While the majority of the PGA Tour eyes will be on the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, there is a tasty side dish of the Puerto Rico Open which will take place for those who were not invited to the Bay Hill showdown.
Branden Grace is at that tournament but he was here last year and ran out the winner. He obviously isn’t here to defend his crown which means that we go into the week guaranteed a different champion come Sunday.
2021 – Branden Grace
2020 – Viktor Hovland
2019 – Martin Trainer
2018 – No Tournament
2017 – D.A. Points
2016 – Tony Finau
2015 – Alex Cejka
2014 – Chesson Hadley
2013 – Scott Brown
2012 – George McNeill
The Coco Beach Golf and Country Club is once again the venue for this tournament as always, although it now goes by the name of the Grand Reserve Country Club. It is a par 72 which goes up to 7,506 yards so on paper it is a long course but it rarely plays to its full yardage, and if you look at the previous winners, rarely is length a key requirement, it is more about hitting the large greens in the right number and then getting the putts to drop.
The other big factor when tackling this event is the wind. This is an exposed track right on the coast so the wind always has an impact, and the forecast this week suggests that the wind is certainly going to play a part. It can kick up without notice anyway so keep your eye on players who specialise in the wind, or at least are not inconvenienced by it. In summary we want good approach players and putters who can handle the wind.
The majority of the stars of the PGA Tour are away at Bay Hill this week so there is very much a second string feel to the field this week. The players who are teeing it up here are a mixture of the old who don’t get to play at this level too often, the ones trying to make their way in the game from the DP World Tour and one or two of the potential rising stars who are looking for a week which propelled the likes of Viktor Hovland into the big time.
It is actually a European pair who are probably the biggest names in the field this week in Matthias Schwab and Rafael Cabrera Bello. Home interest comes in the form of Kurt Kitayama and Mark Hubbard among others while the likes of Victor Perez, Kevin Chappell, Kyle Stanley, Bill Haas and Kelly Kraft are just some of the other players who will be teeing it up down in Puerto Rico rather than Bay Hill.
Somewhat surprisingly it is Matthias Schwab who is the 20/1 favourite to win the tournament this week. He has never won either at DP World Tour level or the PGA Tour level and while this is anything but a strong field I would still like some sort of experience of winning or at least being in contention and coping with that intense pressure. The Austrian doesn’t have that but he does have the potential to be inspired by countryman Sepp Straka winning last week. That’s about the only thing I can find that would entice me in and so even at 20/1 I’m not interested.
Kurt Kitayama and Mark Hubbard are second in the betting at 25/1. I’ll elaborate on the former below but Hubbard is still a maiden on the PGA Tour and isn’t exactly a youngster. It is probably more a sign of the weakness in the field than the chances that Hubbard has of winning here why he is a second favourite. He is easily swerved, unlike Kitayama who does at least have a couple of wins on the DP World Tour to his name.
Rafael Cabrera Bello and John Huh are the only players in the field who are shorter than 30/1. Both men are 28/1. I’ll come to the Spaniard when I write out my main bets below. Huh is someone who has been spoken about for a while but hasn’t really achieved much in the game. That doesn’t mean that he can’t win here but even in this sort of field I like a bit of established class about my bets and Huh doesn’t really tick that box.
Kurt Kitayama was my immediate pick when the field for this tournament came out. He would have been anyway I think regardless of whether he had finished third in the Honda Classic last week or not. The fact he did finish in that position means he is playing some good golf because you can’t wing it around PGA National and when you look down the form in this field that is comfortably the best it has to offer in recent times. Kitayama won in Mauritius on the DP World Tour so we know he can win on resort tracks which are exposed and given how well he played last week he’s a pretty obvious pick here.
I mentioned above that I like a bit of class to my main bets around here and the classiest player in the field is probably Rafa Cabrera Bello and when you consider I’ve been backing the Spaniard on the DP World Tour in much stronger fields than this earlier this year then it makes perfect sense for me to be on him in a second string field like this one. It is only six months or so that RCB was winning on a resort course in Spain and he has shown us in the past that he can handle the wind when he won the Scottish Open for example. Conditions here should really be right up his street and he looks a standout bet to me.
Aaron Baddeley doesn’t have a terrible record around here and you generally find that all Australian players are good players in the wind. Baddeley is no different which accounts for his good record here. He is also an excellent putter so if he can find some greens this week then he could very well be in business. Baddeley is probably past the stage of his career where I would trust him too often but in a field lacking depth like this one then I think he is worth chancing at what is a perfectly acceptable price around here.
Finally I’ll plump with Rafael Campos finally getting the W in front of his home supporters. Campos has gone close here on a number of occasions. His form is absolutely nothing to write home about. In fact it is full on terrible, but in a week where the field is so bad it might just be that knowing every inch of this place gives him a major advantage. If that is the case then I want to be on. We know he can handle this test and we know he’ll be motivated to go well so we are paying to see if a return home can inspire some form. If it can he’s a live runner.
Back K.Kitayama to win Puerto Rico Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-6)
Back R.Cabrera Bello to win Puerto Rico Open (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 26.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-6)
Back A.Baddeley to win Puerto Rico Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 101.00 with Coral (1/5 1-6)
Back R.Campos to win Puerto Rico Open (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 91.00 with Coral (1/5 1-6)
Back them here: