Golf,

Hang your hat on Hatton

HOUSTON OPEN


Best bets
Tyrrell Hatton 2pts each-way @ 14-1
Jordan Spieth 1pt each-way @ 50-1
Sergio Garcia 1pt each-way @ 40-1
Stewart Cink 0.5pt each-way @ 66-1
Pádraig Harrington 0.5pt each-way @ 125-1
Russell Henley 0.5pt each-way @ 22-1
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No punter ever said betting on golf was a licence to print money but the 250-1 victory of forgotten man Brian Gay in Bermuda and Callum Shinkwin’s 125-1 breakthrough in Cyprus were hard to take coming on top of a 500-1 Italian job the previous weekend.

Yet every cloud has a silver lining (well, maybe not EVERY cloud) and I still say golf punters never had it so good. Firms bend over backwards for your custom with tempting place offers. In the bad old days it was strictly a quarter the first four.

Let me explain: two of last week’s Bermuda picks Stewart Cink and Doc Redman shared fourth place with two others. When I first started writing golf in the 1970s, Cink/Redman backers would have forfeited three-quarters of their place stake. And when I campaigned for a fifth place considering there were usually 156 in the field, one senior odds compiler said he couldn’t make the place book pay if it was 1-2-3-4-5.

How times change! Fitzdares, for example, were paying seven places on Bermuda, so Cink and Redman backers received the full place odds, a huge difference. Both 2009 Open champion Cink and Redman are in a far stronger line-up for the Houston Open in Texas, the last opportunity for competition before the long-delayed Masters will enthrall us at Augusta.

World number one Dustin Johnson and 2013 Masters hero Adam Scott return to the fray after testing positive for Covid-19 and it is FedEx Cup winner DJ who heads the market. As it is six weeks since he last played (6th US Open) he may be a bit rusty. But don’t count on it! The best time to back him is probably on Saturday morning.

Making a comeback to the PGA rota is Memorial Park, a course last used for this tournament in 1963 and recently given a total makeover with wider fairways, fewer trees and, for the first time since lockdown, a crowd expected but one limited to 2000.

Brooks Koepka has been involved in the re-design of this 7432-yard par 70 test but he too has had health concerns and has shown the real Koepka only in short bursts.

England’s Tyrrell Hatton makes more appeal. He has won on both sides of the Atlantic and against quality fields at Bay Hill and Wentworth. Although disappointing last time out, he has been admirably consistent, much due to not being as hard on himself as he used to be.

The widened fairways will be heaven for Jordan Spieth who often visits places on a golf course never seen by normal humans. Even so, he made 25 birdies last time out, the same number as the winner Patrick Cantlay, yet too many driving errors to contend.

Spieth is in his home state this week which, with at least some spectators allowed in, has to be a help and bigger things are expected from him this week and at Augusta, where he has a fantastic record, given the odd blip or three.
Apart from Hatton, there’s a powerful European presence although Ian Poulter has had to pull out to save his back for Augusta. The Bermuda win by Gay just a month short of his 49th birthday will spur on Pádraig Harrington who is a few months older.

After two good weeks in Scotland, Pod was on the first page of the leaderboard after a blistering front nine on Sunday but fell back with late bogeys. The Ryder Cup captain is not only talking a good game, he is still capable of making the frame at big odds.

Sergio Garcia’s Sanderson Farms victory last month has breathed life into a sagging career and another big performance here will set the Spaniard thinking of a second Green Jacket to put beside the one he won in 2017. Safeway winner Cink and in-form Russell Henley look best of the rest.

 

CUPRUS SHOWDOWN


Best bets
Garrick Higgo 2pts each-way @ 28-1
Robert MacIntyre 1pt each-way @ 25-1
Dale Whitnell 1pt each-way @ 80-1
Sami Valimaki 1pt each-way @ 33-1
Adrien Saddier 0.5pt each-way @ 50-1
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In Europe, the gorgeous Aphrodite Hills course where Callum Shinkwin became the seventh English winner in the past 12 weeks with a dazzling finish is drafted into action for back-to- back tournaments in Cyprus. The Cyprus Showdown field is much the same as for last week’s Cyprus Open, although reduced to 105, but the format is changed.

The first two rounds are normal stroke play but players have to hit their stride early as only 32 move on to Saturday when it’s start-again time with the 36-hole scores wiped out. The same process then applies with the bottom half of the reduced field eliminated. The top 16’s Saturday efforts are then dustbinned and the winner decided by the best Sunday score. Are you still with me?

It’s not a good format for those who throw in the odd over-par round as there’s less time to repair the damage and it’s likely that those who contended last week will flourish again.

Rookie of the Year Robert MacIntyre has had a miserable year with hand and hip injuries but the young Scot did make the cut in the two US Majors and finally rewarded supporters with a share of third place on Sunday. It wasn’t faultless by any means but his wonderful putting dug him out of a few holes.

Sharing that third spot were South African lefty Garrick Higgo, only 21, powerful and very much on the way up, and veteran Jamie Donaldson, more than twice Higgo’s age.

Just behind that trio in sixth were the Finn-tastic Sami Valimaki and Essex man Dale Whitnell, the latter looking overpriced at 80-1 as his previous form includeD a British Masters fourth and a good week in Italy. The former Walker Cup amateur is 30 under par for his last eight rounds and there’s more to come.

Valimaki looked the likely winner in Cyprus at the weekend when he led by two into the back nine but the wheels fell off. That was surprising as he knew how to win in March when he posted his first victory on only his sixth European start in Oman.

He’s only 22 and was a brilliant 13th on his Wentworth debut. Give him the benefit of the doubt as I think he’s good but time to give up on Thomas Detry who blew it again on Sunday as, to a lesser degree, did Mathias Schwab, another who is proving expensive to follow.

Shinkwin could well win again while Frenchman Adrien Saddier, ninth here last week and sixth the week before in Scotland, needs only to putt better for a first-time win on the main tour.

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