2pts each-way Sam Burns @ 16/1
2pts each-way Corey Conners @ 20/1
1pt each-way Will Zalatoris @ 16/1
0.5pts each-way Kiradech Aphibarnrat @ 150/1
0.5pts each-way Matthias Schwab @ 66/1
It’s asking a great deal of Sergio Garcia to make a successful defence of his Sanderson Farms Championship so quickly after the incredible lows experienced by the humbled European Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits.
The Spaniard’s three points from four matches was the best percentage in the team, beating Jon Rahm’s 3.5 from five, so we know his game is in good enough shape to win or go close in a field without stars.
None of the high-flying USA team is on parade at the Country Club of Jackson in the state capital of Mississippi. The 7461-yard par 72 has since 2014 been hosting this event which restarts the 2021-22 FedEx Cup season. Its main defence are the small, tricky greens.
Garcia won with 19 under last October – that’s the average required in the last five years – in what was his first victory in the States since the 2017 Masters.
At 41, much of his passion and energy must have been used up in Wisconsin and there are a number of fresher, younger minds among the opposition who will have been inspired by that landslide victory to justify opposing the champion.
Step forward, Sam Burns, Will Zalatoris and Corey Conners. Only nine members of the world’s top 50 are teeing it up so this has to be the best chance yet for Zalatoris to deliver the first of what his peers believe will be a stack of victories.
The slimline Californian’s raft of high finishes is highlighted by second place at the Masters and eighth in the next Major, the USPGA. That first W cannot be long delayed but he still needs to brush up his short-putting stroke. We know his game is in shape as it was only two weekends ago that he placed 11th at Silverado.
I’m a big fan of Burns, who did us a favour by winning the Valspar. He has also been runner-up in the big WGC tournament at St Jude and third at Riviera. In the frame in Mississippi three years ago, he has come on a bundle since and in a relatively soft event like this, he must have a big shout.
Golfaholic Sungjae Im looks sure to contend as he did two years ago when going down to Sebastian Munoz in a playoff but the South Korean doesn’t win as often as he should and preference is for Conners who will surely soon add to his 2019 Texas Open victory.
The Canadian is very consistent and finished top ten in the last two Masters and this year’s Players Championship. His 13th place at the Olympics also impressed.
Most of the course winners pre-Garcia were first-timers and one of them, Cody Gribble, has not been heard of since, apart from being called “clinically insane” for slapping an alligator’s tail on a Bay Hill fairway the year following his 2016 victory.
Aussie Cam Davis is a big talent who has course form, sixth last year, and must have a squeak along with Keegan Bradley, who was just ahead of him in fourth.
Pick of the outsiders could be Thai No. 1 Kiradech Aphibarnrat who was so close to glory at Wentworth a couple of weekends back and Austria’s Matthias Schwab, who has had a cracking year in Europe with top-tens in his home Open, in Dubai, Kenya, the Canaries and Sweden, plus an 11th in the British Masters at The Belfry.
Even more eyecatching was his recent 12th in top company at Wentworth and this former European amateur No. 1 could cause a few ripples in the States.
It’s going to be sticky and hot (up to 31C) with some Thursday rain followed by a dry weekend.
2pts each-way Tommy Fleetwood @ 14/1
1pt each-way Alex Noren @ 14/1
1pt each-way Jamie Donaldson @ 66/1
1pt each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 14/1
1pt each-way Branden Grace @ 25/1
0.5pts each-way Tom Lewis @ 80/1
You needed to be a masochist or, to steal a song title from South Pacific, a cockeyed optimist to have put yourself through the three days of torture called the 43rd Ryder Cup.
Although this mismatch worked out much as some of us expected, it was almost impossible to take pleasure out of being right. Seeing the humiliation of the stars of European golf whose talents have for years provided pundits with a living was not a good feeling.
The tears and genuine grief that prevented Rory McIlroy speaking for what seemed minutes after his singles victory, the only scoreboard contribution he made to the European cause, summed up the importance of the occasion.
His sorrow and pain at not being able to give the sort of support to the teammates he “loved” which his status in world golf required was almost as hard for the audience to bear as it was for him.
It’s no use crying over spilt milk or making the excuse that the enforced absence of European fans in the raucously one-sided crowd was partly responsible for the size of the defeat. It didn’t stop our Solheim Cup heroines overcoming the same problem earlier in the month.
Even those who foresaw this hammering didn’t imagine it would be quite as brutal as a ten-point margin. Let’s face it, poor Padraig Harrington didn’t have much to work with. The average age of his three wild cards being over 40 was a clue in itself: none of the younger generation was beating on the door for a place.
Where will the new captain – most likely Lee Westwood – find the under-25s to replace those, like himself, whose Ryder Cup careers, great as they have been in many cases, are almost certainly over?
Outside the Danish Hojgaard twins and ambitious Scot Robert MacIntyre it’s hard to come up with any. Even MacIntyre hasn’t made the expected strides and Sam Horsfield is too inconsistent. As the 2023 contest is in Rome, the name Guido Migliozzi has cropped up but he has a way to go.
Make no mistake, it’s a huge problem and one the USA doesn’t have. Their six so-called rookies contributed more points between them than the established six. And some will be even more formidable two years hence! Those Rome quotes of 4/7 and 8/15 already look tasty even with Europe’s home advantage.
The writing was on the wall at Wentworth where an American not even in the US squad won and none of the European team figured in the top ten. Too many went over to Whistling Straits knowing they were out of form.
Yes, it was a fine US team but hardly in the same class as the one that came over to Walton Heath in 1981 and administered an 18.5-9.5 hiding to a decent European side which included Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Peter Oosterhuis and Bernhard Langer.
Get a load of who was on that remarkable American side: Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Raymond Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Bill Rogers, Jerry Pate – 11 Major winners, at least four of them all-time greats – plus odd-man-out Bruce Lietzke.
It was ironic that McIlroy, Westwood and Poulter should be singles winners on Sunday as they were three of the six who went into the final day without having scored even half a point. It was heartwarming to see Lee and The Postman end their long and brilliant playing association with the Ryder Cup with that consolation prize.
It’s easy to be scathing about the “nul points” next to the names of Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick and Bernd Wiesberger but hardly fair to call Casey’s singles defeat a failure. He had a 12-footer at the last to deprive star of the competition Dustin Johnson of a five-out-of-five record. Casey deserved a half-point but it was just not meant to be.
Wiesberger’s opponent, Brooks Koepka, shouldn’t even have been allowed to play the singles after his foul-mouthed tirade the previous day when the two rules officials refused his claim for a free drop claim. That sort of behaviour has no place in golf or any sport.
Three of Europe’s dejected dozen, Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood, will be in Scotland this week for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and two of them have the Dunhill form to dominate this massive pro-am played over three links in two counties, St Andrews and Kingsbarns in Fife, Carnoustie in Angus.
Hatton is 78 under par for his last 16 rounds in a tournament he won back-to-back in 2016-17, almost making it a hat-trick in 2018 when just one shot out of a playoff with Danish outsider Lucas Bjerregaard.
Only 15th to Dundee-based Frenchman Victor Perez the last time the Dunhill was played in 2019, he doesn’t arrive quite at the top of his game but at least he won 1.5 points in Wisconsin, the third-highest total behind the great Spanish duo Jon Rahm and points record-breaker Sergio Garcia.
Fleetwood, who worked hard for a half against Jordan Spieth on Sunday, shared second place with Hatton here in 2018, was also runner-up four years earlier and bagged a share of fifth spot in 2019.
As laid-back as he is, Tommy will not have used up as much adrenaline as the emotional Lowry did at Whistling Straits and having played only three times should still have enough petrol in the tank.
American Billy Horschel, so brilliant at Wentworth, goes for a quick British double and could rub further salt into Europe’s wounds but as a nervy, fast player will probably not relish fourball rounds in excess of five hours on a chilly, wet and windy Scottish day.
Horschel’s experiences in the Open – five missed cuts from seven and a best finish of 30th – don’t mark him down as a links natural and preference is for Sweden’s Alex Noren, another visitor from the PGA Tour, who has been in good nick in the States and shared 15th here with Hatton two years ago.
The 66/1 for Jamie Donaldson is worth an interest after his Wentworth second. He preceded that brilliant effort with third in the Cazoo Classic in August and the Welsh veteran is a good links exponent.
South African Branden Grace won this nine years ago and is also a fine wind player. He was runner-up to Kevin Kisner at Greensboro last month and followed that with 12th in the Dutch Open.
Two with strong course form but little to recommend them on current performance, Tom Lewis and Ross Fisher, could spring a surprise. Lewis is 5-10-7 for the last three Dunhills while Fisher is a dual Dunhill runner-up.
Don’t rule out an upset. Oliver Wilson had never won a tournament in a long career until he captured the 2014 Dunhill out of the blue as world No. 792.
Defending champion Perez and proud Scots Richie Ramsay, MacIntyre and Calum Hill are all of interest. Ramsay was joint runner-up in 2014 and is having a decent year.
Celebrities airing their golfing skills include Andy Garcia, Wladimir Klitschko, Joe Root, Stephen Hendry, Ronan Keating and Andriy Shevchenko. With winds up to 20mph on Friday and Saturday, rather them than me!
Two rounds are played at St Andrews, with one round apiece at tough Carnoustie and Kingsbarns. With 60 teams of two competing on different courses on the same day, it’s not an easy tournament to keep tabs on if you’re punting. Excuse me for giving it a miss until Sunday’s showdown.