Rahm & Rory to star in European takeover


2pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 17/2
2pts each-way Rory McIlroy @ 13/2
1.5pts each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 33/1
1pt each-way Sahith Theegala @ 50/1
1pt each-way Shane Lowry @ 28/1

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In what could be seen as a mini Ryder Cup rehearsal, Europe’s top six, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Matt Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry and Tyrrell Hatton, line up against America’s  finest at the CJ Cup in South Carolina in what should be a belter of a tournament.

Heading the US team is world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and while Xander Schauffele is giving this 78-runner, no-cut contest a miss, there remains significant back-up via Justin Thomas, Sam Burns, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa and Cameron Young to give an edge to proceedings from the get-go on Thursday.

All six played their part in Presidents Cup victory last month and can realistically expect to be Ryder Cup-bound for Rome next September so the importance of who draws first blood at Congaree cannot be overestimated.

Sometimes I think we overrate the Americans, and that applies to men’s and women’s golf, and this week is a golden opportunity to put them in their places. Which is why four of the five selections are Europeans.

Favourite backers will be getting stuck into defending champion McIlroy when the FedEx Cup winner makes his first start of the new PGA year, no doubt a little disappointed that the tournament has moved from Las Vegas, where he shot a phenomenal 25 under par, to a course he probably hasn’t seen before.

It was Rory’s come-from-behind victory last year that kick-started a supremely consistent campaign which ended on such a high at the Tour Championship.

Nine shots behind going into the weekend, McIlroy staged one of his now-regular through-the-field charges to edge home by a shot from Collin Morikawa. Judging from the only piece of form we have for Congaree, from last year’s inaugural Palmetto Championship when South African lefty Garrick Higgo’s 11-under score got him home on only his second US start, birdies will be harder to find.

The Tom Fazio layout, a 7655-yard par 72,  has been around for just five years and looks a serious test. England’s Tyrrell Hatton, one of six sharing second place at the Palmetto, would have dotted up had the flat stick, usually one of the best clubs in his bag, not let him down. From tee to green he was numero uno.

This is admittedly much better company than he faced at the Palmetto but given a decent week on the greens he could easily bustle up Ryder Cup colleagues Rory and Rahmbo. Recent form has been encouraging too.

Hatton is not a big hitter but surprisingly for a course of above-average length, eight of the first ten home at the Palmetto did not figure high on the driving distance stats.

Six of the world’s top ten, headed by an uneasy No. 1 in Scheffler, are teeing off in the half-size line-up so it’s a tournament that will take a bit of winning.

McIlroy has gone 2-4-4 on the DP World Tour since filling his wheelbarrow at the FedEx Cup but there’s still room for a bit more and as for Rahm he played golf from a different planet when turning the Spanish Open, weak though it was, into a rout.

Now he has his game back in order after an underwhelming summer on the course but a wonderful one domestically with the birth of a second child, he will be licking his lips at the prospect of bringing down these top Americans.

We know those two are in belting form whereas we can’t be sure about Scheffler, Thomas, Morikawa or Burns, four of the leading Americans. Double major winner Morikawa never contended in Japan last week and Scheffler’s game has dipped from gold to silver. Like others before him, maybe he’s finding it hard living up to his ranking.

Keegan Bradley, put up here at 25/1 last week, and comeback man Rickie Fowler finished 1-2 in Japan, so we know their games are in good nick. This is harder. The same goes for Fortinet winner Max Homa and new sensation Tom Kim, a double winner in double-quick time and plenty more to come from this charismatic 20-year-old.

Impressive BMW PGA champion Lowry and US Open hero Fitzpatrick, pipped in a playoff for the Italian Open before last week’s uncharacteristic flop on the course where he’d won the year before, add ballast to the European challenge while the Koreans are mob-handed and all capable of upsetting the applecart.

The lone American in my staking plan doesn’t sound American at all and that’s the colourful Sahith Theegala who has persistently looked a winner waiting to happen. The rangy Californian has made an impressive start to the new wrap-around year with fifth at the ZOZO following sixth first time out at the Fortinet.

In what looks like being a dry, sunny weekend with minimal wind and temperatures hovering around 70F, Theegala might be a bigger threat to European domination than the established names.

As there was a South African winner at Congaree last time, maybe Higgo’s success will inspire classy Christiaan Bezuidenhout to a break through but I’m looking for a big week from our Ryder aces with that overdue Wentworth victory doing wonders for Lowry’s self-belief.

The Irishman’s ability has never been in doubt. Now he’s ready to move up a level and join the elite.


2.5pts each-way Rasmus Hojgaard @ 12/1
2pts each-way Ryan Fox @ 12/1
1.5pts each-way Eddie Pepperell @ 20/1
0.5pts each-way Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez @ 66/1
0.5pts each-way Jamie Donaldson @ 66/1

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With gritted teeth, the DP World Tour had to present LIV defector Adrian Otaegui with the trophy and a handsome £430,000 cheque after the Spaniard’s never-in-doubt victory in the Andalucia Masters and they may have to do it all over again this weekend.

Otaegui lines up as third favourite for the weaker Mallorca Open, the third leg of the Iberian Swing, to be completed next week with the Portugal Masters.

The tour don’t want him there as they didn’t want him last week but are powerless to do anything about it until the appeals of his and his LIV breakaway comrades against fines and ban are heard and thrashed out. That won’t happen until next year.

Jamie Spence, a former chairman of the tour’s tournament players committee, made no bones about it on Sky at the weekend, saying flatly “I don’t want him here” adding why should they welcome back players who are suing “our members”.

The lack of warmth from the rest of the field was water off a duck’s back to quiet-man Otaegui whose 18 under par record score on the toughest course on the circuit was close to miraculous and six better than had ever been achieved before.

Sixth on his LIV debut in St Albans, he played in their first three tournaments, then, along with others, he became surplus to requirements when new, bigger names were signed up. That’s what happens when the field size is limited to 48 but that number is likely to be increased for next year’s extended 14-week programme.

The Spaniard’s metronomically straight driving is less likely to count for as much this week and his putter will surely never be as hot again at Son Muntaner, a relatively flat resort course, a 6952-yard par 72 with generous fairways and big, fast greens.

Opened at the turn of the century just outside Palma, this is Son Muntaner’s tour debut, with Jeff Winther defending the title he won at Santa Ponsa when this tournament resumed after a ten-year gap.

The Dane has not been on many leaderboards since and he’s posted only two top-tens this year. It is another Dane who will be carrying my money.

Rasmus Hojgaard, the only member of this week’s line-up likely to get a place in next year’s Ryder Cup team, is my fancy to cement his claim with an authoritative display.

The less flashy of the two Danish twins but the more reliable, Rasmus, already a triple winner on tour and still only 21, finished fifth at Valderrama on Sunday, showing patience in adversity, and he can play with more freedom this week. Runner-up in Paris and a cut-maker on his last nine starts, he looks a worthy favourite.

Valderrama was too much of a head-scratcher for Ryan Fox but it’s only a couple of weeks since he made the Dunhill Links Pro-Am his second victory of 2022. He should have won even more but now and again he rushes things and pays the price.

Second places in Ireland, Holland and Belgium and a third in Munich show how often the New Zealander puts himself in the mix and this looks another very winnable week.

Eddie Pepperell continues on his steady way with 13th at the Open de Espana and he arrives not having put himself through the mangle at nerve-shattering Valderrama so will be fresher than his market rivals.

There’s no denying Richard Mansell’s class but there’s a big question mark against his Sunday temperament when in with a chance to win. He is hard to trust at the moment but, given time, will come good.

I can see canny old-timers Jamie Donaldson, Scott Jamieson and Joost Luiten  making hay but can they still do it over 72 holes? Donaldson, once a Ryder Cup player, still has plenty of game but whether he’s up for a fight is another matter. He’s such a nice guy that I hope he has another win in him. He hasn’t won since 2014 but if he can reproduce the golf that earned him sixth place at the French and Scottish Opens, both in better company than he faces here, he won’t be far away.

On home ground it’s not impossible for the diminutive Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez to make a big show. A birdie machine but wildly unpredictable, he impressed when 14th at Valderrama and there will come a day when he can see the job through on a Sunday. Why not now?

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