Golf,

Hideki for home gold in Olympics

THE OLYMPICS GOLF


Best bets
2pts each-way Hideki Matsuyama @ 12/1
1.5pts each-way Collin Morikawa @ 7/1
1.5pts each-way Paul Casey @ 16/1
1pt each-way Shane Lowry @ 22/1
0.5pts each-way Si Woo Kim @ 50/1
view odds


If there ever was a good omen for the chances of Masters hero Hideki Matsuyama striking golfing gold on home turf at the Tokyo Olympics this week, you can find it by turning the clock back 64 years to the Canada Cup of 1957.

That international team competition, now called the World Cup, was played over the same East course at the Kasumigaseki Country Club which is hosting the two golfing elements of the 2021 Olympic Games – men’s this week, ladies next (And I was always told it was Ladies First!) Well, not quite the same. It was a 6895-yard par 72 in those days. This year this long-established parkland layout is a man-sized 7466-yard par 71. But that’s only to be expected as golf tries to keep pace with ever-advancing club-and-ball technology.

None of the big names hit it 270 yards then, these days everybody bar the veteran KJ Choi does – and one or two, like Sunday’s 125/1 3M winner Cameron Champ, even muscle it fifty yards further.

Back in ‘57 the Americans, those golfing legends Sam Snead and Jimmy Demaret, arrived in Tokyo totally confident of taking the trophy back to the USA – Snead had won it with Ben Hogan the previous year – but guess who beat them hollow?

Yes, it was the home side of Torakichi Nakamura and Koichi Ono, barely known outside Asia, and by nine big shots. To rub it in, an inspired Nakamura won the individual prize too.

The unfortunate but inevitable late withdrawals of favourite Jon Rahm and the eccentric Bryson DeChambeau who both tested Covid-positive, obviously helps Matsuyama who himself was a Covid victim shortly after winning the Masters.

With home advantage on a course he knows better than most and playing in a golf-mad country where he holds godlike status even before being the first Japanese male to win a Major, Hideki has everything going for him apart from a big partisan crowd.

He faces a strong but far from unbeatable American quartet missing Dustin Johnson who didn’t fancy it and his stand-in DeChambeau who very much did but can’t.

Patrick Reed couldn’t wait to sub for DeChambeau – ‘Captain America’ loves representing his country – but current form is nothing to write home about and he missed the cut at Royal St George’s.

Justin Thomas has not posted a PGA Tour top-ten since winning the Players Championship in March although he was eighth in Scotland before a 40th at the Open.

Xander Schauffele is steady rather than brilliant at the moment and that leaves new Open champion Collin Morikawa as a worthy favourite.

As well as Matsuyama and Japanese second-string Rikuya Hoshino, the locals will be cheering for the Las Vegas-based Californian as Collin is half-Japanese.

With Rahm out and Rory McIlroy’s shaky game a work in progress, Paul Casey and Shane Lowry look best of the four representing Great Britain and Ireland.

Casey, a winner in Dubai at the start of the year and good since, has made the Olympics a priority as at 44 he probably won’t get another chance. His incentive is his pal Justin Rose’s gold medal success in 2016 when Rosey edged out Henrik Stenson.

Lowry has been showing the sort of form that won the 2019 Open and, for the most part since, had lost. The big Irishman has turned things around the past couple of months with strong showings at Memorial, the USPGA and The Open. If he can handle the humidity and 35C heat, he will trouble the best.

South Korean duo Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim avoid 20 months of compulsory national service if they win a medal of any sort so will be trying like stink.

Kim is a wildly inconsistent enigma but could be the best outsider if he’s on a going week as he was when winning the Players at Sawgrass in 2017 and the American Express at the start of this campaign.

Most thought Rory Sabbatini’s switch from South African to Slovak (the nationality of his wife and stepson) a few years back was to achieve his dream of playing in the Olympics although he claims it was to help further the game in Slovenia. Whatever, it’s a good story.

Viktor Hovland, playing for Norway, Canada’s Corey Conners, Chile’s Joaquin Niemann and Australian duo Cam Smith and Marc Leishman all have claims in a 60-man field. They all play 72 holes – unless someone gets heatstroke – because there is no cut.

Why not try a 272/1 Japanese double, Matsuyama with Nasa Hatoaka who plays in next week’s women’s competition on a shortened version of this week’s course? You just never know …

The golf is part of the BBC’s vast Olympic coverage and you’ll have to stay up half the night, maybe more, to see how your bet is going. Good luck with that. By 3am I’m likely to have nodded off.

THE ISPS HANDA WORLD INVITATIONAL


Best bets – men
1pt each-way Justin Harding @ 12/1
1pt each-way Santiago Tarrio @ 28/1
1pt each-way Jack Senior @ 40/1
1pt each-way Vincent Norrman @ 28/1
1pt each-way Marcus Armitage @ 22/1

Best bets – women
2pts each-way In Gee Chun @ 9/1
1pt each-way Yealimi Noh @ 12/1
1pt each-way Georgia Hall @ 12/1
1pt each-way Atthaya Thikitul @ 17/2
view odds


The World Invitational has a terrific ring to it as a title and it’s not one but two tournaments we are getting in County Antrim this week with both sexes playing the same courses, Galgorm Castle and Masserine, for the same prize money.

It’s not the first time this format has been used to bring variety and spice to the weekly 72-hole bread-and-butter tour stops but it is the first time we’ve had one tri-sanctioned by the European Tour, the LPGA and its ‘little sister’, the Ladies European Tour (LET).

The LPGA participation is a coup for sponsors ISPS Handa because the field of 288 (144 apiece men and women) now justifies its grandiose title.

The presence of three women’s Major winners, In Gee Chun, Georgia Hall and Jeongeun Lee6 (no, the 6 is not a typo, Jeongeun is differentiating herself from five more of the same name on the Korean Tour), makes the ‘World’ label more realistic.

Not only that but there are two young ladies playing in Northern Ireland this week who will one day be Major champions themselves and, from what we witnessed in last week’s Evian Championship, that day will come sooner rather than later.

I refer to Thai 18-year-old Atthaya Thitikul and Yealimi Noh, the Korean-American who celebrated her 20th the day after finishing one agonising shot short of the play-off for the fourth Major of the year, won by Australia’s Minjee Lee at the expense of Lee6 who had led by five going into Sunday.

It may take Lee6 a while to get over that shock but Fitzdares still make the South Korean their 8/1 favourite. As a past US Women’s Open champion she has a right to be but others may be in a better frame of mind.

Thitikul, who finished fifth at the Evian, leads the LET money list and is already a triple winner on that tour, once as a 14-year-old amateur. Noh is an exciting, aggressive talent who will conquer the world once she gets on better terms with her putter.

In a share of sixth place in France came 2018 British Open champion Hall and the delightful Chun who won the US Open on her LPGA debut in 2015 and her second Major, the Evian, the following year.
Now 26, she has fallen out of the winning habit, her last victory coming three years ago, but that situation may change this weekend. At the very least she should make the frame.

Back her, Noh, Thitikul and Hall to confirm the good impression all four made last week. LPGA stars Lizette Salas and Jennifer Kupcho should also make their presence felt and although bubbly Brit Charley Hull has not had a great year she should also be in the mix.

The men’s event is less classy but gives South African Justin Harding a quick opportunity to make amends for a play-off defeat by 250/1 shocker Nacho Elvira at the Cazoo Open on Sunday. Harding and Andy Sullivan dominate the market in a tournament that won’t take much winning. Harding won in Kenya at the start of the year and has been there or thereabouts several times since.

Bigger threats than Sullivan could be course winner Jack Senior, Swedish newcomer Vincent Norrman, European Open winner Marcus Armitage and Challenge Tour sensation Santiago Tarrio. Englishman Senior won this very event when it was on the Challenge Tour schedule two years ago, beating Matthew Balding in a play-off after they had tied on 11 under par. He put three good rounds together when tenth in the Scottish Open earlier this month.

Norrman was 14th in a similar mixed-sex promotion in his home country and followed up with a eyecatching fifth in Munich and tenth at Celtic Manor at the weekend.

Armitage, like Sunday’s winner Elvira, has had to wait many years to get that magical W on his record and it would come as no great surprise, now they have got that monkey off their backs, if they won again soon. This is a big opportunity to do so.

Spaniard Tarrio has just gone 1-3-1-4-5-16-4 on a seven-tournament Challenge Tour roll that began with victory in the Czech Challenge in early June. A magnificent 91 under par in that period is good currency at any level and this week is not a big step up.

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