The entire weekly process for picking golf bets changes throughout this final month of the year, now the money lists are decided and the minor tours take centre stage. For starters, there are nowhere near as many realistic candidates to assess. Whereas the average PGA Tour event includes at least 40 worth considering, this week's trio of events are two invitationals involving 12 and 18 players, plus the Australian Open, which can easily be whittled down to 20.
First to Australia, and an event which regular readers will know I have a soft spot for. Correctly picking the 1-2-3 was my best result of 2009, and results on this tour spanning the past decade always justify a higher layout than usual. Granted that didn't work out in last month's JBWere Masters, although at least the golden rule was observed. That rule states that the shortlist for Australian triple-crown events should only include players who have made their mark overseas, or are widely expected to do so in future. That process of elimination would have yielded all bar three triple-crown champions over the past 30 years. Of the three that didn't meet that criteria, two shortly went on to do so.
As defending champion and coming off an impressive win in Singapore, Adam Scott is a worthy favourite. Whether quotes around 6/1 represent value, however, is another matter, as the test in store at The Lakes GC, Sydney will be rather different to the rain-soaked conditions in which he excelled at Sentosa. There has been no greater friend to this column than Scott, because I tend to reserve bets on him for events where his weakness on fast greens is unlikely to matter. If every event were played on target golf layouts with receptive greens, he could be world number one. The Australian Open isn't, however, and it is a slight concern to hear pundits talking of the treacherous surfaces in store.
Nevertheless, Scott is feared much more than second favourite, Geoff Ogilvy. Besides the greens, The Lakes' other key defence is exposure to the elements, and Ogilvy has a poor record in windy conditions. Australian Opens are usually played on exposed layouts, which might explain why Geoff has only ever made one top-five in 14 attempts.
Taking a too literal reading of US form often proves troublesome in Australia, and so it proved ahead of the Masters. Though STUART APPLEBY did win in the States after an historic 59 in the Greenbrier Classic, the rest of his form was dire. One would never have guessed from his winning performance in the Masters, which showed yet again what a class act he is when conditions suit. Appleby is one of the finest wind players around, and usually requires wide fairways, which he will certainly get at The Lakes. Having already won this title in 2001 and been runner-up three times, Appleby has a fine chance of adding this second leg of the triple crown.
High-class Aussies have often failed to consistently produce their best overseas, so I'm not going to over-react to the disappointing campaigns of AARON BADDELEY and ROD PAMPLING. In both cases, bigger odds are available than in previous years as a consequence of that lack of form. Baddeley has won this title twice plus another event on this course, and would be challenging for favouritism in another year. Instead, we can get 18/1 with good each-way terms about a man who has made the top ten on eight of his last 13 Australian starts. In any case, his US form is hardly disastrous, having made all bar one of his last 14 cuts and finished eighth on his penultimate Fall Series event.
Pampling's troubles go much deeper, and he must be severely disappointed to have lost his card without putting up much of a fight. That makes betting on him rather speculative, but at 50/1 it's worth a gamble that home soil sparks a revival. He is another who thrived at The Lakes when it hosted events around the turn of the century, and his wider triple-crown event completely belies these odds. In 18 such events since 2002, he's made 12 top tens.
Now for the other main home candidates. John Senden won the Open in Sydney four years ago, and must be shortlisted after a very consistent spell in the States. However, like Scott, I'm slightly concerned that his putting weaknesses could be exposed here, and suspect he'd prefer a narrower layout. Michael Sim retains a big reputation, and might have been backed had he not struggled in the wind at St Andrews in the Open. Greg Chalmers is interesting on his course debut, on the back of his best US campaign for some time.
One interesting candidate is Nick O'Hern, who makes his first start following a long injury layoff. Nick has been relentlessly consistent in triple-crown events this century, so comes into the argument if he's not too rusty. Other successful exports such as Marc Leishman, Marcus Fraser and Matt Jones have yet to prove they are as adept in typically tough, firm and fast Aussie conditions.
There are, as always, a handful of overseas visitors, headed this year by FRED COUPLES, Wen-Chong Liang and John Daly. Freddy rates easily the likeliest of them, after his most productive season in ages. Couples may be a senior, but he remains a contender when conditions suit, as perfectly illustrated by third place in this year's US Masters behind Mickelson and Westwood. That rather proves he can still handle complicated, fast greens. In fact, there are very few American players around with greater pedigree for playing these tough Australian courses. They tend to require the same skills as a British links, and Couples has been one of the best overseas performers in the Open throughout his career.
Finally, I'm having an each-way interest on a youngster tipped for big things. KIERAN PRATT only turned pro last month, following a prolific amateur career, and the 22 year-old has already become a regular candidate on this tour. His three pro results to date are fifth, seventh, plus 22nd behind Appleby in the Masters. These fields lack depth, and recent history shows us young prospects are capable of breaking through here. Baddeley was a teenage amateur when first winning this title in 1999, and Danny Lee became the youngest ever Euro Tour winner in a co-sanctioned Australian event two years ago.
Advised golf betting:
4pts ew STUART APPLEBY @ 12/1 (GENERAL) 3pts ew AARON BADDELEY @ 18/1 (BOYLES, STAN JAMES) 1.5pts ew FRED COUPLES @ 33/1 (GENERAL, 40/1 TOTE) 1pt ew ROD PAMPLING @ 50/1 (GENERAL) 1pt ew KIERAN PRATT @ 70/1 (BET365, 80/1 STAN JAMES)
2010 STATS: +113pts
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