Ben Coley looks ahead to 2020, with selections across all four majors on the men's golf calendar at prices ranging from 40/1 to 300/1.
- When: April 9-12
- Where: Augusta National, Georgia
All the reasons that the Masters is arguably the best betting heat of the year also make it the least appealing from an antepost point of view.
It's less likely we'll find a player who has been completely overlooked, because Augusta form is there in the book, and so are decades' worth of trends which give us a good indication as to what to look for. These are great when it comes to finding the winner in the spring, but they make the prospect of an oversight less likely - even at this early stage.
That isn't to say winners are always obvious, either the week before or at the start of the year, but it's hard to think of many examples of opportunities missed down the years. The big-priced winners were big prices on Wednesday night, hours before tee-off; the short-priced winners had been on the radar for many months before.
Plus, the Masters is the first opportunity for both bookmakers and punters. The former get a little carried away in their battle for customers, which means we'll surely get eight places with most, ten with some. The latter, as a result, are advised to exercise patience in the main.
Webb Simpson, fifth last year, is the obvious one from a purely value perspective. He's 66/1, despite a world ranking of 11th and, thanks to that excellent performance in April, some impressive course form. Simpson shot 64 in round three and if he continues to play as he has done for the last few years, it's hard to imagine 66/1 lasting.
It's equally hard to see him winning. Simpson, as a short-hitting grinder, is not the Augusta prototype. He's also won just one title since 2013, and it came on a course which would appear to me more suitable. Still, he's a major champion, he's reliable, he's actually a good age if history is a good guide, and he's further down the betting than he probably should be.
I still don't really want to back him, and would much prefer to roll the dice with THOMAS PIETERS at 150/1.
Pieters was fourth here in 2017, a brilliant debut which came less than a year on from his equally stunning exploits as a Ryder Cup rookie. At the time, it appeared a question of when, not if, he would make the breakthrough at elite level - be that by winning a major, or establishing himself full-time on the PGA Tour.
It hasn't happened for him (although he did threaten to win the 2018 PGA Championship and has placed in a couple of WGCs), but 2019 could prove to be a pivotal year in his still-promising career as he seeks to get back towards the top of European golf which, given his talent, is precisely where he belongs.
Pieters finally won his fourth European Tour title in August, holding off the promising Adri Arnaus to take the title in Prague, and since then hasn't missed a cut. Granted, his best finish is sixth place in Dubai, but I really like his new-found consistency and willingness to grind out a weekend tee-time, as we saw in Italy, France, and England.
With his attitude improved, Pieters need only find something on the greens to really start to motor. Performances such as sixth behind Jon Rahm in Dubai and 10th behind Sergio Garcia in the Netherlands came despite making nothing, and I'm hopeful he might just find the missing piece of the jigsaw, one which would make him dangerous just about everywhere he tees it up.
In terms of motivation, there's a lot to like. He'll be desperate to represent Belgium at the Olympics either with his mentor, Nicolas Colsaerts, or, more likely, with his friend, Thomas Detry. It was with the latter that Pieters won the World Cup in 2018 and they're surely candidates to go well in Tokyo.
Then there's the Ryder Cup. Pieters was exceptional at Hazeltine, and missing out on Paris may prove no bad thing. He's better suited to a course like Whistling Straits and he'll certainly be eager to show his potential worth to captain Padraig Harrington. Speaking as a European, I'd like him on that team, and I hope we've not seen the last of his partnership with Rory McIlroy.
Throw in the world rankings - he's currently 82nd, and within touching distance of all the majors and WGCs - and Pieters can be expected to start the year with a bang. We have a good idea of his likely schedule, starting in Abu Dhabi where he's been second in the past, and it wouldn't surprise me were he to return to action with another win.
As things stand, he's not in the field for The Masters. That's actually another little hint that the price is generous, because stakes are refunded with Sky Bet and BoyleSports, who are both 150/1 at the time of writing, should he not take part.
If Pieters has played well enough from January to April to qualify for Augusta, I don't see him starting 150/1. As a point of reference, he was around 66-80/1 in 2018, when ranked just inside the world's top 50 but having played poorly since his first start of the year. For him to be in the field this time, he absolutely has to have done more over the following four months than he had done back then.
And make no mistake, if Pieters is in the field, he's a big each-way player.
- When: May 14-17
- Where: Harding Park, San Francisco
Harding Park hosts a major championship for the first time in its history - and for those whose interest in golf revolves around its two biggest draws, there's no downplaying the significance of the PGA Championship this time around.
When the PGA Tour returned here for a World Golf Championship in 2005, it was won by Tiger Woods. Four years later, Woods produced probably his finest team display for the United States, winning all five of his matches at the Presidents Cup. And then, in 2015, when the WGC-Match Play came to town, it was Rory McIlroy who walked off with the trophy.
As things stand, McIlroy is the man to beat, but the most tempting option from the head of the market is Jon Rahm. He's a general 18/1 chance, alongside Justin Thomas at around fifth in the betting, but if he continues on his current trajectory could well start close to favouritism.
It's hard at this stage to form a concrete view of what's going to be required at Harding Park, but with previous winners in mind, as well as the fact that McIlroy beat Gary Woodland in the final of the Match Play and Woods beat John Daly in a play-off, big-hitting appears to be a good starting point.
After that, focusing on those who play well in California is a sensible route, an idea Woodland helps to underline thanks to his Pebble Beach win last June. Rahm of course secured his professional breakthrough at Torrey Pines, near San Diego, and he also won in the California desert at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Other than Dustin Johnson, over whom there are question marks heading into 2020, and Woods, there's probably no finer record in this part of the world than that of Rahm, who went to college down in Arizona. He was third behind Woodland at Pebble Beach, and he seems sure to go close to winning his first major sooner rather than later.
As with the Masters but for different reasons, I'm not that bothered about getting stuck in now, regardless. Sure, Rahm could well go and win at Torrey Pines or in the Match Play, or even at Augusta, and start half the price he is now. But let's not pretend this sport lacks depth, and he could easily have been passed in the pecking order by any number of viable alternatives, for whom cases can also be made.
Instead, take a chance on SUNGJAE IM who, I feel certain, wouldn't be 125/1 were he American. I'm not sure why, but overseas players tend to be underrated in favour of the home contingent, which explains why Im is the same price as Matthew Wolff and much bigger than Collin Morikawa.
Im surely remains at the front of this trio, which we can make a quartet by including Viktor Hovland (prices range from 50/1 to 125/1 in a place), both in terms of current ability and potential. He's certainly the most experienced, and while Wolff and Morikawa have PGA Tour titles to their name, don't be surprised if Im does too by the time May comes around.
He was the star of the Presidents Cup from the perspective of the Internationals, taking 3.5 points from five matches as one of only two players to win their Sunday singles, in which he saw off Woodland. That came on the back of a brilliant, rookie of the year campaign, after which he found time to go home to Korea and pick up some silverware.
Now consistently performing at an extremely high level and unlucky not to have won the Greenbrier, Im is only heading in one direction. Majors in 2020 might come too soon, but such is the momentum behind his rise that I expect he'll tee off for this one having firmly established himself as a genuine title contender.
Of the four majors, the PGA Championship is actually the one he's yet to qualify for, but that will be changing next week and it strikes me as the most likely option for a youngster to win. Debutants have a famously poor record at Augusta, Winged Foot is a fearsome place to play in your second US Open, and The Open is likely a step too far.
Over the decade just gone, McIlroy (twice), Thomas, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka (twice) and Keegan Bradley all won this one in their twenties and Im has the ability to add his name to the list.
At three-figure prices, this is the best chance to get him on-side ahead of what's likely to be a seriously lucrative campaign.
It's also worth a smaller bet on JAZZ JANEWATTANANOND, very much the man of the moment yet priced at 300/1.
Now the world number 40 after back-to-back wins in Asia, this one-time teen starlet is fulfilling his long-held potential and, at 24, there's plenty left to come. It's amazing to think that it's a decade since he made history by making a cut aged just 14.
Jazz might not yet have made a serious impact globally, but remember he was well inside the places through 54 holes of last year's PGA Championship before fading late on to finish 14th. Since then, he's climbed another 30 spots in the rankings to mark himself out as one of the most rapidly-improving players around.
Topping the Asian Tour's Order of Merit by a distance will do wonders for his confidence and ever since going to work with Pete Cowen, coach of many a major winner, he's been heading in only one direction. Where his limit is, I'm not sure, but with seven wins since the start of 2017 and no signs that he's done improving, there's every chance he can go on and establish himself around the world.
Pinpointing the right major isn't easy, but he's just 150/1 for the Masters, where inexperience is often found out, and while tempting for the Open he's so far missed two cuts in as many attempts. With a brutal US Open perhaps asking too much, the PGA makes most sense and those who can get on antepost are advised to take a small chance.
- When: June 18-21
- Where: Winged Foot, New York
PATRICK REED is, frankly, a ridiculous price to win the US Open at Winged Foot in June.
The controversial former Masters champion can be backed at 80/1 with bet365 and 66/1 generally, prices which fail to reflect a number of things: his form in New York and New Jersey, his motivation, the way he played over the final six months of 2019, his likely suitability to the course and, above all else, his ability - which includes the fact we know he can win majors.
Reed ended 2019 playing like his world ranking, which makes him the 12th best player in the sport. For comparison, bet365 have him the same price as Bubba Watson, who is ranked 46th, Sergio Garcia, ranked 39th, and Graeme McDowell, who isn't even in the top 100. It's difficult to conclude anything other than those three names having peaked at some point in the past; Reed, who won't turn 30 until next year's majors are finished, may well have his best days ahead.
Why, then, is he the price he is? I can't find a good reason. It can't be his US Open record, because he's made five cuts in six. It can't be his record in New York, where he produced his best US Open finish so far (fourth) and, in 2016, won The Barclays at Bethpage. His record in neighbouring New Jersey is also excellent and includes a high-profile win back in August in The Northern Trust, which is The Barclays but under a new name.
It can't be his recent play, because not only did he win in August, but his form since has been outstanding. Reed played 10 events between victory at Liberty National and the Presidents Cup, and his worst finish was 36th in Germany. In the United States, he went on to produce finishes of 19th, 15th and third, latterly beaten two shots in the Bahamas after that episode on Friday.
It can't be to do with motivation, in a Ryder Cup and Olympics year. Yes, there are many Americans desperate to play in both, but Reed's controversial comments in the latest edition of the former - and subsequent events in both the Bahamas and Australia - surely mean he can no longer rely on a wild card pick. His form with a partner in his last two team events has been poor and, increasingly, he's gaining a reputation of being damn good in the red, white and blue - but only when playing on his own. Steve Stricker may not be as generous as Tiger Woods was in handing him a captain's pick.
And it can't be an issue with the course, which almost every likely contender will be getting to know between now and tee-off. The last event played at Winged Foot was the 2006 US Open, and while there was a mix of players battling it out for the title, it strikes me that some of the best short-games around were prominent - Geoff Ogilvy (1st), Phil Mickelson (2nd), Padraig Harrington (5th), Steve Stricker (6th) and Luke Donald (12th) to name just five.
One thing we know is that it will be a serious test, and Reed - 14th for strokes-gained around-the-green last season having ranked second the one before - is a genius when it comes to getting himself out of trouble. Combine the timing of the event with its location, the nature of the course and the nature of the man, and Reed looks an outstanding candidate.
What price should he be? That's not easy. But it's not unreasonable to suggest he ought to be a little shorter than Simpson, a 50/1 shot who, while a US Open champion already, hasn't been prolific for years now. How Francesco Molinari is shorter, now that he's fallen below Reed in the world rankings and is without a top-10 finish since April, I've no idea. The Italian is 40/1, and that would feel about right for Reed.
At 66/1 and even 80/1 in a place, he has to be a bet. Not only could he go off half the price he is now, there are plenty of reasons to believe that if he turns up in good form, he'll be on everyone's shortlist.
The Open Championship
- When: July 16-19
- Where: Royal St George's, Kent
The Open Championship heads to Kent, where Royal St George's will provide a difficult test - likely more so than Portrush last summer, though it will do well to match that renewal in any other department.
Darren Clarke won here in 2011, and with nine years having passed there aren't many with course form. Of those who finished close behind him on that famous Sunday, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson are the two most likely to put their respective experiences to use and win the Claret Jug.
If I had to have one towards the very top of the market, though, it would be Justin Thomas. He produced by far his standout Open effort at Portrush, finishing 11th, and Americans have a good record here. Thomas prepared properly in Scotland last July and a similar warm-up could reap rewards. It's also reasonable to expect him to go off a little shorter than 25/1, given how well he's played since returning to full fitness this year and the fact that he's among the most ruthless and prolific players in the sport.
However, at a slightly bigger price I can't resist ADAM SCOTT.
Generally quoted at 40/1, the Australian might not scream value to many but he so often goes off shorter in this major in particular, owing to the excellent record he built during the early part of the last decade, finishing second, third, fifth and 10th in a four-year stretch of consistent opportunities.
Perhaps the bird has flown, but Scott's victory in the Australian PGA last week sets him up nicely for a final push - something he's spoken of since winning the Masters in 2013. Scott knows it's getting harder and harder to win the biggest and best events, a point he's proved, but with time running out his focus has intensified and I suspect the win at Royal Pines may prove really significant.
The Open is also the major in which experience goes a particularly long way - something Scott is well aware of. He'll turn 40 on the first day of the championship, and that is absolutely no barrier to success, a fact underlined by Clarke, Mickelson, Ernie Els, Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson and countless other nearly-men in recent years.
Scott started well when 25th here in 2011 and, with close to another decade of Open and links experiences in the bag, it wouldn't surprise anyone were he to finally, deservedly get his hands on the prize which matters most to him, at the course where Greg Norman won his second and final major.
Don't be surprised if history repeats with another Australian great, who won't be seen again until Riviera in February. From there, I expect him to be a consistent contender and perhaps that'll see him go off around the 25/1 mark for this. Unless his game falls off a cliff, he won't be any bigger than he is right now.
There are two bets I like here, with CHARL SCHWARTZEL worth chancing at 200/1.
Another former Masters champion, Schwartzel played really well to finish 16th at Sandwich in 2011, fading a little after an excellent second-round 67 propelled him to seventh at halfway.
It was actually his second go at the course, as the South African made his major debut in the 2003 Open Championship won here by Ben Curtis, while as an amateur he won the Brabazon Trophy next door at Royal Cinque Ports.
That experience, combined with a solid Open record which includes five top-20 finishes, marks Schwartzel out as a potential contender - if he can get into the field.
Currently 220th in the world having spent most of 2019 on the sidelines with injury, Schwartzel has to work his way back up the rankings but there are a couple of excellent chances for him to qualify - including at the SA Open in January.
That will be Schwartzel's next start and, after returning to action with an excellent third place at Leopard Creek, he'll be among the favourites at Randpark, where he was also third a year ago after a second-round 63. Were he to repeat that effort and book an Open place, he'd be quoted across the board - and I'm not sure, on back-to-back top-fives, any firm would be willing to keep offering 200/1.
As with Pieters, there's little downside here. If Schwartzel doesn't play well, he won't be in The Open and you'll get your money back. The only real issue is that he could have one outstanding week to qualify but struggle elsewhere, and yet that isn't enough to put me off at the available odds.
Last year, Bernd Wiesberger returned from a lengthy absence to win three times and re-establish himself as one of the best players on the European Tour. Perhaps the break will prove equally beneficial to Schwartzel, a massive talent who still has a lot to give.