Opinion & Analysis
The top-5 newsmakers of 2022
Check out my rundown of the the top-5 news-making golfers of 2022.
1. Cameron Smith
2022 was one hell of a year for golf, but one subject dominated the first half, and may continue to do so over the next 12 months.
Like it or loathe it, LIV was monumental news, and there are probably half a dozen names that could make the top spot in this column. For me, Aussie Cam Smith tops the lot.
Having shown progression and winning form on the PGA Tour over the past 24 months, Smith raised his game last season, following up back-to-back wins at his home PGA Championship and the pairs competition, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and the Sony Open.
A stunning 34-under win at the Tournament of Champions, victory at the prestigious Sawgrass and a fourth top-10 at Augusta saw the 29-year-old make his way comfortably inside the top 10 in the world rankings, becoming one of the main challengers to Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, and Rory McIlroy for the number one slot.
Then the rumblings began.
Having already secured major winners such as Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, the LIV rumor mill went into overdrive, strongly indicating that Smith and former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama were the next targets. Most golf fans would have seen the Japanese player’s loss of form and would have expected him to make the leap over the now very progressive Aussie.
And then the most bizarre week.
Although fate looked to have nearly secured a St. Andrews victory for Rory McIlroy, both he and Viktor Hovland saw a four-shot overnight lead vanish down the stretch, with Smith simply out-playing them and performing beautifully on and around the hallowed putting surfaces.
After a best-of-the-day 64 had won the most famous trophy in golf, the Claret Jug, Smith faced a barrage of questions about where he went from this victory, with the push towards revealing whether he was a “yeah” or “no” to LIV.
It was a strange reply: “My team around me worries about all that stuff.” He convinced very few.
Of course, it would never stop there, and as the Aussie made his way to two of the three FedEx events (he pulled out of the middle one — the BMW — due to “injury”) he was constantly batting away the reporter’s questions.
He might have said, “I’m ready to cop some heat,” before continuing, “I understand what I’ve said, but as I said, I’m here to play to win the FedEx Cup Playoffs. That’s my number one goal, and whatever happens after that will come from me.” He might also have tried unconvincingly to detract from compatriot Cameron Percy’s view that both he and Marc Leishman were “gone,” but few took his side and at the end of August LIV confirmed they had landed their biggest catch to date.
Smith was clear about his reasons. He stated the signing was a “business decision,” whilst also mentioning that the worldwide LIV schedule was far more appealing:
“I’ve lived over here seven years now, and I love living in the U.S., but just little things like missing friends’ weddings, birthday parties and seeing your mates having a great time at rugby league games has been tough.”
Since joining the rebel tour, Smith has won once from five starts on LIV, with total earnings of just over $7 million, and turned up to dominate the Australian PGA for his third win in five years at the event, a tournament he enjoyed replaying in his local.
Cam Smith celebrating at an Australian pub is everything you think it would be. ?
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) December 1, 2022
In his final event of the year, Smith missed the cut at the Australian Open, but that can’t take away the fact he’s had a year in every respect. Had he continued on the PGA Tour, he would have been news. The fact he didn’t make him even more so.
Unlike many of his fellow jumpers, Smith was getting better by the month and was on his way to the number one slot pretty soon. It will be up to the OWGR, but that he may still do makes him very much news of 2022 and 2023.
2. Lydia Ko
It’s a rare thing to keep top form going for five, 10, 15 years, and more. Players launch out of the blocks, but many have also suffered long periods of, well, nothing.
The PGA Tour may have had its young winners in recent years (Spieth, Wolff, Morikawa and Kim), but the LPGA outdoes them by several handfuls, with players such as Brooke Henderson, Lexi Thompson, Paula Creamer, and Morgan Pressel winning events before they were 19 years of age and again suffering long periods when the game just goes.
Lydia Ko, back-to-back winner of the Canadian Open at 15 and 16 years of age, trumps all those names and, despite the total of 19 LPGA wins over 10 years, 2022 was definitely her best yet.
The 25-year-old Korean-born superstar has only won five times since a stellar 2016, but three came this year, winning on her second outing of the year — the Gainbridge LPGA — and at two of her last three outings at the BMW Ladies and prestigious Tour Championship (final round highlights here).
Throughout the 22 events of her season, Ko made every weekend, winning three times and recording nine further top-five finishes to win her first Player of the Year award since 2015. Top that with a return to world No. 1 in what might be the densest LPGA field of all time, and we have a newsmaker making the right type of news.
Ko continues to tinker with her game, recently opening up on the amicable split with Sean Foley, but she’s rarely been happier.
Due to marry her fiance Chung Jun in the off-season, Ko appears more relaxed than she ever has been, and having led the scoring average, strokes-gained-total and been in the top three for scrambling and putting, she may find herself in this column in 12 months time.
3. Ashleigh Buhai
When Ashleigh Buhai won the 2022 Women’s Open at Muirfield in August, she made history by becoming the first (modern-day) South African player to win the event since Alison Sheard in 1979, and only the second female major champion after Sally Little won two at either end of the 1980s.
A noted amateur, Buhai has taken her time winning tournaments, her second victory coming four years after the Catalonia Ladies Masters, whilst her win at her home Open came in 2018, seven years later.
None of those events were particularly close, with a winning margin of at least two, so as she opened up a five-shot lead (courtesy of a 65/64 blitz) going into Sunday, signs looked promising, as did her Open record — a tied-5th and 11th being her two best major finishes in 43 outings.
Three ahead with a handful of holes to play, including the gettable par-5 17th, the engraver was ready to start his job, until a disastrous treble-bogey on the 15th.
Opens are never meant to be easy and when the 33-year-old lost that substantial lead, she faced the prospect of a playoff against In-Gee Chun, a three-time major winner who just two months prior had won the Women’s PGA from two former major champions.
It looked a tough task for the pre-event 200/1 chance against one of the more fancied players, but in an epic battle that went to the fourth extra hole, the less-fancied player proved far the hardiest.
Both had chances to win the decider, and as they approached the 18th yet again, both looked fatigued.
In-Gee found her tee shot drift off the fairway into a bunker, meaning she had to chip out, hit a long hybrid shot and attempt a difficult par save, whilst her opponent’s approach looked to have found one of those golf lies in the back half of an island bunker to the right of the green, facing what appeared to be a much tougher par save.
With In-Gee 15 feet short of the pin, Buhai needed to get closer to the pin and put the onus on the Korean. Under the most extreme pressure, Buhai created a chip shot of beauty, landing perfectly on the green and rolling out to around two feet. In-Gee missed her putt, the South African couldn’t, announcing the victory as “life-changing.”
Not only was the exhausting effort worthy of being a news headline, but the antics of her husband, David, were also worthy of note. Usually caddying for Jeongeun Lee6, he’d clearly had a bit too much of the local brew and couldn’t quite hide either his nerves or delight as the play-off ended in victory for his better half. It would not be another wait for her next title, and just four months later, Buhai ended her year with a victory at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, coming from one behind another former major winner in Jiyai Shin, who missed a five-footer to tie. This time, Dave had to be a tad quieter — he was on the bag.
4. Tom Kim
In a year that was preoccupied with talk of how much money players were getting or needed, golf needed a lift.
There were the heroic social media stances taken by the likes of Max Homa and Joel Dahmen, both among many that provided a chuckle of three, but on the course, nobody made more of an impact than Joohyung Kim, for whom typists will forever be grateful is better known as Tom.
Through a convoluted qualifying path that included a third place at the Scottish Open, Kim was granted Special Temporary Membership to the PGA Tour and immediately secured his card with a seventh at the Rocket Mortgage Classic after a final round 63. All that after having to birdie his 36th hole to make the cut.
“It means everything,” he said after gaining his license for 2022/23. “Every day I’ve played golf, I’ve thought about playing on the PGA Tour. It was nothing else.”
Already the youngest player inside the OWGR top-50, a week later, the 20-year-old became the only winner of a PGA Tour event that had started their tournament with a quadruple bogey, eventually firing a final round 61 to earn a stunning five-shot victory.
The first two FedEx events didn’t quite match that standard, with a lowly effort at the BMW meaning he missed the Tour Championship.
However, in a mix of established stars, Kim shone out at the Presidents Cup.
Golf Digest tells the tale of the per-tournament press conference:
“When a reporter asked him if he had taken any inspiration from Y.E. Yang’s win over Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship, and whether that formula of taking down a juggernaut might have echoes in the International Team’s monumental task of beating the Americans.
“Kim took the air out of that narrative quickly—he said he was a Tiger fan growing up and didn’t want Yang to win. Later, he added that even as a seven-year-old, he was disappointed in Yang’s win because he wanted to be the first Korean to win a major.”
Kim may have gone 2-3-0 in the team event, but in winning a foursome (against Scottie and Sam Burns) and one fourball (versus Patrick Cantlay and Xander), he showed that golf can be fun!
Kim could not have started the 2022/23 wrap-around season any stronger, with a comfortable three-shot victory at the Shriners, easily holding off course specialist Cantlay, who simply tried too hard to catch the leader. In doing so, Kim became the first winner since Tiger to win two PGA events before the age of 21.
Subsequent efforts include a 25th at the Zozo, 11th at the CJ Cup and a year-ending fourth place in Japan before taking finishing 10th at the Hero World Challenge, where he co-led after the first round and ‘officially’ met his hero Tiger Woods.
Kim’s ascendancy to the top 15 in the world is no fluke.
He won the Asian Tour Order of Merit before immediately making an impact at the highest level, his approach stats are as good as anyone out there, he openly loves the game, and he’s nicknamed after children’s cartoon hero Thomas The Tank Engine.
In a year when many of the best-known golfers shed fans by the bucket load, Tom Kim is the perfect antidote.
5. Matt Fitzpatrick
Until this year, Matt Fitzpatrick had recorded only one top-10 in 23 attempts at a major.
Whilst the 28-year-old had won seven European Tour events, he had never won on the PGA Tour, with many observers, and Fitz himself, acknowledging his lack of length was an issue. Those runner-up finishes at Bay Hill at this year’s Wells Fargo were no surprise given his class, but there was something just missing.
And then it all came right.
PGA tour season over for this year. A season I could only dream of. So many positives to take into next year, time to make a plan on how I can get better and improve on this years results!! pic.twitter.com/zsxFeXCB6e
— Matt Fitzpatrick (@MattFitz94) August 30, 2022
Having worked with coach Mike Walker and biomechanistic Sasho Mackenzie, Fitz started to see results.
Working on a method known as The Stack, the figures tell it all, with Fitz’s average club head speed on the PGA Tour halfway through the 2022 season increasing by over five mph compared to 2019, and his ‘off-the-tee ranking improving to 10th, compared to 59th just three years ago.
The season had already seen the Englishman finish tied-14th at The Masters, T2 at Wells Fargo and T5 at the USPGA, so he was in as good a shape as ever when coming to the U.S Open at Brookline.
Starting alongside another tee-to-green superstar, Will Zalatoris, the two PGA maidens stood on the first tee, hoping to hold off a host of challengers, including the daunting trio of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and world number one Scottie Scheffler.
Despite several putts just missing by millimetres and an eagle try at #8, Fitz stubbornly refused to go away, finding himself in the sole lead when Scheffler started unravelling just after the turn.
On the same hole that Scheffler had just three-putted – the 11th – Fitz watched Zalatoris drain one and then miss a two-putt par from 15 feet, giving his playing partner a two-shot lead. That’s huge at a major but thoughts turned to the fate of Mito Pereira at Southern Hills.
Fitz then knocked in a 60-footer monster on 13 and then watched the leader save par from 15 feet, whilst, at the 15th, he again holes for birdie whilst WillyZ records his second bogey in four holes.
Now chasing, Zalatoris made no mistake knocking in a short one at 16 and was now just one behind coming to the pressure holes, and it was set up nicely at 17, where both players made par. Down to the 72nd.
On the deciding hole, and one shot behind, Zalatoris crashed one down the fairway whilst, defending his narrow lead, Fitz pulled a three-wood into the left-hand island bunker.
There was very little room in front of the leader’s ball, and any mis-shot might have seen the ball hit the large tuft of grass, sending the ball anywhere. Another possibility was being short and facing a tough up-and-down from the bunker in front of the green.
Fitz and caddie Billy Foster did not mess around. In contrast to the lopper needing to tell his charge to ‘get on with it’, as he did at Augusta in April, Fitz took control and hit a shot equal to the much-replayed iron of Sandy Lyle’s famous bunker shot on the 72nd hole of the 1988 Masters.
Fitz second ended around 20 feet from the flag, a couple of feet ahead of his playing partner, and now the only other that could stop a play-off between either of the leaders and Scheffler, safe in the house at 5-under.
The leader cozied the ball to the hole, parred out and watched as Zalatoris, already twice a major runner-up, missed the birdie putt by an inch.
Not only had the Englishman finally got the PGA Tour monkey off his back, but he did it in the utmost style, ranking first in tee-to-green with an astonishing 16-plus strokes gained, as well as leading the around-the-green figures.
Fitz went on to make 16th at the Tour Championship, run up in Italy, and end his year looking as if the season had taken its toll, but still finishing 5th.
On the PGA Tour for 2021/2, Fitz ranked 10th off-the-tee, seventh in tee-to-green and around-the-green, 22nd in putting and second overall. On the DPWT, he ranked 21st for driving distance, an improvement of over 100 places from the previous season, and third for stroke average.
Fitz has always been there, but this time he has arrived. And that makes news in the golf world.
Everyone will have their own view on the newsmakers of 2022.
Of course, having dominated golf news for much of the first half of the year, Greg Norman, LIV CEO, might be a choice. The mouthpiece of the Saudi-backed tour has got himself in the news with an awful lot of rhetoric and has twice been rumored to be on the verge of being replaced.
Then there is Phil Mickelson, who went from being the dominant force on the Champions Tour to hiding away for a couple of months. Having openly admitted his “obnoxious greed”, he became the most polarising figure in the game, accepting a huge amount of money from a group he had previously called “scary motherf**kers.”
On a good note, Rory McIlroy finally became the dominant player, finishing number one on both sides of the Atlantic. He won three events, should have won at least three more, and went home empty-handed from St. Andrews, an Open Championship that was there for him to win.
As a celebrated opponent of LIV, McIlroy became the mouthpiece for the PGA and DPWT players, although that wasn’t always welcomed by all.
Finally, as it was getting quiet, and few thought we would hear about LIV until February, the Augusta National committee released a statement saying they would welcome all the qualified players to the 2023 Masters. In attempting to “honor the tradition of bringing together a preeminent field of golfers,” they have attracted the attention of the 9/11 survivors’ group, in the same way, LIV Golf did in June.
Whatever your view, there is one thing for sure. Golf is making news.
Happy Holidays, WRXers!
Opinion & Analysis
2023 American Express: Betting Tips & Selections
Last week’s Sony Open saw the unusual occurrence of a top-10 devoid of a name that had played the Tournament of Champions, and yet eventual champion Si Woo Kim won his fourth PGA event, all on Bermuda greens.
Sometimes, like picking the week that a poor putter knocks in 30-footers, it’s just picking the right stat on the right day.
The tour makes the annual return to southern California for the charity pro-am event, where in its 63 history many courses have played host to the great and the good of the entertainment world. And Bill Murray.
For us, concerned with only who might win and at what price, we return to a three course rotation on which one one player in the last 16 years has won in under 20-under and an in an event that has seen four of the last 10 winners start at triple figures, with Adam Long going off at 500-1+.
Put simply, the set-up is too easy to enjoy it too much, players won’t miss many greens, and, as Adam Long said, “you can make a lot of putts because these greens on all three courses are just perfect. So you can make them from all over.”
The front of the market is classier than normally found here, but with the combined price of the top eight, we are asked to take around 4-6 that any of those win. Sure, that’s highly likely, but many of that octet have thrown away winning chances over the last few months, and the obvious man to beat, Jon Rahm, threw his hands in the air last year, calling this a less than satisfactory set-up.
In an event that is worth looking at after the cut – the average halfway position of winners over the last five years is 8th – the suggestion is to play a touch lighter than usual, with just two selections in the pre-event market.
Short tracks that reward consistent tee-to-green and putting efforts see me look for ‘The Real JT’ at every opportunity, and at 60/1 I can’t resist putting James Tyree Poston up as the best of the week.
Winner of the 2019 Wyndham Championship in 22-under, from course specialist Webb Simpson, JT confirmed then his love for Bermuda greens, something he had shown when seventh here and sixth at Harbour Town a few months earlier. The Wyndham, incidentally, home to a trio of wins by Davis Love III, a confirmed Pete Dye specialist.
Fast forward to 2022 and, after a solid all-round performance at sub-7000 yard River Highlands, the 29-year-old comfortably won the John Deere Classic, where he again proved too good for some charging rivals, from tee-to-green and on the dancefloor.
Poston’s best form outside of his two wins is at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, another specialist Dye/DL3 track, where he has a record of 3/mc/8/6 and where he has ranked in fifth and seventh place for tee-to-green.
After a solid top-10 at the top-class Tour Championship at the end of last season, Poston comes here after a solid run of 21st at the RSM, the same at Kapalua and 20th at last week’s Sony, ranking 6th and 13th for tee-to-green in both of the more suitable, shorter tracks, all of which have Bermuda greens.
Now teetering on the edge of the world’s top 50, Poston probably can not compete on the longer, elite courses. He’ll need to take advantage of ‘his’ tracks, and, with a 7th and 25th already in his locker around here, this event is most definitely one of those.
I’d like to have been with Andrew Putnam, playing excellent golf, making his last 13 cuts, and holding an enviable course record, but at the same price as last week he’s just left out given the tougher opposition. Top that with a tendency to throw away a weekend lead (Barracuda, AT&T and the RSM just a couple of months ago) and I’d rather be with Alex Smalley who has gone the opposite direction, now trading at more than double his price for the Sony just seven days ago.
The 26-year-old Duke graduate played in both the 2019 Arnold Palmer and Walker Cup sides, finishing with a record of three wins from four at each, before gaining his PGA Tour card when recording three top-five finishes and two top-15s on the KFT, eventually finishing 12th on the 2021 KFT finals lists.
Included in his 2021 season was a 14th at Corales, and he showed that to be no fluke when finishing in the top 15 at both Bermuda and Houston, both with similar greens as he will find this week.
2022 was a big year for Smalley, starting with a best-of-Sunday 65 to finish tied runner-up at Corales, finishing in the top six behind Jon Rahm and co in Mexico, 10th at the Scottish Open and 13th at Sedgefield.
Since October, Smalley has made five of seven cuts, highlights being 11th at Bermuda and a pair of top-five finishes at the RSM and Houston, all contributors to the tee-to-green stats that see him rank 1/2/6/11/13 for his ball-striking.
The second-season player was always on the back foot at Waialae last week, finishing the first round way down the pack after the first round. Cross that out and I’m struggling to see why he’s been dismissed by the oddsmakers for his second attempt at a course that found him ranked top-10 off the tee just 12 months ago.
There is a lingering fantasy around Luke List, whose 11th at the long Kapalua course might indicate a solid run this week. Given his first two wins came at Pete Dye related tracks (South Georgia designed by Davis Love, five time champion at Harbour Town) and Sawgrass Valley (the very name giving away its Dye/Bermuda links) he is clearly one to watch, even if he is simply one of the worst putters on tour.
He may be left behind by a few around this putter-heavy track, but he has a best of a 6th place finish in 2016 and a pair of top-22 finishes over the last two seasons. List should only have to flip wedges to many of these greens, and should he simply finish field average in putting as he did when finding over 11 strokes on the field at Torrey Pines (yes, 11 strokes. Plus 11 strokes) he will land a top-20 wager.
- J.T Poston WIN/TOP-5
- Alex Smalley WIN/TOP-10
- Luke List TOP-20
Opinion & Analysis
2023 Abu Dhabi Championship: Betting Tips & Selections
Just days after the inaugural running of the Hero Cup, we get the chance to see the first full-field event of the 2023 DP World schedule.
For the second year, the Yas Links provide the venue for the well-established Abu Dhabi Championship, but last year’s leaderboard showed not much has changed, with a board of ‘linsky’ players and also those with firm form-lines in this part of the world.
Last year’s champion, Thomas Pieters, is one of 18 players that took part at ADGC last week, and he heads a defending leaderboard that included the likes of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Victor Dubuisson, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton and more than a handful of others that appear regularly in the Middle East, Portugal, Holland and Denmark – just some venues that offer clues to regular top-10ers.
Continental Europe won last week’s renewal of what was in effect the old ‘Seve Trophy’ but that shouldn’t stop a strong showing from many of the beaten side. Opting between the likes of Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry is as tough as it gets, all having top class links form and a promising ending to the 2022. Still, combine them with Alex Noren, playing well but winless since July 2018, and the coupled odds offer somewhere around 85-40. Despite their obvious claims, that doesn’t appeal.
It is the next group that appeals mostly this week and, whilst Thomas Pieters holds very solid claims for going back-to-back here, the pair of Robert Macintyre and Adrian Meronk are the first to go into the plan.
142 yards. Too many swear words ?
— Robert MacIntyre (@robert1lefty) December 7, 2022
I’ll admit a weakness for the Scot, whose talent has still not reached anything like a ceiling, but Ryder Cup year may see him raise his levels, particularly having told The Telegraph that:
“Playing for Europe has been one of my life goals since I started to believe I was half decent at this game. I’ve played Walker Cup and now I want to appear in the best event in the world and a lot of the older guys––the likes of Sam (Torrance) and Stevie (Gallacher) who we’ve spoken to here this week have told me it would be the best thing to do in my life. And I’ve got a great opportunity to do that.”
Bob’s claims to a place in the European locker room will be far stronger with a place inside the world’s top 50, which gives him access to all the majors and top events around the world.
He’s been there before, after his first win on tour, a strange lockdown-influenced event in Cyprus, but the victory was no surprise given his three runner-up finishes and a 6th at The Open in his inaugural year (2019) after which he received the Rookie of the Year award.
Available for all the four majors in 2021, he finished tied-12th at Augusta and eighth at Royal St. George’s, an event that may be significant this week.
Down the stretch on Sunday, Bob looked set to finish inside the top five before a pulled tee shot on the final par-5 (14th), a move that cost him a bogey. If I was to take just one of the recent Opens as a guide, the 2021 running may be the one.
Whilst the wind was only a zephyr, and disappointing for such a contest, conditions may well mirror the type we see this week. If not, the leaderboard certainly gives some idea with Jon Rahm in third place (three wins and a place in Dubai), Lowry and Viktor Hovland sharing 12th, Paul Casey in 15th and Sergio Garcia also just inside the top-20.
All those named have terrific form not only in the UAE but also in the immediate vicinity, and it seems the same with those beaten in last season’s Italian Open.
Held at the Marco Simone Club – this year’s Ryder Cup venue – Bob shot a final round, and best-of-the-day 64 – to reach a play-off against Matt Fitzpatrick. Winner with a birdie at the first extra hole, he also left behind the likes of Victor Perez, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton and Jorge Campillo, all fine exponents of links golf, whilst he also joined Nicolai Hojgaard in a tiny Marco Simone winner’s club, the latter beating Tommy Fleetwood and Meronk for his maiden victory.
Macintyre followed his second victory with a top-10 at classic Le Golf National, top-20 at the Alfred Dunhill Links (11th into payday), top-10 at Valderrama and a closing 18th in Portugal at least two of those being a form guide to Yas this week.
The 26-year-old has admitted he often tries ‘too’ hard and that he plays his best golf when happy and relaxed. Having left the course yesterday with a 4&3 victory alongside Seamus Power and a heavy singles victory over Noren, he should be spot on.
In contrast to the first selection, Adrian Meronk was on the winning side over the weekend, and comes here as another improving 20-something.
Although the Pole was ranked around 200th at the end of the 2020 season, he caught the eye when running-up to Christiaan Bezuidenhout at Leopard Creek in November of that year, seemingly a tad naïve when challenging.
That immaturity is now a distant memory, replaced by a player that had three top three finishes in 2021, and topped by a closing top-10 finish in Dubai.
Having gone on many ‘to follow’ lists for 2022, the 29-year-old withdrew midway through this event before compensating his fans with four top six finishes in seven starts, three in this part of the world.
Belgium and the Netherlands saw Meronk finish in a closing sixth and third, the latter finish at Bernardus Golf (significantly designed by Kyle Phillips) before his (almost telegraphed) victory at Mount Juliet saw him follow in the footsteps of Lucas Herbert, another wind and links specialist.
11th in France and 22nd at the multi-course Dunhill Links works for me, as does his finish to 2022 – seventh at the DP finale, in fifth at halfway in Brisbane, and his impressive second victory at this level, by five shots at the Australian Open.
That win, by a handful from proven links and top-class players such as Adam Scott and Min Woo Lee raises the Pole to yet another level, and now just inside the world’s top 50, a huge effort that sees him receive the ultimate invite:
Perfect Christmas present ?@TheMasters here I come ??#themasters #augustanational pic.twitter.com/VxIRtrPFOc
— Adrian Meronk (@AdrianMeronk) December 23, 2022
With confidence at a high, expect the Polish hero to enjoy the expanses of Yas Links, as he did when sitting inside the top-20 for the three rounds he did complete last year.
Nicolai Hojgaard has already been referenced as the winner of the 2021 Italian Open, and that win alone might be enough to stir interest, but take into account many of his best performances and he appeals greatly at anything around 50/1.
The more flamboyant of the twins is much more of a bully on the course than his brother, Rasmus, for whom he deputised for at the Hero Cup. That decision was justified after an unbeaten 3.5 points saw him produce one of the more surprising performances of the weekend and that encourages me to take the hint soon after a 10th place finish Australian Open, where he was never off the front page at any point.
Second place at both the Portugal Masters and KLM and, of course, a win at Ras Al Kaihmah read nicely for this week’s test, whilst he can add a fourth place to his UAE record having finished strongly on his debut at the DP World Tour Championship.
Ignore the missed cut last season as the 21-year-old was lying in 17th place after the first round before experiencing very tough conditions – eventual winner Thomas Pieters was also one that was over par for Friday.
With this track sure to suit his distance off the tee – Pieters and Hovland ranked top 10 in that regard – and with his confidence up after holing the winning putt for Continental Europe, this should be time to be with him.
It’s hard to believe that a player would win two events in his rookie year and also come within a whisker of his third title, yet be triple digits for this week.
In Ewen Ferguson there is a player that not only showed class in difficult conditions in Qatar (Meronk in third) but also only got done by a superstar putting performance when going for the three-timer in Denmark.
At all three victories, the Scot ranked highly in all tee-to-green aspects, something he found again towards the end of 2022, at Mallorca and the Gary Player GC. Whilst his excellent short game was lacking towards the end of the year, I’m prepared to err on the side that says it had been a long, if successful, first foray at the highest level, one that could have seen him win Rookie of the Year, although ultimately beaten to that by Thriston Lawrence.
Having been one of the success stories of the 2022 Players To Follow column, the 26-year-old more than paid his way, and it’s worth taking a chance that comes out and performs in similar conditions.
I’m watching former star Joost Luiten like a hawk, as his back-form hints to a great week now he and his health are back to something like their best, but the final selection goes to Marcus Helligkilde, another highlighted in last year’s column, and once again in 2023.
Whilst his overall profile is sketchy, we should remember that the Dane missed the middle few months of 2022 with a persistent shoulder injury, before doing enough to retain his DPWT card, something that looked unlikely as the tour approached the autumn months.
Having seen the likes of Jordan Smith and Brooks Koepka graduate from the Challenge Tour with success, much was expected of Helligkilde as he made his way through his rookie year on tour, particularly after three wins led him to a comfortable championship.
The season started in pleasing enough fashion, opening his first look at Yas Links with a 69 to lie inside the top 20, before a mid-event 66/67 saw him lie in ninth going into Payday at Ras. Back in the Middle East, the Dane came from outside the top-50 to finish 12th in Qatar and the sharks were buzzing for a coup in the near future.
However, after a couple of months, Helligkilde revealed he had been suffering with a shoulder injury for a while and would require surgery, something that meant taking at least six weeks off tour.
He admitted he was nowhere near 100 percent when re-appearing at the Irish Open, but a mid-point 22nd was encouraging, as was the trip to the KFT where he performed with credit at both the co-sanctioned events.
Among a large amount of DPWT players at the Barbasol, Helligkilde recorded 16 out of 18 greens-in-regulation on his way to a bogey-free third round of 66 before following up with the same figure on payday, resulting in a move from 64th at halfway to 8th when the cheques were being handed out.
The following week, the Dane was never outside the top-22 in finishing 13th at the Barracuda, both weeks suggesting he was close to being back to his best.
By finishing 4th in Ireland and 8th in his home event, the ‘Made In Himmerland’, Helligkilde showed he can perform when necessary, his top-30 at the Spanish Open enough to secure a place inside the top-100 on the Race To Dubai.
The Dane is far better than that number and, now injury free, is hopefully in a position to show his best, in conditions that will suit a player for whom the middle of the green is always a target.
- Robert Macintyre WIN
- Adrian Meronk WIN/TOP-5
- Nicolai Hojgaard WIN/TOP-5
- Ewen Ferguson WIN/TOP-5
- Marcus Helligkilde WIN-TOP-10
Opinion & Analysis
The Wedge Guy: Make 2023 YOUR year for better golf
Regardless of your average scores or the way you play the game, the mass appeal of this great game of golf is that you can always get better — and shooting lower scores regularly makes the game even more enticing and addicting. From my feedback, it seems that the GolfWRX readers are pretty evenly divided between those who put emphasis on the actual score at the end of the round and those who are more likely to evaluate the day on the number of good shots they hit, or their avoidance of the really bad ones. But no matter which camp you find yourself in, the pathway to enjoyment is the same.
The USGA had an ad campaign a while back featuring the late and superbly great Arnold Palmer, with the campaign slogan “Swing Your Swing.” The point of it was that we all have a golf swing that has produced a number of wonderful shots — thought maybe on too rare an occasion. Some swings are fundamentally more sound than others, of course. And some of us are blessed with more natural athletic abilities, body strength and flexibility, or just outright skills. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t get that swing of yours to repeat more reliably and hit a higher percentage of good shots without committing to a swing overhaul. Very few of us have time for that kind of commitment.
You’ve heard the old answer to the question “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.” Improving your golf game has to be accomplished in that same “one bite at a time” manner. So, let me offer you a few suggestions for the first few bites to improve your rounds this year.
- Give your body a chance. The golf swing is a very athletic motion that requires much more of your body in the way of flexibility than strength. And most adults are guilty of letting their flexibility wane as they get older. I cannot tell you how important it is to stretch . . . not just before each round, but on a daily basis. If you will incorporate even just 3-5 minutes of stretching into your daily routine, not only will your golf swing improve dramatically, but you will feel better all around. I guarantee you it will make a difference.
- Give “your swing” a chance to repeat. As I mentioned, we all have a swing that has shown the ability to produce a good, or even great, golf shot on an occasional basis. So, how do we get that to happen more often? It’s a matter of paying attention to your set-up and ball position. Some time back, a very accomplished custom fitter friend of mine shared some data he had collected on golfers of all skill levels, regarding their consistency of set-up and ball position. What he showed me is that the higher the handicap, the less precise the golfer was in his or her alignment and set-up to the ball. For your swing to repeat, you simply have to be consistent in the position of the ball in two directions – how far it is from you, and where it is located with regard to the lead foot (the left for right-handed players), and in the alignment of your body to the target line. The advice of another great teacher whom I was privileged to meet was to never hit a ball on the range without your alignment stick in place. That way every swing – especially in your pre-round warm-up – is also a piece of practice on good alignment and ball position. It takes no athletic ability to give yourself a chance at a good shot by getting the pre-swing part of it right.
- Chill out and lighten up. In golf, just as in life, stress is a killer. When we are over a shot and feel stressed – which happens all too often – our grip tightens and our body tenses up. Those are killers to the smooth, flowing action that the golf swing, chipping/pitching motion or putting stroke all require. Facing any golf shot – even if it’s just a three-foot putt or a simple chip shot – causes us to tense up. Before each shot, pay attention to your stress level by focusing on your grip pressure. And then lighten up and execute the shot.
I hope these three tips will help you get ready for the 2023 golf season and make it your best one ever, regardless of how long you have been playing. It’s never too late to get into a path of improvement with golf. That’s one of the wonderful things about this game.
Morning 9: Fitzpatrick snubbed | Masters LIV protest planned | Stats of the year
Tiger Woods WITB 2022 (December) (new golf ball)
Rory McIlroy WITB 2022 (December)
Charley Hoffman WITB 2022 (December)
Nelly Korda WITB 2022 (December)
Jordan Spieth WITB 2022 (December)
Clement: Why laying up = more power
Justin Thomas dines at one of the most exclusive restaurants in the world…with elite company
The Wedge Guy: A few thoughts on off-season improvement
Max Homa WITB 2022 (December)
Si Woo Kim’s winning WITB: 2023 Sony Open
Driver: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond (8.5 degrees) Shaft: Fujikura Ventus Black 6 X (45 inches, tipped 1 inch) 3-wood: Callaway...
Jon Rahm’s winning WITB: 2023 Sentry Tournament of Champions
Driver: Callaway Paradym Triple Diamond (10.5 degrees @11.3) Shaft: Aldila Tour Green ATX 75 2.8 TX 3-wood: Callaway Paradym Triple...
Collin Morikawa WITB 2023 (January)
Collin Morikawa WITB 2023 Collin Morikawa what’s in the bag accurate as of the Sentry Tournament of Champions. More photos...
Spencer Ralston WITB
Spencer Ralston what’s in the bag accurate as of the RSM Classic. More photos from the event here. Driver: Titleist...
Whats in the Bag3 weeks ago
Charley Hoffman WITB 2022 (December)
Whats in the Bag3 weeks ago
Tom Hoge WITB 2022 (December)
Equipment2 weeks ago
TOUR REPORT: 10 takeaways from a WILD week in golf equipment at Kapalua
Equipment2 weeks ago
GolfWRX Launch Report: 2023 Callaway Paradym drivers
Equipment2 weeks ago
Gary Woodland signs multi-year deal with Cobra
Equipment3 days ago
OLD vs. NEW: TaylorMade Tour Preferred MC 2011 irons vs. My modern irons (Full launch monitor numbers)
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Tony Finau shows off dramatic swing change at Tournament of Champions
Equipment2 weeks ago
GolfWRX Spotted: Collin Morikawa’s new TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus driver, 3-wood