Fowler set to Find Life Tough

  • By: Ben Coley
  • Last Updated: September 18 2012, 19:10 BST

Rickie Fowler: Could be set to struggle

1.5pts Rickie Fowler to finish last in the Tour Championship at 16/1 (Sky Bet).

0.5pt Rory McIlroy to finish last in the Tour Championship at 125/1 (Sky Bet).

3pts Bo Van Pelt to beat Webb Simpson over 72 holes at 5/6 (Paddy Power).


The final event of the FedEx Cup provides some fascinating betting opportunities, in addition to those advised by Dave Tindall in his outright preview.

And one market I do like the look of is Sky Bet's 'who will finish last?' book, which like all of them should be easier to solve with a field of just 30 set to tee off at East Lake.

Essentially a Donald Ross design, East Lake was remodelled by Rees Jones after Tiger Woods romped to victory by some eight shots in 2007.

Aesthetically, it's still a classical layout that requires a cool head and some excellent ball-striking, but nothing has been more important than putting over the past four years. That's because bentgrass greens were replaced by bermuda, and typically puts become harder to hole on these quicker carpets.

Apt, perhaps, given the old adage about dough and the amount of it that's on the line here. I digress.

So, anyone who doesn't putt well will struggle this week. Who else? Well, of the six men to have finished last or joint-last in the last five renewals, four were making their debut at East Lake, and the other two had been only once before.

Using the latter criteria as a good starting point, here's a list of East Lake debutants: John Huh, Scott Piercy, Robert Garrigus, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Louis Oosthuizen.

And here are those who have been only once: Ryan Moore, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley.

I've put those names into a table that takes into account their season-long strokes gained putting ranking, and it looks like this:

1. Bradley (32nd)
2. Moore (35th)
3. Piercy (51st)
4. Simpson (55th)
5. Huh (56th)
6.Oosthuizen (65th)
7. Fowler (134th)
8. Westwood (142nd)
9. Garrigus (149th)

Immediately, it's good news for Dave's followers as he fancies Moore and Bradley to get off to fast starts, and we can see here that they certainly putt well enough to oblige.

Given that Simpson ranks fourth and along with the aforementioned pair does have some course experience, I'm keen to remove him from calculations too, leaving just six names on the list.

Westwood is an obvious one, given the cases made. But, look closer, and you'll see that since a change in short-game coach, his strokes gained putting ranks have progressed. They read 69th - 13th - 12th across the three Play-Off events, the most recent listed last.

That's a significant upturn and when combined with his ball-striking spells danger for the rest. Even when not at his best, Westwood has a fine record of getting round without doing too much damage and even at 66/1 is opposed.

Ditto Garrigus at 14s. His constant tinkering with putters might just be paying off if you believe his last three SGP rankings of 73rd, 29th and 11th. That sort of progression, combined with his favourite surface, should mean he's inside the top 29 at least.

That leaves one man ranked outside the top 100 for the season, who hasn't ranked inside the top 25 in any of his most recent starts, and whose putting stats show now sign of progression: Rickie Fowler.

There's more. Of the 78 players that made the cut and finished the Deutsche Bank Championship, only two were lower down the board come Sunday night, and neither are in this field.

Three starts before that, in the no-cut WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Fowler finished 60th. Of the 14 men who finished beneath him, only three ply their trade on the PGA Tour full-time, and of them only Westwood lines up here.

Back in the spring it was inconcievable that Fowler wouldn't make the US Ryder Cup team and that he failed to do so says much for how poor he's played of late, and at 16/1 I'm backing him to prop up the field.

It's possible to make a case for Oosthuizen from a stats-perspective, but he's only 28/1 and two starts ago ranked third for strokes gained putting at TPC Boston.

Huh hits fairways and holes putts, so while he could find the pressure of this event too much it's hard to make a case for him at just 9/1, as it is for Piercy. My gut feeling with the latter is that he'll struggle, but he won the RBC Canadian Open on a technical track and putts well enough to keep off bottom here.

We're left with one name: Rory McIlroy. The case against him finishing bottom is stronger to that for Oosthuizen. Rory ranked second for strokes gained putting at TPC Boston two starts ago, he's won three of his last four starts, and he can putt badly and still finish in the top five.

But, unlike Louis, we can get 125/1 about McIlroy. Call me mad for backing the world's best golfer to finish last, but at the price a minimum-stakes play is irrestistible, especially after he ranked 41st for strokes gained putting at Crooked Stick.

Yes, he still won that, but for all his brilliance, McIlroy is prone to off-days on the wrong sort of track and he's missed as many cuts as he's won titles this year. Firm and fast par-70s are a far cry from soft and long par-72s, and they certainly don't bring out his best golf.

That may not matter, and it's unlikely that he'll finish last, but I don't think it's as unlikely as odds of 125/1 imply and for that reason a small bet is the call.

Using the above information, it's natural that I want to oppose Fowler in 72 hole tournament match bets. Unfortunately, he's generally pitched with similarly out-of-sorts players, and I can't find outstanding value.

Similarly, Piercy is put up against fellow newcomer Huh and they basically hole the same number of putts, so that looks a match to swerve.

The one that stands out, then, is Bo Van Pelt to beat Simpson at 5/6.

Bo proved just how important a look around this course can be when improving on a modest debut to post ninth last year, leading the field in fairways hit, ranking eighth in greens and among the top half in putting.

This year, for all that he has too-often flattered to deceive and regularly finishes infuriatingly close to a place without getting the job done, he has taken his game to another level.

Twenty-three events have yielded 15 top-25 finishes, and if we ignore the Open Championship he hasn't missed a cut since May, one of just two all season stateside.

Simpson has enjoyed a fine year too, of course, winning the US Open. Although Bo has been more consistent, there's no doubt that he'd trade CVs with Webb.

However, in match bets we're generally looking for consistency over ruthlessness and in the 13 tournaments this pair have both completed (ignoring one WD), Van Pelt has beaten Simpson no fewer than nine times.

That includes six of the last eight, while from a statistical perspective these two hit almost an identical number of greens but, right now at least, Van Pelt holes a lot more putts.

Simpson may improve on last season's 22nd with in theory less pressure on his shoulders, but he does have the distraction of the Ryder Cup on the horizon and he'll probably need to improve a dozen spots to beat Bo.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this isn't a pick 'em, and that Van Pelt is a great bet at 5/6.

  • Preview posted at 1855 BST on 18/09/2012.