Kaymer is marginally preferred to Stenson on his course debut because his recent form is more convincing. Whereas Kaymer finished the season on fire, narrowly missing out on a third 2008 title at both St Andrews and Valderrama, Stenson has only one good effort to his name since making the frame at the USPGA. That one decent effort came at Shanghai in very different conditions, and though 13th on his Phoenix debut last year reads pretty well, Stenson was beaten by nine shots on that occasion.
Even at 10/1, Katayama is still a fair price given a fine course record that has yielded one Dunlop Phoenix title and top-4s in the last two years. However I’m prepared to overlook him as back-to-back winners are very rare. His compatriot Azuma Yano has also been relentlessly consistent in Japan this year. but will need to dramatically improve a course record that shows no top-10s from five attempts.
Other top Japanese Tour performers who have repeatedly failed at Dunlop Phoenix include Brendan Jones, David Smail and Prayad Marksaeng. Shigeki Maruyama, a name well-known to PGA Tour fans, was a regular challenger here in the 1990s but nowadays is a pale shadow of the player that starred in a famous International victory in the Presidents Cup and regularly challenged for top US events.
I’ve argued before that GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO is a player to follow when conditions are right because of his excellent win ratio. Castano’s fourth European Tour title in as many years as a pro goes down as my betting highlight of 2008, and while his odds are just a quarter of the 100/1 obtained at The Belfry, his course record is too impressive to ignore. Castano’s three previous Dunlop Phoenix attempts resulted in finishes of 5th, 8th, and runner-up to Poulter last year.
Of the four Americans in the line-up, Brandt Jobe is highly unlikely to challenge. Brandt Snedeker finished 5th on his Dunlop Phoenix debut last year and would be very dangerous on that or the form showed when finishing 3rd at the Masters. However, Snedeker’s form tailed off badly afterwards, with his greens in regulation stats making for terrible reading.
Steve Flesch and STEVE MARINO look likelier to put up a strong challenge. Besides two excellent performances in the Masters and USPGA, Flesch has had an ordinary season. As a multiple PGA Tour winner though, he commands respect in a field of this stature and it would be no surprise to see him contend on his first overseas tournament in several years.
Marino is marginally preferred, as he can boast the best recent PGA Tour form of these Americans. 3rd place on his last start a fortnight ago was Marino’s fourth near-miss of the season as he pursues that elusive maiden title, and there’s no good reason why he shouldn’t maintain that good form in Japan. The fact he ranks highly in the greens in regulation over recent months also bodes well for his chances.
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