Finau on track for Mexican encore


Best bets
3pts each-way Tony Finau @ 13/2
1.5pts each-way Emiliano Grillo @ 16/1
1pt each-way Ryo Hisatsune @ 40/1
1pt each-way Nicolai Hojgaard @ 14/1
0.5pt each-way Brandon Wu @ 33/1

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Well that all fell a bit flat, didn’t it? We were expecting an absolute blast of a golf tournament at super-smart Riviera but what we got was an almighty letdown. The Genesis Invitational might have been a $20m all-star barnburner on paper but turned out to be a damp squid … unless, of course, you were on the big-priced winner Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters hero who hadn’t won for more than two years.

Tiger’s long-awaited comeback ends painfully in an early exit after just 24 holes, Jordan Spieth gets disqualified after signing for the wrong score, Rory McIlroy drops five shots in half an hour of round-one madness, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler’s putting is so chaotic he never gets in a blow. If all that wasn’t enough disappointment, my tips fail to turn up and Justin Thomas’s good run comes to a grim end with an MC.

But the main talking point was Woods pulling out after driving off the seventh tee of round two with flu-like symptoms and dehydration. It was distressing to read social-media sickos saying he quit to avoid missing the cut, the more so because he had a fair first round and still held every chance of making the weekend. As competitor Mackenzie Hughes said: “All this talk about money … we’ve kinda lost the spirit of the game in the process and the fans are getting fed up with it.”

Luckily, this is only a temporary blip for Tiger, nothing to do with his gammy leg, and, fingers crossed, we shall see him again soon as he’s still planning a once-a-month playing schedule.

There were some Genesis upsides too: a thrilling nine-shot turn-around by forgotten man Matsuyama who teed off the final day six adrift and won easily up by three thanks to a back nine of 30 for a 62 that left over-cautious overnight leader Patrick Cantlay for dead. For all their high ranking, Cantlay and his buddy Xander Schauffele are hardly punter’s pals. For all their regular contention, neither won last year, neither has done so this, neither has a Major. Tied fourth, they got their backers the each-way money but left them badly bruised too with dismal last-day efforts.

Apart from winning two cars (one of them for his caddie) with his hole in one on Friday, Will Zalatoris finished T2 and was the real winner as it is only ten weeks since he was a distant last in Tiger’s charity World Challenge after coming back from career-threatening back surgery a little too soon. He tried again six weeks later and missed the cut in Hawaii. But it’s been all systems go since and last week’s performance, with a swing modified to reduce pressure on his back and a broomhandle putter that’s serving him a lot better than the old traditional model, was a triumph.

Zalatoris would have been the selection for this week’s Mexico Open at Vidanta Vallarta but for an unexpected family bereavement which has understandably made him withdraw, leaving the coast much clearer for Tony Finau to make a successful defence. He and Jon Rahm dominated the last two Mexico Opens, Rahm edging Finau by one in 2022, Finau turning the tables in a flurry of birdies and eagles last year.

Rahm has departed to LIV and although Finau’s form in the run-up to Mexico is far from compelling, his 40 under par for eight rounds on this 7456-yard par 71 with its wide fairways and big greens does grab the attention. They put in 51 more bunkers (there are now 106) to make it a tougher test but Finau’s 24 under last year suggests it’s a course there for the taking if you are a good positional player.

‘It’s a course there for the taking if you are a good positional player….’

Finau’s best this year, sixth at Torrey Pines and 19th at Riviera, weren’t great on the greens but he was in no better form when he arrived in Mexico beforeand the likelihood is that his class will tell against ordinary opposition headed by young Ryder Cup Dane Nicolai Hojgaard, winner of the DP World Tour Championship before Christmas and a close runner-up at Torrey Pines at the end of last month.

Nic is a a powerful birdie machine in the same vein as the two winners and could easily figure on his Vidanta debut while Japanese prospect Ryo Hisatsune must be inspired by the Riviera triumph of his idol.

Big things are expected of a 21-year-old who may well be the next Matsuyama. Already a winner in Europe, and on tough Paris National, he keeps impressing on both tours – ninth at Nedbank, eighth Australian Open, 11th AmEx, 13th Aussie PGA – and at his age is only going to improve. Although unlikely to beat Finau, there’s nobody else there he should be frightened of.

Thomas Detry has all the talent in the world but not the nerve, the same comment applying to American serial loser Patrick Rodgers (tenth in 2022 and 2023) and Canadian Taylor Pendrith but multiple winner Thorbjorn Olesen knows how to get the job done and is feared, along with Argentinian Emiliano Grillo who speaks the lingo in what is virtually a home game, and Mackenzie Hughes, who played the par fives in six under par at Riviera in his Friday 65.

Grillo has course form too, T5 last year, and has opened the year in decent nick, seventh at Waialae, 14th Pebble Beach, 20th Torrey Pines, 22nd Phoenix, and although never a threat at Riviera will find this more his cup of tequila.

Finally, a word for Brandon Wu, T2 in 2022, third last year, well in advance of anything he’s done elsewhere. One for horses-for-courses followers. One thing’s for sure: this is the week he’s most looking forward to and the weather looks ready to oblige with temperatures around 30C and a sunny start, though clouding over at the weekend.


Best bets

2pts each-way Rikuya Hoshino @ 16/1
1pt each-way Dylan Frittelli @ 50/1
1pt each-way Frederic Lacroix @ 22/1
1pt each-way Thriston Lawrence @ 14/1
0.5pt each-way Masahiro Kawamura @ 40/1
0.5pt each-way double Hoshino 16/1 & Hisatsune 40/1 (Mexico)

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Three weeks for DP World Tour golfers in Africa tee off with the Kenya Open at Nairobi‘s best course Muthaiga but last year’s winner, Spaniard Jorge Campillo, is off chasing bigger bucks in Mexico where they speak his language and they’re playing for $8.15m as opposed to $2.5m.

That said, the first prize at Muthaiga is up $85,000 up to $425,000 and it shouldn’t take too much winning. It’s 14/1 the field with Fitzdares. They have South African Thriston Lawrence and Scot Ewen Ferguson sharing their mark but third-in Rikuya Hoshino, on his first outing since opening his DPWT account with a fighting display in Qatar, can see them both off.

That was no one-off as the Japanese star is a six-time winner on his home circuit and showed his muscle Down Under at the end of last year with a brace of second places in the Australian PGA and Open, going down only after a playoff in the latter to a world-class golfer in Joaquin Niemann.

He, Keita Nakajima and Ryo Hisatsune are the future of Japanese golf and all three are potentially world class. Hisatsune is not without place chances in Mexico this week and a little each-way double on Hoshino (16/1) and Hisatsune (40/1) is tempting. The place double alone pays almost 37/1.

They all idolise Hideki Matsuyama who is royalty in golf-mad Japan and his unexpected victory at Riviera after a long run of injuries and indifferent form could not have come at a better time for these youngsters.

The older, less talented Masahiro Kawamura also has a squeak at a bigger price as his best performance last year came at Muthaiga, a traditional par 71 measuring 7228 yards, quite hilly, with well-contoured bunkers and fast greens.

It’s a comfortable length for Massy who can be lethal on the greens as he showed in much better company when seventh in the Dubai Desert Classic last month. His 16th in Qatar last time out was decent too and he could nick a place.

For win purposes, Lawrence, T2 behind Ashun Wu here in 2022, makes greater appeal. As a four-time DPWT winner, the burly Thriston keeps picking up pots but it’s a small concern that he has gone off the boil a bit since his close second to Tommy Fleetwood, a spot he shared with none other than Rory McIlroy in the Dubai Invitational.
Ferguson, ninth to Hoshino in Qatar, is another solid option as he too knows how to win and Alex Fitzpatrick will pick up one of these easier ones soon. You need to forgive a rare off week for Frederic Lacroix in Qatar last time out if you want to back the Frenchman but I can do that as his previous form – third at Ras Al Khaimah, fourth in Bahrain, fifth at the SA Open – stands up well at this modest level.

South Africa has more than one string to its bow and I can’t quite understand why Dylan Frittelli is as big as 50/1 after his win in Bahrain. The rest of his form this campaign has admittedly been pants but who knows what that unexpected success has done for his confidence?

True, he’s missed the cut in Qatar after nailing it in Bahrain but that came bang on top of his celebrations. A two-week break since will have lifted him off cloud nine and brought him down to reality. A much classier display should be the result. The forecast is for a cloudy four days with a liitle rain on Friday and temperatures around 28C.

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