2pts each-way Cameron Young @ 28/1
1pt each-way Adam Scott @ 50/1
1pt each-way Joohyung Kim @ 28/1
1pt each-way Tony Finau @ 14/1
1pt each-way Jon Rahm @ 12/1
We’re paying SIX places at the BMW Championship!
The PGA Tour has bowled punters a googly by taking the BMW Championship, the second leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, not only to a course that’s never been on the circuit before but to a state, Delaware, that’s making its tour debut too.
So they’re going one better than last year when Caves Valley was another tour first-timer and it turned into a riot of birdies with Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau shooting 27 under before embarking on a marathon six-hole shootout which ended in Cantlay’s favour. A week later he was FedEx champion and another $15m richer.
Now we’re at the Wilmington Country Club with nothing to help us form-wise since Justin Thomas’s college-days appearance there nine years ago. JT won 3.5 points out of four for the USA against Europe in the Palmer Cup just before he turned pro.
So what do we know about the South Course at Wilmington? It’s a Robert Trent Jones Sr parkland design from 1959, heavily bunkered, with multi-tiered Bentgrass greens every bit as big as any they play all year and, at a 7534-yard par 71, lengthened and reworked following the 2020 tornado which ripped down 300 trees in five minutes.
Two back-nine par fives of 634 and 649 yards will have the bombers licking their lips but, to compensate, six medium-length fours give scope to the short-iron approach artists.
There’s plenty going on: Will Zalatoris finally gets the W on his CV after 16 top-tens and three runner-up Major finishes, his victory in Memphis overtaking Scottie Scheffler at the top of the FedEx Cup league table.
And Open champion Cameron Smith has withdrawn because of a sore hip amid strong rumours that he is signing for the Saudi-backed LIV set-up for a cool $100m as soon as the FedEx Cup is done and dusted. (He doesn’t need to play this week to qualify for next week’s Tour Championship).
The first leg of the race for the $18m jackpot (up $3 on last year) has whittled the contenders down from 120 to 68. And there’s the unkindest cut of all coming up on Sunday as the competition bids farewell to another 38, among them probably European hopefuls Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton unless they produce something special right away.
There’s no cut which is good news for punters who like a long run for their money rather than a quick fix and the 30 left standing – as per the FedEx rankings, not the top 30 at Wilmington – head for Atlanta and next week’s finale when the $75m bonus pool will be shared out.
But first this week’s business and Rory McIlroy, despite missing the cut in Memphis, is once again favourite for the $15m BMW, the longest-running regular tournament on the PGA calendar outside the Majors, having started as the Western Open in 1899, and one the Northern Irishman won ten years ago.
He has as good a chance as anybody but with no course form to guide us, this might be the right time to look beyond the eight players priced under 20/1 and be a little more adventurous. The trio I have in mind are Cameron Young at 28/1, Adam Scott at 50/1 and the new South Korean sensation, 20-year-old Joohyung “Tom” Kim at 28/1.
With five second places and two top-three finishes in the Majors this productive year, Young has been a nearly man for too long and now that Zalatoris has shown him the way, the powerful New Yorker will be more buzzed up than ever to get this monkey off his back.
With Delaware just a couple of hours’ drive from the Big Apple, he may know the course better than most and the big names don’t frighten this unflappable 25-year-old as he showed when third to Thomas at the PGA and runner-up to Smith at St Andrews.
For those of us who have watched Scott yip short putts galore down the years, his T5 in Tennessee will have been an eye-opener as the best part of his game was the flat stick. He was No. 1 in Strokes Gained Putting at Southwind and by nearly four strokes on the final round.
Top 15 in the last two Majors, the 42-year-old has started to realise his time at the top is running out and serious improvement in his all-round game has been noted. This week’s huge greens will play to Adam’s new-found confidence on the dance floors.
As for young Tom Kim, he is something else. Third at the Scottish Open, seventh in Detroit, then it happened! Nine holes in 27 shots on the final day to turn the Wyndham into a one-horse race – after taking an eight on the very first first hole of the tournament. Following up boldly with a T13 last week, he’d utterly fearless. Catch him while you can!
Of the Europeans,the almost-forgotten Jon Rahm looks best. Currently only 14th in the FedEx race but encouraged by a T5 in Memphis coming only nine days after becoming a dad for the second time – welcome, Eneko! – the Spaniard went into last year’s finale at East Lake as No. 4 and almost pulled off conceding top dog Cantlay a whopping start under the Cup’s bizarre “handicap” system.
Under less pressure, I can see Rahm going very close this week – he won the 2020 BMW at Olympia Fields – as there was no sign on Sunday of the putting woes which have dogged his year. Quite the opposite.
European hopes rest on him, McIlroy (9th) and Matt Fitzpatrick (12th) but they need to do something special as the way the race is trending, Zalatoris, Scheffler, Cameron Smith and the massively-in-form Finau will take plenty of catching.
Smith was the bookies’ favourite going into the last round in Memphis until the PGA announced a retrospective two-shot penalty for an illegal drop early in round three, caught on a TV replay. It was an expensive error for his supporters as he slid back to 13th but he and his caddie should have known the rules, as he admitted.
The man with the best form credentials has to be Finau who added a T5 to back-to-back wins in Minnesota and Detroit. With his suspect putting a thing of the past, the gentle giant from Salt Lake City is a match for anyone these days.
On the subject of putting, don’t listen to those who crab the weird stroke employed by Zalatoris on the short ones. Yes, he misses the odd one but who doesn’t? And, judging from Sunday, nobody reads or rolls the long ones better.
It was a shame his thrilling St Jude play-off with Sepp Straka turned into a comedy of errors with the 500/1 Austrian, who had missed his six previous cuts, losing the plot completely and losing out to a Zalatoris bogey but nobody deserved a change of luck more than the man now in the driving seat for the leader’s ten-shot bonus if he’s still there on Sunday evening. Now he’s won one, there will be plenty more to come but maybe not this week.
They’re set for a showery Saturday and storm-hit Sunday in Delaware after a dry, sunny first two rounds with temperatures around 30C.
D+D REAL CZECH MASTERS
2pts each-way Renato Paratore @ 40/1
2pts win Thomas Pieters @ 13/2
1pt each-way Eddie Pepperell @ 20/1
1pt each-way Hennie Du Plessis @ 25/1
0.5pts each-way Borja Virto @ 100/1
0.5pts each-way Rory Sabbatini @ 33/1
Let’s fly by the seat of our pants and back the fastest and least predictable golfer on the planet, Renato Paratore, for the Czech Masters in Prague.
At 40/1 it’s a massive gamble but if this Roman warrior is still there after the halfway cut we’re in for quite a ride. On Sunday he fired a closing 64 to jump up from nowhere for a share of fourth at Galgorm Castle: the previous weekend, a Sunday 66 saw this wildly inconsistent performer grab third spot at Celtic Manor.
To put those performances into context: the 25-year-old had missed 13 of the previous 15 cuts since the turn of the year with a best performance of 40th. From the depth of despair, something positive has emerged. If only he could bottle it…
Will the magic still be there for a third week in a row? It could be fun finding out but it is encouraging that the first time we got excited by Renato was when he placed fifth as a gangly teenager in the 2015 Czech Masters on the same Albatross Resort course he’ll be trying to conquer this week.
True, he has failed to approach that in five subsequent visits but four of them were decent enough to give this dual tour winner – 2017 Nordea Masters (where he edged out current US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick) and 2020 British Masters – a shout of turning over warm favourite Thomas Pieters.
The Belgian bomber is short at 13/2 but, as a dual Czech winner on this 7468-yard par 72 test in solid current form (winner in Abu Dhabi, pipped by Li in a Munich play-off), deserves to be in a field bolstered by LIV defectors Ian Poulter and Hennie Du Plessis, returning while the temporary stay of DP World Tour fines and bans is still in force.
Du Plessis, runner-up to Charl Schwartzel on his LIV debut in St Albans following a series of impressive showings in his native South Africa and in subsequent sorties on the wider stage, looks the more likely to cause an icy moment at the prizegiving but steely Poulter has a point to prove and we know what he brings to the table.
Defending champion Johannes Veerman is having a mixed year but last year’s runner-up Sean Crocker arrives with a first tour victory tucked under his belt and will be more confident under pressure now he has finally cracked it.
Eddie Pepperell, fifth in the 2017 Czech Masters on this week’s course, pushed the American all the way at Fairmont St Andrews, having hinted the previous week when 11th at Hillside that a revival was on the cards.
His latest 20th at Celtic Manor, though disappointing in a way as more was expected, was decent enough and there is more to come from this talented dual winner. He just needs to convince himself he is as good as anybody in the field.
Judging from the three-figure price, the bookies obviously think Challenge Tour player Borja Virto’s T2 to Sunday’s winner Ewen Ferguson in Kilkenny was a fluke but I saw enough to suggest he’s great value at 100/1. He has plenty of strong Challenge Tour form to back up that view.
Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez, winner of the Dutch and runner-up in the European Open, has serious claims and South African veteran Rory Sabbatini who took out Slovak citizenship and represented the country of his wife and stepson at the Tokyo Olympics, is a still a regular cut-maker on the PGA Tour.
A six-time PGA Tour winner in his prime, it is only two years since the 46-year-old won the Silver Medal for Slovakia in Tokyo where only Xander Schauffele beat him. If he still has that sort of golf in him, the others had better watch out!
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