Saturday, March 2, 2024

Corales Puntacana Championship preview and best bets

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Ben Coley believes that Erik van Rooyen is being underestimated in the betting ahead of the Corales Puntacana Championship.

Golf betting tips: Corales Puntacana Championship

2pts e.w. Erik van Rooyen at 33/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Chesson Hadley at 66/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Austin Eckroat at 100/1 (Paddy Power, Betfair 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Kevin Chappell at 125/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Trevor Werbylo at 150/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

The Corales Puntacana Championship is better than its sister event in Puerto Rico, by virtue of the fact that the field it sits opposite is half the size. That means we’ve some borderline elite players here including Thomas Detry, though it should be noted that winning this doesn’t earn a Masters invitation, and wouldn’t be enough for the likes of Detry or Wyndham Clark to qualify via the world rankings, either.

Still, winning on the PGA Tour is a big enough prize and for these two talented maidens, it would be well overdue. Neither would’ve been out of place at this week’s Match Play and their claims here are excellent, especially Detry who came close to making the staking plan. His performance levels this season are easy to underestimate and he now comes to the one course at which he has plenty of experience.

Puntacana Resort & Club is a par 72 which is long on the scorecard at 7,670 yards, but generally it is defined not by that but by how hard the wind blows. This explains why there are as many with sharp short-games on the roll-of-honour as there are big hitters, with Graeme McDowell once beating Mackenzie Hughes and Chris Stroud, and Brice Garnett, Joel Dahmen and Chad Ramey also past champions.

We have been close to an altogether different picture, however. Augusto Nunez, Keith Mitchell and Tyler McCumber are all bombers and each has finished second, so with the forecast for the week calmer than has been the case in the past, the x-factor of a Nicolai Hojgaard could yet prove decisive.

Hojgaard is a fascinating candidate, a player I think has improved quite considerably over the past year without adding to two DP World Tour titles. His game now appears more versatile, his putting shows signs of stability, and my belief that he’s the most promising European golfer without PGA Tour membership has only strengthened. He might just be the best player in the world one day.

Those lofty aspirations and the way he’s started the year made him tempting, but it’s difficult for non-members to realise their long-held dreams and I’d prefer to side with ERIK VAN ROOYEN at a generous price.

Van Rooyen was sidelined for three months last year and has taken a while to rediscover his form, but two top-10s in six starts since January represent some of the best in this field.

The first of them came at PGA West, where former Corales winner Hudson Swafford is a two-time champion, and the second just last week, as he led the field in greens hit and ranked third in strokes-gained approach on his way to 10th place at the Valspar Championship.

Sunday’s final-round 67 puts him right on the front foot heading to this opposite event and van Rooyen has only played in a couple so far, winning one of them during a golden summer in 2021 which ended with a place in the TOUR Championship and accompanying Masters invite.

That plus his victory on the DP World Tour make him one of the most decorated players in the field, with a career-high ranking of 40th in the world underlining his class. So does the fact that this time last year he was in the Match Play field before heading to Augusta, after which he finished 10th by the coast at the Heritage.

Van Rooyen could easily be behind Clark and Detry in this market and it’s a pleasant surprise to see him offered at around the 33/1 mark. There’s no guarantee that he backs up last week’s performance but if he does, he’s likely to be thereabouts. Under the circumstances I see no reason for him to be surrounded by inferior players in the betting and we can throw in the nappy factor as a nice little bonus.

Akshay Bhatia might prove to be an exception and his blend of Bahamas and Puerto Rico form does appeal along with the fact that he was the best iron player in the field last Thursday. Now a special temporary member who can accept unlimited sponsor invites, he’s got a job to do to achieve full status for 2023, and fields like this afford him a genuine opportunity.

Along with the talented Nick Hardy, Sam Stevens and MJ Daffue, these were the names who appealed most of those at 50/1 and under, but it’s van Rooyen who is by far and away the best bet.

Part of the case for Stevens would’ve been the way he played in Puerto Rico, which is a broadly similar test under almost identical conditions, and it’s why I’m keen to chance CHESSON HADLEY.

A former winner there, it wasn’t surprising to see him take to Puntacana on debut, finishing 13th, except for the fact his game had been in terrible shape at the time. Hadley had missed all four cuts to begin the year but found this much more to his liking.

Last year he missed the cut here, too, but a second-round 69 serves as further evidence that he is well-suited to the place, and his form at the time was even worse: 10 missed cuts in 12 starts, with the exceptions resulting in 61st and 63rd.

This time around, things are in a much better place. Though still wild off the tee at times, something rain-softened conditions might help with this week, his approach play and putting remain well above average (55th and 39th respectively) and have helped him to finish 23rd in Phoenix and 44th at Sawgrass, both in elite company.

Hadley was also 29th in the Honda despite a poor final round and that event is a good guide to this one, partly because of the strength of field but also the fact that to win at PGA National requires some kind of comfort level in the breeze.

Hadley certainly has that along with flashes of form on paspalum grass outside of Puerto Rico, while the fact that his best major performance came at Pebble Beach might also be a handy pointer. That ties him in with McDowell and Nate Lashley and isn’t the only time he’s played well out there.

El Camaleon is another course we must mention, given that it’s a place where Dahmen, McDowell and Garnett are so comfortable. Paspalum greens, flat terrain and a sea view are common themes, as are soft conditions, so we might find more correlations come the end of the week.

Perhaps they’ll come courtesy of AUSTIN ECKROAT, who is playing better than first it may appear.

Eckroat is a talented youngster out of Oklahoma who knows how to score in the wind, as he showed when shooting four sub-70 rounds to begin the year in Hawaii.

Since then he’s missed all six cuts, but not all missed cuts are equal and he’s been very close on a number of occasions, not least when missing by a single stroke at the Valspar Championship where he carded a pair of 72s under tough conditions.

That’s partly why you’ll find him comfortably inside the top 100 on the PGA Tour in strokes-gained total and with his driving and putting both solid for the season, it was encouraging to see him strike his irons so well at Copperhead.

Back to El Camaleon, and I love the fact that he’s played eight rounds there, all in the sixties, and finished 12th on his PGA Tour debut back in December 2020. Last year’s 38th was further evidence that he loves that course and it’s why I’m hopeful that he can show a similar liking for this one on his debut in the event.

He’ll need to improve upon another narrow missed cut in Puerto Rico, but that seems possible and the fact that he earned his card with second place in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship bodes well should he work his way into the mix at 100/1.

Going to the Chappell

Scott Piercy has stacks of form there and wasn’t far from favouritism two starts ago before only just failing to make the weekend at Sawgrass, a course he doesn’t like. He was one of a number of tempting veterans, with even Jason Dufner, Geoff Ogilvy and William McGirt holding some kind of appeal.

My pick among the formerly classy types is KEVIN CHAPPELL, who is still only 36 and could yet have more to offer on the PGA Tour if his recent play is anything to go by.

Chappell was 29th in the Honda Classic, adding to 13th place on his previous start there, and then went to Puerto Rico and left behind a record which read MC-MC-MC to finish strongly for 15th place.

This time last year he finished 15th here in Puntacana, again improving on a previous missed cut, and his form is undoubtedly stronger ahead of his third try. Not only has he played well over the last fortnight, but he previously missed the cut on the number at Pebble Beach, and his last 11 rounds have been 72 or lower.

That good record at PGA National is encouraging as is the fact he’s been at his best in windy conditions, not only finishing second in The PLAYERS and at Bay Hill but also contending for the Open Championship five years ago.

At that time, Chappell was on the fringes of the elite, winning his first title in Texas where again you have to be able to manage in the breeze, and with his fitness seemingly improved he finally looks ready to start climbing back up the rankings.

Knock me down with a feather, clever…

Huge-hitting Brandon Matthews has been in poor form but has a win in the Dominican Republic to his name and is the type to pop up at huge odds when everything clicks. It could be this week given the soft turf and he came onto the radar along with former course runner-up Augusto Nunez, whose long-game looks in good shape.

Nunez in particular was difficult to leave out while Aaron Baddeley and Henrik Norlander also made the shortlist, but I’ll finish off with a speculative bet on TREVOR WERBYLO.

Once a top-50 amateur, he graduated to PGA Tour level at the first attempt having produced a storming weekend to win on the Korn Ferry Tour almost exactly a year ago this week.

Although his game went missing during summer, no doubt affected by what was on the line, he’d earlier finished seventh in the Bahamas to demonstrate a level of comfort by the sea which we also saw in evidence when he started quickly in Bermuda.

More recently, he’s made his last six cuts, failing to make the weekend only once so far in 2023 and that after what had been another promising start in the Sony Open. Already we’re seeing some evidence that he’s effective by the coast and his schedule has been ideal in terms of preparing for this, having taken in Pebble Beach, Torrey Pines, the Honda Classic and Puerto Rico.

Although unable to quite get into contention in the latter, he’s since gone on to finish 27th in the Valspar, his best effort yet on the PGA Tour. Any improvement at all from that could have him right in this tournament and it was definitely a plus to see his approach play, which had been the main issue in his game, provide the backbone of that display.

Across his last two measured starts, Werbylo has been inside the top-10 in all three other strokes-gained categories, his short-game an undoubted strength, and he stands out as a relative unknown with big potential whose play of late merits much shorter prices than 150/1.

Posted at 1325 GMT on 21/03/23

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