As the European Tour expands to different corners of the globe with each year, emerging countries like China and India have been pretty successful in attracting top names to boost the profile of their new events. Im sure that Chinese opportunities lie behind the surprising news that notoriously reluctant traveller Phil Mickelson is planning to join the European Tour, for example.
The one exception to the rule is Russia, whose national Open retains its slot on the summer schedule for the fifth year in a row since being upgraded from Challenge Tour status. Despite the countrys vast oil wealth and proximity to Europe, the Russians have failed to attract a single player in the worlds top-100, though in fairness this events post-Open date makes life difficult for the organisers.
What were left with is the weakest televised professional event of the year. Thankfully Sky understand this, and share this weeks coverage with the premier Seniors event of the year, which Ill discuss shortly. Betting is not straightforward, as even a golf betting anorak like me is only really familiar with a couple of dozen players in Moscow. None of the previous ten winners of this event were particularly obvious, so with a greater chance of a shock winner than usual, stakes are kept low.
Its difficult, however, to quibble with the claims of the favourites. Austrian MARKUS BRIER leads the way at 14/1, and looks very likely to go close. His recent form reads 5th in the competitive French Open, 8th in the top-class European Open, and runner-up in a Challenge Tour event in his own country last weekend. Furthermore, he has plenty of course form, finishing runner-up in 2004 and twice previously making the top-5.
Second-favourite Robert-Jan Derksen earned a place payout for us last year when chasing home runaway winner Per-Ulrich Johanssen. On the basis of his decent form in April, May and early June, Derksen would rate a cracking bet at 22/1, but he has questions to answer having missed his last three cuts. Similar arguments apply to the likes of Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Jose-Manuel Lara, capable of outclassing this field on their day but in dire need of a confidence boost.
Its easy to create cases for Gary Murphy and Robert Dinwiddie, though their recent form is more than factored into quite skinny prices. Dinwiddie missed out on an Open debut by a whisker when 6th at Loch Lomond, but is by no means consistent enough to warrant a 25/1 quote. Murphy on the other hand is very consistent, not least in Russia. Hes made the top-9 in this event four times, but is overlooked because of a career-long inability to win.
Take out these and a couple of other notables, (including John Daly), and what we have in reality is a decent Challenge Tour event. Players who have consistently proved a force at that level must therefore be taken very seriously, and all my other three selections are characters better known for their exploits at the lower level.
JAMIE DONALDSON has won here before back in 2001 when it was still a Challenge Tour event. He comes strongly into the argument after a couple of top-15s amongst vastly superior fields. A repeat of those efforts in the European or Wales Opens would guarantee at least a place.
Another Brit who likes it in Moscow is BENN BARHAM, who has made the top-6 three times in five visits. He too put in a quality effort in the recent Wales Open to finish 4th and is bound to be there or thereabouts on a course that will reward his straight driving. Italian ALLESANDRO TADINI rates roughly the same as Barham, not quite up to being competitive in the bigger Euro events but very reliable in the lower grade. Hes been typically consistent in recent Challenge Tour starts, winning an event only last month.
3pts ew MARKUS BRIER @ 14/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew JAMIE DONALDSON @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew ALLESANDRO TADINI @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew BENN BARHAM @ 50/1 (CANBET, CORAL, SKYBET)
LONG-TERM ALREADY ADVISED
2008 VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
10pts HENRIK STENSON @ 7/1
4pts PAUL CASEY @ 14/1
USPGA TOUR MONEY LIST
BETTING WITHOUT TIGER WOODS
2pts ew KJ CHOI @ 33/1
1pt ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 80/1
2007/2008 STATS: +541pts