Right time to take the Mick!

Safeway Open

Best bets
Phil Mickelson 2pts each-way at 18/1
Brendan Steele 2pts each-way at 25/1
Si Woo Kim 1pt each-way at 18/1
Will Gordon 1pt each-way at 50/1
Jordan Spieth 1pt each-way at 28/1

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Never in a half-century of writing about golf have I tipped a 50-year-old to win on the main PGA Tour but Phil Mickelson is no ordinary senior and Phil The Thrill has an outstanding chance of adding the Safeway Open to the 44 he has already collected.

This is the final warm-up for next week’s rearranged US Open at Winged Foot, the one major old Lefty needs to complete the full set of Grand Slams and he will not need reminding it was at Winged Foot 14 years ago that he blew his biggest opportunity.

In a wild, wild finish Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie double-bogeyed the last when a par four, as it turned out, would have got the job done and even a bogey makes a play-off.

It is only a couple of weeks since Mickelson dotted up by four on his Champions Tour debut. Winning at any level gives you a buzz and he is teeing off with a big confidence boost in his home state at Silverado in the Napa Valley.

Third on this 7166-yard par 72 three years ago, he ticks plenty of boxes, a main-tour victory at Pebble Beach last year, third there pre-Covid in February and second to the formidable Justin Thomas in the WGC-St Jude at the end of July.

There’s plenty of life yet in the old dog and while there are a few “faces” to beat, most are not at their best. Sergio Garcia, Open champion Shane Lowry and Matt Kuchar are three who fall into that category.

None of the marquee names from last week’s Tour Championship turn out – Dustin Johnson justified very short odds at East Lake and rightly heads to the US Open as Fitzdares’ 8-1 favourite although it was Xander Schauffele, recommended here at 12-1, who shot the lowest 72-hole score in the ‘without handicap’ competition.

Also missing is the last Safeway winner Cameron Champ, who wanted a break between the Tour Championship and US Open. He won on first visit to Silverado which suggests it is not a course that takes a great deal of knowing.

So don’t be put off if you fancy one with no course experience such as Will Gordon, who was third at the Travelers and could pop up at 50-1 or Doc Redman, only 22, who filled the same spot at the Wyndham. They are winners waiting to happen.

Brendan Steele is no chicken but won this event back to back in 2016-17 and has posted a series of solid finishes this campaign. Si Woo Kim, the 2017 Players champion, has been catching the eye, notably with third place at the Wyndham and 13th at the PGA Championship, and returns refreshed by a three-week break.

Both Steele and Kim are well worth a punt and don’t be surprised if Jordan Spieth shows a bit of his old class. The fairways are wide enough for him to get away with wayward drives.


Portugal Masters

Best bets
George Coetzee 2pts each-way at 14/1
Justin Walters 1pt each-way at 66/1
Antoine Rozner 1pt each-way at 40/1
Wilco Nienaber 1pt each-way at 25/1
Tommy Fleetwood 2pts win at 11/2

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Tommy Fleetwood returns after a somewhat disappointing spell in the States and has been installed as a warm 11-2 favourite for the second leg of the Iberian Swing, the Portugal Masters at its regular venue, the Victoria course at Vilamoura in The Algarve.

He is one level above the rest of the field and is the man to beat. The price is short enough for a guy who has not won this year but whoever you back, make him a saver.

Last week’s Andalucia Masters at fearsome Valderrama saw nobody finish under par. Birdies will be back in fashion and the last three Victoria winners posted scores of 20, 22 and 17 under the card.

There is plenty of room on this classy 7191-yard par 71 resort course which should suit South Africans George Coetzee, Justin Walters and Wilco Nienaber who arrive in tip-top form, Coetzee particularly so as winner of the Titleist Championship at home only last week.

That followed a second place, again on the Sunshine Tour, which was a continuation of his excellent pre-Covid start to the year in the desert, sixth in Oman and seventh in Qatar.

Admittedly he’s a better performer in SA than in Europe and he does have a pitching weakness but, outside Fleetwood, this is not a great field and he does have decent course form.

Walters is still a non-winner in Europe but went close in the UK Championship at The Belfry a couple of weeks ago, losing out in a play-off to Rasmus Hojgaard after leading all week. He is a dual runner-up at Vilamoura, most recently to Steven Brown last year.

Nienaber, only 20, went into all notebooks after adding a fourth place at Valderrama on Sunday to a sixth in the English Championship at Hanbury Manor.

South Africa has another live string to its bow in Brandon Stone who shared second place with Walters last year but for the final advice we’re off to France in the shape of Antoine Rozner, pipped in a play-off in Mauritius late last year and looking good at the weekend when third at Valderrama, his second top-ten since the resumption.


Ana Inspiration

Best bets
Lydia Ko 2pts each-way at 25/1
Charley Hull 1pt each-way at 45/1
Sung Hyun Park 1pt each-way at 33/1

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The second LPGA major of the year, the ANA Inspiration in steamy California, will have the unusual sight of caddies being allowed to do their job from a buggy! With temperatures at Mission Hills in the 105-115 range – Fahrenheit that is – the dangers of carrying a heavy bag for the best part of five hours are not underestimated.

This is the favourite Major of England’s Charley Hull who has twice finished runner-up, the last time 17 months ago to Sei Young Kim when The Inspiration was in its normal April slot.

Her chances of going one better are enhanced by the absence of world number one Jin Young Ko who is staying in South Korea because of the travel protocols.

Another Ko, this time the New Zealander Lydia Ko, has been showing enough to suggest she could add a third Inspiration to the pair she won as a teen prodigy in 2014-15. The $1.5m first prize is the biggest in the history of women’s golf and the tournament is being given full coverage on Sky.

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