4pts ew RORY MCILROY @ 12/1 (GENERAL, 14/1 EXTRABET)
These could be the last few weeks where double figures are available about McIlroy for a long time. With all the question marks concerning Tiger Woods, the man most widely tipped to eventually overtake him at the game’s pinnacle deserves even greater focus.
McIlroy’s figures at this stage of his career must be frightening to the rest, especially as there is clearly masses of improvement to come. He still looks an inexperienced course manager and putter, yet already he’s virtually impossible to keep out of the places. Six of Rory’s last seven starts in 2009 yielded top-seven finishes, including five top-fours. These events in question include a major, a WGC and two key legs of the Race to Dubai.
All that is missing is a second title, and given that his only previous one came in Dubai, there’s every reason to think it will arrive over the next three weeks. He’s already registered highly respectable opening efforts on this course, finishing 11th in 2007 and fifth last time around.
3.5pts ew MARTIN KAYMER @ 14/1 (GENERAL)
As has been the case since he first emerged, I am very firmly placed in the Kaymer camp. The sky really is the limit for this superb prospect, who I rate almost as highly as kid-of-the-moment McIlroy. Major wins are inevitable in the long-term, and he looks a contender already.
Moreover, all the signs so far suggest that Gulf-style target golf is his ideal scenario. Last year’s title defence only came up just short as the German finished runner-up to an on-fire Casey, and he boasts almost identical awesome figures in the forthcoming Dubai Desert Classic. If he could do this well on these tracks so early in his career, one can only wonder how many Gulf titles he’ll win over the years ahead. Kaymer has markedly improved in the past twelve months, finishing last season like a man who was no longer a prospect, but a main contender.
1.5pts ew ALEXANDER NOREN @ 45/1 (BET365, STAN JAMES)
As regular readers may recall from last autumn, Noren is another player very prominent in my thoughts for 2010. Better judges of a golfer than I have long earmarked this Swede as a star in the making, and everything appears to be falling into place. After landing a long overdue maiden title in Switzerland, he looked a different player; no longer the nervy front-runner that had promised much and failed to deliver. Seven of his last eight results yielded top-25s, making the top-six on four of them. In my view, this low-scoring target golf affair suits his talents perfectly.
0.5pts ew IGNACIO GARRIDO @ 150/1
Though this experienced Spaniard has already finished fourth at this venue in 2008, he would never likely have made the staking plan in an event usually dominated by top stars. However, I believe the course changes will favour him and any lack of driving distance may now be irrelevant. Garrido’s stats in the crucial greens in regulation department were highly impressive last year, and if repeating them now, he could make a fool out of bookies offering 150/1.
0.5pts ew RAFAEL CABRERA-BELLO @ 150/1
Here’s another Spaniard at a silly price. As long-term readers may recall, Cabrera-Bello was arguably the most frustrating character of last year. I earmarked him early on as an outstanding rookie with big claims of winning a tournament but after a promising start he went right off the boil and became impossible to fancy. Typically when least expected, he landed a 300/1 triumph in the Austrian Open.
15th place was a highly promising course debut, and the extra emphasis on long, straight driving can only add to his claims. Cabrera-Bello rates higher than any of the main contenders on last year’s ‘Total Driving’ stats.
The reigning Race to Dubai champion will have massive hopes for this season, and rightly so. His sole visit to this course saw Westwood finish runner-up, so there’s no good reason to think he won’t challenge very strongly. As with many other big-names, Westwood’s chance is blindingly obvious.
After winning the SBS Championship a fortnight ago, Ogilvy shares favouritism. That status is just about deserved as the Aussie was impressive in Hawaii, but on his course debut, he could be at a slight disadvantage compared to some very high-class rivals.
Resident in Dubai, Stenson is another with claims to being ‘King of the Gulf’. His record in this part of the world is mightily impressive, including two runners-up spots in this event. The only negative is that, after landing the best win of his career at Sawgrass, Stenson’s driving accuracy rather disintegrated last term.
Twice a champion here already, Casey is talking a very good game this week as he seeks to defend his title. Before a rib muscle injury ruined his year, Casey was well ahead in the Race to Dubai and up to third in the world rankings. His opening 2010 effort at Kapalua was encouraging, and another strong run at the money list looks guaranteed. Though others are marginally preferred this week, 16/1 is cracking value to make amends and win the Race to Dubai.
The most disappointing player of 2010 has more problems after suffering a hand injury last autumn. Apparently he’s fit again but rusty after little practice. Nevertheless, for a player who is so badly affected by his mind, that removal of the usual pressure could help. He’s made the top-15 on each of his three visits, including third in 2006.
A year ago, 33/1 about PGA Tour star Kim would have looked huge, but he failed to confirm the promise of the previous season. I wouldn’t like to speculate on accusations of a poor attitude, but would ideally like to see more on the course before backing him against this lot.
Villegas is another PGA Tour prospect whose star has slightly waned. He hasn’t done enough of late to warrant support on his course debut, but I do still have every faith in the young Colombian. Tough, major venues may be a better bet than low-scoring target golf affairs though.
Poulter certainly comes into the argument here, having made the top-ten on both previous visits. I’ve felt for a while that Poulter was a man to follow after some impressive stats in top-class US events, and was extremely frustrated to miss out on his win in the Singapore Open. I would be here too, as he was on the shortlist.
The only thing deterring me from a bet on Hanson is an ordinary long-term win ratio. He was runner-up in 2007, and played better last year when carrying our cash than tenth place suggests, looking booked for a place before one disaster hole down the back-nine. Hanson is consistent, and definitely one for the speciality markets. If there’s any non-runners, he’s first reserve.
Danny rewarded us with a place return last week, and would again appear to have a course that suits if last year’s eighth place debut effort is anything to go by. Bookies have responded accordingly though, and I’m not overwhelmed by the fact that every time he gets into contention, he seems prone to throwing in a really bad hole or two.
Its easy to forgive Hansen’s missed cut last week, as he was rusty after the weather ruined his winter practice schedule. On the best of his form in South Africa, and generally impressive long game stats in recent months, Anders rates an interesting 66/1 shot.
While Darren bounced right back to form last week in South Africa and looks hungry for more success, its a very long time since he contended in an event as strong as this.
Finished fifth in 2006 and runner-up the following year, so the experienced Spaniard knows what is required here. ‘The Mechanic’ rarely looked at his very best last term, but has shown so many times that he is not someone to write off. There are worse 66/1 bets out there.
The Italian has a best of tenth from four visits, and is well capable even in this exalted company. He hasn’t won for a long time though, and increasingly looks like the weaker of the Molinari brothers.
An outstanding prospect, as seen in four late titles in 2009. Up against it on his course debut though.
The big-hitting Swede has looked the ideal type for this event in previous years, and did well to make the top-five last time. That makes him interesting at 100/1, though I wonder whether the toughening up will suit his ultra-attacking game as much.

Where next?

Golf betting: Golf betting Bob Hope Classic