A far way to go for Rory

The Wells Fargo Championship

Best bets
2pts each-way Rory McIlroy @ 18/1
1.5pts each-way Justin Thomas @ 10/1
1pt each-way Viktor Hovland @ 20/1
1pt each-way Bubba Watson @ 50/1
0.5pt each-way Rickie Fowler @ 66/1
view odds

Watching Keegan Bradley miss two tiny putts so short when the chips were down in the Valspar Championship they would have been gimmes in a friendly match was shocking even for backers of the eventual 90-1 winner Sam Burns.

The pair were locked together clear of their rivals standing on the 13th tee but Bradley started crumbling by going into the water on that short hole, then totally imploding by yipping those tiddlers. They never even touched the side of the cup.

Punters who backed Bradley as a one-time Major champion versus a young guy who had led other tournaments but had failed to close them out were betting on experience prevailing.

But experience is one thing, experience of losing something else. In 216 starts since winning the 2012 WGC Bridgestone, Bradley had lost 215 times. That’s a heck of a lot of baggage for the brain to carry around.

He was the first to win a Major, the 2011 USPGA, using a belly putter and others followed, notably Webb Simpson in the 2012 US Open and Adam Scott in the 2013 Masters.

When other players started belly-aching about how unfair it was, the powers-that-be outlawed not the belly putter but anchoring it against the chest. That ban came in early in 2016. Others like Bernhard Langer who managed to win six of his 11 senior Majors after the ban was introduced were able to modify the anchoring but it ended the career of Tim Clark who had a physical disability which prevented him holding the putter in the normal way and who knows how many millions it has cost Bradley who was never the same again despite winning a tournament in 2018.

Tee to green, he was the best last week but seeing the nerve-ends betraying him when push came to shove was X-certificate stuff. Fair play though to Burns, a three-shot winner who had demons of his own to deal with and did so brilliantly. He will win again but runner-up Bradley? Maybe not.

All this is leading to Rory McIlroy who has had putting woes of his own which are the principal reason why he has gone 25 tournaments since his last victory in November 2019 when beating Xander Schauffele in an HSBC Champions play-off in China.

After missing the cuts at the Players and Masters and making an early exit from the Match Play, he has taken time off to clear a troubled mind and is now back for the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow, the course near Charlotte, North Carolina, that means so much to him.

It was at Quail Hollow that he won for the first time in the States 11 years ago, became the only double champion in 2015 and has twice broken the course record on the 7600-yard par 71 with a closing 62 for a four-shot victory over Phil Mickelson in 2010 and a 61 on the way to an even more emphatic triumph by seven the second time.

In 2012 he got pipped in a play-off by Rickie Fowler for what was the American’s breakthrough and now both are under the microscope, McIlroy having plummeted from world No. 1 to No. 15 and poor Fowler outside the world’s top 100.

It is the ideal place and perfect time, two weeks before the second Major, the USPGA at Kiawah Island, to show the world they still have the game and the desire.

Fowler gave a hint he might be on the way back when 17th at the Texas Open the last time we saw him and while backing both carries obvious risks, they won’t be at such big prices for a long while if they do manage to click.

The market is headed by Justin Thomas, who had putting problems of his own last week when finishing 13th to Burns but he did win his one and only Major at Quail Hollow, the 2017 USPGA, and is a formidable collector of tournaments.

Second favourite Jon Rahm’s only experience of Quail Hollow was his 58th place in that 2017 Major so has questions to answer. Only once worse than 13th in nine 2021 starts, he could do with a win.

Third favourite Bryson DeChambeau has course form, fourth in 2018, but was horrendous last time out at the Masters while Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay and Webb Simpson are not producing the results their supporters expect of them.

I expected Max Homa, the 2019 Wells Fargo winner and defending champion as last year’s wasn’t played, to win the Valspar when he teed off one behind leaders Burns and Bradley on Sunday but he dropped out of the picture surprisingly quickly.

I am keener on Bubba Watson, runner-up at Quail Hollow way back in 2009 and looking a winner waiting to happen after a solid 13th at the weekend, and course debutant Viktor Hovland, who was third behind Burns and Bradley and at 23 can only get better.

Masters runner-up Will Zalatoris is back after a break during which he got engaged and bought a pad in Dallas. The next chapter of the fairytale will be a first main-tour victory.

And Ian Poulter will have son Luke, 17, on the bag for the first time and why not? – the father-and-son Team Cink has clocked up two victories and the 2009 Open champ is even more ancient than Poults!

The Canary Islands Championship

Best bets
2pts each-way Dean Burmester @ 16/1
1pt each-way Garrick Higgo @ 11/1
1pt each-way Justin Harding @ 18/1
1pt each-way Sami Valimaki @ 25/1
1pt each-way Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez @ 50/1
view odds

After two legs of the three-week Canary Islands Swing, the score reads South Africa 2, Rest of the World 0. And after Dean Burmester’s five-shot demolition job in the Tenerife Open, a Springbok hat-trick is on the cards.

They have the front three in the betting for the Canary Islands Championship, a welcome late substitute for the postponed French Open, and it is on the same Costa Adeje course which mighty hitter Burmester battered into submission with a 25-under-par blast.

That was the same under-par tally that his young compatriot Garrick Higgo put up on Gran Canaria the previous week.

Being beaten by 12 by new kid on the block Higgo in week one must have stung the seven-time Sunshine Tour winner as he burst out of the traps with a 63 on Thursday and kept on racking up the birdies until all his rivals surrendered.

The 31-year-old from Bloemfontein’s 28 birdies and one eagle more than matched the 25 and two eagles Higgo ran up on a different course. Using Costa Adeje again makes hotels and travel easy and it’s hard to see why Burmester is a significantly longer price, 16-1 to 11-1, to follow up as he was nine shots and seven places ahead of Higgo there.

If the card on the European Tour website is right, the eighth hole, played as a par four just for the pros last week, returns to the par five it is for members, the birdie count will be even higher.

The return to the beautiful symmetry of six fives, six fours and six threes on a course measuring only 6816 yards will have bombers Burmester and Higgo licking their lips.

The winner made 13 birdies and an eagle on the five par fives last week and for once kept his fiery temper reined in when he missed the odd short putt which he is prone to do. Being too hard of himself has cost him dear in the past and is why he had only the 2017 Tshwane Open in his European Tour win column until Sunday.

Winning back to back is always difficult but having the same course to play must give Burmester every chance of achieving that unusual feat. Thunderstorms are expected with temperatures over 30C, high humidity and little wind.

Third favourite Justin Harding is also a recent winner. He captured the Kenya Open at the end of March and has been consistent in the Canaries, finishing 12th and 15th.

Left-hanger Higgo lost last week because of a bad spell on Friday which included a triple-bogey seven. When birdies and eagles are flying around, a major disaster like that is hard to overcome.

This could be the easiest of the three to win as Austrian Open winner John Catlin, fifth on Sunday, has gone home as have joint-thirds as well as danger men Thorbjorn Olesen and Jamie Donaldson.

Sami Valimaki, Laurie Canter and Spanish duo Adri Arnaus and Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez are the quartet most likely to halt a South African 1-2-3.

Rookie of the Year Valimaki was rusty last week after a nine-week break from tour golf but finally managed a bogey-free round on Sunday and should improve substantially on 22nd position. He is the one winner in that quartet.

Canter had also not competed for a while. He had a huge hiccup on Sunday carding six fives in the first eight holes but started the year well with fourth in Dubai and he and Valimaki shared fifth spot in hot company at the Tour Championship in December, also in the UAE.

This late bloomer from Bath will surely make his breakthrough soon after hitting the bar more than once in 2020 but he will do well to make up the 16 shots Burmester beat him by. For a sixth pick, it would be him.

The two Spaniards are on home ground and shared eighth spot with Higgo on Sunday. That was the second top-ten in five outings for the aggressive Garcia Rodriguez who would have been top five but for bogeying two back-nine par fives on Sunday.

Nicolai Von Dellinshausen’s second place to Burmester was a terrific effort for a 200-1 shot but was so far ahead of anything the German had achieved before, even at Challenge Tour level, that it could be just a one-off. One thing we do know – he likes the course!

Please play responsibly