After a month away from the European Tour, we are back, with one of the more popular events on Tour, the Johnnie Walker Championship. The Johnnie Walker is one of three European Tour events in Scotland, alongside the Scottish Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links, and many of the Tour’s top players will once again be involved in the event, hosted by Gleneagles this week. An interesting point to bear in mind this week is that this course is going to be the home of the 2014 Ryder Cup, so players who are involved this week, and feel that they can make the team next year, will be more keen than ever to try an impress captain Paul McGinley, who has decided to tee it up this week.
There is plenty of course form for us to cast an eye over this week, and that is always a big part on making your picks going into a week like this. When a tournament stays in one place, like the Johnnie Walker has, it’s easier to get an idea of which type of player plays well here, and more specifically who. There has been one multiple winner of the event so far, England’s Paul Casey, with the thirteen other different winners, coming from eight different countries, so the winner of the event very much varies. As expected the players from the home nations have won it a combined six times, including Casey’s two wins and players from the U.K will no doubt be confident again this week. Other Nations that can boast two different winners are both Denmark, with Soren Kjeldsen and Thomas Bjorn, as well as Italy who have seen Emanuele Canonica and Edoardo Molinari fly the flag for them in this event, so players from those countries may take inspiration from past success. Let’s look at what may be key to winning the Johnnie Walker this week.
The Course: Gleneagles, 7,296-yard par 72. One thing I noticed when first looking at the course, was the length of the par 3s. All but one (the 17th) are over 200 yards, and the 17th is 197 so some of the shorter hitters will need plenty of the club in order to get close to the pin. The other hole that stands out is the 618 yard par-5 9th which, being thrown up right in the middle of the round will certainly test players game management. The fairways are fairly wide, but if missed it can be hard for the players to score, so although historically straight off the tee doesn’t necessarily put you at the top of the leaderboard, it certainly doesn’t hurt. One thing that may be key more than ever is players performance on the par 5s, last year’s runner-up Brett Rumford was -12 over the longer holes, subsequently finishing -12 for the week, so taking advantage of the par 5s is a must this week. Birdies in general are needed to win this week and you’ll be looking for players, that when hot can score at will.
Defending Champion: Paul Lawrie won here last year, in his home country and he will be looking to this week to find some form, after struggling for so much of this 2013 season. Lawrie shot -16 to take home the trophy in 2012, finishing four shots clear of Aussie Brett Rumford, in what he described as one of his best ball striking weeks. “It feels pretty good to be Johnnie Walker champion and it’s been probably one of the best ball-striking weeks of my career,” he said. “But then I putted pretty poorly and shot 4 under shows just how well I have been striking the ball and I’ve also been hitting a bit longer this week and that has helped.” This to me adds to the theory that scoring on the par 5s is a must, and that possibly putting isn’t quite as important as it can be. Obviously you still have to make putts and you cannot be completely out of sorts, but look at players who have been striking the ball well in recent weeks to excel and if they are putting to reasonable standard, then that’s even better.
The key thing to bear in mind here, in my opinion is taking advantage of the par 5s. Both the winner (Paul Lawrie) and runner-up (Brett Rumford) finished at the head of the par 5 scoring last year, so making par or worse, giving shots back on the long holes this week will not helps your cause en route to winning the Johnnie Walker. Also look to players, who not only play well here, but in Scotland in general as players seem to be able to turn it on when in familiar surroundings, and players with past success in the country will go into this week with confidence.
Many of the Ryder Cup players will be dissapointed that this runs alongside the first FedEx play-off event, The Barclays, as it would be a great opportunity to get a feel for the course ahead of next year, however there are some European hopefuls in the field, with Francesco Molinari and Bernd Wiesberger at the head of the betting, at 12/1 and 20/1 respectively, as well as defending champion Paul Lawrie, who is available at 28/1. There are more who could be mentioned, with the young talent on show, but at the moment the main crux of the European Ryder Cup team are all over in the States, the likes of Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood who have very much made up the base of the team in recent years, so those players will have to come and play the course nearer the time. It’s certainly a week for any players that see themselves as Ryder Cup players to impress, and captain Paul McGinley will no doubt be keeping an eye on any players who has in mind. What I take from this is, if there are players that you feel are going to be involved in the Ryder Cup, either through qualification or wilcard picks next year, then look for them to do everyone they can etch a place in McGinley’s a memory with solid play this week at Gleneagles.
With all of this taken into account, here are my picks for the this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship.
Bernd Wiesberger 20/1 (General) 3pts win: Bernd Wiesberger will be one of those players who will be keen, not only to win this week, but impress 2014 Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley. Bernd actually tweeted yesterday saying ” Can’t wait to get going again! Gleneagles coming up this week on European Tour, hope it will be prep for the 2014 Ryder Cup” so it’s obviously a goal of his, and if he can draw confidence from his good finish here, when he narrowly lost out in a play-off, he could go well once again. He has one other showing here, when he came 41st in 2008, but he was barely established on the Challenge Tour back then, so you feel that followed by a T2, three years later shows he likes the course enough to fancy his chances this week. He currently sits 37th in Greens in Regulation, hitting just over 70%, his highest since being on Tour, and if he can keep that up, expect some good finishes here in the tail end of the year. Wiesberger also hits it miles off the tee, ranking 18th in Driving Distance, averaging just over 298 yards a drive, so he should be one of the players to take advantage of the par 5s, another positive when picking him this week. The Austrian has three top-5 finishes this season, two coming in June, the other back in March, so you feel it’s time for him to feature again, and this may just be the week he does it. Wiesberger has in fact won this year, albeit on the Asia Tour, when he just edged Ernie Els by 1 stroke to win the CIMB Classic back in May, so he’s still has the right mindset to get over the line, even if it’s outside of Europe. Although he seems short, for someone who won twice last year, in a relatively weak field he certainly seems fairly priced and I’m happy to make him my top pick this week at 20/1.
Brett Rumford 50/1 (General) 1.5pts e/w: Rumford for me, was the stand out player in the field, considering his generous 50/1 price. Yes he has gone of the boil in recent weeks, but when you look at where he’s played it’s not a complete surprise. In the last month, Brett has played at the Open Championship (missed cut), the WGC-Bridgestone where he struggled and the US PGA where again he missed the cut. This isn’t promising, but for a player who has made just two major appearances, both in the Open Championship, it’s hard to tell whether he is out of form, or just not able to perform at such events. He missed the cut in his first major appearance back in 2001, and then tied for 16th in 2006, but then hasn’t had a chance to play again until this year, so he’s not familiar with big tournament situations. On his day, not only does he have one of the most spectacular short games, but his all round game is pretty impressive, highlighted by his back-back wins, back in the last week of April/first week of May. Not only do I think he can put the last few weeks behind him, but this is also a course perfect for him to do just that, based on his past course form. In two of the last four editions of the Johnnie Walker, Rumford has finished 2nd, firstly in 2010, when runner up to Italy’s Edoardo Molinari, and then again last year just behind Scotland’s Paul Lawrie, so he certainly knows his way around the course. These both came after his T7 finish in 2006, so he’s featured consistently here over the years. With this is mind, plus his two wins this season, I feel almost obliged to back him this week. On top of all this, as previously mentioned, Rumford scored extremely well on the par 5s, which led to his -12 score last year and if he can repeat that this time around he shouldn’t be too far away. His current form doesn’t look good, but players often flourish on courses they have enjoyed success at, even when out of form, so at 50/1 Rumford is one of my picks. Regular readers may have good memories of backing him back at the Ballantine’s when 1st, 2nd and 4th were tipped up at 80/1, 40/1 and 100/1 respectively, so hopefully Rumford can yet again be the catalyst for such a feat again this week!
Soren Hansen 125/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Although he missed the cut on his last attempt here in 2011, Soren Hansen has definitely shown great form around Gleneagles, most notably his T2 in 2006. He followed his 2006 finish with a T3 in 2007, and a pair of T10 in 2008 and 2009, before coming T19 in 2010, so he’s got to have fond memories of this course. Yes he did miss the cut in his last attempt but his form otherwise cannot be ignored, and although he’s not at the top of his game currently, Hansen has had a few nice tournaments so far in 2013. Firstly he came T24 at the Madeira Islands Open, as well as coming T19 at the Lyoness Open and T30 in Russia last time out. So no, he’s not showed any tournament winning form, but they are positive sings, and although he hasn’t won since 2007, he’ll still be as determined as ever to add to his 2 European Tour titles, and if he’s going to do it, why not here at a course he’s previously loved. He was at one point the top ranked Danish player ahead of the likes of Thomas Bjorn and name sake Anders Hansen, and represented Europe at the Ryder Cup in 08′ so he’s certainly got talent. Hansen isn’t someone that will come up very often on people’s shortlists, especially not mine, but this week I’m happy to give him a chance at a decent price and see how he goes.
Top 20 Finish Gary Boyd 8/1 (BetVictor) 3 pts
A market that I don’t normally get involved with, but looking at this price, and his form here this looks the way to bet Gary Boyd this week. In his last three attempts Boyd has finished T19, T11 and T14, therefore being a winning bet in this market on all three occasions. Of course if he shares T19 with as many players as he did last year it would certainly be frustrating, but it seems a good bet this week, especially considering his record. This is only the second time I’ve posted a bet of this kind, last time betting on Chris Williams on his professional debut. Back then I said if it was successful I would go for it more often, it wasn’t but this is a perfect situation for the bet and may be an angle I look into in the future. Admittedly Boyd was playing better golf when going into the Johnnie Walker in previous years, but this just seems a course he finds comfortable playing, and there’s little argument to suggest he can’t finish Top-20 again this time around.
Total point bet on European Tour this week: 11
Total points staked this week (inc PGA Tour): TBC
Profit/Loss for 2013: +56.65
It’s quite a disappointing field this week, which is in no small part down to the fact that it runs alongside the FedEx Cup’s first play off event, so it’s slim pickings in terms of value especially. However what I am happy with is the players that I’ve gone for and their respective prices and hopefully we can have a positive week. A winner needs to be found soon, and I think with Wiesberger and Rumford especially we will gets runs for our money. Be sure to check out my tips for The Barclays. Follow me on Twitter @TomJacobs8