Burns’ Night, normally at the end of January, came four months early for golf punters only this one wasn’t the “wee, sleekat, cowran, tim’rous beastie” of the Scottish bard’s most famous poem but a big, bold, straight-driving Louisianan called Sam who blew his rivals away in Mississippi.
And that recommended 16/1 winner may well do so again in tougher Las Vegas company this week when the Shriners Children’s Open tees off a double header in the gambling capital of the world. The CJ Cup at a new venue, The Summit, follows.
Now we’re at TPC Summerlin, a rugged desert course with loads of back form and no excuse for not finding a few justifiable investments.
While there are six current Ryder Cup players, three from each side, on parade, they may have been putting their feet up after such a gruelling encounter and others may be better prepared.
Matt Wolff, beaten in a three-way playoff at Summerlin last year, and Abe Ancer, twice fourth on the course, are of particular interest and Burns, as we know, is right at the top of his game, supremely confident off the tee with his new Callaway Epic Max driver.
Burns’s one-stroke winning margin does not do justice to his tee-to-green superiority at the Sanderson Farms. This usually hot putter was well down the putting stats otherwise the margin would have been far wider.
On the other hand, he doesn’t have the same compelling back-form this time and Summerlin will require even more birdies – 23 under only got you into a playoff the last two years. So putting is a big part of it.
As a 7255-yard par 71 (but at 2,700ft above sea level playing shorter than that) it is less demanding off the tee and less likely to play to his strengths than Jackson. That was also much more of a home game for this son of the Deep South but one positive is that he followed his first win at Valspar in May by going close next time out when runner-up at the Byron Nelson.
So he’s more of an each-way saver this week in a 20/1 the field tournament headed by Ryder Cup heroes Brooks Koepka, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler and Ryder Cup losers Viktor Hovland, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter.
I am a bit surprised to see Hovland favourite as he failed to win any of his five Ryder Cup matches and fear Scheffler and Koepka more.
Further European interest comes via Dunhill Links hero Danny Willett and Danish prodigy Rasmus Hojgaard, at 20 already a triple winner in Europe and the most obvious replacement for one of the old guard in Rome two years hence.
With Masters winners Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed in the supporting cast alongside world No. 8 Louis Oosthuizen, the highest-ranked golfer in the field, the list of potential winners is boundless.
Scot Martin Laird defends the title he won after a playoff with Austin Cook and Wolff but makes far less appeal than Scheffler who got into the Ryder squad without a W on his CV yet took down Europe’s main man Jon Rahm in the key singles.
Scheffler looked totally at home at Whistling Straits and could break through here as could Will Zalatoris, yet another gifted American youngster who was fifth in Vegas as a rookie last year.
Having finished 11th at Silverado and 14th in Mississippi in the past couple of weeks, Zalatoris will be better prepared than most and is ready to make a big statement.
After taking two months out for mental health reasons, Wolff will always carry a risk as a punting proposition but he shot a 61 at Summerlin last year and there was much to like about his 17th at Jackson last week.
At 22, he is younger than Hovland and Morikawa who joined the tour at the same time but have made bigger strides. Maybe Wolff, as a winner on only his fourth start and top-four in the first two Majors of his young career, had too much too soon but he found life on tour, hotel-to-course-to-room service, often a lonely place without a family to go home to after a round.
It all started to go wrong for Matt after finishing runner-up here last year, a follow-up to his second to Bryson DeChambeau in the delayed 2020 US Open at Winged Foot where he led by two after 54 holes but crumbled to a 75 on the final day.
Following Summerlin last year came a tough time mentally, trying to cope with two withdrawals after horrendous first rounds, a DQ after an opening 76 at the Masters and missed cuts in his two final tournaments of the 2020/21 season.
Hopefully all that is history now and his first showing of the new campaign was encouraging. With his strange leg kick on the backswing, he is far from orthodox and is prone to the occasional disaster but this birdie machine will be a factor again on scoring courses like Summerlin. It’s just a question of getting on him the right week.
Little Mexican Ancer, fourth at Summerlin twice in the last three years, is a more assured golfer for notching a breakthrough victory at the WGC St Jude in August. He had been a winner waiting to happen for so long that fans were beginning to question his resolution under fire. But no longer.
Patrick Reed’s wholehearted approach to the game and his around-the-greens skills make him hard to beat and it came as a surprise when he didn’t get a Ryder Cup wild card. He has a point to prove so expect him to start fast and make his presence felt.
Strongly fancied dual Shriners’ scorer Kevin Na has withdrawn with a rib injury.
5pts win Jon Rahm @ 9/4
1pt each-way Francesco Laporta @ 100/1
1pt each-way Guido Migliozzi @ 28/1
0.5pts each-way Nicolai Hojgaard @ 40/1
0.5pts each-way Jeff Winther @ 80/1
0.5pts each-way Santiago Tarrio @ 66/1
So what is this mysterious, subjective thing called “value”? Is world No. 1 Jon Rahm “value” at Fitzdares’ 9/4 in a field of 132 teeing it up at the Spanish Open in Madrid this week?
Would he beat this line-up of European Tour regulars containing only one other current Ryder Cup player in Bernd Wiesberger once in every three attempts? If the answer is Yes, he probably is value.
That is the judgment the bookmaker is requiring you the punter to make when assessing whether to support or oppose the burly Spaniard.
The price is rare these days but was commonplace when Tiger Woods was at his rampaging best, racking up the majority of his 82 victories and 15 Majors. Rahm has 13 wins, one Major, and counting. And when Tiger was quoted at 2/1 and 9/4 that price was in stronger competition than Rahm faces at the Club de Campo Villa where he’s defending the title he won two years ago by five shots from compatriot Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Jack Nicklaus was 2/1 when he arrived at Muirfield for the 1972 Open on the back of Masters and US Open victories. But that was chiefly because of liabilities on the same-year Slam for which the Golden Bear had been laid at 500/1 and 1000/1. In the end, Nicklaus finished second and the bookies breathed again.
No one is a bigger fan of Rahm than your correspondent but the US Open champ doesn’t win all that often, does he? Woods used to win three and even four times in a row. You don’t find Rahm doing that. But he is super-consistent.
On the plus side he’s on a course he knows like the back of his hand and where he has won convincingly before. He’s a better player now, according to the world rankings, than he was when dotting up with a 22-under score two years ago. And who’s going to beat him?
After Emma Raducanu’s 500/1 US Open tennis triumph, we know that anything, absolutely anything can and does happen in sport. I have to tip him but that doesn’t mean I’m going to back him. Nicely rested after the rigours of the Ryder Cup where he top-scored for a humbled Europe, he’s in a different league to the rest.
The Open de Espana was one of last year’s many Covid victims but now returns to this well-bunkered, tree-lined 7112-yard par 71 on the outskirts of the Spanish capital which has hosted 12 Spanish Opens plus numerous Madrid Opens and Masters.
On paper, eight-time winner Wiesberger is the one most likely to give Rahm a run for his money even though the Austrian was one of three who failed to make even half a point at Whistling Straits.
With the shackles of trying to qualify for a Ryder Cup debut now cast aside, Wiesberger should play with a good deal more freedom. Without that pressure he would surely have turned that eight into nine already as he had one hand on the European Masters trophy in Crans until Ryder nerves took over.
Joakim Lagergren, Richard Bland and Daniel Gavins had lucrative weeks in Scotland behind 100/1 winner Danny Willett and merit each-way consideration but for more hot-blooded alternatives try a second Spaniard, Santiago Tarrio, and a pair of Italians, Francesco Laporta and Guido Migliozzi.
Tarrio, caddied by his partner, herself a good player, has been the man to beat on the Challenge Tour this year with two victories (one in Spain) and seven top-six finishes and his short-but-sound game stood up under main-circuit pressure when third in the Hero Open.
Laporta enjoyed a great September with sixth place among the big boys at Wentworth following an Italian Open fourth. One of his two Challenge Tour wins came on Spanish soil.
With the 2023 Ryder Cup carded for Rome, Migliozzi has been touted as a strong contender for that on the strength of his fourth to Rahm in the US Open. More recently seventh in Switzerland and 17th on Sunday at the Dunhill Links, this 24-year-old has power and flair but not yet the consistency of a top-liner.
Two Danes worth a small each-way play are Jeff Winther who has course form (4th to Rahm in ‘19) and current performance (14th at the Dunhill) to recommend him while 20-year-old Dane Nicolai Hojgaard has stepped out of twin brother Rasmus’s shadow with five big showings in a row, highlighted by a breakthrough victory in Italy.
They are a long way apart this week with Rasmus rolling the dice against the PGA Tour big boys in Las Vegas. Both are strong contenders for the next Ryder Cup team so monitor their progress closely.