Golf,

Spain to reign at home and abroad

MEXICO CHAMPIONSHIP


Best bets
4pts win Jon Rahm @ 9/2
1pt each-way Arron Rai @ 40/1
1pt each-way Davis Riley @ 50/1
1pt each-way Chad Ramey @ 66/1
1pt each-way Gary Woodland @ 20/1
1pt each-way double Rahm & Otaegui
view odds


We’re paying SIX places at the Mexico Championship!


This week’s golf has a real Hispanic flavour about it with Europe playing in Spain and the PGA Tour on a rare awayday to Mexico.

So why not try a Spanish double, Jon Rahm at the Mexico Championship at Vidanta and Adrian Otaegui in the Catalunya Championship in Girona? At Fitzdares prices, the win double pays better than 114/1 and the each-way part, which looks bombproof, comes to 8.5-1.

Despite his recent form blip which has seen him dip from No. 1 to No. 3 in the world, Rahm is in a different league from the weakest field he will face all year, made even feebler by the Monday defection of the Ryder Cup player nearest to him the betting, Daniel Berger, because of a back injury.

Like Tyson Fury v Dillian Whyte on Saturday, it’s all a question of levels. Sure, the poor, outclassed Whyte could have landed a lucky punch but otherwise it was no contest.

It’s the same with Rahm who has been a great golfer for a number of years. He may not have been in great form but the ‘name’ opposition, local hero Abraham Ancer and the only other top-25 player in the line-up, Tony Finau, have been in no sort of form at all.

And past Masters champion Patrick Reed appears to have lost the plot for the time being while he tries to change a leaky swing, shooting over par in each of his four rounds at Augusta, a course where he had of course previously shone with wizard scrambling.

True, Rahm has had his own problem with the putter, often losing his cool as his fragile temperament erupts, and there have been a couple of uncharacteristic 77s in there so backers will be praying he has found some solutions during the two-week break since a mid-table 27th at Augusta.

As this 2015 Greg Norman layout at Vallarta is making its PGA Tour bow, it means that everyone bar the locals tees off on a level playing field and quite a big one it is, a 7456-yard par 71 extended 250 yards with the bunker count increased from 55 to 106, all to bring it up to speed for this debut tournament.

The harder the course, the less likely we are to see a shock winner on Sunday. Vidanta is generous of the tee, as most Norman courses are, so a dodgy driver like Reed, past winner of the big WGC tournament In Mexico, may get away with miscues which have cost him missed cuts at Riviera, Honda and Bay Hill. Class, after all is forever but it is a big ask, even for someone as determined as the combative Reed.

Finau is another big name finding it hard to live up to his rating. He hasn’t had even a top 20 outside the small-field Tournament of Champions.

Then there’s Ancer, the only world top-20 player outside Rahm. With the home crowd expecting so much, Abe is under extra pressure to perform which he has yet to do this year with no top 30s and early exits from the Sony, Valspar and Masters.

So with his main market rivals toiling, Rahm won’t need to be anything special to win and the main threats may come from newer names who have at least demonstrated a fair level of current form.

Arron Rai, the hard-practising Englishman from Wolverhampton, is making an impression on the American public and his fourth place in the Zurich pairs on Sunday was gained without a flashy partner as David Lipsky is no more than a journeyman. So that was a good effort from this dual European winner who had earlier caught the eye when sixth at tough Torrey Pines.

Sharing fourth spot with the Rai squad in New Orleans was Valspar runner-up Davis Riley but as he had a classy partner in metronome-straight Will Zalatoris, a one-time flatmate and long-time friend, it is hard to gauge how much of that high finish was down to him being so relaxed. Even so, he could be the one to bustle up Rahm.

The other new name worth risking is Chad Ramey whose best efforts, a breakthrough victory in the Corales in the Dominican Republic and fifth place in Puerto Rico, both came in Central America.

The Mississippian has nearby previous at Korn Ferry Tour level, only going down in the 2021 Mexico Championship after a playoff. Also a winner on that satellite circuit, Chad’s a guy who’s going places.

Some, like Ramey, catch the winning habit early, others like Cameron Tringale are still waiting for their first solo victory after 326 attempts. Yet so solid is this serial loser’s current form that he’s high in the betting. Easy to see him in the frame but he’ll probably find a way to keep that elusive ‘W’ off his 13-year main-tour CV.

By process of elimination, past US Open champion Gary Woodland is a live chance after top-fives at Honda and Bay Hill and eighth in Texas. There’s always a “but” with this unreliable lot and Woodland shot some big numbers in missing the cut at the Players and the Masters, the two that mattered most.

Gutsy Kevin Na is not without a chance once he gets that magic putter working while Scot Russell Knox’s Sawgrass sixth makes him the second Brit in with a shout even though this course might be too long for him.

And I’ll throw in one from left field, Austin Smotherman, a past winner of the Mexico Championship under its old name in 2018 when it was a Latinoamerica Tour event played elsewhere, in Tijuana. A positive mental association with an event and/or a country can often work wonders. Fitzdares have him at 100/1.

But this is Rahm’s to lose, just as it was Fury’s at Wembley. As for Otaegui’s chance, read on…

Finally, it’s welcome back to Champions Tour star Steve Stricker after a long, serious, blood-count-related illness that left an already lean frame two stones lighter.

He is 15/2 second favourite to Steve Alker for the Insperity Invitational but my money’s on rival 2021 rival Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington at 11/1.

CATALUNYA CHAMPIONSHIP


Best bets
2pts each-way Adrian Otaegui @ 20/1
1pt each-way Richard Bland @ 25/1
1pt each-way Antoine Rozner @ 40/1
0.5pts each-way Jason Scrivener @ 50/1
0.5pts each-way Eddie Pepperell @ 100/1
view odds


While the rain in Spain may indeed fall mainly in the plain, there was plenty left over for Tarragona last week where more than four hours play was lost to the elements and there’s more to come this weekend in Girona when the DP World Tour stays in that normally sunny country for a second week.

We’re an hour north of Barcelona for the Catalunya Championship on the Stadium course which European legends Neil Coles and Angel Gallardo designed at the end of the last century on behalf of the tour with a future Ryder Cup in mind.
It has yet to happen as Spain, the first Continental country to host the biennial match at Valderrama in 1997, has had to get in the queue. England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France have got in since with Italy to come next year.

Then it’s back to Ireland in 2027 and after that who knows? Golf-mad Sweden must be favourites but impressive PGA Catalunya is certainly good enough. Already it has hosted three Spanish Opens and served as the annual home of the tour’s Q-School from 2008-16.

At a 7263-yard par 72 it’s a serious test with lakes coming into play on seven holes and trees pressing on to fairways, well bunkered too, the dogleg sixth a feature, demanding a driver and total commitment.

The three Spanish Open winners there, Brian Davis, Thomas Levet and Miguel Angel Jimenez, notably straight rather than powerful, suggest we are looking for someone in the same mould and nobody fits the bill better than Sunday’s unlucky runner-up Adrian Otaegui.

The 29-year-old from San Sebastián was arrow straight off the tee and bogey-free in a pulsatingly close final round but ran into some magical iron play and putting from compatriot Pablo Larrazabal whose nine Sunday birdies that set a target that proved beyond the reach of the chasing pack.

Nobody who shoots a 62 to nick a tournament from nowhere when he’s a 25/1 tip will get anything but a big thankyou from me yet it was hard not to feel sympathy for Otaegui who did nothing wrong apart from not making birdie on a short par four that was a gift for everyone else.

As it was Larrazabal’s second victory in six weeks – having already won one new tournament on the rota, at Pecanwood in South Africa, here he was knocking off another, the ISPS Handa Championship – there’s no hotter golfer competing in this week’s second spin on Pablo’s patch at the Catalunya Championship in Girona.

If we didn’t, from experience, know how difficult it is to win back to back, Pablo would be again an attractive bet. But it is Otaegui who gets the vote to gain revenge on a more testing course. Surely Sunday’s winner cannot putt that well again Otaegui surprisingly has won only one fully-fledged 72-hole strokeplay tournament in but he was co-winner of the 2015 Qualifying School. And that’s the extra clue as that tour card came on this week’s Stadium course.

Even without that on his CV, Otaegui would still be my main fancy as before Sunday’s unlucky second he was fourth in Qatar and third at the Ras Al Khaimah Championship. As for dangers in similar field to Tarragona, but with the notable addition of British Masters champion Richard Bland, there have to concerns about the other market leaders.

Rasmus Hojgaard’s collapse from a challenging position to almost last of the qualifiers was alarming, twin brother Nikolai barely made the cut and eight-time tour winner Bernd Wiesberger was never a factor. If this is not just a warm-up for next week’s British Masters defence, Bland should be in his element. At 49 this crafty old campaigner will be particularly motivated by the Jimenez victory in 2014 when at 50 years and 133 days “The Mechanic” lowered his own record as oldest European Tour winner.

No doubt Bland will have his eye on that record next year but meanwhile he will be looking for a positive performance ahead of his big Belfry date. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t do so as he was runner-up at the Dubai Desert Classic and made a better fist of the WGC Match Play than many bigger names, reaching the last 16 and giving mighty Dustin Johnson plenty to think about before going out.

There are possibilities about two Frenchmen who played well last week, Antoine Rozner (5th) and Victor Perez (8th). Both know how to win – Rozner did so twice, the second coming at Qatar in March last year – but there was a lack of the confidence at the business end as both have been off the radar this year, even longer for Perez.

With top-tens under their belts, both can improve while it was also good to see those almost-forgotten Englishmen Tom Lewis and Eddie Pepperell looking more like their old selves. Pepperell has masses of ability but little self-belief and Sunday’s share of 15th place should do put him right for this sterner test.

Straight-shooter Jason Scrivener (back in Europe after partnering Jason Day to tenth place in New Orleans), Jordan Smith, Haotong Li (sixth at Tarragona), Shubhankar Sharma and Thorbjorn Olesen are other eye-catchers but, birdie machine Li is unlikely to get away with such erratic driving on this track.

Here’s hoping a Spaniard reigns in Spain for the second week running (provided it’s the right one) and that nobody rains on our parade.


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