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As far as gambling is concerned, this week?s two events couldn?t be more different. Whereas the Texas Open has proved in recent years as hard to predict as any tournament could be, the Dunhill Links is one that I always feel confident approaching. Of the six previous winners, four were among the market leaders. And the two outsider winners, Stephen Gallacher and Paul Lawrie, were both backable given their long history of producing their best form in links or autumn Scottish conditions.
Two of those previous Dunhill Links, including last year, were won by Order of Merit champion and leader PADRAIG
HARRINGTON. Pod could take a huge step towards retaining his status as Europe?s finest if he could win again this week, though at the same time he could easily be overtaken if any of the immediate chasing pack consisting of ERNIE ELS, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson or Niclas Fasth land the first prize.
With the weather not expected to produce particularly penal conditions, I?m expecting low scoring which inevitably makes an upset slightly more likely. On balance though, this is likely to be dominated once again by the best players, and more specifically those particularly skilled in the arts of links golf.
Naturally as Open champion and given his course record, Harrington must enter the staking plan at very reasonable odds of 14/1. I do marginally prefer the chances of Els though, whom I?ve been calling the leading links exponent in the world for as long as I can remember. Given his amazingly consistent Open record – top-4 in six of the last eight – it seems incredible that Els hasn?t won this lesser links event yet. In fairness he has finished runner-up twice, touched off by an inspired Lee Westwood and a miracle Paul Lawrie putt from the valley of sin. Surely he will eventually get his head in front, and 10/1 represents excellent value that it will be this year. Certainly any repetition of the recent form that yielded top-4 finishes in consecutive Majors and elite fields at Westchester and Loch Lomond would make Ernie very hard to beat.
Rose has certainly shown he can play links, and has the best 2007 form on offer. However, I have a hunch that this year?s improvement has been a consequence of a more methodical, concentrated approach which could be hard to maintain in this pro-am atmosphere. Westwood loves this event and has a big chance after that impressive win last time out. Having consistently failed to predict him correctly in recent years though, I can?t bring myself to get involved now at fairly prohibitive odds.
Prior to his win at The Belfry, Westwood?s long game had suggested a win was around the corner, and very similar comments must apply to IAN POULTER now. He played some quite superb golf in second place behind his compatriot a fortnight ago before ultimately failing to win because of a spate of missed birdie putts and the odd disaster hole. There?s absolutely nothing wrong with his putter in general though, nor his temperament, so I expect to see Luton?s finest winning again very soon.
Other predictable contenders are overlooked because of indifferent records on links courses. Luke Donald has just the one good effort in this event to his name amongst a long list of links failures, and has been below his best recently. Paul Casey has never looked at his best on a links course, and has shown little in recent weeks to justify support. Bradley Dredge is at least in good form and did finish second last year, though that was his sole good links performance. Colin Montgomerie has won here before, but could get left behind on the greens if scoring is low.
At 50/1, I prefer the chances of a resurgent St Andrews specialist, MICHAEL CAMPBELL. The former US Open
champion enjoyed his best event of the year in 4th place at The Belfry, and could be set for a good finish to the season. Few players have a better record round the Old Course, where two of the four rounds are played this week. Not only did he first spring to prominence when narrowly failing to hold his nerve in the 1995 Open, but Cambo also made the frame behind Tiger Woods in the 2005 renewal of that Major, again at St Andrews.
And another links specialist, GRAEME MCDOWELL, looks well worth an each-way punt at 80/1. Having grown up in Northern Ireland playing courses of the quality of Royal Portrush, McDowell is a natural at this form of the game. Despite failing to consistently live up to the expectations he created at the beginning of his career, McDowell remains a top prospect. He lost in a play-off to Stephen Gallacher in this event three years ago, and is long overdue a third career win. Recent form is not bad either, as prior to missing the cut at The Belfry, he?d finished a respectable 11th in consecutive weeks.
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