For the final time this week's World Golf Championship tournament, the Bridgestone Invitational, heads to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. It's been a familiar and favourite tour stop for golf betting fans for many years, but next year it moves to TPC Southwind and gains a new sponsor (FedEx St Jude).
Tiger Woods will be as disappointed as anyone about the move. The 42-year-old has amassed eight wins at the track in 16 starts, a formidable record which makes him a significant factor in punters’ golf betting strategies this week. The South Course at Firestone is a tight, tree-lined layout with a par of 70 and a full yardage of 7,400 yards. The last five holes include a par-3 at 221 yards, three par-4s of 464+ yards and a 667 yard par-5. Good ball-strikers thrive here.
Another week, another top 20 for Zach Johnson. The 42-year-old has turned out four of them on the trot and the last two, in particular, were no surprise whatsoever. His T17 in the Open was his seventh in his last eight championship starts and before that his T16 in the John Deere Classic was his eighth in ten there.
So what of this week? Possibly the hat-trick? There's every chance. He's made 14 appearances at Firestone and guess what? Eight top 20s. On another four occasions he was no more than a couple of shots outside of that mark.
Moreover last year was best of the lot. He shot 69-67-65 to tie the lead heading into the final round and added a 68. It beat the field, but not an inspired Hideki Matsuyama who finished five shots better off. He was tied for the lead on his last start, too, at halfway in the Open. He's worth following for another top 20 at 7/2 with William Hill.
There's no doubt that Woods will be a popular pick this week, but is the outright market the best way to go about it? In his glory years he was never outside the top five in 11 starts, with seven wins in that spell. Clearly those are tempting numbers.
But in the same stretch he twice claimed the first round lead on his own, twice shared it, four times was one shot outside top spot and only once would not have yielded an each way return. He can be backed at 28/1 to be first round leader at Unibet and I prefer that to what is as low as 10/1 outright.
Eight of the last ten winners of this event finished T14th or better in the Masters of that year and nine of those ten had already hinted or proved themselves by recording T15th or better on the course itself. Naturally, with it being an elite event won by quality golfers, these factors tend to be a given. But they do throw a couple of names into the hat that might otherwise be overlooked.
In this case don't underestimate Charley Hoffman who was tied third here 12 months ago, a week in which he closed with his second 66 on the course. He's carded a sub-70 round three times out of five on Thursday's at Firestone, all four of his efforts last year were sub-70, and he has a habit of going low early at Augusta National, a course whose specialists often come alive at Firestone. Add him to Woods in the First Round market at 60/1 with PaddyPower if you're considering a flutter.
There's absolutely no doubting the class of the top two in this three-man market. Alex Noren is one the rising stars of the world game and Henrik Stenson a major champion. But there are valid reasons to wonder about both this week. Noren has made three starts on the course and admittedly the first two were way back in 2010 and 2011, but he was T53rd on both occasions. Even last year he struggled somewhat to T28th.
Stenson has had rather more fun on the course. He was tied second in 2013, tied sixth in 2015 and has six top 20s in his ten starts. But he finished T35th in the Open and admitted afterwards that he would not have played had it not been a major championship. I suspect he's adopting a similar strategy this week and next.
So what about the outsider Alex Bjork? He ranks first for Strokes Gained: Approach the Green on the European Tout this year and 13th for SG: Tee to Green. He has nine top 20s from 18 starts in 2018, including a first win on the European Tour, and travelled to Firestone last Saturday. A top 20 might be all he needs in this mini group. He's 11/2 to achieve that with 888sport or 7/1 to be Top Swede with Bet365.
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