Team Cink in the pink – now go go Higgo!

Gran Canaria Open

Best bets
2pts each-way Garrick Higgo @ 40/1
1pt each-way John Catlin @ 28/1
1pt each-way Sam Horsfield @ 22/1
0.5pt each-way Romain Langasque @ 33/1
0.5pt each-way Antoine Rozner @ 14/1
view odds

Pardon me for mentioning it but I backed a 225/1 winner at the weekend when Stewart Cink, bless him and his caddie-son Reagan, romped home by four shots in the Heritage tournament in South Carolina.

I still can’t believe it because in 49 years of golf tipping my longest-priced winner was, until Sunday, 100/1. I had three of them, the last 19 years ago with Matt Gogel at the 2002 Pebble Beach Pro-Am. It has been a long time between drinks.

Shrewd judge that Fitzdares’ golf compiler is, he made Cink only a 125/1 shot when bigger odds were available elsewhere, but as the winner was only an 80/1 chance on my own tissue, 125/1 was handsome enough and I hope a few of you got on. I am reliably informed the firm is still solvent which is good news all round!

As a double course winner at Hilton Head back in the day and a reborn golfer getting his second wind with victory at the Safeway Open in September plus a fourth in Bermuda and a timely 12th at Augusta on his most recent outing, making an each-way case for Cink was not rocket science.

The secret weapon was having Reagan on the bag, both at Safeway and Heritage.

After the Safeway triumph with his younger son toting the bag, Stewart bade farewell to his long-time caddie Kip Henley and the new team has built up an amazing chemistry.

Cink is a great family man and when wife Lisa, who has also caddied for him, had to go through nine lots of chemo in her battle with breast cancer five years ago, he took leave of absence from the tour to be with her.

Two years later he had to deal with his own skin cancer so the lack of success in the 11 years since beating 59-year-old Tom Watson in that 2009 Open play-off at Turnberry (and wrecking the fairytale) becomes more understandable.

He got to as high as fifth on the world rankings in 2008 despite always being a bit edgy on the short putts, has now chalked up eight career victories and there’s no reason why he can’t make it into double figures.

Heritage success has lifted him to third in the FedEx Cup standings, taken him into the world’s top 50 and as the only double winner this golfing year apart from Bryson DeChambeau, this 47-year-old even comes into the conversation for a Ryder Cup recall. Cink played in that five times until 2010.

Those two victories alone grossed the lofty Alabaman $2.47m and as the caddie normally get 10% of that on top of his weekly wage, maybe Reagan will think twice about taking up the job he has lined up at Delta Airlines in the summer when he has another important diary date – his wedding day.

There must be something in this family caddying business as another 47-year-old, Lee Westwood, won in Abu Dhabi in January with fiancé Helen looping for him. Lee has also had son Sam on the bag at other times and, like Cink, never stops smiling.

As Cink and Westwood have never played better or looked so happy, maybe punters need to rethink. Before, when a player had a family member on his/her bag instead of a pro carrier, it used to mean he was in holiday mode and not taking the tournament too seriously. Not any more.

Neither Cink or Westwood is playing in this week’s pairs event on the PGA circuit, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which doesn’t float my boat as a betting medium, so we’ll look at that later and concentrate first on the Gran Canaria Open.

This is the first in a Canary Islands triple-header, the next two being on Tenerife, the biggest of the eight islands. Both Tenerife tournaments will be played at the Costa Adebe course, the second one taking over the May spot vacated by the postponed French Open.

As we saw when Celtic Manor hosted the Celtic Classic and Wales Open back to back, that simplifies travel and hotel arrangements in the ongoing battle with Covid.

The Meloneras course is a 6503-yard par 70 with five par threes and three comfortably reachable par fives and should be a good old birdie fest. I’m told the front nine is nothing special but the spectacular stretch along the cliffs from 12th to 16th is worth the wait, both in terms of exciting holes and Atlantic views.

The wind is its main protection but nothing too dramatic is forecast although some rain is on the cards for round two.

Rafa Cabrera Bello, born next to another golf course on Gran Canaria, is tournament host which doesn’t help his chances as the record of those who have hosted the British Masters and other European events is not good.

Without spectators, Rafa’s role will be easier but his chance of winning in any case is not obvious. His fourth in Abu Dhabi in a much stronger event at the start of the year was encouraging but has been been struggling since and has not posted a top-ten in the US since 2019.

I’m looking for winners, preferably winners this year, and hot putters. The market is headed by Antoine Rozner, the Frenchman who broke through in Dubai in December and followed up in Qatar last month, so he definitely qualifies as does American John Catlin who has now won three of his last 13 European Tour starts after seeing off Max Kieffer in a marathon Austrian Open play-off.

The slimline Californian is no world-beater but hits it straight, putts well and has a big heart. His first two wins were in stronger company at the Irish Open and Andalusia Masters, and although back-to-back wins are rare, the 28/1 looks fair in a field mainly of golfers who find winning difficult.

With no Gran Canaria form to go on, it’s all a bit of a guess-up but aggressive South African Garrick Higgo has already won in Europe and caught the eye again when fourth in Austria on Sunday. Only 21, he is a work in progress but highly regarded.

Although only 15th at Atzenbrugg, Sam Horsfield fired in more birdies than anybody, 26, in finishing like a train after being derailed by a slow start. His birdie and eagle count was also sky-high in his two August victories.

After treatment for a slipped disc in his back, the Mancunian waited until after the lucrative Gulf Swing to restart and has quickly clicked into gear with a third and eighth in Kenya and 15th in Austria on his first three outings back. He is a winner waiting to happen.

Marcus Armitage and Will Besseling were in a share of fourth on Sunday but have not yet got to the letter W in the alphabet. They play well enough to feature at this level but do they believe they can win?

Romain Langasque took his time getting to that W but finally cracked it at the Wales Open last year. The Frenchman is a birdie machine and is not frightened to go low. He could be in his element on the shortest track on tour.


Zurich Classic Open

Best bets
2pts each-way Smith/Leishman @ 12-1
1pt each-way Rahm/Palmer @ 7/1
0.5pt each-way McDowell/Wallace @ 50/1
view odds

The Zurich Classic has become a welcome break from the norm since it switched to a pairs competition four years ago and as it comprises two days each of fourballs and alternate-shot golf, it’s useful practice for any Ryder Cup contenders involved.

They couldn’t play it last year because of you-know-what so 2019 champions Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer are the pair the other teams are trying to knock off their perch at the TPC of Louisiana near New Orleans.

That was the last time veteran Texan Palmer won but he has been a decent player for a long time and having the best golfer in the field to lean on gave him confidence last time even in the alternate-shot format where his putting fragility is difficult to hide.

Last week’s victory by a 47-year-old in South Carolina can only be a spur to the three-years-younger Palmer and there’s no reason why these good friends shouldn’t go close again.

The previous two winners have new partners. Cam Smith who won with Jonas Blixt in 2017 now shacks up with fellow Aussie Marc Leishman, while 2018 champion Billy Horschel, who won with Scott Piercy, now has young lion Sam Burns under his wing.

Matchplay winner Horschel is in good nick and Louisiana native Burns will be keen for his first victory to come on home ground but the Smith-Leishman combo looks a bigger threat on the 7425-yard par 72 at Avondale.

Smith, second and tenth in two Masters, followed up his good Augusta performance with another top-ten at Heritage, while Leishman’s Masters fifth was a tonic as he had been struggling. With confidence restored, look out for him in the next few weeks.

PGA champ Collin Morikawa links with pal Matt Wolff, two Major winners in Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are a class double act on paper but neither is near peak form.

Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have similar games and look a good match, but at 7/1 co-favourites they are short enough in the betting considering Cantlay has missed his last three cuts.

Best outsiders could be Graeme McDowell/Matt Wallace at 60-1. G Mac has always been a great team man and Wallace has upped his game with third in Texas and solid showings at Augusta and Hilton Head.

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