Jon Rahm set to become king of European golf
Majestic Spaniard is still improving
Palmer's top tip
Jon Rahm 11-2
Rory McIlroy has cost his Race to Dubai backers dear the last two seasons, starting the year as a short-priced favourite before failing to even finish in the each-way places.
McIlroy was 11-10 for the 2016 contest, ending up in fifth spot, trailing Henrik Stenson by almost €2m. Then last year, a best-price 13-8 tempted many punters to throw their weight behind the Northern Irishman again, but they got even less of a run for their money.
Injury meant McIlroy had to sit out the entire Middle East Swing and then he packed up early for the year, making the Dunhill Links Championship in the first week of October his final event of the season. All that added up to a never-threatening 13th place on the RTD.
The betting community may be reluctant to give McIlroy another chance to justify market leadership. Bigger odds have been dangled, which are tempting in anticipation of the four-times Major champion having a massively successful campaign, but a lack of desire is the main reason to avoid the 9-4.
European Tour bigwigs find it difficult to stomach, but many of the elite players (and McIlroy in particular) are not bothered about winning the RTD. Gone are the days when the old Order of Merit was a prestigious title – one which essentially put eight-time champion Colin Montgomerie in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Tommy Fleetwood busted a gut for victory last season by playing every week in the closing stages, eager for the biggest accomplishment of his career, but Sergio Garcia clearly had no interest in his RTD chance, while Justin Rose skipped the penultimate event, the Nedbank Challenge, when only a few euros behind Fleetwood.
When playing at such a skinny price, you want to be on a 100 per cent trier, and McIlroy is not that man. If winning the RTD happens naturally, it happens and will be a bonus, but McIlroy will not be loading his schedule with the RTD in mind.
Preference, then, is for somebody who showed great frustration at not being in the hunt for RTD success at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship. Despite winning that tournament, Rahm could finish only third in the RTD, and he hinted afterwards that he would add more European events to his schedule in a bid to be more competitive in the 2018 RTD.
Rahm, although already one of the best players in the world, is still in the formative stages of his career and there is an innocence and eagerness about the 23-year-old. Winning a first RTD is an appealing carrot for the Basque Country boy, who doubtless has a tick-list of trophies in his pocket. Three-time RTD champion McIlroy is unable to match that enthusiasm for European Tour glory.
Rahm, who has the added incentive of trying to earn a Ryder Cup debut, has said he loves performing in Europe. He has two titles to defend this season – the Irish Open and the Tour Championship – and most of the Rolex Series events are likely to be on his radar.
And, more importantly, Rahm is well capable of winning the biggest tournaments on the calendar. The four Majors and four WGCs go a long way to deciding the RTD, and Rahm should be a factor in many of them.
Rahm versus Rory could be a regular feature of 2018 as both should contend for the highest honours. But slightly differing schedules could mean the Spaniard triumphs in the RTD, while the former world number one tops the Stateside standings. Punters should avoid the double – because the success of one leg of the bet would harm the chances of the other – but two each-way singles should deliver a profit.
McIlroy has made no mention of the WGC-Mexico Championship in his pre-season plans. The shape of his early schedule hints that he may skip Mexico as part of his build-up to the Masters, the tournament he wants to win above all others. Rahm will almost certainly play in Mexico, an event he nearly won this year, and pick up some serious RTD points.
All three Stateside Major venues this season suit bombers and Shinnecock Hills, the US Open site, has been lengthened by 446 yards. Augusta, Shinnecock and Bellerive Country Club (venue for the USPGA) give Rahm a golden opportunity of a Major breakthrough.
Rahm, who turned professional only last year and still has plenty of scope for improvement, could end 2018 as a Major champion, RTD winner and, potentially, the world number one.
Thomas Pieters 80-1
The most attractive of the runners at bigger prices are Thomas Pieters and Thorbjorn Olesen. Again, the fact that this is a Ryder Cup year means Pieters and Olesen are likely to load as many European Tour events into their schedule as possible.
The likes of McIlroy, Rose and Garcia can be complacent about making the team, relying on world ranking points to qualify, but Pieters and Olesen will target European Tour points.
Pieters will crave a place in Team Europe, having performed so magnificently on his Ryder Cup debut last year. The Belgian has US Tour membership, so will play in plenty of Stateside events, but he has a genuine affection for the continent of his birth and will remain a regular on the circuit where he made his name. He is hosting the new Belgian Knockout event in May, which is part of the RTD.
Pieters is world-class and finished fourth in the Masters in April. He was fifth in the WGC-Mexico Championship and fourth in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and clearly has what it takes to triumph in the biggest events of them all.
Thorbjorn Olesen 150-1
Last season was a winless one for Thorbjorn Olesen, ending a streak of three consecutive years with a victory, but he brought some extra consistency to his game. The Dane, who has just turned 28, won the GolfSixes pairs event with Lucas Bjerregaard, as well as posting five top-tens.
A strong Middle East Swing, a region in which he is traditionally a contender, could push Olesen back into the top 50 of the world rankings and set up a wonderful 2018. He finished sixth in the 2013 Masters and could soon be ready to challenge for serious silverware.
Others to note
The injury-plagued Henrik Stenson does not appear to have much hope of improvement at the age of 41, while Tyrrell Hatton, who missed the cut in every 2017 Major, probably lacks the extra gears required to join the elite.
Defending RTD champion Fleetwood is switching focus to the US Tour this season, while Matthew Fitzpatrick is also drawn to the States with an American girlfriend adding to the lure.
Peter Uihlein, who won on the Web.com Tour in September, looks set for a big season and could finally realise his immense potential at the age of 28. The American has never made an impact in Majors, though, and may play too much on the US Tour to be an RTD factor.
4pts each-way 11-2 bet365
1pt each-way 80-1 Coral, Ladbrokes
0.5pt each-way 150-1 bet365
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