Golf,

Avenger Thomas the star turn at Boston Tee Party

THE US OPEN


Best bets
2pts each-way Justin Thomas @ 12/1
1pt each-way Patrick Cantlay @ 25/1
1pt each-way Justin Rose @ 50/1
1pt each-way Rory McIlroy @ 10/1
0.5pts each-way Brooks Koepka @ 33/1
0.5pts each-way Collin Morikawa @ 25/1
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We’re paying EIGHT places at the US Open!


Jon Rahm won last year’s US Open two weeks after Covid stopped him romping to victory at Memorial and now punters are getting behind Rory McIlroy to give Europe back-to-back triumphs in the Major the Americans, misguidedly most Brits would say, regard as the most important of the four Majors and the one they most hate handing over.

And with Graeme McDowell, McIlroy, Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer and Rahm picking up the trophy five times in the last 12 years, the Yanks have had plenty of practice at losing! It wasn’t always that way, though, as there was a 40-year gulf between Tony Jacklin in 1970 and G-Mac in 2010.

After his battling, birdie-strewn and overdue first victory of 2022 in an epic Canadian Open, McIlroy emerges as Fitzdares’ clear 10/1 favourite to bag his second US Open title at The Country Club in the classy Boston suburb of Brookline this weekend.

It was there 109 years ago that an unknown 20-year-old amateur Francis Ouimet, accompanied by a ten-year-old caddie, shocked the golfing world by thoroughly outplaying famed English invaders Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole play-off and put golf, then a young game in the States, on the front page for the first time.

It was such a fairytale they even made a movie about it – The Greatest Game Ever Played – great game for sure, great movie not so much.

It was a different game then. The course measured 6235 yards (1029 shorter than now) and the par 73 (70 now). The cut came at 19 OVER par and the trio who made the showdown shot 304 (12 over par).

Yes, The Country Club is tough all right, a rugged, sometimes deliberately scruffy piece of New England terrain that rewards straight-shooters who play canny, positional golf rather than the wham-bam-thankyou-ma’am brigade.

Just look at the two later US Open outcomes there: in 1963 the relaxed, sweet-swinging Julius Boros, a short-game master, nabbed his second Open and in 1988 the monotonously accurate Curtis Strange wore down our own Nick Faldo, himself a golfer who played the percentages rather than a power game in another play-off. That was the closest Sir Nick came to adding the US to his three Masters and three Opens portfolio of Majors.

A glance at the scores the winners returned  – six under for Strange, nine over for Boros (both when the par was one more than this year – tells you the old, gnarled Country Club composite course, a mix of two of Brookline’s three nines – is no stroll in the park.

The US Open, desperately unlucky to be caught in the crossfire of the PGA Tour-Saudi face-off that divided the world of golf last week and threatens to run and run, will have to go some to match the excitement generated by McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau in Canada.

Stir in Swedish miss Linn Grant’s nine-shot spanking of the fellas in the Scandinavian Mixed, a monumental achievement even though the women had a 900-yard start (as was proved right by the fact that the next 13 after Grant were men), it was a Sunday to restore faith in this glorious game.

While LIV winner Charl Schwartzel trousered an outrageous $4m for three days of not-so-hard labour at St Albans, lovely Linn, a 25/1 winner in this column last week, was thrilled with her £270,000 for her place in the history books as the first female winner on the DP World Tour.

And although there will be a handsome $12.5m purse at The Country Club, it’s the glory rather than the money that’s on the line at the Boston Tee Party. One thing’s for sure: in a city with a huge Irish influence and history, Rory won’t go short of support, nor will the ever-consistent Shane Lowry who was again there or thereabouts in Canada.

It has to be a worry for Rory backers how rarely golfers win two in a row, particularly in consecutive weeks and there’s the added pressure of not having won a Major for eight years – frustratingly he’s had 15 top-tens since – whereas principal rivals Thomas and Scottie Scheffler have done so in 2022 and defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama and Collin Morikawa, three other obvious threats, did so last year.

 

They have the feel for it, McIlroy the hunger – as do, to an even greater extent, a whole gang who have yet to win one but must come into the conversation, Finau, Cam Smith, Sam Burns, Patrick Cantlay, Will Zalatoris, Matt Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele.

And there’s no way that the venerable Country Club, hosting its fourth US Open, will make it easy for them. It will be set up to test every facet of their game. That’s the way the USGA wants it and any winning score in double figures under par will probably mean they haven’t done their job properly.

Brookline of course is notorious for being the scene of the controversial 1999 Ryder Cup where the raucously partisan crowds went over the top with their Mrs Doubtfire jibes about Colin Montgomerie among other insults as the fired-up Americans turned defeat into unlikely victory.

The only jeering this week is likely to be aimed at Phil Mickelson and the others who are in the process of defecting to the Saudi-backed rebel circuit.

One Brit who has nothing but fond memories of Brookline is Matt Fitzpatrick, then a skinny 18-year-old with his 14-year-old kid brother caddying for him, who came over to win the US Amateur back in 2013. Again it was a victory for precise positional play and putting wizardry over flashy power and the Yorkshireman is sure to carry plenty of punters’ money after going so close in the last Major at Southern Hills.

The course differs from the last two Brookline Opens and the one Fitzpatrick conquered as a teenager as the old 131-yard 11th (not used since 1913 and now the 12th) has been reintroduced to give players a back-nine breather before a series of long, demanding par fours and a par five of 625 yards.

With Justin Rose firing again after a spell in the doldrums – round of 60 on Sunday for fourth place following 13th at the PGA – a strong European performance on a New England layout that has a British/Irish feel to it is on the cards.

And while Rahm may lack the confidence in his putter to make a successful defence, he shouldn’t be far away, nor should Lowry and Fitzpatrick, a top-ten finisher for the seventh time in 11 outings in Toronto.

I like Lowry but there’s precious little juice in 25/1 for a guy who hasn’t won in a long time and it’s the same with the 22/1 for Fitzpatrick who keeps falling away after promising so much.

It makes better sense to back him at 5/2 for a top-ten finish – he’s darn good at those! – and go in the outright for a trusted big-occasion performer like Morikawa who started the year nicely but has fallen off the gold standard since his fifth at Augusta.

This can only be a temporary blip by this young dual Major champion who has the clinical, composed game needed to pay dividends here.

In a wide-open Open and with no current course form to be had, multiple winners Scheffler and Burns will surely contend but my pin is going on JT to take instant revenge on McIlroy now that Rory is in the hot seat and under pressure and bag back-to-back Majors following his phenomenal last-day performance in Tulsa.

True, he faltered at the end in Canada just when it looked like he had Rory by the short and curlies – and full credit to McIlroy for those two closing birdies straight after missing two short putts – but by inadvertently putting the spotlight on Rory now, he has helped his own cause. True, that was a sensational finish by the man from Hollywood but this is a whole different ball game where birdies are hard to come by and pars have to be earned.

Despite his poor efforts in the first two Majors, Patrick Cantlay impresses as the type who will play this course well. The FedEx Cup winner’s third at Memorial last time and general form has been tip-top and he has the right sort of temperament for a championship where everyone’s patience will be tested.

Finau’s second on Sunday was his third top-four in five outings but this may not be his course and Jordan Spieth who loves working out answers to the questions the USGA perennially pose rates a bigger danger.

Don’t be surprised if forgotten man Brooks Koepka becomes the third triple winner of the US Open following Ben Hogan and Strange.

Married in the romantic Turks and Caicos Islands just a couple of weeks ago to his longtime fiancée, the actress Jena Sims, and as fit and fresh as he’s been all year, he’s a big-occasion golfer who could step up to the plate. It’s going to be a slog rather than a breeze and he loves it that way.

Expect a firm, fast-running course mostly bathed in summer sunshine (but maybe some weekend showers) and find golfers who keep their cool when all around are losing theirs.

SPECIALS


Best bets
3pts win A Play-Off to take place @ 3/1
3pts Justin Rose to win 3-ball @ 11/8
2pts Collin Morikawa to win 3-ball @ 11/8
3pts A Hole In One to be recorded @ 4/7
2pts Matthew Fitzpatrick top-10 finish @ 5/2
1pt Francesco Molinari top-20 @ 5/1
1pt win Jim Furyk Top Senior @ 100/30
view odds


 

The best-value bet on the US Open may well lie outside the outright market and Fitzdares have come up with a bumper bundle of specials that has something for everyone.

What most catches my eye is the 3/1 about the possibility of a play-off on Sunday afternoon.

It’s not hard to see where they’re coming from as you have to go back to 2008 to find the last one – the unforgettable 18-hole Monday shootout between a half-crippled Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines just before the heroic winner reported into hospital for another surgery.

That’s 13 US Opens since the last play-off but, with such a wide-open contest this year and nobody streets ahead of anyone else in terms of ability, there has to be every chance of that sequence being broken.

The key statistic for me: all three past Opens at Brookline needed play-offs. Ex-caddie Francis Ouimet duffed up Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913, Julius Boros came through against Jackie Cupit and Arnold Palmer in 1963, and Curtis Strange bested Nick Faldo in a 1988 marathon. It is a course made for a Sunday afternoon log-jam at the top.

The first-round draw has brought early-bird starts for Europe’s two main hopes, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. McIlroy has Hideki Matsuyama and Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele as partners in the 7.40 threeball (12.40 our time). Rahm goes off even earlier (12.18 here) against reigning Open champion Collin Morikawa and James Piot, last year’s US Amateur winner and now a professional.

Take Morikawa at 11/8 to turn over the favourite in what is virtually a two-horse race.

Neither Rahm or Morikawa was firing the last few times we saw them but the American’s cooler temperament could be the difference on a difficult golf course, “the hardest I have ever played” declares Will Zalatoris who saw the course for the first time at the 2013 Amateur Championship won by Matt Fitzpatrick.

In one of the most intriguing marquee threeballs, outsider Brooks Koepka could be worth backing against the S men, Scheffler and Cam Smith. Form figures of

1-1-2-4 for his last four US Open brook no argument.

Later in the day (6.47pm) Justin Rose, fresh from shooting a 60 in Canada on Sunday, rates an interest against Bryson DeChambeau and Gary Woodland, neither of whom has much to recommend them on 2022 form. Woodland has missed four of his last six cuts, DeChambeau his last three, all with big numbers. Rosey is my threeball banker.

Looking as if he’d just been dragged through a hedge backwards, an unshaven Phil Mickelson finished ten-over at the LIV tournament in St Albans and will be facing grief from the Brookline crowd on his first US start since selling his soul to the rebels and insulting the PGA Tour.

He’s 2/5 to finish Top Senior but the fragile state of his mind tempts a small punt on Jim Furyk at 100/30 even if the latter has not been achieving as much as was expected when he joined the Champions Tour.

With its shortest hole only 131 yards long, plus three other par-threes, it could be worth taking the odds-on about an ace this week. There have been plenty of holes-in-one around this year.

Finally, two bets on the Tops markets: course winner Fitzpatrick at 5/2 for a top-ten as his name never seems to be off leaderboards these days and Francesco Molinari at 5/1 to make the top 20.

With the next Ryder Cup in his home country, Molinari is working extra-hard to regain his place for the 2023 match. He was heading for a top-ten after three rounds at Memorial on his latest outing but a sad Sunday saw him drift down to 26th. He is not the player he was but the chances are he won’t need to be.


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