Golf,

Rahm has score to settle at Muirfield Village

THE MEMORIAL TOURNAMENT


Best bets
2.5pts each-way Patrick Cantlay @ 16/1
2.5pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 9/1
1pt each-way Xander Schauffele @ 20/1
0.5pt each-way Hideki Matsuyama @ 25/1
0.5pt each-way Cameron Young @ 33/1
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We’re paying SEVEN places at the Memorial Tournament!


We always get a good turn-out for Jack Nicklaus’s tournament at Muirfield Village, a course that holds great memories as it was the scene of Europe’s first Ryder Cup victory on US soil in 1987 – and what a nail-biter that was, going down to the last putt.

But for one European, Jon Rahm, last year’s Memorial tournament turned in a heartbeat from unbridled euphoria to abject misery on an unforgettable third day in Dublin, Ohio.

One moment he had posted a 64 for a record-equalling 198 and what looked like an unassailable six-shot lead, the next he was being told he had tested Covid positive after the rain-delayed completion of round two that morning and would have to withdraw.

Bang went the $1.67m winner’s cheque and, as it turned out, bang went the Player of the Year title which would almost certainly have come the way of the US Open champion and then world No. 1 with the Memorial win, the award rather controversially going to Patrick Cantlay.

Ironically, it was Cantlay who picked up the pieces at that Memorial and went on to beat Collin Morikawa in a play-off.

Host Nicklaus said: “I wish we could figure out how to give Jon three-fourths of the trophy” while Rahm put a brave face on it by commenting: “This is one of those moments where how we respond to a setback defines us as people.” The happy footnote: Rahm zapped Covid to win the US Open on his next outing two weeks later.

So it would be poetic justice if the burly Spaniard were to triumph one year on and for the second time as he had emphatically won the 2020 Memorial before that ill-fated title defence.

The problem is that, despite a not entirely convincing victory over weak opposition in Mexico at the end of April, Rahm is not at last year’s peak and his irritation with missed putts is beginning to filter through the rest of his game.

So if you’re taking the 9/1, you are gambling that he’s sorted himself out after humdrum performances at the Masters (27th) and PGA (48th). Yet there are grounds for thinking this week might see Rahm in a better light.

So comprehensive has his domination of this tournament been – winner by three in 2020 and goodness knows how many last year if Covid hadn’t been around – that he may not have to be as good as he was the past two years.

It helps that men of-the-moment Scottie Scheffler, Justin Thomas and Sam Burns, along with the ever-dangerous Dustin Johnson, are missing and also that this 7543-yard par 72 masterpiece, named after Muirfield where Nicklaus won his first Open, so obviously suits.

And it’s not as if his main rivals are going great guns: Morikawa’s last four outings (26-29-55-40) suggest he has his own problems, Cantlay surprised everybody by missing the cut at the PGA after playing sublime golf to win the Zurich Classic pairs event with pal Xander Schauffele, and Rory McIlroy (never better than 4th in ten Memorials) plays like a million dollars one day and a dud fiver the next.

Only the revived Heritage winner Jordan Spieth has impressed but his Memorial record, only one top-five in nine attempts, is nothing special.

Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama are both past winners but after a long injury lay-off the unpredictable DeChambeau has to be rusty. Matsuyama, and early-year winner in Hawaii and more recently third at the Byron Nelson, looks more likely to bother Rahm.

If you can forgive Cantlay that blip last time out, he looks the big danger to Rahm on current and course form. Pre-Southern Hills, he was brilliant in New Orleans – we even got a smile out of him! – and runner-up to Spieth at Hilton Head the previous week.

True, his second Memorial triumph was by default but there was no fluke about the first two years earlier and he’d been only a shot outside the 2018 play-off when DeChambeau prevailed.

Schauffele, without a solo victory since taking gold at the 2020 Olympics, has been lifted by that team success in New Orleans, following up with fifth at the Nelson and 13th in Tulsa. A week’s rest and he should be good to go on a course where he’s been 11-13-13 the last three years.

Good to see Patrick Reed returning to something like his best after a torrid spell and last year’s fifth must have an each-way shout after his seventh at Colonial, while Kevin Na, beaten by Matsuyama in a 2014 play-off, continues to pile up the dollars. He shared seventh with Reed and Spieth on Sunday and won’t be far away either.

Memorial is prone to throwing up a winner out of left field. Will McGirt beating Jon Curran in a 2016 play-off – where are they now? Ditto David Lingmerth, play-off conqueror of Justin Rose (another course winner) the previous year.

Davis Riley (four top-tens in last five), PGA runner-up Will Zalatoris (but still winless) or Cameron Young (five times a top-three finisher in his rookie season) would hardly qualify as shock winners but they are the ones the big names will be fearing.

For Riley and Young it is a Memorial debut while Zalatoris is on only his second visit, having missed the cut when invited shortly after turning pro in 2018. All three need to brush up their putting to become multiple winners.

Cam Smith has a woeful Memorial record and looks one to avoid but recent winner Max Homa and ultra-consistent Lowry, who shared sixth place last year, have an each-way shout. Even so, It’s Rahm and Cantlay to fight out the finish for me with Schauffele their biggest threat.

EUROPEAN OPEN


Best bets
2pts each-way Marcel Schneider @ 66/1
1pt each-way Adrian Meronk @ 16/1
1pt each-way Robert MacIntyre @ 22/1
0.5pt each-way Victor Perez @ 28/1
0.5pt each-way Edoardo Molinari @ 40/1
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Marcel Schneider gave us a wonderful run for a 100/1 shot with his Dutch Open fourth on Sunday and now he’s on home terrain in Germany there’s every justification for putting him up again in the Porsche European Open.

Given that he preceded that fourth place with an eye-catching seventh in Belgium and 13th in Catalonia, there’s still plenty of juice in his price, all the more so because he placed seventh last year at Green Eagle, the unusual course near Hamburg hosting this tournament for the fifth time.

Unusual? Well, for a start the 16th hole is a 705 yards long, further than some of go on our holidays, and there are four other par fives, none shorter than 594 yards. It has been designed by its owner Michael Blesch who has matched his five monster par fives (four of them on the back nine) with five short holes to make a 7603-yard par 72 that’s as fierce as it sounds because.last year’s winner Marcus Armitage needed only eight under par to get home.

In case you think 705 is a new high for a golf hole, think again! There’s a 725-yard par six at West Midlands and the 738-yard par six on Westray in the Orkneys holds the UK record. But we have nothing close to the par-seven 964-yarder at Satsuki in Japan.

Tommy Fleetwood, fresh from a fine fifth place in the PGA Championship, joins the usual suspects including Italian Edoardo Molinari, named on Monday as a Ryder Cup vice-captain for next year’s match in Rome and back on the course where he produced his best effort of 2021, a share of second place.

The announcement coincides with a form revival by the 41-year-old who was part of the winning team at Celtic Manor in 2010. His sixth in Catalonia was speedily followed by another top-ten in Belgium. Only his putter is stopping him being a winner again.

It was the magical putter of Victor Perez, the Frenchman who lives in Dundee, that snatched the Dutch Open title away from Ryan Fox at the weekend, sinking two huge tramliners to make the Kiwi bomber pay for his last-hole double-bogey seven when he had one and a half hands on the trophy and was trading at long odds-on.

It is a long time since Perez was being hyped up as a Ryder Cup contender and this was a much-needed boost after some lean times. Don’t rule him out following up quickly now he’s got the taste for it.

But for two disaster holes which cost him five strokes, giant Pole Adrian Meronk would have made a long-overdue breakthrough instead of finishing third in Holland but to compensate he gets a coveted spot in the Open line-up. He keeps knocking on the door and could celebrate a first victory here.

Aggressive young a Scot Robert MacIntyre can’t be ruled out as he has good course form, chasing home Paul Casey three years ago. He is an underachiever but playing nicely enough to contend here and has posted a stream of fair efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Fleetwood could easily run away with this but has got out of the habit of winning. The 10/1 about a guy whose last success came in the 2019 Nedbank is easy enough to resist even though he is pretty sure to be thereabouts on Sunday afternoon.

Thorbjorn Olesen and Chase Hanna come next on my short list but I can’t tip them all.

Weatherwise we’re due a dry start followed by a damp weekend – and not much wind to worry about.


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