Kristoffer Ventura can demonstrate the sudden strength in Norwegian men's golf with a good run in the 3M Open - that's according to our expert Ben Coley.
Perhaps it's what happens when you watch Justin Thomas blow a three-shot lead, and then watch Tony Finau do what everyone else seems convinced he'll do, but it feels to me like we can draw a line under the return of the PGA Tour now. We've had six events, we've gone through some expected coronavirus testing drama, and we're now in sight of the first major of the year. Tiger Woods has returned, as have almost all of the world's best players, and preparations for the PGA Championship are almost complete.
Those six events, from the Charles Schwab to the Memorial Tournament, produced six quality winners. Perhaps not surprisingly, the closest thing to an upset came in the first of them, when players returned from three months away, although that still went to one of the hottest players there had been back in the spring and was not impossible to envisage. As I wrote last week, the most notable aspect of this sequence has been the front-loaded nature of leaderboards, a comment which remains true after what the sensational Jon Rahm just did.
And that's why we can draw that line: here and now, we have a tournament which simply must throw up something slightly strange. Even victory for the favourite, Dustin Johnson, would satisfy that ambition, for he shot 80-80 just days ago. Brooks Koepka sniffed the top of the leaderboard at the Heritage, but remains well below his best and finished 62nd of 74 last week. Finau... sigh. I really do love his attitude, you know.
Whatever happens in the second running of the 3M Open, it will not be obvious and it may not even be something you considered possible. It will not be the crowning of a new world number one. If you were among those who welcomed last week's shenanigans at the hands of a wicked Jack Nicklaus, then allow me to celebrate this tournament for that which organisers will rue: the absence of the cream of the current crop, for all that Johnson, Koepka, Finau and a returning Tommy Fleetwood remain worth tuning in for.
Fleetwood has been quarantining in the Hamptons, don't you know. There, he's been fine-tuning his game having bided his time, and the reason he's here is presumably that he wanted to leave the trip from England as late as he could, without teeing up in next week's WGC for his first start since March. Playing Shinnecock, which he has more than once, is a fine way to establish what's working and what isn't, but I'd be dubious about how well it will serve him over the coming 72 holes.
That's because TPC Twin Cities gave us a shootout in 2019, exemplified by one of the most remarkable and satisfying finishes of the summer. First, Bryson DeChambeau fired a brilliant eagle at the closing par-five. Then, he watch on as Matthew Wolff did the same, only his eagle was enough to leapfrog DeChambeau and win his first professional title. Seldom has a production team captured emotions better than that split-screen between the winner and the also-ran as sponsors got the finish they hoped this course would provide.
Although DeChambeau and Wolff operate a little differently to each other - well, they did back then - and Collin Morikawa (T2) differently again, with fourth-placed Wyndham Clark in the Wolff mould, we can actually tie them all together. Had the two young college graduates played enough tournaments to qualify, they'd have ranked seventh (Wolff) and third (Morikawa) on Tour for birdie average. DeChambeau did rank 17th, and Clark ranked 13th. This real mix of talents makes a collective of pure aggression.
We see it a little further down, even with someone like Troy Merritt in seventh. He doesn't do anything explosively, except for stack up birdies, and was the 10th most prolific on the PGA Tour last season in that department. If things play out similarly - and there's been just enough rain to suggest they might, albeit perhaps at half a shot a round tougher with some wind forecast - we might again see a cabal of scorching scorers at the top of Sunday's leaderboard.
That's among the reasons KRISTOFFER VENTURA stands out and the young Norwegian is worth a bet at around the 80/1 mark.
Ventura played for Norway alongside Viktor Hovland as an amateur and was for a while considered just as promising; he's definitely one with a bright future of his own even if success hasn't come quite so easily. We've seen flashes already, particularly on the Korn Ferry Tour where he tied Scottie Scheffler for first place in birdie average last season on his way to securing status at this loftier level.
While Scheffler was more consistent, deservedly graduating at the top of the class, Ventura was ruthless enough to win twice from just seven cuts made, which says a lot about him. It also demonstrated that he might struggle to bridge the gap at first, and so it proved with just one top-20 finish and precious little else from his first 11 starts with a PGA Tour card in his hand.
Then, in Puerto Rico, he benefited from a drop in grade to finish 20th behind his friend Hovland, who won it. That was Ventura's final start prior to lockdown, but he's built on it nonetheless with finishes of fourth, 49th, 21st and eighth since returning, and while three were at the lower level, 21st in the Rocket Mortgage hinted that he's ready to complete the transition.
Long off the tee and excellent on the greens, the fact that Ventura ranks 22nd in birdie average despite missing eight cuts in 13 starts this season further underlines how he goes about things, and he was at it again in that top-five finish on his return when making 20 birdies and an eagle but a few too many mistakes to quite go on and win.
Therein lies the risk, but I think he'll love this test and could put in a performance similar to that of Clark, who was made the same way. The fact that Ventura has ranked in the top 25 for greens hit in four of his last five starts is encouraging because he really doesn't need to be peppering pins like Morikawa might, and this is a good chance for him to do some damage.
Third on last year's KFT birdie average list was XINJUN ZHANG, and he's worth siding with on the back of last week's top-10 finish at the Memorial Tournament.
Hand on heart I can't argue that finishing 10th in those brutal conditions will be much of an indicator towards success in this, but it'll be a confidence boost nonetheless and if the wind does blow - as it threatens to on Friday and Saturday in particular - then those who fought the breeze in Ohio may be better prepared than you might think.
At least we know that Zhang should be more suited to a test like Twin Cities, as his wins on the Korn Ferry Tour came in 26- and 15-under, and so far this season he's 31st in birdie average.
Rewind to the start of the season and he followed seventh in the Safeway Open with finishes of 16th and fourth across his next two starts, so there's evidence he can run with something when he finds it, and that's certainly the hope with the putter. Last week he ranked 15th, producing his best total strokes-gained number in just shy of 50 starts at this level, and that's the one club he's struggled with a little this season.
Granted, you can view that improvement in Ohio in one of two ways, but on balance I'm willing to chance him despite slight reservations around the fact he's played every week since golf returned.
Returning to somewhere near the top of the betting, there's really not much to like about the obviously contenders bar perhaps the defending champion, and the only one I'll be frustrated to see win is Russell Henley, who is absolutely flushing it and need only find that old putting stroke of his to make them all go in a shootout like this one.
But at bigger prices, ERIK VAN ROOYEN and SAM BURNS have fewer concerns on that front and look better value.
Granted, van Rooyen's putter cost him anything better than 22nd last week, as he ranked second in strokes-gained approach, but those greens at Muirfield Village will be faster than just about anything he's ever come across I imagine.
It's no wonder he was much better in Mexico, on slower surfaces more alike to those in Europe and South Africa, and suffice to say these won't be anything like the Augusta-esque greens we saw cause chaos in Ohio.
Capable of going close in a shootout, as he showed in Turkey late last year and on a number of other occasions before that, van Rooyen looks ready to contend again on the PGA Tour - and there's no place better than Minnesota, where he went to college.
Indeed both he and his caddie have bags of course knowledge and it's easy to see how that would help turn a couple of top-25 finishes in much better fields at Harbour Town and Muirfield Village to something resembling a title challenge here at TPC Twin Cities.
"I’m stoked," was his reply when asked about his invite to play here. "I’m obviously very grateful for the invitation. This one will be special for me because it is somewhat of a homecoming. It’s a track that I love, a track that I have so many fond memories of playing with my old teammates."
Van Rooyen, who met his partner here in Minnesota, added "I feel like I can win any one of these next events" and there's no reason he can't, as one of the most prolific birdie-makers on the European Tour. For once, he turns up at a PGA Tour event not having to learn the course on the fly, and I can see him going really well.
As for Burns, a trio of top-30 finishes in his last three starts plus last year's share of seventh here provide the most straightforward combination there is: course and current form. Typically it means no sort of price, but once you get past the fifth or sixth name in the betting this becomes wide open, and his untapped potential suggests he might yet be underestimated at 50s.
Burns struck his irons really well on his last start at the Workday, which is encouraging given that it's often his weakness and was the reason he wasn't quite up there with Wolff this time last year. Certainly, there are no issues with his putting and, as one of the very longest drivers of a ball on the PGA Tour, he's another who can be fancied to stack up opportunities.
Returning to those at bigger prices, RICHY WERENSKI remains of interest despite having shortened considerably from three weeks ago at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where he was third at halfway.
As touched upon then, his form has a really solid look to it as he's made six cuts in a row dating back to the Honda Classic, sitting inside the top 10 at halfway three times including each of his last two.
That smacks of a player who is on the brink of carrying his form through to Sunday and he's most likely to do that under low-scoring conditions, having come closest when chasing home Troy Merritt in the Barbasol Championship two summers ago and when losing a play-off for the Barracuda in 2017.
Werenski is one of just four players on the PGA Tour who've played nine holes in 28 strokes this season, further evidence of the style which suits him best, and he's in so much better form than when finishing mid-pack on his debut here.
With the putter usually a strength and his irons outstanding when last we saw him, not to mention solid birdie average stats which have him 57th of 215 players measured, there's plenty to like about his chances.
Others of note include the capable Hudson Swafford, who is playing nicely enough and has been since he contended in Phoenix. His missed cuts have been by narrow margins, and his sole PGA Tour win came in a shootout at the CareerBuilder Challenge, which may not be a bad guide for this.
Last year I speculated that Bay Hill may be a strange but worthwhile form guide and it nearly paid off through Adam Hadwin, which brings Keith Mitchell onto the radar along with Swafford, and I also like the profile of Tom Lewis and Brandon Hagy to varying degrees.
A hugely powerful sort, Hagy has played well on limited starts this season and was 39th in the Rocket Mortgage Classic last time, where his long driving and strong putting were again on display.
At 73rd in birdie average having been 67th in his only previous full PGA Tour campaign, he's yet another aggressive player who could catch fire around this course, and 28th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on his last visit in 2017 is perhaps an indication as to what he could do here.
Seventh in distance and having been inside the top 10 in putting on his two latest starts at the top table, he's a player I think will likely put things together at some stage but, while it sounds a little daft at 150/1, I don't think he's much of a price. Having expected we might be able to chance him at 250/1 or so, I'm going to have to leave him out.
Lewis is around the 80/1 mark and will find this to his liking. His two European Tour wins came in Portugal, where it's all about making birdies, and 12th in the Rocket Mortgage was his best PGA Tour performance to date. Prior to lockdown he also led after the first round of the Honda and he's probably the one for those who want to go into battle with six, rather than the five recommended above.
Posted at 0735 BST on 20/07/20
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133, or visit begambleaware.org.