Golf,

Rose to win battle of ex-champions

CHARLES SCHWAB CHALLENGE


Best bets
1.5pts each-way Justin Rose @ 40/1
1pt each-way Kevin Kisner @ 80/1
1pt each-way Chris Kirk @ 40/1
1pt each-way Jordan Spieth @ 12/1
1pt each-way Kevin Na @ 40/1
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We’re paying SEVEN places at the Charles Schwab Challenge!


Just as bookmakers were rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of a virtual skinner on the year’s second Major, the PGA Championship, along comes the well-backed Justin Thomas, almost favourite with Fitzdares at 12/1, to poop their party.

But what fun and games, and, yes, heartbreak, there was down there in Tulsa on Sunday afternoon before we reached a conclusion as dramatic as any in recent championship history If you were the clever dick who backed the winner at 789/1 on Betfair, presumably when Thomas was eight behind with ten to play, you have four very deflated golfers to thank because JT, brilliant though he was in shooting three 67s on a course as demanding as Southern Hills and in weather that put him on the wrong side of the draw, could not have won his second Wanamaker Trophy without a great deal of help.

With 150/1 mystery man Mito Pereira leading by three, pursued by 80/1 Cameron Young and two other non-winners on the PGA Tour in Yorkshireman Matt Fitzpatrick and up-and-coming Will Zalatoris, and all the marquee names out with the washing, it had looked for all money as if we were looking at a four-horse race.

JT never even came into the conversation until the back nine. One over par after eight, he was even further behind the leader than the seven shots by which he’d trailed at the start of the day. It looked mission impossible. To cover the next ten holes and the additional three in the play-off in six under par was more than admirable but, let’s be honest, it should not have been enough.

You know the rest of the story: birdies at three of the next four holes gave him a glimmer, a big birdie putt at 17, in the house early at five under. And, one by one, the four ahead of him imploded.

Like a bad movie where the ‘surprise’ ending is so predictable, it had us on the edge of our seats waiting for the next disaster. Chile’s Pereira, playing only his second Major and bravely trying to lead for the entire afternoon, in retrospect was an accident waiting to happen.

Punters who foresaw the impending car crash and reasoned five under would be good enough for at least a play-off got on clubhouse leader Thomas at tasty prices. They waited and were not disappointed.

Pereira’s heartbreaking double bogey at the last when only a par and a hole away from the champion’s greenside interview will be the poor victim everyone remembers. It was agony to watch, hard not to shed a tear – or even a punch in the air if you were a Thomas or Will Zalatoris backer.

But what about Cameron Young’s four from just wide of the 16th green (a duffed chip and three feeble putts) or the four wretched shots from Matt Fitzpatrick that led to a bogey five on the driveable par-four 17th he would have been expecting to birdie?

The damage to Zalatoris had come earlier, a wild tee shot into the hedge at the short sixth and three more bogeys as his usually-immaculate driving deserted him. Ironically, it was the Texan’s much-derided putting stroke that earned him a play-off with a clutch six-footer for par.

Sadly for him, the putt of a similar length at the second extra hole went wide to concede Thomas that vital one-shot edge. Who would ever have thought Rory McIlroy’s five-under first-day leading score would be the 72-hole mark as well? And after such a low-scoring first day only 12 players would finish below par on the week.

Fitzpatrick will be kicking himself for hitting so many destructive shots when push came to shove and asking himself why he couldn’t buy a putt when he really needed one. A share of fifth place with Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Kirk was a huge anti-climax for the Yorkshireman and while Fleetwood and Kirk will be teeing it up at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Fort Worth this week, Fitzgerald takes time off to reflect on whether such an obvious chance of a Major will come his way again.

Thomas and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who unexpectedly had the weekend off after missing the cut in Tulsa, head the betting for the 77th edition of what old-timers still call “the Colonial”, a claustrophobic, tree-lined test with several doglegs and narrow fairways demanding precise tee play.

Just 7209 yards long with half the holes between 350 and 450 yards that need only short irons into small greens once the tee ball is on the right part of the fairway, it is a game of golfing chess where hometown favourite Jordan Spieth loves checkmating his rivals.

Not only is he a past winner but a three-time runner-up, only once outside the top 14 in nine attempts. And he even gets to sleep at home!

Jordan will be far more relaxed than when trying to complete a career Grand Slam last week and, whoever you back, course specialist and recent winner Spieth simply has to be in your staking plan.

It is definitely a horses-for-courses week and although the form of the last two champions, Jason Kokrak and Daniel Berger, is unconvincing, there are no such negatives about Kirk and Spieth, winners in 2015 and 2016, while cases can also be made for more recent Colonial winners Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na.

Rose is particularly interesting. Without a victory anywhere for over three years, his swing changes seem to be finally bedding in and his putting problems seemed to be a thing of past judging from the number of tramliners we saw him sink at the PGA where a level-par 13th, just five behind the winner, hopefully marked an upturn in his fortunes.

A third at Colonial in 2020 is worth commenting on as it was easily his best effort of a thoroughly disappointing year and the tall Englishman, who has won more tournaments in the States than Nick Faldo but gets only a fraction of the credit, could pop up at a big price.

Kirk has been going nicely all year (5th Bay Hill, 7th Honda), hence his share of fifth in Tulsa was no great surprise, nor was Kisner’s missed cut as Southern Hills would have been too long for him. Kisner is best judged on his Match Play second, Sony third, Sawgrass fourth and, of course, his 2017 Colonial victory when the two main challengers were Spieth and Jon Rahm. Not bad scalps to take!

Na, another shortish hitter, had to graft hard to finish 23rd at the PGA and should be seen to better effect on this more suitable course where he romped home by four in 2019 after taking fourth spot behind Rose the previous year.

Others worth considering are Pebble Beach winner Tom Hoge,Valspar runner-up Davis Riley who shone at Southern Hills (9th and 13th) and debutant Fleetwood who had a cracking 69-67 weekend that sets him up for a thinking man’s layout that should fit his eye.

Of course, there’s Thomas, Scheffler and 2020 runner-up Collin Morikawa, all in the world’s top five, in the 120-strong line-up too but looking down the list of past champions, Spieth apart, it generally pays punters to avoid the bleedin’ obvious.

It’s going to be a very hot, sticky weekend in the Lone Star State with temperatures up to 35C and plenty of wind.

DUTHC OPEN


Best bets
1.5pts each-way Chase Hanna @ 66/1
1.5pts each-way Adrian Meronk @ 20/1
1pt each-way Rasmus Hojgaard @ 28/1
1pt each-way Bernd Wiesberger @ 18/1
0.5pts each-way Matti Schmid @ 50/1
0.5pts each-way Marcel Schneider @ 100/1
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The six members of the Dutch Open field who took on fearsome Southern Hills last week and came away licking their wounds, none beating par or even matching it, will be looking forward to an easier ride in the second edition of the Dutch Open at Bernardus Golf in the picturesque village of Cromvoirt 50 miles south of Amsterdam.

Bernd Wiesberger, three over the card in the year’s second Major, did best in 30th spot and in-form Kiwi Ryan Fox, fresh from second place in Belgium, gets a tiny tick for his 54th but Thomas Pieters flopped in 71st and Oliver Bekker, Dean Burmester and Nicolai Hojgaard missed the cut by varying amounts, the young Dane a woeful 13 over par when bowing out on Friday.

That was a decent effort by Wiesberger who hasn’t had much to smile about this year and he rates a pick but for the rest of the selections, I’m going for fresher legs that didn’t make the tiring trip to Oklahoma.

Step forward, Adrian Meronk, Chase Hanna, Rasmus, the other and arguably more talented Hojgaard twin, and a pair of Germans, Matti Schmid and Marcel Schneider.

The case for last year’s Rookie of the Year Schmid is obvious: the German’s best performance since turning pro after winning the Silver Medal at last year’s Open came at this Kyle Phillips heathland layout when it hosted its first Dutch Open last September.

Only shock winner Kristoffer Broberg who shot a 61 in round three to lead by eight and virtually wrap it up a day early, beat Schmid over this 7245-yard par 72 created in 2018 by the American architect who gave us Kingsbarns and The Grove.

Despite the deep-faced bunkers, the dunes and gorse, the lakes and ditches, there are copious birdie opportunities as Broberg’s winning 23-under score testifies – and young Schmidt certainly took a shine to one of the Netherlands’ most admired courses.

As for Hanna, he’s a young American who has made quite an impression in a short while, following second place in Qatar with sixth at The Belfry and fourth in Belgium when he was carrying our money at 80/1. The way Hanna is trending, Fitzdares’ 66/1 is still full of juice.

Giant Pole Meronk really should have won one by now as he creates plenty of chances. Often in contention, he can’t seem to find the knockout punch. So far this year: thirds in Catalonia and Qatar, fourth in Dubai and a brace of sixth places in Ras Al Khaimah and last time out in Belgium. This is his Bernardus bow but the tallest golfer on tour should make short work of it.

Rasmus Hojgaard is the classiest player involved. Anyone who wins three times before his 21st birthday has to be out of the ordinary although we said that about the brilliant Matteo Manassero a decade ago and that wasn’t too clever, was it?

Like Schmid, Hojgaard, a fine driver, is having a little difficulty in living up to his reputation this campaign but 16th at The Belfry was encouraging and he put in two good PGA Tour shifts when sixth at Puntacana and 18th at the Texas Open.

Pieters, 13th on his first visit, is hard to catch right but a danger to all if in the mood. He opened the year with a bang by winning in Abu Dhabi but it’s been a mixed bag since while his young Belgian pal Detry, also a Thomas, has to be the most frustrating golfer in Europe.

One day this serial loser will confound everybody but he won’t be carrying my money. Take big outsider Schneider to give you a better run. At a three-figure price, this triple Challenge tour winner could be a bit of value on his eyecatching seventh in Belgium and 13th at Catalunya.

Weatherwise, a dry, warm start is forecast to taper off into a cool, showery Sunday.


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