The second leg of three lucrative Japanese Tour events has managed to attract a stronger overseas presence than last week?s Taiheyo Masters. 10 of the field are in the world?s top-100 including five from the top-30. Open champion Padraig Harrington defends the title he won surprisingly against Woods having trailed badly on the final day, and is a deservedly short-priced favourite at 11/2. However, Pod isn?t someone I?m interested in taking short prices about as he has never been fully reliable when carrying the favourites? tag. And there?s certainly enough quality amongst his main challengers to offer alternative each-way value.
I doubt we?d have seen 14/1 about IAN POULTER here if he hadn?t disappointed in Shanghai. Prior to that he?d just missed out on the places at Valderrama despite a very poor start, and has generally looked a probable winner before the year?s end. Poulter has won at least one event in each of the last eight years with the sole exception of 2005. As he?s probably just enjoyed his most consistent and impressive season to date, Ian will no doubt be busting a gut to maintain that record in what may well be his last event of the year. He finished sixth behind Harrington last year, and will know his way around the course a little better this time.
My worst golfing memory of 2007 has been TIM CLARK somehow managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when carrying this column?s money at 28/1 in the John Deere Classic back in July. That was the second of three second-placings for Clark in the past six months, who remains winless in the US. Its a strange record, given that Clark has shown himself to be anything but a bottler when winning in South Africa and Europe, and surely this statistic will be corrected before long. This is his first visit to Japan, but he should have the perfect accurate long game required for success on this course.
Luke Donald would be an obvious threat were he to regain his best form, but sadly there?s been little sign of it for a while. A better bet may be fellow course debutant HENRIK STENSON. Its only a few months since the Swedish star was a short-priced favourite for the Order of Merit before a poor summer ruined things, though in fairness he did miss some time for the birth of his child. He looked back to somewhere near his best at the recent World Matchplay, and played well again in Shanghai over the weekend. Starting this week, it would be no surprise to see Stenson re-establish his big reputation over the winter months.
Of the home team, Shingo Katayama has the best course record and he represents the their strongest chance along with the consistent Toru Taniguchi. Neither make much appeal though at less than 20/1. If Shigeki Maruyama, who did well here when last playing the course in the 1990s, could repeat his last PGA Tour effort then he?d be a shoe-in but consistency is not something I?ve associated with Shigeki for some time.
I prefer his namesake DAISUKE MARUYAMA at a bigger price. Of the pair, Daisuke?s recent form on the PGA Tour has been more consistent. He looked good for a place for a long way last week when carrying our money, and deserves another chance.
Finally, the talented young Spaniard GONZALO-FERNANDEZ CASTANO has already shown a liking for this event and course, and could represent some each-way value at 33/1. Three times already a winner in his short career, Castano has performed well here in both of the last two years finishing 5th and 8th. He?s continued improving in the meantime, and looked a serious contender in several European tournaments towards the end of the season.