Braveheart Wallace on the prowl for Texan conquest


Best bets

2pts each-way Matt Wallace @ 40/1
1.5pts each-way JJ Spaun @ 33/1
1.5pts each-way Tyrrell Hatton @ 12/1
1pt each-way Si Woo Kim @ 22/1
1pt each-way Matt Kuchar @ 28/1

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While Rory McIlroy was kicking himself for losing from two up with three to play in his Match Play semi-final and the rest of the Europeans slunk off tails between legs after being wiped out early, Matt Wallace was 2000 miles away throwing his cap in the ring for a Ryder Cup place by winning for the first time on the PGA Tour.

It had been a long time coming for the 32-year-old from Hillingdon, good enough to place third in the 2019 USPGA Championship, and it’s easy to crab the value of the victory in the Corales Puntacana in the Dominican Republic as only a supporting tournament to the thrilling main event, but credit to this stubborn trier for cashing in while the big cats were away.

Gaining self-belief from finishing seventh in better company at Valspar on his previous outing, Wallace spearheaded a welcome European one-two with Dane Nicolai Hojgaard just one shot behind, a nice change from the all-American final at the Match Play, won by 40/1 chance Sam Burns at the chief expense of Rory conqueror Cameron Young.

Both line up again for this week’s Texas Open in San Antonio, the last-chance saloon for those not yet qualified for The Masters. The Texas winner, if not already among the elite 89 teeing off at Augusta next Thursday (can’t wait!), will get the one spot left.

With Tyrrell Hatton heading Fitzdares’ betting at 12/1, Wallace ready to roll again on the course where he finished third in 2021 (his best finish of that year), Hojgaard clearly in form and Francesco Molinari looking to catch Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald’s eye, there’s every possibility of a great week for Europeans in what is not a strong field.

You can forget Wallace’s missed cut in San Antonio last year as he’d suffered the same fate in his five previous outings and his head wasn’t in the right place.

With hard-to-win-with Corey Conners and fragile comeback man Rickie Fowler next in the market, plenty will fancy their chances, not least defending champion JJ Spaun who looked terrific in winning his three group matches in Austin, taking down US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, Sahith Theegala and Min Woo Lee with a degree of comfort.

Sadly for JJ the Match Play story ended in the next round but it was still a positive warm-up for his defence on the 7435-yard Oaks course, the scene of his only win.

Fowler needs nothing less than victory if he is to play the Masters and every time we see him he looks more and more the star golfer he used to be. Still a work in progress but there has been much to like. His 13th at Sawgrass was his fourth decent effort of the year and this is  good deal easier than the Players.

Even so, I think Si Woo Kim represents better value. He’s a winner this campaign, first time out at Waialae, and consistent since. The South Korean has course form too, fourth to Conners in 2019.

That remains the only win on Canadian Conners’ record. A serious underachiever, tee to green is all quality but he wouldn’t be first choice to sink a six-footer for your life.

Hideki Matsuyama withdrew with a recurrence of his neck problems after two days at the Match Play but would be hard to beat if 100 per cent fit while Matt Kuchar, last year’s runner-up, posted a top-ten at Riviera last month and scored some nice wins at the Match Play. Kooch was also sixth in 2019 and although on the wane at 44, if there’s one more W in him, this is the right place and company.

Horses-for-courses punters will be interested in the three-figure odds for San Antonio specialist Charley Hoffman, winner on the Greg Norman layout (Sergio Garcia was also involved) in 2016 and runner-up in 2019 and 2021. There’s nothing in his current form to justify an interest but you just never know … Bad news on the weather front: scattered thunderstorms expect on the first two days.

Dry and hot though for the business end of the tournament.


Best bets

1.5pts each-way Matt Wolff @ 22/1
1pt each-way Sergio Garcia @ 25/1
1pt each-way Cameron Smith @ 12/1
0.5pt each-way Patrick Reed @ 25/1
0.5pt each-way Phil Mickelson @ 150/1
3pts Mickelson top-20 finish @ 17/10

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Starting this Friday what the mega-rich, Saudi-backed LIV Golf League most needs, as 18 of its rebel members prepare to take on former colleagues from the PGA Tour for the first time – at least on American soil – in next week’s Masters is a result in Orlando that makes people care about them.

So far the publicity they are getting is all political and mostly negative, not what’s happening on the golf course. Their first two winners of 2023, Charles Howell III and Danny Lee, have barely rated a line of newsprint between them or headed sports bulletins on TV.

What they badly need now is for LIV Orlando, on a course called Crooked Cat just round the corner from Disney World, not to produce a Mickey Mouse winner but a command performance by one of the superstars they have made richer than Croesus.

Publicity wise, the most sensational winner would be their most expensive signing Phil Mickelson, hardly a steal at a reported $200m but if anyone doubted his right to be regarded as an all-time-great, old Lefty disabused them of that with a golfing miracle – winning a Major past the age of 50, which he did at the 2021 USPGA Championship.

Unfortunately for LIV and despite all his efforts to get super-fit and his game super-slick, Mickelson has been playing like a prune. So far, after nine attempts, the best he has managed is an eighth in Chicago last summer.

To be Frank, Phil’s first two attempts this year at turning back the clock have to be marked down as flops. In fields of 48, finishes of 27th and 32nd don’t cut it but expect a big improvement this week on a course at Orange County National that should be right up his alley.

Never used on the PGA Tour, this 1998 creation in which Japanese superstar Isao Aoki had a say in the design is a grip-it-and-rip-it track made for “gamblers and scramblers”. Mickelson’s gambling losses are legendary but that’s always been the way he’s played golf too and made him one of the most watchable golfers of all time.

Wide fairways, not many trees, a linksy, open feel, large contoured greens – fill your boots, Phil! Players who can work the ball in the wind do well – no problem to a genius who has won an Open, three Masters and two PGAs.

So the suggestion, wild though it is and daft as I probably am for even considering it, is to have a little of Fitzdares’ 150/1 and cover it with a bigger bet on Lefty to finish top 20 at 17/10.

LIV’s other big-name signings, Open champion Cammie Smith, past Masters winners Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and US Open champions Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka – all Masters invitees because of past achievements – will want to make the most of this week’s $25m warm-up on a course – it can play up to 7500 yards but likely to be 250 yards shorter for this shotgun-start 54-holer which promises birdies galore.

Great shot-maker Garcia had every chance at Tucson but wasted a brilliant first 36 holes, Reed’s been close before but is now on a course where he can get away with his crooked driving and Smith, who is a LIV winner but underwhelming since, is another scrambler extraordinaire whose putting can be magical.

The first two have yet to win since joining LIV and are overdue but young Matt Wolff, still only 23, could outshine them both. Second and third last year and one of the few with improvement in them, the Californian will love the freedom to express his multi-talented game. Unorthodox, exciting and fearless, he could go really low this week.

What’s most important for the future of LIV is some hot golf to match the weather – it’s going to be in the 90s on Saturday!

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