Tiger, Rory, Rahmbo – who could ask for anything more?


Best bets

1.5pts each-way Justin Rose @ 50/1
1.5pts each-way Adam Scott @ 50/1
1.5pt each-way Max Homa @ 16/1
1pt each-way Will Zalatoris @ 28/1
0.5pt each-way Tony Finau @ 16/1

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Apologies to new world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler for leaving him out of our headline but we have an embarrassment of riches this wild, wild week: Tiger’s back for a first full-scale attempt at walking 72 holes in a non-Major since October 2020, dethroned Rory’s impatient to regain the top spot, Rahmbo’s kicking himself for a wasted opportunity and desperate to make quick amends.

All that and much, much more is wrapped up in another $20m elite-level bumper bundle called the Genesis Invitational on the famed golfing playground of Hollywood legends, exclusive Riviera Country Club at Pacific Palisades, the backdrop for so many famous golf-themed movies like Pat And Mike, The Caddy and the Ben Hogan biopic Follow The Sun.

Dean Martin, who co-starred with comedy partner Jerry Lewis in The Caddy, was a Riviera member, regularly oiling his silky tonsils at the bar, as was Walt Disney while Humphrey Bogart even had a tree on the 12th named after him which he would sit under with a bottle of Jim Beam to hand as he heckled passing players.

So many storylines with Woods hosting a tournament run for the benefit of his Foundation as well as the 120 golfers lucky enough to be there. Ironically, there’s no defending champion as Joakin Niemann, wire-to-wire winner last year and at 23 the exception to the rule in an event typically won by experienced hands.

The Chilean was lured away by Saudi riches to join the LIV rebels and, for the time being at least, is banned, along with big-name Open champion Cameron Smith and two-time Riviera winner Dustin Johnson. Otherwise there is everybody you would want to see in a tournament that’s not far removed from Major significance.

Equally ironic is the fact that Riviera is one of the few courses on the PGA Tour never conquered by Woods while assembling his record-equalling PGA victory total of 82, yet it was the first he played, by special invitation as a 16-year-old high-school sophomore.

Unsurprisingly, he missed the cut. His latest effort there, in the 2020 Genesis, was not markedly better. He finished 68th, so not much encouragement to take Fitzdares’ 100/1 in this week’s comeback.

Of more interest would be a price for the great man to make the cut. In a mass of special markets there’s just 5/1 about a top-20 finish but wouldn’t even that be something? Before Christmas we saw Woods in a made-for-TV charity match with McIlroy as partner and in 36-hole father-and-son competition mode but each time travelling by cart. This week it’s for the long haul, no buggies of course and the club-grabbing Kikuyu primary rough is another health hazard.

Looking to the rest of the year, all eyes will be on how Tiger looks and feels on Sunday evening, assuming he gets that far. That’s far from a given looking at the strength in depth of the opposition. At 27 Woods wouldn’t have been a shoo-in for a top-20. At 47 with his injury record can he even be in the same parish? Not if he were a mere mortal, but we are talking genius here.

What Woods will certainly do is deflect attention from the principals, the guys at the head of the market where we find Jon Rahm 7/1 favourite ahead of the higher-ranked Scheffler and McIlroy. Like Woods, not one of that trio has won at Riviera. In fact, only Max Homa of the top 15 on Fitzdares’ list is a winner on this famed layout which hosted the 1948 US Open (one of Hogan’s Riviera takeaways), two USPGAs and will stage the golf when the 2028 Olympics goes to nearby Los Angeles (the Genesis started life as the LA Open in 1926).

The two latest Olympic gold medalists Xander Schauffele and Justin Rose are at Riviera this week and both must have serious chances. Although it can be argued that the opposition on the final day at Pebble Beach was not out of the top drawer, Rose’s shot-making was so secure, his temperament so serene that it was hard to believe four years had elapsed since the Englishman’s last victory.

You have to go a fair way back to find any decent course form for the 2013 US Open champion but the 7322-yard par 71 has always favoured creative play and faders of the ball – Bubba Watson is a triple winner there – and Rosey has all that in his repertoire.

His best finish was fourth in 2017 but he can better that in his current frame of mind and 50/1 represents great each-way value.

My other forty-something to take the play away from the market leaders is Adam Scott who has always adored Riviera. His last win on US soil came there in tough conditions in 2020 and an early success came his way in the weather-shortened 2005 edition.

That one, when he beat Chad Campbell at the first playoff hole after the plug was pulled on the tournament at the 36-hole stage doesn’t count as an official victory but the Aussie copped for the full $864,000 first prize and the bookies paid out (though Betfair had different rules and after IBAS, the betting adjudication service, was called in, bets were voided).

Runner-up to Adrian Meronk In the Australian Open and with top caddie Stevie Williams on the bag – they won the Masters together the same year Rose captured the US Open – this immaculate driver says the shape of the holes suits his eye. Last year’s fourth to Niemann was another positive but so much is down to the putter with him.

It’s hard to leave Homa out. This is a home game for the colourful Californian who ticks both key boxes – course winner, beating Tony Finau in the 2021 playoff, fourth to Scott in 2020, 13th in title defence last year, and current form, Torrey Pines winner, third at Kapalua.

Rahm, fifth in 2021, and McIlroy, fifth in 2020 and 13th last year, have solid-enough course form but I have no pressing urge to back them at single-figure odds. Last week Scheffler won the same Phoenix tournament that launched him to superstardom last year when he won four times, including the Masters, in a six-tournament surge and a meteoric rise to the top.

While often going close since that Masters triumph, he had not won again until last week which will be a weight off his mind. He’ll be there or thereabouts and a Riviera record of 7-20-30-MC indicates he’s getting more comfortable there with each visit.

Again the price, while deserved after Sunday’s resolute display in warding off the unlikely challenge of world No. 227 Nick Taylor as well as an out-of-sorts Rahm, is short enough to put me off. Each-way bets on Finau (7-16-9-14 this year), Will Zalatoris and Tyrrell Hatton, a fast-finishing sixth at Phoenix, hold more appeal.

Zalatoris is pacing himself after long back injury rehab and missed Phoenix to save himself for this one. His choice was no doubt influenced by course success in the Collegiate Showcase in his days as an amateur. Runner-up in two Majors and finally off the mark at St Jude since he last competed at Riviera, he should easily improve on past course efforts (15th and 26th).

It’s going to be cool, cloudy and dry all four days but on the golf course the action will be hot-hot-hot. Bring it on!


Best bets

2pts each-way Thorbjorn Olesen @ 20/1
1pt each-way Takumi Kanaya @ 28/1
1pt each-way Shubhankar Sharma @ 50/1
1pt each-way Kiradech Aphibarnrat @ 28/1
0.5pt each-way Jeunghun Wang @ 50/1
0.5pt each-way Taiga Semikawa @ 80/1

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The DP World Tour swings over from Singapore to the Land of Smiles this week for the first Thailand Classic in seven years but not many punters were singing n the rain on Sunday when Ockie Strydom sprang his second shock in two months.

You could have had 400/1 about the late-blooming South African who had won only once in 271 attempts on the weaker Sunshine Tour when he scooped the Alfred Dunhill Championship at 150/1 just before Christmas. Punters and bookmakers must have put that Leopard Creek triumph down as a fluke as he was allowed to go off at more than twice those odds for a similar assignment in Singapore.

The 38-year-old can hardly have believed he was going to win again so soon as he came storming through the field with nine birdies. to scythe down the leaders with a best-of-the-week 63. He’s not in Thailand this week but the betting fraternity won’t be forgetting the name next time.

The reason for his massive SP was not hard to unearth: he’d missed the cut by a country mile (78-77) at Ras Al Khaimah the week before and his first two stabs at the Arabian Swing, 63rd in Abu Dhabi and another missed cut in Dubai, gave no hint whatsoever that he was ready to win again.

So an emphatic fist pump by the ‘old enemy’ but in the fervent hope that the money is only lent, we can get it back with interest at Amata Spring, a top-quality course just outside Bangkok that has seen some great results for Europeans in the past.

Five Thailand Championships were staged on the Asian Tour on this water-strewn 7575-yard par 72 between 2011 and 2015 and it proved a happy hunting ground for Lee Westwood, who won there twice, Sergio Garcia and finally Jamie Donaldson, the Welshman being the only one of that Ryder Cup trio to be teeing it up now in a market headed by the usual suspects Jordan Smith, Nicolai Hojgaard and Bob MacIntyre.

The Scot missed the cut in Singapore following disappointing efforts in the UAE and is maybe trying TOO hard to land a Ryder Cup debut. He looks the least likely of the three favourites to come up trumps in a wide-open tournament.

This could be the week for Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen, a member of the winning Ryder Cup team in 2018 when he walloped Jordan Spieth 5 & 4 in the singles. His British Masters victory last year was the sixth in a topsy-turvy career interrupted by a long court case that didn’t show him in the best light even though he was cleared.

Olesen paid a heavy price in lost earnings if nothing else but he is now trending the right way and improving week-on-week, 20th in Abu Dhabi, 16th in Dubai, 4th at Ras Al Khaimah last time, and if he has ambitions to regain his Ryder place, this is the sort of tournament he needs to win.

We have a truly international cast and I’m putting up a Thai, two Japanese, an Indian and a South Korean to follow Olesen home. But first of all where have all the Thais gone?

Well, not quite all but LIV signing Sadom Kaewkanjana, arguably their best player on the back of back-to-back second places in Jeddah and Oman on the Saudi-endowed Asian Tour the past two weeks, is chasing bigger bucks in the clashing Asian International Series event in Qatar. While Thailand has a $2m kitty, Qatar is topping that with $2.5m.

Jazz Janewattananond and Phachara Khongwatmai are other Thai stars accompanying him to Qatar so there is precious little back-up for Kiradech Aphibarnrat in his quest to keep the Classic at home unless you count 16-year-old prodigy Ratchanon Chantananuwat, who beat dual PGA Tour winner Tom Kim last year and impresses everybody as a bit special.

Aphi didn’t pull up any trees in finishing 49th in Singapore to follow his 28th in the high-class Saudi International but he is not far away and this birdie machine will be pumped up for this.

A more obvious pick is the Japanese star Takumi Kanaya who has just strolled away with a fat cheque in a stronger tournament in Oman, winning by four on Sunday. LIV stars Sergio Garcia and Joakin Niemann, who shared fifth place, were left toiling in the wake of the 24-year-old from Hiroshima. The world top amateur for 55 weeks was winning for the first time outside his own country.

We were wondering what all the fuss was about when he came over to Europe but Kanaya didn’t bring his game with him, failing to record even a top-ten and missing a good few cuts. But there was a hint of his quality with his seventh to Open champion Cameron Smith in the Australian PGA in November and surely the only way for Takumi now is up.

Japan has another string to its bow in another ex-amateur star, Taiga Semikawa. It won’t be long before this young man, only 21, starts collecting European titles. His two victories on the Japan Tour while still an amateur included the Japan Open itself. Kanaya’s success will be an inspiration to the younger man.

Indian No. 1 Shubhankar Sharma has two Tour wins to his name but not since 2018 and the last few years have been a bit of a struggle. Fingers crossed he has turned the corner with third place at the Nedbank in November and seventh in Abu Dhabi first time out this year. He will be in his comfort zone in Thailand and again next week at the Indian Open.

Considering he went 18 months without touching a golf club while he was doing obligatory national service, Korea’s Jeunghun Wang has got back on the horse pretty quickly. This three-time winner in Europe might well step up on Sunday’s third in Singapore.

Just like Sawgrass, no tournament is won at Amata Spring until you’ve got past the island-green 17th unscathed. At 152 yards long, it’s only a flick but there’s nowhere to bale out if you hit it crooked or with the wrong stick. The biggest difference with the Players Championship hole on which it’s modelled is that players have to get on a BOAT to reach this green!

Incidentally, talking of the Land of Smiles, young Thais are taught 12 ways of smiling, each smile having a different meaning. If you like it hot, there are four days of 90F-plus heat and 75% humidity to smile about. Rather you than me …

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