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FEDEX CUP PLAY-OFFS: BARCLAYS CLASSIC

The main reason is very simple. Without Tiger Woods, who was never anything other than a very short-priced favourite, the sponsors’ hype that ‘anyone can win’ the $10M first prize bonus is not an outlandish boast.

Before getting to the opening leg, the Barclays Classic, a quick resume of the Fedex Cup format is in order. The top-144 earners from the regular PGA Tour season, which finished on Sunday, are eligible for the opening event. The top-120 will move on to next week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, and then the top-70 to the BMW Championship. After those three lucrative events and a break for the Ryder Cup, the top-30 will move on to the decisive Tour Championship.

All players are awarded a points total reflective of their position on the money list to date. So with leader Woods out, Kenny Perry starts in front, 250 points ahead of next best Phil Mickelson, and just over 7,000 ahead of 144th placed Lee Janzen. However, with 11,000 points available to the winners of the first three events, and 12,500 to the Tour Championship winner, the likes of Janzen could quite plausibly spring a massive upset.

However, whilst the format has been tweaked to add volatility to the race, it would seem that the top-30, or those just outside it, have a big advantage as they need to do only the bare minimum to ensure their presence in the final event. I’m not convinced there is any significant advantage though held by the leader over, say, the 10th placed player. Almost certainly, the overall winner will win at least one of these four play-off events.

The Barclays Classic moves from its traditional venue, Westchester, to a course where there is little or no previous form to work from. From all accounts, Ridgewood Country Club should be a tough test, playing long, firm and fast. With the rough at 3.5 inches and smaller than usual greens, tee to green accuracy is going to be the key.

Some may be surprised to see PHIL MICKELSON retain favouritism ahead of dual-Major hero Padraig Harrington, but in my view the market is correct. Harrington’s performance these days is all about priorities, and I’ll be surprised if the Fedex Cup ranks highly on that score. His decision to cut his schedule, and limit his practice in order to focus on the Majors has proved a masterstroke and I reckon the next main event for him is the Ryder Cup. Going into the USPGA, Pod claimed he was knackered after all his post-Open commitments, a situation that is hardly likely to have improved since establishing himself as Tiger’s chief rival a fortnight ago.

That is a title previously reserved for Mickelson, and the Fedex Cup offers a chance for Lefty to swiftly reclaim it. He certainly played well enough at the WGC-Bridgestone and PGA, finishing 4th and 7th, to warrant very close inspection now, even if his old frustrating erratic tendencies were there for all to see. He’s not a player I ever like backing, but his high-ball flight should be a pivotal asset on this layout, and at 10/1 Mickelson deserves a place in the staking plan.

I’d certainly rather back Mickelson at 10/1 here as opposed to the 7/2 to win the Fedex Cup at this early stage. Remember, the chances are whoever wins this event will take over as leader and challenge for favouritism. I doubt Mickelson will play all four events, whereas younger, hungrier stars such as ADAM SCOTT, ANTONY KIM, CAMILO VILLEGAS and AARON BADDELEY probably will.

Scott is fancied to have a good crack at the Fedex Cup, and has won on two of the three remaining courses after this week. His 33/1 quote for the Barclays is a consequence of a poor run in the Majors, but outside those events he’s been as good as anyone in 2008. Considering that none of this year’s Major venues really played to his strengths, I’m prepared to overlook them.

Similarly, Kim must be forgiven his disappointing shows in the last couple of lucrative events. Like Mickelson, his high ball flight should offer an advantage on this course, and while 33/1 is still available on this prodigious talent it should be snapped up. Remember, he has already won on two championship golf courses this summer – Quail Hollow and Congressional.

Likewise, Villegas has shown his best form on tough courses, not least when finishing 4th and 9th in the PGA and US Open. Villegas was the big ‘mover’ in last year’s Fedex Cup, finishing 21st in the opener before three top-10s to close. Currently in 42nd, he’s going to need a decent start to progress to the Tour Championship, but he is fast making progress towards the elite and could well spring a surprise.

With Harrington unfancied, plus Stenson and Rose missing, Sergio Garcia heads the European challenge. Hopefully he will suffer no ill-effects from another heartbreaking defeat in a Major at the hands of Harrington, though at 14/1 I can think of better value bets than this perennially unreliable character. Paul Casey and Ian Poulter have done enough in the States to have a Fedex Cup chance, but neither particularly stand out in the opening event.

Others worth a mention include a trio of former Major winners, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Geoff Ogilvy. Sooner or later, one of that first pair will bounce back to form but until they do its hard to make a case at odds driven by their reputation rather than form. Given Ogilvy’s penchant for big money events, he could come good over the next month. Again though, he will need to step up considerably on recent form.

I prefer the chances of Baddeley, a class act who has returned to form in recent weeks after a poor summer. When hitting 79 in his opening round in the WGC-Bridgestone, it seemed that poor run was going to continue. However, he hit back with three sub-par rounds that week, and followed up with a top-15 finish at Oakland Hills. The young Aussie, a proven multiple winner, could be coming good at the right time and should enjoy Ridgewood with its small greens and emphasis on quality iron play. He’s already shown a liking for such conditions with fine form at Harbour Town and Waialae.

Finally, JOHN SENDEN deserves another chance at odds of 125/1. Senden owes his position in world golf to his performances on this type of tough, firm and fast golf course, which favours his accurate game. He missed out on a place payout by one shot for us over the weekend, but showed enough there to confirm that his long game is in good nick approaching this crucial stage of the season.

Good Luck!

ADVISED BETS

BARCLAYS CLASSIC

5pts win PHIL MICKELSON @ 10/1 (LADBROKES, CENTREBET)

1.5pts ew ANTONY KIM @ 33/1 (GENERAL)

1.5pts ew ADAM SCOTT @ 33/1 (GENERAL)

1pt ew CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 50/1 (GENERAL)

1pt ew AARON BADDELEY @ 60/1 (PADDY POWER, 66/1 HILLS)

0.5pts ew JOHN SENDEN @ 125/1 (LADBROKES, CENTREBET, HILLS)