The Longshot: No matter how close the putt, you can't Willett to go in

Robert O'Shea: Presidents Cup to tee off without the choosy ones who went to LIV Golf
The Longshot: No matter how close the putt, you can't Willett to go in

Cameron Smith poses with a trophy after winning the LIV Golf Invitational-Chicago tournament. Moving from the PGA Tour to the more lucrative Saudi-backed venture means he misses out on a place in the Presidents Cup this week.

WE CHART our own bad beat down below, but it hardly comes near to what occurred in the opening event of the USPGA Tour on Sunday.

Green-jacket owner from 2016, Danny Willett, was leading by one coming down the Par 5 18th at the Fortinet Championship. Reigning champ Max Homa found a greenside bunker with his second, but chipped out short. Willett stuck his third to within three feet.

And Homa, of course, pitches in, with the ball moving fast enough to go 30ft past if it doesn’t hit the middle of the hole.

The Sheffield player must sink his short putt to win, but with the pressure now on, he putts it five feet past. And then lips out when trying to make it to a playoff! Who ever said Yorkshiremen aren’t generous?

Homa moves on to the Presidents Cup this week, where the US take on a Rest of the World selection (minus Europe of course) at Quail Hollow.

The latter will be missing their best player, British Open champion Cam Smith, who was busy winning his first LIV Tour event in Chicago on Sunday, and tournament veteran Louis Oosthuizen.

Another top-20 player missing for Trevor Immelman’s international side is Chilean Joaquin Niemann, another LIV jumper. Just two of their number have won majors, Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama.

The US are also missing a number of big names who have gone chasing Saudi bundles, but Davis Love III has still assembled a hit squad with nine top-15 golfers (Kevin Kisner is the lowest ranked at 26) and two current major champions in Scottie Scheffler and Justin Thomas.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, which is played over three days, this event is a four-day tussle, with Thursday featuring foursomes, Friday is four-ball, Saturday using both formats, and Sunday seeing singles action.

The last time this event was contested in the States was in 2017, when the Cup was nearly clinched by Saturday evening (it was, by contrast, a slim two-point win for he US in Australia in 2019).

Just twice in the 13 Presidents Cups to date have the States not won (a tie in 2003, and a loss in 1998).

It’s hard to make a case for the underdogs at 8/1 (the US are 1/9 and the draw is 18/1). World number one Sheffler is 7/1 to be top scorer and 6/1 to be the top US scorer. Matsuyama is 6/1 to be the top international scorer and 20/1 to be the overall best.

Korean Sungjae Im has been having a very good season and is the same price and is likely to be playing a lot of golf over the four days. The 24-year-old shone in this event in 2019, playing in every session and only losing one of his five matches. He will need to be firing on all cylinders to help inspire his side to make it even a challenge in Carolina.

Sungjae Im is our recommendation this week to be the top scorer in the Presidents Cup at 20/1.
Sungjae Im is our recommendation this week to be the top scorer in the Presidents Cup at 20/1.

Raynal on the parade

BACK in the mid-2000s when our operation was on Academy Street and the Echo Sports desk luxuriated in long lunches in hostelries in the area, a certain well-known Cork sports figure, who also worked close by, would regularly approach our table and bemoan another bad beat in his footie accumulator from the weekend just passed. He would explain to us that just one side had let him down and go into detail how cruel this was and explain exactly why it shouldn’t have happened (usually some team 2-0 up was pegged back to 2-2 in injury time).

He was never too upset but we’d listen and commiserate, yet I’d always be half thinking “will he never learn”.

And then I began a betting column in 2010 and my begrudged sympathy transformed into earnest empathy. Let me channel him here for the story of a bad beat.

Napoli and Bayern in the Champions League and Australia to beat the All Blacks were our calls this day last week. The first two clicked so it was all down to the rugby on Thursday to complete a 13/1 shot.

The Aussies played well in a ping-pong battle, but NZ being NZ, found themselves 31-13 up with a whirlwind restart after the break.

That should have been that but with five minutes left it was 34-34. Then 37-34 to the Wallabies after a monster penalty from just inside halfway.

NZ don’t give up and were given a penalty that could have tied things up, but decided to go for the corner. Their push for the line got held up and they in turn were penalised.

The Aussie forwards went into self-congratulatory mode. Out-half Bernard Foley waited for them, but French ref Mathieu Raynal told him to hurry up, even though it was in his power to stop the time if he thought they were dithering.

TIME-WASTING; Mathieu Raynal explains his decision to Australia's Nic White and Bernard Foley. Pic: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
TIME-WASTING; Mathieu Raynal explains his decision to Australia's Nic White and Bernard Foley. Pic: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Foley’s teammates urged him to kick to touch and more than likely wrap up the game so he began his run-up to do just that, but as he did Raynal blew the whistle, saying he’d delayed too long and awarded NZ a scrum. The hooter went, but Jordie Barrett got over in the corner to retain the Bledisloe Cup for the 20th time in a row and 50th overall win.

The Raynal decision has divided opinion. He clearly stated he started the clock again and certainly expected Foley to hurry up. However it is in his power to control the clock if he suspected time-wasting. Veteran Foley is less to blame than his forwards, who seemed content to stay in a huddle. It just seemed like such an unprecedented call. Kick it out and the Aussies have more or less guaranteed victory; the punishment certainly didn’t match the crime.

In fact, in future, out-halves would be better off to point towards the posts. Could the referee object to that? They would have to give the kicker 90 seconds to prepare and the kicker could then skew the ball to touch. Gamesmanship? Yes, but better than risking the ref turning over possession in such a dangerous area. And costing us a 13/1 shot!

Same sculls, different crew cuts

Fintan McCarthy. The Olympic gold-medal winning duo's pictures on the World Rowing website could use an update.
Fintan McCarthy. The Olympic gold-medal winning duo's pictures on the World Rowing website could use an update.

Paul O'Donovan. 
Paul O'Donovan. 

THE sports editor requested a new picture byline last week. I’m not a big collector of selfies so I again sent in the only headshot I have where I’m not on holidays wearing sunglasses or getting licked on the cheek by a dog. Although my latest one is about a year old I do still have the same number of chins.

It’s more of a recent resemblance than those offered by our Olympic rowing heroes. Spotted by the sports editor of the Southern Star on the World Rowing website, the pen pics of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy look like they were taken in transition year and could do with an update.

The Skibb lads are extremely likely to retain their lightweight double sculls title in the World Championships this week in Czechia and there will be plenty of local involvement and medal chances among the 13 Irish crews, but sadly no betting firms are offering odds. Still that’s no reason not to publish some embarrassing pics of our sporting greats!

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