The Punter's De-Brief: McIlroy claims 20th PGA Tour win

Golfer Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy celebrates with the trophy.

Rory McIlroy claimed a 20th PGA Tour title at THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT and a display of patience saw Matthew Fitzpatrick outlast the field at Valderrama. Matt Cooper looks back at their respective wins and all the market moves...

"He is difficult for the field to compete with when hitting the ball so beautifully from the tee."

Heading into the weekend Rory McIlroy was nine shots back of the lead, T19th and trading at 48.047/1 in THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT.

The course appeared to suit him perfectly - it allowed him to hit plenty of drivers and demonstrate his excellence with that club - and yet he seemed stuck in the rut that he's spent most of 2021 in.

Whereupon he was brilliant at the weekend: the Rory McIlroy we all love. The Golf Channel commentators are attracted to fluff like the underside of a sofa, but they were on the right lines when they said, midway through the final round, that he is difficult for the field to compete with when hitting the ball so beautifully from the tee.

It helps that he also putted his socks off (a far more unlikely scenario) and even topped the Strokes Gained Putting rankings with a tally of 6.028.

Ahead of the first round punters were able to back McIlroy at 25.024/1 and, as we've seen, that number had nearly doubled halfway through the tournament.

By that stage Robert Streb, backed at a high of 690.0689/1 pre-event, had thrashed a first round 61 to claim an early one-shot lead and drop briefly to 13.5.

In the second round Keith Mitchell took on the role of pace-setter. He added a second round 64 to his opening lap of 62 and that saw him open up a five-shot advantage over the field. Those who had backed him at 540.0539/1 would have been feeling chipper with him starting Saturday priced 3.259/4.

But Streb and Mitchell were unwittingly playing the role of Tour de France surprise leaders, enjoying a bit of fun flashing past Hypermarkets and through cute towns: at the weekend the peloton hunted them down.

Rickie Fowler led the chase. A big fan of desert golf and Tom Fazio designs, he revealed that he had received the Butch Harmon seal of approval about his swing changes and the vote of confidence worked wonders.

With just one top 10 in 2021 ahead of last week and no recent form, he had been backed at 310.0309/1 before a ball was struck and yet when a third round 63 left him two clear of the field he entered the final round as the 3.39/4 favourite.

When he opened Sunday with two early birdies he would go as low as 2.1211/10, but a double bogey-7 at the sixth allowed him to be caught by the field. He would rally to share third, but he was always fighting his composure a little after those errors.

Instead there was a thrust from further back in the peloton than expected.

Collin Morikawa's chances had been well flagged - not least by our own Dave Tindall - ahead of the week. A member at the host club, he had also claimed his first PGA Tour win in Nevada and reported that he was free from all pre-Ryder Cup injury woes.

He made a solid start with a 67, before a second round 70 knocked him back. A Saturday 65 left him T14th and seven blows adrift of the lead. The market had him 120.0119/1.

The two-time major winner laughed in the face of that scepticism by carding eight birdies in his first 11 holes to hit the front and, with it, his price plunged to 2.962/1.

Had he not wasted opportunities at the short par-4 12th and par-5 14th he may well have been able to set a target those behind could not catch, but he hit a wall of sorts, making par after par until an eagle-3 at the last gave him a little hope.

But McIlroy had the bit between his teeth.

A brilliant third round 62 had vaulted him into solo second behind Fowler seeing his price drop to 3.8514/5. A slow start to his final lap saw that number rise a little before Fowler's mistakes and his own solid golf began to reap birdies.

Unlike Morikawa he did not spurn those chances at 12 and 14: he went birdie-eagle. With those gains he went clear of the field and odds-on, from where he played simple, straightforward golf to secure the title.

He reported ahead of the first round that he'll be playing just twice again this season - at the DP World Tour Championship and the Hero Challenge - so we'll see him again in about a month.

Fitzpatrick grinds it out in Spain

Over in Spain there was a complete contrast to the birdie-fest in Vegas and it suited Matthew Fitzpatrick right down to the ground.

matt fitzpatrick valderrama.jpg

If the McIlroy emerged first in a race to the line, Fitzpatrick was rather more canny.

He watched as his nearest competitors exhausted themselves with the task in hand, minimised his own risks, and then pounced in the last minutes.

He'd opened at 14.013/1, had drifted to 22.021/1 before the off on Thursday and was in the hunt, on the shoulder of the leaders, all week, entering the final round solo second, three behind the leader Laurie Canter, priced 4.216/5.

Canter's pre-event price (he was backed at a high of 130.0129/1) was based on his poor course form and three missed cuts in his previous four starts. But when he carded 65-67 in the middle rounds his second place at Wentworth came to mind. He started Sunday as the 2.447/5 favourite.

He birdied the fifth and was backed at odds on. Immediately, however, he made a terrible mess of the par-3 sixth and six players were trading at less than 10.

Canter never really recovered from that blow and Fitzpatrick scratched 15 consecutive pars on his scorecard.

The strongest move of the day came from Sweden's Sebastian Soderberg who was 4-under through 16 holes and suddenly clear of the field.

He led by two stood the 17th tee and, having been matched at 870.0869/1 before the off, he was now trading as as low as 1.4 (over £4,500 at 1.41 or less).

But by the time Soderberg hit the 18th tee he trailed by three: he'd made double bogey and Fitzpatrick finally drained a birdie putt at 16.

When he added another at 17 he was being backed at 1.01. Punters thought the job was done and the Englishman delivered.

Jon Rahm, the pre-event 4.57/2 favourite was never at the races. He needed 78 blows on Thursday and was 50+ thereafter.

Steve's bets

Obviously this is Matt Cooper covering for Steve who is taking a well-earned break, but let's look at how his selections fared.

In Find Me A 100 Winner Victor Dubuisson never got going (78-79) and Tommy Fleetwood never ended a round inside the top 20.

In the CJ CUP Dustin Johnson and Marc Leishman never featured (ditto the trio of John Catlin, Wilco Nienaber and Guido Migliozzi at Valderrama), but Morikawa, highlighted at 19.018/1, traded as low as 2.962/1 in the third round.

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