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The rescheduling of the Players Championship to mid-May has had a rather adverse affect on the turnout for this week?s two events. Nevertheless the fact that only seven of the world?s top 30 are to be seen in action doesn?t detract from two open and competitive betting heats played on good courses.
The Adare Manor Hotel and Resort course hosts the Irish Open for the first
time. There is some course form available in that the JP McManus pro-am has
been played here several times in the past, but with the tees back and
course considerably longer and tougher, it is of little relevance. Strong
winds are forecast for the weekend, which normally means the overwhelming
majority of the field simply can?t win and invariably a top-class winner
If we are looking for a genuinely world-class winner, one player stands out
as head and shoulders above the rest, home favourite PADRAIG HARRINGTON. It's 25 years since there was an Irish winner of their national open, and it is
true that following Harrington in both recent weeks and in this event
previously has proved an expensive affair. But he remains a blindingly
obvious selection, especially given the markedly weaker field. Normally
we?re used to seeing most of the Ryder Cup side at the Irish Open, alongside
all the other leading international players who regularly ply their trade on
the European Tour. This year, Harrington is ranked 36 places ahead of his
nearest rival in the world rankings, Lee Westwood, and knows the course
having destroyed a decent field in the pro-am here once. Certainly,
Ireland?s finest sounds in confident mood going into the week, remarking
that ?this is a great opportunity for me. We are coming to a golf course
that suits me and I am looking forward to it.?
It is with a heavy heart that I leave Westwood out of the staking plan.
Having lost so much backing this prolific winner over the past couple of
seasons, it was quite painful to miss out on his sudden return to winning
ways in Spain on Sunday. On that form he comes right into the argument, but
this course and field are much tougher and 12/1 also looks plenty short
If the recent formbook is to be read literally then Raphael Jacquelin (four
consecutive top-7 finishes), Richard Sterne (five consecutive top-5s) and
Markus Brier (2-5-1 last three outings) would all have very strong claims.
But while their form in Asia and the Mediterranean has certainly been
impressive, this trio will have to contend with very different conditions in
Ireland. Nick Dougherty is unbackable after seriously blotting his copybook
again in Italy when victory had looked assured.
Given the likely tough, windy conditions, GRAEME MCDOWELL is a must bet at
33/1. He has already shown earlier in his young career that he possesses a
winning temperament, able to raise his game when the situation demands. He
has yet to match the great promise shown on both sides of the Atlantic with
consistency, though recent efforts have suggested a third European Tour
victory is just around the corner. McDowell?s long game has looked superb
lately, particularly for consecutive top-10s in Asia. Back in Ireland, he
must be taken very seriously.
With the wind set to blow, plus plenty of hazards for anyone straying off
line, Adare should play to the strengths of PETER O?MALLEY, GRAEME STORM and
STEPHEN GALLACHER. O?Malley always rates a mention on tough golf courses, as
year in year out he is at the head of the pivotal accuracy and greens in
regulation statistics. The Australian has a vast bank of form in windy
conditions where his steady, error-free play guarantees progress up the
leaderboard. He too looked in good nick in Asia, with his last three efforts
all yielding top-15 finishes. These conditions in Ireland will play more to
Storm is developing a rather similar profile in Europe, and will surely be
winning before long. He closed with a fine 65 on his last start a fortnight
ago in Spain to finish a respectable 14th and nearly won in Portugal last
month. Of most interest is the fact that Storm has made the top-4 in two of
his last three tournaments in Ireland, albeit both at the K Club.
Scotland?s Gallacher comes into this because of the likely windy conditions
over the weekend. Again he played some excellent golf from tee to green in
the Spanish Open to finish 8th but these conditions are much more to his
liking. Gallacher has shown in the past that he is a considerably better
player in the wind, capable of mixing it with the best as we saw when he
landed the lucrative Dunhill Links Championship a couple of seasons ago.
Finally at the crazy odds of 200/1 I?ve got to have a punt on top prospect
ROSS FISHER after his bang in contention 5th in this event last year. This
price is the consequence of five poor efforts in a row up until 4 weeks ago
since when he has had a break. Just before that bad run, he had performed
magnificently in Dubai to finish a close fifth behind Stenson, Els and
Woods. At these odds its worth chancing that the break will have done him
good. Certainly, his record suggests a liking for long, tough golf courses,
particularly when coping so well with horrendous conditions at Carton House.
AT & T CLASSIC
This tournament, played at TPC Sugarloaf since 1997, was previously known as
the Bellsouth Classic. Prior to this year?s rescheduling, it was always
played the week before the US Masters and acted as the perfect warm-up for
the season?s opening Major. Not only is Sugarloaf just a short drive from
Augusta, but the course has a number of similarities, in that it is a long
course with little in the way of penal rough, whose chief defence is
lightning fast greens, acquiring a reputation for suiting the big hitters.
As it is now being played 5 weeks further into the summer, Sugarloaf should
play harder and faster. While this makes the course play slightly shorter
and logically places a greater emphasis on accuracy, low scores are still
guaranteed. Phil Mickelson?s astonishing -28 last year showed that the
course can be overpowered by a long hitter with a magical greenside touch,
so I still expect driving distance to be a major factor but most of all a
hot putter will be essential to staying in contention.
With the field considerably weaker than in previous years, its no surprise
to see Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson vying for favouritism on both course
and current form. Cink has made the top-10 here six times in the last
decade, and bounced right back to form over the last fortnight with
consecutive top-5 finishes at Quail Hollow and Sawgrass. There?s no arguing
with that resume, but I can?t help thinking its already been factored into
his odds of 14/1. Its worth bearing in mind that prior to the past
fortnight, Cink had shown very little form all year.
Johnson too has an obvious chance, having won the event in 2004 and finished
second last year. The Masters champion has a new-found status in the game,
and played well enough just out of the front rank at Sawgrass. Once again
though, his odds of 16/1 seem a little paltry considering that if this had
been played last month in its usual pre-Masters slot at least double those
odds would have been available.
Indeed, what a difference a month can make as far as the betting is
concerned. Johnson started the Augusta showpiece at four times the price of
HENRIK STENSON, widely acknowledged as one of the great emerging talents in
world golf. Ignore the fact that Stenson missed the cut on his course debut,
as the Swede has made huge strides in the intervening year. On similarly
fast greens at Augusta, he made a big improvement on previous course form
and only blew what would have been a winning chance with one poor round.
Having played fairly just off the pace at Sawgrass, he is well worth a crack
in hope of a return to the form of February when he beat world-class fields
to land the Dubai Desert Classic and World Matchplay in consecutive weeks.
Similarly, had CHARLES HOWELL been available at 33/1 in a field of this
moderate calibre a month ago, the price would have soon been snapped up by
value hunters. Howell?s form has slipped since a phenomenal start to the
season, though in his defence the last two courses, Quail Hollow and
Sawgrass, have not exactly played to his strengths whereas Sugarloaf most
certainly does. When finishing 6th here in 2001, Howell was very much in the
early days of his professional golf education, and is an immeasurably better
player nowadays. His season statistics show improvement in every area, and
this looks the ideal week to add to his earlier Nissan Open triumph.
If distance off the tee and a hot putter are the key requirements this week,
then another promising young player to consider is JB HOLMES. Holmes is very
much capable of overpowering this course, and went into the notebook as a
man in form over the weekend. He was ranked 3rd for putting at Sawgrass, and
closed in great style with a 69-68 finish on that tough course.
FREDRIK JACOBSEN lacks the distance off the tee of the other selections, but
also very much took the eye with a return to form in the weeks leading up to
Sawgrass. The talented Swede, a multiple winner in Europe, has become
something of a forgotten man on the PGA Tour after a long lay-off but he
remains a potential first-time Tour winner and a man to follow at big prices
like this week?s 50/1. He looked comfortable at Sugarloaf when finishing
15th on his course debut last year, closing with two sub-70 rounds.
6pts win PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 8/1 (GENERAL)
2pts ew GRAEME MCDOWELL @ 28/1 (GENERAL, 33/1 BETDIRECT)
1pt ew PETER O?MALLEY @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew GRAEME STORM @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew STEPHEN GALLACHER @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew ROSS FISHER @ 200/1 (BETDIRECT, SPORTINGODDS)
AT & T CLASSIC
2.5pts ew HENRIK STENSON @ 18/1 (BETDIRECT, PADDY POWER)
2pts ew CHARLES HOWELL @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew JB HOLMES @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew FREDRIK JACOBSEN @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
2006/2007 STATS: -127pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1
3pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN GRAND SLAM IN 2007@ 40/1
10pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN 3 MAJORS IN 2007 @ 8/1
US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS
2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1
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