was the reigning US Open champion. He was out for 16 weeks due to injury, and in his first two tournaments went MC-42. A few weeks later, however, successfully defended his US Open title. Colonial: Runner-up on only appearance in 2018. Harbour Town: Never played. River Highlands: One top-10 from four starts.

Justin Thomas: A two-time winner in the first week of January - which shows he can quickly switch-on mentally. Colonial: Never played in Fort Worth. Harbour Town: Last played in South Carolina four years ago. River Highlands: Six appearances, one T-25 which was a podium finish in 2016.

Dustin Johnson: Usually hits the ground running after periods of long absences. Missed the final four months of 2019 because of injury but returned with finishes of T-7 and T-2 in January of this year. Colonial: Two appearances. Harbour Town: Four appearances. River Highlands: Three appearances. But no top-10s at any of these three venues.

Adam Scott: Won at Riviera in February after eight weeks away from competition. However, not all previous returns have been that successful. Colonial: Former champion. Harbour Town: Most recent trip in 2001. River Highlands: Missed cut on only previous appearance 10 years ago.

Patrick Reed: This is new territory for Reed who usually doesn't have long periods of inactivity. Colonial: Three starts but no top-10s. Harbour Town: T-48 is best finish from three outings. River Highlands: Played last eight instalments, with a best finish of fifth.

Patrick Cantlay: Last completed 72 holes almost four months ago. Missed nine weeks last autumn before returning to finish 17th out of 18 at Hero World Challnege - 18 shots behind winner. Colonial: Hasn't made the cut in two appearances. Harbour Town: Three top-10s from as many starts, including a brace of podiums. River Highlands: Last two trips each yielded T-15 finishes.

Webb Simpson: During the past couple of years 'Mr Consistency' has rarely struggled when returning from periods of rest. During late summer and early autumn 2019, posted PGA Tour finishes of T-7th and 2nd, following respective gaps of six and seven weeks. Has a strong record at the next two venues, so could be worth a punt on resumption. Colonial: Best finish of tied-3rd. Harbour Town: Ten appearances with highest finish of runner-up. River Highlands: Nine outings, two top-10s.

Tommy Fleetwood: On most recent eight-week absence returned to finish tied-2nd in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Colonial: Never played but not currently among tournament entries for this year. Harbour Town: T-25 last year on Hilton Head debut. River Highlands: T-13 on only start in 2019.

Tiger Woods: No one really knows when Tiger will tee-it-up again, so it may not be important information to know that his knowledge of Colonial, Harbour Town and River Highlands is limited at best. Has had mixed results following periods of lengthy absences but won in Japan last October after 10 weeks out of action. Colonial: Only previous trip was in 1999. Harbour Town: Was 4th on only visit 23 years ago. River Highlands: Never teed up in Greater Hartford event.

Xander Schauffele: The last time he had to wait longer than six weeks to perform, posted successive finishes of 10th-2nd on his return - in October/November 2019. Colonial: Three starts, two MCs and best finish of T-48. Harbour Town: No T-25s from two outings. River Highlands: Best of T-14 from two appearances.

Bryson DeChambeau: Other than playing in the end of year jolly at the Hero World Challenge (when 15th out of 18), had 15 absent weeks through to this year's European Tour event in Abu Dhabi where he missed the cut (72-77). Colonial: Four starts, three MCs, best finish T-42. Harbour Town: A brace of top-four finishes from four appearances. River Highlands: Top-10s in last two visits.

Justin Rose: Tends to play at regular intervals and is rarely away for longer than five weeks. However, he figures highly in our January scoring rating table (see below). Colonial: Champion in 2018. Harbour Town: Last played in 2008. Best finish of T-7th some 16 years ago. River Highlands: Three T-10s but just one start since 2010.

Marc Leishman: Another golfer who rarely endures long periods of absence. Although he is fifth in our ratings for January, this may be due to his regular tournament appearances back home in Australia during December, which means he is in better shape than most when the PGA Tour resumes in Hawaii. Colonial: Seven outings, only one top-20 finish. Harbour Town: Ten starts but just one T-10 finish. River Highlands: Champion in 2012.

Tony Finau: During the past three and a half years has only missed more than five weeks in a row twice. On the first occasion posted a T-32 at Waialae (after nine weeks), then T-13 (after eight weeks) at Torrey Pines in 2019. Colonial: Runner-up in 2019. Harbour Town: Two starts, one MC, best of T-39. River Highlands: Three top-25 finishes from four starts.

Scoring/Course Ratings Explanation

Ratings are worked out by comparing a player's average score in an event, against the tournament average for that week.

For example: If a player's scoring average for an event is 71.50 (286), when that week's tournament average is 72.89, then this player will have a rating of +1.39. A golfer whose rating is a minus number (such as - 1.56), will have scored worse than the tournament average for that week.

Thus, a golfer whose average is 72 (288), when that week's overall average is 73.88, will have a better weekly rating than someone who fires 285 (71.25) in a tournament where the average round score is 71.86.

The final rating is worked out by calculating the average of a player's collection of ratings - providing they have completed the minimum number of rounds during the stipulated time period (2014-19).

To qualify for a weekly rating, a golfer must have completed a minimum 36 holes in a tournament.

Colonial Country Club (Top-10 Ratings)
Rating ... (Avg - Rds)
2.52: Jordan Spieth (67.83 - 24)
1.80: Harris English (68.56 - 16)
1.79: Kevin Na (68.11 - 18)
1.64: Webb Simpson (68.20 - 10)
1.57: Emiliano Grillo (68.94 - 16)
1.56: Tony Finau (68.94 - 16)
1.50: Russell Knox (68.69 - 16)
1.47: Brian Harman (68.88 - 24)
1.43: Danny Lee (68.92 - 24)
1.40: Chris Kirk (68.85 - 20)
Min. No. of Rounds = 10

Harbour Town (Top-10 Ratings)
Rating ... (Avg - Rds)
2.46: Matt Kuchar (68.79 - 24)
2.40: Patrick Cantlay (68.50 - 12)
1.88: Luke Donald (69.18 - 22)
1.72: Branden Grace (69.44 - 16)
1.56: CT Pan (69.33 - 12)
1.42: William McGirt (69.85 - 20)
1.39: Ian Poulter (69.70 - 20)
1.33: Russell Knox (69.68 - 22)
1.31: Bud Cauley (69.58 - 12)
1.25: Kevin Kisner (70.00 - 24)
Min. No. of Rounds = 10

TPC River Highlands (Top-10 Ratings)
Rating ... (Avg - Rds)
2.61: Paul Casey (67.10 - 20)
1.93: Kevin Tway (67.88 - 16)
1.73: Bryson DeChambeau (68.06 - 16)
1.59: Graham DeLaet (68.17 - 12)
1.50: Bubba Watson (67.95 - 22)
1.50: Keegan Bradley (68.21 - 24)
1.46: Brendan Steele (68.14 - 22)
1.43: Jason Day (68.00 - 14)
1.42: Ryan Moore (68.00 - 14)
1.42: Brian Harman (68.00 - 22)
Min. No. of Rounds = 10

Click here to view Leading 25 Scoring Ratings for all three courses: Colonial, Harbour Town & River Highlands

January Scoring (Top-10 Ratings For 2017-20)
Rating ... (Avg - Rds)
2.22: Jon Rahm (69.00 - 40)
2.06: Justin Rose (68.50 - 22)
1.89: Justin Thomas (68.07 - 30)
1.77: Tony Finau (68.84 - 32)
1.74: Marc Leishman (68.90 - 40)
1.60: Charles Howell (68.64 - 47)
1.57: Webb Simpson (68.33 - 24)
1.55: Hideki Matsuyama (69.22 - 36)
1.43: Sung Jae Im (68.83 - 24)
1.40: Gary Woodland (69.12 - 33)
Min. No. of Rounds = 10

Click here to view Leading 60 Scoring Ratings for PGA Tour events staged during January

Twitter: Andy Swales@GolfStatsAlive

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