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Burns too hot to handle at Byron Nelson

BYRON NELSON CLASSIC


Best bets
2pts each-way Sam Burns @ 18/1
2pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 18/1
1pt each-way Will Zalatoris @ 20/1
1pt each-way Dustin Johnson @ 20/1
0.25pts each-way Luke Donald @ 200/1
0.25pts each-way Matt Wolff @ 66/1
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We’re paying SEVEN places at the Byron Nelson!


With three Majors coming up in the next nine weeks, it’s no surprise to find many of the world’s elite turning out in Texas for the Byron Nelson, one or two seeking a first victory of the year to send them into the bigger battles ahead with a timely injection of confidence.

Into that category come four former world No. 1s Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jason Day but two of the all-star cast at TPC Craig Ranch at McKinney with no worries on that score are local heroes Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth.

Scheffler, New Jersey born but a Dallas resident since the age of six, has taken the golfing world by storm this spring with four sensational victories topped by Masters glory at Augusta last month. He’s obviously a worthy 10/1 favourite but failed to shine when Craig Ranch made its PGA Tour debut last year, finishing mid-pack in 47th place.

Spieth, already a dual winner in the Lone Star State and on a high after ending a year-long losing streak at Harbour Town last time out, is at almost double Scheffler’s odds but has every bit as good a chance in my book.

As he said after beating the redoubtable Patrick Cantlay in that Heritage shootout, he won “without my putter”. What sort of a player will he be once he regains that magical touch on the greens now that his driving has so noticeably improved?

Last year he came into the Nelson after an enforced Covid break and golfless since the Masters almost a month earlier yet still shot a 63 in round one. He couldn’t quite keep that up as outsider KH Lee swept past 54-hole leader Sam Burns to post his first victory but ninth place was still a good comeback.

It is Burns and Spieth I fancy most and will be splitting stakes between them. Last year Burns fired most of his bullets with a second-day 62 and the powder had run out come the final round when he was the only one of the top eight not to beat 70.

If there is a fault in Burns’ monster talent it is a weakness in finishing things off but there was no sign of any frailty when he landed his second PGA victory at the Valspar in March and he was again in dazzling form when a close second, with partner Billy Horschel, in the Zurich Classic pairs tournament in New Orleans.

We already know he likes Craig Ranch, the 7468-yard par 72 designed by 1973 Open champion Tom Weiskopf, and will be all out to make up for just missing out last year.

With Zoysia fairways and Bentgrass greens, Craig Ranch’s main feature is Rowlett Creek which needs to be navigated 14 times. It’s going to hot and sticky at 32-33C for the four days with a manageable wind, so stand by for a feast of low scoring.

DJ  makes his first start since finally tying the knot with longtime partner Paulina last month. He has played relatively little – this is only his seventh start of the year – and will be fresher than most. Ninth at Sawgrass and 12th at Augusta showed the ability is still there but is the desire? The guy is so laid-back you could never tell.

Without a win for 14 months, Thomas is proving an enigma. Uncertain at times off the tee and with the flat stick, he’s posted five top-tens this year without really threatening the ‘W’. Fiercely ambitious, he will be up for this more than anybody but at the moment doesn’t rate being clear 12/1 second favourite.

This is Hideki Matsuyama’s first outing since bravely attempting a defence of his Masters title when not fully fit. Since then he’s been in Japan where he’s such a national hero that Prime Minister Fumio honoured him so he is unlikely to be as sharp as some.

Koepka hasn’t looked right since resuming after injury and Xander Schauffele is making his Nelson debut. We even got a rare smile out of Xander when he and pal Patrick Cantlay were sensational in Zurich pairs victory. But is he so good on his own?

One for the short list certainly but not sure about the win part of the bet for the Olympic gold medalist who is now without a solo PGA victory for over three years.

Also proving frustrating for win-only punters is the highly-touted Will Zalatoris, 17th at Craig Ranch last year and itching to get that label off his back of being best non-winner on tour.

Sixth at the Masters (where he was runner-up last year), second at Torrey Pines and sixth at Pebble Beach, he keeps knocking on the door. This could well be the week it opens.

Matt Fitzpatrick (2nd) and Rory McIlroy (5th) repaid each-way support last week behind Max Homa but none of that trio is at Craig Ranch where Europe’s main hopes on paper look to be Tommy Fleetwood, Sepp Straka and Alex Noren.

But for a real left-field selection, to tiny stakes only, try yesterday’s man Luke Donald who might just make the frame at massive odds.

The former world No. 1 was far from disgraced in 25th on Sunday (looked like placing higher for much of the week) and an earlier 16th at Torrey Pines was also encouraging. As last year’s 13th at Craig Ranch shows the course holds few fears for cool hand Luke, try backing him for a top-ten or top-20 performance.

For those looking for outsiders, Matt Wolff’s 25th at Wells Fargo was his best effort since Houston in November. This hugely gifted 23-year-old has been fighting a load of mental demons so hopefully he’s firmly on the road back.

SOUDAL OPEN


Best bets
2pts each-way Adrian Otaegui @ 25/1
1pt each-way Chase Hanna @ 80/1
1pt each-way Ewen Ferguson @ 80/1
1pt each-way Adrian Meronk @ 22/1
0.5pt each-way Jeff Winther @ 110/1
0.5pt each-way Hurly Long @ 66/1
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The Soudal Open is the new name for the Belgian Open which was buried in 2000 and exhumed by Thomas Pieters’ company in 2018 as the Belgian Knockout with a format all of its own.

This week they are back to regular 72-hole strokeplay at Rinkven International, near Antwerp, following just two editions of the Knockout before Covid struck.

To win the Knockout, as Adrian Otaegui and Guido Migliozzi did, was quite a feat as first they had to finish in the top 64 after 36 holes and then take their chance at the hectic business end of the tournament in nine-hole short-haul golf.

Saturday was when the knockout element came in, a series of quickfire strokeplay matches with the two last men standing winning through to the Sunday afternoon showdown. As Rinkven’s composite of the North and South courses, a par 71 of 6924 yards, is again the venue, past form there is obviously relevant to a degree.

So Otaegui, the Spaniard who was in stellar form until tipped up here for Catalunya and flopped, has to come into the conversation, less so Migliozzi, the 2019 champion, who is having a torrid time trying to justify a Ryder Cup place in his own country next year.

As with so many in the past, chasing that target has been playing havoc with his game.

Thomas Pieters and Bernd Wiesberger are the class acts in an ordinary field this week and the Belgian fans will be hoping Pieters rediscovers the game that brought him victory first time out in Abu Dhabi. In four subsequent starts in the USA he has missed three cuts, albeit in a far superior grade.

Wiesberger has been a wobbly favourite so far this year with little on the plus side and it has taken the eight-time-winning Austrian till May to post his first top-ten, a never-threatening ninth in Catalonia.

They may both play to their full potential this week but Pieters’ length won’t be a major factor on a sub-7000-yarder and he placed only 24th in the last Belgian Knockout. On the same occasion Wiesberger was a fair eighth, nothing to be excited about either.

Also disappointing but still among the front-runners in the betting are Sam Horsfield and serial loser Thomas Detry, both overloaded with talent but usually flattering to deceive. Playing at home might help Detry but some find the extra expectation hard to respond to, particularly when the game is not at peak.

Kiwi bomber Ryan Fox has strong form at this level but finds winning a problem so it comes back to course winner Otaegui making amends for that Catalunya letdown. He will be under less pressure than when missing the cut in his home country and has the neat-and-tidy game for this shortish track but needs to hole more putts.

Giant Pole Adrian Meronk comes into the same category, having let punters down last week following some outstanding performances. Everybody has the odd bad day at the office so he could well bounce back but further down the pecking order there is a multitude of potential winners at tempting prices and I sniff an upset.

There are plenty of contenders. I’ve whittled it down to ten: Sebastian Soderberg, Richie Ramsay, Haotong Li, Matti Schmid, Ewen Ferguson, Hurly Long, Chad Hanna, Jeff Winther, Jamie Donaldson and the godfather of Belgian golf Nicolas Colsaerts.

Only Thorbjorn Olesen’s amazing eagle-birdie finish, sinking putts of 45 and 25 feet, deprived Soderberg of victory at The Belfry.

Rookie Hurly Long, from Germany, and Chase Hanna shared sixth place there, not the first time the man from Montana has caught the eye. This aggressive birdie-chaser was runner-up in Qatar at the end of March and looks a surefire future winner.

If long-serving Ramsay had birdied the last, the Aberdonian would probably be British Masters champion today. Instead, he  dumped his pitch into the lake which was out of character as he is a doughty grinder who is always up for a fight.

Another Scot, Glaswegian Ferguson, is already a winner this year in Qatar and has course form, third as an unknown to Migliozzi as a rookie in 2019. He is a more polished golfer now.

Dane Winther can feed off compatriot Olesen’s Belfry triumph. Recent form is a bit of a worry but he loves the course (3rd and 11th) and is capable of going very low as he did when opening his account in Majorca last October.

Gambler Li is a birdie machine with enormous gifts but driving and patience are not always two of them while Donaldson, a Ryder Cup hero of old, still plays high-quality golf, the missing link being confidence. In a wide-open week, all ten are entitled to give you a good run for your money.

Rain is expected on day one and wind up to 15mph but the weather should improve as the tournament wears on with Sunday reaching 23C.


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