Having roared home Jon Rahm in California and Rohaan at Royal Ascot, I’m ready to roll on the Travelers Championship in Connecticut and BMW International Open in Munich.
What a weekend it was! I went to Ascot as one of the guinea-pigs for COVID crowd research, taking various tests before and after – anything for a free ticket! – and was amazed that fewer than 50,000 attended over the five days rather than the 60,000 permitted. Some apparently couldn’t be bothered with the tests and the red tape, others were still fearful of attending a mass, mask-free gathering, and it will be fascinating to see how many of the permitted daily crowd of 32,000 for next month’s Open Championship at Royal St George’s will turn up.
Rahm is now clear favourite for that at 9/1 with Fitzdares, having been available at 11/1 for the US equivalent (tipped here last week) and still 11/1 going out for the final day with ground to make up on the three joint leaders. He looked like coming up just short until those unforgettable birdies on the last two holes where he holed swinging putts of 24 and 18ft.
Rahmbo landing his first Major and regaining the world No. 1 spot on his first outing since leading the Memorial by six with 18 to play and being robbed by Covid of the chance to complete the job was the stuff of fairytales. He kept his famous temper under control while all around him were losing their heads. Never have I seen so many double bogeys or worse. It was mad Sunday on what most Americans still regard as the world’s most important Major. We Brits know better!
I’m hoping for another European winner with Paul Casey who has a great record at River Highlands, twice runner-up, in 2015 and 2018, and twice fifth, in 2017 and 2019. After starting this year with victory in Dubai, the Arizona-based Englishman has done himself proud in the last two Majors with fourth place at the PGA and seventh at Torrey Pines. Sandwiched between them, sixth place in defence of his European Open title in Hamburg. He is in a good place these days and at 43, sharper than ever.
The biggest dangers are probably Patrick Cantlay, Memorial winner by default after Rahm’s piece of bad luck, and DeChambeau, who was playing best of all on Sunday until the kamikaze performance which saw him slump from first to 26th. What a comedy of errors that was although the punters who backed him weren’t laughing. A double-bogey seven at 13 was followed by quad-bogey eight at the 17th. Taking 44 on the back nine after 33 on the front was typical of a genius gone haywire. After that debacle, the eccentric DeChambeau is too short for me at 10/1 but is likely to better the fifth place he recorded behind DJ last year. He is sure to have a crack at breaking 60 on this short 6841-yard par 70 where five years ago Jim Furyk shot the only 58 in PGA Tour history.
It’s going to be a low-scoring week. Johnson fired a 61 on the way to victory last yesterday and Cantlay got it round in 60 when invited to this event as an amateur ten years ago. At bigger prices, 2018 Open champion and five-out-of-five Ryder Cup hero Francesco Molinari, nearly man Harris English and in-form journeyman Kevin Streelman catch the eye.
Molinari’s 13th at Torrey Pines suggests the rock-steady Italian, having moved his family to a new life in California, is getting back somewhere near where he was in that annus mirabilis of three years ago.
English’s stylish US Open third proved his bounceback ability after blowing a big opportunity the previous week in the new Palmetto tournament in Florida.
Streelman, runner-up to DJ last year when only one adrift of his distinguished conqueror, has been on plenty of leaderboards recently and there was plenty to like about his 15th place in the US Open. Eighth to Phil Mickelson at the PGA and 13th at Muirfield Village prior to last week’s sturdy effort, if he is to win again it could be at the scene of his last victory seven years ago. He shot a pair of weekend 64s then to edge out Sergio Garcia and KJ Choi. As the only triple course winner in the field, Bubba Watson must be respected but he has yet to post even a top-ten in 2021.
Jon Rahm’s thrilling US Open victory could spur Spanish compadre Sergio Garcia to land the BMW International Open in Munich this weekend when the European Tour goes to Germany for the second time in a month.
At the start of June Marcus Armitage made a highly emotional breakthrough at the European Open in Hamburg but this week’s tournament at regular venue Nord-Eichenried is a stronger event with three PGA Tour stars heading the cast.
Garcia is one of them but the bookies favour the other two, US Open runner-up Louis Oosthuizen and the young Norwegian Viktor Hovland, twice a winner already in his short career and rated a shoo-in for a Ryder Cup debut in September.
Hovland had to withdraw mid-championship last week when the sand from a practice-ground bunker shot scratched his eye, affected his vision and gradually got worse. Having started the second round three over par, he was up against it anyway.
His two PGA Tour victories have come in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic when the big guns weren’t there but after being a runner-up in the high-grade WGC Workday tournament and a brace of third places at Valspar and Quail Hollow, he will be hard to beat.
It’s hard to be sure how competitive Oosthuizen will be after falling at the last hurdle at Torrey Pines in his bid for a first victory on US soil. That penalty stroke when he drove into a hazard on the 17th cost him dear. Having led for much of the final round, his failure to close the deal, not for the first time, will have hurt. The South African known as Shrek would have got away with it but for Rahm’s stupendous birdie-birdie finish. Whether this laid-back character beat himself up about it, we shall find out this week. He can console himself with the fact that he lasted far longer than many of his rivals. The list of culprits who shot a double-bogey or worse on Sunday afternoon is remarkable. Mark down Dustin Johnson (triple bogey), Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau (a double and a quad!), Mackenzie Hughes (whose ball got stuck in a tree), Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey. All humbled by Torrey Pines and their nerves.
Of the three raiders this week, Garcia is the one with course form on this 7283-yard par 72 as runner-up in 2011 and 2017 and fifth in 2016. It’s fair comment to say Sergio has not done much of note this year but he was a winner in November at the Sanderson Farms and 19th spot at the US Open was a decent effort. That followed 20th at Colonial and ninth in the best of company at Sawgrass.
Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington is in the Munich field and will be looking for a positive showing from one of the linchpins of past Cup successes and I can’t see Garcia being out of the frame. The BMW was not staged last year because of you-know-what which means shock 2019 winner Andrea Pavan is in theory defending champion. I can’t see him doing it again but it is another Italian, Edoardo Molinari, who could spring a surprise. Francesco’s older brother has revived a sagging career in the past couple of months and was runner-up in the European Open in Hamburg on his last visit to Germany at the start of June. It was a fair effort to finish 35th at Torrey Pines on Sunday and he also had a nice top-ten at the British Masters. His short putting is not a thing of beauty but with a decent week on the uncomplicated Nord-Eichenried greens he could challenge again. A small each-way transatlantic double on the Molinari brothers might not be the worst idea given the generous place terms available.
Also worth an interest are Dane Thorbjørn Olesen and Munich-born Korn Ferry Tour star Stephen Jaeger. Like Garcia, Olesen has twice finished runner-up in Munich, to Henrik Stenson in 2016 and two years later to Matt Wallace. Jaeger is a six-time winner on the PGA’s satellite circuit, the most recent success coming in April. I’m also having a little on young Scot Calum Hill, a three-time Challenge Tour winner who has posted five top-12 finishes on the main circuit, a third in Kenya and fourth in Saudi the best of them.