NEDBANK CHALLENGE

The Challenge, formerly known as the Sun City Million named after the course, is a long-standing 12-runner invitational event which always attracts a world-class field. In such a small field it can be tricky trying to gauge a concept of value when we’re used to odds of over 20/1 being the norm for a strong contender in the usual 150-runner stroke play field. Here, three players are vying for favouritism around the 5/1 mark: Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Defending champion Furyk deserves his position at the head of the market after an exemplary, consistent year in which he attained a career-peak world ranking at number two behind Tiger Woods, including 12 top-four finishes on the PGA Tour. Among those 12 were a couple of victories in Canada and the Wachovia Championship. Throughout a fine career, Jim has won plenty and undoubtedly knows how to win, but he doesn’t do it perhaps as regularly as he should. At least not as regularly as one would like to be taking a best price of 4/1. Nevertheless, he’s certainly one to keep an eye on should his price drift in-running, as he always seems to be there or thereabouts at the finish.

In contrast, his two principal rivals have endured a disappointing year by their own high standards. Ernie retains all his class as one would expect, but his returns from 2006 have been very modest. Eight top-10s and nothing better than third would satisfy many a journeyman pro, but not someone of Els’ reputation. From looking set to challenge Tiger for global domination a couple of years ago, Ernie is now “languishing” in seventh place on the world ranking list. In his favour, there is no doubt he will be desperate to belatedly open that 2006 account and is as likely to end the run at Sun City as anywhere else. The Big Easy has a truly magnificent course record, winning four years in succession from 1999 and finishing second on three other occasions. This is more than factored into the skinny price, though.

The third of the market leaders, RETIEF GOOSEN is the most attractive for betting purposes in my view at 11/2. The 2004 Nedbank winner has also finished runner-up either side of that win, and has plenty of impressive course form in other events played here. Having finished fourth at the season-ending Tour Championship, the Goose looked set for a big winter when odds-on against a world-class field in Shanghai the following week, but spectacularly fluffed his lines on the final day – not for the first time in recent seasons. I am, however, expecting him to bounce back over the winter, and it is very hard to see him being far away on Sunday.

Dual Nedbank winner Sergio Garcia would normally come into calculations, but I have placed a personal ban on backing Garcia for the time being. After some narrow defeats in Europe when his putting remained infuriatingly poor, the latest collapse in Japan was the final straw for me. Outside the team environment of a Ryder Cup, Sergio’s putting is just too bad to trust and until considerable improvement is evident he must be overlooked. Padraig Harrington has the recent form to compete here, but has failed to make the frame in four previous Sun City outings.

So it seems the main threat to the favourites may come from home favourite TREVOR IMMELMAN. As I’ve said numerous times recently, Immelman will in my view be the next player to break into the elite. Always rated a top long-term prospect since his days at Ernie Els’ foundation golf school and a multiple winner on the European and Sunshine Tours, Trevor’s golf moved up a gear in 2006, becoming a winner and regular challenger on the PGA Tour. He is making his debut in the Nedbank, but won the lesser Dimension-Data Pro-Am the last time he competed at Sun City and should prosper again now.

With no great confidence surrounding any of the favourites then, I can see plenty of mileage in looking down the betting list for some each-way value. I’m happy to discount out of form Chris DiMarco and out of his depth Charl Schwartzel, while José Maria Olazábal has done nothing on his two previous appearances. David Howell’s price would be enormous if there weren’t lingering doubts about his fitness. Any bet at 28/1 has therefore to be taken on trust. Equally, Colin Montgomerie has the game and enough course form to overcome odds of 25/1, but has shown only patchy form in the last year, and very little since July.

This leaves one remaining player, the debutant Henrik Stenson. Lack of course experience is the only negative as far as I’m concerned with Stenson, who hasn’t had a bad tournament since August. Incidentally, Stenson is second only to Immelman in my aforementioned “next player to break into the elite” list. He remains an outstanding prospect, and well worth persevering with because another win is only around the corner.

BLUE CHIP NEW ZEALAND OPEN

Only six players from the world’s top-150 line up in New Zealand for this co-sanctioned European Tour event, Michael Campbell (34), Richard Green (62), Simon Dyson (87), Nathan Green (110), Kevin Stadler (114) and Daniel Chopra (146). In such a weak field and with serious question marks over some of the better players, the chances of a shock winner are clearly enhanced. This is reflected in the smaller staking plan than the previous fortnight.

Campbell is obviously the star attraction in his homeland, and an absolute shoo-in on his best form or a repeat of his recent third in China. The problem here is two poor efforts since, and missed cuts in his last two NZ Opens, including on this course. Dyson had a cracking summer to improve his ranking, but has gone off the boil recently and also missed the cut last year. Nathan Green strikes me as an obvious contender, but also did nothing on a previous visit and also has to bury lingering doubts over his temperament under pressure.

And therefore, while the price doesn’t exactly scream value, in-form RICHARD GREEN simply has to be included in any betting plan at 10/1. The Australian left-hander finished third here last year and comes in on the back of some good results in better company, of which Sunday’s third place behind Justin Rose was possibly the highlight. He also has the perfect accurate tee-to-green game for Blue Harbour, and will do better than most if the wind gets up around these exposed greens. Green is by no means the best finisher in world golf though, which is why I had to baulk at the price. Nevertheless, at least a saver is required.

GAVIN COLES has an obvious each-way chance in a field of this calibre and looks a tasty each-way bet at 33/1. After just failing at the last in third place at the Australian Open, Coles started at 50/1 for last week’s Masters event. This field is incomparably weaker, minus Casey, Allenby, Appleby, Lonard, Rose, O’Hern to name a few. Having finished an average 32nd there, I can’t see how his betting appeal has deteriorated particularly and would have priced him up at no more than 20/1 here. There are other arguments in his favour than the price. He won on his last visit to NZ in the 2004 NZPGA and has shown plenty of form on the Nationwide Tour, including a September win in Ohio. In the past we’ve often seen Nationwide Tour form transfer favorably with this type of low-grade Australasian event.

From the European Tour, DAMIEN MCGRANE could be in for a good week at 40/1. The Irishman finished seventh here last year, and has probably improved since. Like most of his countrymen, he has proved himself particularly adept at playing in windy conditions with exposed greens. I have a suspicion that there may be a correlation with form on this course with that of the KLM Open in the Netherlands. In last year’s running, Simon Dyson touched off Richard Green and McGrane, with fellow Irishman PETER LAWRIE back in 6th. Lawrie remains winless on the main European Tour, but has proven his ability to win on the Challenge Tour. I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him in amongst it over the weekend at a massive 66/1.

For a preview of the BLUE CHIP NEW ZEALAND OPEN click here

Good Luck!

STAKING PLAN

NEDBANK CHALLENGE

6pts win RETIEF GOOSEN @ 11/2 (BETDIRECT, VCBET & HILLS)

4pts win TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 10/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

2pts ew HENRIK STENSON @ 16/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

BLUE CHIP NEW ZEALAND OPEN

4pts win RICHARD GREEN (LADBROKES, BETFRED, BETDIRECT)

2pts ew GAVIN COLES @ 33/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

1pt ew DAMIEN MCGRANE @ 40/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE, 50/1 WITH CORALS)

1pt ew PETER LAWRIE @ 66/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE, 80/1 WITH SKYBET)

2006/2007 STATS: (After Week 3): +49pts

2005/2006 STATS: +144pts

ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED

VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT

5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1 (PRICES AVAILABLE WITH LADBROKES, BET DIRECT)

5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1 (BET DIRECT, BLUESQ, LADBROKES, TOTE)

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

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

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