IT IS time for the top players to get their wheelbarrows out, as the PGA Tour’s “elevated” events get under way this week.
The Phoenix Open and the Genesis next week both offer $20million in prize money, along with guaranteed appearances by the game’s top players.
The big guns are only allowed to miss one of the 13 elevated tournaments – unless they are injured – and Rory McIlroy has already used his exemption by sidestepping the Tournament of Champions.
That was understandable. As a limited field event, that was ‘only’ worth $15million!
This time McIlroy headlines a field that includes eight of the world’s top ten. Will Zalatoris, the world No 8, uses his free pass, while LIV rebel Cameron Smith is the only other absentee.
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After his thrilling Dubai Desert Classic win it is no surprise to see McIlroy disputing favouritism with Jon Rahm, who went to college in Arizona and had made his home in the Grand Canyon State.
The rowdy Scottsdale hordes are likely to get behind the Spaniard and give McIlroy some stick if it comes down to a straight shoot-out.
But there are plenty of other players capable of spoiling that dream scenario.
Hot shot: Xander Schauffele, 14-1.
Schauffele still doesn’t win as often as you feel he should, but at almost double the odds of 8-1 co-favourites McIlroy and Rahm, the X man looks like the value bet.
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He has yet to finish outside the top twenty in five starts at Scottsdale, and has made the top three in each of the last two years.
He was only a shot away from joining the play-off that saw Scottie Scheffler launch his early season spree in 2022 by taking down Patrick Cantlay, and you feel Schauffele has to be thereabouts again.
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Mid price: Hideki Matsuyama, 33-1.
The former Masters champion is the obvious horses for courses pick – five top tens in Phoenix, including two victories and a share of eighth a year ago.
Matsuyama finished only three shots behind Scheffler and Cantlay 12 months ago after shooting his worst round of the week – a two under par 69. That is almost as bad as it gets for him at TPC Scottsdale!
You always have to worry about injuries with Hideki, but he looked fit and healthy when he posted another top ten at the Farmers last time out.
Long shot: Alex Noren, 66-1
None of the players at three figure odds jump out, so the Swedish star gets the nod. He showed he has the game for this event by sharing eighth place with Matusyama and Justin Thomas last year
European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald has already received one big boost with Justin Rose ending a four year victory drought at Pebble Beach last year, and he would love to see another of his veterans follow suit.
It is hard to believe Noren, 40, has not won since his French Open victory in 2018. But there have been plenty of close calls – three runner-up finishes last year – and he has made the top five in each of his last three outings.
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Remember to gamble responsibly
A responsible gambler is someone who:
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- Establishes time and monetary limits before playing
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- Never chase their losses
- Doesn’t gamble if they’re upset, angry or depressed
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- Gamble Aware – www.begambleaware.org
For help with a gambling problem, call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or go to www.gamstop.co.uk to be excluded from all UK-regulated gambling websites.
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