EUROPEAN OPEN

If the outcome of last week’s French Open was predictable in its unpredictability, the history of this week’s European Open suggests normal service will be resumed. Of the eight winners this century, six had either won a Major, the Order of Merit or played in the Ryder Cup. And as Stephen Dodd won during the best spell of his career in 2006, only 2005 champion Kenneth Ferrie could really be labelled an outsider.

Past comparisons are only of so much use though, as all of that previous form came at the K Club in Ireland. This year the tournament switches to a new venue in Kent, for which there is no top-class tournament history. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the London Club has rave reviews with the mixture of generous fairways, large greens and reachable par-5s pointing to low-scoring.

Like most Nicklaus designs, it sounds like a ’second-shot course’, which normally favours the best players so there’s every chance those tournament trends will persist despite the change in venue. Four class acts stand out as particularly obvious candidates, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Justin Rose and arguably the best player in the world on current form, ROBERT KARLSSON.

If the tournament does turn out to be a birdie-fest, I couldn’t back Garcia with free money. Given a tough Major venue where his long game brilliance is emphasised, then Sergio must always be a candidate. In a putting contest though, he invariably gets left behind. Similarly, while Order of Merit holder Justin Rose is always respected on his rare European starts, I couldn’t back him on this season’s efforts. As for Harrington, I do think this course is tailor-made for his talents, but fear that his main focus over the next fortnight is preparation for defence of the Claret Jug.

Karlsson makes much more appeal than his ranking superiors, and rates a cracking each-way bet at 16/1. Its a minor miracle how he failed to pick up a title during May and June, when playing the best golf of his life. After finishing 8th in the Masters, the Swede finished no worse than 4th in his next five events including the US Open. Even last weekend’s worst in ages 13th involved a strong finish at the weekend, and was hardly a disaster given the fact he’s never performed at Le Golf National. The London Club, in contrast, looks perfect for his birdie-chasing talents.

A final round 68 in France suggested IAN POULTER is now fully recovered from the wrist injury that forced him out at Torrey Pines. Whatever his ridiculously inflated self-opinion, Poulter is always a serious candidate in Europe and is another attacking player who could make the most of this layout. He’s always worth keeping on side when available at decent odds in suitable conditions, as nine professional victories show he’s capable of taking chances to win when they arrive.

I’m not so sure the new venue will suit defending champion Colin Montgomerie though, another player who struggles to keep up when low scoring is the order of the day. He’s also half of last week’s odds, an over-reaction to making the frame that can also be detected in the prices of Soren Hansen and Richard Green.

In direct contrast, the odds for NICK DOUGHERTY have been enlarged on the back of his customary annual struggle at Le Golf National. 50/1 seems too big considering he finished 4th on his previous European Tour start, and again Dougherty looks the attacking type that I expect to thrive in low-scoring conditions. Over the past three months, the Scouser ranks 1st for putting average and 4th in birdie average.

40/1 chance Charl Schwartzel has similar qualities and is probably overdue a payout week after several near-misses but at twice the price, I prefer the chances of a pair who came through Open qualifying on Monday. Firstly I’ve mentioned ALEXANDER NOREN several times this year as a first-time winner-in-waiting. While there’s been no reward to date, I’m happy to persist whilst he’s available at big prices. Noren seems to play well on alternate weeks, so having played pretty well in Germany a fortnight ago I’m unconcerned that he missed the cut in France on a course I’d never expect to suit his attacking game.

Finally, JOHAN EDFORS proved three times in 2006 that he knows how to get over the winning line, and therefore warrants a bet at 80/1 on a course that is ideally suited to his talents. A birdie-machine on his day, I could see Edfors shooting very low here. Earlier in the year, Edfors was playing the best golf of his career without nailing a win but has gone off the boil in recent weeks. Monday’s form in Open qualifying was his first for a few weeks, and could spark a further revival.

Good Luck!

EUROPEAN OPEN

3pts ew ROBERT KARLSSON @ 15/1 (PADDY POWER, 16/1 CORAL, CENTREBET)

1.5pts ew IAN POULTER @ 33/1 (GENERAL, 35/1 CENTREBET)

1pt ew NICK DOUGHERTY @ 50/1 (GENERAL)

1pt ew ALEXANDER NOREN @ 80/1 (GENERAL)

1pt ew JOHAN EDFORS @ 80/1 (GENERAL)