Barbasol Championship preview and best bets

Chesson Hadley can continue his run of good form at this week’s Barbasol Championship according to Ben Coley, who has selections from 35/1 to 175/1.

Golf betting tips: Barbasol Championship

2pts e.w. Chesson Hadley at 35/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Lee Hodges at 50/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

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

1pt e.w. Michael Gligic at 66/1 (Sky Bet, William Hill 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Matti Schmid at 125/1 (Coral 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. Dylan Wu at 175/1 (bet365 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Just as good courses don’t guarantee exciting tournaments, weak fields needn’t mean uninteresting golf, but that’s unfortunately what we got in the John Deere Classic. It is of course exactly what leader JT Poston and his backers would’ve been hoping for, but the only jeopardy on the PGA Tour last week concerned when exactly Emiliano Grillo would throw in a clumsy mistake to effectively confirm Poston’s win, and in the end we’d all have been far better off had Poston gone out in 29 and allowed us to get an early night.

Don’t let that fool you into thinking we’ll get a repeat at the Barbasol Championship, another low-grade shootout which could never have attracted a strong field. That was clear from the moment the PGA Tour confirmed it would co-sanction the Scottish Open, making this something of a double-opposite: that is to say a tournament with players from both main tours who aren’t eligible for the more valuable event which rightly takes centre stage.

We might still get a cracker, and intrigue is enhanced by those 50 DP World Tour players, all of whom have the opportunity to secure a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. It is, of course, a big ask. This might be a weak field where world number 129 Kevin Streelman is the highest-ranked player, but it’s something with which the home contingent are familiar. Just as links golf could catch out a few in Scotland, so might the bright lights of the PGA Tour here in Kentucky.

At least the on-course challenge is as straightforward as it gets. Keene Trace is a 7,328-yard par 72 with wide fairways and fairly generous greens, it should again play soft, and the rough is reportedly sparse. With a large membership and hot, humid, difficult conditions, the quality of the greens might be the best defence along with water hazards, though it was an out-of-bounds line which cost Poston victory here last year, which instead went to Seamus Power.

Anyone in any doubt as to what this relatively small event might do for a career ought to look to Power, now firmly in the Ryder Cup reckoning, so while the dollars and truncated FedEx Cup points might not be as significant as those offered in the Scottish Open, for someone this might be a career-changing week. The difficulty, with Streelman just about clinging onto favouritism at 20/1, is in identifying who that might be.

There’s no doubt Christopher Gotterup is the talking horse, as a powerful, brash youngster who didn’t need to putt at all well to finish fourth at TPC Deere Run. Now with a chance to earn PGA Tour membership and avoid a trip to Korn Ferry Tour Finals, he could hardly have asked for a better course upon which to unleash his long drives and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing a player with such potential in a field which so lacks it.

Hadley hitting his straps

However, as Poston showed in some way there’s nothing like a touch of class when it comes to Sunday and I can’t get away from the claims of CHESSON HADLEY, who had been on my radar last week and just narrowly missed out on a place at three-figure prices.

It was nevertheless an excellent performance which added substance to his form, which had amounted to little before fifth place in the Travelers a week earlier. Just as he did last summer, Hadley appears to have snapped out of his malaise and he’ll hope he’s done so early enough to avoid needing to salvage things at the Wyndham Championship, which is what it came down to in 2021.

The fact he got the job done there is another reminder that this four-time Korn Ferry Tour winner, who won the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open in his rookie season eight years ago, has that class I talked about. It’s why he’s one of very few players here with a notable major championship performance to his name and it wasn’t all that long ago that he finished ninth at Pebble Beach.

Back to the present and what I like most about his profile is that his long-game has taken significant leaps forward throughout his last four events. Off the tee, he’s gone from losing over two strokes per round, to just under one, then to half a stroke, and last week to gaining more than a quarter. Put more simply, pound-for-pound or rather round-for-round, he was almost a dozen shots better in the first week of June than he had been in the first week of May.

It’s a similar story with his approach play, though less dramatic, and the 5.57 strokes-gained last week goes down as his best in almost three years. We know from the past that he tends to hold onto something like this when it clicks, too, and this straightforward, upward trajectory brings to mind Power, who had been in red-hot form before arriving here a year ago.

That one and only PGA Tour win of his came when in similarly good form as did three of the four down at Korn Ferry Tour level, so I’m very hopeful he can at least make it three top-10 finishes in succession. Certainly, last year’s missed cut here wouldn’t worry me as on paper this looks an ideal course for a player who has made 40 birdies over the last fortnight, and who at 137th in the FedEx Cup will recognise what an opportunity this is.

Remember, the top 125 at the end of the regular season keep their cards but that’s not the only cut-off worth noting in a field like this. There are more players here whose focus will be on getting conditional status inside the top 150, or even avoiding finishing outside the top 200 which also has serious implications.

More on those later but at 103rd in the standings, LEE HODGES has already locked up his card and can see this as a good chance to hang around and contend on Sunday.

That’s something he’s done already at the low-scoring AmEx back in January as well as at the Honda Classic under contrasting conditions, and it’s been a really solid year all-round for one of the more consistent Korn Ferry Tour graduates.

Hodges was made to wait a long time with his win coming in the pandemic-hit 2020, but did enjoy some benefits last summer when getting a start here at the Barbasol, and playing well for the first three rounds. He shot a pair of 67s and gained strokes with his ball-striking, but a lack of experience and some short-game struggles ultimately kept him out of the spotlight.

Coming back to Kentucky for a second try, that’s sure to help as only once before, at home in the RSM Classic, has he returned to play a PGA Tour course for a second time. The fact he opened with a round of 63 at Sea Island last November suggests that familiarity helped and it might do here, too.

The most compelling evidence for him going well this week, however, is the nature of his game and how well he’s playing. Hodges is a really solid driver, just like the last two winners here, and right now his iron play is looking sharp. He ranked third for strokes-gained approach in a world-class Canadian Open and has been good throughout each of his last four events now, again all on courses he didn’t know.

I don’t mind the volatility he’s shown on the greens throughout this run, putting really well on two occasions and less so on the other two. That’s partly what makes him appeal more than Greyson Sigg, who did make the shortlist but may struggle to get to 20-under and beyond unless improving a fair bit with the putter.

Cook coming to the boil

AUSTIN COOK certainly has no excuses on that front having ranked second in putting in Canada three starts back, and if he can hit his irons as he did throughout the first 36 holes of the John Deere Classic he ought to reward backers in some way.

I actually put up Cook at a massive 750/1 just four starts ago in the Byron Nelson based on continued improvements in his long-game and the fact a low-scoring test like that one ought to suit. The case is much the same six weeks down the line and while the price of course is not, that’s a reflection of how sharply we’re dropping in grade.

It also reveals that while Cook missed the cut after an exciting start that week, he has since underlined that he’s close to rediscovering his best form. Twice in three subsequent starts he’s finished inside the top 20, including behind Rory McIlroy when 13th, and making the cut in the Travelers means there’s a robust look to his form all of a sudden.

Throughout this run he’s shot rounds of 64, 65, 66, 67, 68 and 69 (x2) – he’d gone more than 50 rounds without bettering 67 before that Friday move in Canada – and back to that iron play, he ranked fourth and 14th for rounds one and two at Deere Run, failing to sustain that over the weekend but still shooting his best round of the week on Sunday.

Hopefully he picks up where he left off and whereas he had no form to speak of in that event, Cook contended here in 2019 when doing everything well, eventually settling for fourth place. Even last year, when his game was in disarray, his putter carried him through to the weekend, and it’s clear he likes the course.

“I feel like I’m at home here, with the way that the greens are, bentgrass greens for the summer,” he said three years ago. “I mean, they’re not going to be great, but this course, they’re doing a great job of doing the best they can. It’s just with the humidity and the heat, and this is what I’m used to playing on, so I feel like at home. And it’s a golf course similar to my home.”

Cook’s statistics support the idea that he’s best on greens like these and he’s capable of winning this to jump from outside the top 150 in FedEx Cup points right inside the top 100.

Those points will also be on the mind of MICHAEL GLIGIC, who spurned a massive opportunity to lock up his card when dropping three shots in two holes late on Sunday.

That will no doubt have stung the Canadian but the bigger picture is he’s playing well now, shooting par or better in his last eight rounds, making six cuts in a row, and showing last week that he’s one of the better drivers in fields like these.

In fact his entire long-game was good in Illinois, where on Sunday he hit 13/14 fairways and 15/18 greens, and he putted well for three days. The only thing he did wrong was let one mistake multiply at the 15th hole, which bled into a three-putt from nowhere at the 16th and saw him finishing in a big share of 10th.

He’s certainly playing better than when 19th here last year and just as was the case then, his putter has warmed up with time running out to keep his status. Gligic jumped 20 spots on the FedEx Cup in the end, but a better finish and he’d be one of those looking further ahead rather than over his shoulder.

Gligic salvaged his card at Korn Ferry Tour Finals last year, calling the final round of that process “one of the mentally toughest rounds I’ve played in my life”, and he might just be capable of sorting things out a good deal earlier this time around.

Who is the best bet among the European raiders?

So far there’s no room for any of the DP World Tour players and that’s by design, as it’s very hard to overstate how difficult it is to play away from home. Were this event being held in Denmark, it would be perfectly reasonable to see things quite a bit differently for all that ability and performance levels remain the best predictors.

I did consider Chase Hanna, the American who has been feast or famine on the DP World Tour with 13 missed cuts and three top-six finishes to show for his season so far. That’s pretty remarkable in itself and while he arrives for his PGA Tour debut on the back of five missed cuts, his ball-striking in Ireland was outstanding – in fact it’s the one time he’s hit the ball that well and not finished right in the mix.

The trouble is all of his best form has come under tougher conditions so I’ll instead go for MATTI SCHMID, the birdie-making machine from Germany whose fine amateur career saw him star at the University of Louisville.

No doubt, Schmid will have plenty of support back in the US and that will help, as will the fact he’s played a couple of events over here already albeit without much success. They came when he was an amateur, however, and as a professional he’s already threatened to win several times in Europe and South Africa.

Keene Trace should be a good fit. Schmid is a huge hitter who ranks eighth in strokes-gained off-the-tee this season, while he’s also well above average in approach play and a tidy 35th in birdie average. The one problem so far has been his short-game but it might not stop him stacking up birdies across four reachable par-fives.

He comes here having witnessed Ryan Fox’s sparkling final round in Ireland, and that’s the third event in five in which he’s entered Sunday with half a chance. All told he’s been in the mix for places a dozen times over the past 12 months and we may not be all that far away from the 2021 rookie of the year putting it all together.

If it were to happen here, with that local support, he might be the one earning what will be the final Open Championship invite late on Sunday – no doubt in the mind of last year’s leading amateur at Royal St George’s.

Kelly Kraft also made the shortlist with his game ticking along nicely right now but the final place in the staking plan came down to David Skinns, Ben Kohles and DYLAN WU, and I’ll take the one with real potential.

Skinns was the halfway leader at a low-scoring Byron Nelson, also played on the eve of a major and with a much stronger field. Since then he’s missed three cuts in four but two of them narrowly, and his latest round was a seven-under 64 in the John Deere Classic on Friday.

At 192nd in the FedEx Cup he’s another with a job to do and as a two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner, who went to college in Tennessee but hails from England and would dearly love to grab that Open spot, he’s exactly the sort of flier who tends to pique my interest in tournaments like this.

As is Kohles, who also went to college in a neighbouring state and has shown progress with his irons lately, but it’s Wu’s performance on home soil in Illinois which has really caught my eye.

This formerly high-class amateur, a winner on the Korn Ferry Tour a year ago, ranked first in strokes-gained approach at Deere Run, rounds two and four both particularly good. It’s my belief that it’s not only the most important element but the most predictable, and the one which generates confidence. We’ve seen that with Poston and Hao-tong Li lately, both winning after excellent strokes-gained approach numbers in their previous start, while shock Texas Open winner JJ Spaun had ranked fifth in his.

Building on it is another challenge but a bogey-free 66 to close out a tournament played in front of friends and family has to put a spring in Wu’s step ahead of a big, busy summer, and it gives him a platform to move forward from 169th in FedEx Cup points.

His victory in the Price Cutter Charity Championship came in 27-under so we know he has it within to shoot the lights out and it may just be that he’s able to reflect upon a return home as the turning point in his rookie season.

Posted at 0920 BST on 15/07/22

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