Barracuda Championship betting preview and tips from Ben Coley

Shane Lowry gets the vote from Ben Coley this week
Shane Lowry gets the vote from Ben Coley this week

Ben Coley includes a 500/1 selection among five fancies for the Barracuda Championship, where Shane Lowry might be the man to beat.

Recommended bets:

2pts e.w. Shane Lowry at 25/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1.5pts e.w. Martin Laird at 40/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Alex Cejka at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Bill Haas at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Hunter Mahan at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

0.5pt e.w. A.J. McInerney at 500/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

  • For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record

There's a school of thought that the format of the Barracuda Championship, a modified version of the stableford you play with your friends, is an irrelevance; that the bottom line is the best stroke play score almost always wins the event, even if the leaderboard counts points rather than pars.

It is deeply flawed. True, the best stroke play score this week will probably win, but it is undeniable that the format affects scoring, and therefore is extremely relevant. Perhaps that's why Greg Chalmers won here out of the blue, just like Geoff Ogilvy had two years earlier. The change from stroke play, where their heads had banged on too many brick walls, facilitated a change in mindset, with that a change in performance, and with that a change in outcome.

For those of us tasked with writing predominantly about 72-hole stroke play events where the biggest variables are often course and weather, this week's gear shift is as welcome as it was to those two Australians. Predicting which one of the best golfers in the world will win on any given week can become a bit of a grind, whereas trying to unravel a puzzle made up of unrecognisable pieces is to be considered fun.

So, the format. It's eight points for an albatross, five for an eagle, two for a birdie, none for a par; you lose one for a bogey, three for a double, but no more should ultimate disaster befall you at Montreux Country Club, long-time host venue and a Jack Nicklaus design whose primary feature is its high altitude, up in the hills of Reno.

While it is rare for there to be significant differences in points gained by two players who take the same number of shots, it is possible: 18 pars makes 72 strokes but zero points; three eagles, three doubles, six birdies and six bogeys also equates to 72 strokes, but returns 12 points. When something in the mid-40s is required to win, that does underline the potential for some volatility among otherwise similar outcomes and strengths my belief in this event's uniqueness.

Winners since the change in format have been unanimously experienced. Gary Woodland, at 29, rates the youngest of six but he had 10 major appearances and one PGA Tour win behind him. Subsequent champions Ogilvy, Chalmers, J.J. Henry and Chris Stroud produce an average age of 38.5 and among the runners-up have been Greg Owen (45), Justin Hicks (39) and Jonathan Byrd (35). Nous counts, of that there's no doubt.

It's this trend, plus the inherent volatility of the event, which draws me away from in-form Joel Dahmen and the likeable Richy Werenski, currently vying for favouritism following the withdrawal of Beau Hossler. Werenski has course form and almost won a fortnight ago while Dahmen is playing well week-in, week-out, but even in this intermediate grade I'm not sure either of this relative newcomers should head the betting.

That honour should probably go to Shane Lowry and he's my idea of the most likely winner.

At 31, Lowry falls into the Woodland category age-wise and, like Ogilvy, he's basically far too good to be messing around with this lot. We are, after all, talking about a WGC winner who led for much of the 2016 US Open, won on the European Tour as an amateur and has 22 major appearances to his name including three top-10s.

That World Golf Championship success at Firestone came three years ago this week and Lowry will surely be casting an admiring glance over to events in Ohio. The hope is that he's fired up to make sure he's back there next year and the best way to start that process is to make the most of this opportunity.

Given those exploits it shouldn't surprise you that this is Lowry's first start in Reno but that's not too much of a concern. Ogilvy hadn't played it in a decade, Vaughn Taylor won here on debut when it was a traditional stroke play event and so too did Woodland, who returned to finish second three years later to show that when a class act does turn up here, they're worth respecting.

Just how he'll cope with the course itself and the altitude is the significant concern, but Lowry has enough experience in the Swiss mountains to be comfortable with the change in yardages and this is otherwise a fairly stock par 72, one which shouldn't pose him too many problems.

Last week's 12th place in Canada was Lowry's best performance of the year and it may be significant that it coincided with brother Alan, himself a handy golfer, taking over as caddie for a month.

Lowry has been desperate to make the European Ryder Cup team but unless he performs miracles over the next month, that is now out of sight and having his brother on the bag may just have added to a more relaxed approach as he looks to secure his PGA Tour card for next season.

Whether that's true or not, he'd shown some good signs earlier in the summer - 15th at Wentworth, 16th in Paris, 28th in Ireland - and there was a lot to like about his performance at Glen Abbey, where he finished on the front foot. In fact, only his short-game - usually a noted strength - let him down and that's probably a blip, nothing more.

Lowry rates a really strong contender here if he can just cut out the mistakes and gets the headline vote ahead of Martin Laird, a genuine course specialist who can bounce back to form.

Another class act relative to this grade, Laird has never finished worse than seventh in four starts here and while a run of three missed cuts in succession is somewhat disconcerting, closer inspection reveals his worst round in his last 20 to be 72.

In other words, he's not playing at all badly. Last week, he shot two-under with 11 birdies in 36 holes to just miss the cut, he again missed by two after a second-round 66 in Scotland, and he was just one shot shy in The National.

I strongly suspect, then, that if Laird does manage to play well enough to speak with the press this week he'll highlight the fact that he's not been far away and a return to this course seems sure to bring about the marginal improvements needed to contend.

Not only does Laird go well here, but he's both won and finished second over at Summerlin in the Shriners, and this strong form at altitude can be traced back to his formative years as he left home to study at Colorado State - some 1500m above sea level, more than the 1350 of Reno.

"I like playing in altitude," he said in 2014. "I played college golf at Colorado State, so played in altitude for four years and feel comfortable."

That's far from the only time Laird has spoken of his fondness for these conditions and he also said "I really like the course... I love the set up" in 2009, so if there's an ideal place to snap a lacklustre run, this must surely be it.

Had Laird sneaked through to the weekend in his last three starts he might well be favourite for this and he's more than good enough to finally win an event which has gone to course specialists more than once in the past. That he ranks 23rd in birdie average this season - seventh among this field - strengthens the case.

Steve Wheatcroft is interesting at 100/1, as a former winner at altitude in Boise who was 12th in the John Deere and 10th in the Barbasol, before getting nothing out of a strong enough tee-to-green performance at a course made for bigger hitters last week.

If his putter fires - it's been in and out lately, having kept him alive from 2015 to 2017 - then the 40-year-old could well be a threat having been fifth here in 2016, when he bizarrely complained about the problems caused by altitude.

That said, he's endured a difficult journey to Reno and I have slight worries about how busy he's been lately, having complained about that in the past, too, so he's overlooked despite potentially generous three-figure quotes.


Sky Bet specials

5/1 - any of our selections to win

15/2 - all players to make the cut

50/1 - any two players in the top five


Daniel Summerhays was born and raised in the mountains of Utah and is the sort of player who turns up here out of nowhere, having bagged two major top-10 finishes just a couple of years ago. His brother coaches Tony Finau so he doesn't have to look far for inspiration and it wouldn't be a shock if he fared well.

JJ Spaun leads the field in the aforementioned birdie average and went well in Las Vegas at the start of the season, but he doesn't quite fit the profile and I preferred the claims of Vegas resident Nick Watney before he withdrew from the event.

Instead, another adopted Nevada boy, Alex Cejka, gets the vote at around the 66/1 mark.

Living here is a big advantage when it comes to dealing with conditions and over the last few years, Cejka's best efforts have both come in the other event held here as he bagged a brace of runner-up finishes at TPC Summerlin.

On both occasions, the German has spoken of how much he enjoys playing in front of friends and family and form which shows eight cuts made in nine and 13th place in a much stronger field two starts back suggests he's ready to impress them all once more.

Significantly, Cejka's other top-five finish last year also came at altitude in Boise, and if we rewind to 2004 he again showed how well he adapts to these conditions with second place in The International, a stableford event played in the mountains of Colorado.

More recently, he's also won a play-off in Puerto Rico, another opposite event, and his sole Web.com Tour win again came at serious altitude in Bogota, Colombia.

All of that, combined with the fact that being 47 is no disadvantage in this grade and in fact can be considered a positive, makes for a solid each-way bet.

I am also compelled to chance Bill Haas at 80/1, a price I wouldn't want to lay about a player whose best form includes fifth in last year's US Open and third in the WGC-Match Play.

Clearly, he's struggled since - otherwise he wouldn't be here - but just like Laird, his recent missed cuts have been narrow failures as he shot a pair of 72s in Canada, 69-70-71 for an MDF in the John Deere (essentially a further cut made after 54 holes due to number of players who made the weekend) and 69-70 at the Greenbrier.

Indeed, in the seven starts Haas has made since shooting a Sunday 64 for 14th in Texas, his worst round came at Shinnecock where he finished a more than respectable 36th, and in essence his play has probably been a good deal better than his form figures suggest.

That alone makes him a candidate, but I also like the fact he's won at the Nicklaus-designed Annandale and twice in California's CareerBuilder Challenge, a desert event where another Nicklaus layout is involved, while here in Reno he contended in 2004 and 2006 before difficult Sundays in his formative years.

The first of those efforts came soon after he'd turned professional, the second when in no sort of form, so while dated they're performances which catch the eye and for one of the most decorated players in the field, the price just looks on the generous side.

As for extra incentive, there's a place in the PGA Championship up for grabs here and Haas hasn't missed one since 2009. It may also be significant that this year's renewal heads to his dad's home state and the best form Haas has shown this year came at The Heritage, where his mum and dad first met.

That's all wild speculation, of course, but in an event like this the stature of the player and the numbers he's been shooting are enough on their own to justify a bet at prices around the 80/1 mark.

Hunter Mahan's seventh two starts ago in the latest opposite event catches the eye and he only missed the weekend by a shot in Canada, evidence enough that his game remains in shape.

The former Ryder Cup player and frequent major contender landed the WGC-Match Play on a Nicklaus-designed course in neighbouring Arizona where Ogilvy also won, and like the Aussie is capable of taking a step back in the right direction here.

His customary ball-striking looked to be back in place a fortnight ago and as for Reno form, he was runner-up here in 2004 despite a closing 74, his first top-five finish on the PGA Tour and the first hint of what he might be capable of.

Mahan has since graduated beyond this level, in the process confirming himself a brilliant desert golfer (wins in Houston and Phoenix to go with the aforementioned Arizona success) and while things have gone wrong in recent years, there have been some good signs lately.

"Finally feeling comfortable, finally feeling like I know how to attack pins and I know how far I'm going to hit the shot and all those things that encompass being confident on the golf course and not having any fear of the result," he said in the Barbasol, and Mahan is worth sticking with at the price.

Five proper selections then, but I'll also save a final roll of the dice for A.J. McInerney at 500/1 generally or 750/1 in a place.

This is clearly not a selection to get carried away with and if his price crashes significantly, move right along, but McInerney is a Nevada resident who earned a place in the field by winning last month's Reno Open, also a modified stableford event.

Of course, the field was not anywhere close to this standard, but McInerney won it comfortably with 21 birdies and an eagle for 38 points in just three rounds and had previously made the cut in the FedEx St Jude Classic won by Dustin Johnson.

Granted, he's since missed a cut on the Canadian Tour, but his comfort levels back home must count for something - especially with the altitude factor. We saw as much just last November when he finished 10th in the Shriners when playing on an invite and that was a much stronger event than this one.

A survivor of last year's terrorist attack in Las Vegas, McInerney hasn't yet made many headlines for his golf but, at 24, there's time for that to change. It might just start here.

Posted at 2045 BST on 30/07/18.

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