Puerto Rico betting preview

In-form American star Jerry Kelly looks the man to beat at this week’s PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open, says Ben Coley.

It’s south to Puerto Rico for the PGA Tour players less fortunate, or perhaps we should say less able, while the world’s finest tee it up in Florida in the first WGC strokeplay event of the season.

Second-tier tournaments are notoriously tricky to solve as there’s usually a lack of both recent and winning form but this line-up has a classier look to it than the one we saw in Mexico a fortnight ago, thanks largely to Major winners Angel Cabrera, Mike Weir and Stewart Cink as well as former Players’ champion Henrik Stenson.

While all bar Weir look contenders dropped to this grade, the man to beat is without question Jerry Kelly.

I probably don’t need to excuse myself for tipping him to win this week, despite the fact he played himself out of the places when fancied in the Mayakoba Classic, but I’m going to. Quite simply it’s a price thing; at the 10/1 I first saw I decided to leave him alone, at 16/1 he has to be backed.

Kelly arrives on the back of a solo-third behind Rory Sabbatini in last week’s Honda Classic, with rounds of 71-67-68-67 advertising once more that he has his game in the best shape it’s been for some time.

The Wisconsin native’s season started in bright fashion with a share of ninth in Hawaii then a T13 finish in the Bob Hope Classic, before it took a turn for the worse in Phoenix as he failed to make the cut. It’s worth noting though that it was the first time he’d played in the Waste Management Phoenix Open since it changed venues, so a couple of average but by no means appalling rounds can be put down to his lack of course knowledge and he did well enough in the circumstances.

Next stop for Kelly was Mexico where he went on to finish in a share of 50th in the Mayakoba Classic, a disappointing end to a tournament that he’d actually threatened to win at various points during the first three days. Ultimately, a final round 76 cost him what should’ve been another top-20 finish and he confirmed that was but a minor blip with that fine effort last week.

Kelly was the best ball-striker in the Honda Classic, tied for second in total birdies, ranked seventh in putts per greens in regulation and tied for 13th in putts per round. He even ranked in the top half of the field in driving distance to advertise further that there’s nothing he’s not doing well at present.

Furthermore, he’s got the course form to call upon here with finishes of T6 and T2 in 2009 and 2008 respectively. In 2009, he arrived on the back of a tie for 46th in the Northern Trust Open, while a year prior to that he’d missed the cut a week before just failing to catch Greg Kraft, so this is the best shape he’s been in prior to teeing off in Puerto Rico.

As I mentioned when selecting Kelly a fortnight ago, the improvement in his results of late can be put down to flat-stick, as he ranks 11th in putts per round at present having failed to break the top 100 last season. That’s echoed in an improved scrambling stat and when you throw in his typically solid ball-striking it’s no surprise that he’s currently eighth on Tour in scoring average.

The fact that nobody else in the top 10 for scoring is playing – the top five are all engaged at Doral – underlines just how well his current form stacks up ahead of what is a big drop in grade and it’ll be disappointing if he can’t turn in another top-five finish this week; it’s far from unreasonable to expect a win and 16/1 simply looks far too big, with 10/1 a more accurate assessment of his chance.

Second on my list is Baby Walrus, Kevin Stadler.

Since missing a pair of cuts towards the start of the season, Stadler has gone on to make the weekend on his last three starts with a tie for 12th in the Northern Trust Open advertising that he has the class to contend in this sort of field.

In a similar way to Kelly, his subsequent tie for 74th in Mexico doesn’t look great on paper but he shot a shockingly-bad 83 in the final round – even a modest 73 would’ve had him comfortably inside the top 40.

I’m always prepared to forgive any golfer one bad round, especially when it was preceded by several good ones, and Stadler likes this track having posted finishes of T17 – T44 – T4 in three starts to date. Encouragingly, that tie for fourth came on the back of a missed cut so he arrives in better form this time and despite that capitulation in Mexico he still led the field in total driving.