He may not be averse to the odd controversial soundbite and many people, including your correspondent, may wish that he simply let his snooker do the talking, but there’s no doubt that Ronnie O’Sullivan is in typical imperious form approaching the latter stages of the UK Championship. The “Rocket” has lost just three frames en route to the quarter finals and with Mark Williams or Liam Highfield his next opponent, now looks like the time to lump on the five times former winner at 2.1 with Stan James. Victory in Friday’s quarter final will see O’Sullivan come up against Jamie Jones, David Gilbert or Marco Fu, while the other half of the draw still features former world champions John Higgins – who plays Mark Allen, ranked 10 in the world – Mark Selby and Sean Murphy. The Essex man has, by far, the easier route to the final and may well arrive there fresher than whichever opponent he faces.
Selection: Ronnie O’Sullivan (2.1 with Stan James)
Mystifyingly, the PGA Tour season for 2017 is already underway and Justin Thomas is already $1,502,168 to the good after winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for the second year running and finishing tied eighth in the Safeway Open in California. This week, the 23-year-old tees in up in the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Miyazaki on the Japan Golf Tour and looks worthy of support at 11/2 with bet365. His PGA Tour record of 16 top-ten finishes in his first 71 starts makes excellent reading in this less competitive, limited field event and he can add his name to an impressive roll of honour that includes Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods, to name but a few.
Selection: Justin Thomas to win (11/2 with bet365)
In the Bet365 West Yorkshire Hurdle (2.45) at Wetherby on Saturday, former winning point-to-pointer Ballyoptic made excellent progress over hurdles last season, culminating win a game win from subsequent Grade One winner Bellshill in the Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, over an extended 3 miles, at Aintree last April. The King’s Theatre gelding demonstrated his well being with another game win in the Totepool Silver Trophy Handicap Hurdle, over 2 miles 3½ furlongs, at Chepstow three weeks ago and, stepping back up in distance, must take all the beating. The going at Wetherby is currently good but, with an unsettled forecast for the rest of the week, some easing of the ground is a distinct possibility. Any rain that falls is in his favour, but he should run his race regardless of the weather in West Yorkshire and he looks a worthy favourite.
Selection: Wetherby 2.45 Ballyoptic (3/1 with Betfred or Totesport) to win
The European Senior Tour returns to Italy for the first time since 2010 on Thursday with the Italian Senior Open at Golf Club Udine and there are reasons for believing that Peter Fowler (13/2) is a worthwhile favourite to carry off the lion’s share of the €350,000 prize money. The 57-year-old Australian is still in search of his first title of the season, but has been nothing if not consistent, recording six top ten finishes from ten starts, including tied sixth in the Paris Legends Championship and tied fourth in the Travis Perkins at Woburn on his last two outings.
He currently lies fourth in the Order of Merit – in which he’s finished in the top five in five out of the last six seasons – having amassed €132,062 in prize money and it must surely only be a matter of time before he adds to his five European Senior wins. Fowler faces stiff opposition, in the form of Magnus P Atlevi and Stephen Dodd, first and tied second in Paris, and European Senior Tour debutante Philip Price, to name but a few, but can gain due reward for his consistency.
Selection: Italian Senior Open, Peter Fowler (13/2) to win
In the 4.15 at Hereford on Thursday, The Tourard Man was put back over hurdles after an abortive spell over fences last winter, but has done nothing wrong this time around and can complete a five-timer. Twice a winner in the point-to-point sphere earlier in his career, the Shantou gelding has looked much more the finished article over the larger obstacles on his last two starts and, while he didn’t have to be at his best to beat the only other finisher, 125/1 outsider The Jugopolist, at Southwell in August, he did so with consummate ease.
Despite the ‘steadier’ of 11st 12lb, he remains 2lb lower in the weights than when winning over hurdles at Warwick three starts ago and has winning form on going ranging from good to firm to soft, so shouldn’t be inconvenienced by the forecast drying conditions. Wayne Hutchinson, who’s ridden him to both victories over fences this season, is once again in the saddle and has just the one ride during the afternoon.
Selection: Hereford 4.15 The Tourard Man to win
The Ryder Cup gets underway at Hazeltine National Golf Club, Chaska, Minnesota on Friday, September 30 with Europe looking to win one of the most prestigious prizes in the game for the fourth successive time.
Hazeltine is an extremely long golf course – over 7,600 yards long, in fact – with three par-5s in excess of 600 yards, but the rough is cut short, so it’s not as punitive as might otherwise be the case. In other words, the course is set up to suit big-hitters, so Dustin Johnson, second on the PGA Tour for driving distance, looks a decent bet at 15/2 in Top Combined Point Scorer market.
The last time the Ryder Cup was played on US soil, at Medinah Country Club, Illinois, in 2012, Johnson played just three of five possible matches but, four years on, the US Open Champion looks a banker to play all five this time around. In 22 starts on the PGA Tour this season, he’s won the US Open, the Bridgestone Invitational and the BMW Championship, recorded top 10 finishes at the Masters and the Open Championship, to name but two, and missed just one cut. He must take some beating, in any format, over the weekend.
Selection: Dustin Johnson – Top Combined Point Scorer (15/2 with Betfair Sportsbook)