Trust Adam to take a Liberty


Best bets
2pts each-way Adam Scott @ 40/1
1.5pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 16/1
1.5pts each-way Jon Rahm @ 9/1
1.5pts each-way Abraham Ancer @ 28/1
0.5pts each-way Viktor Hovland @ 28/1

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Spieth, Rahm & Scott sound like a thriving firm of long-established solicitors. This week they are the thriving trio of long-established golfers who could dominate the first leg of the FedEx Cup play-offs at Liberty National, New Jersey, just a metaphorical drive and five-iron away from Manhattan.

Yes, it’s the Northern Trust, the tournament that kick-starts the chase for a $15m-plus payday for the 124 – only Louis Oosthuizen of the top 125 in the FedEx points race is missing – who have qualified by their year-long play for a crack at the jackpot.

Some will fall at the first hurdle, only 70 go through to the second round in Maryland next week and the 30 last-men-standing will make it to East Lake on September 2 for the Tour Championship finale.

But do the words ‘FedEx Cup’ mean anything to you even though this end-of-term competition has been in existence since 2007? Is it something you talk about at the 19th Hole after your Sunday morning fourball? I thought not.

Most folk over here don’t give a monkey’s about it unless one of ours is winning – fortunately Rory McIlroy (twice) and Justin Rose have their names on the Cup – but the Americans love it to bits. Anything with mega-mega-bucks at stake floats their boat.

With the Ryder Cup on the horizon, a European victory would be timely but if Jon Rahm doesn’t do it, who else is going to produce the goods? Justin Rose won’t even make the starting grid after squandering a big opportunity on Sunday and McIlroy’s game and golfing mind are works in progress.

Like Rose, Tommy Fleetwood has played so indifferently that he hasn’t even made first base while it has been a disappointing summer for Tyrrell Hatton and, to a lesser degree, Matt Fitzpatrick.

Outside Rahm, only Viktor Hovland and Paul Casey are consistently ticking the right boxes. The young Norwegian’s June demolition of the BMW International Open field in Munich was exceptional but the opposition was not out of the top drawer.

He might make the frame but it is US Open champion Rahm, on his first outing since finishing third in The Open, who is most likely to raise European spirits.

The big Spaniard’s consistency is legendary and he has course form too, third to Patrick Reed in the 2019 edition of a tournament known as The Barclays when Reed won it for the first time in 2016 and when Adam Scott prevailed three years earlier.

Reed’s 16-under 268 on his second visit to Liberty National is the lowest score of the three already played on this week’s course, a 7410-yard par 71, but his recent form has been patchy whereas the close runner-up Abraham Ancer is a much more confident performer two years on and could well turn the tables.

The straight-hitting Mexican’s breakthrough victory last time out in the big WGC event at St Jude was not coming out of turn. His 2021 record has a rash of top-tens splattered on it.

As for Scott, while the classy Aussie wouldn’t be the first person you’d turn to if your life depended on a 4ft putt – as those who backed him at Greensboro last week know to their cost – the quality of his tee-to-green play was sublime.

The 2013 Masters winner and former world No. 1 loves Liberty National as he showed again when a close fifth there to Reed in 2019.

The case for Spieth, who was one spot behind Scott in sixth that week, is easier to make. He is playing more reliable golf off the tee than he was two years ago and decent driving is setting up more birdie chances for that magical putter.

Only Collin Morikawa beat him at Royal St George’s. Another second at Colonial preceded that and a 12th at St Jude the last time we saw him confirmed what we’ve been seeing since he won in Texas in the Spring – that he’s back where he belongs.

Xander Schauffele will be bringing his Olympic gold medal and his best game to New Jersey while Morikawa was in a class of his own at Sandwich. A victory by either would come as no surprise.

Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, DJ and Justin Thomas will have their supporters but if Scott’s putting holds up – the flat stick was on its best behaviour until that short birdie putt for victory – he could be the value bet. Ignore the negative and focus on the positive, the majestic iron shot under pressure that set up that winning opportunity.

The weather forecast is worrying with thunderstorms expected each day so expect delays. Temperatures will be in the mid and high 20s.


Best bets
2pts each-way Callum Shinkwin @ 20/1
1.5pts each-way Sam Horsfield @ 10/1
1.5pts each-way Rory Sabbatini @ 14/1
0.5pts each-way Nicolai Hojgaard @ 50/1
0.5pts each-way Padraig Harrington at 40/1
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It’s Scotland 2, England 0 the past two weeks with Calum Hill following his pal Grant Forrest into the winner’s enclosure but with those two away, the English cats can play when the European Tour pitches its tent in Prague for the Czech Masters.

The seven-tournament stint in GB and Ireland ended with 28/1 shot Hill opening his tour account at the London Club, the 26-year-old from Kirkcaldy making amends for letting a big chance slip away at Fairmont St Andrews the previous weekend.

Now it’s England’s turn with the big Hertfordshire lad Callum Shinkwin and Florida-trained Mancunian Sam Horsfield fancied for a 1-2 on the Albatross course in the Prague suburbs.

The course, opened in 2007, is long at 7467 yards par 72 with two par fives over 600 yards and plenty of water hazards but that’s only when they play from the tips and past results, with 20-and-22 under par posted, suggest birdies are readily available.

Covid put paid to the tournament last year but six Czech Masters have been staged there, starting with Jamie Donaldson’s victory in 2014.

Belgian bomber Thomas Pieters won there twice but won’t be bidding for the treble while past champions Andrea Pavan and Haydn Porteous are playing so poorly that just making the cut would be an achievement.

Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington was runner-up to shock winner Pavan three years ago and would have a shout if recapturing the form of his fourth at the USPGA or Dubai Desert Classic sixth. His 20-under score in 2018 would have won three of the past four Czech Masters.

Unless Horsfield, Danny Willett or Henrik Stenson do anything brilliant, it is highly unlikely that a wild-card candidate for a Ryder Cup spot will emerge so Pod can concentrate on his own, still-functioning game.

Horsfield took third place behind Pieters in 2019, the last time the tournament was played. He has struggled to build on sensational back-to-back victories last year but was sixth last time out at Celtic Manor, his fifth top-ten of 2021. It is worth noting that both wins came in August.

Olympic silver medalist Rory Sabbatini, the one-time South African who now represents his wife’s country Slovakia, is a late entry more than capable of winning at this level. Tenth at the Wyndham on Sunday, the aggressive, hot-headed 45-year-old, one of the least popular golfers on any tour, makes birdies for fun but tends to run out of steam.

With nowhere else to cash in on this burst of form – his last-day 61 in Tokyo was electric – Sabbatini is dipping his toe into European waters and could be hard to beat.

This is an ideal opportunity for big-hitting Shinkwin, a winner in Cyprus last year, to open his 2021 account. His third to Hill at the London Club followed a fourth at Celtic Manor and 16th at Fairmont St Andrews. He also has a course top-ten to his name.

What wouldn’t Rasmus Hojgaard have given for twin brother Nicolai’s closing 67 on Sunday after going into the final day with a handy lead. His game deserted him under pressure.

The young Dane doesn’t play this week but Nicolai, who was 21st at the London Club, does. He has the class to step into the limelight and restore family pride. Not quite as good as his twin, at 20 Nicolai can only improve.

Americans Chase Hanna and Johannes Veerman have the ability to win at this level while Willett, Jazz Janewattananond, Vincent Norrman and South African trio Dean Burmester, Daniel Van Tonder and George Coetzee look best of the rest.

A dry four days is forecast with temperatures getting up to 27C at the weekend.

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