ABU DHABI CHAMPIONSHIP
The European Tour now enters its lucrative early-season spell in the Middle-East, with tournaments in Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai over the next three weeks. With the new Fedex Cup forcing many players to rethink their schedules, it could be some time before we see such strength in depth again on the European Tour, with every serious Order of Merit contender playing at some stage of the ?Middle-East Swing?, including Tiger Woods in Dubai.
Last year?s inaugural Abu Dhabi Championship produced a world-class leaderboard with Chris Dimarco, HENRIK STENSON and Sergio Garcia filling the top-3 places, all of whom have returned along with added attractions in the form of Retief Goosen and Padraig Harrington. The course offers plenty of birdie opportunities, favouring the longer hitters and best iron players – a surefire recipe to favour the very best players. So I?m expecting more of the same, with very few outsiders on the leaderboard, and the best strategy is to pick a selection of the market leaders using a process of elimination.
Its impossible to overlook the claims of Stenson to gain revenge for last year?s near-miss. Henrik looked the most likely winner for a very long way, but ultimately just couldn?t deal with an inspired Chris Dimarco. That seems a long time ago for Dimarco, whom I had high hopes for after that performance which had come hot on the heels of a stellar Presidents Cup. Since then though, the American has done very little. Garcia, too, cannot be
backed after last season?s numerous putting and final-round disasters. And Paul Casey is overlooked as this was one of his few disappointing events in 2006.
In addition to Stenson, then, I?m keeping RETIEF GOOSEN and PADRAIG HARRINGTON onside. Both should be perfectly suited to this course, and represent the best worldwide form in the book. Along with Stenson, its worth backing this trio each-way as one place would cover most of our risk, and I believe there?s a strong possibility of getting two in the first five. The one player I like at big odds is Argentinian RICARDO GONZALEZ, who made the frame here last year. 17th place in Johannesburg was only a moderate start to 2007, but encouragingly he finished strongly with a 65 which suggests he was just using that low-key affair as a warm-up for the Middle-East Swing. Gonzalez certainly has the power to go very low on a course like this.
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BOB HOPE CLASSIC
In the States, as usual PHIL MICKELSON starts his 2007 campaign at the Bob Hope Classic. With this pro-am played over five-rounds than the usual four, starting a day earlier than usual, there?s a strong case to be made for the formbook taking on even greater significance. The lack of strength in depth below Mickelson however, also suggests that we can?t rule out another shock winner as with Paul Goydos in Hawaii.
With Mickelson, we?re taking a gamble about his game being finely-tuned, but odds of 13/2 are perfectly fair enough given previous indications from this tournament. In six Bob Hope outings this century, Mickelson has won twice, reflecting a 2/1 chance in betting terms. And all six have produced top-16 finishes, so it would seem that Lefty is always well prepared for his season-opener.
Beyond the favourite though I?m struggling to any outstanding betting appeal. Justin Rose would have a decent chance on his autumn form, but 20/1 is plenty short enough for a man yet to win in the States. At twice the odds, I prefer the chances of his good mate IAN POULTER to get that first PGA Tour victory under his belt. I?ve had Poulter down as a winner for years on the basis of his excellent win ratio in Europe. He enjoyed a reasonably successful first full year in the US, including a top-10 here, before returning to his very best in the autumn. At the end of the year, there were very few if any Europeans in better nick.
Much has been said about the lack of quality American youngsters emerging on the PGA Tour. Of this there can be little argument, but one of the few exceptions to the rule has been LUCAS GLOVER who looks a certainty to appear in future Ryder Cups. My view of Glover is that he is best suited to target golf courses at the moment where his excellent putting can be put to best use. Like Poulter, he made the top-10 last year, blowing his chance with one bad round out of 5. 33/1 looks a fair each-way bet as an alternative to
Finally in contrast to those two prospects, I?m also going for an old European favourite in the shape of JESPER PARNEVIK. Jesper remains a decent performer on his day and finished 2006 with consecutive top-10s. Three decent rounds out of four in Hawaii suggest he?s carried the form over, so the Swede will fancy his chances in one of his favourite events. Winner here seven years ago, he?s also made the top-5 on three other occasions.
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ABU DHABI CHAMPIONSHIP
3pts ew RETIEF GOOSEN @ 11/1 (BETFRED, CORAL, VCBET, PREMIERBET)
3pts ew HENRIK STENSON @ 12/1 (BETFRED, LADBROKES, HILLS)
3pts ew PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 12/1 (STAN JAMES)
1pt ew RICARDO GONZALEZ @ 66/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
BOB HOPE CLASSIC
6pts win PHIL MICKELSON @ 13/2 (STAN JAMES, BETFAIR)
1pt ew LUCAS GLOVER @ 33/1 (LADBROKES)
1pt ew IAN POULTER @ 40/1 (BET365, LADBROKES)
1pt ew JESPER PARNEVIK @ 40/1 (BETFRED, LADBROKES, TOTE, VCBET)
2006/2007 STATS: +10pts
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