Ben Coley bagged a 50/1 winner and 150/1 place in the Sony Open - don't miss his selections for the latest event on the PGA Tour.
- I’m not gonna call you the Oggmonster.
- Well that’s my name...
- No it’s not, what’s your real name?
- It’s a good name.
- Is it?
Isn't it aggravating when a PGA Tour event arrives without some kind of descriptor? 'The American Express' should be illegal, as should The Northern Trust. Surely, it's possible to embrace the necessity of sponsorship without handing over every single letter of the tournament name. The American Express what? Open, Shootout, Invitational, Classic, Dance, Duel, Dogfight? Something, anything, please.
For many of us, this week's three-course desert shootout is better known as the Bob Hope Classic, maybe even the Humana Challenge, but definitely not The American Express. I know they get away with it in the Made In Denmark, but there's charm to that. This is a tournament with very little charm if you ask me. I'm not going to call it The American Express.
This Week's Tournament is the first of three multi-course events in a month, and when you throw in the amateurs which slow things down both here and at Pebble Beach, it's little wonder shock results happen a little more often. Last year, Adam Long defied his rookie form figures of 63-MC-MC-MC to produce a 72nd-hole birdie to deny arguably the two players with the strongest tournament history. Jon Rahm might well have won the previous edition, but it's a brave man who gets stuck into anyone at the front of the market.
That's why I'm leaving out Sungjae Im, last week's headline selection who has plenty in his favour - not least his ability. The Korean youngster played well here last year, he loves bermuda greens (ok, they also feature poa annua), and he was right in there pitching for his breakthrough PGA Tour win before a few late mistakes in Hawaii. Silverware is surely coming and, at 18/1, he rates by a distance the pick of a group of fragile market leaders.
The requirements here, bar patience, aren't necessarily clear. Since the move to PGA West's Stadium Course in 2016, a Pete Dye design which is a little trickier than the Tournament Course and La Quinta, we've had a range of champions, including a favourite, a rank outsider, and a couple inbetween.
However, I see consistency among contenders if we widen the lens just a little: most are excellent drivers of the ball. Hudson Swafford, who led the field in strokes-gained off the tee (two rounds measured) when beating Hadwin in 2017, ranked 16th for the year in total driving. Jason Dufner, for a while one of the most reliable drivers around, ranked 20th, Rahm was 41st and Long, despite a season packed with missed cuts, was well above average at 47th.
Look to the also-rans and you'll see Hadwin's name more than once - he's typically high up in total driving, a reflection of his accuracy rather than his power. That's why his strokes-gained figures won't leap off the page, which in turn tells you a little about these courses: they don't offer a great deal of reward for hitting the ball a long way, certainly not like some of the events which are coming up over the next month.
Andrew Landry, a play-off loser to Rahm, is another accurate, reliable driver, and David Lingmerth, a play-off loser to Dufner, used to excel off the tee. Brendan Steele, runner-up in 2015 and again in Hawaii last week, has built a career on the back of his driver, and all things being equal we should expect to see a collection of similar players in contention, even if the nature of this event means everyone is vulnerable to something rather harder to measure.
The other angle of note relates to Dye, who passed away last week. His courses often correlate well with each other, and it's significant that Dufner had already won at TPC Louisiana, and that Rahm played almost all of his college golf on a Dye-designed course, something he referenced when winning here.
Even Long helps strengthen this idea, because since 2012 he's been based at The Dye Preserve, in Florida, where competitive games against other affiliated professionals are easy to come by.
In fact, I'd expect he's played a few with DANIEL BERGER, also based there in Jupiter, and he's first into the staking plan.
Berger worked his way back from injury in 2019, a campaign notable for plenty of weekend tee-times but little in the way of significant cheques. Second place in Puerto Rico confirmed that he really shouldn't be playing opposite events, having been sixth in the previous year's US Open, and now that he's healthy it's fair to expect good things in the coming weeks.
It was in last year's Desert Classic that Berger returned from four months off and he played really well, finishing 12th despite a quiet week on the greens, and that's one of several reasons to expect him to go well after a similar display resulted in 38th place in Hawaii.
Berger is well-suited to these desert, resort-style courses, and when it comes to driving the ball there aren't many better in this field. He ranked seventh last season, despite not being at his best, and he's performing to a similar level so far in 2019/20, four cuts made from five starts a nice way to get himself ready for the months ahead.
Not only is he based at The Dye Preserve, but he has a fine record across Dye's portfolio of PGA Tour venues. Berger lost a play-off to Jordan Spieth at TPC River Highlands, he was sixth on his debut at TPC Louisiana, he has been ninth in the PLAYERS Championship at Sawgrass, and last April he was second after round one and third at halfway in The Heritage at Harbour Town.
Returning here to California, he'll need to putt better than he did in Hawaii, but it's reasonable to expect him to. Those slow, soft greens at Waialae weren't for everyone, and these will better resemble the surfaces on which he won his two PGA Tour titles at TPC Southwind in terms of speed.
There's TPC form stamped all over his CV and, at first and third in greens hit over his last two starts, Berger is bubbling away nicely, threatening to put four rounds together.
Speaking to the Palm Beach Post in November, he said: "There's such a small difference being 18th in the world and being (where) I am right now.
"It really does feel very close and I think the first (four) events I played this year were reminiscent of how I played back in the day. It's just a shot or two there that really makes the biggest difference."
Berger also said he felt a 'million-pound weight' had been lifted off his shoulders when he finished 23rd at the Safeway Open, effectively winning back his PGA Tour card on a medical exemption, and he's clearly much better than his current world ranking of 152.
He looks an ideal sort for this and gets the vote along with BRIAN HARMAN, for whom the case is broadly similar.
Like Berger, Harman has gone very close at River Highlands, he has two top-10s at Sawgrass, two more at Harbour Town, and he played well in a FedEx Cup Playoff event at Dye's Crooked Stick in 2016.
It's a little while since he won the second of his PGA Tour titles, but again this former US Open contender looks to be on his way back having started the new season with third in the Greenbrier and bagged three more top-20 finishes since then.
One bad round cost him another in the Sony Open, where he finished 32nd, but he ranked 14th in total driving there and is another who will relish a switch to these faster, more predictable greens.
All of Harman's best form has been on courses where there's no real advantage for hitting it miles and bringing it back to his comfort levels on Dye designs, it's surely no coincidence that his form in this event improved notably from 2016.
Last year's missed cut came during a poor stretch but he'd been 11th, third and 20th in the three years prior, driving it especially well. If the putter fires as it did when third behind his friend Swafford in 2017, this tenacious type can go really well at 50/1.
Abraham Ancer, like Im, might take something from Presidents Cup team-mate Cameron Smith's win last week and can go well, but preference at more than twice the price is for BUD CAULEY in an event the Americans dominate.
Granted, we've been waiting a long time for this one-time star of the future to make his breakthrough, but it's just about as likely to come here as it is anywhere else following finishes of 14th, third and 14th when the event switched its base to the Stadium Course.
Cauley led in strokes-gained tee-to-green when tied for third with Harman in 2017, a cold putter costing him the title, and on his return in 2018 his approach work in particular was again of a high calibre.
Last year's missed cut isn't too much of a concern - he shot rounds of 69, 68 and 71 - and neither is last week's in Hawaii. Cauley actually played well after a nightmare start, in which he bogeyed three of the first four holes courtesy of a couple of three-putts and a miss from five feet. From there he was on course to make the weekend only to fly his approach over the 15th green and make double, and then three-putt 16.
Those clumsy errors have held him back - he was excellent thereafter, and after finishing his round at the ninth he went on to miss on the number - but the relaxed, multi-course style here in California, where he first emerged in the Frys.com Open, can set him back on track. He was third here after a Sony Open missed cut in 2017 and his record in that event shows four missed cuts in five.
Cauley is another with some eye-catching Dye form at Louisiana, River Highlands and Harbour Town - he boasts rounds of 63 at the latter two venues - and he's better judged on a top-10 finish in his final start of 2019. Hopefully, he can once again leave his rust-shedding return behind and produce his best golf here.
Call me stubborn with the next selection as HARRIS ENGLISH goes in the staking plan.
English finished sixth, 33rd, fourth and fifth on the four occasions I selected him late last year, so we've been right to follow him since a back-to-form fourth place to begin the season at the Greenbrier.
Leaving him out at the RSM Classic made sense, as he'd halved in price because he was playing back home in Georgia. Plus, the Mayakoba Classic went to a Monday finish, leaving little turnaround time, and he was entitled to suffer a hangover from that event given its disappointing conclusion.
Still, English shot two rounds of 69 at Sea Island, meaning he averages 68.27 for the 22 rounds he's played this season, and it strikes me as generous that he's suddenly back out to 66/1 in a place. This is a different field, of course, but I don't think it looks particularly stronger at the top end, and he's very well suited to the test this week.
Another who has a strong body of form across Dye designs, English has never missed a cut in this event, contending on debut after a second-round 62. It came on a different course to those used in the current rotation, but he can also call upon fond memories of Qualifying School here at PGA West and his 11th place across this week's layouts in 2018 came after he'd ended 2017 with six missed cuts in succession.
There's a slight worry over his absence - English couldn't get in the field for the Sony due to his lowly ranking at the start of the campaign, which seems a little silly given his FedEx Cup position - but on balance I'm prepared to stick with one of the stars of the season so far.
Phil Mickelson has to be considered at the price, as a two-time winner who has placed twice here since 2016. He started with a round of 60 last season, on his competitive return following three months away, and there were enough positives from 31st in the CJ Cup and 28th in China to suggest he could make the necessary improvement.
He's the last man off the list just ahead of Scott Stallings, a player who often pops up with a big performance early in the season on the west coast, including a pair of top-10 finishes here. Stallings' iron play was very strong when last seen and prices in the region of 200/1 are worth taking seriously.
D.J. Trahan is another name at a price I looked at - he's a former winner of this who should've hit the frame for us at 175/1 in the RSM Classic, and whose game remains on the up. However, he starts at the Stadium Course and with rain around on Thursday, that looks a potential negative.
It applies also to CHASE SEIFFERT, but at 300/1 I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
This Florida State graduate, who calls Berger and Brooks Koepka his friends, has started to impress quietly in his first season on the PGA Tour.
In the RSM Classic, he led the field in strokes-gained off-the-tee and finished 23rd despite putting poorly, and last week's share of 38th in Hawaii was a good effort once again built around strong, accurate driving.
His only two mistakes on a difficult Sunday in Hawaii came courtesy of short misses and he signed off with nine holes in 31 blows, momentum he can bring with him to a more straightforward event on greens which should feel more familiar.
With a top-10 finish to his name at River Highlands, he's an interesting runner and a player I like. This seems as good a time as any to roll the dice.
Finally, MAVERICK MCNEALY is taken to build on a strong end to 2019.
This Californian has a big future when everything clicks and there were signs from Houston onwards that it was beginning to, some advice from those around him helping this bright spark move in the right direction.
A big-hitter who putts well, he's a little different to the strongest selections in this staking plan but, as with Seiffert, McNealy is a player I expect to pop up and hit the frame at a big price at some stage this season.
The fact he has experience here, opening 66-68 before a poor third round in 2018, makes This Week's Tournament a likely option, and the former Stanford star has improved quickly since he started working with Butch Harmon. Expect big things at some stage.
Posted at 1050 GMT on 14/01/20.
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