Classy Cameron the pick of the Young guns in Cognizant Classic PGA National

Cameron Young held a three-shot lead at the halfway stage of the Hero Dubai Desert Classic (Kamran Jebreili/AP)
Cameron Young is yet to win on the PGA Tour but has a great chance of putting that right in the Cognizant Classic at PGA National in Florida this week (Kamran Jebreili/AP)

WHEN Rory McIlroy takes a glance around the practice range ahead of this week’s Cognizant Classic in Florida, it will surely strike him once more that the PGA Tour has taken a massive hit from LIV Golf.

The Holywood man tees it up in what was the Honda Classic at PGA National from Thursday, 15 minutes away from his adopted home in Jupiter, for the first time since 2018 as he seeks to keep busy in the build-up to The Masters in April.

He goes into the event as a 15/2 favourite – with everyone else available at 20/1 and bigger – and undoubtedly the main attraction in what is a long-established stop on the PGA Tour schedule.

Yet many of his neighbours in Jupiter will be in Saudi Arabia for the third event of the LIV season, where Jon Rahm goes to post as the market leader, followed closely by the likes of Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau.

The LIV product remains very confusing and hard to watch given the team element and shotgun starts, but there is little doubt it has the edge over a standard PGA Tour event in terms of big-name performers.

Of course, all of the US circuit’s stars will come back out to play at Bay Hill next week and then The Players from March 14, when McIlroy will have more competition for top billing as the Florida Swing really cranks up.

That’s not to say the Cognizant Classic is a gentle curtain-raiser, and indeed the Champions course at PGA National is just about as tough as it gets, away from the Majors.

Anything at double-figures under par will get you right in the mix, although the move to a par 71 from a 70 might make scoring a little better.

There is water everywhere in this corner of Florida, while fresh breezes are almost guaranteed, making it even harder to find fairways on a course that rewards strategists.

McIlroy won here in 2012 and was second two years later, while Padraig Harrington is a double winner and Shane Lowry was second in 2022, when a storm robbed him of the title down the final stretch.

A proven ability to play in the wind is a clear plus, while quality drivers of the ball will have a clear advantage.

They don’t come much better than McIlroy off the tee, but his form on the west coast was underwhelming, and any mistakes will be punished heavily here.

I think it is worth taking on the world number two, and second-favourite Cameron Young might be the man to follow at 20/1 generally.

Perhaps the best player without a win on the PGA Tour, the Jupiter resident is making only his second outing at this event, but his 16th on debut in 2022 bodes well as he finished with a 65 on the Sunday, the best score of the day.

Young has improved immeasurably since then, going close to a breakthrough title on a number of occasions, not least when second in the Open at St Andrews later that year.

He was also eighth in the 2023 Open at Royal Liverpool, showing he is very adept in the wind, while his long and accurate driving should be perfect with this week in mind.

Young has started 2024 well, finishing third in Dubai behind McIlroy, then eighth in Phoenix and 16th in the Genesis last time out, when his long game brilliance was let down around the putting surfaces.

A return to the smoother Bermuda grass greens on the east coast will be welcome, and while a few question marks about his temperament in the heat of battle remain, Young may not have a better chance of clinching that inevitable first title.

Shane Lowry, of Ireland, hits out of a bunker on the 16th hole during the first round of the Phoenix Open (Ross D Franklin, AP)
Shane Lowry could maintain his great record at PGA National, which is just miles from his base in Jupiter, Florida (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Meanwhile, I can’t get away from Lowry despite a slow start to the season, in terms of final results at least.

The Offaly man should have won here two years ago, then was fifth last term when he led the field from tee-to-green.

Lowry has been driving the ball as well as ever, while there have been some low rounds in 2024 already amongst putting frustrations.

Familiar greens should boost him, and it would be so surprise to see him come out fast on adopted home turf, so an each-way bet in both the outright (28/1, Ladbrokes) and first round leader (50/1, Boylesports, six places) markets make sense.

Keith Mitchell won this one in 2019 and was ninth three years later and there are few better drivers on tour, so he is also a live contender at 35/1 (Sky Bet) on the back of a series of top-20s on the west coast, while it might be worth taking a punt on new Florida resident Robert MacIntyre at 100/1 (Paddy Power).

The Scot has admitted the move to America has been a struggle, missing the cut in each of his three California outings, but sixth in Mexico was much more like it, and the left-hander is a very streaky player.

His driving was superb last week, as were his tee-to-green numbers, which augurs well for his PGA National debut, as does his liking for tough layouts and windy conditions.

If he can find a bit more comfort on the Florida greens, MacIntyre could be a contender at a very big price for a man of his pedigree.


Cameron Young, e/w, 20/1 (General);

Shane Lowry, e/w, 28/1 (Ladbrokes); first round leader, e/w, 50/1 (Boylesports);

Keith Mitchell, e/w, 35/1 (Sky Bet);

Robert MacIntyre, e/w, 100/1 (Paddy Power); top-20 finish, 4/1 (Paddy Power)

In-form Niemann can be the Jeddah master

Joaquin Niemann can LIV his best life in Saudi Arabia (Andrew Matthews/PA)

LIV Golf Jeddah gets going on Friday at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, and while some of these events are hard to get a handle on at new venues, there is a fair bit of course form to go on here.

Rahm is a 5/1 favourite, followed at 10s by Dustin Johnson, who won a European Tour event in both 2019 and 2021 around this course, while he also won the last LIV outing in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Koepka is also a 10/1 chance having clinched this title in both 2022 and 2023, so his claims are obvious on a big course.

However, slight preference is for Joaquin Niemann, who continues to stay busy while others on the circuit count their cash.

The Chilean was third in an Asian Tour event in Oman on Sunday, keeping up a fine run of form that started with a win in Australia before Christmas and continued when fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic, before also winning the LIV season opener in Mexico.

Niemann is probably in the form of his life and has pedigree at Royal Greens, finishing third in this in 2022 and ninth a year later, as well as recording top 10s when the Asian Tour visited this course in each of the last two seasons.

He should be backed at 12/1, while Matt Wolff and Peter Uihlein are both worth following at 40/1.

Wolff has had a new lease of life since leaving Koepka’s team, and was fourth in Vegas, while he finished fifth in the LIV Jeddah event in 2022, sixth and 10th in the last two Asian Tour events at Royal Greens, and was seventh in Oman on Sunday.

Uihlein, meanwhile, was second in Vegas three weeks ago and sixth in Oman at the weekend to show his form, while he was runner-up at Royal Greens in 2022 and could go better than his price suggests.


Joaquin Niemann, e/w, 12/1 (Ladbrokes);

Matt Wolff, e/w, 40/1 (William Hill);

Peter Uihlein, e/w, 40/1 (General)