Golf expert Ben Coley previews the Barracuda Championship, where Scotland’s Martin Laird can gain compensation for missing out on the Open.
Golf betting tips: Barracuda Championship
2pts e.w. Martin Laird at 33/1 (Sky Bet, BoyleSports 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1.5pts e.w. Matthias Schwab at 33/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)
1.5pts e.w. Vince Whaley at 40/1 (Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
1.5pts e.w. Austin Cook at 80/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
1pt e.w. Ben Kohles at 150/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)
Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook
A week ago, Trey Mullinax was a PGA Tour maiden staring at a return to Korn Ferry Tour Finals. Ranked 140th in the FedEx Cup standings, he headed to the Barbasol seemingly out of sorts, but knowing he could sort out a lot of things with four good rounds. Now, he’s in Scotland, preparing to tee off in the 150th Open Championship, safe in the knowledge that whatever happens at St Andrews, he’ll be back contesting the lucrative Playoffs next month.
While there are no major spots up for grabs this time, opportunity is what these tournaments are all about, and another hopeful field heads to Tahoe Mountain Club (Old Greenwood among friends) for the Barracuda Championship, similar in all ways but one. Last week’s Barbasol was played in the traditional tour format of 72-hole stroke play, but here it’s points rather than pars which are added up – eight for an albatross, five for an eagle, two for a birdie, minus one for a bogey, and minus three for anything worse – in the only stableford event on the schedule.
The winner come Sunday will be one of those to have shot among the best 72-hole scores, of course, but that doesn’t mean the format has no effect on the outcome. Far from it in fact – the knowledge that the balance of reward and punishment is tilted towards the former will alter shot choice as players are compelled to go for greens whether with their approaches to the par-fives, or off the tee on a series of short par-fours.
Power you’d think would be advantageous but that’s not necessarily true when you look at leaderboards since the event moved here in 2020, with Richy Werenski succeeded by Erik van Rooyen. Without strokes-gained data the most reliable metrics have been greens in regulation and birdie average, a category in which both these players ranked highly, and don’t forget we’re at altitude to ensure even the shortest of hitters can top 300 yards off the tee in this thin air.
As you’d expect, the event has over the years produced all kinds of champions. We’ve had those like Gary Woodland and Geoff Ogilvy who arrived here desperate to reignite their careers and return to world-class competition; others, like Chris Stroud and Greg Chalmers, who had never yet managed to win in 290 and 386 PGA Tour starts respectively, with Stroud later revealing that he’d have retired had he not finally captured his first title just over the border in Nevada. Then there’s Collin Morikawa, who won here in 2019 and was a major champion little more than a year later.
It is though undeniable that recent form has been a reliable guide. Three of the last four winners arrived at this tournament on the back of a top-10 finish and van Rooyen had gone close to winning a little earlier on in summer. A touch of class can also go a long way, demonstrated best by the three major champions who’ve won this title but also by regular contenders like Troy Merritt, who is just that little bit better than so many of the players who are here fighting for their PGA Tour careers.
Class is what MARTIN LAIRD has in abundance and so comfortable is he under these conditions that he has to go in as the headline bet.
Laird went to college and has lived for a long time in Colorado, so playing at altitude is something he’s had to deal with throughout his entire career. It’s surely why he’s been so effective over in Las Vegas where he’s twice won the Shriners, and why his record in this event when held at Montreux included second, fourth, sixth and seventh.
That form should transfer over to Old Greenwood, also designed by Jack Nicklaus, for all it’s a tighter course than the former host venue. Laird hasn’t yet played here which has to be the biggest negative, but there will certainly be no excuses when it comes to conditions and he should pick it up quickly.
In terms of how he’s playing at the moment, a fine start saw him finish 13th in a high-class Travelers Championship three weeks ago, his best result in that event having played it nine times now, and from there he added 30th place in the John Deere Classic. Throughout both of these his rock-solid approach play remained exactly that, his driving improved, and at Deere Run the putter behaved at last.
Despite the fact his 40th birthday isn’t far away now, as far as his long-game goes Laird has been close to his very best throughout this season, but unable to capitalise on the greens. That may remain the case here but we know he’s capable on the greens, his best two performances this season have come on similar grasses out towards the west coast, and so strong is his ball-striking that he might be able to stack up enough two-putt birdies anyway.
There are also a couple of motivational factors at play which make him especially interesting. Not only is Laird a Scotsman who no doubt will have been desperate to qualify for the Open Championship, but he’s also at 126th on the FedEx Cup standings and therefore playing for a place in the Playoffs. There’s surely a good chance he plays well enough this week to take care of business and at least ensure there’s a silver lining to missing St Andrews.
Readers of last week’s Barbasol preview will recall that I was generally keen to avoid the 50 DP World Tour participants, on the basis that they were playing away from home and with such rewards on offer. Most of them arrived in Kentucky feeling like they may never get a better chance to earn PGA Tour membership so it was always going to be a big ask to see it through, something we witnessed in painful fashion with 125/1 selection Matti Schmid.
That’s very much my theory again and it underlines just how well MATTHIAS SCHWAB did to finish third when playing on an invite here in 2020.
The Austrian actually shot the best stroke play score but had to settle for third place under stableford conditions, having been the man to aim for at halfway. It was a serious effort despite ultimately ending in disappointment, especially as it was just his third start following the pandemic whereas the two players in front of him were in their seventh and eighth respectively.
Since then, Schwab has earned his PGA Tour card via Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year so unlike the likes of Schmid, he isn’t playing for membership. That in fact looks just about guaranteed for next season from 111th in the FedEx Cup standings, though as with Laird he’ll surely appreciate that this is a golden opportunity to remove all doubt and potentially vault himself up towards the top 50, at which point a place in the Masters would become a realistic ambition.
At his best, Schwab is a neat and tidy golfer in a similar mould to Werenski and, as has been necessary here, he pounds greens. His strokes-gained approach numbers have improved throughout his last three starts to a very good level at the John Deere Classic, where he was in the mix at the weekend, and we’ve also seen an upturn in his putting during this run.
Unlike every other appearance this season bar the very first event in Mississippi, Schwab now gets to play a course he already knows and it’s one which so obviously suits his game. That’s clear not just from his performance two years ago but from his bank of DP World Tour form, with eighth in Crans, second in Turkey and Germany, fourth in Italy, seventh in Austria and 12th at Wentworth all underlining his fondness for tree-lined golf.
That’s surely to do with his upbringing in Austria and there will clearly be no excuses on the altitude front, so on the back of an improved display a fortnight ago it’ll be disappointing if he can’t confirm himself one of the most capable players in this field with a good run at the title.
At the very head of the betting, Maverick McNealy is a Californian with obvious appeal. He makes birdies for fun, loves tree-lined courses, is putting beautifully and played well in far better company last week, but he does have to fly over from Scotland and at 12/1, he’s a maiden who can be left alone purely on the basis that he might not be sharp enough from the off.
Alex Noren faces the same problem and it’s Cameron Davis who makes by far the most appeal of those priced under 20/1, but at more than twice those odds I’d rather take a chance on VINCE WHALEY.
Like McNealy, here we have a big-hitter who putts really well and makes a load of birdies – in fact, Whaley leads this field in birdie average for the season and is right there among some of the best players in the sport at 14th overall, and he was 23rd before picking up some cheap ones in the low-scoring Barbasol Championship.
His performance in finishing fifth there was a nice step forward following a month of promise and with his approach play finally beginning to come to the party, complementing his dynamite short-game, this very capable youngster is on track to complete his best season yet on the PGA Tour.
Ninth here last year and returning this time with his status secured and off the back of his best ever PGA Tour finish, he has a lovely profile with genuine similarities to Werenski only with an added layer of explosiveness, and at 33/1 and bigger rates a bet.
Greyson Sigg could go well if building on some better putting in Kentucky, especially with last year’s top-15 finish here behind him, but next on my list is AUSTIN COOK.
Popular last week and on the fringes of contention at halfway, Cook’s third round proved costly but there was plenty to like about his fightback to finish 27th. That means he’s bagged three top-30 finishes in four starts, two of them in much stronger company, and the exception still provided positives as he recovered from an awful start to make the cut.
Encouragingly he kept doing the things we need him to do, hitting solid approaches and doing some good work around the greens, and if he can just hit a few more fairways here I’m convinced he’s very close to contending for a low-key title like this one.
To repeat some of the arguments made last week, he’s got winning form in low-scoring events, his long-game has clearly turned a corner, and at 154th in FedEx Cup points he needs to put all this to use soon if he’s to avoid a trip to Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
This time last year he shot rounds of 65 and 63 in this event to finish 15th, at a time when in far worse form, and his wider record at altitude includes two top-fives in Utah, plus a runner-up finish behind Laird in the Shriners just under two years ago.
These are all seriously appealing credentials and though he didn’t quite deliver last week, I rate him an even better bet here if you can get your hands on the standout 80/1. Prices around the 66/1 mark are also perfectly acceptable and he can put four rounds together this time.
Shortlisted outsiders include Seung-yul Noh, making cuts, hitting his irons well, and producing plenty of fireworks. He’s obviously got heaps of back-class but for as long as he continues to rank among the worst drivers in the field, he’s going to be hard to trust at courses which do demand a degree of accuracy.
Brandon Hagy hit the ball really well last week and is up there with the best of these in terms of latent ability and course form, so he’s another Californian to respect along with former Presidents Cup player Kevin Chappell, but I’ll sign off with BEN KOHLES.
On my radar last week, Kohles played well for 13th place in Kentucky and that’s despite the fact his typically assured putting left him.
He was excellent from tee-to-green, gaining strokes every day both off the tee and with his approach shots, eventually ranking sixth in the latter category as well as third for greens in regulation. This all came on the back of a tidy run of ball-striking form and he simply looks like he’s putting together some of the best golf of his PGA Tour career without necessarily being rewarded for it.
Kohles played pretty well on his sole previous try in this tournament, finishing 32nd when out of sorts in his rookie season back in 2013, and he has some eye-catching form at altitude having been in the final group entering the weekend of the TPC Colorado Championship a couple of summers ago.
Once a player of considerable promise and absolutely suited to a challenge like this one, he’s worth backing to keep moving forward and can reward us each-way at 150/1.
Posted at 1415 BST on 12/07/22
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