3pts ew HENRIK STENSON @ 16/1 (GENERAL, 18/1 CORALS)
1pt ew ALEXANDER NOREN @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew STEVE WEBSTER @ 50/1 (BETFRED, HILLS)
1pt ew SIMON DYSON @ 55/1 (BET365, TOTE)
1pt ew RICARDO GONZALEZ @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
5pts win MIKE WEIR @ 10/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew MARK WILSON @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew MARK HENSBY @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew BILLY MAYFAIR @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew PAUL GOYDOS @ 125/1 (GENERAL, 150/1 TOTE)
2007/2008 STATS: +629pts
We have a new tournament and venue for what will be the final week of most European Tour players seasons, with only the top-60 money-earners going on to Valderrama next week. Based on the outskirts of Madrid, Club de Campo del Meditteraneo is the home course of Sergio Garcia. That connection, plus a first prize of over 300,000 Euros, has attracted a few more stars than the other regional events of the past fortnight. Besides Sergio, the field includes Ryder Cup stars HENRIK STENSON, Paul Casey and Justin Rose, while rising PGA Tour star Camilo Villegas makes a very rare European start.
Because this is our first sighting of the course, theres some uncertainty concerning how it will play, and who it will favour. Its relatively short at just over 7100 yards, with greens of average speed and little to suggest scoring will be tough. My feeling is that well see a winning score in the high teens for the third consecutive week.
If it is to be another birdie-fest, Im not sure that would be ideal for Garcia. Course knowledge alone isn’t enough to warrant a bet at a measly 6/1 about a player with one win in three years, and who is cursed with the dreaded bottler tag. Another final-day demise at the recent Tour Championship was just the latest in a long line of near-misses and did nothing to improve his reputation in this regard. I have no problem whatsoever labelling Garcia as the best tee-to-green player in the world bar Tiger, but he cannot appeal as a betting proposition until resolving his putting and final-day woes.
In any case, Garcia hardly deserves to be less than half the odds of Villegas or Stenson. If his focus hadnt been distracted by the death of his uncle on Sunday, Villegas would have been a selection here. Anyone capable of winning consecutive Fedex Cup events in the States must be a very serious contender at this lower level.
Stenson represents the best value among the favourites in my view, and I can envisage him leading this field a merry dance with a low total. 16/1 doesnt look so great when considering that he hasnt won this season, but that doesnt reflect the further strides hes made on the world stage. It looks a little better when considering hes made the frame in three of his last five events, two of which were Majors.
It would be no great surprise to see Justin Rose return to form at this late stage of the season, but outside the Ryder Cup hes done nothing to warrant a price only marginally higher than Stensons. A greater danger could be Paul Casey, whose recent long-game form has been outstanding. He will be a massive contender as soon as he can get the putter working. Nor can we write off the ever improving Jeev-Milkha Singh.
With low scoring the likely order of the day, sometimes birdie-machine Andres Romero also came in for strong consideration on his first European start since the Open. For the same reasons, ultra-attacking home prodigy Pablo Larrazabal could further enhance a growing reputation.
In short then, this looks wide open and makes careful staking imperative. All of my remaining selections therefore are at least 50/1, and have plenty of form in the region. ALEXANDER NOREN looks worth another chance after nearly giving us a run for our money at the weekend. Characteristically, Noren fired in birdies and eagles galore in Portugal only to ruin an outside final-day chance with a couple of disaster holes. If he can minimise those in Madrid, another high finish looks on the cards.
There are two interesting sub-plots in play this week. First and foremost, this represents the last chance for players outside the top-115 on the Order of Merit to correct matters and avoid the terrors of Q-School. Secondly, there is a tight race to get inside the top-60 and earn a place in the Valderrama field.
The second of those races is far likelier to produce an inspired winning performance, with SIMON DYSON my candidate to belatedly turn a disappointing season around. Hes currently in 62nd place, but well within striking distance of the man on the cut line, prolific non-winner David Lynn. Significantly, Dyson produced his best long-game performance, and best finish for a long while in Portugal over the weekend.
Portugal also confirmed the return to form of STEVE WEBSTER, who could so easily have successfully defended his title. That followed on from a top-15 in Madrid, so it seems once again Webby has chosen Southern Europe as the venue for his best efforts. His two previous Euro Tour victories came in Portugal and Italy, both in low scoring conditions as expected this week.
Another player who regularly thrives when the Tour hits this region is RICARDO GONZALEZ. His last two European victories have come in Spain, and he finished runner-up in Madrid only a fortnight ago. On the basis of that form, 80/1 looks a massive price, especially as his attacking game looks perfect for some of this courses risk-reward holes.