- LIV Golf returns for its second year
- Mexico's Carlos Ortiz has a fine course record
- And so, too, does debutant Danny Lee
I don't suppose any of us banked quite as much money as even the hastily discarded makeweights who played in the early weeks of LIV (the likes of Ian Snyman, Travis Smyth and Blake Windred) but this column fared pretty well with golf's mercenary tour last year.
Four winners and a couple of decent place finishes reaped solid profits from the seven tournaments and rather bizarrely it might not even have been the only bit of soothsaying your columnist was responsible for.
Or perhaps it was influence rather than prediction?
Because - true story - at LIV's launch press conference last May while I was, like so many others, aghast that Greg Norman could so blithely brush off the murder of Jamal Khashoggi ("We all make mistakes"), the ghost of 12-year-old me - who spent most of his time creating all sorts of sports teams and competitions - was also vexed by the not-even-half-hearted thinking behind their notion of team golf and even had to stop asking frustrated questions of the almost-non-existent details.
One of their executives even approached me afterwards and admitted there was work to do, including coming up with the team names. I mentioned that I'd written an article about franchise golf three years earlier and he asked where he could find it.
I told him, but didn't add it had been a load of facetious nonsense making fun of the idea off the back of The Hundred.
The names, for example, were idiotic - the likes of Belfast Backspinners, Liverpool Long Irons and Nottingham Niblicks.
The one thing I was confident about was that no-one else would be daft enough to turn to a Googled glossary of twee golfing phrases for leaden inspiration.
They've actually dropped the Niblicks this year but still ...
Well, whatever, let's hope for more success with the picks this season which kicks off with a journey to Mexico and El Camaleon, once the home to a PGA Tour event that was always popular with both players and punters.
LIV chief Greg Norman designed the layout which features mangroves and even caves as threats from the tee, with blustery wind another key factor in addition to the Paspalum greens.
For many years El Camaleon favoured specialists on short, tricky, breezy tracks with grainy greens - think Waialae and Harbour Town.
It made a lot of sense and helped plenty of punters pick winners.
The two-time success of Viktor Hovland in 2020 and 2021, however, was also a reminder that elite golfers can thrive there when they actually tee it up (very few tended to).
That allows us to believe that the market leaders Dustin Johnson, Joaquin Niemann and Cameron Smith can go well this week.
My preference, however, is to look elsewhere.
Off his victory in the Saudi International last time out (also windy with paspalum greens) Abraham Ancer is worthy of chasing the top trio in the betting not least because he's on home turf and has five top 25 finishes on the bounce on the course.
However he's yet to land a top five and so I favour his compatriot Carlos Ortiz who we can backed at a juicier each-way price.
The 31-year-old finished ninth on his El Camaleon debut back in 2014 and then in his last three starts was second, eighth and second again.
Nor is it the only time he has fared well on a Norman design, by the sea with paspalum greens - he was also second at Emerald Bay in the Bahamas on the Korn Ferry Tour.
When playing a couple of Asian Tour International Series events in the Middle East recently he looked in need of a rust-removing operation but ended on a high in Oman with a final round score that only three players bettered.
Debutants were quite impressive in last year's events.
Leaving aside the first event for obvious reason, here are a few examples: Carlos Ortiz second, Patrick Reed third, Henrik Stenson first, Joaquin Niemann second, Cameron Smith fourth, Anirban Lahiri second.
Smith, Niemann and Reed might have been expected to contend, but Ortiz and Lahiri did so from decent prices (indeed, we were on the Mexican) and Stenson was 33/1.
The first-timers this week are Sebastian Munoz, Mito Pereira, Thomas Pieters and Danny Lee.
Munoz recorded no top 50 finish at El Camaleon in four visits and Pereira missed the cut with a 78 in his only start there.
I'm not entirely sure the test suits Pieters but there is plenty of evidence that Lee loves it.
He was second there in 2018, third in 2014, seventh in 2021, 25th in 2017 and 26th in 2019 when the first round leader after a 62.
He's not quite fired this year but he signed for four rounds in the 60s at both Waialae (a good pointer for this week) and The American Express, plus he had a second round 67 at TPC Scottsdale.
Treated like princes, flattered and fawned upon, I can see why the new boys rise to the occasion and with Lee in his sweet-spot he gets second billing.
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