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DUNLOP PHOENIX TOURNAMENT
The Dunlop Phoenix has a long history of attracting world stars during their close seasons, making it the most competitive event on the Japanese Tour. Much like this week’s Hong Kong Open, overseas raiders have tended to dominate, and when they haven’t its usually been one of the handful of Japanese players with some pedigree beyond their own shores. Since its inception in 1974, 27 of the 34 winners came from what is normally less than ten representatives of the two main professional tours. And in the eleven since Japanese legend Jumbo Ozaki won the last of his three titles, only two have won. One of those was Shingo Katayama, by far the best of the current Japanese crop and winner of last weekend’s Taiheiyo Masters.
With no obvious reason for those trends to change, my search for this year’s winner was restricted to no more than ten players. A glance at the world rankings reveals a wide gulf in class between the best of the rest. ERNIE ELS, Henrik Stenson, IAN POULTER and MARTIN KAYMER represent the world’s top-25. At 36, Katayama is the only other competitor ranked in the top-50, well ahead of the rest of his compatriots. Inevitably, the bookies aren’t offering huge odds about the favourites, making a full series of each-way bets just too expensive. Instead I’m backing three of them to win only, at odds that equate to roughly a 5/2 chance. Els at 6/1 can hardly be described as massive value, but after losing by one shot against a much stronger field in Singapore, he can’t be left out of the staking plan. Ernie did win this event way back at the start of his career back in 1992, so while he’s only been back once since, he should carry plenty of confidence into the event.
Defending champ Poulter demonstrated his appalling lack of PR skills again last week by withdrawing from Singapore, allegedly because his driver had been stolen. It seems frankly unbelievable that he couldn’t have found a replacement, and we have to draw the conclusion that he didn’t want to play the event for some other reason. This sort of nonsense makes me think twice about taking just 12/1, but equally his comfortable win here last year does justify the odds. My guess is he’ll know a mistake was made last week, and will be determined to correct matters and earn a deserved first title of the year.
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