Jon Rahm 1.5pts each-way @ 14/1
Paul Casey 1pt each-way @ 22/1
Collin Morikawa 1pt each-way @ 22/1
Louis Oosthuizen 0.5pt each-way @ 40/1
Confession time… the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship has been in existence, in different guises, since 1999 and I’ve never tipped the winner. Or even a finalist!
So your betting strategy should probably be to do the precise opposite to what I suggest which is to back four in-form players high on confidence, two Europeans in Paul Casey and Jon Rahm, South African Louis Oosthuizen and American debutant Collin Morikawa.
This year’s renewal at the Austin Country Club, Texas, will be the fifth under the Dell banner there, last year’s having been wiped out because of you-know-what, and once again the winner will pick up a tidy $1.82m from the $10.5m purse.
He will have to work harder than in 72-hole strokeplay tournaments as to be champion requires him to demolish seven opponents in five days. When punting, remember the show starts on WEDNESDAY with a three-match round robin, so get your money down early, that is if you still have something left after Cheltenham.
The 64 runners are split into 16 groups of four, each headed by one of the 16 top seeds. World No. 12 Brooks Koepka has withdrawn because of an ongoing knee problem, as has Justin Rose who is also nursing a niggle.
One who is fit and fancied is Arizona-based Englishman Paul Casey, who is enjoying a great year. He was runner-up in 2009-10 and, at 43, is probably an even better golfer than he was a decade ago.
Those were the days when the final was 36 holes, often of stultifying boredom. Who would cross the road to watch 38 holes of Jeff Maggert beating Andrew Magee, Steve Stricker wearing down Pierre Fulke or Kevin Sutherland outstaying Scott McCarron? Now it is just 18 which favours fast starters as there’s less time to play catch-up.
When Casey won the British equivalent at Wentworth it was 36 a day and he didn’t just win, he butchered poor Shaun Micheel by a record 10 & 8 in the 2006 final. That performance which also featured wide-margin conquests in earlier rounds plus his excellent Ryder Cup record show how much he relishes matchplay golf.
An emphatic winner in Dubai at the start of this year and runner-up in the USPGA Championship in August, his latest outing at Sawgrass saw him place fifth to Justin Thomas.
As 18th seed, he has just missed out on heading his group but will be encouraged that ninth seed Webb Simpson, his biggest rival in the round-robin match-ups, missed the cut at Sawgrass last time out while he had a great week.
My strategy of picking four players to small stakes with bigger investments at the quarter-final stage after the groups have sorted themselves out has so far been spectacularly unsuccessful but a 30-1 golf winner on Sunday and emerging from Cheltenham without the usual large bill to pay has put me in an upbeat mood.
With sponsors, TV and fans who had tickets for the weekend fed up with marquee names such as Tiger and Lefty being turned over early and hi-tailing it out of town, the move to round robins was inevitable.
Now everybody gets three games minimum and if that means a few dead rubbers on Friday afternoon with group winners already virtually decided, that’s just too bad.
Luck plays a bigger part than it does in strokeplay because you can shoot 67 and lose or 73 and win. Too much depends on what your opponent is scoring. World rankings count for little, they are based on 72-hole medal play, not 18-hole ‘instant death’ confrontations.
The obvious pick on form at 7108-yard par 72 Austin CC is Kevin Kisner. The defending champion beat Oosthuizen in 2019, having reached the final the previous year. He has not had even a top-20 since the turn of the year but this is a one-off in a format that suits his dogged personality.
Course form has to be respected which is why Rahm, a beaten finalist in a close encounter with Dustin Johnson in 2017 and one of the most consistent players on tour – six top-tens in his last eight starts – has to be worth a bet. Consistency is a priceless asset in this format as long as he doesn’t bump into somebody shooting the lights out.
The Spaniard has veteran Ryan Palmer and Open champ Shane Lowry as threats in his group but the Irishman made a hash of a high-finish opportunity at the Honda just when it looked as if he was turning the corner.
The case for Oosthuizen rests mainly on his two final appearances, runner-up to Kisner in the most recent renewal and to Jason Day in 2016. Amazingly he has never won in the States (neither had Ian Poulter until he beat Casey in an all-English final in 2010).
His sixth place in the first WGC bonanza of the year at The Concession followed 11th in Phoenix which encourages the thought that a long-overdue success is near. He is in one of the hottest groups comprising course specialist Kisner, Justin Thomas and Matt Kuchar. To nick a last-16 spot ‘Shrek’ will have to putt well but he is more than capable.
Unflappable Morikawa, already a four-time winner and a Major and WGC champion at 24, is a superior version of Kisner and, like Rahm, rarely has a bad round. For his Dell baptism he has drawn a very winnable group with Billy Horschel looking his chief danger.
Of the other market leaders, Thomas, fourth here last time, is preferred to 2017 champion DJ whose last two efforts have been underwhelming, Bryson DeChambeau’s extra length is not needed and might get him into trouble, Tony Finau is a weak finisher, Xander Schauffele has not been firing on all cylinders and Jordan Spieth is still liable to throw in one disastrous round.
What of Rory McIlroy? The 2015 winner but on a different course has been mixing low rounds with some shockers which is not recommended in this format. Couldn’t back him with a counterfeit fiver so that’s your winner!
Charley Hoffman 2.5pts each-way @ 16/1
Brice Garnett 1pt each-way @ 33/1
Nate Lashley 1pt each-way @ 33/1
Sam Ryder 1pt each-way @ 33/1
Sepp Straka 0.5pt each-way @ 33/1
For those not qualified for the big Match Play gig in Texas, the Corales Puntacana Championship in the Dominican Republic has $3m for the taking and there’s a tasty bonus for the winner – a prized place in next month’s Masters line-up.
It’s a shame Bryson DeChambeau is otherwise engaged because he could drive the 501-yard 18th green at Puntacana if taking a gamble and crossing the Caribbean on the longest carry.
Because of the pandemic, last year’s tournament was delayed until September when victory went to Hudson Swafford who had a hot putting week in getting to 18 under par.
That was the same score posted by 2019 winner Graeme McDowell, his first victory for four years, and Brice Garnett in 2018, the first time it was given main-tour status. It was a Web.com (now Korn Ferry) pit-stop for two years before that when Nate Lashley and Dominic Bozzelli did the business.
Garnett, fifth in Puerto Rico in a similar-strength awayday two outings ago and a respectable 25th in hotter company in last week’s Honda, looks a fair bet, as does Sam Ryder, who finished second on this 7670-yard par 72 five years ago and was taking a big hand in the Honda until crumbling under Sunday pressure. He still finished eighth and will surely make a breakthrough soon.
McDowell is joined by Danny Willett, the Belgian Thomases Pieters and Detry and giant Austrian Sepp Straka in a decent European challenge. Pieters and Detry easily have the game to win this but are proving expensive to follow. The fact that short hitter McDowell won suggests that, despite its great length, the course suits all types.
Nate Lashley’s course form (Web.com winner in 2017, fourth last year), puts him in the equation. On his Pebble Beach fifth last month, he has to have a shout in this easier grade.
Fancied to finish on top of the pile on Sunday is veteran Charley Hoffman who has re-emerged after some tough years to post some excellent efforts, the most recent coming with Sunday’s 17th at Honda. That followed top-tens at Pebble Beach and Bay Hill in better company and he was a respectable 14th at Puntacana last year.
This four-time winner has blanked for almost five years but is looking sharp. At 44 he will be spurred on by the 70-1 victory of fellow 40-something Matt Jones on Sunday.
Sam Horsfield 2pts each-way @ 20/1
Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez 1pt each-way @ 80/1
Garrick Higgo 1pt each-way @ 28/1
Romain Langasque 1pt each-way @ 20/1
Kurt Kitayama 0.5pt each-way @ 12/1
Aaron Rai 0.5pt each-way @ 25/1
The European Tour’s second tournament in Nairobi uniquely starts on a Tuesday with a Friday finish – it stops last week’s competitors in the hotel bubble having to hang around. When you read this, the Kenya Savannah Classic will have teed off but you will be able to back the selections at in-running odds.
The field is virtually the same as last week’s and the Karen course is the same 6921- yard par 71 test over which Justin Harding, the 30-1 winner of the Kenya Open, did us a good turn in keeping market leader Kurt Kitayama at bay.
The little American could take his revenge as Harding faces the extra pressure of trying to win two in a row. It happens rarely. I’m hoping England’s Sam Horsfield who finished eighth on Sunday on his first 2021 outing since slipping a disc in Cyprus at the end of last year can beat both.
Sam missed the lucrative Middle East tournaments to give the back every chance to heal and this two-time winner in 2020 will want to make up for lost time.
Also impressive last week was Spaniard Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez who was full of beans in finishing fourth. This positive character is no chicken but has stayed under my radar until now. Top-tens in Portugal and in the Hero Open at Hanbury Manor last year suggest he can win at this level.
So too the well-touted South African Garrick Higgo and his older compatriot Dean Burmester, both in the thick of the action last week. South Africans have an edge because they play on kikuyu grass all year.
Aaron Rai, who is of Kenyan-Indian descent, won the Kenyan Open in 2017 when it was a Challenge Tour event and wants to impress in a country where he feels at home. The Wolverhampton 26-year-old took a big scalp when edging Tommy Fleetwood out of the Scottish Open last year. Expect good things from Rai and Frenchman Romain Langasque, who was fifth at Karen on Sunday.