Memorial Betting Preview

Features

Ben Coley previews this week’s Memorial Tournament in Ohio, and reckons Bubba Watson is a good bet.

The Memorial at Muirfield Village has always belonged in the upper-echelon of PGA Tour events.

Known as ‘Jack’s Place’ – designed by none other than Mr Nicklaus himself – the 7,265-yard, par-72 layout always attracts a stellar field and those that tee-off are challenged to find greens with regularity.

This is backed up by a roll of honour that includes Tiger Woods, KJ Choi, Ernie Els and last year’s winner Justin Rose, all of whom struck the ball superbly on their way to victory.

Once on the surfaces, expert putters can often come to the fore on greens that read 13 on the stimpmeter, but the key really is to hit those greens first and, with that in mind, I fancy Bubba Watson to figure prominently.

For some reason the current FedEx Cup leader with three wins in his last 20 PGA Tour starts remains totally underrated by the layers and that’s largely because his strengths go beyond length off the tee and remain unnoticed by many.

Bubba is actually a fine all-round ball-striker which is why he currently tops the PGA Tour greens-in-regulation stats and he’s got a wonderful array of shots around the greens when he does occasionally miss.

Of course, he’s often hitting wedges where others are hitting mid-irons which can exaggerate the quality of his shots, but that’s going to help him here as the course is wide enough off the tee for his driving prowess to count.

So why is he 40/1? Well, the simple answer is that his record here isn’t hugely eye-catching with finishes of 34-23-CUT- 23-33.

But what those finishes do indicate is that he can score at the course and he’s clearly a changed man over the last 12 months. Bubba Watson the nearly-man is now Bubba Watson the winner.

Here’s what he said about Muirfield in 2007: “For me, I hit it so high, my ball off the tee stops quicker. Into the greens I have shorter irons than most folks, so I can hit it a little bit higher into there. It fits my eye, everything about it. I like it.”

My worry is that Bubba’s one weakness is putting. However, that’s outweighed by the fact he’s eighth in total driving and leads the tour in par-five-birdie-or-better percentage, which will most certainly help here, and I can’t believe the price offered.

Try as I might to avoid him and look for someone at a bigger price, there’s no getting away from Nick Watney again and he’s worth a solid punt too.

Arguably the most complete player on the PGA Tour right now, the quiet Californian is having a career-year with seven top-10s, including a win, in 11 starts.

That win came in the World Golf Championship event at Doral which proves he has what it takes to beat the very best and it’s no surprise that he fits the bill statistically once more this week.

He’s sixth in total driving, 21st in greens in regulation, 20th in strokes gained putting, eighth in birdie average and inside the top-30 in performance on par-threes, fours and fives, a combination that works wherever you go, but especially here at Muirfield Village.

The key to Watney’s improved form this year seems to be with the putter and he had this to say about Muirfield’s greens in 2008: “Very fast. I like them. I think they’re great.”

Finishes of 41-26-14-CUT here may not convince you he’s a course specialist just yet, but Watney is a course specialist wherever he goes right now and his price makes appeal.

There are two men who stand out in terms of course form, Stewart Cink and Ryan Moore, and we’ll start with the latter.

His finishes in this event read 31-2-10-CUT-5 and the blot on that list came during an awful run of form; it was his third consecutive missed cut.

So if we ignore that, Moore has three straight top-10s here and after that share of fifth in 2010 he had this to say: “It’s my favorite tournament all year as far as our PGA Tour events are concerned. I always look forward to it so much, that I have a good attitude when I’m out there and play hard and have fun.”

Encouraging, but not enough on it’s own to justify a bet. However, the following stats convince me that he’s overpriced at around 40s.

On a course that suits ball-strikers who can putt, Moore is 39th in total driving, 29th in strokes gained putting and – the one that really catches my eye – 10th in three-putt avoidance.

He’s also had a solid if unspectacular year having made the cut in every event since withdrawing from his first start in the Bob Hope Classic and his best finish came at Riviera, a course that really does require accuracy.

Moore seems tuned-in with every part of his game at the moment and is surely worth siding with once again.

As mentioned at the top, this really is a first-class event and that’s why I’ve elected to ignore the likes of Brandt Jobe and Gary Woodland, who might sneak into the frame at prices, and focus on guys who I really think can get the job done on Sunday.

That’s why my final vote is indeed Cink, whose Memorial figures since 2001 read 4-9-6-40-45-12-5-30-8-8.

At an average then he’s finishing around 16th which over a period of 10 years represents phenomenal consistency.

Evidence of his love for the course can be found in last year’s stats, as Cink was fully 10 per cent more accurate with the driver at this tournament compared with the week before and the week after.

He knows the greens so well that he also achieved his season-best strokes gained putting stat and given that he’d missed two cuts in the previous month he definitely arrives in better form this time around.

Cink, currently 33rd on the scoring average, has, like Moore, had a quietly effective season. He’s missed just one regular-event cut at the Masters and has six top-20 finishes – the only thing lacking is a win.

If he’s to get one this year The Memorial may be his best chance, so back the Major winner to do so.

TIPS

2pts e.w. (1/4 1-2-3-4-5) Bubba Watson at 40/1 (general). Solid course form and the most underrated player on Tour; price is wrong.
2pts e.w. (1/4 1-2-3-4-5) Nick Watney at 20/1 (totesport). Looks the right type for Muirfield and arrives in the form of his life.
1pt e.w. (1/4 1-2-3-4-5) Ryan Moore at 40/1 (general). Absolutely loves this course and is putting well enough to contend.
1pt e.w. (1/4 1-2-3-4-5) Stewart Cink at 33/1 (general). Another with course form and in better form than when 8th last year.

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