The Longshot: Taking it to the Max will be hard for track rivals

The Longshot: Taking it to the Max will be hard for track rivals

Dutch driver Max Verstappen will begin his hunt for a third title in Bahrain this Sunday.

WE mentioned last week that the new Netflix series on golf Full Swing isn’t particularly groundbreaking or even that entertaining.

In producing it the streaming service was attempting to do for golf what Drive To Survive had done in recent seasons for Formula 1, which has seen a massive jump in popularity since the behind-the-scenes show was first broadcast.

While the 2021 season will rank up there with one of the most dramatic in motor racing history, last year ended up being a procession for Max Verstappen.

He racked up a record 15 wins (in 22 races) on his way to a second straight championship.

He is obviously expected to make it three titles in a row with and 4/6 on him doing just that doesn’t appear too short considering how dominant he was in his Red Bull car last season.

The first of 23 races (Qatar is back for a second grand prix after debuting in 2021; Las Vegas streets will be used for the first time, but the French Grand Prix is no longer on the calendar) gets the action underway this Sunday in Bahrain, before it moves to Saudi Arabia in a fortnight.

Runner-up last season Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc and Lewis Hamilton are both 5/1 to deny Verstappen a triple.

The odds show more confidence in Hamilton’s Mercedes this year after the German manufacturer was well off the top two teams in 2022.

They are 3/1 to regain the Constructor’s Championship they had won eight times in a row before last season’s poor showing.

The good news for Mercedes is that their testing has gone a lot better this year than it did 12 months ago.

The bad news is that the gap to Red Bull still looks too big for Hamilton and teammate George Russell to compete for a win from in the first race.

The dominance of F1s big three, including Ferrari (3/1), saw them take 65 of a possible 66 podiums last year (the gap between third place Mercedes and fourth place Alpine being 342 points) and that means there’ll be no surprise contender this time.

Red Bull are even money to retain their title and unless Ferrari have made some serious improvements on their engine reliability they should do this.

Seven-time champ Hamilton failed to win even one race last season for the first time in 16 seasons.

At 38, time is not on his side, but chasing a record eighth crown means he should be in the mix if Mercedes have made necessary improvements to the car.

Verstappen is at 8/1 with one firm to win the Driver’s crown along with Red Bull taking the Constructor’s title again.

He is also 10/11 to win the first race.

Spieth needs to iron out problems on the greens

AFTER a less-than-stellar cast turned up for the Honda classic last week, the Arnold Palmer Invitational will see far more leading lights on the links this Thursday.

You’d expect no less for a tournament with a $20m prize pot of course, while the winner gets $3.6m.

The favourite for the event is Jon Rahm at 13/2. Next up is Rory McIlroy who is 9/1, while last year’s winner of the second leg of the Florida Swing is World Number One Scottie Scheffler at 10/1.

Rahm has only one previous appearance at Bay Hill and for that short price you would certainly be looking for better course form, no matter how well he has been playing in the run-up.

Other competitors towards the top of the betting include Patrick Cantlay, who will have his debut here this week while Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele have only one appearance each, with both failing to break the Top 20 on those occasions.

Big names do tend to do best at Bay Hill, evidenced by Tiger Woods winning there eight times.

McIlroy won there five years ago when shooting one of the lowest-ever winning scores of 18-under but seems to be less than enamoured with the venue since. After shooting a four-over 76 in the third round last year he compared the course set-up to “crazy golf.” “You just don’t get rewarded for good shots. Like I’m venting here, and I’m frustrated or whatever. I think as well the frustration, it’s a carbon copy of what’s happened the last three years here,” he said, preceding these comments somewhat unnecessarily by saying he didn’t want to say anything he would regret.

Another man shy about turning up at Bay Hill has been Jordan Spieth, who only shows up for the second time too. Saying this he was fourth the only time he played there in 2021 and was only two shots off the lead heading into Sunday before a poor final round of 75.

A few years back you would have brooked little argument if you said Spieth was the best clutch putter on the Tour, however it is struggles on the green that have been holding him back of late.

He is someone you would imagine will be in contention for plenty of more Majors once he sorts out this and that he is 50/1 to win here seems over-priced.

Off-key start for Ireland

OUR ‘non-risky’ Six Nations three-timer was scuppered when Ireland failed to beat the 22-point spread.

Ireland got off to a fast start despite the adagio version of ‘Ireland’s Call’ that saw players on either side of the line-up singing different words at different times.

They were also a bit out of tune on the pitch, but Scotland’s defeat in Paris leaves them the only side left who can complete the Slam.

Our tip Shane Lowry had a top-five finish on the PGA Tour, but probably could have done better with a not-very-strong field competing, although the death of his uncle Jimmy on the opening Thursday might have affected his concentration.

Omens good for Mayo?

IF you were standing on a beach on Achill island on Sunday night and the sky was glowing green and red then surely even if you were the most pessimistic Mayo fan you might see portents for a good season ahead for your footballers.

Kevin McStay’s men made easy work of northern lights Tyrone (they beat them and Kerry, the last two to lift Sam, by a combined 17 points) the previous evening and will next face table toppers and neighbours Roscommon. Mayo have to travel to Donegal and face Monaghan at home after that and a place in the Division One League looks in their grasp, in a very competitive division. The 7/1 on them winning it at this point looks very good value.

City v City

MAN City will have there minds more firmly focussed on the visit of Newcastle on Saturday afternoon and that might give mid-table Championship side Bristol City a chance to take them all the way this evening.

The Robins are unbeaten in 12 games after their weekend win at home to Hull (W6 D6) and although Pep’s reserves will no doubt be much superior to the opposition, a 1-1 draw at 14/1 is recommended.

The Bet

IT is difficult to see Red Bull and Max Verstappen letting up at all this season, even if things will hardly be as easy as they found it last year.

So 8/1 on  another Driver and Constructor double is worth gobbling up.

At Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational Jordan Spieth looks like being the best value in a strong field at 50/1

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