Overview and markets
We have two decent events to sink our teeth into this week with the Valspar Championship continuing the Florida swing in the US and the excellent Black Mountain course in Hua Hin hosting the True Thailand Classic
Black Mountain is a course which a lot of the European Tour players are affiliated with. There's a strong home contingent and it's also a home away from home for a large Swedish segment. Players that have lived on or owned property on the course include Rikard Karlberg - and Johan Edfors - 151.0. Johan Carlsson refers to it as the "Swedes nest" and indeed it regularly hosts a Nordic Tour pro-am event called the Black Mountain Invitational. Edfors has won both this and the inaugural Black Mountain Masters here, while the venue has also hosted the Kings Cup on the Asian Tour. Big hitting Andrew Dodt - 126.0 - will defend while home favourite and Black Mountain sponsored Thongchai Jaidee - 15.00 - heads the betting just ahead of compatriot Kiradech Aphibarnrat - 17.00.
Tight driving holes and the "Snake Pit" await PGA touring pros as we hit the 3rd stop of the Florida swing. The Copperhead course at Innisbrook has seen minor renovations but shouldn't affect play much. Last year saw an enthralling 3 way playoff between current market leader Jordan Spieth - 6.50, self confessed top 5 player in the world Patrick Reed, and Sean O' Hair - who returned to top form that week. I recall Reed - 26.00 - and Spieth were getting up and down from everywhere on the final day but Reed was flushing his irons for the most part - the real key to success at Copperhead. Looking to gate crash the party this year will be Henrik Stenson - 13.00 - who recorded a top 4 on his course debut in 2015.
Courses, stats and trends - Copperhead, Innisbrook par 71 - 7,340 yards
Measuring 7,340 yards to a par of 71, Copperhead is one of the most difficult tracks on tour outside of the majors. This is a ball strikers playground with tree-lined fairways equipped with dog-legs and some of the tightest tee shots you will find. With par 4 fairways tough to navigate and with the course boasting five par 3s averaging 200 yards, there will be a premium on long iron approaches (and proximity from the rough). Patrick Reed talked about flushing his irons despite driving poorly last year and that's paramount to success around Copperhead. Thick rough generally lies in close proximity to the green surfaces too, especially on the short holes. Beware of the "Snake Pit" which is a closing three hole stretch ready to bite the best. This year sees a new strain of TifEagle Bermuda on the surfaces that only Riviera rivals for short putts missed - a common theme here.
Black Mountain, Hua Hin, par 72, 7,350 yards
According to Rikard Karlberg - 67.00, who now owns a Villa on the course - the greens at Black Mountain are some of the fastest in Asia and the defence of the track is this fact combined with often blustery conditions in the Mountain. Anirban Lahiri claims the raised, sloping greens are the fastest in Asia. I made a mistake backing some shorter hitters in 2015 - quite simply they couldn't get near the flags with longer irons into the firm fast surfaces. Add to this the fact that Black Mountain boasts some of the widest fairways on tour and little in the way of rough, this is essentially a bombers paradise.
Top betting tips - Valspar Championship
Watching this championship through the years, two ball striking supremos: Jason Dufner - 31.00 or 7.00 - and John Senden - 101.0 or 19.00 - have stood out. Dufner lead after 2 rounds back in 2012 before missing more short puts than I would over the weekend. His figures show all top 30 finishes in his last 7 visits, with a 10th place being his highest but that doesn't do him any sort of justice with his previous play here. Now back in form with a win earlier in the year and a T11 at Doral, Dufner looks a strong bet. Senden got the job done in 2014 after a couple of previous runner up finishes. Their secret is simply solid tee to green play. Jason is 24th in ball striking and Senden is 50th in proximity so far in 2015.
Harris English - 34.00 or 7.50 - has previous at Copperhead having won the 2011 Southern Amateur there off the back of a closing 65, and he rates the track as one of his favourites. Harris is a self confessed lover of tree lined tracks in general and owns two top 10s in his last 3 starts here. English was 3rd in Phoenix and had a decent showing at Riviera before carding another top 10 at Doral and looks to be simmering.
Top betting tips - True Thailand classic
Alex Levy - 26.00 or 6.00 - is in fine form again after reverting to his all out attacking style and that should be the recipe for success at Black Mountain. Levy will have plenty of room to let rip off the tee and the Frenchman comes here off progressive T40 - T24 - 2 finishes. Low scoring events are Levy's forte and I expect he'll continue his form this week.
The aforementioned Johan Carlsson - 41.00 or 9.00 - is one of the Swedish contingent raring to go this week after a month off and a week's practice in the US. Johan had 3 top 20s in the Desert swing to follow a top 7 in Joburg and he''s a sneaky good player. He's averaging 306 yards from the tips in 2016 and has a GIR clip over 70%. Carlsson was T7 here last year.
Watch out for fellow Swedish bomber Pelle Edberg - 101.0 or 19.00. The Black Mountain sponsored pro averaged 308 yards from the markers in 2015, and he also had a decent desert swing with 20th and 33rd place finishes. Edberg is a regular in the Invitationals at Black Mountain and spends a lot of time practising at the course with his compatriots.