Golf doesn’t get more exciting even when thousands of fans are there to see it than the Jon Rahm v Dustin Johnson showdown for the BMW Championship and it’s a shame there had to be a loser in this Boston Tee Party, all the more so if you were on DJ!
First, Rahm jumped out of the pack with a 64 to set the target, then Johnson sank an impossibly curly 43ft last-hole birdie to match the Spaniard, only for big Jon to trump that with a 66-footer in extra time to stop DJ winning for the second week running.
As the two highest-ranked players in the world, it was a drama worthy of a bigger stage and a hard act to follow at this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake, Georgia, which unusually has a Friday start and a Labor Day Monday finish.
The Tour Championship is a super 30-man shootout in its own right as well as the climax to the season-long FedEx Cup points race with its outrageous $30m bonus pool, half going to the champion and at least eight players picking up a million bucks.
Up to last year the Tour winner and the FedEx Cup winner were not necessarily the same – for example, Tiger Woods won the 2018 Championship, fourth-placed Justin Rose took FedEx honours – but last year they came up with a formula which ensured the same player won both.
A handicap system was introduced whereby the FedEx leader going into East Lake received ten start, the number two was awarded eight, number three got seven, and so on.
The first beneficiary of the change was Rory McIlroy who was five behind leader Thomas on handicap but with winning the tournament by four and Thomas only managing a share of third place, it was Rory who copped the Crown Jewels.
That’s why Johnson and Rahm are at prohibitive odds – as current FedEx one-two they get starts of ten and eight on top of being recent winners – DJ 2-1-2 last three outings – and the best two golfers around.
This year Rory is set an even tougher assignment. Last time he overcame the five-point disadvantage; this time he tees off seven adrift. It’s Mission Improbable which is why he’s a big price. Besides, there’s one very good personal reason why his mind has been wandering on the golf course – he’s about to become a first-time dad.
Ironically, he played his best golf since the June resumption when 12th at the weekend but backers run the risk of him pulling out in mid-tournament. If the phone call comes, he’ll be off to be with wife Erica for the birth. “There’ll be plenty of other Tour Championships for me but only one opportunity to see my first baby being born.“
So If you are determined to back this two-time East Lake winner, leave it to the weekend and make Thomas your main bet at 11-2.
A triple winner this campaign, the 2017 FedEx hero has the right course credentials, third, seventh and second the last three years, and third in the handicap with a start of seven. He will pick up the pieces if Rahm and DJ have left their best golf in Boston.
Neither of the two market leaders has great form at 7319-yard par 70 East Lake: Dustin a joint-last 29th in 2019 and never nearer in 11 visits than when third to Woods two years ago, Rahm an unthreatening 7-11-12 in past renewals.
Xander Schauffele, with a first and a second in only three attempts, should not be far away although recent form is a bit average while volatile Billy Horschel is back on a course that’s been very good to him as winner in 2014 and runner-up to Rory last year.
More recently, he posted two good finishes at Muirfield Village and found only Jim Herman too good for him at the Wyndham.
He can’t win off the bottom rung conceding DJ and Rahm huge starts – he’s 200-1 for that – but there’s a Without FedEx Strokes market with Horschel at 35-1 and that’s the place to back him.
After six weeks in the U.K., the European Tour heads to glorious Valderrama for the Andalucia Masters on the Spanish course where Europe retained the Ryder Cup in an absolute thriller in 1997.
Neither last year’s winner Christiaan Bezuidenhout or Sergio Garcia who won the three previous renewals is playing, nor is Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston, Spanish Open champion on this specialists’ layout in 2016.
The 7001-yard par 71 course with its trees in the middle of fairways and lightning-fast greens is not everybody’s cup of sangria and when Johnston won, not one single player finished under par or even level par.
The short holes are ferocious while the risk-reward par-five 17th, a potential card-wrecker, can spit back over-spun approaches into the water hazard.
Positional players are favoured over bombers and tee shots have to be accurate enough not only to find the fairways but the right spot on them, otherwise they find a cunningly-placed tree barring their approaches to fiery greens.
Joost Luiten (or Willibrordus Adrianus Luiten If you look at the Dutchman’s birth certificate) and Bernd Wiesberger who finished like a lion for third place on his first Euro start since the resumption are my main fancies, followed by Jorge Campillo, a revived Martin Kaymer and 19-year-old Danish phenomenon Rasmus Hojgaard.
Luiten is the freshest of these after two weeks off and recent form, apart from a sixth in the Euram Bank gig in Austria, is not encouraging. But he’s a six-time winner who boasts eyecatching course form as runner-up in the 2016 Spanish Open and 2017 Andalucia Masters.
Wiesberger, a triple winner last year, got going too late on his European comeback at The Belfry last week but with the rust out of his system he can turn the tables on young Hojgaard whose form figures for four outings on the U.K. Swing read 1-3-6-2 make him a worthy favourite. We are going to hear a lot of him this year and far beyond but surely he can’t do it again, can he?
This is a home game for Campillo who embellished his March victory in Qatar with a brace of top-tens at Celtic Manor and The Belfry.
Martin Kaymer got closer to a win than he’s done for yonks when third to Hojgaard on Sunday but the nerves started jangling again in sight of the winning post and a bogey six on the 17th, a par five regarded as easy birdie country by rivals, ended his challenge.
It would be great to see the former world number one rediscover his victory mojo. He has each-way prospects on this tricky track where he finished runner-up to Soren Kjeldsen in the Volvo Masters 12 years ago but if you do back him, do trade some of it back if he’s in contention on Sunday.
It may be worth having a tiny bet on Kjeldsen at three-figure odds. The stumpy little Dane, now 45, is way past his prime – you have to go back two years to find his last top-ten – but in his 610th start he’s back at the scene of his greatest triumph.
That 2008 victory apart, he has twice finished runner-up at Valderrama and although that’s a heck of a time ago, he could make Fitzdares’ top six at three-figure odds.