Though Rory McIlroy had already wrapped up the Race to Dubai before the start of last week’s DP World Tour Championship, our season-ending tournament still provided us with an event to remember.
In the lowest-scoring edition of the tournament since 2015 due to soft conditions, there was some seriously impressive pin-seeking golf over the course of the week. None more so than Matt Wallace’s stunning 12-under-par 60 on Saturday, where he proceeded to birdie every single hole on the back 9 and left himself with nothing longer than 6 ½ ft for birdie on any of his final seven holes.
As the Englishman was understandably unable to quite back that up on Sunday, we were instead left in awe of the brilliance of Nicolai Hojgaard down the stretch. The Dane made five birdies on the spin from holes 13-17 to burst into the lead and though he looked somewhat disconsolate after missing a short one on his final hole – that would’ve made victory an almost guarantee – he was able to celebrate the third and biggest win of his young career, as a trio of runners-up (Wallace, Fleetwood and Hovland) failed to eagle the last to force a playoff.
Hojgaard will now head into 2024 full of confidence and as a full PGA Tour member after finishing inside the top 125 there this season as a non-member. However, twin brother, Rasmus wasn’t quite so fortunate.
The other intrigue in last week’s event was that for the first time, the top 10 players on the Race to Dubai rankings not already exempt, would receive a PGA Tour card. Rasmus finished as the unlucky eleventh man on the list, dropping out of the positions thanks to a superb four-birdie finish from Matthieu Pavon of France. The list of players heading to the PGA Tour next year in full: Adrian Meronk, Ryan Fox, Victor Perez, Thorbjorn Olesen, Alexander Bjork, Sami Valimaki, Robert MacIntyre, Matthieu Pavon, Jorge Campillo and Ryo Hisatsune.
Onto this week and as one season ends, the next ones begins. We have six events over the next four weeks on the DP World Tour that will signal the start of the 2023/24 season; beginning with double headers in Australia/South Africa over the next two weeks, before heading to Leopard Creek for the Alfred Dunhill Championship and finishing the year in Mauritius on the 14th-17th December.
It is always an interesting time of year with a raft of new faces appearing from various directions, though they will have to contend with a strong field multiple major winners this week in Australia, as we head to Royal Queensland for the Australian PGA Championship.
The Australian PGA Championship is one of the oldest tournaments in the world, with a version of the event being played since 1905. It became a co-sanctioned event between the PGA of Australia and the DP World Tour in 2015.
The event boasts a star-studded winners list, including Gary Player (1957), Peter Thomson (1967), Hale Irwin (1978) and Seve Ballesteros (1981). Whilst 1960 Open Championship winner, Kel Nagle – the most prolific player in the history of the Aussie tour with sixty-one titles – leads the way with most wins here, on six; his final victory coming in 1968 with a six-shot win over Jack Nicklaus.
It has largely been dominated by two of the more recent stars of the Aussie golf scene, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith, who have taken five of the last nine stagings of the tournament.
Adam Scott’s first win came in 2013, with Cameron Smith following a victory for American, Harold Varner III in 2016, with two wins on the spin in 2017 and 2018. Adam Scott gained his second Australian PGA title in 2019 and after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the event returned in 2022 with two renewals.
In January of last year, the tournament was staged solely by the PGA of Australia and saw Jediah Morgan produce an outstanding performance for a remarkable record eleven-stroke win over Andrew Dodt.
Ten months later, it resumed its co-sanctioned status with the DPWT and we witnessed Cameron Smith claiming a third success, beating off Ryo Hisatsune and Jason Scrivener by three shots. Smith returns to defend this year, aiming to become just the fifth player to win the tournament on more than three occasions.
Royal Queensland is back to host the event this year, as it did in both renewals in 2022. It previously hosted the tournament in 2000/2001 and has also hosted the Australian Open three times, in 1947, 1966 and 1973.
The course has welcomed some of the best amateurs in the world on several occasions in the prestigious Australian Amateur. Most recently in 2020, where Jediah Morgan got the better of Tom McKibbin in the final.
The 1978 edition of that event went to now golf course architect, Mike Clayton – the man responsible for the complete reimagining of this course in 2007 after Carnegie Clark’s 1920 original had fallen out of favour.
Royal Queensland plays as a 7134-yard par 71, with eleven par 4s (319-499 yards), four par 3s (137-197 yards) and three par 5s (575-615 yards).
This flat, loosely tree-lined course sits on the banks of the Brisbane River and possesses some of the widest fairways on the DPWT. Sand frames many holes and strong strategic bunkering provides some protection for the otherwise easy-to-hit fairways, dotting the landing areas throughout.
Despite the width of these fairways, there is a demand for strategic golf here. It is imperative to hit the correct spots of the fairways for players to give themselves the best chances to attack these tricky and predominantly small putting surfaces.
The largely elevated greens are mostly open-fronted, encouraging play along the ground. They vary from severe slopes on some, to subtle, tough-to-read undulations on others and are one of the more challenging aspects of play at Royal Queensland.
Areas around the greens are tough, with slick run offs and a bounty of deep greenside bunkers, which can be unpredictable to play out of and luck, in terms of having a decent lie, plays a big part.
This is very prevalent on the par 3s, which despite looking gettable on paper – with all at under 200 yards and three below 180 - are littered with sand. The 137-yard 17th hole is a primary example as a mere flick of the wedge, but played into one of the smallest greens on the course and dominated by sand short and right, it is not without its challenges.
The par 4s offer up some interesting variety, with several short, potentially drivable holes, such as the 319-yard 12th, which is protected by heavy bunkering and water right. These are countered by lengthier, more demanding holes, including the 499-yard 14th; one of the tightest driving holes on the course.
Water is in-play on seven holes, including each of the three par 5s. They’re all reasonably lengthy, with the 9th coming in at 615 yards and played into angled, narrow greens that will be tough to hold in two.
Cameron Smith’s winning score of -14 last year showed how tough this course can play. With some hardy weather on the way, I expect Royal Queensland to provide another demanding test on our first event of the 2023/24 DP World Tour season.
- SG: Putting
- SG: Around-the-Greens
- SG: Approach
Last year’s leaderboard included an eclectic mix of skillsets on show but the one thing that tied most together was short-game quality.
Winner, Cameron Smith and 4th-place finisher, Min Woo Lee have displayed two of the strongest, most complete short games in world golf over recent years. Whilst Japanese star, Ryo Hisatsune – who finished 2nd – has shown strength in both areas on the DP World Tour this season, particularly on the greens, ranking 10th.
John Parry finished 4th and has been the 7th-best player around-the-greens this season, whilst Masahiro Kawamura, Takumi Kanaya and Greg Chalmers in 7th are all players who have demonstrated quality on and/or around the greens.
Stats from the event last year were limited to DP World Tour players only, so it’s tough to gauge exactly how the top finishers played. Though Jason Scrivener in 2nd, along with Hisatsune and Parry all looked good in approach. On a course where fairways are easy to find and greens not, this makes sense and I expect strong iron play to again be key this week.
Mike Clayton has compared this course to the Old Course at St Andrews several times in terms of the way it plays and I can see why; as an exposed course with monstrously wide fairways, open fronted greens and adequate protection from bunkers. Cameron Smith of course won the last Open Championship there in 2021 and aside from major championship form, I would consider checking out the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship too; an event where two rounds are played at the Old Course.
The KLM Open at Bernardus Golf and Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort possess some of the widest fairways on the DPWT and are similarly exposed to Royal Queensland. I felt they were also worth consideration.
Finally, whilst a couple of Middle-Eastern courses appealed, I liked the host of the Qatar Masters in 2020/2021 most, Education City. It has that same combination of being a flat course, with wide fairways and tough-to-hit greens, whilst being strongly protected by sand and exposed to wind.
Conditions are forecast to be wet and breezy throughout the entire week, with rain predicted each day prior to the event and stated to fall during every round. A constant 10mph breeze - which may gust at over 25mph - could make for a very challenging week if the players fail to get much respite.
This week’s Australian PGA Championship has attracted a strong field, headed by world #18 and reigning champion, Cameron Smith. He is joined by four more players from the top 50: #44 Cameron Davis, #45 Min Woo Lee, #47 Adam Scott and #48 Adrian Meronk.
Smith and Scott are two of six former winners in attendance, along with David Howell (1998), Peter Lonard (2002, 2004, 2007), Geoff Ogilvy (2008) and Jediah Morgan (2020).
The strong home contingent is complimented by invites for Marc Leishman and Curtis Luck. Three-time DPWT and one-time PGA Tour winner Lucas Herbert also tees it up, as does David Micheluzzi, who topped the PGA Australia Order of Merit last season and sits 3rd this, after a victory last week.
Jhonnatan Vegas is a surprise entrant after missing much of this year with a shoulder injury; the two Chilean LIV golfers, Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira add further star power in their search for some vital world ranking points; last year’s runner-up, Ryo Hisatsune and Robert MacIntyre tee it up in no doubt buoyant mood after securing their PGA Tour cards.
The top end of the betting is stacked this week, with Cameron Smith a firm 4/1 favourite and followed by Min Woo Lee at 13/2. The trio of Cam Davis (10/1), Adam Scott (11/1) and Adrian Meronk (12/1) make up the top five of the betting.
I’m ordinarily a little cautious about the LIV golfers back in full fields, which is why the Chilean duo of Joaquin Niemann and Mito Pereira make little appeal at 14/1. However, just behind them in the betting is another LIV player, Marc Leishman, who with a combination of current form, course form and a notably high-piece of correlating form, looks the value at the top this week.
2.25 pts Marc Leishman each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 20/1
After finishing 6th in the Saudi International on his first start of the year, Leishman had done little of note this year, failing to record a single top 10 over the first eight events in those limited fields. Though he finally burst into form with a narrow runner-up finish behind Cameron Smith at LIV London and has since gone on to record a further two top 10s over his last four starts.
The next of these top 10s came two starts later in Bedminster, where he finished 7th, seven shots back of runaway winner, Smith and he followed that with his second runner-up finish in four starts in Chicago, again finishing just a shot shy, this time behind Bryson DeChambeau. A 29th-place finish in Jeddah in October was the last time we saw him in action in a “regular” event.
Leishman transferred his strong all-round game to Royal Queensland last year, finishing 12th. That performance came after a much worse run of form in LIV and gives me confidence that arriving here in better shape, his game is in the right place to go better this year.
The six-time PGA Tour winner has slumped to a lowly 422nd in the world rankings and is in need of a strong week here. With his runner-up finish at St Andrews in the 2015 Open Championship offering further encouragement, I think he’ll be around at the business end of the event this week.
1.75 pts Robert MacIntyre each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 28/1
Making a winning Ryder Cup debut and earning himself a PGA Tour card, 2023 has been a big year in the career of Robert MacIntyre. I’m taking him to finish it strongly by gaining a first win of the year in Australia.
MacIntyre has been in good form for most of the year, rarely going through a lengthy down-period. He’s recorded seven top 10 finishes, three of them top 5s and came within a whisker of a memorable win in the Scottish Open back in July, before Rory McIlroy happened.
He comes into this event with some solid performances over recent weeks, finishing 6th in the Qatar Masters three starts ago and he was 18th in last week’s DP World Tour Championship, where his game looked in reasonable shape across the board. This has been the story of his year so far, with him gaining strokes in every area.
MacIntyre is no stranger to performing in Australia, having finished 3rd in the 2017 Australian Amateur. He showed what he can do on similarly wide open expanses when 4th in the Czech Masters earlier in the year and as a player who typically plays well at St Andrews – shown by his final-round 63 in this year’s Dunhill Links – he’s exactly the type who I’d expect to go well in Queensland.
1.25 pts Tom McKibbin each way (1/5 – 6 places) – 40/1
Though he hasn’t quite managed to hit the heights of his first DPWT win in the Porsche European Open earlier this year, Tom McKibbin’s game has been ticking over nicely since then. With the positive vibes of a return to a place where he finished 2nd in the 2020 Australian Amateur, I’m expecting that game to fully spark into life this week.
McKibbin started his rookie season in encouraging fashion, hitting six top 25 finishes over his first eleven starts. He got rewards for the consistency of his performances with an excellently composed two-stroke win in the European Open in Germany at the start of June.
He missed his first two cuts after that but in twelve starts since, he’s only missed a further two, hitting the top 10 again three starts ago when 9th in the Qatar Masters. Then holding himself well in strong fields over his next two starts when 33rd in the Nedbank Challenge and 32nd in his first DP World Tour Championship last week.
McKibbin is a strong ball-striker, ranking 17th in greens-in-regulation and 20th off-the-tee on tour this year. He compliments this with a solid short game and as he showed in that 2020 Amateur Championship here, he has the type of game that transfers nicely to Royal Queensland.
1 pt Harrison Crowe each way (1/5 – 8 places) – 150/1
I’m going to sign off with talented young Aussie, Harrison Crowe. The former top 25 amateur enjoyed an excellent year in 2022 and after turning pro a few months ago following the US Amateur Championship, he’s continued to show promise in the pro game.
Crowe reached a high of #23 in the amateur rankings and whilst a couple of wins in 2020 and 2021 contributed to this, it was the quality of his play in 2022 that impressed most.
He started last year with two wins in prestigious Australian amateur event over his first three starts: the Australian Master of the Amateurs and NSW Amateur. Then winning the NSW Open – a pro event on the PGA of Australia - in March.
Crowe went close to a second win in a pro event two starts later when 2nd in The National PGA Classic and then closed out the year by picking up another prominent amateur title, in the shape of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
2023 has been a bit of a mixed bag, as he’s juggled his time between amateur events, pro tournaments in Australia and even a couple of major championship appearances, afforded to him by that win in the APAC at the end of last year. Though he has looked strong since turning pro.
Crowe finished 11th on his first start as a pro in the WA Open and two starts ago finished 2nd here in Queensland, in the Queensland PGA Championship; with an 8th-place finish in a strong field in the Hong Kong Open on the Asian Tour representing another eye-catching performance last-time-out.
He finished 41st here last year, signing off the event with a hugely encouraging 66 in round four – the fourth-best round of the day. He’s clearly in a good place based on recent form and as a player who could be absolutely anything, he’s well worth a chance at a three-figure price this week.
You can find all Jamie's Golf Betting Tips at our specific hub on Betfred Insights.