Golf,

Kirk on the right track in Texas

VALERO TEXAS OPEN


Best bets
2pts each-way Chris Kirk @ 33/1
1pt each-way Keegan Bradley @ 33/1
1pt each-way Jordan Spieth @ 14/1
1pt each-way Si Woo Kim @ 33/1
0.5pts each-way Charley Hoffman @ 50/1
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Just one week to go to the Masters – and we have some money in the kitty after a sensational 1-2 in the Match Play thanks to 18/1 Scottie Scheffler and 50/1 Kevin Kisner who fought out Sunday’s final in Austin, Texas.

It would have been more spectacular if Kisner had done the business instead of being hammered 4 & 3 by the 25-year-old Dallas-based bomber who in six short weeks has risen from non-winner to world No. 1 courtesy of three stunning victories in the best of company from his last five outings. But you can’t have everything.

Now Scheffler heads off to Augusta as a 16/1 chance to bag his first Major – he was a promising top-20 finisher there on both previous attempts – with Fitzdares still having the old No. 1, Jon Rahm, as their 9/1 favourite.

Is big Scottie the real deal or will he be one of those here-today-gone-tomorrow number ones like Martin Kaymer and Luke Donald who couldn’t live up to their billing? Time will tell but he showed an unflappable temperament to match serious all-round ability to see off a rallying Dustin Johnson in the semis and then outshine the terrier-like Kisner in all departments in a final where he never gave the 2019 champion a sniff.

Neither man is on parade for the 100th anniversary of the Texas Open in San Antonio this week when most Masters contenders are away prepping for the first Major in a different way and there’s even a rumour Tiger Woods might have an Augusta surprise for us.

Not so Rory McIlroy who doesn’t normally play the week before the Masters but has changed his routine to pay his first visit to San Antonio since finishing runner-up to expatriate Scot Martin Laird there nine years ago.

McIlroy is the Masters short of joining the elite quintet – Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Woods – who have achieved a career Slam and he is a man with a mission, needing a performance in Texas that will send him to Augusta in a happy, positive frame of mind and a possible date with destiny.

For the most part this year his golf has been unconvincing but that has not stopped Fitzdares making him a warm favourite to beat a field he could lap if the old Rory stands up. He’s the only world top-ten player taking part but it’s still a big if.

Outside a second place at Pebble Beach, not much has gone right for local hero and last year’s winner Jordan Spieth but at twice McIlroy’s odds I prefer his chances.

The Dallas star, like McIlroy a former world No. 1 trying to remember how he got to that elevated position, ended a four-year drought when he won last year’s Texas Open and it set him up nicely for a big week at Augusta where he finished third to Hideki Matsuyama. He will be looking for similar inspiration this week.

This is Matsuyama’s first start since pulling out of the Players Championship with back and neck problems. Will the Masters champion be going flat out or just warming up quietly for his Green Jacket defence?

And what to make of Bryson DeChambeau who failed to win any of his group games at the Match Play. Niggling wrist and hip injuries have resulted in a stop-start year where he has looked a shadow of his dynamic self. He was struggling to find his rhythm last week and will surely not yet be sharp enough to contend.

There’s a question mark too over the other obvious contender Corey Conners whose only win came at San Antonio three years ago. After seven gruelling rounds at Austin with 68 holes on Saturday and Sunday alone, the Canadian picked up $850,000 for third place in the Match Play but what has he got left in the tank? He’s another with Georgia on his mind.

Spieth’s early exit may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as he’ll be fresh for San Antonio where he fired 18 under last year and will be buoyed by big fan support and positive mental associations.

I like him best of the big five in the betting – Mexican star Abraham Ancer, good in Austin last week, the other one – but there’s scope for someone to come out of left field and beat them all.

It’s going to be hot, around 30C, and pretty windy some of the time so we want someone who will keep the ball in play on this 7435-yard par 72, good iron players like Chris Kirk and Keegan Bradley.

Four-time tour winner Kirk has strong course form, three top-eights since 2016, and has impressed this campaign with seventh at Honda, eighth at Bay Hill and 14th at Phoenix. True, it’s a long time since the tall Georgian won but he should give us a good each-way run.

Veteran Bradley, a PGA champion back in the day, caught the eye with fifth at Sawgrass following good showings at Waialae and Bay Hill. Again, he hasn’t won in a while but he went very close at Valspar around this time last year and I’m sure he has at least one more win in him.

Also worth an interest is South Korea’s Si Woo Kim who was fourth to Conners in the 2019 edition – there was no Texas Open in 2020 because of Covid – and posted encouraging 11th places at the American Express and Torrey Pines a few weeks back.

New kids on the block to watch out for are Sunday’s talented Corales winner Chad Ramey and Valspar runner-up Davis Riley, who so nearly sprang a big surprise in Florida two weekends ago when just edged out by Sam Burns.

And although horses-for-courses man Charley Hoffman’s 2022 CV (67-71-missed cut-missed cut) makes abysmal reading, he boasts such attractive San Antonio form (a win and two seconds) he could be worth risking.


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