It’s go-go Rahmbo for Memorial encore

The Memorial Tournament

Best bets
2pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 10/1
2pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 16/1
1pt each-way Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 33/1
0.5pts each-way Shane Lowry @ 40/1
0.5pts each-way Patton Kizzire @ 80/1 
0.5pts each-way Kevin Streelman @ 50/1
view odds

This week the PGA Tour visits a new-look Muirfield Village for the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio but the Muirfield Village I remember is the one where Europe pulled off their first Ryder Cup victory on American soil.

That was 34 years ago but seems like yesterday and the image that flashes in my mind is not of Seve, Nick or winning captain Tony Jacklin but of Irishman Eamonn Darcy, the unlikely hero of the final-day singles.

To put it politely, Darcy was not the most talented member of the Jacklin All-Stars, half of whom had been involved in breaking US domination at The Belfry two years earlier. He had a unique swing no coach would ever teach and would rather have been a jockey but that would have meant cutting off his legs. So golf it had to be.

While Europe built up an enormous five-point lead through the two days of pairs golf, Jacklin had managed to shield Darcy by only putting him into battle only once, which he and his partner lost.

The singles draw put him against Ben Crenshaw, then generally regarded as the greatest putter in the world. The Americans had already marked that down as a home banker but they needed nine of the 12 points to regain the trophy.

They were making a good fist of Mission Improbable, not wanting to let down captain Jack Nicklaus on the course he built and adored, and four big guns Europe were counting on, Faldo, Lyle, Woosnam and Olazabal, were all stuffed.

Anyway, it all came down to Darcy v Crenshaw. The Texan, having lost both his team matches, was not in a good mood and when he missed a putt on the sixth green, he damaged his putter in a fit of pique rendering it not fit for purpose. The not-so-gentle Ben had to putt out with a one-iron for the final 12 holes.

It all came down to a slidy, downhill five-footer on the last green. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Our Eamonn holed it, no problem. Crenshaw lost. So did the USA. The Cup came home.

End of history lesson and on to who might win the 46th edition of Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament on the course he named after the Scottish links where in 1966 he won the first of his trio of Open Championships.

Listening this week to the details of the substantial changes Jack has made, the value of past form has to be called into question.

There are new holes, new greens, new tees, 140 more trees, reconstructed bunkers, new irrigation and extra length, up around 150 yards to 7,543. Nicklaus insists he hasn’t made it harder, only better. We shall know soon enough.

Down the years he has tweaked his masterpiece to keep it relevant to the advances in equipment but nothing like what the 120 competitors will face this week.

Along with the 18 Majors and the other 400-plus courses he has helped design, this will will be the legacy the 81-year-old will leave to the world of golf he has adorned for so long.

Last July Muirfield Village for the first time hosted back-to-back tournaments to help out in the Covid emergency following the cancellation of the John Deere Classic and what a difference a week made.

Collin Morikawa won the first after a play-off with Justin Thomas after they had deadlocked on 19 under par, with Jon Rahm down in 27th place. Seven days later, in tougher conditions, Rahm won by three with only nine under.

It would have been more if the Spaniard had not retrospectively incurred a two-shot penalty for his ball moving at address, turning a birdie two into a bogey four.

Rahm had been eight ahead with nine to play, totally dominant, but whether that makes him a worthy favourite on Jack’s new baby, who knows?

He has not been totally convincing recently, maybe finding the change in routine after becoming a first-time father hard to adapt to but he finished strongly to grab a top-ten at the PGA Championship on his last outing and is worth chancing with question marks hanging over his chief market rivals.

Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau have been up and down while Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay have both disappointed.

Comeback man Jordan Spieth probably has the most ticks but failed to close the deal in a Colonial shootout with 50/1 shot Jason Kokrak on Sunday. For once his golden putter could not rescue him from wild drives.

He still has a way to go to reach the giddy heights of a few years ago. Still, second place was no disgrace when taken in conjunction with a victory in his home state and four other top-five performances in a glorious revival.

Matt Fitzpatrick, third last year, and Shane Lowry, fourth last time out at the USPGA, could challenge if you’re looking at even longer prices – and there have been some crazy results at Jack’s Place.

David Lingmerth and Will McGirt won in 2015 and the following year. Neither had won before, neither has contended since. This time Patton Kizzire and Kevin Streelman could be the surprise.

Kizzire has just posted top-threes at Colonial and the Nelson while Streelman has some decent course form and impressed when eighth at Kiawah.

The European Open

Best bets
3pts win Paul Casey @ 6/1
2pts win Abraham Ancer @ 8/1
1.5pts each-way Bernd Wiesberger @ 14/1
0.5pts each-way Jordan Smith @ 40/1
0.5pts each-way Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez @ 150/1
view odds

Hats off to the European Tour for reacting so speedily to changing quarantine rules by moving the European Open to a unique Saturday start in Hamburg and reducing it to 54 holes so as not to intrude too much on the following week’s schedule.

The Monday finish is great for punters as it gives us an extra day of golf-watching on Sky! And it means that Paul Casey can defend the title he won at the Green Eagle course in 2019, the 2020 edition having been scuppered by you-know-what.

Casey started the year with a bang by winning in Dubai and has had a fistful of high finishes in the States, the latest a share of fourth with his prospective Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington and Shane Lowry in the USPGA Championship.
Also coming over from the PGA Tour is Mexican star Abraham Ancer who is still awaiting his first victory in the States but is a model of consistency, runner-up to McIlroy at Quail Hollow the pick of some enviable top-ten form in the past couple of months.

The 7,544-yard par 72 Green Eagle is a curious layout with no fewer than four par fives on the back nine and five in the last ten holes.

Two, the 647-yard ninth and 663-yard 16th, come into the monster category and may not favour Ancer who ranks only 149th for driving distance on the PGA Tour but third for driving accuracy. Even so, his US record demands the utmost respect.

Green Eagle, in the Hamburg suburb of Winsen, is hosting the Porsche-sponsored tournament for the fourth time and has produced only English winners, Casey preceded by Richard McEvoy (at huge odds) and Jordan Smith (third in Denmark last weekend).

Martin Kaymer is under pressure to become the first German winner but has not won since 2014 and has frittered away what winning opportunities he has created since.

Much more backable is the prolific Austrian Bernd Wiesberger who shrugged off some disappointing weeks in America to retain his Danish title with a degree of comfort at HimmerLand. He was fifth to Casey her two years ago.

It was good to see the Indian No. 1 Shubhankar Sharma hitting a bit of the form that took him to quickfire victories around the turn of the year in 2017-18. That eighth in Denmark was his first top-ten since Turkey at the end of 2019.

He is at a tasty three-figure price as is the aggressive Spaniard Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez who makes plenty of birdies but plenty of bogeys too. His top-20 at HimmerLand continues a lucrative 2021 after eyecatching efforts in Tenerife and Kenya.

Jazz Janewattananond is another possible longshot while Richard Bland’s first victory at the 478th attempt at the Belfry could inspire journeyman Scot David Drysdale to break his duck although the company this week is probably too hot for this 500/1 shot.

Winless in 524 starts, he has been at it even longer than Bland. He had a good week when fifth in Kenya in March and so nearly did it in Qatar last year when losing out to Jorge Campillo in a marathon play-off.
Weather-wise the move to a Saturday start works well because a fair bit of rain is forecast for Thursday and Friday. That will carry over to Saturday but Sunday and Monday should be dry. Warm too with temperatures in the mid-20s.

The US Women’s Open

Best bets
2pts each-way Lydia Ko @ 14/1
1pt each-way So Yeon Ryu @ 14/1
1pt each-way Moriya Jutanagarn @ 28/1
1pt each-way Nelly Korda @ 16/1
view odds

Lydia Ko, barely recognisable these days as the dumpy bespectacled teenage phenomenon who at 17 ruled the women’s game as world No. 1, can land her first US Open at the fabled Olympic club in San Francisco this week.

Born in South Korea but a New Zealand citizen since the age of 12, Ko racked up 14 LPGA wins while still in her teens, at 18 became the youngest winner of a Major but at the end of 2016 took a huge gamble that looked as if it would never pay off.

Seeking extra length off the tee, she changed pretty well everything, ditching caddie, swing coach and Callaway contract. She slimmed down, put on muscle, got rid of the glasses, tweaked her swing and image … and started losing. Three years of nothing.

Finally, just before her 24th birthday in April, she won again, the Lotte Championship in Hawaii, two weeks after finishing runner-up in The Inspiration, the first Major of 2021.

The great form has continued and on classic Olympic, a course where par is a good score, her accuracy and fine putting could make all the difference.

This is the first women’s US Open hosted by Olympic but the five who prevailed in the male equivalent, the two Simpsons (Scott and Webb), Lee Janzen, huge outsider Jack Fleck, who took down Ben Hogan in 1955, and Billy Casper, who came from seven back with nine to play to haul in Arnold Palmer in 1966, had much in common.

They weren’t flash, they weren’t long but they were straight and could putt like hell. Nobody fits that description better than Ko.

Steady Moriya Jutanugarn, runner-up at Kingsmill, and Ally Ewing, Sunday’s winner of the Bank of Hope Match Play in Las Vegas, are similar types and have each-way potential.

Nelly Korda, so impressive at the start of the year, looks America’s best chance and So Yeon Ryu, the 2011 champion who is on a 3-6-5 roll, might come out on top of a gang of Koreans, headed by that mopper-up of Majors, Inbee Park, world No. 1 Jin Young Ko and little Sei Young Kim, reigning PGA champion and third in this year’s Inspiration.

A European winner? No obvious candidate but Germany’s Sophia Popov, winner of last year’s British Open, has just finished runner-up to Ewing in the Match Play. Another with an each-way shout.

The course for the ladies is a 6,457-yard par 71 and is unusual for its lack of fairway bunkers. It won’t be hot (16-18C) but the weekend will be sunny and calm.


Please play responsibly