Golf,

Brooks ready to make magic in Memphis

THE WGC ST. JUDE INVITATIONAL


Best bets
2pts each-way Brooks Koepka @ 12/1
1.5pts each-way Daniel Berger @ 22/1
1.5pts each-way Jordan Spieth @ 16/1
1pt each-way Harris English @ 40/1
1pt each-way Matthew Fitzpatrick @ 33/1
view odds


There’s a brilliant line-up in Memphis for the St Jude Invitational, these days one of the $10.5m World Golf Championship bonanzas, with only world No. 1 Jon Rahm and Christiaan Bezuidenhout of the top 50 missing.

Rahm is still resting after the shock of testing positive for Covid just before The Open, so this is the second huge payday the big Spaniard has been forced to sit out.

Only 66 chase the monster $1.82m first prize on offer at TPC Southwind with 19 Olympians headed by gold medallist Xander Schauffele joining the party.

Schauffele is one of Fitzdares’ three 12/1 favourites, the others being Open champion Collin Morikawa, who just missed out on a medal, and big-occasion specialist Brooks Koepka, who has been champing at the bit waiting to get his hands on another big pot.

It’s a big ask of the human body to settle down so quickly from a 14-hour time change – Tennessee is that far behind Tokyo – and, right or wrong, I’m preferring this week’s picks to be mentally and physically fresher than those returning from the Games.

The physical side will come into the conversation even more given the hot-hot-hot forecast in the mid-30s plus high, energy-sapping humidity.

Step forward Koepka, Daniel Berger, Jordan Spieth, Harris English and Matt Fitzpatrick!

Koepka is one of two distinguished champions to emerge since the St Jude Classic was upgraded with the WCG tag, a big prize-money hike and name change to Invitational.

The other is last year’s three-shot winner Justin Thomas, an also-ran in 22nd place at the Olympics, a lacklustre performance which confirmed what we’ve been seeing the last couple of months – that he is not the confident JT of 2020.

Not only did Koepka win this comfortably in 2019, he shared second place last time in an honourable title defence. A winner in Phoenix early in the year, he’s rolling with a 4-5-6 record from his three latest starts, two in Majors.

His biggest danger may come from Berger, a back-to-back Southwind winner in 2016/17 and joint runner-up with Koepka last year. With a swing that’s far from classic and a bit of a charisma by-pass, he is not the sexy choice but he knows how to win and knows how to use what he’s got.

A winner at Pebble Beach early in the year, top-tens in the Players and two Majors, and an awesome Southwind percentage of two wins and a second from four visits, this Daniel could well emerge from the lion’s den with his first WGC title.

Southwind, a solid par 70 of 7233 yards with nearly a hundred bunkers, ten water hazards and small greens, requires an ace scrambler and that’s the cue for getting on Spieth, nicely rested after his near miss in our Open and driving straight enough to handle Southwind’s tight fairways.

He has a greater vision around the greens than anyone bar Phil Mickelson, himself a Southwind specialist with seven top-12s since 2013, the year English won at St Jude.

Combined with two victories this year and a third at the US Open, that course expertise points to a big showing from the tall, quiet Georgian.

Fitzpatrick’s fourth and sixth in the two WGC years indicate Southwind is a perfect fit for the consistent Yorkshireman who still hasn’t won in the States but is very much equipped to do so on a course like Southwind which has only two par fives and where power is not an issue.

Rory McIlroy’s share of fourth in Japan was a welcome return to something approaching his best but his uneven iron play may be shown up on Southwind’s hard-to-hit greens while Paul Casey was unlucky not to get a medal on Sunday.

Dustin Johnson, only 20th and 12th on his two WGC visits to Memphis, needs to step up on recent form to justify his No.2 world rating but as he ducked the Olympics he should be in prime shape to make his considerable presence felt. Don’t forget that DJ was the final winner in 2018, and by six big shots, of the old St Jude Classic, his second Southwind triumph six years after his first.

THE BARRACUDA CHAMPIONSHIP


Best bets
2pts each-way Thomas Pieters @ 28/1
1.5pts each-way Branden Grace @ 18/1
1pt each-way Pat Perez @ 40/1
0.5pts each-way Gary Woodland @ 25/1
0.5pts each-way Richy Werenski @ 50/1
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The Barracuda Championship provides gainful employment, $3.5m worth, for PGA Tour players not good enough for the $10.5m WGC bonanza over in Memphis and is a minefield for punters because of its unique format.

Run since 2012 as a modified Stableford with 8pts for that rarest of birds, an albatross (called a double eagle in the States), five for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and a minus factor for bogeys (-1) and double bogeys (-2), it has the laudable aim of encouraging attacking golf.

Punters new to the Barracuda find it hard to get their heads around rating the value of a lead as the scoreboard can change dramatically, particularly when a player makes eagle.

A five-pointer from Richy Werenski when he holed a full shot from the 16th fairway and a last-hole bogey from leader Troy Merritt was a total game-changer at the Tahoe Mountain’s Old Greenwood course last year, its first as Barracuda host.

Werenski turned the outcome on its head in scoring 39 points, one more than Merritt who had to settle for second money for the second straight year.

Merritt had also been 54-hole leader at Montreux a year earlier when the party-pooper on that occasion was Collin Morikawa with his triple-birdie finish, winning on only his sixth pro start.

Maybe it will be third time lucky for Merritt – his 2021 form is certainly good enough -but golf rarely works that way. He was ambushed again, this time by a late flourish from Cam Davis, when he lost a play-off in Detroit a few weeks back and each time it must hurt like hell.

The last five winners have been first-timers and Belgian bomber Thomas Pieters falls into that category because his victories in Europe don’t count in the eyes of the PGA Tour.

The unexpected star of Europe’s losing 2016 Ryder Cup team, Pieters should have achieved far more since but he lost the plot. However, he played some blissful golf for much of last week’s Olympics (and some rubbish), 16th place confirming he is back on track as it followed a series of decent efforts on both main tours. This format could be right up his alley.

Branden Grace is another who should be playing with the big boys in Tennessee. A winner in Puerto Rico in February, the South African impressed again recently when seventh in the US Open following a fine fourth at Memorial the previous week.

He’s used to playing at altitude – he will be 6000ft above sea level this week – and again this format should suit as he’s a birdie machine when on his game.

With birdies a priority, I’m looking for a good putter and Pat Perez fits the bill there. A good 11th at the 3M last time out, Perez is controlling his temper much better these days and good finishes at Congaree (10th) and Detroit (14th) have also been noted.

Werenski is a fair price for a course winner but defending a title is never easy. Class act in 2019 US Open winner Gary Woodland takes my fancy more.

Mito Pereira, fourth in Tokyo and on a bit of a roll, Pebble Beach runner-up Maverick McNealy who arrives after five solid efforts in a row, and Emiliano Grillo merit serious consideration while Robert Streb, fifth last year and third in 2019, seems to play above himself in this event.

THE HERO OPEN


Best bets
2pts each-way Masahiro Kawamura @ 22/1
1.5pts each-way Matthias Schmid @ 80/1
1pt each-way Richie Ramsay @ 33/1
0.5pts each-way Santiago Tarrio @ 33/1
0.5pts each-way Sebastian Garcia-Rodriguez @ 150/1
view odds


Japan is centre stage thanks to the parade of Olympic winners emanating from the U.K. and what a shame Masters hero Hideki Matsuyama couldn’t quite do the business for the host nation in a thrilling men’s golf tournament.

It was a slight compensation that Xander Schauffele’s gold for the USA had a Japanese flavour to it as his Taiwanese mother emigrated to Japan in her youth and his grandparents still live in Tokyo.

Sadly his Japanese relatives couldn’t be at Kasumigaseki because of Covid restrictions but that golf-mad nation is still hoping for Olympic golfing gold from Nasa Hataoka who is an 18/1 shot for the women’s competition teeing off early Wednesday.

And there could well be a Japanese winner in Scotland this weekend. It won’t be a medal but hard cash for Masahiro Kawamura, my 22/1 advice for the Hero Open at Fairmont St Andrews following his grand efforts the past two weeks, a share of third at Galgorm Castle and fifth in the Cazoo Open at Celtic Manor.

This is little Karamura’s 100th appearance on the European Tour and he is still winless, second place one behind Robert MacIntyre in the Cyprus Showdown last November the closest he has come.

He’s no Matsuyama but a reliable performer at this level and there’s nobody to frighten him in a field where Andy Sullivan heads Fitzdares market for the second week running, this time at 14/1.

Cheeky chappie Sullivan won the English Open last year but his 2021 record is a mixed bag. He may win as there’s not much to beat at the links-style course named after great Scot Sam Torrance. Sam helped to design it and will be proud to see it hosting a European Tour event for the second time, after the Scottish Championship, won by Adrian Otaegui by four from Matt Wallace was staged there last year. Judging from his winning 23-under score and nine-under final round, there will be a sackful of birdies to be had this week..

Situated a couple of miles away from the real St Andrews, it was one of the qualifying courses for the 2010 Open at the Home of Golf. I played it once, but not at this week’s 7230 yards, and found it pretty friendly.

The deep rivetted bunkers are to be avoided but a low-scoring week can be expected because there’s nothing serious forecast regarding wind. Plenty of rain though.

It would be nice to see a Scot victorious but their main man Robert MacIntyre is over in the States playing for big bucks in the WGC tournament in Memphis.

Calum Hill and Connor Syme showed up well early in the year but have struggled a bit in the bigger tournaments since so maybe veteran Aberdonian Richie Ramsay is their best bet.

He followed fourth at Mount Juliet in the Irish Open with a solid 15th at the Renaissance Club where he did better than some big-name Americans in the Scottish Open and carried on the good work with 18th at Celtic Manor in the Cazoo Open.

Sullivan, Eddie Pepperell, Brandon Stone and Victor Dubuisson could all be fancied on their best form but are inconsistent and I would rather put my money on a young prospect who can only improve

It may be just too soon for Germany’s Matthias Schmid, the star amateur who has only been playing for money since winning the Silver Medal in last month’s Open at Royal St George’s but I’ll chance it.

He’s well capable of competing at this level on the evidence of his 14th in Munich, his 65 on the second day of the Open and a top-20 at the weekend in Northern Ireland.

You could have knocked me down with a feather when Daniel Gavins won at that Irish gig because his name had never registered with me.

The 30-year-old Yorkshireman was making only his third main-tour appearance of 2021 and had never posted even a top-ten in 52 attempts when pitched in at the deep end of the European Tour.

It’s easy to say he had the prize gifted to him after what for all the world had looked a two-horse race between Jordan Smith and David Horsey but a closing 65 set a 13-under target that the two blundering leaders could not match.

Back nines of 40 (Smith) and 39 (Horsey) go a long way to explaining why Horsey hasn’t won since 2015 and Smith’s lone success came four years ago.

I was looking for Gavins among the 500/1 shots, but somebody must have been impressed by his two Challenge Tour top-tens immediately before the World Invitational as he was as short as 66/1 with one firm. He’s the same price this week so layers must think that was a one-off.

It would be a fairytale if David Drysdale, whose 531 starts in 20 years as a journeyman have failed to produce a victory, could finally get that monkey off his back at the age of 46.

Over the years he has picked up more than £5m in prize money for losing, mostly with wife and childhood sweetheart Victoria on the bag, and 2021 has seen near-miracles from Phil Mickelson and Richard Bland, both older than him.

Spaniards with a squeak are dual Challenge Tour winner Santiago Tarrio, a highly respectable 14th at Galgorm Castle, Alejandro Canizares, third at the weekend, and Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez who makes lots of birdies but too many bogeys.

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