Golf,

There is nothing normal about 2020

One Major down, two to go, the US Open in mid-September and the Masters, would you believe, teeing off at Augusta on November 12, a far cry from its “normal” date in early April.

But there’s nothing normal about 2020, an unforgettable year for all the wrong reasons.

Our Open, at Royal St George’s, has had to be postponed for 12 months but one of the few who will look back fondly on it is the new US PGA champion Collin Morikawa, only 23 and playing only his second full year as a pro and in only the second Major of his career.

Collin (with the unusual double N) fired a magnificent 64 on Sunday to consign Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson to a share of second place at Harding Park, California. His 129 score for the final 36 holes is a record.

One of the first to Tweet his congratulations was Colin Montgomerie who wrote, a mite regretfully “Great that a Collin finally won a Major and great to see the straightest driver rewarded.” The arrow-straight Monty was probably the best golfer never to win a Major.

It will surely be the first of many Majors for the unflappable Morikawa. Only 5ft 9in and 11st 6lb, he is not a bomber who brings gasps from the crowd by lashing the ball unheard-of distances like Bryson DeChambeau, Matthew Wolff and Cameron Champ.

But what he can do supremely well is to harness the priceless assets of having an old head on young shoulders, a metronomic ability to hit fairways and a coolness under pressure that many famous names would walk barefoot across broken glass to possess.

Morikawa, winning for the second time since lockdown was eased, takes a well-earned break for this week’s Wyndham Championship at the Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina. Brooks Koepka and Webb Simpson head a strong cast, Koepka despite flopping when push came to shove  at the weekend.

Niggled by a knee problem, the former world number one is talking a good game but he has lost consistency and confidence. Even at 10-1, he is easy enough to swerve.

Much more reliable is Simpson who has so much going for him that he is the main bet. For one, he’s in his home state and although denied his usual North Carolina fan support because the PGA Tour continues to be played without a public maybe for the rest of the year, he will still be very much in his comfort zone.

His form on Sedgefield’s birdie-strewn 7127-yard par 70, where Brandt Snedeker posted a rare 59 two years ago on the way to his second Wyndham success, is compelling as champion in 2011 and runner-up the past two years. Plenty of high finishes in between.

Webbo is in cracking current form too he’s, a dual winner this year, at Phoenix and Heritage, plus a bunch of decent finishes such as 12th in the big WGC event at Memphis.

Also worth an investment is Si Woo Kim, fifth to JT Poston here last year and a course winner at 21 by five fat strokes in 2016, the South Korean’s breakthrough in the States.

The following year Kim outclassed elite company in the Players Championship at Sawgrass and should have clinched a third victory when surrendering a good lead at the 2018 Heritage and going down in a play-off.

Never the most consistent, he looked on good terms with himself when placing 13th at Harding Park alongside Patrick Reed last week, shooting in the 60s all four rounds. Reed is in decent form and must also go on the short-list.

Last week Casey had the best Major of a long career at age 43. If not mentally fatigued by such a bold effort, the expatriate Englishman should contend but Justin Rose did not bring his A game to the party and owed a top-ten finish to a razor-sharp short game.

Snedeker has nothing on his 2020 record to suggest he will win a third Wyndham while Tommy Fleetwood  needs to improve on last week’s disappointing effort. Defending champion JT Poston and Brendon Todd are North Carolinians who hold each-way claims and a 1-2-3 for the Turpentine State is not out of the question.

At least 20 under par will be required for victory, hot putters needed – a sticky and wet week ahead with rain scheduled every day.

Best bets:

3pts each-way Webb Simpson at 10-1

2pts each-way Si Woo Kim at 33-1

1pt each-way JT Poston at 50-1

1pt each-way Patrick Reed at 20-1

0.5pt each-way Brendon Todd at 33-1

Who’d be a golf tipster? We put up Andy Sullivan last week and he finished 41st. Seven days later he wins for the first time since 2015, that annus mirabilis when he copped  three times and made the 2016 Ryder Cup team.

The cheeky chappie from Nuneaton didn’t just win at Hanbury Manor, he blitzed the English Championship field by seven shots and more. Sully did his winning in clusters in 2015 so might easily go back to back.

The European Tour moves on to Wales for the next two legs of the six-week U.K. Swing,

both tournaments being played unusually on the same course, the Celtic Manor TwentyTen, so named because it was created for the 2010 Ryder Cup.

It’s the Celtic Classic up first with the post-Covid debut of Belgian bomber Thomas Pieters. If you wonder where this world-class operator had got to, he’s been playing dad to his first child Florence, born July 24.

If he doesn’t lose the head and is not creaking with rust, this fiery character and four-time winner has all the tools to demolish an ordinary field headed by Sullivan.

It was great to see Jamie Donaldson posting solid finishes at the Hero and the English Championship. Once a Ryder Cup hero who scored three out of four in the 2016 match, the Welsh-born Jamie has been through the mill since, an accident with a chainsaw being followed by a wrist injury. A serious confidence boost was needed and, despite missing a few short putts, last week will have done him a power of good.

Watch out for South African newcomer Wilco Nienaber, only 20 and bursting with talent and ambition. Coming in at the last minute when the tour banned American golfer John Catlin and his caddie for breach of Covid-19 protocol, he shot four rounds in the 60s at Hanbury Manor and, unlike many in the line-up, can look forward to a golden future.

Another South African, Brandon Stone, looked sharp when finishing sixth on Sunday, and can improve on that. A wet week in store.

Best bets:

2pts each-way Thomas Pieters at 20-1

2pts each-way Andy Sullivan at 12-1

1pt each-way Jamie Donaldson at 66-1

0.5pt each-way Wilco Nienaber at 66-1

0.5pt each-way Brandon Stone at 40-1

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