Without a shadow of a doubt, this week?s golfing highlight is in the US, with one of the best Tour events of the season in the form of the Nissan Open. Played since 1973 on the classic old course of Riviera, this always attracts a decent turnout. It has something of a Major feel about it this year with pretty much everyone bar Tiger in attendance. Riviera has hosted previous Majors and like most great courses, suits the best shotmakers with sound course management being of paramount importance. Experienced players have enjoyed an advantage over the years, and previous course form is even more of an advantage historically than in other events elsewhere on Tour.
Despite the strength of this field, there are several leading candidates who
immediately don?t appeal. Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk all
possess course records that can be described as ordinary at best. Retief
Goosen and Padraig Harrington are well capable of prospering here but at a
disadvantage as they are making their course debuts. It looks to me like the
perfect opportunity for ERNIE ELS to re-establish himself on the PGA Tour
and state his intentions for 2007.
Ernie looks hungry this year, determined to correct a very disappointing 18
months where he struggled to regain his best form after knee surgery. Even
when plainly not at his best, his class still produced consistent high
finishes, but it was only in his final event of 2006 that Els won his first
tournament of the year. That was on a similarly traditional venue in South
Africa, and he will be doubly determined to win in the US for the first time
in nearly three years. I?m convinced he?s pretty much back to his best,
despite narrowly missing out in the Middle East. And Ernie is better suited
to the demands of Riviera than anyone. One of the finest performances of his
career was beating a top class leaderboard back in 1999 to become the first
player under the age of 30 to win at Riviera. And further back, Els led the
1995 USPGA here for three and half rounds before Steve Elkington and Colin
Montgomerie passed him on Sunday evening.
ADAM SCOTT is also a blindingly obvious selection. Australia?s leading
player has won and finished runner-up over the past two years and looks to
be improving by the month. Four of his last seven events have resulted
either in a win or second place, suggesting he?s picking and choosing his
tournaments well now. Adopting a more sparing schedule appears to be paying
dividends, and like Ernie, I expect Scott to be a big player in the Majors
And though I have to forgive him a pair of poor recent efforts, I?m not
abandoning TREVOR IMMELMAN just yet. Last year the young South African
managed a very respectable 7th on his course debut, before setting out on a
run that would dramatically elevate his status in the world game. Make no
mistake. Immelman is a class act, a world star in the making and whilst he
can be backed at odds like this week?s 28/1 he should remain at the centre
of our attention.
At a much bigger price, I?ve also got to forgive KJ CHOI for 2 missed cuts
in his last two events. Because prior to that, the Korean had been in
cracking form with a win and three other top-10 finishes in his previous six
starts. KJ does have some form here, having never missed the cut with a best
finish of 5th place. He generally tends to go well on classic, shotmakers
courses which explains his decent record in the Majors.
For a preview of the NISSAN OPEN click here
The field for this week?s co-sanctioned European/Asian Tour event in Jakarta
is markedly weaker than the moderate one that assembled in Malaysia. Coupled
with the fact that this is a new course on the rota meaning we have
absolutely no previous form to work on, the Indonesian Open looks something
of a minefield for punters.
Looking at the head of the market, there is a classic example of market
over-reaction. Last week THONGCHAI JAIDEE started at 8/1 to beat a strong
field including a Major winner and Ryder Cup stars. But one disappointing
week later, when his only rival in terms of world ranking and price is
Englishman SIMON DYSON, and the Asian Tour?s leading player can be backed at
the same price.
Whilst there must be every chance of a shock winner in an event like this,
considering the standard of the rest of the field, 8/1 is very reasonable as
this is barely any better than a Challenge Tour event. Not only are there no
other leading Europeans than Dyson, but nearly all the top-class Indians and
Chinese players are also missing. Prom Meesawat would have a massive chance
if he could repeat his golf of the last fortnight but it could be asking a
bit much. But very quickly the betting list becomes filled with the players
who contended last week like Miko Ilonen and Ignacio Garrido. Players who
frankly hadn?t shown any form for ages beforehand and could easily slip
straight back into obscurity.
Missing the weekend might well work in Jaidee?s favour now, and Dyson is
also talking a confident game despite the frustrations of the weekend. Simon
could quite easily have won the Malaysian Open, leaving several shots out on
the course, but his long game looked in better nick than anybody?s. A repeat
of that or better still his penultimate effort in Dubai would make him a
certainty this week.
In addition to the front pair, I?m giving SHIV KAPUR another chance despite
missing the cut in Malaysia. All the same arguments apply as with Jaidee.
Whilst not being nearly as good as the Thai, Kapur is a top player on this
Tour who had been in fine form prior to Malaysia. Again missing the cut
could work in his favour now, and his price seems an over-reaction to one
disappointing week. And finally I must back Scotland?s SIMON YATES each-way
at 66/1. Yates is very consistent on this Tour, and nearly always is on the
leader board in these co-sanctioned events. Once again he was in contention
most of the way in Malaysia and should go well again.
For a preview of the INDONESIAN OPEN click here
JACOBS CREEK OPEN
In Australia, there?s another wide-open event with a field to rival
Indonesia for weakness. The Jacobs Creek Open is also co-sanctioned, this
time between the Australasian and Nationwide Tours. Unfortunately, only
three bookmakers and the exchanges are offering prices.
One look at the course form from 2002 – 2004 shows that this is a course
that must reward accuracy and course management over raw power, judging by
the consistent high finishes of people like Peter O?Malley and Terry Price.
Another notable factor is that the Australasian players have dominated the
leader boards in this event. Long-term readers may recall me singing the
praises of WADE ORMSBY in the past, and I am determined not to miss out when
he finally wins. Leaving any emotional bias aside, I think 25/1 is a very
sporting price in this company, as Ormsby?s winter form in Australia was
different class to most of this lot. Twice he just missed out on that first
win, once when sharing second place in New Zealand which he followed with a
3rd place in the prestigious Australian PGA.
O?Malley deserves to be favourite, but is so notoriously bad at closing out
events that I can?t consider him. Instead I must back the master of
Kooyonga, CRAIG PARRY, in the hope that he has retained his form. This
winter was only ordinary for Parry by his own standards, but it wasn?t
terrible either and he simply loves this course. In his last six visits,
he?s won once and never been worse than 8th.
And considering the testing nature of Kooyonga, veteran PETER SENIOR is
worth a nibble at attractive odds of 50/1. Senior finished 3rd in this event
in 2003, and on the balance of his winter form in Australasia has a chance
in this field. Whereas virtually everyone here bar a handful struggled all
winter on the tough courses in this part of the world, at least Senior made
every cut, with no finish worse than 29th.
6pts ERNIE ELS @ 12/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
4pts ADAM SCOTT @ 12/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 28/1 (CORALS, PADDY POWER, VCBET)
1pt ew KJ CHOI @ 80/1 (PADDY POWER, HILLS)
4pts THONGCHAI JAIDEE @ 8/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
4pts SIMON DYSON @ 8/1 (GENERAL, 17/2 WITH VCBET)
2pts ew SHIV KAPUR @ 28/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1pt ew SIMON YATES @ 66/1 (SKYBET, VCBET, SPORTING ODDS, HILLS)
JACOBS CREEK OPEN
2pts ew WADE ORMSBY @ 25/1 (BETFRED, SKYBET)
2pts ew CRAIG PARRY @ 33/1 (SKYBET)
1.5pts ew PETER SENIOR @ 50/1 (BET365, BETFRED, SKYBET)
2006/2007 STATS: +72pts
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