Golf Odds and Picks: Northwestern Mutual World Challenge Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 12/4/2013
First I will address last week's Alfred Dunhill Championship results on the European Tour, but then I quickly also want to look at what happened in Australia because I think it has a huge bearing on the golf world in 2014.
Charl Schwartzel took the Dunhill in his native South Africa, shooting a final-round 66 to finish at 17-under 271 and beat out England's Richard Finch by four shots. Schwartzel won that event for the third time, following last season and 2005. He's the only three-time winner there. Schwartzel was the first player to defend a European Tour event since Luke Donald at the BMW PGA Championship in 2011-2012. Six of Schwartzel's nine career Euro tour events have come in his homeland. I'll definitely remember that going forward.
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I knew how good Schwartzel played Leopard Creek over his career, but I didn't like him to win because his odds (3/1) were so short. I did get him at -250 head-to-head over Richard Sterne (missed cut) and for a Top-10 finish at -450.
Meanwhile, Adam Scott was going for the Aussie Slam at the Australian Open last week, but he gagged on the 72nd hole. He was leading by one there but bogeyed, while Rory McIlroy birdied to steal the win. McIlroy started four shots behind Scott and the two were paired on Sunday.
This is all great news for golf fans. Scott dominated in Australia to cut Tiger Woods' lead over him in half for the No. 1 ranking in the world. Scott, who started 2013 at No. 5, had two wins, a second and a third in the Aussie summer. He won't play again until the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii to kick off 2014. Scott probably has to win twice before Woods wins once to claim No. 1. No Aussie has been atop the world rankings since Greg Norman was surpassed by Tiger in January 1998. For McIlroy, it's an excellent way to put a disastrous 2013 behind him where he struggled on the course and had some off-course issues. If he's back to late 2012 form, I can't wait for he, Scott and Woods to all compete against one another. Alas, that won't happen for a few months.
This week back in the States is Tiger's Northwestern Mutual World Challenge, which benefits his foundation. It's not an official PGA Tour event but does count toward world rankings points. It's the final real event in the USA before the Tournament of Champions. It's an invite-only field, with 18 of the world's Top 29 players competing, including Tiger and McIlroy. Two players who were supposed to tee it up withdrew: Brandt Snedeker and Ernie Els. The latter is still recovering from a leg injury (he pulled out weeks ago), while the “Big Easy” chose to play in the Nedbank Challenge in his native South Africa. Dustin Johnson replaced him.
Here is the complete field: Woods, McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth, Steve Stricker, Bubba Watson and Lee Westwood. Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, has to be star struck. Westwood, who is staring at his first winless season in five years, has gone back to caddie Billy Foster. They haven't been together since May 2012 when Foster was injured and then Westwood moved on to Mike Kern.
The event is again held at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., but Woods is a Florida guy now, so he's moving it to his former home club, Isleworth in Orlando, starting next year. Another reason Woods is moving it is that the tournament has struggled to maintain title sponsorship in recent years. Reportedly Tiger spent his $4 million of his own money cover the operating costs when the event was played without a title sponsor last year. It was in jeopardy as recently as this summer before Northwestern Mutual stepped in. The World Challenge tournament began in 1999 and was inspired in part by Woods' late father, Earl, so you can see why it matters to Tiger.
Golf Odds: Northwestern Mutual World Challenge Favorites
As expected, Tiger is a huge 3/4 favorite at Bovada. In 11 appearances at this course, Tiger has five wins, four seconds, a fourth and a 14th. He finished T4 last year, eight shots behind winner Graeme McDowell.
McIlroy is next at 6/1, but I worry about the jetlag there. That's quite a haul from Australia on to California. I hope he plays well and that last week wasn't a fluke. McDowell is next at 10/1. While winning last year, he also did in 2010 when Tiger was second. McDowell was second in 2009.
Ian Poulter (16/1) and Steve Stricker (16/1) round out the favorites. Stricker last played here in 2012, finishing eighth. He could be rusty with his last official Tour event the Tour Championship. Poulter played really well in his last official event, a second at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He was 17th here in 2012.
Golf Odds: Northwestern Mutual World Challenge Picks
There are only Top 4 props with such a small field. I like Woods (-250), Keegan Bradley (+250) and McDowell (+200). Head-to-head, take McDowell (-130) over Dustin Johnson (even), Tiger (-185) over McIlroy (+145), Zach Johnson (even) over Stricker (-130) and Bradley (-115) over Spieth (-115). On top rest of the world, I'd lean McDowell at +350.
While Tiger probably wins, although he hasn't since August, I simply will never recommend anyone at those odds. So I'll take Bradley, the runner-up last year, at 25/1. He played well over in Asia in late October/early November and closed the 2013 PGA Tour season with three straight finishes of T16 or better.
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