Golf,

It’s Encore Time For Rory Glory Hallelujah

Arnold Palmer Invitational


Best bets
Rory McIlroy 2pts each-way @ 17/2
Matt Fitzpatrick 1pt each-way @ 22/1
Bryson DeChambeau 1pt each-way @ 12/1
Tyrrell Hatton 1pt each-way @ 16/1
Branden Grace 0.5pt each-way @ 80/1
Francesco Molinari 0.5pt each-way @ 28/1

Arnold Palmer odds


Even Homer nods and, for once, the mighty Dustin Johnson finished out with the washing as newish kids on the block Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, all under 25, strutted their stuff in the first WGC bonanza of 2021 at The Concession.

Whenever we get a course that’s new to the PGA Tour, as this thrilling Jack Nicklaus-Tony Jacklin creation was for the Workday Championship in Florida last week, it can level the playing field as the long-servers have to learn its tricks from scratch just as the young bucks do, reducing their experience edge.

So while we got the usual bundle of birdies and eagles, there’s a bigger risk of total disasters on alien greens. Double bogeys were ten a penny, there was a glut of triples and don’t remind Hovland’s backers about his quadruple-bogey eight in round three! As it turned out, it was that ‘Snowman’ which separated the Norwegian from the $1.82m winner’s purse as he went down by three to his contemporary Morikawa who has now added a World Golf Championship to last year’s US PGA in amassing four victories from just 39 starts since turning pro in 2019.

An amazing percentage and it might have been five had he not missed a tiny putt when playing off against Daniel Berger at Colonial last June. He has grown in confidence on and around the greens since then thanks to help from Major champions Mark O’Meara and Paul Azinger.

On that basis, the 40-1 on offer at The Concession has to be regarded as the snip of the season … and there will be plenty more to come as this cool customer makes few mistakes. He’s down to 22-1 with Fitzdares for next month’s Masters with only nine rated above him and I am by no means sure it should be that many.

Morikawa misses this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, the second leg of the Florida Swing, as does Workday co-runner-up Brooks Koepka but Hovland, fifth at Riviera before Sunday’s share of second spot at The Concession, turns out again and is 11-1 second favourite, just behind 2018 winner Rory McIlroy.

Bay Hill, 7474 yards long, par 72, used to “belong” to Tiger Woods who won there eight times between 2000 and 2013 (and by 11 shots in 2003) but sadly the great Tiger won’t be there this week as England’s Tyrrell Hatton defends what was his first acquisition on American soil last March.

Although 22nd at The Concession wasn’t his best golf, Hatton had previously been on such a roll that he will be going into Bay Hill with every chance, knowing that the last three winners at the course Palmer bought in 1974 and regularly tweaked have been European.

Preceding him were Francesco Molinari, also winning in the States for the first time, and McIlroy, who was sixth on Sunday and has such a solid Bay Hill record he is hard to overlook in a week that could turn into a big Europe takeaway.

With proven course and current form (three top-tens in last four starts), new Californian resident Molinari should give a good account of himself again.

In a blustery and brutal week last time, Bay Hill bared its teeth to such an extent that only four players, Hatton, Marc Leishman, Sungjae Im and Bryson DeChambeau, finished under par. McIroy, at level par, was fifth.

It was also tough the previous year when Molinari bested three fellow Europeans Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Rafa Cabrera Bello with his 12-under tally, still a far cry from Payne Stewart’s record 24 under set back in 1987.

This year midweek rain will soften the fairways and with no great wind expected, scoring should be more like the 18 under McIlroy posted when seeing off DeChambeau by three in 2018. More rain is expected on Saturday and the weekend will be noticeably cooler than the 25C forecast for the opening two rounds.

With two high finishes in the last three years DeChambeau could be best of the Americans. He couldn’t buy a putt in an opening 77 last week but improved to share 22nd place with Hatton and has toned down his slam-bam-thankyou-mam approach.

Equally persuasive is Fitzpatrick, runner-up in 2019 and ninth last year when the only player to break 70 on the weekend. He arrives on the back of strong showings at Riviera (5th) and The Concession (11th).

Im, third here the past two years, has a shout but recent efforts, though decent, have been slightly underwhelming while Paul Casey, nicely rested after playing superbly four weeks on the trot in three different time zones, winning in Dubai, looks best of the rest.

We’ve had the odd inexplicable result at Bay Hill, not least the back-to-back victories in 2014-15 of American journeyman Matt Emery who has never won anywhere else before or since.

Having missed all 11 cuts this year, he surely won’t be up to shocking us again but if there is to be a big-priced winner why not Branden Grace at 80-1 after his confidence-restoring victory in weaker company in Puerto Rico, where an eagle-birdie finish saw the South African pull it off in style.

Or young Maverick McNealy at 100-1 if he could find the form that earned him second place to Berger at Pebble Beach.

 

Drive On Championship


Best bets
2pts each-way In Gee Chun @ 50/1
2pts each-way Jin Young Ko @ 7/1
1pt each-way Lydia Ko @ 10/1

Drive On odds


The postponement of the Oman Open because of Covid means a blank week on the European Tour so for the third time this year the LPGA ladies have our attention on the Sky Golf channel.

Having pointed punters towards 11-1 winner Nelly Korda at Lake Nona last week, I’m being a bit more daring in putting up 50-1 outsider In Gee Chun for the Drive On Championship at Golden Ocala, again in Florida.

With Korda and world No. 1 Jin Young Ko heading a strong line-up in this tournament, it’s a big ask for Chun who looked a world-beater when landing a Major, the Evian Championship, five years ago as a 21-year-old and notching another win two years later.

But the South Korean has not won since November 2018 and the last two years have been frankly disappointing, hence the big price.

But given her course record, third in the 2016 Coates Championship there, and current revival, fourth in the Tournament of Champions and eighth in the Gainbridge in her first two outings of the LPGA year, she has a strong each-way claim.

Lydia Ko has come up short whenever the chance presented itself of getting back to the scintillating teenager who was in a class of her own for a while but she has to go well on this course where eight of the holes are modelled on the world’s finest, the Road Hole at St Andrews and the two back-nine par threes at Augusta among them.

Runner-up at the 2015 Coates and third with Chun at Ocala the following year, her game looked sharp when joint second to Korda on Sunday.

Lydia, still only 23, also finished fifth in the year-ending Tour Championship in December and while you may think 10-1 is skinny for a player who hasn’t won for almost three years (and are probably right), that elusive W cannot be far away.

The “other” Ko, current world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, is also close to another victory, having placed fourth on Sunday. Runner-up in the US Open and victorious at the Tour Championship at the end of last year, she’s the most talented golfer in the field.

Nelly Korda looked drained after winning for the first time in the USA on Sunday and may struggle to confirm that form. Sei Young Kim and Canadian star Brooke Henderson, who both have course form, are preferred.

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