Burns to catch fire at Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson Classic

Best bets
2pts each-way Sam Burns @ 33/1
2pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 9/1
1.5pts each-way Matt Fitzpatrick @ 16/1
1pt each-way Scottie Scheffler @ 18/1
0.5pts each-way Charl Schwartzel @ 66/1
view odds

The Byron Nelson, the last-chance saloon for those struggling to find their best game in time for next week’s USPGA Championship, is not its usual punter-friendly self this week as it has moved to pastures new at McKinney, a 40-minute drive from Dallas.

Craig Ranch, a 2004 design by 1973 Open champion Tom Weiskopf, is rated one of the toughest tests in Texas and is making its main-tour debut, having hosted the satellite tour championship in 2008 and 2012.

Texan tigers Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler and Ryan Palmer may well have played this 7248-yard par 72 and defending champion Sung Kang definitely has – he’s a club member – but others will be having their first sight of the stunning layout and of picturesque Rowlett Creek which crosses 14 of its holes.

Because the tournament fell victim to the pandemic last year and had to be scrubbed, 2019 winner Kang assumes the role of defending champion but even the quickest glance at his horrendous results since that happy July day is going to put off any intending investor.

Look at all those missed cuts and note that Kang’s best effort this campaign has been a middle-order 29th at the Masters and the reason for his 250/1 quote.

Hideki Matsuyama makes his first start since conquering Augusta and must have had a whale of a time being feted in Japan, even virtually, as that golf-mad country’s first male Major winner.

He will have as big a chance as most in a line-up now devoid of world No. 1 Dustin Johnson who pulled out on Monday with a knee injury. As a result, the prices of the remaining market leaders have contracted, leaving Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth all at single-figure odds.

There are question marks about Rahm, one of the most consistent golfers on the planet, who missed the cut last week, and DeChambeau, having missed the cut at the Masters, made plenty of errors when scrambling into ninth place at Quail Hollow.

Comeback man Spieth, with five top-four finishes from his last seven starts, one of them a victory in the Texas Open, is still worth a punt at 9/1 but there’s better value to be had with Valspar winner Sam Burns.

The Louisiana 24-year-old showed a tremendous attitude to open his account after messing up a number of big chances, notably at Riviera and Houston. The last-round nerves were firmly under control and with DJ out of the way, the 33/1 for Burns is value.

He was guilty of trying TOO hard on past Sundays but now he has found the recipe for success there has to be more to come. He looked very sound, both swing-wise and mentally, at Copperhead.

Brooks Koepka makes his first start since Augusta where he played only because it was the Masters and should not have done so as he was limping at times. The surgery on a dislocated kneecap has been slow to bed in. If you do want to back him, the recommendation is to wait and see how well he is walking.

Without any course form to help, I shall be keeping my powder dry and my McIlroy winnings firmly in pocket until we can see what Craig Ranch is all about.

Local heroes Spieth and Scheffler, both Dallas residents, are playing well enough to rate a serious interest on home turf.

Match Play runner-up Scheffler’s turn will surely come soon. He is an impressive striker although inclined to be hard on himself on the greens. Add high finishes at the WGC Workday and in Phoenix to that stellar Match Play effort and you have a winner waiting to happen.

With five top-11 finishes from his last six outings, Matt Fitzpatrick could be Europe’s best chance as Rahm has not quite been there recently. Like Scheffler, hot putter Fitzpatrick is finding that first PGA Tour victory elusive but both will repay support this Ryder Cup year.

South Africans have been making merry in the Canaries on the European Tour and some of that eagle-birdie glitter can rub off on 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel who has been struggling for a long time but could be on the way back.

Encouraging showings at the Valspar (21st) and Quail Hollow (14th) is an improvement. Form, as they say, is temporary, class is forever and Charl always had class.

The British Masters

Best bets
2pts each-way Rasmus Hojgaard @ 20/1
1pt each-way Robert McIntyre @ 12/1
1pt each-way Sam Horsfield @ 20/1
1pt each-way Thorbjorn Olesen @ 28/1
0.5pts each-way Maverick Antcliff @ 80/1
0.5pts each-way Martin Kaymer @ 18/1
view odds

The European Tour hits the UK for first time in 2021 with the British Masters at The Belfry, the iconic Midlands venue which hosted four Ryder Cups and gave us the indelible memory from 1985 of Sam Torrance holing the match-winning putt that changed golfing history.

It was Europe’s first Ryder Cup victory since the match thankfully switched six years earlier from GB& Ireland to Europe v the USA and brought in Seve Ballesteros and those other continental heroes to strut their stuff.

It was a move that revived a dying, one-sided contest and turned it into the thriller upon thriller we can’t get enough of today. The last Ryder Cup there in 2002, delayed a year because of the horrors of 9/11, also produced a European victory and fittingly it was Torrance who captained the side.

Ryder Cup players are thin on the ground for the British Masters – which has a rare Wednesday start so get those bets on in good time! – but Major champions Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer are there with Willett hosting the tournament, continuing the tradition starting in 2015 of honouring a great British golfing name in the title.

While wishing Willett, winner of the real Masters in 2016, nothing but the best, the omens are not propitious for his on-course performance as previous hosts Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Tommy Fleetwood, did not do themselves justice.

Fleetwood did best when eighth at Hillside, almost in his Southport backyard, but Westwood, hosting the event for a second time at his own Close House last year, finished stone-cold last of the weekend qualifiers. Both are missing, building up to next week’s second Major, elsewhere.

There was a European Tour event at The Belfry last year, the UK Championship, which went to precocious Dane Rasmus Hojgaard, then only 19, after a play-off with Justin Walters.

Hojgaard has to have a big chance in a field where only a handful of rivals, Robert MacIntyre, Bernd Wiesberger, Sam Horsfield, Andy Sullivan and Kaymer, rank in the world’s top 90, and only one, MacIntyre, in the top 50.

All will be relieved that the red-hot South African Garrick Higgo is taking a break. He celebrates his 22nd birthday this week after shooting a phenomenal 68 under par total for the trio of Canary Islands events, two of which he won.

Higgo seemed to be on a different planet but before we get too carried away, it is as well to remember those were not great fields he beat and the two courses he conquered were created for holiday-makers rather than tour professionals, a very different test from The Belfry.

The 7232-yard par 72 Brabazon course is famed for its two signature holes, the risk-and-reward tenth with its invitation to drive the well-protected lake on this 311-yard teaser and the beast of a finishing hole, the water-strewn dogleg 18th, 473 yards of pure mayhem. Both have plenty of stories to tell.

Hojgaard was 14 under par in beating Justin Walters in a Belfry play-off last July with two of this week’s market leaders, Kaymer (3rd) and Wiesberger (5th) close behind.

The talented Dane posted top-tens earlier in the year in Dubai and Saudi Arabia and although recent jaunts in America were unprofitable except for the learning experience,

he should make a mark again at this lesser level.

I made a New Year’s resolution never to tip Kaymer again as he has developed a block over the past few years, seemingly panic-stricken in the heat of contention and far removed from the calm German who won the US Open and PGA in his prime.

Kaymer also holed the winning eight-footer in that Miracle at Medinah when Europe won the Ryder Cup on American soil in 2012. He was ranked world No.1 for a time but never really believed it.

All that is for the History Channel rather than Sky Golf yet he might just back into the winner’s enclosure for the first time since the 2014 US Open although probably needing somebody to gift it to him. But we got away with a risky bet on McIlroy at Quail Hollow and I’m willing to back-track on my resolution and recommend a small interest.

For the bigger investments, I’m relying on youth, Higgo having blazed the trail in giving us 40-1 and 11-1 triumphs. Fellow lefty MacIntyre has a favourite’s chance, his 12th place at Augusta just about the best form here.

The Scot from Oban broke through in Cyprus in November and gave the Americans a shock by getting through a Match Play group at the expense of world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

That followed a third place in the Dubai Desert Classic. He didn’t play The Belfry last year but that was often the case in his rookie season when racking up a series of high finishes.

He’s a breath of fresh air as is Sam Horsfield, a dual winner last year destined for bigger things. Third and eighth in the two Kenya tournaments and fourth on Gran Canaria, a third victory cannot be far away.

Wiesberger is hard to leave out after his strong course showing last year but the Austrian has only one top-ten to his name in 2021. He would be my seventh pick if I was going to have one.

A second Dane, Thorbjorn Olesen, was 17th here last year and after not playing for months produced two encouraging performances, fifth and 12th in the Canaries, while the wild-haired Australian Maverick Antcliff’s second place in Tenerife on Sunday marked the wild-haired Aussie down as a future winner.

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