Tommy Fleetwood’s never-nearer fourth place finish at The Open meant a third successive payout for this column’s ‘main bet’, his full place at 40-1 following wins for J.T Poston (50-1) and Xander Schauffele (18-1).
Whilst this week’s pair of main tour events are very much ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show, ‘ bettors get no more for backing a 30-1 winner in The Open as you do a lower-class event, so plough ahead even if stakes are reduced.
Final leaderboard from #TheOpen
1. Cameron Smith -20 🏆
2. Cameron Young -19
3. @McIlroyRory -18
T4. @TommyFleetwood1 -14
T4. Viktor Hovland -14
T6. @HarmanBrian -13
T6. @DJohnsonPGA -13
T8. @JordanSpieth -12
T8. @B_DeChambeau -12
T8. @Patrick_Cantlay -12
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 17, 2022
The DP World Tour returns to Hillside in Southport for the Cazoo Classic, and for only the second time in recent history following the 2019 British Masters. A ‘proper’ links course, the wide fairways are fairly simple to find, but any miss will cause approach shots to be made from tangly rough onto greens without the expected run-offs, but hold the ball up with what one reviewer described as ‘cloying rough’.
How good is it? A pre-LIV Greg Norman called the back-nine the “best in England” and, whilst we have little course form to go on, the 2019 leaderboard contains many references to renowned links correlations Qatar, Scottish Open, Wentworth, and Dubai Desert Classic.
The last-named event is of particular interest, with 2019 joint-second placed Bob MacIntyre having a third and eighth place finish at the DDC, whilst fellow runner-up Matt Wallace has a similar finish in the sand. Go back four shots to sixth place and Paul Waring finished a shot behind Wallace in the 2019 running.
Look at it from the winners at The Emirates and all the last dozen (or so) winners have form on linsky tracks. It may not be the be-all-and-end-all, but it looks a very good pointer. Players will need to have their irons dialled in.
Over on the PGA Tour, the 3M Open asks some of the beaten Open candidates a question in much calmer waters, and with the course being described by its tournament founder as something of a fun ride – “We want birdies and train wrecks, and we don’t want to be the hardest golf course on the tour” – expect top class drivers to give themselves chances from around 160-175 yards. Aggressive play counts for a lot, a tidy game around the green saves the punitive bogey, and putting will always help. Think of Poston’s victory at Deere Run. That.
Here’s my idea of the best bets on this week’s cards:
Cazoo Classic - Main Bet
Antoine Rozner – 28-1 (5 places)
Whilst thinking twice about putting one up from the top of the market, it’s tough to think that all the top dozen will be out of the frame.
Many, such as Dunhill links supremo Thorbjorn Oleson and current tee-to-green king, Romain Langasque, hold obvious claims in this grade, but it’s the French two-time desert winner that gets the vote from the top.
Since being undefeated at the 2016 Arnold Palmer Cup, Rozner has steadily climbed the ranks, winning back-to-back on the Challenge Tour before nabbing a trophy in each of the last two seasons.
The win at the lower level in Spain catches the eye, beating Rasmus Hojgaard, Adrian Meronk and Matt Baldwin, whilst DP winners Ewen Ferguson and Richard Bland surround links specialists Matthew Jordan and Callum Hill further down the board. The pair of European wins give even more evidence to his chance.
After a solid run of form, the Frenchman shot a second-best round of the day 64 at The Emirates to overhaul Matt Wallace (tied second here in 2019) and Andy Sullivan, both proven links players, whilst the rest of the top ten contains the likes of Ross Fisher, Mark Warren and Joakim Lagergren. With Oleson in 13th, it’s tough to get away from a links connection.
Fast-forward a few months and after a top-10 at the Dubai Desert Classic, Rozner holed a 60-odd-foot birdie putt at the last to break the heart of Guido Migliozzi and Darren Fichardt in Qatar, both with relevant form. Close behind, the names Donaldson, McEvoy, Paisley, and Stone give a delicate ring to the formline.
At both events, with wide-enough fairways that reward good iron play, Rozner finished inside the top-10 for approaches, all leading to a top-four finish in the ball-striking league.
Recent form reads well enough for this week – an always-prominent fifth place at the Lakes course in Spain, 21st at the Dutch Open (16th into Sunday, and contended by two links specialists), 15th in Germany in another correlative event and 13th at Mount Juliet (ninth after the third round, and another event with that form) – and he ranks inside the top-12 for both approaches and tee-to-green over the past eight weeks.
The 29-year-old has almost certainly not reached his ceiling, and after a progressive profile over the last four seasons, can make it three wins in as many years.
Cazoo Classic - Dangers (all 5 places)
Alexander Bjork 30-1
Lukas Nemecz 50-1
Jack Senior 66-1
Ewen Ferguson 80-1
Quality ball striking is required this week, and the first three named above all appear in the top-20 for both iron play and tee-to-green over the last couple of months.
Alexander Bjork‘s win in China in 2018, from a field of similarly quality ball-strikers and links players, should have been the catalyst for more success but it hasn’t happened as yet.
The 32-year-old Swede should have won at Walton Heath in the Autumn of the same year (again from a crowd that loves the uncertainty of links golf) and it’s been that type of career, with close shaves at Qatar, Valderrama and the Forest of Arden showing the type of course he revels in.
There is nothing wrong with running-up to Collin Morikawa at the 2021 season closer, whilst a 2018 top-six at the Desert Classic is the proverbial icing on the cake.
Austrian Lukas Nemecz ranks fourth on the field’s tee-to-green lists, so was always worth a look or two.
The 11-time Austrian National champion (is that good?) has three wins on the Alps tour which, if nothing more, sit nicely alongside this season’s top-20 finishes at Kenya, the afore-mentioned Lakes, and just three weeks ago, a 13th in Munich.
Despite the quality of his finishes, it’s the stats that stand out for me. Ranking 16th for the full DP Tour in approaches and in the top-10 for overall tee-to-green, the 32-year-old continues to smash out the quality ball-striking skills that were seen on the 2019 leaderboard.
Ewen Ferguson‘s claims rest purely on the fact that he looks overpriced for a winner already this year.
We highlighted the Scot’s quality in our 2022 Players To Follow article before the New Year, so imagine the delight as he proved a tenacious winner of the Qatar Masters, just a few weeks after throwing away an overnight lead in Kenya.
It hasn’t been a perfect three months since, but the results do not show some excellent early play at five of his eight most recent starts.
Whilst the 26-year-old former junior and amateur star has a best finish of 21st place, after recent first rounds he has sat 10th in Belgium, eighth at the Dutch Open, 18th at the BMW International, 12th at Mount Juliet, and seventh at the Scottish Open. In between, Ferguson was 12th going into the final round at the Catalunya Championship.
Clearly, it’s currently a struggle to put it all together for four rounds, but they price him on those final figures, not on those spells of play that would be plenty good enough to contend at a links track he should take to.
If Jack Senior is ever to win on the higher level, it surely will be on a links track.
Winner of two events on the Challenge Tour, the wins at the Hydro and at Galgorm Castle may not be strictly links, but leaderboards often suggest at least a leaning in that direction, highlighted in no better fashion that his play-off victim in Ireland, Matt Baldwin.
Since then, it hasn’t quite gone his way, highlighted most obviously when in the final pairing going into the 2021 Qatar Masters before a final round 79 saw him finish ten shots behind eventual winner Rozner.
This year, the 34-year-old has twice finished top-10 in Spain, at both events being closer to the lead after three rounds, whilst once again, his Sunday round let him down when dropping from second place overnight to an eventual 37th.
It’s no gimme for sure, but there’s something still there about the former Lytham Trophy winner and Walker Cup player, and this might be the conditions to perform for four full rounds once again.
3M Open - Main Bet
Sahith Theegala – 25-1 (5 places)
In what is an event that offers a few high-quality in-form players a chance for a breakthrough win, the 24-year-old college superstar can finally land his maiden.
After making a splash when top-50 at the 2017 Genesis Open as an amateur (top-10 after round one), the Pepperdine three-time All-American became one of only five players to win the top three college awards – Haskin, Hogan and Nicklaus – in the same year, and the improvement hasn’t stopped since.
Just three months after making his debut, Theegala finished top-15 at the Safeway Open in 2021, before a season on the Korn Ferry Tour saw three top-10 finishes including a sixth-placed finish at the season ending tour championship.
The Californian then made an immediate impact at the top level, leading for three rounds at the Sanderson Farms, one of only six events at the end of the 2021 season.
He was back for more this year, having his nose in front for much of the Pheonix Open, to be beaten only by current world number one Scottie Scheffler, world number four Patrick Cantlay, defending champion and multiple major winner Brooks Koepka, and recent multiple winner Xander Schauffele!
A pair of 67’s at the Valspar saw him close to 7th by the end of play, and with a top-five at Muirfield, in another top class field, even those with just a passing interest in golf were pricking their ears.
It would have been no surprise had he beaten Schauffele and Poston at River Highlands, and bar from a strange decision on the 72nd hole, he would by now be a winner on tour. On the plus side, both players that finished in front of him have gone on to win since.
Top-40 in The Open last week reads perfectly well, and note he was top-10 at halfway, whilst I’m certain that you cannot compare this player to that which missed the cut here a couple of years ago.
The skillset fits in well with previous winners Matt Wolff and cameron Champ and whilst fellow youngsters Davis Riley and Chris Gotterup must be respected, having ranked top-five for tee-to-green in three of his last five outings, Theegala gives the impression he is only lodging in this grade. He is my one-and-done.