ROCKET MORTGAGE CLASSIC
2pts each-way Cameron Young @ 18/1
2pts each-way Patrick Cantlay @ 10/1
1pt each-way Tony Finau @ 14/1
1pt each-way Cam Davis @ 28/1
1pt each-way Kevin Kisner @ 33/1
We’re paying SEVEN places at the Rocket Mortgage Classic!
The drip-drip-drip of marketable PGA Tour golfers to grab a share of the Saudi-backed LIV millions is starting to show and with sponsors understandably restless about not getting full-strength fields for their money, there is clearly a heap of trouble ahead.
This week two more names who might have played in the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit have joined major champions Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed in the third leg of the eight-tournament Liv Series in New Jersey. And there are more to come.
Fair enough, Jason Kokrak and Charles Howell III aren’t big drawcards but week-on-week they add the ballast to long-established tournaments. That gives the bread-and-butter events the strength in depth which makes the PGA Tour the Mecca of the pro game.
Now I have no idea how many of the above seven, or the likes of Talor Gooch, Branden Grace, Abraham Ancer and Kevin Na, would be teeing off in Michigan this week if LIV hadn’t lured them away but the bottom line is that the Rocket Mortgage, once you get past the front few in the betting, is not as strong as it could or should be.
For the $8.4m prize money and $1.5m winner’s share the sponsors are entitled to value for their money even if the rewards elsewhere are off the planet.
But who is going to win? No prizes for originality but it’s hard to get away from the claims of the quartet at the top of the market, world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay, Sunday’s 3M winner Tony Finau and two 25-year-olds destined to become not only multiple winners but Major champions too.
It is not a question of if but when Will Zalatoris, runner-up at the USPGA and US Open, and Cameron Young, only one short putt away from making it into a playoff with Cam Smith at St Andrews, will get off the mark and it could easily happen this week.
In picking big-hitting New Yorker Young to get there first, I won’t be the tiniest bit suprised if the more experienced Zalatoris beats him to it.
But let’s start at the top with Cantlay, the only top-ten golfer in the field. On paper the FedEx Cup champion should romp it.
Yet while Finau was the highest-ranked in the 3M line-up and justified that ranking, admittedly with a fair bit of help from runaway leader Scott Piercy, it rarely works out that way.
Don’t rule out a quick Finau follow-up even if his one visit to Detroit resulted in a mediocre 53rd. The dodgy putting stroke that cost him more than one tournament has become very effective and he was rock-soild on the greens at the business end when Piercy began to falter.
Finau’s third career victory had been on the cards after his fourth at Colonial and second in Canada. Yet his credentials pale beside Cantlay’s achievements and for once I’m not bleating about the favourite’s 10/1 quote as I think he should be single figures.
Fourth in the Scottish and eighth at St Andrews, he arrives with all guns blazing for his Rocket Mortgage debut. His Travelers meltdown was a rare aberration by Mr Consistency whose accuracy will see him get more birdie looks than his rivals.
But rookie Young, so laidback as to be almost horizontal, has the touch of magic that marks him down as a special talent although one, as yet, not able to convert into the elusive W on Sunday afternoons.
That will come and sooner rather than later judging from his four second places and two thirds (don’t forget he was only a shot shy of the Thomas-Zalatoris shootout for the PGA at Southern Hills) in nine short months.
Counting against Zalatoris are the two weeks in Scotland where he underperformed, on top of which he finished 77th and last of the qualifiers on first sight of the Detroit club 12 months ago.
This week’s 7370-yard par 72 is a birdie paradise judging from the 25, 23 and 18-under scores returned by the three past champions, Nate Lashley, DeChambeau and Cam Davis, and my view is that the slim Californian is better on tougher courses. But don’t be put off by his weird stroke on the short putts. He holes most of them.
I don’t think hitting the ball a country mile, as Young does, is a prerequisite to success but it’s no drawback. Just ask DeChambeau who dotted up two years ago.
Two of the three past champions (Lashley and Davis) were first-time winners so the omens are good for Young and Zalatoris.
Last year’s winner Davis returns to the scene of his only success. The Aussie has a tougher assignment here but Aussie pal Cam Smith’s Open triumph could spur him to win No. 2.
Davis has plenty of guts as we saw with the eagle-birdie finish that got him into the shootout last year and after a decent 16th on Sunday following top-tens at Heritage, Wells Fargo, Deere Run and Barracuda, he looks prime each-way material.
There aren’t that many courses where short hitter Kevin Kisner can flourish but the Dell Match Play finalist likes Detroit. Third there in 2020 and eighth last year, this putting wizard will give the big guns a run for their money.
Troy Merritt, finally nailed down by Davis in last year’s five-hole playoff and eighth in 2020, is another with excellent course credentials but Kisner’s superior recent form (6th at Travelers, 21st St Andrews) gives him an edge.
Weatherwise, it should be a dry, sunny week with Sunday the hottest day at 30C.
2pts each-way Grant Forrest @ 28/1
1pt each-way Adrian Otaegui @ 18/1
1pt each-way Eddie Pepperell @ 66/1
1pt each-way Ryan Fox @ 10/1
1pt each-way Hurly Long @ 25/1
0.5pt each-way James Morrison @ 40/1
The Scots love a home winner and they have quite a few chances when the Hero Open returns to Fairmont St. Andrews on the outskirts of the Auld Grey Toon this week.
They are absolutely buzzing after Aberdonian Richie Ramsay’s victory in a Cazoo Classic thriller at Hillside on Sunday and emotions will run high if last year’s Hero hero Grant Forrest can give them an encore.
Ramsay himself is on a high and you would not rule out back-to-back wins by the steady 38-year-old. And tournament winners David Law, Calum Hill and Ewen Ferguson are three other Scots who will hear the love from a crowd that really love the game.
Forrest, who represents the Renaissance Club, was having a dire year until last week when he showed with third place to Ramsay that he’s no one-hit wonder.
Getting his act together on the eve of this title defence could not be better timed and by shooting 24 under last year at Fairmont, a modern-day links which opened in 2001, he is sure to put up a stout defence.
The 7230-yard par 72 gives plenty of birdie chances as long as you have a warm putter and stay out of the deep, revetted bunkers.
The first European event to be staged there, the 2020 Scottish Championship, evaded Scottish clutches, the four-shot winner being the steady Spaniard Adrian Otaegui.
As someone who has already been tempted by the Saudi riches but is allowed to compete on the DP World Tour while the bans and fines are on temporary hold, he is probably the last man they want on the podium on Sunday.
Yet it is a distinct possibility as Otaegui is course proven and looked in good nick when sixth in the first LIV tournament in St Albans.
Already $1m richer for a sixth and 21st in the two LIV tournaments to date, it’s not hard to see where the defectors are coming from.
Three days of stress-free golf, no cut, and everybody gets handsomely paid. Nice work if you can get it… but rules are rules and they have been broken. So what next?
It is asking a great deal of Ramsay who has never won twice in the same year in a long career to produce something out of the hat again after last week’s draining performance and three Englishmen are preferred.
Eddie Pepperell’s 11th at Hillside suggested this two-time tour winner could be about to end a drought that has lasted since 2018. A great thinker and quite a character, he’s had rough times in recent years but believes he has stumbled across something to make him optimistic about the future.
James Morrison ran Forrest closest last year and 23 under would have won most tournaments. The Surrey man is never spectacular but putts well and hits fairways. We saw good stuff from him when 13th at the Irish Open and on the course where he produced easily his best golf of 2021, expect him to be in the shake-up again.
Germany fields an exciting prospect in Hurly Long, sixth in the British Masters and just back from a lucrative fortnight In the States where he posted top-seven finishes in the Barracuda and Barbasol events.
He’s definitely one for the notebook but they all have New Zealand bomber Ryan Fox to beat. Fox finally took a week off after being on the road for almost three months during which he posted three seconds, a third, an eighth and a ninth and will be refreshed. Little wonder he’s Fitzdares’ 10/1 favourite.
Although he won in Ras Al Khaimah early in the year, golfaholic Fox often struggles to close the deal. He should have won twice more this year. Even so, he is hard to leave out. Some ugly weather is brewing on Scotland’s east coast, particularly for the final 36 holes.
LIV GOLF BEDMINSTER
1pt each-way Patrick Reed @ 16/1
1pt each-way Matt Wolff @ 28/1
1pt each-way Branden Grace @ 20/1
1pt each-way Bryson DeChambeau @ 11/1
For the first time the PGA Tour faces a head-on clash with the stars who have sold their souls to Saudi-backed LIV as the third tournament in the new series runs from Friday to Sunday.
The first two 54-holers, at St Albans and Portland, ran Thursday to Saturday so the PGA had the big Sunday TV audience to itself. With the Rocket Mortgage in Detroit and the LIV Bedminster in New Jersey in the same time zone, Sky viewing figures seem certain to be affected. But how much of a pull will LIV’s own channel have?
Much is on the line as Sky hold the UK rights to the Ryder Cup and they and other sponsors are reportedly insisting on exit clauses in their contracts entitling them to rebates if a full-strength team does not take part due to decisions by the organisers.
The LIV story to date: South Africans have gobbled up the two $4m first prizes, Charl Schwartzel at St Albans, Branden Grace with a sensational back nine in Oregon. Having earlier finished third at St Albans, Grace is the leading money-winner and looks value at 20/1.
Dustin Johnson, clear favourite at 5/1, looked like winning at Portland but blew it on Sunday, since then he’s placed sixth in the Open, just ahead of one of his chief rivals at Trump Bedminster, Bryson DeChambeau who is starting to function properly again after a long-running injury problem.
If not Grace, then Louis Oosthuizen could complete the Springbok hat-trick. He’s been tenth and fifth so far and is trending the right way.
For an outsider, Matt Wolff, eighth on debut in Portland, is a flawed birdie machine who can go haywire in either direction. On a good week he can beat anybody and is worth chancing at 28/1 in this short field papered with outclassed Asian Tour players and Europeans well past their prime.
New signings Jason Kokrak, Charles Howell III and Henrik Stenson will want to make an early impression. A more likely winner is Patrick Reed who looked sharp on his first appearance when third in Portland and loves all the razzamatazz and the team element of the show.
And that’s what it is: a show aimed at attracting a different sort of audience. A field of 48, no cut, a guaranteed $120,000 even if you play like a drain. Who could ask for anything more, The Europeans, headed by Sam Horsfield and rusty Paul Casey, have it all to do.
The only one who looks like a winner-in-waiting is Horsfield, fifth and 11th on his first two starts and loving it in the States where he honed his game.
The Tom Fazio course in Somerset County, a long par 72 measuring 7580 yards, has an old-school English heathland feel about it. It was originally scheduled to hold this year’s PGA Championship but that was before founder Donald Trump blotted his copybook and they switched it to Southern Hills.
Its one taste of the big-time until now came when it hosted the 2017 US Women’s Open won by Sung Hyun Park. Trump himself will be there playing in the pre-tournament pro-am when many of us think he should be in the klink.
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