2018 Major Golf Prospects

After snagging an 80/1 winner last year with Brooks Koepka winning the US Open, Emabis returns to offer early headline and value tips for each of golf’s 2018 majors.

THE MASTERS

The Course

The Masters is the only major to be played at the same course every year - Augusta National in Georgia.

Originally designed by Bobby Jones and Alistair McKenzie, Augusta was subject to four separate modifications between 1999 and 2006 in an effort to combat the increased distance players were generating off the tee. The course now measures 7,435 yards and continues to play to a Par of 72. Driving distance is traditionally an advantage, with Sergio Garcia ranking 6th in this category last year, but it's not essential as shown by Willett and Spieth only ranking 32nd and 52nd respectively in their winning years. Whatever about distance, driving accuracy is less important due to the light rough and tree-lined fairways providing plenty of room off the tee.

So what's key to an Augusta win ? Patience, accurate approach play (to leave the ball on the “right” side of the pin) and strong putting are vital to a Green Jacket win.

Recent Trends

For those interested in trends, 10 of the last 11 Masters’ winners finished top-50 in the prior year Masters (the exception being 2008 winner, Trevor Immelman, who finished 55th the year before) and 6 of the last 8 Masters’ winners finished in the top-10 of the prior HSBC Champions tournament.

If you’re wondering who fits this criterion, the answer is Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Bernd Wiesberger.

Our Headline Tip

Dustin Johnson (12/1)

Eagle-eyed readers will note that my headline pick doesn’t fit the statistical profile of recent winners.  However, DJ finished 2nd at the 2017 HSBC Champions and would likely have finished high up the leaderboard of last year’s Masters if he wasn’t forced to withdraw in the days before it's start after falling down the stairs of his rental at Augusta.

After a blistering start to the year that saw Johnson win the Tournament of Champions, finish 9th at the Abu Dhabi Championship and 2nd at AT&T Pebble Beach, DJ's form has dipped slightly in recent weeks.  At the time of writing, he is also struggling a little at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play event after a few week's away from the tour.

But as the saying goes, form is temporary but class is permanent. And DJ's price for the Masters has benefited accordingly (from 15/2 to 12/1 at the time of writing).

Our Value Tip

Justin Rose (14/1)

Of the three players teeing up who match the trends of prior year winners (Koepka misses the event through injury), last year's runner-up Justin Rose is the player with most form and most prospect of success come April.

Following a slow start to the year in Abu Dhabi, Rose finished 3rd at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and 5th at the Valspar Championship.  Coupled with 8th at the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of January, that gives Rose three top-ten finishes in five events this year.

That form has seen Rose's price come in from early 20's to a best price 14/1.  So less value than it was a few weeks ago. But given he has five top 10 finishes at Augusta (in twelve outings), including two top 2 finishes in the past three years, its still looks like value to me.

 

US OPEN

The Course

This year's edition of the gruelling US Open (personally, my favourite Major) comes from Shinnecock Hills. Or more accurately, a remodelled Shinnecock Hills. Bradley Klein of Golfweek outlines the various course changes in good detail (see http://golfweek.com/2017/10/04/shinnecock-hills- gets-longer-more-strategic-for-2018-u-s-open/). He notes the course has been “stretched, sculpted, and restored to more of its original character as designed by architect William S. Flynn”. Most tellingly perhaps, Klein confirms the fairways have been “reshaped on the edge and in some cases, narrowed”. This
is clearly a U.S. Golf Association (USGA) directed instruction. The USGA prides itself on overseeing golf’s sternest major test and Brooks Koepka’s winning score of -16 last year, at Erin Hills, is an embarrassment to them. Mike Davis, USGA CEO, acknowledged this stating they “want to make sure accuracy off the tee is a big part of a US Open”.

Seven acres of shortgrass has been converted to rough to create more strategic twists and turns to the fairways. But although fairway widths will remain “on the relatively generous side for U.S. Open, 28-34 yards in the championship landing areas”, “their delineation pays close attention to the lay of the land and the role of airway bunkers”. It will also be long in that the Par-70 layout will be 7,445 yards, 450 yards longer than Retief Goosen won the 2004 U.S. Open on.

Recent Trends

Seven of the last ten US Open winners finished 21st or better in the year before their win. No winner has defended their title in that period (which rules out Brooks Koepka). It’s also notable that most recent winners like Koepka, DJ, Spieth, Rose are strong drivers of the ball.

Steven Rawlings has also pointed towards links specialists performing well at this exposed sand-based, links, coastal course (see https://betting.betfair.com/golf/the-punter/us-open-2018-odds-antepost-betting-guide-tips- 201217-167.html).

Our Headline Tip

Tommy Fleetwood (50/1)

Looking for a strong driving, links specialist who finished in the top 21 of last year’s US Open (4th), one name stands out – Tommy Fleetwood.

Many people’s tip for this year’s Open Championship may arrive at Carnoustie already a major winner. Fleetwood started the year very strongly in the Middle East by winning the Abu Dhabi Championship and finishing 6th in the Dubai Desert Classic.  A move across the pond after Dubai saw him finish 4th in the Honda Classic before suffering a dip in form at the Mexico Championship (14th) and the Arnold Palmer Invitational (26th).

Personally, I don't mind the March dip of form at the time of writing.  June is a long time away.  And 50/1 is a great price while it lasts.


Our Value Tip

Louis Oosthuizen (66/1)

Although he finished 23rd in last year's US Open, Oosthuizen also stands out as a strong driving, links specialist with some US Open pedigree (runner-up in 2015).

And whilst 2018 has seen the South African start very slowly (with only one top 20 finish in six events), Oosthuizen’s overall performances across all majors speaks for itself. Since his 2010 Open Championship triumph, last year’s PGA Championship finish was his fourth at the majors.

Based on his career performances at majors and links courses, the South African merits inclusion at the price.

 

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP

The Course

For the eight time since its inception, the 147th Open Championship will be held at Carnoustie Golf Links, Angus, Scotland. The last time Carnoustie hosted the Open Championship was in 2007 when Padraig
Harrington claimed the Claret Jug after a playoff win against Sergio Garcia. Notably, for those eyeing up Garcia this year, he lead at the end of all three prior rounds but shot a 73 on the final day. Rory McIlroy also finished tied 42nd in his first Open to win the silver medal for top amateur. Before Harrington, previous Open victors at the Carnoustie include Paul Lawrie, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Tom Watson.

John Huggan of Golf Digest has examined the likely course set up at Carnoustie (see www.golfdigest.com/story/looking-ahead- to-carnoustie- and-the- ultimate-in- links-golf). His report confirms the 2018 Open challenge will be very similar to 2007. It will be the same length – a 7,421 yard Par 71 – and no fairway will be narrower than it was then. According to head-greenkeeper, Craig Boath, Carnoustie takes “some pride in the fact that this course doesn’t really need to be lengthened or strengthened. If it plays fast and firm, it will be a great test”.

Rather than length or narrowness, the course will defend itself in typical links fashion – wind, firmness and fairway bunkers. The challenge posed by wind on a link course speaks for itself. On firmness, Boath confirms “we are always trying to keep the course as firm as possible. We don’t want the course to be soft, even after heavy rain.”. In relation to fairway bunkers, the course features 111 high-lipped bunkers which any player unfortunate enough to visit will take an effective one-shot penalty to wedge their ball back into play.

Recent Trends

In 10 of the last 12 years, only two winners have finished higher than 30th in the prior year’s Open Championship - the exceptions being Padraig Harrington in 2008 and Tiger Woods in 2006 (both defending champions).  It's also notable that 5 of the last 6 Open Championship winners finished 21st or better in the Deutsche Bank Championship (currently known as the Dell Technologies Championship).

Although the course is one of three used annually in the Dunhill Links Invitational, its set up for a pro-am event is more lenient that will be seen for an Open Championship. However, course form is course form and both Paul Lawrie and Padraig Harrington have won both events at the course. Other Dunhill Links winners are Tyrell Hatton (2017 & 2016), Thorbjørn Olesen (2015), Oliver Wilson (2014), David Howell (2013), Branden Grace (2012), Michael Hoey (2011), Martin Kaymer (2010), Simon Dyson (2009), Robert Karlsson (2008), Nick Dougherty (2007), Colin Montgomerie (2005), Stephen Gallacher (2004) and Lee Westwood (2003).

Our Headline Tip

Jordan Spieth (12/1)

Although the Claret Jug hasn’t been defended since 2008, Jordan Spieth is my headline pick.  He finished second at the most recent Dell Technologies Championship and, as well as last year's Open win, finished 4th in 2015's Open Championship at St Andrews.

Despite working through some putting issues over a slow start to 2018, the Open is a great leveller when it comes to putting.  Spieth knows how to win Opens (and majors generally) and, although a short price, I'd prefer have him on side come July.

Our Value Tip

Branden Grace (50/1)

Having shot 67 and 65 at Carnoustie in his Dunhill Links wins of 2017 and 2016 respectively, I considered putting up Hatton as my value bet.  However, his Open Championship form is shocking with five missed cuts in six events (5th in the 2016 Open being the exception).

So instead, I've gone for Branden Grace.   A winner of the Dunhill Links in 2012, Grace finished 6th in last year's Open and 25th in the 2017 Dell Technologies Championship.

At 50/1, he looks like some value to me.

 

US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

The Course

The 100th PGA Championship will be held at Bellerive Country Club, Missouri (a suburb west of St. Louis). It last hosted the PGA Championship in 1992, which was won by Nick Price, and first hosted a major championship at the 1965 US Open where Gary Player won his fourth major and only US Open. Founded in 1897, Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed Bellerive Country Club's relocated course in 1960. In 1965, it hosted the US Open to coincide with St. Louis’ bicentennial celebration.

The current course reflects a year-long Rees Jones renovation in 2006. All tees were redone and laser levelled, with eighty percent of fairways re-contoured and re-grassed. A two-acre lake was also built off No. 2. All the greens were completely rebuilt to USGA specifications and regrassed. All bunkers were moved back into landing areas, deepened around greenside and redesigned with new liners, drainage and sand. Sixteen miles of drainage was installed throughout the course to supplement a new irrigation system with its own weather station.

Bellerive is a long course – 7,547 yards – and has six par 4s that measure over 450 yards. Featuring zoysia grass fairways and bentgrass greens, it was built around a large creek that comes into play on nine of the holes. In total, 11 holes at Bellerive feature water hazards.

Recent Trends

I’ve yet to read a cogent explanation for it but the USPGA suits those looking to claim their first career major. Fourteen of the last twenty-two winners, including the most recent three, have been first-time major winners. Interesting, sixteen of the last nineteen winners have also won earlier in the season.

All of the last twelve winners also finished in the Top 30 of their most recent event before the PGA Championship (ten being the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational). Indeed twelve of the last twelve winners have finished within the Top 30 of the Bridgestone Invitational (ten were Top 20).  In addition, four of the last five winners finished Top 20 in the most recent Tour Championship and Tournament of Champions.

Our Headline Tip

Jon Rahm (20/1)

The question isn’t will Jon Rahm win a major? The question is how quickly will Rahm win a major and how many will he win in total?

Rahm made his PGA Tour debut in November 2014 with a Missed Cut. Since then, in 47 events over a little more than three years at the of writing, Rahm has won 4 events (2 since November 2017) and finished top 5 in 16. The Spaniard fits the bill of up-and-coming novices.

He’s also won a tournament this season and finished 28th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, 7th in the Tour Championship and 2nd in the Tournament of Champions.  At the price, he's my headline tip for the event.

Our Value Tip

Daniel Berger (66/1)

Berger will be 25 at the time of this event and, with the exception of a win this season (awaited at the time of writing), fits the profile of winner ideally.

He finished 17th in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, 15th in the Tour Championship and 11th in the Tournament of Champions.  He has also started 2018 in good form with four top 15 finishes in six events.

Some may prefer to see if Berger wins an event before placing their bet on him. But bear in mind, a win will see his price of 66/1 collapse.  For that reason, I'm more than happy to have him onside as an early ante post selection.

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