Cameron Davis is rated the best bet in Australia
Cameron Davis is rated the best bet in Australia

Australian PGA Championship preview and tips from Ben Coley


Cameron Davis can lead the home charge at the Australian PGA this week as Ben Coley highlights the best bets.


Recommended bets

2pts e.w. Cameron Davis at 33/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1.5pts e.w. Nick Taylor at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Curtis Luck at 66/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

0.5pt e.w. Anthony Quayle at 150/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

0.5pt e.w. Doug Klein at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

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In an event co-sanctioned by the European and Australasian Tours, it's two PGA Tour players who dominate the betting for the Australian PGA Championship at RACV Royal Pines Resorts.

Marc Leishman looks set to start favourite ahead of Cameron Smith after these two good friends finished second in last week's World Cup, and a glance at their respective achievements over in the United States makes that logical. Leishman, a former PGA Tour rookie of the year, now has four wins on that circuit to Smith's one, which came alongside Jonas Blixt in the pairs event in Louisiana.

Back home in Australia, though, it's Smith who has been far more reliable and he's the better bet of the two as he defends this title close to his Brisbane home.

In the eight Australian events Smith and Leishman have both played, it's the younger man who leads the head-to-head 6-2 and that includes a 3-0 return at this course, one where he's been inside the top-15 four years running and won a play-off against Jordan Zunic a year ago.

Cameron Smith came out on top in Queensland
Cameron Smith came out on top in Queensland last year

Twice, Leishman has got the better of the argument but that was five years ago, 20-year-old Smith still cutting his teeth having just turned pro, and to be frank Leishman's record when returning home is poor for a player of his standing. He's managed just four top-five finishes and is without silverware in over 30 events; Smith has six top-fives, including a win, already.

Of course, Leishman was victorious in the CIMB Classic just last month and he's a world-class player who is determined to win something at home. That doesn't quite justify 5/1 favouritism, though, and he looks short enough despite his obvious chance.

As for Smith, he's far more tempting and probably an each-way bet to nothing, but the best approach in this event may be to widen the search to others who are more accustomed to playing in a higher grade.

Look through past leaderboards both here and in the Australian Open, and it's clear that anyone making the trip from America in particular must be respected. Harold Varner has won the Australian PGA and lost a play-off for it, and when victorious he was the only foreign player taking part who is based on the world's best tour.

In 2015, when Varner was second, his fellow raiders were David Lingmerth and Brandt Snedeker. While the latter struggled, Lingmerth finished ninth. A year earlier, Scott Stallings was fifth, Boo Weekley sixth and Brendon de Jonge 13th, while in 2013 it was Rickie Fowler who served it up to Adam Scott. Granted, we'd expect that of Fowler but Stallings, Weekley and de Jonge showed that you don't have to be world-class to find this level of competition relatively easy.

As for the Australian Open, won earlier this month by Mexico's PGA Tour star Abraham Ancer, an out-of-form Jonas Blixt tied for second last year, with Kramer Hickok - at the time nothing more than a promising Canadian Tour player who'd just earned a Web.com Tour card - a solid 24th. In 2016, when Jordan Spieth won his second Stonehaven Cup, Jhonattan Vegas finished ninth while there were two American amateurs not far off contending back in 2015.

Even the Australians who've won or gone close lately are almost exclusively based overseas. That's true of 2014 Australian PGA winner Greg Chalmers, his successor Nathan Holman - at the time picking up plenty of starts on the European Tour - and 2015 Australian Open winner Matt Jones. There simply is very little depth to the Australian circuit and the European Tour regulars in this event are short of world-class.

That plus his outstanding course record explains why Varner is a single-figure price, but it's Canada's Nick Taylor who stands out at the prices and he gets the headline vote at 40/1.

While this will be his first solo start Down Under, Taylor finished fourth alongside Adam Hadwin in last week's World Cup at The Metro, an excellent performance and one in which it was Taylor who shouldered much of the load.

That means he's fully adjusted to his surroundings and that he's playing well despite a missed cut in the Mayakoba Golf Classic, an event in which he's never really been a factor. Prior to it, Taylor had finished a decent 26th in Mississippi before finishing well for 36th in Las Vegas.

Eighth place in the Wyndham Championship back in August is the pick of his recent efforts - his sole top-10 last season, in fact - and showed his class, as Taylor was among those fighting to keep hold of his card with his exemption for winning in 2015 having expired. A Sunday 64, under the circumstances, might just have been the best round of his life.

But aside from being a good PGA Tour player, enough to make him of definite interest in a field lacking any depth, it's Taylor's short-game which offers the most encouragement. Scrambling has been key at Royal Pines, more so than just about any other tournament I can remember, and he was an excellent 28th on the PGA Tour last year.

In short-game terms, he stands up well alongside the defending champion, who was dynamite around the greens as he reeled in Zunic - albeit with a little help from the leader. When Varner won, he'd led the field in putting and ranked ninth in scrambling, while wizard Chalmers put his strengths to use in 2014.

Those who are neat and tidy when failing to hit their targets are at a clear advantage here and combined with the drop in grade, that puts Taylor right to the top of the list and preferred to Troy Merritt.

Again, Merritt has to be respected - he's achieved a little more than Taylor on the PGA Tour, in fact, and his recent form is stronger. However, he lacks a prep run on what will be his first start in Australia and his short-game isn't nearly as strong, so at a fraction shorter he's overlooked.

Taylor, whose compatriot Mike Weir was 15th here last year to underline the points made, looks an excellent each-way bet at 40/1 and should expect to feature.

Last year's one-two are of definite interest, especially with course form having generally carried over here. Zunic said he has "some unfinished business" in this event when winning the Queensland Open recently, this time surviving a final-round wobble, and can be forgiven a modest effort in the Australian Open as he'd arrived from Spain just hours before his tee-time.

With that in mind, Friday's 65 was an outstanding round of golf and suggests that he can be a factor once more having also been ninth here in 2015, when conditions were much tougher. That said, the general 50/1 confirms that his chance has not been missed and there's much better value to be had in backing Curtis Luck, who will prove to be a superior player and probably already is.

Like Taylor, Luck was an amateur star and he remains with the potential to become world-class, even if he's shown it only in flashes so far. Again like Taylor, he stepped up when he needed to, finishing eighth in the Web.com Tour Championship to earn his PGA Tour card, and he's already got some experience contending at the top level having threatened to win the Quicken Loans National last summer.

It's true that his play during the formative stages of this PGA Tour season leaves room for improvement, as he's missed four cuts and finished 50th on his only other appearance, but he's not been far off with two rounds of 70 at both the RSM Classic and the Shriners on courses he just doesn't know.

Last year he returned home having missed the cut at the Web.com Tour Championship and generally been in poor form since July, but still managed to string together finishes of 16th, 15th and 11th, culminating here, and I really can't stress enough the significance of the drop in grade and, in Luck's case, increased comfort levels.

Luck's short-game powered his performance here last year and has been sharp lately, gaining strokes around and on the greens despite a fairly disappointing start to his first season as a PGA Tour cardholder, and while there are risks attached I'm happy to take a chance on this enormous talent at 66/1.

Curtis Luck is worth chancing despite his inconsistency

Cameron Davis, who won last year's Australian Open, is other young home hope to consider, one who also has the benefit of experience in better company than this.

In contrast to former team-mate Luck, he's played well on the PGA Tour this year having won on the Web.com Tour in summer and his defence of the Stonehaven Cup was a brave one - with self-confessed "jelly legs" on the first tee he ran up a quadruple bogey and was seven-over through three holes, yet fought back brilliantly to make the cut.

Born on the Gold Coast, he'll be looking forward to this having got that pressure-filled title defence behind him and winning the Australian PGA is well within his compass after he fended off the likes of Jason Day and Lucas Herbert to land the main event just over a year ago.

Herbert is well-known to European Tour followers and obviously a contender here, but I'd have to question whether he should be shorter in the market than Davis who, at 33/1, looks generously priced. He finished 46th here two years ago, has come a heck of a long way since and will have derived huge benefit from the way he performed a couple of weeks ago, when he'd just flown in from Mexico.

Adam Bland, third here last year, is one to consider at a three-figure price as his short-game is a strength and he wasn't far off the top 110 on the Race To Dubai. The veteran left-hander looks to have grown in confidence and, eager to move his family out to Europe and attempt to climb the ladder, he'll know this is an opportunity he has to take.

Ricardo Gouveia and Oliver Farr are two European Tour players who arrive in good form and the latter is on offer at 200/1, despite two top-30 finishes in as many starts at Royal Pines and a game which clearly works well if the wind does blow.

They're respected along with Sean Crocker, the big-hitting American who impressed here last year and was quoted at an astonishing 110/1 by one firm on Monday. He's been trimmed to 50s now, with last week's missed cut no concern at all given that he rallied in round two and had to battle tough conditions in round one.

I'd have chanced Crocker at a bigger price but instead it's worth a speculative plays on Anthony Quayle and Doug Klein.

Quayle is another local with some potential and he's drawn real encouragement from the exploits of Jake McLeod recently, his close friend who won the New South Wales Open before contending in the Australian Open.

The pair have grown up playing together and Quayle was greenside to congratulate McLeod a few weeks ago.

"Firstly, I’m pumped for him, I couldn’t be happier for him," he said earlier this week. "You see one of your good mates that excited and that happy and achieve something that’s pretty hard to achieve so I was just really excited for him.

"Afterwards you see that he’s winning and you have the golfer in you that wants to be doing the same thing. I think it’s a pretty healthy thing to have. There’s a bit of one-upmanship so I think a win this week might just clip him and then he would probably be feeling the same thing moving forward and trying to one-up me again down the track."

Quayle had been ahead of his friend in the Order of Merit thanks to third place in Fiji, another event co-sanctioned with the European Tour, and needs a big finish this week to win it - something around third. Clearly, that's a massive incentive with a year's membership on the European Tour up for grabs.

Having been playing in Japan for most of the year, Quayle will have had this event earmarked as it's his debut in the tournament, played close to home, one in which he's had to sit and suffer as a reserve in the past.

A top-20 finish despite a difficult final round in last year's Australian Open offers encouragement, as does his performance in the World Super 6, and while he'll have to leave behind a missed cut behind Ancer a couple of weeks ago he might just be capable of doing so.

Klein turned pro at the start of the month with fourth place behind Zunic at the Queensland Open, before taking sixth in the New South Wales Open won by McLeod, another with obvious promise but one who is far more prominent in the betting.

Klein went on to miss the cut in the Australian Open but the experience will only help in the long-run and a return to the Gold Coast will also benefit him, especially as his home course is just an hour north of Royal Pines.

Indeed he had to come through local qualifying to make the field so there really is only one blip on his CV lately, especially as he signed off an excellent amateur career with a win. In the sort of event where quality prospects can definitely compete, the 21-year-old is obviously hard to judge but my suspicion is that 150/1 is on the generous side and he completes the staking plan.

Posted at 1155 GMT on 27/11/18.

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