With Steve Rawlings away, Paul Krishnamurty steps in to review the weekend golf action from the PGA and European Tours...
"Tiger Woods been backed down to just [22.0] for the Masters. Thomas - who could very plausibly be world number one soon - is just four points shorter at [18.0]...this simply doesn't reflect the modern golfing hierachy."
Steve 'The Punter' Rawlings usually provides this debrief but passed duties over to me this week to watch his beloved Manchester City in the Caribao Cup final. After their 3-0 success and a profitable weekend secured with victory for his headline Qatar Masters tip Eddie Pepperell, I'm sure celebrations went on long into the night. For Pepperell, it was a long overdue first European Tour victory.
Over in Florida, Justin Thomas won the Honda Classic, courtesy of a play-off against 54-hole leader Luke List. The light was fading fast and there seemed a good chance we may get another Monday finish but the world number three completed the job on the first hole. He was matched at [13.0] before the off, compared to [260.0] about List.
Not for the first time at PGA National, the in-running market was dramatic. Three players traded at odds-on before losing - List at [1.22], Alex Noren at [1.83] and Tommy Fleetwood at [1.93]. This was the third renewal in the last five to be determined by a play-off.
When Steve signed off, he'd already cashed some of that Pepperell position out at [3.2], so I'm sure Qatar was highly profitable. I'll leave it to him to run through his weekend trading later, which I imagine was tricky to manage alongside everything else!
I advised two bets yesterday. Thomas landed a [1.65] two-ball bet with a brilliant birdie on 18 in regular play, while Dylan Frittelli frustratingly missed the top-ten by one place and one stroke. Win some, lose some.
More widely, my main bets were in Qatar. Entering the final day, I'd built a book that was worst ways level, with 70 units profit on well-placed Sean Crocker, plus between 30 and 100 units profit if any of Chris Wood, Greg Havret and Joakim Lagergren were to win. Lay orders were set for each at shortish odds. Because the tee-times were pushed forward, I slept through and woke up to find that none of them were matched. Very frustrating but, I suppose, better than a loss.
What Have We Learned This Week?
Regarding Qatar, I can't identify any statistical, course or in-play angles to take forward. Although a class act who was barely out of contention last summer, Pepperell came in with awful form figures of 44/MC/MC/MC. Unlike many past champions he's not a bomber although, in keeping with the norm, he was excellent on the greens, ranking ninth for putting average. He mostly led throughout and none of the challengers came from a mile back. Again, this is not the Doha norm.
In stark contrast, the number one Honda Classic angle stood up yet again. In the previous five renewals, 27 out of 32 top-five finishers had ranked in the top-25 for scrambling, 20 of whom made the top-ten. The latter stat now reads 25 from 38, with only Noren missing the top-ten for scrambling. Thomas ranked first.
The scoring trajectory at PGA National and betting implications are very interesting. On one hand, it seems really hard to play catch-up here. In 12 renewals here, the winner has only once come from more than three back at halfway (Thomas was two back). Particularly when the course is playing tough like this year, birdies are very hard to come by.
However while those seem like predictable stats that favour the front-runner, those who like to 'lay the leader' will have cleaned up yet again. There aren't many tournaments where four different players trade at odds-on, but it's relatively normal for this one. Perhaps the best strategy would be to restrict calculations to the leading bunch within three at halfway, then try and 'back high, lay low' amongst them.
Is Tiger back?
Never mind the winners, this morning's main talking point revolved around a guy who finished just 12th. Tiger Woods never quite got into contention but was well inside the top-ten before the 'Bear Trap' and the TV coverage focused more on him than the leaders.
I would never have predicted it but perhaps there is a tournament, or even a major, left in him. To almost contend so quickly into the comeback at this level is pretty remarkable. He will very soon be playing courses which he knows inside out and loves - Bay Hill and Augusta. This weekend, he ranked first for proximity to the hole - an important stat at both venues.
That stat is particularly encouraging because, for me, there has never been a better iron player than Tiger. Golfing legends invariably maintain a high standard well into their fifties. Think how many times a Watson, Langer or Nicklaus turned back the clock in majors. Woods appears to have a good mindset nowadays and hopefully can follow suit.
Whether that makes him a good value bet, however, is quite another matter. This morning he's been backed down to just [22.0] for the Masters. Thomas - who could very plausibly be world number one soon - is just four points shorter at [18.0]. Nobody is cheering a Tiger comeback more than me but this simply doesn't reflect the modern golfing hierachy.
This week sees the latest World Golf Championship, with the WGC-Mexico Championship. The European Tour heads back to South Africa for the Tshwane Open. Steve will be back tomorrow with comprehensive previews of both.