Puerto Rico Open: Will Malnati's new mantra do the trick? asks The Punter

Peter Malnati with the Sanderson Farms trophy back in November
Peter Malnati with the Sanderson Farms trophy back in November

The main focus this week is the WGC Dell Match Play but we've also got PGA Tour action from Puerto Rico to get stuck into, so read Steve's detailed preview of the Puerto Rico Open here...


“Peter Malnati talks of how he’s swinging well away from competition but that he’s getting too tense and it sounds like he’s about to play with more freedom here and hopefully with more success. "Don't worry, have fun, play with Freedom!" is his new mantra and if that works, this quite brilliant putter could just go in again.”

Tournament History

This is just the ninth edition of the Puerto Rico Open and it's always been staged opposite a WGC event. This year it's the Dell Match Play which I've previewed here.


Venue

Coco Beach Golf and Country Club (Composite Course), Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.


Course Details

Par 72, 7506 yards, stroke average in 2015 - 72.57

Formally called the Trump International, Coco Beach is a diverse wind-exposed and flat composite of two courses that were originally four nine hole courses, designed by Tom Kite in 2004. The grass is paspalum, which is the same surface used at El Camaleon, home of the OHL Classic, and at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club, which hosts the CIMB Classic. Water is in play on 13 holes and the average-sized greens usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter.


Weather Forecast


TV Coverage

No coverage in the UK.


Last Five Winners

2015 - Alex Cejka -7 (playoff)
2014 - Chesson Hadley -21
2013 - Scott Brown -20
2012 - George McNeill -16
2011 - Michael Bradley -16 (playoff)


What Will it Take to Win The Puerto Rico Open?

There were no stats produced for the inaugural staging of the Puerto Rico Open so I've only been able to analyse the last seven years results. The average Driving Distance ranking of the seven winners is 22.14 and the average Driving Accuracy ranking is 34, so what you do off the tee here hasn't been critical.

Scott Brown ranked 62nd for Greens in Regulation three years ago but he's the only winner in the last five years to rank outside the top-six for that stat. He made up for it on the greens, ranking first for Putting and that's been key, with four of the last six winners having ranked inside the top-four but the best stat to look at is probably Par 4 Scoring.

Stats for the first Puerto Rico Open were issued for par three, four and five scoring and the winner, Greg Kraft, ranked first on the par 4s - as has every subsequent winner bar two. Cejka ranked eighth last year and Michael Bradley ranked third when he won the first of his two titles in 2009 but it's perhaps worth noting that Jon Curran, who was beaten in a playoff 12 months ago, ranked first for Par 4 Scoring.

It usually gets quite blowy here so an ability to handle windy conditions is essential most years.


Is There an Angle In?

A number of events are staged at courses similar to this. Look closely at the form of the Sony Open, the RBC Heritage, the RSM Classic, and in particular, the OHL Classic. As previously mentioned, El Camaleon, home of the OHL Classic, is also a wind-affected paspalum grass track and the other three event venues, Waialae Country Club, Harbour Town Golf Links and Sea Island Resort are all Bermuda, which is a very similar surface to paspalum, and all three are wind-affected coastal courses.

When Brown won here, he'd finished 30th at Pebble Beach and third and seventh on the Web.Com Tour in his previous three outings but five of the last six winners had played at the Honda Classic the week before they won here. None of them had done especially well (Cejka missed the cut last year) but that recent outing proved a plus. This year, the Puerto Rico Open follows the Arnold Palmer Invitational so an outing there could be a positive.

Kraft's form figures in 2008 were MC-MC-48-19 and Bradley hadn't played anywhere for months when he won a year later. Derek Lamely's form figures were MC-MC-MC-73 in 2010 and when Bradley doubled-up in 2011, he did so after four straight missed cuts.

George McNeil had missed two of three cuts before winning here but the last three winners have had a bit form in the book. Hadley, like Brown in 2013, had a bit of recent form. He'd only finished 24th in the Honda but that was after an opening 73, and he'd also finished inside the top-10 at Pebble Beach but all five playo-ff protagonists were quite badly out of form and strong current form is far from essential.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

Two Floridian, Jon Curran and Seb Saunders, made the play-off last year and all six winners before Cejka were Americans with a strong west coast connection, with Floridian residents faring really well. The four men that won the first five editions all live in the Sunshine State and the two winners before Cejka are very much west coast men. Hadley lives in North Carolina, where he was born and raised and he went to college in Georgia. And Georgia-born Brown lives in South Carolina, which is also where he went to college.

Cejka was winning on the PGA Tour for the first time at the age of 45 and the first five editions went to experienced vets, although none of them were prolific, with Bradley being the only one to have won more than once on the PGA Tour. Brown and Hedley were winning on the PGA Tour for the first time too and they haven't added any further titles.

Cejka was matched at 100.099/1 and Hedley traded at around 50.049/1 before the off two years ago but that was short in comparison to previous winners. Don't be afraid to take a chance or two - this is an event where an out-of-form outsider could easily pop up and cause a surprise.

And finally, there might just be a real star in the field somewhere - Jason Day and Jordon Spieth have both finished runner-up here.


In-Play Tactics

This is not a venue where you can play catch-up. Every winner has shot a first round of 70 or below and they've all been within five strokes of the lead after round one. Lamely is the only winner not to be inside the top-seven at halfway and the last four winners have been first or second after 36 holes. Cejka dropped from first to fifth between rounds two and three but the three winners before him were all in front with a round to go.

Given that the event isn't on TV anywhere and that it's up against the WGC Dell Match Play, the chances are that liquidity will be poor so it might be sensible to trade in-between rounds only.


Market Leaders

This is an incredibly open event and it's no surprise to see it 20/1 the field before the off.

Perennial maiden, Graham DeLaet and the 2014 winner, Scott Brown, look set to fight out favouritism but neither makes any appeal. And the same can be said of all the market leaders.

Florida-based Englishman, Ian Poulter, may well be inspired into a much improved performance by the fact that he's just missed out on a place in the WGC Dell Match Play but on his course debut, and with no recent form of note, I couldn't go backing him just because he might be feeling riled by his own poor form.

Outsiders have dominated the event since its inception and I see no reason to think that'll change this year.


Selections

I won't be happy if last year's sole selection, Derek Fathauer, wins this year. He missed the cut 12 months ago but he's been well-supported in the market this week, on the back of a good week at the Arnold Palmer. I missed the early move yesterday though and he's too short now so my fingers are firmly crossed for another MC.

I've had a tiny stakes saving bet on Boo Weekley, who simply loves it here, and my other three are all big outsiders.

Peter Malnati finished 14th here on debut two years and that was the highlight of a poor PGA Tour debut season. He finished last at the Wyndham Championship, 19th at the St Jude Classic and 15th in the OHL Classic that year but missed every other cut but I fancy they're quite telling form figures. He clearly didn't play great but his three top-20 finishes were at similar courses.

He earnt his place back on the PGA Tour with a fourth placed finish on the Web.com Tour money list and he won in his third start back at the Sanderson Farms Championship in November at a course that may just correlate nicely. He then finished 10th at the OHL Classic and sixth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions but he's gone cold again since.

His blog is always an interesting read and I particularly like his post this week. He talks of how he's swinging well away from competition but that he's getting too tense and it sounds like he's about to play with more freedom here and hopefully with more success. "Don't worry, have fun, play with Freedom!" is his new mantra and if that works, this quite brilliant putter could just go in again.

I've also backed two out-of-form multiple PGA Tour winners in Johnson Wagner and Scott Stallings who both looked a fair price at 150/1 on the Sportsbook.


Selections:

Boo Weekley @ 42.041/1
Peter Malnati @ 120/1 (Sportsbook)
Johnson Wagner @ 150/1 (Sportsbook)
Scott Stallings @ 150/1 (Sportsbook)


I'll be back later in the week with the in-play blog.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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