Horschel to halt Hovland’s Mexican hat-trick


2pts each-way Billy Horschel @ 16/1
1.5pts each-way Viktor Hovland @ 9/1
1pt each-way Aaron Wise @ 18/1
1pt each-way Taylor Montgomery @ 25/1
0.5pt each-way Thomas Detry @ 40/1

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We have to go to Mexico for the only top-class golf action of the week with European Ryder Cup star Viktor Hovland bidding for a Mayakoba hat-trick, a feat not achieved since Steve Stricker’s three-in-a-row at the John Deere Classic in 2009-10-11.

As he is 43 under par for the sublime eight rounds that took him to victory on the El Camaleon course in 2020 and 2021, Hovland will relish the challenge of beating some high-class opposition, not least the deposed world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and his Presidents Cup mates Collin Morikawa, Tony Finau and Billy Horschel.

The classy Norwegian is also tasked with maintaining Europe’s new-season surge on the PGA Tour which has seen Rory McIlroy retaining the CJ Cup and our 22/1 headline pick Seamus Power hanging on from Belgium’s Thomas Detry in Bermuda.

The roll of honour would have been even deeper if Danny Willett had not made such a Horlicks of it on the final green at the Fortinet and Austria’s Sepp Straka not been edged out by the hot putter of Mackenzie Hughes in the Sanderson Farms playoff.

But so far so good and with Jordan Smith tossing his hat into the ring with a truly phenomenal 30-under demolition of his Portugal Masters rivals, Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald’s prospects of finding a team strong enough to have a prayer in Rome next year are suddenly looking far rosier.

Given how unlikely it is that any golfer not named Tiger Woods could win the same tournament three years on the bounce, I’m going to suggest saving on Hovland but looking at juicier prices elsewhere for what they call the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba these days – those sponsors want their pound of flesh, don’t they? – but it’s still the same 7031-yard par 71 test of accuracy over power.

This looks a good fit for Billy Horschel who arrives on the back of ninth place in defence of his PGA title at Wentworth, tenth at the Dunhill Links and seventh to Rory at the CJ Cup. Last year’s Memorial winner has form at Mayakoba too, fifth in 2020, and this big West Ham fan looks good to go.

Favourite Scheffler, fourth here last year when Hovland won by four, was an unconvincing 38th on his latest outing at Congaree and as he did not live up to his billing at the Presidents Cup – he failed to win a match and lost to Sebastian Munoz in the singles – we need to take him on.

The same goes for Morikawa. His lead-up form of 45th at ZOZO and 28th at the CJ Cup was not what we expect of a dual major champion. He may well have sorted out the reason for such un-Morikawa-like results but there is no great urge to support him without proof.

Finau makes his first start since the Tour Championship. He was seventh on his Mayakoba debut back in 2014 but in those days the tournament was only a second-tier event and he’s missed the cut on two of his four subsequent visits.

Power and Detry, the 1-2 in Bermuda, will find this a lot tougher. To put last week’s tournament into context, Power was the only top-50 player in the field and then only just.

Detry has been a revelation since earning his PGA Tour card. A serial loser in Europe, he is as happy as a sandboy in the States with three excellent finishes out of four.

If Hovland doesn’t fire, he might be Europe’s best bet along with veteran Francesco Molinari who is aching to get a pick for the first Ryder Cup in his homeland. Ninth in the PGA at Wentworth, this is Frankie’s first start of the new US season and the course, with its large greens and emphasis on positional play, should be right up his alley.

Three young Americans, Taylor Montgomery, Aaron Wise and Harrison Endycott, are trending the right way and all have started the way they intend to go on.

Montgomery is 49 under for four striking performances in his rookie year, third at Fortinet, ninth at Sanderson Farms, 15th in Las Vegas and 13th at the CJ Cup, shooting a last-day 62 at Congaree.

Wise has been around much longer – he won in his rookie year at the 2018 Byron Nelson – and was Hovland’s closest challenger at Mayakoba two years ago. There was nothing wrong with his sixth to McIlroy at the CJ Cup where he had a winning chance for much of the final day and I see a good year ahead for him.

Endycott is, like Montgomery, a rookie with a big future. There was plenty to like about his 12th at Fortinet and tenth in Bermuda. This is a bigger test but the only way is up for this Sydney-born 26-year-old who moved to the US at three. There are worse 150/1 shots about.

It’s going to a hot, sticky week at Riveira Maya with electrical storms threatening to cause delays on Thursday. More rain expected Friday but all clear for the weekend.

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