Golf,

Brooks – No Argument

What a difference a week makes!

One moment we’re hailing Jon Rahm as new world number one after his flashy win at Memorial and saying we wouldn’t back Brooks Koepka with a dud fiver to make it a hat-trick of US PGA Championships following yet another bad week at the office.

The next, Rahm’s seven-day reign is over, his lowly 52nd in Memphis and Justin Thomas’s 12-1 victory there, after an enthralling duel with Koepka, sends him back to the top spot he last held for five weeks in 2018.

And although two late Koepka errors gifted the St Jude title to Thomas, it is the runner-up rather than his conqueror who looks the more likely winner of the much-delayed first Major of 2020 simply because he is a Majors freak.

Not only is Koepka chasing a third straight US PGA title, a feat never achieved since this Major switched from match play to strokeplay in 1958, but he is brilliant at getting the job done on the most demanding stages, hence four out of his seven wins feature two US Opens and two PGAs.

His PGA record (5-4-13-1-1) is little short of phenomenal and although there were more mistakes last week than last year’s model, there is little doubt he’s timed his run to perfection, unlike early favourite McIlroy whose 47th place on Sunday continued a run of mediocrity all the more curious because he was so solid before lockdown.

Lack of crowd interaction has seen Rory’s concentration wandering too often. His course victory in matchplay will encourage punters but 18-hole matchplay and 72-hole strokeplay are very different beasts.

As Thomas, Fitzdares’ 9-1 favourite and deservedly so, is also a US PGA champion – he won at Quail Hollow in 2017 – this could turn out to be a rematch between the two market leaders with Koepka taking his revenge.

With Harding Park in San Francisco the venue, the US PGA hits California for the first time since Colin Montgomerie lost to Steve Elkington’s 20ft extra-time birdie at Riviera a quarter of a century ago, the nearest the chubby Scot came to winning a Major.

This flat, eucalyptus and cypress-lined 7,234-yard par 70 is the second consecutive municipal course to host the US PGA, the one Major run by the club pro arm of American golf.

It is less difficult than the notorious Bethpage Black where Koepka beat Dustin Johnson last year but has been toughened up with narrowed fairways and faster greens to make it worthy of staging its first Major.

But it’s not so tough that it will embarrass the 20 club professionals taking part in a field of 156. Three of them made the cut last year.

Tourists can play Harding Park if you have $300 plus $35 for a compulsory buggy to spare. And I thought the high-season rate of £195 to get on the most famous public course of all, St Andrews, was a liberty!

Rory McIlroy beat Gary Woodland in the WGC Match Play in San Fran five years ago while Tiger Woods bagged the WGC American Express Championship there in 2005, John Daly missing a 3ft sudden-death tiddler to gift it to the then world No. 1. But form from 15 years ago belongs on the History Channel not the Golf Channel.

Woods returns having only risked his suspect back once since golf resumed behind closed doors six tournaments ago. That was at Memorial when he finished 15 behind winner Rahm in 40th place.

With Tiger needing four Majors to pass Jack Nicklaus’s record 18, he knows time is running out. Expect him to give it his best shot (as he always does) and he is playing in his home state. The last of his four PGA Championship was 13 years ago. The time to back him, if there is a time, is on Saturday when we see how he is walking and putting.

A more logical bet is Daniel Berger, joint runner-up as our 28-1 headline pick last week, with a victory since the resumption and fabulously consistent all year.

Tom Lewis was the surprise top Brit in Memphis thanks to shooting the low round of the week, a 61, on Saturday, but Matt Fitzpatrick was heading for second prize following his third at Memorial until making a horlicks of the 71st and is closing in on a first US victory.

At 40-1 with Fitzdares paying down to eighth place, the Sheffield youngster is a bet.

Hailing from the same neck of the woods, 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett was a good fourth in Detroit last month and a matchplay semi-finalist on the San Francisco course five years ago. He could be an each-way snip at 100-1.

Other each-way options from Europe are Shane Lowry, who shared sixth place with Fitzpatrick, and Tommy Fleetwood.

Both were noted playing some tidy golf at the weekend, while Rahm will want that coveted top ranking spot back and now that he isn’t the target but a chaser once again, that may see him in a far more relaxed frame of mind.

Bryson DeChambeau’s switch from Mad Scientist to Incredible Hulk has produced one win already. He now tops the scales at 17st, having bulked up 40lb, not all of it muscle by any means, and is thumping it over 330 yards with the aim of bludgeonIng golf courses into submission. And he’s working on hitting it even further!

Length didn’t help him last week when only 30th and Dustin Johnson, winner at River Highlands at the end of June and a respectable 12th on Sunday, Is preferred.

Best bets

  • 2pts each-way Brooks Koepka at 10-1
  • 1pt each-way Matt Fitzpatrick at 40-1
  • 1pt each-way Daniel Berger at 33-1
  • 1pt each-way Jon Rahm at 12-1
  • 0.5pt each-way Danny Willett at 100-1
  • 0.5pt each-way Shane Lowry at 66-1

The six-tournament UK Swing of the European Tour reaches the halfway mark with the English Championship at lovely Hanbury Manor in Hertfordshire with a cast much the same as the one the Florida-based Mancunian Sam Horsfield beat at the Forest of Arden on Sunday.

The one big change is the return of Lee Westwood who finished stone-cold last of the halfway qualifiers In the British Masters at Close House, the Newcastle course he represents on tour.

He has bypassed the first Major as he doesn’t think Americans are taking the Covid pandemic as seriously as we are. With Brandon Grace failing the Covid test at the Barracuda at the weekend and the US PGA being played in California, one of the states with an alarming rise in Covid cases, there is reason for caution.

Westwood returns to a course where previously successful, in the 1998 English Open, and could outclass the modest field. He is not even favourite, Fitzdares giving that accolade to Thomas Detry, the Belgian who is still a maiden and proving expensive to follow. He let supporters down again on Sunday when missing the 4ft par putt at the 72nd which, as it turned out, cost him a play-off with Horsfield.

Now that Horsfield has finally lived up to the big build-up he received from Ian Poulter when turning pro, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t win again. His 235-yard wood across the water at the 71st to set up the critical birdie demonstrated great nerve.

His win could act as a spur to another young ex-amateur star who hasn’t quite delivered, Frenchman Romain Langasque who certainly has the tools to win an ordinary contest while steady Kiwi Ryan Fox caught the eye when eighth at the British Masters and 15th at the Hero.

Rasmus Hojgaard, the 19-year-old Dane who has already posted two high finishes (second and sixth), and neat-and-tidy Chris Paisley, joint third on Sunday, should also contend. The 66-1 for the old Thorbjorn Olesen would be an insult but he didn’t show enough last week when coming back to the game after a year’s ban to risk an interest.

Best bets

  • 1pt each-way Sam Horsfield at 18-1
  • 1pt each-way Lee Westwood at 12-1
  • 0.5pt each-way Romain Langasque at 66-1
  • 0.5pt each-way Ryan Fox at 22-1
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