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Byeung Hun An35/1
Let’s not mess about here. Defending champion and pre-event favourite Jon Rahm is probably a gimme this week in Mexico.
With wide, welcoming fairways and holding paspalum greens, the Vidanta Vallarta course offers no particular challenge to anyone above average on the tour, and yet clearly has its bias. At 7400-yards and a par of 71, the Greg Norman track has been used just once before at this level, and it was the obvious factor in driving distance that contributed most to the leaderboard.
The Spaniard led home the driving distance stats last season with six of the next 10 players ranking in the top 12 for ‘bombness’. Is that a word? It should be. In newer parlance, go down to 15th placed Chez Reavie to find a player posting negative off-the-tee figures. If you ain’t hitting it, don’t come in.
As for the world number one, he came to Mexico ’22 having slipped from the very top to third place, his top-three finishes in Hawaii and at Torrey Pines not enough to hold off the charging Scottie Scheffler. This time, he arrives having won four events in nine starts, including the Tournament of Champions, American Express, Genesis and, two weeks ago, his second major. Even when entitled to be mentally exhausted, a week later he raised himself up the board at Harbour Town from 92nd after day one, to a never-nearer 15th by check-time.
If that is not enough, the 28-year-old has posted 19 top-10 rankings for driving distance in just 29 starts since the start of 2022, and 12 top-five placings for greens-in-regulation.
If Rahm wants to win, he does it at his leisure. It’s not my job to say lump on a short-priced fav, but there is no blame attached if you make him the standout of the year so far and act as such.
At 5/2-ish, however, he is approaching Tiger Woods territory and that should allow us to eke out a run from a trio of players for whom this course should suit.
At world number 16, Tony Finau‘s claims are clear and he may well be that one that offers a stonking each-way bet to nothing at around 15/2.
Amazing 😆🔥🙏🏾 https://t.co/pZQr5P616e
— Tony Finau Golf (@tonyfinaugolf) February 23, 2023
After 10 leaderboard finishes in majors, Finau was never going to sit on just a lone victory at Puerto Rico, a course with obvious correlation to Vedanta and with a history of long-hitting winners. That said, even the most loyal of fans could not have seen his four victories in under 40 starts.
Those wins include the 2021 Northern Trust where he beat Cam Smith in a play-off with Rahm in third, and a host of major contenders further behind. Flying finishes then saw the 33-year-old finish runner-up to Rahm here, and to Rory McIlroy in Canada, before beating lesser field by three shots at the 3M, Patrick Cantlay et al by five at the Rocket Mortgage and a Houston Open field containing Sheffler and Sam Burns by an easy four strokes last November.
Whilst he hasn’t set the golf world alight in 10 starts this year, Big Tone has made all nine cuts in strokeplay events with six top-10 finishes reminding us all he still has it. He leads the tour in overall approach play, significantly ranking 11th for irons from 175 to 200 yards and is in the top-five for total strokes gained.
Finau will enjoy the open spaces of this event, as he has done when eighth and 16th at Mayakoba, as well as bringing good memories after an improving set of numbers here last year – 71/68/66/63.
Like the favourite, Finau did not have to turn up at the Heritage last time – bizarrely ‘elevated’ considering its position in the calendar (a week after Augusta) – an effort that is easily forgiven.
Look around him in the market. Wyndham Clark is playing excellent golf but has thrown away several chances to break his maiden, including at the Corales in March and last week’s pairs event, the Zurich Classic; Patrick Rodgers owes his fans a few quid as another long-standing non-winner; Alex Noren really should have won on the PGA Tour by now but still lacks, whilst Maverick McNealy is another 35/1 or under that needs to find a bit more when in contention.
Finau is easily the most convincing opposition to the jolly, and I’ll back him up with a pair that may be on the way back to their best.
A single victory on each of the European Tour and Korn Ferry Tour are all that Byeong Hun An has to show for 12 years as a paid golfer, but the hints are there that something will happen soon.
Whilst more famous for that tribute song, the 31-year-old US Amateur champion looked as if both injury and loss of form would keep him from kicking-on from a six stroke victory at the flagship BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and it surely pleased most that he was able to win again after nearly seven years.
The Florida resident has shown enough since re-qualifying for the big stage in September last season, opening with an always-prominent fourth place at the Fortinet Championship before improving on a pair of mid-field finishes to be 17th in Bermuda.
2023 has seen the affable Korean-born player improve from outside the world’s top 200 to a current 144th after making all eight of his 72-hole strokeplay weekends, efforts that include a fast-finishing 12th at the Sony, 21st at Honda (top-10 going into Sunday) and sixth place in Texas, all events that are wind significant.
Benny then followed up his solid showing at San Antonio with a quiet 13th place finish alongside SH Kim at last week’s pairs event, certainly enough to think he should be contending on a course that will reward his current standing of eighth for distance off the tee, and will equally be more forgiving to his more wayward drives.
Having been seventh at the higher-class Valspar Championship and then winning the Corales, it is surprising that odds of over 70/1 are available about Matt Wallace, a player that won 10 events from 2016 to 2018.
‘Believe in yourself, your abilities and your own potential. Never let self-doubt hold you captive. You are worthy of all that you dream of and hope for.’
Roy Bennett pic.twitter.com/YSwSwFvEpl
— Matt Wallace (@mattsjwallace) March 27, 2023
With a profile that hardly speaks of consistency, the Englishman can find form from nowhere, as he did in 2021, when missing two cuts before 18th at Bay Hill and recording figures of mc/mc/mc before a top-15 at Shriners and fourth at the Zozo.
There was similarity to his play in 2022, missing eight cuts and a best of mid-60 finish before fifth and 18th on the DP World Tour and finding form at both the 3M and Rocket Mortgage in-between several missed weekends.
Although the 33-year-old has made just six cuts from 10 starts this year, he started with a pair of top-20s at Abu Dhabi and Dubai before being inside the top 13 through three rounds of the Honda, and then produced season-best results at Copperhead and Dominican Republic.
Being an opposite event meant Wallace needed a similar performance in Texas to qualify for the Masters, but ultimately he faded after an opening 69 to finish just inside the top 30.
The biggest improvement to the world number 115 has been in distance off the tee. In his four most recently completed PGA Tour starts, Wallace averages around 8th for driving distance, whilst his last three events (Valspar, Corales and Texas) see him average 15th for greens-in-regulation.
When asked by Matt Kuchar about his driving prowess, Wallace replied, “So I said it was the combination of driver, the confidence, a little bit different in club dynamics for myself.”
Although winning recently, the selection is not afraid of racking up quick trophies. He did it six times in ones season on the Alps Tour and three times at the higher level in 2018.
Perfectly happy in the wind and back being confident about his game, he can shake off missed cuts at Harbour Town and at last week’s Zurich Classic, to go on another solid run.