Finau to floor Rory’s four-timer attempt!


Best bets

2pts each-way Tony Finau @ 16/1
3pts win Rory McIlroy @ 7/1
1pt each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 33/1
1pt each-way Jason Day @ 25/1
1pt each-way Max Homa @ 22/1
1pt win Rickie Fowler to finish top 10 @ 7/2
1pt win Francesco Molinari to finish top 20 @ 13/2

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With Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler obligingly taking the week off even with a massive $20m up for grabs at the Wells Fargo Championship, the coast is clear for world No. 3. Rory McIlroy to post his fourth victory on the Quail Hollow course in Charlotte where it all started for him in the States 13 years ago.

Or is it? The Northern Irishman got himself in a right lather after missing the cut in the tournament he most coveted, the Masters, and withdrew from his next intended engagement to get his head together after that fiasco.

It’s not necessarily going to be easy getting back on the horse after flopping on his two biggest gigs of the year, at Sawgrass and Augusta, but it’s hard to imagine a duff week in North Carolina on a course that holds such fond memories for him. Scene of his US breakthrough as a tousle-haired lad two days short of his 21st birthday, he excelled himself five years ago with a record-breaking 21-under-par seven-stroke triumph that had the US media gasping for new superlatives.

And the last time the Wells Fargo came to this week’s course in 2021 – last year it was moved to Potomac as Quail Hollow was being readied to host the Presidents Cup – Rory prevailed again, spectacular in its own way as he had trailed by eight after round one.

So you might say the Tom Fazio-updated course, at 7521 yards the longest par 71 on tour, suits our man! Long drivers are reckoned to be favoured but good scrambling comes into it as well, accuracy off the tee less so, but if you can’t putt, the Bermuda greens will rub out all the good tee-to-green work. Right up Rory’s road.

But even without Rahm and Scheffler, this is still a far deeper Wells Fargo than we’ve had before it was drafted into the elite band of designated $20m super-tournaments offering $3.6m paydays to the winner. True, there’s no Matsuyama, Rose or Herschel either but everyone else who matters is.

Tony Finau arrives oozing with confidence after avenging last year’s Mexico Open defeat by Rahm in the most scintillating style. Make no mistake, Rahm played sensational golf – he was four shots better than when edging out his pal in 2022 – but Finau’s driving and putting were out of this world.

And remember, big Tony isn’t a stranger to winning back to back – he did just that last year with the 3M and Rocket Mortgage – and I wouldn’t take a blind bit of notice about him never improving on a debut 16th at Quail Hollow in 2015 in four visits since. It is only in the past two years, since he discovered a putting stroke that stood up under pressure, that he’s shown the world how special he is.

He will give McIlroy all the trouble he wants and so may defending champion Max Homa. Even though last year’s success came at a different venue, Homa is still a Quail Hollow winner.

That was in 2019 when he was ranked 434 in the world, the previous year he’d lost his card, and his two previous course attempts had resulted in one missed cut and a 76th! Now he’s No. 7 in the world and a five-time winner since that breakthrough. It’s a concern that his game dropped off in his two latest tournaments and punters supporting the 22/1 chance will be banking on returning to where it all started will see the old Homa back.

Obviously there are plenty of other options in a high-quality field. Patrick Cantlay, for example, has four top-fours from his last six attempts, Justin Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, Jordan Spieth has been playing so well it hurts to leave him out and recent Heritage winner Matt Fitzpatrick is not the only English golfer with a shot as Tyrrell Hatton had a strong February/March run with sixth at Phoenix, fourth at Bay Hill and second at Sawgrass.

A more recent top-20 to Fitzpatrick at Hilton Head confirmed Hatton’s head is in a good place and I’m sure he’ll win in the States this campaign even if not this hot week.

With five top-six finishes from seven strokeplay starts this year, Spieth would be an each-way banker if only he had some encouraging Quail Hollow form. But he’s only played the Wells Fargo once, and that as a rookie ten years ago, and the last time he saw the course was when 28th to his pal Thomas in the 2017 USPGA. But ignore him at your peril.

The truth is that not all the bigger names often play the Wells Fargo and Thomas apart there’s nothing on that PGA Championship leaderboard outside Francesco Molinari’s second, Rickie Fowler’s fifth and Jason Day’s ninth that really helps us.

Punters have been sniffing around Fowler and Day as they are past Quail Hollow champions doing good things on the comeback trail. But promising though their recent efforts have been, they have not truly contended for a long time and actually winning at this elite level is mighty tough. Day is preferred to Fowler who is suggested at 7/2 for a top-ten finish.

The 150/1 for Molinari, who played some decent golf for 24th in Mexico and has skipped his national Open this week to compete here on a course where he fared so well in a major championship, is a more speculative punt but the mournful-looking little Italian might just have each-way punters smiling on Sunday. More realistically, I’m suggesting him at 13/2 for a top-20.

For once we’re looking at four generally sunny days without electrical storm delays or Donald Trump saying anything remotely intelligent… some very sunny golf in store too.


Best bets

2pts each-way Nicolai Hojgaard @ 20/1
1pt each-way Jorge Campillo @ 25/1
1pt each-way Marcus Helligkilde @ 33/1
1pt each-way Victor Perez @ 18/1
0.5pts each-way Yannik Paul @ 28/1

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After gigs in Japan and Korea, the DP World Tour returns to its roots this week, hitting mainland Europe for the first time with the Italian Open on a golf course that will be the centre of the golfing world in September when it hosts the Ryder Cup.

Yes, we are back at gorgeous Marco Simone outside Rome, redesigned in 2016 specifically with the Ryder Cup in mind, but unlike last year when big guns Rory McIlroy (4th), Matt Fitzpatrick (beaten in a playoff by Robert MacIntyre), Tyrrell Hatton (9th), Viktor Hovland (34th) and home favourite Francesco Molinari were there, the clash with one of the new-fangled “designated” $20m tournaments means they are otherwise engaged.

Even though the Italians have upped their prize money to $3.25m, there’s still a yawning gap with the elite PGA Tour event which in any case most have to attend. Yet it’s a real shame Italy’s best player, Molinari, won’t be there for the Romans to cheer on as he looks the only home-grown golfer with any prospects of making the September showdown – he was a perfect five-from-five in a match-winning performance at the last Ryder Cup he played in 2018.

With early-week thunderstorms due to subside for the tournament days, Ryder contender MacIntyre should have a warm, sunny weekend for his title defence and as he has finished sixth and seventh on visits to Japan and Korea, what you would regard as an ideal prep, you would think Fitzdares’ 18/1 for a Roman encore was pasta the post.

But there are two ways at looking at BobbyMac for he has not won again since and has squandered some good chances. Sunday was a case in point. He was favourite going into the last day one ahead but sprayed it all over the place. But for some magical pitching and putting he would have shot closer to 80 than the par 72 he finally returned.

And defending a title is a burden not many can carry.

Far more compelling is the case for the other course winner taking part, Nicolai Hojgaard, who has been plying his trade encouragingly on the PGA Tour. Second place to Matt Wallace in the Corales was followed by highly respectable efforts in Texas, New Orleans and Mexico.

His enormous length off the tee means he can take many of the fairway bunkers out of play and set up birdie chances with little more then a wedge on a 7255-yard par 71 playing all of its length after heavy rain.

Sure he can be wild and the field he beat here in 2021 was not as the strong as last year’s but he still managed to see off good names like Adrian Meronk and Tommy Fleetwood. A year ago I would have said his twin brother Rasmus was the more talented and more likely to make a Ryder Cup debut but with the latter struggling after injury the tables may have been turned.

Maybe both will make Luke Donald’s squad – he has six wild-card picks after all – but there are new contenders lining up, not least their Danish compatriot Marcus Helligkilde whose second place to 80/1 winner Pablo Larrazabal was his best performance since graduating from the Challenge Tour after a hat-trick of 2021 victories on that circuit.

Apart from one wasteful double-bogey blip, he looked an exciting prospect in Korea and the 33/1 looks tasty as I expect him quickly to build on that. With 14th place the previous weekend, he is clearly going the right way.

Nobody was mentioning long-time tour fixture Jorge Campillo as a Ryder Cup possible but the 36-year-old Spaniard has thrown his hat in the ring with a series of eye-catching efforts which have seen him 45 under par for his four latest starts – victory in Kenya, fourth in India, ninth in Japan and now third in Korea. He has decent course form too, ninth last year. I did not have him pegged as a long hitter but averaging 312 yards he’s long enough.

None of this has been missed by the bookmakers which is why old Jorge is as short as 25/1 in an 18/1-the-field week but few have better claims. If his putter is on top form, he’s a match for anybody.

One who might have his measure is last year’s third, classy Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez. Wielding the hottest of putters in Abu Dhabi, he won first time out this year and has posted decent finish in recent American jaunts to Valspar and the Zurich pairs event in which he partnered Thomas Detry to 13th place.

Antoine Rozner folded like a pack of cards after opening with a blistering 63 and is unreliable while Yannik Paul frittered away a great 68-68 start in the weekend wind. As the German had gone 6-2-2 on his three previous outings, he is given another chance after letting us down last week.

Eddie Pepperell and Shubhankar Sharma, one 12th last year, the other 12th in 2021, are big-priced outsiders who might just spring a surprise but it’s Hojgaard, Campillo, Helligkilde, Perez and Paul for me.

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