WGC-ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP

This week sees the first of the three World Golf Championships events in 2007, with a new course hosting the World Match Play. Played in match play format over six knockout rounds, this is the most wide-open event on the golfing calendar. As we?ve seen time and again in both this tournament and team golf events like the Ryder Cup, 18-hole match play is the greatest leveller in golf. Separating any two of the top 64 players over 18 holes is never a straightforward task, but in match play it can prove a bit of a lottery. Picking the winner is also made no easier by the fact the tournament has moved from its regular La Costa home to a new venue at Dove Mountain. Since the event?s inception in 1999, five of the eight winners have started at 80/1 or bigger as have well over 50% of the semi-finalists.

Despite the lack of course form, we can still see plenty of previous trends.

With six wins over five days required, including 72 holes over the

weekend, the younger and fitter players have an obvious advantage. Several

competitors are on record as disliking this event and its format. Phil Mickelson

has a decent 60% ratio of winning matches, but has never reached the semis.

Ernie Els has made the last four just once – in Australia, when the tournament was significantly weakened by absences – and only won two out of seven matches at La Costa. Vijay Singh has never even made the quarter-finals. Stuart Appleby, Paul Casey, Charles Howell, Trevor Immelman and Colin Montgomerie are other good players with notably bad World Match Play records.

Naturally, the exception to the rule is Tiger Woods, who this week bids for

an incredible eighth consecutive PGA Tour victory. While Tiger has made three WGC Match Play finals out of seven, winning twice, he has never reached the semis otherwise. Furthermore, those wins came in particularly favourable wet and rather penal conditions, whereas this week?s venue is in the desert.

In fact despite his phenomenal form over the past eight months, the trading value here is to lay Woods at just above 7/2. After all, the accumulator for six winning matches will pay around that figure anyway, and you?d have to expect that he will struggle at moments in matches which would cause his price to drift significantly. The draw has not been particularly kind either. First-round opponent J J Henry is no mug, while tough opponents such as Robert Allenby, his previous match play conquerer Nick O?Hern, Henrik Stenson and Luke Donald are all in the same section of the draw.

With Tiger?s quarter particularly competitive, the betting sense is to look

for decent each-way value in other sections of the draw. With all firms

paying ¼ odds for a semi-final place, the place part of an each-way bet will

already be settled before our selections even have to think about Woods. And

should he exit early, everyone else?s price shortens.

One particularly weak eighth of the draw is in my view the one including

Phil Mickelson. Lefty is obviously a huge danger on current form, but may suffer

a hangover from his weekend disappointments. And as his record in the event

is only moderate, he must be worth taking on with JUSTIN ROSE being the one

I like here. His first-round match against Michael Campbell could be a

banker unless Cambo has recovered from the neck injury that forced him to

withdraw early in Malaysia 10 days ago and also rediscovered some semblance

of form in the meantime. Should Rose come through he would probably face

Mickelson but the match afterwards is not particularly daunting. In order to

reach the quarters he?d have to play one of Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke, Stuart Appleby or Charles Howell. The first three are near the top of my “players to oppose this week” list, while in-form Howell must improve on a dire Match Play

record.

Similar comments apply to the eighth below where Ernie Els is a hot

favourite. Ernie must be opposed this week, and in the same section Thomas

Bjorn, Brett Wetterich and Bradley Dredge all look no-hopers. The player I

like is match play master CHRIS DIMARCO. A star in Ryder and Presidents Cups,

DiMarco also finished runner-up two years ago and has an impressive win

ratio of 10 wins against six losses in this event. He has the perfect

credentials – he’s a great iron player, hot putter and competitive personality

that thrives on match play. In an ideal world, Rose and DiMarco would meet in

the quarter-finals and guarantee an each-way return.

But it is the other half of the draw that looks the most open and I have

picked a team of five to go into battle with. With the biggest guns here

being Singh, Jim Furyk and Retief Goosen – all of whom have either poor Match Play records or are out of form – there?s plenty of mileage looking for decent

value alternatives. I?ve got to overlook a rare poor effort from ADAM SCOTT (pictured) at the Nissan as his chance here is so obvious. He?s looked a natural for this format despite not winning it yet, holding a highly impressive 71% ratio of winning WGC Match Play matches. And while his first-round match against Shaun Micheel does have the look of a classic first-round upset about it, there?s no denying that the draw has generally been favourable.

In the next quarter, the player I fancy to emerge, hopefully to play Scott

in the semi, is another Match Play specialist, DAVID TOMS. Toms has plenty of

form in the desert, and certainly has the required temperament. He won this

event two years ago and has a mightily impressive 77% success rate from 26 WGC matches. As with Rose, Toms may benefit from a straightforward opener

against a player who has been struggling with injury, Aaron Oberholser.

And as I believe this half of the draw offers the best value, I?m also going

in with a trio of three-figure priced selections. Firstly BRETT QUIGLEY has

yet to win on the PGA Tour, but has generally been a model of consistency

over the last year and looks the classic type of American outsider to go

well in this event. I fancy Brett to land the biggest upset of the first day

in eliminating Jim Furyk, which would open things up a bit.

Secondly, I?m prepared to take a chance that Swede ROBERT KARLSSON will for

once reproduce his best European form in the States. His first-round

opponent, Stephen Ames, is there for the taking, and there?s nobody in his

section that terrifies me. After all, let’s not forget Karlsson reached the

semi-finals of the other World Match Play at Wentworth last year, and has

been in superb form for the last six months.

And finally I?ve got to have a slightly sentimental interest in STEVE

STRICKER at 125/1. Stricker won this as a 100/1 rank outsider when it was

held in Australia in 2001. To this date, that remains my biggest-priced golf

winner. But leaving the sentiment aside, that came in the middle of

Stricker?s crisis years, something he has put well behind him over the last

9 months. He has a very tough opener against defending champ Geoff Ogilvy

but should he win that Stricker?s odds would tumble.

NEW ZEALAND PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

I was a little frustrated to only get a couple of shared places from our

three bets last week in Australia. Once again, the obvious home contenders

were right on the premises throughout, but this time they fluffed their

lines on the final day and a couple of completely unconsidered outsiders

stole the show.

Shock winners are always a danger in tournaments as weak as this, but the

general principle is sound. Australasian courses tend to favour experienced

local players and a distinct advantage is held by them over their mainly

American Nationwide Tour opponents. This week’s event is played on a

regularly used course, Clearwater, where there is plenty of form on offer.

Serial bottler Peter O’Malley has somehow managed to win twice here, which

can only mean accuracy from tee to green must be at a premium and worth a

lot more than just length. POM is a late withdrawal which narrows the list

of contenders even further. The best bet for me is a decent Aussie player

well overdue another win, BRETT RUMFORD. We know Rumford has plenty of

bottle from his Irish Open win in 2005, and other times in contention in his

homeland. Fifth place at Kooyonga was his third decent effort of a mixed

winter, which also included a second place in New Zealand. Of as much interest is the fact that he was second here last year, making him a very obvious selection now in a field where only a few come in for consideration.

Alongside Rumford, two of last week’s selections make the staking plan

again. CRAIG PARRY is a formidable player in this class, and should be well

suited to the demands of Clearwater. If it wasn’t for a disastrous spell on

Saturday, Popeye could easily have won the Jacob’s Creek Open but this could offer some consolation. And I shall give WADE ORMSBY another chance, especially as he was fourth here last year and shared second spot with Rumford in the recent NZ Open.

Peter Senior is reluctantly overlooked at half of last week’s odds, as his

course form is only moderate. Alternatively, I’m going with GREG CHALMERS

after he continued his winter reviival. Chalmers, a former US Tour regular,

is emerging from a spell in the doldrums and went well for a long way at

Kooyonga before slipping to 11th. That follows on from two other top-10s

from three winter Australasian tournaments, both amongst much stronger

fields than this.

There is another PGA Tour event, the Mayakoba Classic, but this is one of

the rare occasions where I think there is no point in betting. With the

top 64 at Dove Mountain, this is a poor field and to compound matters there

is no course form to evaluate. Considering the fact that this will clash

directly with the infinitely more interesting World Match Play, it’s best left

alone.

Good luck!

ADVISED BETS

WGC-ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY CHAMPIONSHIP

2pts ew ADAM SCOTT @ 25/1 (TOTE, LADBROKES)

2pts ew DAVID TOMS @ 33/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

1pt ew CHRIS DIMARCO @ 66/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

1pt ew JUSTIN ROSE @ 80/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

1pt ew STEVE STRICKER @ 100/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

1pt ew ROBERT KARLSSON @ 100/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

0.5pts ew BRETT QUIGLEY @ 200/1 (LADBROKES, PADDY POWER)

NEW ZEALAND PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

3pts ew BRETT RUMFORD @ 25/1 (TOTE)

2.5pts ew CRAIG PARRY @ 33/1 (STAN JAMES)

2.5pts ew WADE ORMSBY @ 28/1 (BET365, SKYBET, STAN JAMES)

2pts ew GREG CHALMERS @ 28/1 (BET365, STAN JAMES)

2006/2007 STATS: +60pts

2005/2006 STATS: +144pts

ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED

VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT

5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1

5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1

3pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN GRAND SLAM IN 2007@ 40/1

10pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN 3 MAJORS IN 2007 @ 8/1

US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS

2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1