Golf, Open Championship 2018

Open Championship 2018 – Preview

It’s always difficult in the wake of a World Cup, particularly one as enthralling as this one, to raise ourselves up off the canvas and get back to the mundanity of the regular sporting year. Still, the Open Championship/British Open – whichever you’re having –  is a more than satisfactory quick fix in the wake of France’s victory in Russia.

With this year’s extraordinary hurling championship taking a week off and the Super 8s already a damp squib as predicted, Golf’s oldest major championship takes centre stage this week at Carnoustie. Despite Tiger’s return, which has actually been better than expected, the golfing year has been relatively humdrum to date. The Masters fizzed briefly on Sunday before the PGA Tour’s greatest pantomime villain prevailed, while Shinnecock Hills was memorable more for the contempt the players displayed towards the course and the USGA.

No one has grabbed 2018 by the scruff of the neck and despite the supposed intrigue of watching a multitude of bland young Americans repel a resurgent Tiger, something is missing. While Tiger’s return was an extraordinary boon for the sport, he has performed as a top 30 tour pro.

While Tiger’s spot as the all-time greatest is hard to contest, the game really needs Rory McIlroy to snap out of his relative malaise.  The Northern Irishman’s inability to add to his haul of four majors, the drought now stretching to four years, increasingly becomes a point of conjecture as each major rolls around. Of course, the use of the word drought in the circumstances could be perceived as lazy hyperbole but the 2014 edition of McIlroy rightly drew comparisons with Tiger and this being the case, the yardstick applied is major victories and not merely success at regular tour events. McIlroy himself has acknowledged that at the rate he was winning majors, four years “seems like a long time”.

The reality is that none of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jason Day and particularly defending champion, Jordan Spieth have enjoyed even temporary periods of dominance this year meaning the year’s most talked about moment was the victory for the much-maligned Patrick Reed at Augusta. From a business and viewing perspective, Tiger’s return obviously makes 2018 a bumper year for the PGA but on course, there has been little to get excited about. The majors generally shape the year but this year’s Masters and US Open will be remembered mostly for the unpopularity of their winner and host course, respectively.

However, with Carnoustie likely to play sympathetically to the big, and sometimes wayward, hitters, – McIlroy indicated that he and Jon Rahm simply took the rough out of play in practice on Monday by employing the driver –  the course having played host to some extraordinary moments in Open history and Tiger’s ever-narrowing window, the sense is that the 147th renewal of the Open Championship should add brio to an otherwise unremarkable year.

Our most vivid memories viewing golf consist of Tiger’s evisceration of the field and the course in Augusta 1997, the same man’s one-legged and most likely last major victory over Rocco Mediate in 2008 and the truly incredible, heart-breaking meltdown suffered by Jean van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999.

That Paul Lawrie actually won the tournament that year has become a mere footnote in time with the infamous shot of Van de Velde standing in the drain, pants rolled up to his knees, perhaps contemplating the cruel machinations of life now an iconic part of golf history. The moment, though truly harrowing for the Frenchman, managed to capture the perverse beauty of golf, a grown man barefoot in a drain wondering why the fuck he chose that club while millions watch on in sympathetic exasperation. While the moment was truly ridiculous, there was (with apologies to the great, Derek Mahon) also something sublime at the heart of Van de Velde’s actions that day.

Of course, Carnoustie also played host to Padraig Harrington’s first major victory, when once again the Barry Burn, crossing the approach to the 18th green, almost brought ruin to the chances of the most delightfully bonkers man in professional golf. Harrington somehow regrouped and saw off a petulant Sergio Garcia via playoff to spark an incredible run and perhaps the most remarkable, and unnecessary, swing change of all time.

Despite the run of dominance of Americans in the majors – five in a row and 14 of the last 20 – we’re going more Eurocentric with our picks but first a look at the honourable mentions. Favourite, Dustin Johnson’s availability at a price of 12/1 confirms both market uncertainty and a lack of a truly dominant force in 2018.

Tiger Woods (25/1)

At 25/1, Tiger probably represents a slightly more realistic price than on his return at Augusta when his odds were cut to less than half that price despite almost a decade out of contention at major championships. Unquestionably the most famous sportsman in this writer’s lifetime, there may be one last big one left in Tiger. It seems bizarre that people still marvel at the fact that Tiger was a complete asshole while all the time giving Phil Mickelson a free pass. That is until the big Californian showed his depraved, nasty streak by intentionally drawing a two-stroke penalty at Shinnecock Hills.

With the two set to engage in a $20 million head-to-head, sadly not on their own dime, a win for either would bring added lustre to a wholly unnecessary event. Tiger seems the more locked in of the two and he’s slowly coming to the boil but without the explosiveness and intimidatory skills of old, a 15th major seems a bridge or burn too far.

Rory McIlroy (18/1)

Four years ago McIlroy’s ceiling seemed boundless but his downward spiral to the oblivion of eighth in the world suggests the once anticipated era of total domination may be beyond the County Down man. Rather than catch Nicklaus or Tiger, McIlroy may just have to settle for being one of the ten greatest players ever. His round with Rahm appears to have piqued his confidence but without evidence of any sustained period of consistency on the greens, it’s difficult to believe that this is the week when McIlroy gets it right again.

Brooks Koepka (20/1)

There was a time when we slavishly punted on Koepka, picking up fairly regular each way money safe in the knowledge that he’d come good in a major sooner rather than later. And he did, just after we’d stopped showing faith in him. A resilient, massively composed defence of his US Open title last month means Koepka has thrown his hat into the ring as a genuine star and his Open form is extremely promising. However, we’ve built an ailing gambling career on a stubborn refusal to backtrack so, if victorious, Koepka will somehow have to try and enjoy victory this week in the knowledge that Straight Up Sport abandoned him before he made it big.

STRAIGHT UP SPORT PICKS

  1. Alex Noren (25/1)

Noren appears here as a form pick – winner in Paris two weeks ago – and with his best Open finish (6th) coming last year, the Swede merits serious consideration this week. Often a high quality, though slightly undervalued player, hits form in the month leading up to a major and Noren may well just fit that bill this week. A very popular gambling pick this week as evidenced by the rapid shortening of his price so at least if he fails in his quest for victory, a few of the more ikey gamblers will go down with you.

  1. Francesco Molinari (28/1)

The Italian veteran appeared to be faltering somewhat right up until the middle of last year. However, Molinari has seen a remarkable resurgence of late, culminating in a first and tied-second at his most recent starts, The Quicken Loans National and John Deere Classic, respectively. The 35-year-old has form on both sides of the Atlantic this year with a victory on the European Tour this year at Wentworth in May. Molinari always ranks toward the back of the pack in driving distance but is remarkably accurate and has tons of birdies in his armoury. If one of the leading lights came into the Open with a portfolio of work like this for 2018, they’d be half this price so the Italian looks a great each-way option.

  1. Henrik Stenson (25/1)

Removed himself from the ‘Greatest Never to Win a Major’ conversation with an incredibly dominant performance at Royal Troon in 2016. Accurate iron play, two top sixes in this year’s previous majors and allied to his victory in 2016, Stenson has placed in the top three on four separate occasions at the open.  Of this week’s field, only Tiger boasts a better record in the Open Championship.

  1. Jon Rahm (20/1)

The inevitable victory for Jon Rahm at a major will lead to a plethora of shit headlines: “Rahm Slam”…. “Rahmpant Rahm…..” but a wordplay-friendly name isn’t the only reason we’ve focused on the weirdly American accented, Spaniard. He’s a bomber, has an extremely impressive GIR percentage and putts well. Indeed, if a few more had dropped on the Sunday in Augusta, we wouldn’t have had to sit through the most muted green jacket presentation in history. Though he’s yet to leave any mark on this tournament, Rahm was victorious in Ireland last year and acquitted himself admirably during his defence earlier last month. There’s no question that Rahm will win a major before long and this week offers a tantalising opportunity. Either way, we won’t be making the same mistake we made with Koepka.

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Though still only 23, Jon Rahm looks primed to pick up his maiden, major victory this week.

 

Of the four picks, Noren and Molinari’s respective odds have probably slimmed down just a little too much but their form is irresistible. Stenson is hard to ignore when you consider the bare facts while Rahm, at just 23, is already pounding on the door.

Rahm has been one of the most consistent performers this year, like Molinari achieving victory on both the flagship tours and, despite the limited sample size, his game appears suited to links courses. Given his ability, form and reasonably attractive odds, we’ll side with the Spaniard to break the US stranglehold on the major championships.

However, as recent history has confirmed at Carnoustie there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip so don’t be surprised if the Barry Burn once more has the final say come Sunday evening.

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Golf, Shane Lowry, US Open 2017

US Open 2017 – Preview

The US Masters may have finally seen Sergio Garcia free himself of golf’s least wanted moniker – apart from worst player in golf- but the year to date has been largely uninspiring. This is what happens when Rory McIlroy, the unquestioned star draw of golf in 2017, is absent from competition. There are of course other star performers on the tour but McIlroy is the one of the few of the new breed with a personality and, like him or not, he does generate column inches.

Tiger’s gradual demise and likely realisation that further professional competition is now forever out of reach for the GOAT has cast a slightly forlorn light on proceedings of late. Still, the show must go on and today sees the players line up for the year’s second major, the US Open Championship.

Erin Hills, Wisconsin plays host to its first ever major championship and with the pre-tournament talk that Erin Hills shares similarities with the Daliesque Chambers Bay, at least in appearance, we’re extremely excited for what the weekend holds in store. The PGA Tour have gone to great lengths to quell any fears over the quality of the greens – Chambers Bay surfaces were just a little quirky – so, at least there should be less whinging from disgruntled players.

Holy Hill

The basilica on ‘Holy Hill’ adds to the unique setting of Erin Hills

At first, the course sounds like a misnomer as Wisconsin is Irish-midlands flat. But, due to the remarkable effects of glacial erosion, the course presents as “a links course on steroids” according to popular pre-tournament tip, Jon Rahm.

We took a slight sabbatical from writing and gambling, mainly due to the lack of money in both, but there’s nothing like a wide open field with an abundance of seemingly sound betting tips to get the juices flowing again. As usual, we’ll have a quick run through the favourites and then on to our value bets, which shall be conspicuous this week for the absence of future major champion, Brooks Koepka. On the basis of how effortlessly we make a fool of ourselves, Koepka will now in all likelihood win.

Favourites

It’s nigh on impossible to defend this title and at odds of 7/1, we’ll  be avoiding Dustin Johnson. Also, despite his maiden major victory in 2016, we still have visions of DJ’s meltdown in Chambers Bay dancing in our head.

Jordan Spieth 12/1 certainly showed the mettle to capitalise on Johnson’s slip-up two years ago but the Texan was in the midst of an incredible, perhaps once-in-a-career, run of form. We’re still not sure if he’s banished the ghosts of Augusta 2016 and even with a new, hot putter in hand, we’ll avoid.

Rory McIlroy at 12/1 has to be avoided due to his prolonged absence and uncertainty, at least from an outsider’s perspective, as to how he’ll fare on his return from a lengthier than expected injury-enforced hiatus. After his comments this week, he’ll want to avoid missing the now gigantic fairways.

Which leads us to Jason Day (16/1), the man who would be king at the end of 2015. A propensity for migraines and assorted ailments conspired to derail his game somewhat, at least from its imperious best, in the latter part of 2016. However, when his mother was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in early 2017, the Australian’s attention was quite naturally averted from the relatively minor distraction of the golf course.

Thankfully, the Queenslander’s mother, ‘Dening’ underwent successful surgery in March and with the important things in order in his life, Day has found form of late once more with finishes of 2nd and T15 at the Byron Nelson and Memorial respectively.

When he’s on it Day can grind with the best of them and while his general stats are down on previous years, these can be ignored given the year he’s had. He hits it long which is a must on the massive, 7,700 yard Erin Hills.

Obviously, given the small sample size of form there are risks involved but with question marks surrounding all the favourites an unusually big 16/1 on the Australian is difficult to ignore.

J Day

J Day has had a tough year but has returned to form in recent weeks. Our pick of the favourites.

And now on to our selections. While Thursday’s dreams are usually left lying in the gutter before the weekend is out, we’re feeling confident after our lengthy hiatus.

Before you continue with these aimless ramblings, it might be worth reading this excellent, reason-based preview from Betfair.

First, to our honourable mentions.

We’ll be avoiding Spanish wunderkind, Jon Rahm (20/1) but there is a lot of love for him at the moment. His form in the majors is a concern and it’s hard to tell how he might cope down the back nine on Sunday evening. Still, it’s been a great year for the Spanish and there will be plenty of people willing to ignore his lack of experience on this stage.

Branden Grace (40/1)  is a long-standing favourite around these parts and has very impressive major form, including his top 5 at Chambers Bay. Concerns remain over his form this year, however.

Justin Rose (22/1)  appears to only coming round from his Masters defeat at the hands of Garcia. Only those who have been defeated in such a fashion know of the mental toll imparted. Winner at Merrion in 2013, Rose has always struck us as a resilient soul but we get the feeling this one may have come too soon.

Before we move on to our selections it’s worth noting that five of the last six winners of the US Open have been in the top 15 of the Official World Golf Rankings at the time of the victory. None of our picks are currently placed higher than twentieth. To the foolhardy and the dreamers, do read on……

US Open 2017 Tips

  1. Kevin Kisner (50/1)

Kisner is flying at the moment, following up his victory at the De Luca Invitational with a 6th at the Memorial. The South Carolina native goes about his business quietly and is largely indistinguishable from the cache of promising thirty-somethings on the PGA Tour. Still, he is very much on an upward curve and his upper mid-table stats in every department mean he’s just the type to hang tough on a course that will play long but also very soft.

THE PLAYERS Championship - Final Round

The extremely understated Kevin Kisner has been a very popular tip for success this week.

 2. Louis Oosthuizen (50/1)

We had high hopes going into the Masters that Oosthuizen could deliver going in under radar, as the highly-talented South Africans generally and rather oddly do prior to major tournaments.

Oosthuizen, winner of the 2010 Open Championship, has a fine record in majors and narrowly missed out in Chambers Bay, where he came home like a train. He obviously handles links-type courses well and his pedigree in big tournaments speaks for itself. Also, and perhaps most importantly, Oosthuizen’s ability to scramble means he’s ideally suited to Erin Hills layout.

  1. Shane Lowry (55/1)

Lowry has now officially undergone that difficult Sunday afternoon – a seeming rite of passage for future major winners – after leading into Sunday in last year’s US Open before faltering on the back nine. Traditionally Lowry is streaky and he’s found form again of late and tallied with his top 10 in Chambers Bay, he may not be a bad shout at 66/1. It really comes down to his temperament though and whether last year’s experience will rattle him – think pre-2017 Sergio – or imbue him with the confidence to handle the pressure appropriately.

  1. Matthew Fitzpatrick to finish in Top 10 (11/1)

This hugely talented young Englishman has been tentatively tipped by some to make a major move this week in Wisconsin. Fitzpatrick, a recent winner at the Nordea Masters has recorded the most top ten finishes on the European Tour this season. Driving distance, at a tick over 280 yards, is definitely a concern but his results have been outstanding in recent months and a top 10 finish is comfortably within the twenty-two year olds reach.

While he may rank the lowest (No.69) by a comfortable margin in the OWGR, we’ve got a feeling Shane Lowry is going to very close this weekend. As mentioned earlier, the Offaly-man has a habit of hitting form for a few weeks at a time, slowly building and then delivering an outstanding performance. The past few weeks have shown a marked improvement and Erin Hills should be to his liking.

Offaly GAA Announce The Faithful Fields, Centre of Excellence Plans

With their hurlers set for a rough afternoon with Galway, Shane Lowry can give the Offaly faithful something to cheer about on Sunday evening.

It was only two years ago that Lowry broke the world’s top 20 and he is a player of immense talent, but one that really needs to be switched on. The predicted inclement weather will pose few problems and if Lowry has the mental side of his game in order, then he should be able to plot his way around the geological oddity that is Erin Hills. Should he keep his composure then Offaly sport might just have their greatest Sunday since they came in the back door in 1998.

S.U.S. Predictions

  1. Kevin Kisner @ 50/1
  2. Louis Oosthuizen @ 50/1
  3. Shane Lowry @ 60/1
  4. Matthew Fitzpatrick (Top 10) @ 11/1
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Golf, Open Championship 2016

2016 Open Championship Preview

Golf has really had to take a back seat thus far this summer. Irish eyes were primarily diverted to France, while the rugby team’s glorious (relative) failure in South Africa gathered momentum as the tour proceeded.

Even after the country was left emotionally winded by Antoine Griezmann’s double in Lyon, we looked to the remaining stages of Euro 2016 for our biennial dose of thrilling international football. Sunday’s final of course delivered an appropriately bland denouement to what was a bog-standard tournament but one still could not avert the eyes.

With soccer on its month-long hiatus and the GAA season only finally hitting its straps, the British Open could not have arrived at a better time for a golf season that seems to have passed us by largely unnoticed. Indeed, the biggest talking point of the season thus far has been a swathe of the world’s top golfers pulling out of the Olympics because of the Zika virus. And, because very few golfers give a shit about competing in the Olympics.

The notion that golf should ever return to the Olympics was largely misguided. With a calendar that is already chocked full of tournaments and the season’s endpoint barely identifiable, the decision to allow golf take its place at the Olympian table was risible and driven largely, perhaps entirely, by commercial incentives.

You see, Tiger was around when the PGA and its collective of power-hitting commercial partners decided to cast golf’s net further and deeper into the global consciousness. And, despite a cast of superbly talented golfers today, nobody caught the casual viewer’s eye quite like the aspirational Navy Seal, Tiger Woods.

Even in Tiger’s absence, golf’s ruling bodies thought their professional tour members would be cock-a-hoop at the idea of winning a medal that hasn’t existed for over 100 years at the back end of a gruelling major season. In many ways, and we don’t say this tritely, the zika virus provided the perfect way out for the game’s top players. Rory McIlroy must allow himself the occasional wry smile when he considers the interminable and downright idiotic furore surrounding his nationality status in the games.

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy being forced to explain why he doesn’t want to play in a pointless tournament that would greatly disrupt his schedule. (Courtesy Irish Times)

McIlroy has again been thrust to the front of the pack over the recent withdrawals, the Down man being the first to display the requisite fortitude and decline his opportunity to appear at what is a meaningless event for golfers. McIlroy very pointedly said in Tuesday’s Guardian that he “didn’t get into golf to try to grow the game.” And, why would he? That’s what the administrators, ad executives and frighteningly expensive PR companies are for. In a Ryder Cup year – a bit of a questionable tournament in itself – why would golfers wreak havoc to their schedule to ingratiate themselves to golf’s commercial arm?

Alas, enough of the rambling diatribe. Instead, let’s cast our eye to Royal Troon and the 2016 Open Championship. Sadly, this year’s tournament will not be accompanied by the unique old-world charm of Peter Alliss. Eighty-five year old, Alliss often brought the self-righteous brigade out in their numbers when he passed admittedly sexist comments, but the man is of a different time and his presence will really be missed this year.

Ricoh Women's British Open - Day Three

Though perfectly adept at putting his foot in it, Peter Alliss’ wit and boundless knowledge for the game of golf will be sorely missed. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

 

In the week when we saw the departure of John “take each game on its merits” Giles from our sitting rooms, it’s sad to see the last remnants of this insightful, sometimes irreverent punditry disappearing from our screens. Sure, Sky Sports will package a visually impressive broadcast but there’s little pleasure to be gained from seeing these eejits offer four days’ worth of tiresome banalities. Or from listening to Colin Montgomerie for any length of time.

Royal Troon last played host to the Open Championship in 2004, when little-known American, Todd Hamilton, usurped the world’s best to win the Claret Jug in the most unlikely of circumstances. Three of that year’s top five are back this week in Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and the hugely popular, Lee Westwood. Of those three, we’d consider a reinvigorated Westwood but, in any event, we’ll be looking elsewhere.

As usual, we have a run through the favourites –none of whom we’ll  be backing – and then on to our value picks in this week’s field. Sadly, next-big-thing, Brooks Koepka has withdrawn from this week’s field so the wait for his guaranteed maiden major victory will have to wait until the end of the month.

The Favourites

Rory McIrloy’s game is coming along nicely but he has yet to set the season alight. The current price of 11/1 is about as good as you’ll get on Hollywood man in major these days, but we’re inclined to hold fire until the US PGA Championship.

History favours the Americans here, so we’ll dispense with Jason Day (9/1), no doubt nursing some ailment, and instead look to the west. Dustin Johnson (9/1) has been knocking relentlessly on the door at major championships since 2010, so he must have been delighted to see the relatively callow Shane Lowry assume the final round lead in last month’s US Open. DJ had been in Lowry’s shoes before and knew the suffocating pressure that accompanied the position. Johnson won with aplomb in Oakmont – even allowing for a slightly confusing penalty – and his subsequent victory at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational means Wayne Gretzky’s reclamation project has clearly found a new level.

DJ and JS

Despite World Rankings , Dustin Johnson (l) seen here with Jordan Spieth has been the best golfer in 2016.

Yet, the relatively short 7000 yard Royal Troon course has us leaning instead towards Jordan Spieth (12/1), a man who appeared to be unstoppable 12 months ago.  Presuming the Texan has gotten over the most difficult decision in his life – apparently, he’s a “huge believer in Olympic golf” – the 22-year-old has a game ripe for the South Ayrshire track. Spieth’s lack of distance off the tee will be negated by the relatively short course and his scrambling and putting suggest he’ll be in the reckoning come Sunday evening.

It would be foolish, however, to try and brush Spieth’s Amen Corner meltdown from memory, especially as only Dustin Johnson has the proven ability to forget absolutely anything. Spieth’s single-mindedness and poise were widely lauded up until hole 66 of the 2016 Masters. He’s still a very young man but that kind of collapse rarely departs quietly into the night. Still, we’re inclined to think that Spieth’s steeliness will become a hallmark through his career and this weekend offers a perfect opportunity at redemption, particularly as he sails in somewhat under the radar.

JS Amen

Jordan Spieth will be hoping to banish the ghosts of his cruel meltdown at Amen Corner at Augusta in April. (Courtesy CNBC)

Now, to the business end of things, where we combine stats, other peoples’ opinions and the intangible gut feeling to pick a winner for the 2016 Open Championship. And, given that we’ve been absent for a while, we should point out that these selections are all about each-way value.

First, to the honourable mentions:

Sergio Garcia 25/1: This is one we mulled over for quite some time. Garcia has a superb history in the Open. Since 2001, he has a remarkable record of two second place finishes and a further six placings in the top ten. The Spaniard’s form has been very encouraging this year and his iron play has been immaculate all season. Still, for a player who has pissed his pants too many times on the Sunday of a major tournament, these odds are a little prohibitive.

Padraig Harrington 80/1: Definitely our favourite headbanger on tour but at 44 this seems a bridge too far for the three-time major champion.

Marc Leishmann 80/1: Hugely disappointing at the Masters but the big Aussie only fell in a playoff to Zach Johnson last year. Conditions will suit him but current form is a worry, although did tie for 18th at Oakmont.

On, at last, to our picks for the 2016 Open Championship…..

  1. Andy Sullivan 66/1

Might as well be up front with you on this one from the off – we haven’t heard Andy Sullivan being tipped anywhere. Still, cast a glance over his results and his steady development arc and it’s easy to see the appeal in the Englishman. Tied 23rd at the US Open, Sullivan has finished 6th and 5th in the last fortnight. There’s a glut of young English talent on tour at present – Matthew Fitzpatrick, Chris Wood, Masters champion, Danny Willett – not to mention veterans like Lee Westwood and Justin Rose, so Sullivan arrives in Troon with virtually no fanfare. Willett broke down the walls again for English golfers in April and it wouldn’t surprise us to see Sullivan emulate him on Sunday.

Sullivan

Andy Sullivan is the least heralded, though no less talented, member of the new breed of English golfers. Generated by IJG JPEG Library

  1. Martin Kaymer 50/1

Since his 2014 resurgence, Kaymer has played some solid if unspectacular golf. However, in recent weeks, he’s shown marked improvement and his 5th in France and 13th in last week’s Scottish Open suggest his game is coming to the boil at just the right time. Also, being a relentlessly proud and competitive German means that Kaymer was actually happy to qualify for the Olympics this week. All in all, a fantastic price for the 31-year-old double major winner.

  1. Rafa Cabrera-Bello 80/1

Cabrera-Bello is an intriguing prospect and comes to Troon on the back of a hugely impressive and more importantly, consistent season. Third in the WGC World Matchplay Championship, he acquitted himself well in Augusta and Oakmont with finishes of 17th and 32nd . While victory may be a bridge too far this week, the less heralded Spaniard in this week’s field represents excellent each-way value.  

  1. Zach Johnson 45/1

This price really has us puzzled. Johnson the defending champion and two-time major winner appears to have attracted little or no love from punters. Ice-cold under pressure, the Iowan has ignited a heretofore so-so season with tied eighth and tied tenth at the US Open and Bridgestone Invitational respectively. Last year’s victory came on the back of top ten finishes in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Open so there’s no question as to his ability to master links course. Add in the fact that Johnson has God on his bag and that price looks increasingly appealing.

ZJ

Defending champion, Zach Johnson, arrives in Scotland in terrific form and with little or no fanfare. Definitely one to watch.

We’ve gone for a more eclectic selection than usual, largely because these major fields throw up such uncertainty. For those who like to be guided by historical trends, it’s worth noting that an American has won the last six renewals of the Open Championship at Royal Troon.

All eyes will be on the ‘Big Four’ and a hotly tipped, Sergio Garcia, but we’re going to go out on a limb for Andy Sullivan. The last few weeks have proven that England is shit at football and voting. English golf has rarely been in better shape though and Sullivan is our pick to make an unlikely breakthrough at Royal Troon.

 

SUS Picks

  1. Andy Sullivan e/w @ 66/1
  2. Martin Kaymer e/w @ 501
  3. Rafa Cabrera-Bello e/w @ 80/1
  4. Zach Johnson e/w @ 45/1

For anyone having a punt on each way hopefuls Paddy Power are paying 8 places but at 1/5 of the odds.   

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Augusta Masters 2016, Golf

2016 Augusta Masters Preview

Of the eighty-nine players set to tackle Augusta National this week, there can surely be none more buoyant or ebullient than Jim Herman. After years of toil, anonymity and relative financial struggle, the thirty-eight year old enjoyed a magnificent maiden victory at the Houston Open last weekend. Herman’s reward was not only, however, personal gratification and a hefty pay-cheque, for as winner, he happened upon the final golden ticket. And, while Charlie’s ticket led to a psychedelic chocolate factory, Herman was the lucky recipient of the final spot in the 2016 US Masters at Augusta National.

Jim Herman

38 year-old, Jim Herman’s qualification for this year’s Augusta Masters was a genuinely heartwarming moment.

Once all-timers Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player fire off the ceremonial opening shots, Herman, a guy with designs on a solid share of the purse last week, will get to hit the first competitive drive in this year’s tournament. It would be trite to presume what thoughts are going through the genial Cincinnati natives head, but considering his rookie season came in 2011 at the age of 33, we’ll venture that he’s on a different plane to most this week.

This year’s Masters is presenting as a complete conundrum with a solid case to be made for all of the ‘Big Five’ and about a half dozen more.  Before we look to our value bets, let’s consider this year’s favourites, casting an eye first over 2015 champion, Jordan Spieth (15/2). For those with foggy memories, Spieth’s performance last year matched the then record-breaking feats of one Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods in 1996. Even having allowed himself cruise through the Sunday evening, the Texan came home on 18 under par suggesting an ominous portent, at least for his opposition, of things to come.

Of course, Spieth just about overcame Dustin ‘bet on him at your peril’ Johnson on the trippy Chambers Bay and looked set to take a complete stranglehold on the game. A quiet end to the summer saw more domination in the early season, but recently it seems that Spieth has been wildly wayward, spraying the ball left and right, showing a relative disdain for anything approaching consistency.

Now, to be clear, Spieth can get away with hitting less fairways than pretty much anyone on tour, given his uncanny ability to somehow find the greens from exotic locations. His putting is superb also, as proven last year and in his debut tied-second in 2015. And, yet, there is the nagging suspicion that his game may be slightly awry. True, it sounds crazy to ignore a player who hasn’t finished outside the top two in his only visits to Augusta, but given the slight unknowns, we’ll look elsewhere.

Rory McIlroy (9/1) will have his supporters this week, and his fourth place last year shows a marked improvement around a course which may still spook the Down man. It was interesting to read strength and conditioning guru Mike McGurn’s comments of the benefits of three hours of gym work daily in tandem with The Irish Times, Brian O’ Connor’s insistence that it is golfing acumen that really matters in those championship moments. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, and while fitness gurus may argue that physical fitness keeps you mentally sharp, it doesn’t give you the composure or fortitude to perform under immense pressure. McIlroy will definitely win here sometime, but for us that time is not now.

R M

Rory McIlroy appears to be going down the same route as Tiger Woods when it comes to gym work.

There’s plenty to like about Bubba Watson (11/1), nothing more so that the fact that he, like the San Francisco Giants baseball team, is on an even year symmetry of victory, after his 2012 and 2014 triumphs. A less-delusional, fact based guide may be the fact that the heavy rainfall last week will both benefit the big-hitters, McIlroy and Watson, while also making soft landing pads of Augusta’s traditional treacherous greens. Marsh Benson, the head green  keeper has endeavoured all year to return the greens to their most devilish, and heavy rain will have been the last thing he wanted.

An almost bullet-proof argument can be made for Adam Scott (11/1), the man the golfing world thought would implode without his belly-putter. Well, Scott has proved this hypothesis spectacularly wrong, going 1st, 1st, 2nd in an outrageously impressive streak earlier in the year. In fact, if we were betting on any one of the ‘big five’ and we happened to be rational folks, Scott at 11/1 would be the sensible bet.

In any event, we’re not and we can’t look past the extraordinarily locked-in, Jason Day (13/2). He followed victory in The Arnold Palmer Invitaional with an imperious week’s golf at the World Matchplay Championship, his victory coinciding with his rise to the summit of world golf.

Day’s game looked phenomenal at the back end of 2015, and having seemingly overcome his plight of injuries – an area in which he can admittedly be a bit Daniel Sturridge-like at times – the Australian looks to be performing as well as he has ever done. His putting is outstanding and, while not in the Watson or McIlroy realm of driving, his rank of 20th on the PGA Tour means he’s still well above average in this department. Last year aside, his form around Augusta is outstanding and it wouldn’t surprise to see a Scott-Day shoot-out on Sunday evening.

The reality is that the names we’ve mentioned so far, except Jim Herman – sorry Jim – all have exceptional chances of victory but there’s each-way value out there so let’s look further afield.

First, our honourable mentions:

Rickie Fowler 14/1: Proven performer at majors since 2014 and winner of the Players Championship last year. And yet, a little too short in price for our liking for a guy who still hasn’t won a major.

Phil Mickelson 18/1:  Three-time winner and king of this course, finding form at the right time. However, the age profile doesn’t quite fit and again neither does that price. We’d have jumped at 25/1

Sergio Garcia 55/1: Because you just can’t trust Sergio at a major anymore.

And, now, to our 2016 Augusta Masters selections…..

  1. Henrik Stenson 28/1

First up, Stenson may have never lit Augusta up but a best finish of 14th in 2014 means the course holds no great fears for the Swede. More importantly, after a bit of a dip in performance last year, Stenson brings terrific form to Georgia with a tied 3rd and a 2nd in his last two tournaments.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to like Stenson’s chances. A little glimpse at his season stats have him ranked as 5th in the strokes gained department and he makes a ton of birdies.

He’s experienced, has a good mentality and importantly comes to Augusta National with form.  Another player to, hopefully, take leave of the ‘greatest to have never won a major’ list?

  1. Mark Leishman 70/1

If you cast your eye over the recent winners of the Masters, you’ll note that the winner is extremely proficient in at least two of the following categories: driving, fairways hit, greens-in-regulation, scrambling, putting. Leishman definitely ticks the box for driving and scrambling, and the beauty of being a big-hitter is that even if you’re as accurate as Bosko Balaban, you’re still going to be closer to the green than the majority of the field.

For a guy that doesn’t win all that regularly, Leishman has excellent major form, 4th in the 2014 Masters and more recently a playoff defeat away from victory at last year’s windswept British Open.

Big price and a bit of a risk, but in this world of unknowns a really solid, each-way candidate.

  1. Charl Schwartzel 35/1

Schwartzel’s countrymen, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen won us a few quid last year, so we’re going to stick with the South African theme for our third pick. A winner here in 2011, Schwartzel has found serious form this season, with two victories on the European Tour and more recently success in March at the Valspar Championship.

C S

We have a feeling 2011 champion, Charl Schwartzel is going to be right in the mix come Sunday evening. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Look at this pragmatically. Schwartzel is by a country mile the longest odds available on any winner of the Masters this decade. The next is Mickelson at 18/1. And, other than Scott, Schwartzel is the only other member of that quintet to have won a tournament in March.

35/1 almost sounds crazy now!

  1. Brooks Koepka 55/1

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”

BK

Brooks Koepka ran Jason Day quite close at the WGC Matchplay two weeks ago. It’s going to happen. Soon!

Some day this bet won’t look so ludicrous.

The vagaries in picking this year’s winner at Augusta National mean the sensible amongst you will probably keep your money in your pocket. (For everybody else, see G.B. Shaw quote above) But, for what it’s worth, we’re picturing Day, Scott and Schwartzel locked in a titanic battle down the stretch on Sunday.

Enjoy it and take it all in, particularly the serenity. And the azaleas! There’s no other tournament quite like it.

SUS Picks – 2016 US Masters, Augusta National

  1. Henrik Stenson e/w @28/1
  2. Marc Leishman e/w @70/1
  3. Charl Schwartzel e/w @35/1
  4. Brooks Koepka e/w @55/1
  5. South African Winner 12/1

Shop around for your bets. Paddy Power are paying 7 places, but beware as it’s only on 1/5 of the odds.

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Augusta Masters 2016, Golf

Day Emerges As One To Beat

With the 2016 Masters at Augusta National on the horizon, it would be hard to suggest that golf has ever been more thrillingly competitive. Fittingly, the big three of new world number-one, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are in a dead heat at the top of the betting market. However, there is upwards of half a dozen more who will really fancy their chances in South Georgia next week.

McIlroy showed glimpses of a return to form over the weekend and given Spieth’s recent wayward struggles, it may be that his great rivals feel they have a slight edge over the Texan. Last year, Spieth hit incredible form approaching the season’s first major and by the time he came through in the bizarre, Terry Gilliam-like setting of Chambers’ Bay, it appeared that he could sweep the season’s majors.

However, a slow-burning, Jason Day hit his stride in July and by the year’s end, he appeared virtually unbeatable. McIlroy’s year was oddly disjointed by the unfortunate five-a-side injury suffered prior to the British Open but, the last couple of months suggest that he’s nearing his form of old.

McIlroy’s chances though, rest firmly on his ability to right his relative putting woes which have seen some wonderful iron play go unrewarded. Alas, this is not some something new for the Down man and it must have been a great source of frustration to out play Day down the fairways and then see the blade let him down. McIlroy is far from a poor putter but the rest of his skill set is undeniably superior and the reality is that the majority of Major winners rank in the top-five putters in that given week.

If Spieth has been wayward and McIlroy vulnerable around the greens, Jason Day has been simply imperious in his last two outings. It is worth mentioning that for all the praise of Day, he still only beat McIlroy by one hole in the WGC World Matchplay Championship, but one always felt that Day enjoyed the lion’s share of control of their contest.
Spieth obviously took the field apart last year at Augusta National but it is worth remembering that his form was red-hot in the weeks preceding the tournament. It would seem therefore that Day is ploughing this particular furrow and the Australian clearly has a fondness for the course, already with three top five finishes to his name.

We’ll be having a more in-depth look at the outsiders in the tournament next week -as there is some fantastic value to be had down the field – but the obvious challengers at this point outside of the ‘Big Three’ are former champions, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, and the newly crowned ‘best player yet to win a major’, Rickie Fowler.

Of those three, we’d be inclined to favour Watson – seeking his third Masters title – whose form mirrors that of 2014 when he also won early in the season. The presumption at this point, of course, is that all these players are going to hit their straps at the same time, which by and large, rarely happens.

Bubba Watson

Two-time winner, Bubba Watson, may emerge as the major threat to Jason Day.

Day has unquestioned form, while Soctt and Watson have also entered the winners’ circle recently. McIlroy, meanwhile, has shown plenty of glimpses of the right stuff, while Fowler may have had this one in his sights for quite some time.
The irony, thus, is that defending champion Spieth – in the week that he has been dethroned from world number-one – is being viewed, insofar as the defending champion can be, as something of an unknown quantity.

It’s virtually impossible to fathom a back-nine on Sunday evening where Spieth is not relevant, but his form has been patchy at best. Meanwhile, McIlroy is not at this point in his career fully comfortable with Augusta National.

Brooks

The rapidly improving, Brooks Koepka, may emerge as a very real threat to the favourites at Augusta National.

With that in mind, we’re inclined at this point in time to side with the red-hot form player in Jason Day, though our old favourite, Brooks Koepka, who lived with him for long periods at the weekend, amy be one to watch.

Full preview to follow next week.

Planning a stag and thinking of a premiership game? http://www.soccerstagz.com

 

 

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#Boxing, Boxing, Football, Gaelic Games, Golf, Horse Racing, NFL/Rugby, Republic of Ireland/FIFA, Rugby Union, Soccer, UFC

Straight Up Sport Predictions 2016

2015 was, by any comparable standards, an excellent sporting year. In the murky world of sporting politics, there was also the welcome downfall of FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter and the lurking snake Michel Platini. Meanwhile, we were treated to the rather unsurprising revelations that Russian athletics was involved in systematic doping and Lord Sebastian Coe is a bit of a dick.

The highlights included the New England Patriots winning their fourth Superbowl after a botched play call by Seattle Seahawks on the New England one-yard line. Almost one year later none of Pete Carroll, Darrell Blevins, Russell Wilson or the latter’s usual play-caller, God, have been willing to take responsibility for not giving the ball to this man (this clip comes with a Tipper Gore warning!)

Willie Mullins dominated Cheltenham and but for this fateful fall – horse and jockey will be back with a vengeance in 2016 – the punters, for once, would have had the bookies running for cover.

Ireland secured back-to-back Six Nations championships for the first time ever after the most dramatic day in tournament history, though the year ended on a diminuendo after an injury-depleted side, with the wrong man at out-half, fell to an inspired Argentina.

Meanwhile, Andy Lee dropped his WBO middleweight title in mildly controversial circumstances to Billy Joe Saunders. It was terribly disappointing that the champion did not get an opportunity to make either of his first two defences on Irish soil. Had Lee fought Saunders in Limerick the likelihood is that he would have retained his title, as boxing historically favours a hometown champion in a tight fight.

Carl Frampton twice retained his IBF super-bantamweight championship, while it would be remiss of us not to mention Conor McGregor’s stunning knockout of Jose Aldo in Las Vegas last month.

Whether you care to admit it or not, the country’s greatest success in 2015 was the qualification for Euro 2016. After the 1-1 draw at home to Scotland in June, dreams of a French summer lay in tatters. We remember agreeing as much with a few friends in a Cambridge pub on that dank afternoon.

But, then, along came Shane Long, Irish folk-hero Jon Walters and a few dollops of luck and qualification was realised after a relatively straightforward dispatching of Bosnia. A group comprising Belgium, Italy and Sweden looks ominous but that is June’s problem.

So, to 2016 and a combination of a few of our hopes and predictions for the sporting year ahead.

  1. After much humming and hawing, Manchester United finally rid themselves of Louis van Gaal.

There can’t be a Manchester United fan out there who will miss the dull, turgid aimless crap that has cost the Dutchman £250 million to manufacture. Rumour has it that Ryan Giggs has been in cahoots with Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish to launch a coup, though, at this point, it seems another despot, Jose Mourinho, will take the reins of this great club. All the while, Sir Matt Busby turns in his grave.

 

LVG

The end is nigh for Louis van Gaal.  (Courtesy of Getty Images)

 

  1. Thanks to the incompetence of others, Arsenal win the Premier League and Arsene Wenger claims that he has been vindicated in investing in a series of shite strikers.

Arsenal definitely have previous when it comes to choking in the second half of the season but at present they appear to be the most error-free side, which by extension makes them the most likely to win the league.

Wenger, to his credit, has been arguably the second best manager of the Premier League era but his sometimes delusional stubbornness has cost the team in the past. Yes, the board love him because the club is in the black but, let’s be honest, the fans couldn’t give a shit about that. They want to win the Premier League.

If Arsenal don’t win this year’s league, then they could be facing a very lengthy drought. There would be a sense of irony as well as a perfect example of the farcical treatment of modern day managers if Manchester City regained the title before coldly sacking Manuel Pellegrini. However, we can see Arsenal just about falling over the line though North London rivals, Spurs, will pose a serious threat.

  1. People accept that Irish club rugby had a great run, stop whining and focus on the international team.

The media of late have been lamenting the death of Irish rugby mainly due to the fact that the French and English look set to dominate the European game for the foreseeable future. Now, first of all, let’s accept that the provinces have seen their fair share of benefactors down the years while the Pro 12 was in an advantageous position regarding qualification to the old Heineken Cup.

We’re definitely not apologists for the European Champions Cup – for one thing, the BT Sport coverage is stomach-churningly ‘old-boy’ and elitist –  and the chips are quite clearly stacked in favour of the shaky Anglo-French alliance. However, like many before them, the Irish provinces have been punching above their weight for years. And, rather than whinge, let’s celebrate this fact.

Many of our finest rugby journalists have gotten in a tizzy of late over the potential downfall of the national side given the perilous state of Irish sides in Europe.

Well, we give you Example A, Wales. Bar the odd good season for Ospreys, Scarlets or Cardiff, the Welsh have a dismal record in Europe. Their domestic game just about keeps its head above water and many of their finest players have departed for more rewarding, foreign bounties.

Yet, for the last eight years, Wales have been a major player, both in the Six Nations and the World Cup. They were probably screwed by Alain Rolland in 2011 and in October their injury-ravaged side came desperately close to toppling South Africa in London.

Ireland need to strike a balance – and lest we forget, Ulster still have a great chance of making this year’s Champions Cup quarter-finals – but Wales have proven that it is possible to produce a top-class national side even when the domestic game is not exactly flourishing.

The next two years should see something of a changing of the guard and there is an abundance of talent coming through; Tadhg Furlong, Stuart McCloskey, Jack McGrath, Kieran Marmion, Jack O’ Donoghue, Garry Ringrose and CJ Stander. Meanwhile, there are the resurgent Craig Gilroy, Paddy Jackson, Tommy O’ Donnell and Andrew Trimble. Not to mention, the currently sidelined Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw and Peter O’ Mahony. Little cause for worry, then.

Iain H

With youngsters like Iain Henderson set to take on the mantle, Irish international rugby is in very safe hands.

The provinces may be entering a fallow period but the next four years appear genuinely promising for our international side.

  1. The All-Ireland Football Championship is overshadowed by further ridiculous disciplinary hearings and successful appeals.

The important thing to remember as an inter-county Gaelic football player is that a red card is just a speed bump and a suspension can be overturned if you shout loud enough. One of the most irritating aspects of Gaelic football is that players, and by extension, their managers and county boards refuse to accept suspensions after clearly breaching on-field rules.

Connolly & Keegan

Remember, kids, you can’t get suspended for this. (Photo courtesy of sportsjoe.ie)

Last year’s clear examples were Mayo’s Kevin Keane and, of course, Diarmuid Connolly’s ridiculous, though successful, overnight appeal against his red card for punching Lee Keegan. The technicalities of that case are mind numbing but the lesson is clear: If you get sent off in the 2016 All-Ireland Football Championship, you’ll be the laughing stock of the summer if you can’t get your suspension overturned.

  1. The Republic of Ireland escape the ‘Group of Death’

By our nature, we are strangely complex characters, in that we convey optimism and pessimism in equal measures, usually in the same conversation.

An example being:

“You see the draw for the Euros?”

“Yeah it’s a fucker of a group, couldn’t be tougher.”

“Do you reckon we’ll get out, though?”

“Ah yeah, don’t see why not. Sure, Sweden only have Zlatan. Belgium are a bunch of whinging bastards. And, to be fair, Italy must be getting old at this stage.”

“Yeah, fair point.”

And that is the logic that we will be applying this summer. Remember, Sweden are ranked below Ireland in the admittedly oft-maligned FIFA World Rankings, Belgium do not have tournament pedigree. And, Italy? Well, there’s always Ray Houghton’s roly-poly in Giant Stadium.

  1. Gennady Golovkin gets a chance to decimate a middleweight world champion.

Broken record and all that, we know. Throughout 2015, GGG has grown exasperated as Golden Boy and Roc Nation protected their Latin-American cash-cows, for fear of them taking a beating that would see their market value plummet.

Not this year, though. Golovkin has relocated to Los Angeles and L.A.’s Central American fight community – the majority of the US boxing community – already love him. Golovkin fights in the tradition of the great Mexican boxers and the fans have warmed to this immediately.

To be clear, until his last few fights, GGG has only beaten what’s put in front of him and usually it’s been brave fodder who need a pay cheque. But it’s the way he’s beaten them. Toe-to-toe, stand and deliver. He may yet be found out by a younger, though more experienced in terms of quality of opponent, Saul Alvarez. Or by the erratic, though hugely talented, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. But, either way, let’s see it happen.

Say what you want about Andy Lee but, at least, he had shown his willingness to go straight for Golovkin had he beaten Saunders. Golovkin has been well handled by HBO and promoter, Tom Loeffler in 2015. The all-important US fan base has been carefully cultivated and for Alvarez, Saunders, Cotto and Chavez Jr., excuses are now thin on the ground.

The Four Kings never avoided each other and that’s what made the 80s the golden era of middleweight boxing. After the most overhyped, underwhelming fight of this or any other era took place between Mayweather and Pacquiao last summer, boxing fans deserve Golovkin and Alvarez in 2016.

  1. People will finally realise that Roy Hodgson is a spoofer of Frank Abignale Jr. proportions.

Children of the 90s will recall the brilliant Stephen Spielberg produced cartoon sketch show, Animaniacs. Fronted by the Warner Brothers, Wakko, Yakko and their sweet little sister, Dot, the show also featured the wonderfully, simplistic Chicken Boo sketch.

Each week, the titular Boo would arrive into town, and, thanks to some excellent costumes and a propensity to stay silent, deceive people into thinking he was, for example, a spy or a sheriff. On each occasion, one apoplectic member of the group would plead, unsuccessfully, with his friends to recognise that this was a chicken in their midst, not a man. Eventually, in the last act, Boo’s costume would come off, his true identity would be revealed and he’d be run out of town.

Now,  Roy Hodgson is obviously no chicken but he has provided a masterclass in deceiving people by basically saying nothing and being a gentleman throughout his reign as England football manager.

Remember, this is the man who said before the 2014 World Cup that he believed he had that could win the tournament. Of course, what followed was England’s worst World Cup performance since 1958, which for someone like Graham Taylor would have meant an immediate sacking.

 

Roy Hodgson

That’s a man who knows he’s getting away with murder. Sorry, soon to be, Sir Roy!

 

Now, on one hand, you have to admire the F.A. for their trust in the manager, and invariably international managers get more time in the job due to the fact that they have a specific set of players from which to choose and no transfer window.

However, the odd aspect of Hodgson’s reign is that he is being hailed as this extraordinary motivator and tactician when, in reality, he has done very little with what is actually a very talented squad.

Hodgson, unsurprisingly, wanted his England contract extension to be finalised before Euro 2016 but FA Chief Executive, Martin Glenn has decided otherwise. Sorry Roy, but Chicken Boo always got found out.

  1. Djakadam wins a first Cheltenham Gold Cup for Willie Mullins.

It would hardly be a shock to suggest that the Gold Cup will be one of the racing highlights of the year but we feel this year’s renewal will be one to capture the entire sporting public’s imagination.

Even in the unfortunate absence of last year’s brilliant winner Coneygree – we will forever be loyal followers of the gutsy, Mark Bradstock trained nine-year-old –  this year’s renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup promises to be an absolutely thrilling contest.

The King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day revealed a couple of interesting pointers: Vautour is a classy horse but he may not have three miles in him; Don Cossack is probably the best of the lot but as his fall proved, you’ve got to jump them (see Annie Power); Cue Card is having a remarkable season but has question marks remaining over whether he can do it at Prestbury Park.

 

Djakadam

Djakadam and Ruby Walsh, seen here after winning last year’s Thyestes Chase in Gowran park. The pair may just finally end Willie Mullins’ wait for a maiden victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

 

Meanwhile, last year’s second and this year’s favourite, the Willie Mullins trained, Djakadam, was merely an observer over Christmas. It appears at this stage he will take the route through the long grass via the Cotswold Chase, a route less popular for Gold Cup contenders in recent years.

Recent renewals have been hard to call perhaps because of a perceived dearth of quality. This year, however, there can be no question as to the depth in the field. And, it may finally see Willie Mullins win the one he so dearly desires.

  1. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth will each win a major, while Tiger will, sadly, call it a day.

The depth of talent in golf is most probably at an all-time high. After his glorious 2014, it appeared that McIlroy would enjoy a reign something akin to Tiger but Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and an unfortunate game of five-a-side put paid to that.

It’s virtually impossible to separate the three, the Official World Rankings aside, so it would come as no great surprise if each of the big three took home a major this year. McIlroy is hurt by the fact that he still has not mastered Augusta but his form at the back end of the year was excellent and for the first time in a while, he may feel that he has something to prove to himself.

Rickie Fowler, Branden Grace, Shane Lowry and the rarely mentioned around here, Brooks Koepka, will have something to say but the battle between Day, McIlroy and Spieth will be the story of 2016.

In other news, Golfing Tiger is dead. Long live Golfing Tiger.

Tiger Woods

2016 may see the retirement of probably the greatest, and definitely the most influential golfer of all time, Tiger Woods. Vintage era Tiger was simply untouchable. (Photo By Jamie Squire/Getty Images for Golfweek)

  1. Conor McGregor continues to dominate U.F.C.

Anyone who has visited these parts before will know how we feel about Conor McGregor. However, to ignore his spectacular 2015, which culminated with the outrageous 13-second knockout of U.F.C. legend, Jose Aldo would be plain ignorant.

Thus far, he has does everything he has promised inside the octagon, and is the unquestioned king of the U.F.C. featherweight division. The jump to lightweight looks likely as he has acknowledged the difficulty of making 145lb as a relatively big featherweight at 5ft 9″.

Aldo McGregor

Conor McGregor delivered on his promise to dominate the UFC featherweight division, culminating in his 13 second K.O. of Jose Aldo. Now, in 2016, it’s up to the lightweight division. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Nonetheless, while U.F.C. fans and Dana White bow down to kiss McGregor’s feet, it will be interesting to see whether ‘the Notorious’ will have to join the queue before getting a shot at the lightweight champion, Rafael dos Anjos.

To McGregor’s credit, he lives and may someday die by the sword and, for this reason, all eyes will be on John Kavanagh’s star turn in 2016.

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Golf

US PGA Championship 2015 -Preview

So, after a fantastic year for golf thus far, all eyes turn to the final major of the year, the US PGA Championship, at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin. Known as ‘Glory’s Last Shot’, the US PGA actually began as a match-play tournament in 1916, but financial sensibilities saw the tournament changed to the seventy-two hole format we see today, in 1958. Match-play by its very nature threw up too many surprises so network television pressure was one of the driving forces behind the format changes, the thinking being that stroke play competition would more likely see the cream rise to the top, thus bolstering viewing figures. The victor takes the Wannamaker Trophy, named after the wealthy New York businessman Rodman Wannamaker who as well as being instrumental in setting up the first tournament, donated the trophy to the first winner, Jim Barnes.

If we include the bizarre, otherworldly and frankly fantastic U.S. open at Chambers Bay, the PGA will be the third major to be played on a links course this year, which must surely be a record. This week’s venue played host to Dustin Johnson’s now infamous 2010 gaffe –actually entirely golf related- when he grounded his club in what he thought was rough but was in fact deemed a bunker. A two-shot penalty saw the unfortunate Johnson drop from a tie for first, and a playoff, to fifth. To be fair to Johnson, Whistling Straits is heavy on bunkers, boasting almost one-thousand of the amateur golfer’s nemesis, although admittedly, a large number of the bunkers are not even in play. That year, Martin Kaymer would go on to beat Bubba Watson –surely the most annoying man in world sport- in a dramatic three-hole playoff. Of 2010’s three main protagonists, Johnson and Watson look in far better form than Kaymer, although it is always dangerous to write off a player returning to a course where he has savoured victory before.

After the most disastrous kick-about in history caused him to miss the Open Championship, world number one Rory McIlroy returns to defend his crown –won thrillingly last year from Phil Mickelson at Valhalla- and the scene is set for a tremendous showdown with flavour of the week, Jordan Spieth. World number-two Spieth’s year thus far has been fantastic, not dissimilar to McIlroy’s 2014, and he knows victory in Wisconsin will take him to the pinnacle of professional golf, and at just twenty-two, one Open Championship away from a career Grand Slam. There have to be serious doubts surrounding McIlroy though, given that he’s played no competitive golf in over two months, and any reasonable observer would be hard pressed to predict a McIlroy victory on Sunday evening.

Before we go to our picks for the week let’s have a look at the favourites. As we’ve said already McIlroy (8/1) is prohibitive, very much a partisan bet and one we’ll be avoiding. Jordan Spieth (6/1), who has owned golf this year, comes in as an unsurprisingly low-priced favourite and there is nothing in his game that makes us think he can’t win. If you’re inclined to back favourites then we can’t look past Spieth, whose major record in 2014 reads 1st, 1st, tied 4th. Dustin Johnson (14/1), he of the lengthening list of major meltdowns may be tempting for many but with so many players in form, combined with D.J.’s propensity to implode we’d advise the discerning punter to stay well away. Johnson is renowned –and this is probably putting it nicely- for his ability to forget past mistakes so perhaps he doesn’t even remember the 2010 PGA but, on the flipside, he may not have learned from it either. Bubba Watson (14/1) has been in fantastic form of late with a pair of second-place finishes and, as mentioned, has previous on this course. A sensible, if short-priced pick.

Of the favourites, the man we like is Australian Jason Day (14/1). Ninth place in Chamber Bay and a slightly unlucky tied fourth in St. Andrews, Day has is possibly playing the best golf of his life. A victory in The Canadian Open the week after the Open shows day is still very much in the zone and after knocking on the door enough times to bloody his knuckles, this could well be the week he breaks his major duck.

Where, though, is the fun in picking a winner from the favourites? As ever, we’re taking the road less travelled, in the hope that this week we will actually give you a big priced major championship winner. Wisely it seems, very few of you have listened to us thus far but we have a feeling we’re on to something this week. And so, on to our picks for the 2015 PGA Championship.

  1. Shane Lowry (50/1)

What a week for the big man from Clara. Anyone who saw the scenes from Esker Hills Golf Club last Sunday night will know just what it meant to see one of their own –and a bona fide star- win one of world golf’s biggest prizes, the Bridgestone Invitational Championship, in Ohio. Anyone who has even a fleeting interest in Irish golf would have been delighted for the Offaly man. The courageous way in which he won the Bridgestone, highlighted by breath-taking recovery shots on the 10th and 18th -reminiscent of Seve in his pomp- only serve to confirm the fearless audacity in Lowry’s game at present. Anyone who has paid attention to his career will know that composure, rather than confidence have been Lowry’s occasional downfall. Last week, with three major winners in his slipstream, the new world number nineteen took his game to another level and there is no reason to think he can’t bring this momentum to Wisconsin. Lowry thrives on links courses, has a scrambling game as good as any and as of last week knows he can beat a major quality field. For those who don’t subscribe to the theory of a major winner coming from the previous weekend’s winner, Phil Mickelson in 2013 (Scottish Open, Open Championship) and McIlroy in 2014 (Bridgestone Invitational, PGA Championship) emphatically buck this theory. Admittedly we got Lowry at 66/1 last weekend but we would still be getting involved at this price. One for the sound guy.

  1. Brooks Koepka (40/1)

Now, anyone who’s been following our column may feel –indeed a friend recently told us as much- that we’re combining borderline obsession with the flogging of a dead horse when it comes to Brooks Koepka in this year’s majors. We, however, have seen remarkable consistency married to measurable progress – 33rd in the Masters, 18th in the U.S. Open, 10th in the Open- for the man who we feel can go on to win multiple majors. Koepka has placed in the top 25 in his last six events bookended by a 3rd at the St. Jude Classic and 6th at the Bridgestone Invitational last week, where he was under par in every round. True, he’s a pretty poor at scrambling but this is negated by the fact that he picks up so many birdies. Further, he finished in the top 10 in St. Andrews, so it appears he is suited to links courses. And, just before you shout ‘bullshit’ be mindful of the fact that three of Koepka’s four victories on the European Challenge Tour came on links courses so this isn’t a case of us plucking from the fantasy department. Koepka has trended in the right direction throughout major season and, given his form and ability we think he’s hard to ignore at this price.

  1. Louis Oosthuizen (33/1)

Despite much head scratching, we still can’t fathom why this season’s best major performer, not named Jordan Spieth, is available at such a decent price. Tied 2nd at the U.S. Open and 2nd at the Open, Oosthuizen was agonizingly denied at St. Andrews in a playoff defeat to Zach Johnson. Perhaps his relatively poor showing last week, leading to a forty-second placed finish –the last ten PGA champions have finished no lower than twenty-second in the Bridgestone since 2006- is the reason the affable South African is being avoided. Fear not, however, as Oosthuizen’s last two excellent major performances have been preceded by tied 73rd at the Greenbriar Classic and a slightly less than imperious withdrawal at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. The 2010 Open Championship winner simply knows how to step up on the big occasion and, flying in the face of all reason given his past performances this season, comes to Whistling Straits with little or no fanfare at a very enticing price.

  1. Branden Grace (70/1)

You’ve gotten this far so you know it’s time for the slightly left field pick. New Zealand’s Danny Lee (100/1) is in tremendous form but has to be avoided as he missed the cut in both U.S. Open and Open Championship. There seems to be a lot of love from Americans for Robert Streb (90/1) and while his form is also tremendous he is yet to win on tour this year and for us that’s just too much of a reach.

Instead, our final pick goes to South African Branden Grace. Already a two-time winner on the European Tour in 2015, Grace followed a tremendous fast-charging tied 4th finish at the U.S. Open with a tied 20th at the Open Championship. Last week’s tied 17th in the W.G.C. is clear evidence that Grace’s game is in excellent nick and he seems primed for a charge at a maiden major victory. With so many sub-plots surrounding the favourites, Grace is another form golfer who will arrive at Whsitling Straits free from any external pressure.

This week’s PGA Championship will hopefully mark the high point in what has been a tremendous year thus far for golf. A virtuoso performance from Spieth at Augusta, an age-defying, gritty performance from the same man coupled with a Johnson meltdown at Chambers Bay and a classic shootout at St. Andrew’s. We have seen the emergence of some quality golfers and, of course, the sublime rise of Jordan Spieth as Rory McIlroy’s likely sparring partner for years to come. McIlroy has the best game on tour but Spieth has the best putting and incredible composure for a twenty-two-year-old. You feel the world number-one will have to dig phenomenally deep to hold off not only Spieth but the rest of this tremendous field with a number of the big guns coming to the boil at just the right time. There is an undeniable wave of optimism surrounding Irish golf this week and imagine the excitement which would greet a maiden major win for Shane Lowry or an incredible comeback victory for Rory McIlroy. Statistics and circumstances suggest otherwise but anything is possible in this curious, oddly magnificent old game.

 

U.S. PGA Championship 2015 Picks

  1. Shane Lowry e/w @ 50/1
  2. Brooks Koepka e/w @ 40/1
  3. Louis Oosthuizen e/w @ 33/1
  4. Branden Grace e/w @ 70/1
  5. Danny Willet Top 10 @ 8/1
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Open Championship 2015

Open Championship 2015 – As the Dust Settles

Zach Johnson victorious with an assist from the Bible, while McIlroy is missed but not that much.

In a continuation of a summer of unseasonably high winds, the Open Championship saw a Monday conclusion for only the second time since 1860 –the other being 1988 – with Zach Johnson picking up a second major victory, eight years subsequent to his maiden success at Augusta. A devout Christian, Johnson relied on a biblical verse –Psalms 24:17 as it happens- to provide focus and calm throughout his final day’s play, right up until Louis Oosthuizen’s putt rolled by the cup on the twenty-second and final green of Monday’s play to give Johnson a deserved if unexpected win. Truly though, it was Johnson’s terrific handling of inclement conditions allied with an extremely fluent putter which led to victory for one of the world’s tidiest –in a sporting context- and most consistent players over the last three years. In the early afternoon, the leaderboard was an unsettled jumble of names with the top five positions in constant rotation particularly as the front nine holes were negotiated. The elements do not aid a player around the entirety of a links course however, and through the back nine the wind at St. Andrews bore its teeth, putting a defiant halt to any highfalutin notions of a course record.

Jordan Spieth, discarded by history, for now at least, by just a few inches was valiant in defeat, while his playing partner, Jason Day -after four seconds at majors in serious nearly-man mode- was left to rue some pretty ordinary iron play on his way back as he too missed the playoff by a shot. Without dwelling on Spieth –particularly in a week where he tied for fourth- it is hard to ignore the nervelessness and resilience that are to forefront of his game, not to mention his phenomenal putting, which will assuredly lead to many more successes at major championships. Spieth’s achievements will, and indeed already have demanded endless attention, so it would be remiss, and frankly ignorant to ignore the Champion Golfer of the Year, Zach Johnson. Humble and earnest, the archetypal mid-westerner, the thirty-nine year old was philosophical in noting that his patience this week garnered the ultimate prize after he missed out on a playoff with Spieth and Tom Willis just a week earlier at the John Deere Classic.

It was somewhat interesting that Johnson was led to say that it was the Bible that provided him with patience, while also acknowledging that his management of the course and superb putting were equally important in getting him over the line. Sportspeople, Americans in particular, are well known for crediting a large chunk of their ability and prowess to God –in their preferred form- while often overlooking the fact that it was their immense skill, dedication and ability which probably lead them to success. And, Zach Johnson is as god-fearing a man as the state of Iowa has produced. Putting your beliefs or lack thereof aside, Johnson’s reliance on the bible’s teachings is no more preposterous or unusual than attending a sports psychologist. The benefits of psychology to sportspeople are unquestioned, but if Johnson has found solace and direction in a book –as many others have- then why not?

Testing the general attitude after Monday’s final round, it was difficult to say that there was excitement surrounding the American’s victory. It goes without saying that, as a two-time major winner, the thirty-nine-year-old is an immensely talented golfer. Nonetheless, colourful characters are far more appealing and it is unfortunate –purely from a superficial aspect- that Johnson’s blandness is, oxymoronically, his standout characteristic. One suspects he could not care less but with so many romantic (Paul Dunne, Padraig Harrington) and historic (Jordan Spieth) possibilities available the Open Championship 2015 ended on somewhat of an anti-climax, although in the context of a three-way four-hole playoff that may be a hard point to sell.

A quick word on Rory McIlroy. While any tournament is the lesser for his absence, it is fantastic to see that golf does not rely on his presence in the same manner it used on Tiger Woods in the 2000s. For many reasons –none more obvious than Tiger breaking down the stuffy, antiquated, interminably white door of golf for minority competitors- Woods was a unique, once in a generation player whose impact was farther reaching than perhaps any sportsman before or since. Woods broke down barriers and made golf cool, accessible and appealing for quite literally millions of people. McIlroy does have remarkable box office draw however, as proven by the global adulation garnered on him after last year’s double major triumph. Still, his loss has undoubtedly been tempered by the earlier than expected arrival of Jordan Spieth as a true player but also by the more pronounced depth in the field. In any event, McIlroy’s absence proved comprehensively that the show goes on, while also whetting the appetite for his and Spieth’s countless, future showdowns.

The recent dominance by McIlroy and Spieth has made many of us overly expectant that virtually every major in the foreseeable future will be a two man argument. While they are undoubtedly the two best golfers in the world, they are not the best every week as proven so clearly by Zach Johnson. Spieth and McIlroy may eventually take each other to different planes of brilliance –as Federer and Nadal once did- but the chasing pack are not going to step aside and wilfully admire their exploits. This week the elder empire struck back. And, with thanks to an impeccable putter and some reassuring scripture, the thirty-nine-year-old Zach Johnson railed, ever so politely, against those who say golf is becoming the exclusive preserve of young men.

             

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Open Championship 2015

Open Championship 2015 – Preview

Open Championship – Old Course, St. Andrews 16th – 19th July 2015

According to all-time leading major winner, Jack Nicklaus, “if a golfer is going to be remembered, he must win at St. Andrews.” Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, the two greatest of all-time have conquered the storied Old Course twice. This week Jordan Spieth has the chance to join some rarefied air with a maiden victory on perhaps the most famous golf course in the world. Victory for Spieth in Scotland would see him match Ben Hogan as the only other winner of the first three majors of the year while simultaneously leap-frogging the unfortunately sidelined Rory McIlroy at the summit of their game. All this at the Home of Golf, St Andrews, a course that possesses a palpable sense of magic for golf fans the world over.

McIlroy’s now well-documented ankle ligament injury brought about as the result of a game of five-a-side soccer –as it is actually often referred to in Ireland- came at an incredibly inopportune time for the County Down man. Obviously, injury is never greeted enthusiastically but to do so just a fortnight before attempting to defend the Open championship with a fast charging Spieth in the rearview must be particularly jarring. The Texan is on a seemingly unstoppable surge at present and next Sunday we could well see him add the penultimate leg of the yet to be accomplished quest of winning all four majors within the calendar year.

Fans of generic American courses probably won’t agree but for us The Open Championship –always played at a links course- is the finest of all the majors. And there is no more impressive setting for a tournament than the fabled St. Andrews Links near Fife on Scotland’s eastern coast. Links golf has a certain rawness and elemental magic to it, something which parkland courses, for all their serene beauty, can rarely offer. Augusta National admittedly proffers a different, more sedate kind of charm. A true links is a wild beast, often largely dependent on the whims of both the elements and the ocean. If the wind starts to blow then players are faced with the type of challenges they rarely encounter on the regular Tour.

St Andrews though is not quite as punishing as the likes of Carnoustie or Royal Birkdale, the scenes of Padraig Harrington’s famous, dual triumphs. The Old Course’s expansive fairways invariably allow for Uzi-like waywardness off the tee, but those who do end up in the rough will pay for their sins. The key to mastering the venerable, Old Course –which has seen a number of alterations since Louis Oosthuizen destroyed the field when the Open was last staged at St Andrews in 2010- is forming a strategy to avoid the multitudinous bunkers while negotiating the sprawling double-greens. Even casual fans will be familiar with the ominous ‘Hell Bunker’ on the fourteenth and the ‘Road Hole Bunker’ on the approach to the penultimate green.  Patience is key and learning when to kowtow to the wind and when to ride it equally important. Of course, last year’s champion is a frustrated observer so there are probably the guts of forty players who will fancy their chances. Tiger thinks his game is in a pretty good place, but two good rounds do not a rejuvenated championship golfer make. As ever we will have a look at the favourites before moving a little further down the market for some value.

The Favourites

The unflappable Jordan Spieth (6/1) unsurprisingly tops the betting market following McIlroy’s ill-timed injury. The Texan is still proving somewhat of an anomaly to experts and the ever-burgeoning community of statistics devotees. For anyone who cares to examine Spieth’s stats here they are. And, for those who don’t here’s a brief synopsis. A distinctly average driver of the ball, Spieth is almost as likely to find the rough as the fairway. From the rough however he proves exceptionally accurate which we find somewhat confusing. How does he miss fairways with alarming regularity yet show unerring accuracy when shooting from the less favourable rough? In any event, the world number-two really makes the step up to the elite class as a result of his superb putting, incidentally the area in which McIlroy’s game seems to flag the most. The twenty-one-year-old doesn’t smash it like McIlroy or unstoppable-era Woods, but he has a phenomenal ability to scramble, almost peerless putting and the unflappable composure -of which there is no known statistical measure- possessed of true champions. This week though, Spieth’s lack of familiarity with links courses counts against him and he is of no interest at that price. Still he was relatively unfamiliar –caddy knowledge aside- with the obscure, otherworldliness of Chambers Bay and he still excelled there. Amongst Spieth’s many talents is his ability to plot his way around pretty much any course -or golfing intelligence as you will hear mentioned umpteen times this week- which makes him impossible to rule out. Still, prohibitive at that price.

Of more interest of the short prices is Dustin Johnson (12/1) who so agonisingly threw away the U.S. Open last month. Johnson is a fine links player but until he proves he can do it on the Sunday of a major championship we’re more than willing to look elsewhere. And so, on to our deeply considered picks.

Rickie Fowler (16/1)

True, Fowler is too short at that price after last week’s victory in the Scottish Open but that victory in itself makes the affable Californian difficult to ignore. Fowler has really matured in the last couple of seasons, performing fantastically well at the majors – his Chambers Bay nightmare aside- since engaging the services of veteran swing coach, Butch Harmon. Second in Hoylake to the imperious McIlroy last year we would have fancied Fowler’s chances of going one better this year even before the ill-fated game of five-a-side. Even at this shortened price we’ll give Fowler the nod over Spieth- whose inexperience surely has to tell one of these days- particularly as Fowler was only bettered last year, as mentioned, by a near untouchable McIlroy.

Shane Lowry (40/1)

On the back of last year’s tied ninth in Hoylake and a similarly fantastic showing at Chambers Bay, we feel the time has come for Shane Lowry to stake his claim to a maiden major championship. The Offaly man’s jolly demeanour belies genuine grit and he certainly isn’t the type who will be phased when the wind begins to blow with real intent. No stranger to a visit from the red mist Lowry seems to have curtailed his habit of trying to win back dropped shots immediately through naked aggression and sometimes poor decision making. Already possessed of a fantastic short game, if the rest clicks then we’re very confident that the Claret Jug can make its fifth journey to this island since 2007 and it’s first ever to the midlands.

Brooks Koepka (50/1)

You may recall that we’ve been on this European Tour alumni’s bandwagon for a while now and after a solid 19th in Chambers Bay and tied 22nd in Aberdeen last week, there’s little question that Koepka is ready for the challenge of St Andrews. Again the accommodating width of the fairways will suit the American’s occasionally scatter-gun driving. Some of the younger Americans become a little disheartened by the dual threat of howling winds and occasionally hellish rough but the well-travelled Koepka has seen this all before. If the putter gets hot, Koepka will almost certainly be in the thick of it come Sunday evening.

Victor Dubuisson (66/1)

The longest odds of all of our picks, Dubuisson merits, what we believe to be well-founded attention this week. An introspective, attention shy type Dubuisson is shrouded in a relative veil of mystery, a pleasant rarity in a modern sportsperson. A proven performer at major tournaments the Frenchman tied for ninth in last year’s renewal of the Open. Further, after an injury laden season the world number thirty-seven has happened upon some timely form with top twenty finishes in each of his last three events. Dubuisson’s phenomenal ability to scramble –likened to Seve Ballesteros by no less than Nick Faldo- is highlighted by this truly ridiculous shot in the 2014 WGC Accenture Match Play final against Jason Day. Being a Frenchman, his temperament is almost lazily questioned –shyness nowadays equating to media unfriendly- but a confident Ryder Cup debut suggests Dubuisson can more than handle the pressure. Given past performance and recent form this looks far too big a price.

So, as with the U.S. Open we’re looking to the youngsters to step up to the plate in Scotland.  And with rain threatening to appear on Sunday the new breed’s power and length will become ever more prominent. Whatever the outcome, by Sunday evening someone will have joined a very elite group of champions at the nigh-on sacred Home of Golf. We’ll stick with Rickie Fowler to confirm his ascendancy to the top table of world golf but don’t be surprised if Victor Dubuisson usurps him.

2015 Open Championships Picks

  1. Rickie Fowler e/w @ 16/1
  2. Shane Lowry e/w @ 40/1
  3. Brooks Koepka e/w @ 50/1
  4. Victor Dubuisson e/w @ 66/1
  5. Eddie Pepperrell Top 10 @ 16/1
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US Open 2015

Spaghetti (North) Western Provides Gripping Finale

So, after what will most likely be the only major tournament to ever be played at Chambers Bay, the irrepressible Jordan Spieth -with a little help from his caddie– ruled supreme once more to continue a truly incredible year for the Texan. Even Lionel Messi and Dan Carter weren’t this measured at such a young age. We won’t pretend we stayed up until 3 a.m. to watch what by all accounts was an incredible ending but it seems former good-time guy Dustin Johnson will be rueing his missed opportunity for quite some time. A double-bogey by Spieth on seventeen seemed to have fatally damaged his chances of victory and even after a birdie on eighteen the Masters champion looked wistful –longing for a chance to go at seventeen again- as he headed toward the scorer’s shed.

Enter D.J., who had destroyed the vast majority of the seventy-second hole of the tournament –the 601 yard eighteenth- with a thunderous drive and subsequent five-iron approach to twelve feet. Eagle for victory or birdie for an eighteen hole playoff and a return to this lunar-like creation to go toe-to-toe with the twenty-one-year-old, Spieth. A three-putt par? Unthinkable. But, of course, given the nature of sport and these curmudgeonly greens, a dramatic three-putt was exactly what ensued. Johnson, despite staying at the top of the leaderboard all week is probably still wondering ‘what the fuck just happened?’ Spieth, almost sheepish in the immediate aftermath of his victory will no doubt be exultant today, having broken another of Tiger’s records- youngest winner of both the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year. Spieth’s victory at Augusta confirmed his arrival as a genuine week in week out rival for world number one Rory McIlroy. This weekend’s outcome means McIlroy must surely better Spieth’s result in next month’s Open Championship if he wants to somehow thwart his fast-charging rival. We’re inclined to think that McIlroy will come to St Andrews in a heretofore unforeseen mode of steely determination.

As was to be expected Chambers Bay played as a de facto links course meaning Spieth will have little or no fear coming to the home of golf, St Andrew’s – as true a links course as one will encounter- next month. Rory McIlroy, as defending champion, will want to set down a very clear indicator to Spieth that he has no intention of stepping aside for the ultra-impressive world number two. Spieth’s ascendancy to the same plane as McIlroy may have been expected by some, but few would have expected it to happen so rapidly –save for the usual masters of hindsight. It’s worth mentioning once more that Jordan Spieth has replaced Tiger Woods, not once but twice in the record books this year and that we may be dealing with a true phenomenon. Given the scale of both McIlroy and Spieth’s achievements at such young ages there must be concern –for other players- that these two are going to leave very little major silverware behind for the chasing pack. The truth is, golf never had a true rivalry when Woods was in his absolute pomp –though honourable mention goes to Phil Mickelson- so we should actually savour the fact that these two uber-talents are going to push each other to their uttermost limits for who knows how long. What we and, frankly, the rest of the world thought before the Masters- that Spieth would be the true challenger to McIlroy- has now been emphatically confirmed.

If bad publicity is better than none at all then the aesthetically challenging, bobbly, fescue greens of Chambers Bay have assured mass attention for the course and the game of golf this week. A clearly enraged, Gary Player –nine-time major winner- either completely out of touch with world affairs or using the word in a sporting context described this year’s U.S. Open a ‘tragedy’. In all honesty, the greens did prove at times to be badly prepared and a little bit loopy. And, for those who rely on their putter to pick up strokes, the most powerful weapon in their armoury was negated by the sort of obscure greens that Salvador Dali might have crafted on one of his more introspective days. Johnson will no doubt feel in the inner recesses of his mind –rightly or wrongly- that it was the putting surfaces and not his lack of composure that cost him a maiden major victory. The languid, vacuous Carolina native seemingly could not get a putt to drop for him throughout Sunday’s final round –a fate that has befallen many runners up on a multitude of courses- so perhaps it was his own putting and not the dodgy greens which ultimately cost him. In any event, Johnson reputedly has the ability to forget any bad events which have befallen him – which probably helped him more than once in the last few years- so by Wednesday he may well have forgotten this heartbreaking defeat.

As the tournament concluded the players ire at the greens was there for all to see on the medium of moderation –Twitter. As expected Ian Poulter was in with his two-cents although at this point, and despite the accuracy of his points on this occasion, you really have to wonder does anybody really care about anything the Englishman says. Henrik Stenson, ordinarily the consummate, laid-back Scandinavian described his experience, pretty fantastically, as like ‘putting on broccoli’. Meanwhile, we warned you that one of our pre-tournament picks, Billy Horschel, could lose the rag  if things started to unravel. Well, they did. So, rather delightfully, we got this. Horschel was quick to point out, not unreasonably, that he is “a really good putter” so the unpredictable greens really blunted his offense. If in pursuit of entertainment, then keep an eye on Horschel. He can be, for want of a better word, a bit of a jerk but he’s highly entertaining and nowhere near as polite or composed as Jordan Spieth.

While the often peculiar behaviour of the greens does merit criticism –particularly the uneven nature of the surfaces- we find it strange that the massive breaks were condemned and pilloried while the same breaks in Augusta National are revered for their unique trickery. Maybe it’s just a case of horses for pristine courses. Anyway, while everyone moaned incessantly, Jordan Spieth –whose putting is incidentally one of his stronger suits- went relatively quietly about his business. Sometimes if you want a job done it may be best to ask a fortitudinous Texan with a seemingly endless ceiling of potential.

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