At the Cazoo Open, headline pick Callum Shinkwin justified his short price, leading after the third round and stretching clear to win by four shots.
Now on a run of 11th, eighth, fourth and first, he proved the adage, ‘Horses for Courses,’ something we may also see this week at Galgorm Castle, a tricky, tree-lined track that puts emphasis on accuracy off the tee and par-four performance. Finding the fairway is a huge plus, but from there, a solid iron game is required to find the greens. Miss those and the pressure mounts – those coming here with little confidence need not apply for the winner’s cheque.
Note that the ISPS Handa World Invitational is a novel event that has both men’s and women’s tours playing at the same time over the weekend, in alternate groups. It’s a genuine shame that it isn’t better represented and supported, but there should hopefully be alternative betting over the weekend, so keep them peeled!
Over at the FedEx St Jude Championship, the 125 starters will look to progress to the top-70 and a place at the BMW Championship next week. It’s a top class field and with the course another demanding strong driving, the better players will all be giving their shorter irons to small Bermuda greens. Miss the short stuff anywhere on the course and players will be giving the field a shot.
ISPS Handa World Invitational
Rather like Shinkwin, John Catlin’s chance stands out against others surrounding him at the top of the market.
Catlin has just as convincing form around a course he clearly plays well at, his win at the Irish Open in 2020 followed by a seventh place a year later at this event.
At both, the American ranked top-10 for approaches and tee-to-green, and whilst his putting stats couldn’t be more varied (plus-4 for his win, almost eight shots worse for the place) the nature of the track fits in very well with his wins around here, Austria and Valderrama, a marquee course for accuracy and patience.
In fact, the link to the Spanish track is strong.
Catlin (winner and 11th at Valders) beat Aaron Rai around here two years ago, the latter with an eighth and 25th from four starts. Surprise 2021 winner Daniel Gavins has an 11th place finish in Spain, runner-up David Horsey three top-25 finishes, third-placed Alejandro Canizares has made eight cuts from eight starts with three top-20s, whilst Masahiro Kawamura has recorded an eighth place from three cuts, the other two resulting in mid-30 finishes.
Whilst it hasn’t been the best of seasons for the 31-year-old, he is back on a course that will reward his driving accuracy (ranks third over the last three months) over length, and tee-to-green prowess.
The shorter Massereene Golf Club, used for the first two days alternately, won’t be a problem, and I am trusting his short game prowess comes to the fore once again.
No apology for sticking with the top of the market this week and whilst I strongly considered Ewen Ferguson and Jens Dantorp, it is the 27-year-old Scot that gets the vote.
Syme bounced back to top form when being the only serious challenger to Shinkwin last week and, although beaten by four shots, did nothing wrong throughout, eventually recording his third successive large gain from tee-to-green. That progression over the last three events around the UK has seen Syme record plus figures of plus-7, plus-6 and latterly plus-10, all courtesy of accurate driving and an average of around 13th for iron play.
Only his putting let the side down at both recent events at home but he corrected that aspect last week, and given he repeats form on courses he likes, can continue the run at Galgorm.
David Law is yet another to hold obvious claims on a short track that asks for accuracy, but perhaps he is better as a first round leader. The Scot has had seven starts in Northern Island, finishing 11th, 18th and 17th after three of his first rounds.
For the outright wager, I’m turning to near-veteran David Horsey, who was runner-up here last year after a poor set of results – four missed-cuts and tied-52.
The 37-year-old has a resume full of these types of tree-lined tight courses, with a win and places in Morocco, placings in Italy and Russia, and at Hilversumsche at the KLM Open.
2022 has seen Horsey post a rum set of figures but it is of note that his best effort is 5th in tree-lined Kenya, a place in front of last year’s winner Gavins and in front of Ferguson, who could have won bar a shocker on Payday.
Given all that, recent finishes of 56th and 30th read fine with this slight downgrade and, looking closer, the Englishman was ninth at the halfway mark in Scotland and never worse than his finishing position at Hillside.
Horsey has returned to form off the tee and continues to find an above-field-average amount of greens. As another that finds form at certain tracks, can build on some positivity coming from his bag recently.
FedEx St Jude Championship
If there is ever a week for the each-way double, this might be it, and my over-the-cliff Masters bet is the way to begin.
The FedEx events are generally won by the classier players in the world, and the 28-year-old can win his third event of the 2022 season on the way to his favourite course of the year, East Lake.
There isn’t anything hidden here with these top golfers, so it is tough to reveal anything new. However, why need to when the selection has won back-to-back, at the Travelers and the high-grade Scottish Open, before finishing 15th at the Open Championship?
Previous to those results, Schauffele finished top-15 at the PGA Championship and US Open to go alongside his nine top-10s in majors since 2017. Rested since St. Andrews, he can improve on what is a moderate course record to date.
Forgive last season’s finish outside of the top-40 as this was just a few days after winning Olympic gold and look more to the sixth place a year previous.
Expect a similar outcome.
This is tough.
First, it’s Tony Finau, a player that has always threatened but never got it done. And then there is winning three times in a row. Scottie Sheffler hasn’t done it, despite winning four events this year, so why should Big Tone?
Maybe here is why.
At the admittedly lower level 3M and Rocket Mortgage, the 32-year-old led the tee-to-green stats by a mile, the two events combining for a strokes-gained figure of over 30! Finau’s approach game remains as stellar as ever (a combined 14 shots in two events) and he has found an average of over 87 percent of greens!
Scarily, whilst this is impressive stuff, Finau has always done this type of thing. It’s his style. The difference has been his confidence on and around the greens, now taking advantage of the myriad of opportunities he gives himself.
Six top-10 finishes in majors since 2018 shows the class of the man. He is just ‘doing it’ now, so why not ride the wave? At the same price he was for moderate events 18 months ago, when struggling on the flat stuff, there seems no reason he can’t make a strong challenge this week and continue his progression up the ladder.
24-year-old Sungjae Im is a favourite amongst golf punters, and he can show why with a top placing at Southwind.
As with most of the field this week, finding reasons to back the Korean is easy. He is in form, comfortable in this company, and again has first-class tee-to-green figures, this time based on all aspects of his game, from driving to irons.
I’m not concerned about missed cuts at Brookline or the Renaissance Club, and I’ll even forgive a poor result at St. Andrews in an event he has never done well at. Instead, the positives remain so, with six top-15 finishes in his last 10 starts, including an eighth at Augusta, 10th at the Memorial and a pair of runner-up finishes over the last two weekends, at Twin Cities and Sedgefield, the latter a course on which he has always performed.
Sungjae was never going to catch the awesome Joohyung Kim on Sunday, but his putter never lit up, losing strokes on the only day that mattered and ‘spoiling’ a positive strokes gain of over four shots.
Nevertheless, the rest of his game was in good form, continuing a run that sees him rank fifth in ball-striking, sixth in total driving and seventh for par-fours, a crucial stat around a course with only two par-fives.
Again, the home pressure of The Olympics would have weighed heavily last year, so forgive the moderate finish here, and concentrate on how he performs in top grade – two top-eight finishes from three Masters efforts, third at the second FedEx event, the BMW, in 2021 and top-10s at the Sony Tournament of Champions over the past two seasons.
First round leader75/1
Got to have a longer shot, and after a season of progression, Irishman Power gives the impression he is ready to perform in higher class.
Sure, we need to go back a couple of months, but having improved from a world ranking of 429 in 2020, the 35-year-old Irish native found himself within the world’s top-50 and places in the majors.
Given the chance, Power didn’t disappoint, following an opening 27th in Augusta with ninth at Southern Hills and 12th at Brookline.
Subsequent results may look discouraging, but he lay seventh at the cut mark at River Highlands, and ninth at the same point in Ireland – the final numbers disguising some decent golf.
If ignoring The Open, Power comes here in fine form, and whilst it is probably not enough to take the win, there is plenty of value in any place return, as well as first round leader.
Early 2022 saw first round positions of fourth, fifth and second in consecutive weeks, whilst he was seventh after day one at the Byron Nelson and, as mentioned, in the top-10 after two days of the Travelers and Irish Open.
When a regular tournament, rather than WGC or FedEx, Power led the St. Jude field in 2018 before a 12th place finish and, a year earlier, lay 29th after day one before a second round 65 saw him leap to sixth.
Fourth, for par-4 performance for the year works well, and whilst that has dropped to around 15th for the past three months, there remains plenty of encouragement for backers.
Icing on the cake is his relationship with the local college, East Tennessee State, so he’s back home, in-form and just needing to stabilise his world ranking in order to continue to receive the privileged invites.