Golf,

Hill can be king of the castle

Irish Open


Best bets (6 places, 1/5 odds)
2pts each-way Calum Hill @ 40/1
1pt each-way Garrick Higgo @ 25/1
1pt each-way Tyler Koivisto @ 200/1
1pt each-way Wilco Nienaber @ 22/1
2pts win Shane Lowry @ 13/2

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Old Man Par had a field day at Winged Foot where the US Open claimed a wheelbarrow-full of famous victims with only one out of 144, Bryson DeChambeau, beatIng him and only one more, Matthew Wolff, managing even a score-draw on level-par 280.

While saluting “mad scientist” DeChambeau’s six-shot triumph In a wham-bam-thankyou-mam style that few punters or rivals foresaw as a viable method of dealing with the notoriously difficult New York course, Winged Foot itself was the real winner.

Going for the big stick when others adopted the usual cautious approach to keep the ball away from the punishing rough, DeChambeau smashed away, taking fairway bunkers out of play and reasoning that 340-yard drives left only short pitches to most greens even after crooked tee shots.

The bulked-up winner announced beforehand his intention to batter this classic course into submission and followed his unique plan to the letter while those who questioned his sanity had to eat their words and headed home in a state of bewilderment.

Finishing six under the 280 par total his rivals were striving to achieve (but 142 failed), DeChambeau was posting his second victory since coming out of lockdown with 40lb of extra muscle and 30 extra yards of distance with driver in hand.

He is now at single-figure odds with Fitzdares for the Masters in November and could end up favourite. Only Rory McIlroy is ahead of him and you have to ask why because even though Rory finished eighth on Sunday, he’s still way short of his best.

It was a pretty miserable display by the Europeans with only one in the top-ten although Lee Westwood and Norway’s Viktor Hovland had decent enough weeks to share 13th spot.

McIlroy announced recently that the new shape of the truncated golfing year and Covid-19 meant he wouldn’t be making this week’s Irish Open and might not play at all in Europe, a shame for everybody although the winner will have cause to be grateful.

Galgorm Castle makes its main-tour debut, a 7070-yard par 70 test with unusually no par five on the front nine. From 2013 to this year the course has hosted eight Challenge Tour events, mostly for the Northern Ireland Open.

The tournament was originally slated for Mount Juliet in early May until Covid-19 raised its ugly head. Unlike Winged Foot, there should be plenty of birdies, Calum Hill and Ryan Fox holding the record there at 19 under par.

Challenge Tour winners competing In Ballymena this week are Fox, Hill, Robin Sciot-Segrist, Daan Huizing, Joakim Lagergren, Jack Senior, Clement Sordet and 2020 champion Tyler Koivisto.

American Koivisto’s victory only two weeks ago is of particular interest because in seventh place and five shots behind him came Garrick Higgo, the 21-year-old South African who went on to land an 18-1 shot for this column in the Portuguese Open at the weekend.

Hill, Koivisto and Higgo are suggested as each-way punts against market leaders George Coetzee and Open champion Shane Lowry, an Irish Open winner while still an amateur in 2009.

Koivisto shot a 62 at Galgorm Castle only a couple of weeks ago and is at a very tasty three-figure price. Scotsman Hill is a triple Challenge Tour winner who posted top-tens in two legs of the recent UK Swing after picking up a spring victory on the Outlaw Tour in Arizona when that State did not follow the rest of the golf world in shutting down because of Covid.

Lowry may well run away with this tournament because he is at a different level. On his sixth in the big WGC event in Memphis he’d walk this. But he didn’t impress at the two Majors and hasn’t won since the Open at Royal Portrush. Back on home soil among friendly faces he’s worth a saver.

Coetzee is in dazzling form, 2-1-1-3 for his four latest outings, winning at his home course in Pretoria and at the Portugal Masters on the Victoria course where he had posted previous high finishes.

He may not have much adrenaline left for a course that is new to him. Not the fittest guy, this might be one gig too many. His compatriot Wilco Nienaber, only 20, looked a real talent when sixth at tricky Valderrama and 14th on his most recent outings and is preferred.

Thai star Jazz Janewattananond would have a squeak on old form but has struggled to make an impact in the States and may need a confidence restorer before adding to his multiple victories in Asia.

Corales Puntacana


Best bets
2pts each-way Mackenzie Hughes @ 14/1
1pt each-way Thomas Detry @ 28/1
1pt each-way Sam Burns @ 18/1
0.5pt each-way Akshay Bhatia @ 125/1
0.5pt each-way Xinjun Zhang @ 33/1

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The Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic is the PGA Tour offering with the bigger names takIng a break after the rigours of Winged Foot.

It is more interestIng than usual because Graeme McDowell is defending his title in a week when his participation in the Irish Open would have been welcomed.

There are plenty of other Europeans on parade, headed by Henrik Stenson making his Corales debut and Thomas Detry, the stylish Belgian who has somehow failed to win in Europe despite making plenty of chances for himself.

The latest disappointment came when he missed the 4ft putt that would have sent him into a play-off with Sam Horsfield at the Hero Open. Runner-up again to the same opponent in the Celtic Classic, Detry was in line for a high US Open finish until the wheels came off on Sunday with an 81.

It is harder to make a case for Stenson who missed the cut in both Majors, is down to 152nd in the world rankings and at 44 the 2016 Open champion seems to be in decline.

Having missed his last four cuts, McDowell is also hard to fancy.

My money’s going on Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, runner-up here last year and boasting some strong 2020 form. He shot a 60 on the way to third at the Travelers and showed bottle with a Tour Championship place on the line when holing a five-footer on the final green at the BMW.

Sam Burns and Akshay Bhatia come into calculations after top-tens at the pre-Open warm-up at Silverado.

Left-hander Bhatia, a skinny (under 10st) six-footer, is a flat-stick wizard regarded with awe in junior golf circles. He looks destined for great things. Burns deserved better than seventh after leading the Safeway field a merry dance.

Also short-listed in a wide-Open week are Chinese star Xinjun Zhang, 14th at Safeway and fifth in the 2018 Corales, Corey Conners and the unpredictable Pat Perez.

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