With Vijay Singh giving us a decent start with his win in Hawaii, the new golfing year moves into top gear this week with three live televised events. The new Setanta golf channel again shows the PGA Tour event from Hawaii, the Sony Open. On first impressions its coverage looked a slight improvement, with fewer adverts than Sky and Nick Faldo a rising star in the commentary box. But not to be outdone, Sky are screening two events, the co-sanctioned European Tour event from Johannesburg and, for early risers, the Royal Trophy, a team event from Thailand between Europe and Asia.
Take away the big guns Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman and it soon becomes apparent that the Sunshine Tour has little strength in depth. It’s no wonder then that Charl Schwartzel is so prohibitively priced at 5/1. Currently ranked 55, he is the only player from the world?s top 100 in the field. I rate Schwartzel and have often talked him up, but this is far too short a price. For all the potential he has, Charl is nowhere near reliable or consistent enough to be taking odds like this, especially on a course where experience and course management could be the most important assets.
The East Course at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington does represent a proper test of golf ? it’s fairly long but tree-lined which rewards accuracy and shotmakers. In fact, with Schwartzel too short but little depth in the field, there looks some cracking each-way value on a course where I still expect the market leaders to dominate the leaderboard.
The best value for me lies with RICHARD STERNE. A winner and occasional contender in Europe, Sterne is without doubt one of the best in this field, and he generally seems to prosper on courses where his excellent long game is rewarded. There?s only one piece of course form available from which we can work, at the 2002 Vodafone Classic. Richard was very young and inexperienced at the time yet managed to finish 3rd, which augurs well for a big run this week.
Tied for 3rd with Sterne that week was JACO VAN ZYL, a player who I must confess has only recently come to my attention. He made the top 20 in both the prestigious South African tournaments before Christmas, and looking through his results on the Nationwide Tour, Van Zyl must be in with a decent shout in this company. Certainly 50/1 looks very attractive.
In a field of this low status, there must be a decent chance of a European victory. The Continent’s best chance lies with the consistent PHILLIP ARCHER at 33/1. The best of Archer?s 2006 form would make him a shoo-in here, most notably when hanging around on the fringes of contention for three and a half days at the US Open. Otherwise, top-10s in Holland and the prestigious Volvo Masters alongside numerous top-20 finishes put him in the front rank here. A first Tour win looks around the corner if he can carry that sort of form
over into 2007.
For a preview of the Joburg Open click here
The last four Sony Opens have been won by David Toms, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els twice, confirming the view that the course at Waialae Country Club tends to produce a top-class winner. After last week?s heroics it’s no surprise to see Singh installed as clear 6/1 favourite as he certainly looks determined to put right a disappointing 2006 by his own high standards. However, this week?s course offers a completely different type of test to Kapalua and the Fijian is readily overlooked at three points shorter in a much stronger field.
Rather than favouring the big-hitters, Waialae rewards accuracy throughout with penal rough and strong winds making it very hard to hold the small greens from anywhere other than the fairway. These demands suit nobody better than LUKE DONALD, who looks overdue another Stateside win. Nine of Luke?s previous 14 rounds at Waialae have produced scores lower than 70 and his recent form around the world has been so consistent that another win can only be around the corner. Since August, Luke has only finished below 8th place once, and that 14th place in China was certainly no disgrace.
Having confirmed his resurgent form with a top effort at Kapalua, I?m surprised to see Hawaii specialist DAVIS LOVE as big as 25/1 here. Like Donald, Love?s recent form commands attention as he?s only missed the places once in his last five outings. Bar an untimely triple-bogey when in contention on Saturday, Davis could well have taken a closer hand in the Mercedes. And the fact that three of his four Waialae outings have yielded
top-10s, including a 2nd and a 3rd, confirms his liking for the course. I suspect there may be some correlation between form here and Hilton Head Island, home of the Heritage Classic and another course where Love has consistently prospered over the years.
At a much bigger price, STEVE STRICKER looks worth persisting with in his bid to win his first event since the 2000 World Matchplay. Coming back from a long spell in the doldrums, this class act?s performances were a revelation during the latter half of 2006. On his best form in the late 90s, he twice made the frame on this course. Stricker made the top-12 on his last five 2006 finishes, and should he carry that form over into the New Year I doubt he will be far away.
Finally, having finally broken a long winless spell in New Zealand recently, NATHAN GREEN looks worth chancing for his first US win at 66/1. This Aussie was one of the most improved performers of 2006, which started with 5th place here. Conditions at Waialae are not that different from the kind Green has been prospering in Down Under for years. A model of consistency during his first year on the main tour, there?s a good chance there?s more improvement to come.
For a preview of the Sony Open click here
This event is just the latest attempt to ape the Ryder Cup. Lets be honest, a contest between Europe and Asia in the second week of the year is never going to rival the big team events, but these tournaments usually make for good television.
I can?t say I?m looking at this as a serious punting medium, so a small interest on the team’s top scorer markets will suffice. For Europe, at the price NICLAS FASTH picks himself at 9/1. Fasth is such a determined character that we can be certain he won?t be treating this as a bit of early season fun and he has shown a liking for team events in the past.
Amongst the Asian team, there is probably a much wider gulf in class, so I?m opting for THONGCHAI JAIDEE, the greatest Asian player of all time.
3pts ew RICHARD STERNE @ 28/1 (SKYBET, 33/1 WITH LADBROKES)
2pts ew PHILLIP ARCHER @ 33/1 (LADBROKES, VCBET)
2pts ew JACO VAN ZYL @ 50/1 (STAN JAMES, BET365)
3pts ew LUKE DONALD @ 16/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
2pts ew DAVIS LOVE @ 25/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1pt ew STEVE STRICKER @ 66/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1pt ew NATHAN GREEN @ 66/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
TOP EUROPEAN SCORER
2pts NICLAS FASTH @ 9/1 (SKYBET)
TOP ASIAN SCORER
2pts THONGCHAI JAIDEE @ 9/2 (BETFRED, PREMIERBET, STAN JAMES)
2006/2007 STATS: +7pts
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