GolfPga ChampionshipThe MastersThe OpenThe US Open

2022 Majors ante-post preview: Big bad Wolff can breakthrough

December 31, 2021January 5th, 2022

QUIETLY, the performances of Europeans in golf’s major championships has changed quite substantially in the last five years. Consider that, in the 10 years from 2007 to 2016, the continent’s golfers landed victory in 14 of the 40 majors. Then compare that with the five seasons since then: just four champions in 19.

The good news is that each and every one of that quartet were not just winners, but they all triumphed in some style. There was Sergio Garcia’s long-awaited first taste of success at the highest level at the 2017 Masters, Francesco Molinari’s Open win was part of his glorious 2018, Shane Lowry was cheered to victory at Royal Portrush by Irish crowds reminiscent of Cheltenham visitors, and then, this year, Jon Rahm utilised karma to win the US Open.

Four terrific tales and yet three of them come with something of a coda. Because, far from kicking on, Garcia is yet to land a major championship top 10 since slipping his arms inside the green jacket. Molinari? He was on the brink of Masters triumph himself in 2019 but, since plonking his ball in the water at Augusta National’s 12th hole, his golf has disintegrated. And Lowry’s success came the same week that Rory McIlroy had a nightmare and by the time he tees it up in the Masters, Europe’s finest player will be closing in on an eight-year major drought.

Contrast those European woes with American fortunes. In that decade when Europe thrived, Americans still won more gongs than their great rivals (17), but in this last five years they have been dominant with 14 wins. Will that success be maintained in 2022? Let’s take a look at the four majors in turn, highlighting what we need to be focused on from now until next summer.

The Masters
Good players win at Augusta National. The last 10 winners were ranked in the world’s top 30 and nine of them had already finished top 30 in the tournament. These crucial factors are well-known so the potential for an ante-post bet is somewhat limited.

The PGA Championship
The tournament heads to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma and has hosted two majors this century – the 2001 US Open and the 2007 edition of this championship. It might be worth noting that ahead of winning the latter event Tiger Woods revealed that he didn’t hit many drivers in either visit to the course. The rough and many doglegs had him hitting “a lot of long irons or even fairway woods” from the tee.

The other big factor in Oklahoma is the wind. Norway’s Viktor Hovland regularly credits his ability to play in gusty conditions with being educated, and now living, there. Talor Gooch recently said the exact same thing when claiming his first PGA Tour title in blustery conditions.

The US Open
Expect lots of memories of the controversial 1999 Ryder Cup to crop up in June because the US Open is heading to The Country Club in Brookline. It last hosted this championship in 1988, when Curtis Strange defeated Nick Faldo in a play-off. More recently Matt Fitzpatrick won the US Amateur there in 2013.

It’s a northern venue (Massachusetts) and more tree-lined than last year’s Torrey Pines test. A really key feature of the course is the small (sometimes very small) greens, the rocky outcrops and the undulating terrain.

The Open
Delayed a year, but the oldest championship returns to The Old Course in St Andrews for its 150th edition. Expect all sorts of excitement and hullabaloo as the great and good pile into the auld grey toun to celebrate. It should be quite the occasion and the man who lifts the Claret Jug on Sunday will experience an exceptional high.

Fingers crossed for blue skies, but also, at the very least, a strong breeze because otherwise modern golfers could leave The Old Course gasping for breath. Will such fears affect course preparation? The R&A might have fireworks planned for the week, but it won’t want them to come in the form of multiple scores of 62, 61, 60 and, God forbid, 59.

Ante-post selections

Matthew Wolff each way in the PGA Championship at 66/1
A graduate of Oklahoma State University (so on familiar turf), Wolff has hit the 2021/22 season running with four top 20 finishes including second place at the Shriners Children’s Open.

He emerged on the professional scene at the same time as Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland, and was the first of that trio to land a PGA Tour win, in July 2019. They’ve both overtaken him since, but Wolff has plenty to offer and, notably, he has shown a real fondness for a major championship test.

He finished tied fourth in the 2020 PGA Championship, was second six weeks later in the US Open and he was T15th in the same event this year, when spending most of the week in-contention (crucially, he was top six with 18 holes to play).

Jason Kokrak each way in the PGA Championship at 66/1
Remember the words of Tiger Woods, quoted earlier? He spoke of the 2022 host venue having doglegs which requires a conservative approach from the tee box. That’s reminiscent of another layout – Colonial Country Club, home of the Charles Schwab Challenge. And guess what? Both are designed by the same man, Perry Maxwell.

Jason Kokrak was third at Colonial in 2020 and he won there earlier this year. He’s also transformed himself from a remarkably consistent performer who couldn’t win into a golfer who tucked into Christmas dinner knowing he’d won four times in his last 30 starts.

The last of those might have been the silly season pairs event in Florida, but the way in which he helped Kevin Na to victory suggested he is now both comfortable and confident when faced by a tense and exciting back nine on Sunday.