Only one of this weeks field is certain to be at Valhalla, and its no surprise to see Robert Karlsson start as stand-alone favourite in his home country. Karlsson gave us an early run for our money at the PGA, ruining his chance with one very poor round in the toughest conditions. He still hasnt finished outside the top-20 anywhere since March, and looks a very likely contender. However, I cant ignore the fact that he missed the cut at Arlandastad last year so he is overlooked in single figures.
Nor is it entirely clear that this course will bring out the best in a player like Karlsson. At under 6,900 yards, Arlandastad is short by modern standards, but still a very tough test. Its very exposed to wind despite being a parkland course, and the rough is penal. With strong winds forecast, I doubt there will be too many players under par and last years -6 winning total should be useful once again.
Of the Ryder Cup chasers, the man currently one place outside the qualifying zone, Martin Kaymer, is the most interesting. Kaymer looked certain to win this last year for his maiden title, before blowing his chances over the final holes with an inexperienced display. Hes a much improved player since, and well capable of winning his third event of the season. I can forgive below-par displays in the States, but a greater negative is that hes yet to show anywhere near his best in windy conditions.
Below the front pair, everyone else is at least 33/1 in a very wide-open looking affair. US Tour regulars DJ Trahan and Daniel Chopra merit respect on a rare European outing, while home favourites Peter Hanson and Alex Noren are also well capable of in this company. Young Oliver Fisher continues to impress, and could well win before the year is out.
Nick Dougherty made the frame here last year, but cant be backed after seven consecutive poor events. If he did return to form Dougherty could yet resurrect his Ryder Cup chances, as could Soren Kjeldsen if suddenly learning how to win. Instead, I prefer the chances this week of a man with plenty of Ryder Cup experience, but whose only realistic hope of making the team is to earn a wildcard.
PAUL MCGINLEY produced a decent effort on his last start a fortnight ago in the elite Bridgestone Invitational, a repeat of which would make him a strong contender in this field. Indeed, when in form hes usually there or thereabouts at this level, as four top-10s from his last ten Euro starts show. McGinley is making his course debut but would seem to possess the required accurate game and ability to cope with the wind.
The last time THOMAS LEVET was in action I advised backing him to win at Loch Lomond. After day one, he looked a surefire contender, before incredibly missing the cut with a disastrous run on the greens. On the basis of his wider 2008 form, that has to be forgiven and has little bearing on his chances in Sweden. Levet can certainly play in these conditions as he showed when runner-up in the extremely windy 2002 Open. Hes the No.1 ranked player for greens in regulation in Europe this season, and should cope better than most in avoiding the hazards.
Because all of my selections here are big prices, I can afford a couple of extra players to make-up a team of seven. Of the dozens of Swedes enjoying home advantage, my pick is one of the least well-known, MARTIN ERLANDSSON. The main supporting reason is that he has prospered in windy conditions before, in Ireland and Scotland. Erlandsson wasnt beaten very far here last year in 12th place, and has shown a few snippets of decent form this summer, with three top-10s since May.
At 66/1, I must back GRAEME STORM again, despite the fact hes let me down so many times. Storm played very well on his last start in the Open, holding an outside chance until a disastrous final nine sent him spiralling down to 39th in true Birkdale style. Nevertheless, he confirmed there that he can cope with tough, windy conditions and would appear to possess all the right criteria for a challenge on this course. He has played Arlandastad before, making the top-15 in a Challenge Tour event there four years ago when nowhere near his current standard.
Numerous players at over 100/1 came in for careful consideration before I could narrow the shortlist down to three. The two that just missed out were Irish wind specialist Damien McGrane, and another ultra-accurate, good wind exponent Peter OMalley. Instead, Ive settled on PETER LAWRIE, SIMON WAKEFIELD and JAN-ARE LARSEN.
Regular readers will remember Lawrie from previous failed big-price punts, and no doubt shared my sickness when he finally went in at a huge price in Mays Spanish Open. No matter, the Irishman could easily win again and given that recent excellence Im surprised to see him at these odds. Lawrie finished a respectable 12th here last year, and has shown time and again that he can excel in the wind.
Wakefield had an outstanding Open, touching second favouritism at one stage in the final round. Like Storm, a disastrous finish cost him a fortune, but it confirmed a long-held suspicion that Wakefield is suited to links golf and windy conditions in particular. Extremely accurate off the tee, this will also be one of the few weeks where Wakefields lack of length is no disadvantage and I can see him grinding out scores on this course where others struggle.
Finally, Larsen could be a very rare Norwegian winner after some solid form. His last two European starts have produced finishes of 4th and 12th, registering good accuracy stats in the process. Interestingly, he made the top-5 in that 2004 Challenge Tour event at Arlandastad, and would seem to be suited by the test.
1.5pts ew PAUL MCGINLEY @ 40/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1.5pts ew THOMAS LEVET @ 40/1 (GENERAL, 45/1 CENTREBET)
1pt ew MARTIN ERLANDSSON @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew GRAEME STORM @ 66/1 (BETFRED, VCBET, HILLS)
0.5pts ew PETER LAWRIE @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew SIMON WAKEFIELD @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew JAN-ARE LARSEN @ 125/1 (LADBROKES, SKYBET)