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ISCO Championship preview and best bets



ISCO Championship preview and best bets

Ben Coley has hit the crossbar with big-priced selections in the last two editions of the ISCO Championship, for which he has seven selections.

Golf betting tips: ISCO Championship

2pts e.w. Chan Kim at 30/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. JJ Spaun at 40/1 (Betfred 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1.5pts e.w. Rico Hoey at 50/1 (General 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

1pt e.w. David Skinns at 66/1 (Sky Bet, Unibet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

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

0.5pt e.w. Tom Whitney at 300/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

0.5pt e.w. Spencer Cross at 750/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Writing this less than two weeks on from Cam Davis’s somewhat fortunate victory in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m down on my luck. Not a bit of it. But I will say this: going back over last year’s Barbasol Championship, now sponsored by ISCO, was not a particularly pleasant experience.

There are highs and lows during any season, but this was the lowest of 2023. Pre-tournament, the plan was Vincent Norrman, only to dig until discovering he was carrying a nagging injury. Sunday’s viewing experience was deeply unpleasant as Norrman not only won, but 150/1 selection Trevor Cone was one out of the play-off after double-bogeying the 16th when leading and then missing a good chance on the last.

Cone traded odds-on and lost, Norrman coped with the injury and won, though in fairness to the Swede, he repaid us to a degree when bagging the Irish Open in come-from-behind fashion a couple of months later. Still, Cone edged out Eric Cole, who provided a similar near-miss at a similar price, for the toughest Sunday of the season. That’s part of the deal when you’re willing to scan down the odds board, I suppose.

Aside from catharsis, there’s another point to all this: Keene Trace, home of this tournament for a number of years now, is a course I feel I can get right. That view is strengthened by the fact we were on Matti Schmid at 125/1 when he too led through 54 holes a year earlier, and he too blundered his way home. Hopefully some of that fortune from Detroit follows us to Kentucky and it’s third time lucky come Sunday night.

Those two names might give you a clue as to what I’m after: strong drivers who pound greens. In both instances, ropey short-games were almost overcome by players with sound long-games (and some local ties). Cone was by far and away the best ball-striker in the field, ranking first off-the-tee and second in strokes-gained approach. Schmid missed a place in the end because of his driver, but his power had helped create what was a winning opportunity.

With soft conditions virtually guaranteed and not a breath of wind in the forecast, aggressive golf ought to win the day again and you can see why anyone would want to side with either Luke Clanton, Michael Thorbjornsen, or both. Clanton is favourite and that in itself might be unprecedented given that he’s an amateur. Thorbjornsen only just turned professional and these two college studs shared second place behind Davis Thompson in Illinois.

Thorbjornsen would get my vote and clearly these two, first and second in the tee-to-green stats last week, are enormous talents in a field which is weak and shallow. Collin Morikawa won a similar event to break through, so did Viktor Hovland, so did Ludvig Aberg in a sense, and so might one of them. Nevertheless, expectation can be a difficult thing to come to terms with and it’s impossible for them to avoid this time. I don’t mind missing out at 12 and 16/1.

With nine of the top 10 drivers finishing between first and 16th last year, that club looks key to unlocking the tournament once more and it leads me to RICO HOEY as the headline selection.

Born in Manila, it’s been a long road to the PGA Tour and like so many in this field, Hoey has a job to do if he’s to stay put in 2025. The new system means there’s time yet, but from just outside the 125 in FedEx Cup points, chances like these need taking at some stage.

The good news is it’s a great fit for him. Hoey is seventh in strokes-gained off-the-tee, not only long but reasonably accurate, and that helps put him towards the top of the greens-in-regulation charts among this sort of company. He’s 31st overall on the PGA Tour, but just outside the top 10 in this field.

With solid strokes-gained approach statistics too, his short-game has been the problem but while he’s 161st in putting, he’s now gained strokes three weeks running. That has translated to results, first sixth place in Detroit then 26th last week, both low-grade events on soft courses.

This is weaker than both, considerably so, and with his Korn Ferry Tour win having come over the border in Tennessee together with a runner-up finish in the event Cone had won in next-door Missouri, he stands out as the best bet at prices around the 40-50/1 mark. Hoey ought to relish every aspect of this course and can get on the front foot again.

Relying on the case for Cone is a little simplistic on the one hand but the formula here could be described as such. Cone was one of the best drivers in the field and ranked 14th in greens hit coming into this event. Like many of his profile, his strokes-gained approach stats weren’t massively encouraging, but he spent the week hitting wedges and not having to make many putts to finish third, beaten a stroke.

If Hoey isn’t the one to repeat and ideally better it then perhaps CHAN KIM might be.

His path to this level has been no less circuitous but those who follow the game closely will not have been surprised that when it clicked on the Korn Ferry Tour last summer, this serious talent won back-to-back titles.

Seven top-30 finishes up at this level have him inside the top 100 in FedEx Cup points, still in with a good chance of making the Playoffs if he can take advantage of one of these low-grade events over the coming five or six weeks, with this arguably the most suitable of them all.

Kim’s best efforts so far have come in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, both long courses with wide, soft fairways, and conditions were receptive again last week when he ended a run of missed cuts with a staying-on 12th place at Deere Run, where he came home in 30 on Sunday.

Truth be told there’s been nothing wrong with his long-game, the putter having been responsible for a frustrating stretch prior to the John Deere Classic, and when he has holed a few this year he’s always been close to or inside the top 10.

Notably, these performances have tended to come in bursts – three weeks in four towards the start of the season, and then when he followed 14th in Texas with sixth in the Corales Puntacana – so I’d be optimistic that he can pick up where he left off when this tournament gets under way.

At 25th in greens hit he’s just ahead of Hoey and while less dominant off the tee, he’s been consistent, gaining strokes in all bar three of his measured starts. Each of that trio was at a shorter, more penal course than this one, where his aggressive style of play was always going to be risky.

Here, aggression is the name of the game and it’s an ideal spot for Kim to make it 11 professional wins worldwide.

Go fishing for value

Namesake Michael Kim was seventh here in 2022, when still a Korn Ferry Tour player, and he’s likely to play well in this low-grade affair. Kim only narrowly missed the cut at the scene of his sole PGA Tour win to date last week and put that down to a bit of bad luck, but my nagging worry is that while he drove it well at Keene Trace two years ago, that club will never be anything like his chief weapon.

It is for PATRICK FISHBURN, a player I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately.

He was in my staking plan for the Canadian Open, where he narrowly missed the cut at a huge price, and typical of the sport he plays, that was one occasion where the putts dropped only for his approach play to drop, too.

Fishburn has been striking it nicely for a while now, right back to when contending for the Zurich Classic with Zac Blair, so it’s most unfortunate for him that on two occasions when he has made some putts lately, his long-game hasn’t hit the heights we’ve become used to.

Marrying the two is the challenge then but there’s nobody in this field driving it as well as he is at the moment, bar Clanton perhaps, and at 11th off-the-tee and 12th in greens hit, he’s one who I expect to be putting for birdies and eagles for much of the week.

With five top-25s in his last eight starts he’s been close enough without holing a great deal and it may be that he really only does need the minor gains we saw in Canada, or the more significant ones of the Byron Nelson, in order to be a threat around a course which will suit.

Alejandro Tosti is of a similar profile and he was selected on the strength of his driving just two weeks ago, while Pierceson Coody is a big-hitter who can putt and his form has improved. He’d have been talked about in similar terms to a player like Clanton at one stage and is another young slugger who is bound to relish this straightforward test of driver and wedges.

Preference though is for veteran DAVID SKINNS, who opened with a round of 65 here two years ago.

Skinns tumbled down the leaderboard thereafter but this was during a miserable campaign which saw him fail to register a single top-20 finish, whereas he has five of those already in 2024 and is comfortably inside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points.

Like a few of mine this week, his putter has been up and down but the up has been excellent, enough to rank inside the top five on two occasions, which he converted to top-10 finishes in fields featuring either Rory McIlroy or Scottie Scheffler.

Combine that with the fact his approach play is generally very good, enough to lead the field two starts ago and of a high standard in five of his last six, and it’s no wonder the Englishman is enjoying a solid campaign which has featured two genuine chances to win.

Granted they’ve been on tougher courses, but he was 17th in a shootout a fortnight ago and there was nothing wrong with his long-game despite a missed cut at the John Deere Classic, which has probably added a few points on to his price.

Skinns not only has a bit of course experience but went to college in neighbouring Tennessee and played a lot of minor-tour golf around this part of the US. He’s since made his home in Georgia, where he won on the Korn Ferry Tour, and I reckon there’s a chance he has a few old friends along for the ride in Kentucky.

If he’s ever to win on the PGA Tour it’ll likely be in a tournament like this one and the pick of his form this year rivals anyone in the field. We’ll see if he can handle the distraction should England line-up for the Euro 2024 final at about the time he tees off in the final round if all has gone to plan.

Whitney can hit the right note

Trace Crowe drove it brilliantly for three rounds last week then horrendously on Sunday but is one who could go well. He looks a nice enough player in the making, although given his lack of results I wasn’t particularly taken with prices below 100/1 even if this is a weak field and he’s best left alone on value grounds despite seemingly liking where his game is at the moment.

It must be said the DP World Tour raiders did themselves proud last year, Nathan Kimsey losing a play-off and Adrien Saddier taking fourth. Those two brought with them strong recent form credentials and that’s certainly true of Filippo Celli this time, while shorter-hitting Thomas Aiken has a base in Florida and is putting as well as he ever has.

Neither made much appeal though if truth be told and neither did Johannes Veerman, who I selected at 150/1 last year. He’s half that now but a bigger concern would have to be the putting crisis he’s going through, while Marco Penge’s blend of brute force and good putting would be more tempting had he put it to use somewhere lately. He’ll like the course but I doubt that’ll be anything like enough.

I will then side with two outsiders from the US instead as I do expect them to dominate, with TOM WHITNEY preferred to Kevin Dougherty first of all.

The latter is more powerful and a huge hitter in fact, but Whitney is striking his ball so well right now that I can’t resist taking a small chance at 300/1 despite the fact he makes Viktor Hovland look like the best chipper since Paul Lawrie.

Whitney really does seem to have a problem around the greens but we’ll need him to seldom miss them if he’s to work his way into contention anyway, and after an overdue positive putting display last week, the Air Force veteran has to be worth a spin if you can get 200/1 and upwards.

He missed the cut by a shot at the John Deere, failing to take any one of several chances late on an otherwise productive Friday during which he continued to hit it nicely. Right now he’s on a run of four starts gaining strokes both off the tee and with his approaches; he has in fact driven it well in eight of his last nine and his proximity (22nd) and GIR (48th) stats are good, too.

Whitney is without a finish of note since 13th at Torrey Pines and that explains his price, so he wouldn’t be one to go overboard with by any means. However, I don’t mind buying into the likelihood that he continues to set up opportunities to score, knowing it won’t take much improvement on last week for him to give us a run. Bad chippers get up and down more often than bad drivers drive it well, anyway.

The second is a Monday qualifier, SPENCER CROSS, who made 11 birdies en route to what will be his first PGA Tour start.

I can’t help but feel that a top-10 finish on his Korn Ferry Tour debut, which came on the back of a top-50 amateur career, makes him one to watch in this, especially as we’re a couple of hours from his Tennessee base which guarantees friends and family in support.

Cross played on the KFT in Knoxville in May and shot a second-round 63 to make it four cuts made in five at that level and he looks like a big-hitter with a nice action who is firmly in the ‘could be anything’ category.

It’s rare for me to side with seven players for an event like this but I had to squeeze him in after he topped the qualifier. Odds of 750/1 with Sky Bet, Betway and Star Sports really surprised me and anything upwards of 250 is worth a very small go.

Finally, I’ve come around to JJ SPAUN, who as you might have guessed by the structure of this preview was something of an afterthought.

However, reflecting on his T47 here in 2021, Spaun had endured a miserable season yet Keene Trace was where he produced by far his standout tee-to-green display. On average that year he lost over a stroke per tournament, but here he gained more than 10.

The course then might well suit and he’s certainly a class act for this grade at his best, which may not be all that far away after finishing 10th and 23rd over the past fortnight, thanks to seven rounds in the 60s before a level-par 71 saw him fade from sixth place entering last Sunday.

His putter has powered this improvement but at his best he’s an excellent ball-striker, one whose exemption for winning ends this year. That means he has a big job to do from 150th in the FedEx Cup and the penny might have dropped in time.

Spaun was a solid finish away from arriving here on back-to-back top-10 finishes and as one of the classiest players in the field, 33/1 and bigger is worth taking.

Posted at 1100 BST on 09/07/24

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