2pts each-way Peter Uihlein @ 50/1
2pts each-way Joaquin Niemann @ 15/2
1pt each-way Louis Oosthuizen @ 14/1
0.5pts each-way Phachara Khongwatmai @ 150/1
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The LIV circus moves on to Bangkok on Friday for the sixth leg of its eight-tournament opening series – there’ll be 14 next year – and we’re off to a spanking new course an hour’s drive north of the city, the Stonehill Golf Club, the lavish pet project of Thailand’s second-richest man.
What a fitting backdrop for this $25m tournament with its $4m winner’s prize. Stonehill is the work of American architect Kyle Phillips whose gorgeous Kingsbarns is such an adornment to the Dunhill Links Pro-Am. As a Phillips design, we can be sure it tests shot-making skills over sheer power.
Sarath Ratanavadi, the Thai entrepreneur reputed to be worth $12-billion, has ambitions for his baby to host many more big tournaments so it will be fascinating to see what it looks like when the curtain goes up on LIV’s final 54-holer.
The early shotgun start (10.15am) is convenient for a British and Irish TV audience as that translates to 6.15pm here, the same time LIV’s four US tournaments teed off.
It’s the same 12-team, 48-runner format we are getting to know so well, currently via LIVgolf.com or on You Tube, but rumours of a tie-up with Fox Sports are circulating for worldwide terrestrial coverage next year.
Open champion Cammie Smith and former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, winners of the last two events in Boston and Chicago, inevitably head the betting but we have had five different winners to date with South Africans Charl Schwartzel and Branden Grace nabbing the first two and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson sacrificing Ryder Cup captaincy for untold Saudi riches when landing a 50/1 shot on his New Jersey bow.
Schwartzel, Grace and Talor Gooch, three of LIV’s biggest signings, missed the cut in Scotland last week and with the Bangkok weather forecast of daily thunder and lightning (but in 90-degree heat and humidity there), they face a second drenching in two weeks.
Two LIV aces who coped best on the rain-lashed Scottish east coast were Louis Oosthuizen and Peter Uihlein and it is the latter who appeals as most likely to spring an upset. Considering he shared second place with DJ behind Smith on his latest LIV start in Chicago, Uihlein may be overpriced at 50/1.
It is not as if Uihlein needs $4m as he is the son of the wealthy former CEO of Acushnet, makers of Titleist clubs and balls. Once world No. 1 amateur and travelling companion of Brooks Koepka when the pair came over in their early pro days, he still has only one minor European victory in Madeira and two on the Korn Ferry circuit to his name. Meantime Koepka went on to land four Majors and become world No. 1.
Maybe this one-time hot prospect will prove a late bloomer. Meanwhile Koepka continues to struggle and has never been the same player since injury. The same goes for Bryson DeChambeau. As class is forever, don’t be surprised if either star suddenly rediscovers his game and adds his name to the LIV roll of honour.
While Oosthuizen hasn’t been pulling up any trees at LIV, he’s been consistently in the money and should be even more prominent after that decent showing in Scotland.
It would be a fairytale if one of the two Thais were to win in front of their own but, judged on past efforts, that will take a fair bit of stage-management. Phachara Khongwatmai was a teenage sensation but his progress has stalled a bit. Even so, he is the one with the greater potential and might easily outrun his 150/1 odds.
A far more likely outcome is that Smith or Johnson will win again or that classy Chilean Joaquin Niemann, pipped in a playoff by DJ on debut then fourth in Chicago, will become the sixth different champion. Still only 23, he is the most logical improver.
We haven’t heard much from Paul Casey yet but we will, Sergio Garcia made the frame for the first time in Chicago, Lee Westwood had his big chance in Boston but blew it and Matt Wolff can beat anybody when the putter works.
Who’s for a Thai takeaway? It’s getting to be quite a long queue!
2pts each-way Eddie Pepperell @ 25/1
1.5pts each-way Tommy Fleetwood @ 7/1
1pt each-way Adri Arnaus @ 18/1
0.5pts each-way Niklas Moller @ 50/1
Everyone knows Jon Rahm is going to win this week’s Spanish Open – or, to give the local title, the Open de Espana de Madrid – but you don’t get any medals for tipping the bleedin’ obvious and 21/10, even in a field as weak as the one he will face on a course he’s conquered before, is hardly a working man’s price.
After all, the great Spaniard played inexplicably badly last year when at similarly unappealing odds and he was the best golfer in the world. A year later he’s down to No. 6 and has won only once since, in Mexico.
A 2022 Majors record without a top-ten reading 27-48-12-34 reflects a steady loss of confidence in the flat stick and although he ended the campaign with more encouraging dance-floor showings in the FedEx Play-Offs, he wasn’t ever totally convincing.
So if he’s at a price reminiscent of Tiger Woods in his pomp, there has to be, you would think, an each-way alternative. Yet so unreliable are the recent records of those closest to him in the betting it is hard to put up anybody else with confidence even of a top-six finish.
Upsets, of course, happen almost every week. At St Andrews on Sunday 66/1 Ryan Fox, with his last three form figures reading MC-WD-MC and 24-54-54 at the three previous Dunhills, saw off arguably the best and certainly the most consistent golfer in the world right now, Rory McIlroy.
Last year Rafa Cabrera Bello, after 11 missed cuts out of 18 in the US and a 56-67-MC build-up to tackling his national Open, pulled a rabbit out of the hat at Club de Campo when conjuring up a play-off triumph over Adri Arnaus. And where was Rahm? Six shots back in 17th.
The only player in remotely the same parish as the favourite on the rankings is Ryder Cup star Tommy Fleetwood. He’s the obvious each-way alternative at 7/1. But he hasn’t won since 2019, has rarely looked like doing so this year and arrives on the back of ordinary performances at Wentworth and Dunhill Links.
On the plus side he had three good Majors, outscoring Rahm each time in placing fourth at the Open, fifth at the PGA and 14th at the Masters, and there were other decent performances on either side of the Atlantic, though nothing to get too excited about.
Better value may be another Englishman Eddie Pepperell who has beaten par in 24 of his last 31 rounds in compiling finishes of 11-2-20-8-18-32-12-28. It doesn’t set the pulses racing but it signifies that the Oxford 31-year-old has, after some fallow years, found a swing he can rely on under pressure.
Once as high as 32 in the world and far too good for his current ranking of 265th, this three-time winner represents the best value I can find at 25/1.
Arnaus looks next best. He is proven on this great course as last year’s runner-up and fourth to Rahm in 2019 but so inconsistent – he missed four cuts in a row before sharing 22nd place with Fleetwood in the Dunhill Links. Forget his 80 in Scotland when the rain was coming down in stair-rods and this winner in Spain already this year, at Catalunya, played nicely enough the other three days.
Worth a small interest in what should be a sunny four days with temperatures around 80F is Dane Niklas Moller, who shared seventh place with my Dunhill fancy Tyrrell Hatton at the weekend and is trending the right way. He had previously caught the eye with back-to-back top-tens in June.
But I’m playing devil’s advocate here as I’m expecting Rahm to make up for last year and get back to the imperious golf that saw him a five-shot winner over Cabrera Bello on the hilly 7112-yard par 71 Madrid course three years ago. But I’d need a bigger carrot than 21/10 to bite after last year’s flop.
2pts each-way Sungjae Im @ 10/1
2pts each-way Si Woo Kim @ 40/1
2pts win Patrick Cantlay @ 11/2
1pt each-way Tom Kim @ 20/1
0.5pt each-way Martin Laird @ 100/1
0.5pt each-way Taylor Montgomery @ 28/1
With a Canadian and an Austrian fighting out the Sanderson Farms in Mississippi and English rose Charley Hull pelting the Americans with birdies in Dallas when triumphant on the LPGA circuit for the first time in six years, it was good to see the US playing second fiddle in their own backyard.
Although eventually bowing to the short-game wizardry of Mackenzie Hughes, Austrian heavyweight Sepp Straka must surely be high on captain Luke Donald’s list for a Ryder Cup debut in Rome next September. For much of the week he looked the best player in the Sanderson field.
Neither victor or vanquished is spinning it up in Las Vegas this week when Sungjae Im defends the title he won with a record 24-under score a year ago in the Shriners Children’s Open at regular venue TPC Summerlin.
It’s a glitzy, fun-filled affair in Sin City in a charity tournament with a rich history. In 1984 it was the first PGA Tour event to offer a purse exceeding $1m; in 1996 it was the scene of a youthful Tiger Woods’s first PGA victory; and in 2010 Jonathan Byrd became the first man to win a play-off with an ace – and at the fourth extra hole.
The plush resort course is sporty, a par 71 at half a mile above sea level playing a fair bit shorter than its 7255 yards and yielding birdies galore – the last three winners shot 23, 23 and 24 under respectively – and there’s no doubt who will start favourite.
That’s the only world top-ten golfer in the line-up, Patrick Cantlay. The FedEx Cup winner has plenty going for him, not least a highly persuasive course record which reads: 2017 winner in three-way playoff, 2018 a shot shy of play-off with Bryson DeChambeau, 2019 pipped by Kevin Na in playoff, 2020 eighth to Martin Laird. He didn’t play last year so mark ‘Ice Patty’ down for 70 under par from four visits.
Hard to argue with that but beware the South Korean threat posed by Si Woo Kim, defending champion Sungjae and exciting new boy Tom Kim.
After finishing top scorer for the Internationals with three Presidents Cup points out of four, Si Woo looks terrific value at 40/1 – he’s decent on the course too, particularly when eighth two years ago.
Yet the more solid claim is Sungjae’s. This golfaholic danced every dance in the Presidents Cup and worked his butt off for 2.5 points from five, not receiving enough support to stretch the all-powerful. Americans but still leading the way in a gallant rearguard action.
His Vegas victory last year, by four over Matt Wolff, could hardly have been more convincing and came after other solid Shriners efforts such as 13th in 2020 and 15th two years earlier.
Tom, still only 20, is already a winner thanks to a fearless, flag-hunting supershow at the Wyndham, and a Presidents Cup player. The sky’s the limit for this breath of fresh air. No bomber but his iron play and putting are right out of the top drawer. His attacking, gambling game is a perfect fit for Vegas.
After Cantlay, Max Homa, a winner first time out this 2022-23 campaign, albeit a lucky one when going back-to-back at the Fortinet and a dazzling four out of four on Presidents Cup debut, looks the pick of the Americans even though he has no course form.
Also on the short list: newcomer Taylor Montgomery is another with tip-top current form – third to Homa at Fortinet and ninth at Sanderson Farms. And he’s a Las Vegas native.
Expatriate Scot Martin Laird plays above himself in this event, a dual winner 11 years apart in 2009 and 2020 and almost a triple one as he was a playoff victim in 2010. A good 11th last year, expect the Glaswegian to make his presence felt once again.
South African lefty Garrick Higgo, only a shot out of Sunday’s playoff in Jackson, and Davis Riley, with four top-fives already on his 2022 CV, are youngsters who continue to catch the eye. Only 19th in the end, Riley spent much of the week in Jackson crossing swords with the leaders. His time will come.
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