Cam & Rory to rock n’ roll in Memphis


2pts each-way Cameron Smith @ 16/1
2pts each-way Rory McIlroy @ 10/1
1pt each-way Patrick Cantlay @ 16/1
1pt each-way Matt Fitzpatrick @ 20/1
1pt each-way Jordan Spieth @ 28/1

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We’re paying SIX places at the St. Jude Championship!

The PGA Tour’s Regular Season is done and dusted with newcomer Joohyung Kim’s spectacular breakthrough victory in the Wyndham Championship – the 20-year-old started with a quadruple-bogey EIGHT but still dotted up by five – so now it’s on to the FedEx Cup.

That means three Play-Offs, ending with the winner being presented with what a year ago would have been regarded as the obscene amount of $18m and the top 30 out of the top 125 on the FedEx points list sharing a bonus pool of $75m.

But life has changed since the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League arrived waving signing-on cheques that were beyond the wildest dreams of even mega-rich, multi-Major-winning superstars like Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka.

The whole landscape has changed and the schism between the new (but mostly pretty old) kids on the block and the established order grows ever wider with no obvious solution in sight.

Instead of rejoicing at seeing the wonderfully talented names who will be on the starting block for the first of the FedEx Play Offs at TPC Southwind in steamy Memphis – heroes and role models like Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and FedEx points leader Scottie Scheffler – let’s look at those NOT taking part in what the PGA Tour regards as the focus, the be-all-and-end-all of its year.

It’s less of a compelling draw in the UK but it won’t be if Rory or our US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick is there on finals day at East Lake at the end of the month.

But isn’t it sad that the aforementioned DJ and Koepka, along with the eccentric Bryson DeChambeau, a guy who makes the game so excitingly different, and fellow Major winners Patrick Reed, Sergio Garcia and that huge drawcard Phil Mickelson WON’T be in Tennessee?

Fair enough, some of them have seen better days but they still put bums on seats. And there are guys like Abraham Ancer and Talor Gooch who are still very much in their prime who have also taken the Saudi shilling.

The exodus is so seriously diminishing the FedEx Cup product and other tournaments that it’s little wonder sponsors are saying to the PGA Tour ‘if you can’t deliver the big names, we can’t put up the same money’.

And it’s going to get worse. More Major champions like Bubba Watson and Henrik Stenson have joined the LIV rebellion, the latter having won the top prize of $4m on his first outing two weeks ago (having reportedly been paid $40m upfront to sign). Who next – could it be Hideki Matsuyama, an icon in Asian golf where much of the next LIV chapter is being played out?

They have left August free, making no attempt to take the spotlight away from the FedEx action (but they could have done), yet the ugliness of the situation continues to haunt this great game.

Fortunately we saw the best side of it at the weekend with the emergence of 20-year-old Kim – known by his nickname Tom as he was a great Thomas The Tank Engine fan in his early youth – as a world force and isn’t he just the sort of rising star LIV will be courting as they seek greater worldwide appeal?

In zooming up to 34th on the FedEx chart, Master Kim earned himself a late spot in the Initial line-up of 125 (minus one or two withdrawals like Tommy Fleetwood and the unfit Daniel Berger) who do battle in the super-competitive St Jude Championship.

This is not to be confused with the World Golf Championship event called the St Jude Invitational played at TPC Southwind for the past three years and resulting in victories for Koepka, Thomas and Ancer who edged Sam Burns and Matsuyama in a three-way shootout last year.

Instead we have 7243-yard par 70 Southwind replacing the Northern Trust for the first of this year’s three Play-Offs with only the top 70 going forward to the BMW Championship in Delaware next week. It’s quick and it’s brutal.

That one really sorts the men out from the boys because only 30 survivors then make it to the traditional finale in Georgia when the goodies will be handed out. It was Patrick Cantlay who got the lion’s share of that pot of gold last year under a farcical format that Cantlay himself criticised pre-tournament.

Farcical because instead of the FedEx leader after the BMW being handicapped to GIVE inferior rivals a start at East Lake, he GETS a start of ten from the worst five qualifiers and a significant advantage over the rest, depending on where they stand in the table at the time.

For instance, he has to give two to the second-ranked, three to the third, four to the fourth, five to the fifth and so on. Poor old Jon Rahm, the No. 1, at the start of the final week, had to give fourth-placed Cantlay a four-up start and it proved just beyond him. Exciting, yes. Fair, no. Does it make sense? Definitely not.

It’s directly the opposite of what happens in racing where the best horses have to concede weight to the weaker ones in a handicap so that, ideally, they should all finish in a dead-heat, something of course that never happens.

As Cantlay said as he pocketed the $15m (as was) he didn’t exactly need or deserve: “Even in a format I don’t like, it actually was to my benefit. For that, I am very grateful.” And they even made him Player of the Year! Yet Rahm, Kevin Na and Xander Schauffele would all have finished ahead of the “winner” in any normal tournament.

So there’s a big incentive to be top of the pile come East Lake and that’s where Scheffler resides at the moment. If he stays there, he gets the -10 rating, while Cantlay, fifth as of now with ten top-tens but without a solo victory, would have to give the leader five start. He’s the one who would be playing catch-up this time!

Even though Cantlay’s Memphis form is only so-so, he and favourite McIlroy must come into the reckoning after a super-consistent year.

Since June Cantlay has gone 3-14-13-4-8-2 while McIlroy, for all that he keeps costing punters bundles by frustrating failures to get over the line, has looked happier with his game since capturing the Canadian Open, was unlucky to be steamrollered by a rampant Cameron Smith in the Open, not doing much wrong, and he does have a fair Southwind record in the WGCs – fourth in 2019 and 12th last year.

The Memphis form encourages a bet even on a tight, medium-length layout not obviously suited to a flair player who likes a bit of space and he will be keen to move up the ladder from sixth on the FedEx ratings.

Not having played since St Andrews is a slight worry as he may not be at peak but that also applies to Smith, Scheffler, Rahm, Schauffele, Spieth and other leading contenders.

Yet it has to be in defending champion Cantlay’s favour that he competed in the Rocket Mortgage in Detroit since his two top-tens in Scotland and competed well with second to the unstoppable Tony Finau.

Having got back-to-back wins out of Finau, the hat-trick might just elude him at this higher level but there’s no denying the man from Utah’s once-dodgy putter is a magic stick at the moment.

Young guns Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young, Sam Burns and now Tom Kim are all entitled to get into the mix but Kim’s win, wonderful though it was (and advised here at 33/1), came when the big cats were away. Much more is needed here.

Outside McIlroy and the almost-overlooked Rahm, Europe has a big shout with Fitzpatrick who shared fourth with Rory at Southwind in 2019 and three years on is a far more formidable competitor. This looks a good course for the Sheffield grinder.

He and Aussie Smith, fifth in Memphis last year, look booked for the frame and Spieth’s 12th places on his 2019 and 2021 visits, coupled with decent showings in Scotland, make him another each-way option.

Scheffler seems to have peaked a while ago and has looked a bit average in later tournaments, Schauffele has a fine FedEx record but is not as consistent as people think he is, Rahm needs only to sort out why his putting has suddenly lost conviction and I couldn’t put you off course winner Thomas.

Usually you need a warm putter on Southwind’s small, severely undulating Bermuda greens but his was the weakest link when JT won two years ago. Scintillating approach play more than made up for that but you need to forgive two indifferent efforts in Scotland if you’re a Thomas backer this week.

It’s not a tournament with an obvious value bet so keep most of your powder dry until we see how the land lies on Friday evening.

Memphis is due to have early-week thunderstorms which will take the sting out of the fairways but straight, accurate driving is still needed on a course where half the holes are doglegs. Temperatures, expected to be in the low 30s, are pretty gentle by Memphis standards. We can even beat that here!


2pts each-way John Catlin @ 16/1
1pt each-way Connor Syme @ 20/1
1pt each-way Ewen Ferguson @ 20/1
1pt each-way David Law @ 22/1
0.5pt each-way Tom McKibbin @ 40/1
0.5pt each-way Todd Clements @ 28/1

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Whenever you get the word “World” in a tournament title, you’re expecting something a bit special and while there’s nothing remarkable about the two casts, men and women, for the ISPS Handa World Invitational, the concept is a refreshing change, particularly in light of the achievement of those wonderful Lionesses at Wembley.

It’s not a brand-new idea because we’ve already had two World Invitationals – in 2019 as a Challenge Tour event (won by Jack Senior) and last year on the main circuit, both at Galgorm Castle, that gem of a course in Ballymena, County Antrim.

The men and women alternate tee times, playing of course off their own markers, with the shorter, easier Massareene course brought in for the first two days to share the load until the halfway cut. They play for the same prize money ($1.5m apiece) and because, in the case of the women, the LPGA are also involved, Northern Ireland fans get a smatter of Americans and US-based Asians as well.

With the pride of County Cavan Leona Maguire in the women’s competition alongside past British Open champion Georgia Hall, that looks the classier of the two events but Fitzdares only have eyes for the guys, making last week’s flop Jordan Smith their 10/1 favourite.

True, he was joint third here last year behind Daniel Gavins who came from seven back to overhaul faltering leader David Horsey but he hasn’t won for five years and I need more from a warm market leader.

Very little has been heard of Gavins since and he’s a long way down the betting, even in this modest company, and surely the second favourite, American John Catlin, makes more sense at six points longer than Smith as he knows how to finish the job.

Catlin has a soft spot for this 7005-yard par 70 where hitting fairways is a must if you want to contend for it was at Galgorm Castle that he prevailed in the 2020 Irish Open. And he again showed his liking for the Emerald Isle when fourth in this year’s Irish Open at Mount Juliet. Unlike Smith, a great swinger but a weak finisher, Catlin has reasonably recent winning form – and in triplicate.

Just to underscore his positive mental associations with Galgorm, Catlin finished seventh there in the inaugural World Invitational 12 months ago.

The roof will come off the clubhouse if there is a local winner in either tournament – by no means impossible – so no pressure on young Tom McKibbin, the 19-year-old Galgorm touring professional who was saddled with the “next Rory McIlroy” tag at 14 when, playing off plus-five, he cleaned up in junior tournaments here and in the States.

He was playing out of McIlroy’s old club at Holywood at the time but when he turned pro last year, Galgorm snapped him up. He’s no Rory yet but is already doing so well on the Challenge Tour that promotion to the main circuit next year is virtually assured.

Yet he will have to improve significantly on his last-time-out six-shot second to impressive Englishman Todd Clements, a rival again this week, if he is to get a sniff even in this modest affair. That said, at 19 the only way is up.

And wouldn’t Irish eyes be smiling if McKibbin and the strongly fancied Solheim Cup star Maguire won their respective events, the latter a first-time winner in the States a few months ago and arriving in great form after her Open fourth at Muirfield on Sunday.

More logical dangers in the men’s event are the Scottish trio Connor Syme, Ewen Ferguson and David Law.

Syme, the only one not to have won, has the best recent form as a fast-finishing second at Celtic Manor to Callum Shinkwin, an 18/1 advice here last week. A repeat of that or his British Masters third would be get him close here but there are too many missed cuts in a patchy year to make him a confident choice.

Aberdonian Law, 15th in this last year and with two top-four performances in the past six weeks, is the steadiest but tends to back off under pressure.

Ferguson, 14th here in the 2020 Irish Open, was a gutsy winner of the Qatar Masters back in March and emerged from a poor run with a decent 12th at the Cazoo Open at the weekend.

Richard Bland, a defector to LIV, plays thanks to a temporary stay of his DP World Tour ban. He would be a considerably less popular winner now than when ending a 477-tournament losing streak at The Belfry last year to become, at 48, the oldest first-time winner in tour history. But it could happen.

Marcus Kinhult, Jens Dantorp, Johannes Veerman (squandered a winning opportunity last week) and Santiago Tarrio are four more well capable of getting into the mix but they all have Catlin to beat.

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