3pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 9/2
3pts win Rory McIlroy @ 29/10
1pt each-way Viktor Hovland @ 10/1
1pt each-way Kurt Kitayama @ 28/1
2pts win Kurt Kitayama to beat MW Lee @ 10/11
1pt win Tyrrell Hatton Top Englishman @ 4/1
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Will it be a Rory McIlroy-Jon Rahm shootout for the $10m DP World Tour Championship on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Estates this weekend … or will someone jump out of the pack to poop the party?
Already a triple winner of the big DP World curtain-closer, Rory heads Fitzdares’ betting at just under 3/1 (and already backed at bigger odds) in an elite field of 50 and victory would be three in a row for the popular Northern Irishman who won the US version of the Tour Championship and the CJ Cup on his latest outings.
A 2022 Majors portfolio reading 2-8-5-3 doesn’t sound too shabby either, such a shame that the ones that really matter just eluded him.
Rory is a triple course winner way back in 2012-14-15, and if you’re looking for a flaw, it is that he’s been well beaten on three subsequent visits, by five (Collin Morikawa last year), seven (Rahm in 2019) and five (Matt Fitzpatrick, 2016). The response to that his mind is in a better place now and so is his game.
Even so, I am taking him on with Rahm whose Jumeirah record – two wins, on debut in 2017 and again in 2019, with a fourth to Danny Willett sandwiched between, brooks no argument. He is 52 under par for those 12 rounds so will rubbing his hands at the prospect of renewing acquaintance with a course so close to his heart.
The big Spaniard looked in serious trouble with his putting for a large slice of the year, hence no Majors success, but the touch with the flat stick seemed back to normal when he added the Spanish Open to a springtime PGA Tour success in Mexico before finishing T4 to Rory at Congaree.
Sharing fourth place at the CJ Cup was a major steer towards putting up Tommy Fleetwood for the Nedbank – the 10/1 favourite was the first leg of a TF double, completed by 18/1 chance Tony Finau.
Backers had luck on their side as a fragile Fleetwood admitted a stomach disorder would have forced him to pull out but for the sterling efforts of the Sun City medic. Beware the sick golfer!
The Englishman was lucky too that chief rival Ryan Fox duffed his last tee shot and made a bit of a gift of it. Had Fox won, he would have overtaken McIlroy at the top of the Race To Dubai (what we old’uns used to call the European Order of Merit). As it is, the New Zealander has closed right up on the leader.
Overtaking McIlroy is a different matter but if anyone deserves to finish top it surely must be the tireless Kiwi who has danced virtually every dance, played 24, won twice, was eight times in the top five and ten times a top-ten finisher. Not only that, he gets on with it with a smile and at 35 this late bloomer’s days as a journeyman are over: he’s a high-class operator these days and so unlucky not to get a Presidents Cup call.
There’s nothing in Fox’s previous two Jumeirah visits (45th and 28th) to suggest he can topple the favourite on the vast 7675-yard par 72 Greg Norman layout but its length (par fives of 620 and 626 yards) won’t beat him – as a 317-yard bomber Foxy’s right up there with Rory and Rahm.
There was nothing either in his previous Sun City visits (52-50-57) to suggest he was going to go so close at the Nedbank. It’s just that his confidence is sky high. Moreover, he’s as strong as an ox, so will shake off any Sun City hangover better than Fleetwood who took a lot out of himself, physically and mentally, in ending a three-year drought.
US Open champion Fitzpatrick, BMW PGA hero Shane Lowry and Viktor Hovland are obvious threats to the Big Two.
The smiling Norwegian has the advantage of having won in Dubai at the start of this year. Recent outings, fifth at Wentworth, fifth at the ZOZO and tenth at Mayakoba are encouraging and he handled the course well enough when third in 2020, just two behind Fitzpatrick.
Lowry was runner-up to Rahm in 2017 but I’m not sure this is his course and at the prices I‘m more interested in Californian visitor Kitayama, who went head to head down the stretch with McIlroy at the CJ Cup in what was his third runner-up spot of the calendar year. When considering the calibre of the men he chased home – Rahm in Mexico, Xander Schauffele at the Scottish Open, Rory at Congaree – the 28/1 looks even more appealing.
Only 5ft 7in, he has improved his short game no end – and he does give the ball a rip, another who is averaging 317 yards. Twice a winner when a European regular but still awaiting a PGA Tour breakthrough, he lacks consistency but if he’s on a going week, the rest had better watch out.
Alex Noren advertised his claims with a T4 in Houston on Sunday, before that runner-up to Fox at the Dunhill Links. Along with Min Woo Lee, Tyrrell Hatton and Bob MacIntyre, the Swede might get into the conversation but they will all need to be at the top of their game to contend.
Victory by a total outsider is highly unlikely given the strength at the top of the market but Shubhankar Sharma, at 200/1 the complete outsider at Sun City, so nearly got it done, joint-leading with three to play. This one is obviously a stronger event.
Pick of the Fitzdares’ specials could be Kitayama @ 10/11 to beat MW Lee and Hatton @ 4/1 for Top Englishman.
Guess what? It’s sunny in Dubai with temperatures around 90F. Let’s hope the sun shines on us too!
In the absence of early hot favourite Tony Finau, the RSM Classic at Sea Island, Georgia looks fit for plunder by Irish star Seamus Power.
It’s already been a good week for Ireland with Padraig Harrington almost lapping the field on the roundbellies’ circuit on Sunday and it could be a great one with Power here and Rory McIlroy a warm order for the big DP World Tour finale in Dubai.
Power, looking more and more like a shoo-in for a Ryder Cup debut, arrives at Sea Island bursting with confidence after winning in Bermuda and placing third at Mayakoba. The fact that he finished T4 at Sea Island last year endorses his chance.
They weren’t great tournaments but neither is this one. In fact, without world No. 12 Finau, it’s weaker. Now the top-ranked player is lefty Brian Harman at 26.
Although Harman was T4 in the 2017 RSM, there have been plenty of missed cuts on other visits, so I’m a little surprised he leads the revised market.
Looking at past winners, it’s a tournament for tidy plodders. With 20-under the average winning score the last five years, the putter must be one of the strongest clubs in the bag. Harman is lethal in that department but there are a good few like him in the field.
There are two courses in operation, the links-style Seaside course (7005 yards par 70) originally laid out by the great Harry Colt along the ocean and the big-fairwayed Plantation (7160 yards par 72) with marshes, forest, lakes, tidal creeks and tempting greens.
There aren’t many courses these days where short hitters like Kevin Kisner can shine but he has two this week, as he demonstrated by winning in 2015 and losing out only after a play-off to Robert Streb two years ago. That was Streb’s second win in the Classic. He plays miles better on St Simon’s Island than elsewhere.
Kisner hasn’t teed it up since Congaree so we’ll have to take his match-fitness on trust but if reproducing the form that took him to the Match Play final and into fourth place at the Players Championship he’s fair value.
Talor Gooch would have been defending champion but he’s been a LIV man from the start in St Albans so his ship has sailed. MacKenzie Hughes, runner-up to Gooch, putted the lights out when winning the Sanderson Farms last month and the Canadian short-game wizard somehow scrambled his way into 16th place in Houston despite hitting it sideways off the tee. At 33/1 he’s worth an interest.
It’s a pity Joel Dahmen’s course form is so ordinary because his last three starts, 16th at ZOZO, third at Mayakoba and ninth in Houston (despite putting like a dog on Sunday), indicate that something good is soon going to happen to this long-server.
If you’re looking for a big outsider, give Korean newcomer SH Kim a spin. Twice a winner in Asia and with two extremely promising efforts on his CV since getting his PGA Tour card, the 24-year-old will repay following at this level, if not this week then this year.
It’s going to be a cool, overcast week at Sea Island with temperatures around 60F and virtually none of the wind which the Seaside course needs to make it a serious challenge. Rain expected – but not until Sunday.
This is the final official tournament of the year on the PGA Tour but we still have another Tiger Woods comeback to look forward to next month, if only in his own charity tournament, the Hero World Challenge.
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