It's been a great week for Steve with in-running picks winning on both the European and PGA Tours. Read his look back on an extraordinarily long week here...
“I wasn’t a million miles out with my pre-event picks this week. Alex Noren was matched at just 3.814/5 in-running at the Volvo China Open and my sole selection before the off in New Orleans, Patton Kizzire, who I backed at 80.079/1, finished tied for eighth, but that’s all forgotten now anyway after Li and Stuard’s successes”
China's Haotong Li traded at just 1.101/10 to win the Shenzhen International Open last year before Kiradech Aphibarnrat eagled the penultimate hole to catch him and beat him in a play-off. And he was tied for the lead with a round to go a week later at the Volvo China Open before a disappointing final round 74 saw him slip to sixth but those heartaches have been confined to history now after his superb three-stroke victory at Topwin Golf Club yesterday.
After a missed cut in Shenzhen last week, when Dan Geraghty had tipped him up in the each-way column, Haotong Li went off at around 140.0139/1 here, having hit a high of 170.0169/1, but I don't think even he fancied his chances after last week. He had this to say after his historic victory. "This win means so much. I didn't even expect to make the cut here after how I played last week. But I won."
Victory had looked unlikely for much of the fourth round as third round leader, Felipe Aguilar, stormed clear with a rash of early birdies. The Chilean veteran hit a low of just 1.3130/100 in-running but he ruined his chances with a double-bogey at the par three 16th hole after his tee-shot found a watery grave and Li was left clear to win with ease.
After five days of competition and more than 15 and half hours lost to the weather, Brian Stuard has eventually won the weather-shortened, 54-hole Zurich Classic of New Orleans after a three-man play-off with Jamie Lovemark and Byeong-Hun An.
An, who was matched at 2.35/4 in-running, birdied the 54th hole to draw alongside Lovemark but it didn't look as though that was going to be enough when Lovemark found the par five 18th green in two in regulation play. The 28-year-old Californian was matched at just 1.331/3 but he left his first putt 12 feet short and his second in the jaws. Stuard then bravely stepped up to hole his birdie putt from inside eight feet and the three headed into extra time.
An messed up the first play-off hole, surprisingly duffing a couple of chips to record a bogey six. The other two missed makeable birdie chances before pre-event 1000.0 shot, Stuard, won it with a brilliant birdie four at the second extra hole after his approach form 160 yards nuzzled up to within three feet of the hole.
I wasn't a million miles out with my pre-event picks this week. Alex Noren was matched at just 3.814/5 in-running at the Volvo China Open and my sole selection before the off in New Orleans, Patton Kizzire, who I backed at 80.079/1, finished tied for eighth, but that's all forgotten now anyway after Li and Stuard's successes.
As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I backed Li before round four in China at 12.011/1 and I backed Stuard during round one in New Orleans at 110.0109/1, so it's been a great week.
I did plenty of trading in the play-off today to ensure a decent profit so in the end, even if Lovemark had won it would have been a decent result but I was lucky it went to extra time.
The lowest Stuard hit in regulation play was 3.613/5 and I never felt he was quite short enough to lay back. When he hit a double-figure price after Lovemark had found the putting surface on the final hole in regulation, I was wishing I'd left the event alone and gone out for the day but I was always going to profit when it went to extra time.
I began by laying Stuard at 4.67/2 and backing An at 2.915/8 and later on I backed Lovemark at 3.02/1 before laying Stuard at all rates down between 2.56/4 and 1.11/10. I put myself in a position that made the result irrelevant as they played 18 for a third time in an hour and when Stuard holed his tiddler for the win, I was again wishing I'd left the event alone and gone out for the day!
That's easy to say now though. Yes, I'd have been a lot better off if I had just left it alone today but it always makes sense to trade your way to a profit, especially if your picks go heavy odds-on. Only this week two players have traded at 1.331/3 and 1.3130/100 before getting beat so it's always wise to take a profit when you can.
What Have We Leant This Week?
First-timers have to be backed at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. All three play-off protagonists, and the man who finished fourth, Bobby Wyatt, were all looking to win on the PGA Tour for the first time. After Stuard's win, eight of the last 12 winners of this tournament have been breaking their PGA Tour ducks in this event.
Stuard cropped up on my radar when researching the event as he'd been putting well and that was the secret to his success. He played all 56 holes bogey-free and he made more than 40 putts from inside 10 feet - never missing once from 10 feet and in.
I've written this before but having backed both winners after the off, it makes sense to reiterate again. It's worth trying not to get carried away and stake too much before the events start. It's great to have the kudos of backing a winner before the off but it's so much easier in-running when the fields have thinned out considerably and we've seen the conditions. There are so many trends to follow too. Stuard was the ninth winner in 11 years to be in front with a round to go in New Orleans, for example.
Chinese Golf On the Up Again
Haotong Li's victory felt like an important milestone for Chinese golf and after a sticky few years the game looks set to go from strength to strength again there.
The Communist Party banned golf club membership last year but according to Sky's Richard Kaufman, that ban has now been lifted and after back-to-back Chinese winners of the Volvo China Open, the game looks set to flourish.
Li looks like an exceptional talent but you can bet your bottom Yuan that he won't be the last to emerge in the years to come.
I'll try and get my Wells Fargo Championship preview published tonight but time may just be against me and I definitely won't have my Trophee Hassan II published until tomorrow.
My Wells Fargo Championship Preview is now live.
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