As we approach the end of what has been the best ever year for Australian golf, it’s now time for their season to reach its peak, starting with this week’s Australian Open from Moonah Links. Adam Scott’s impressive victory at the PGA Tour season’s finale, the Tour Championship, crowned an unforgettable year for the Aussies, in which Geoff Ogilvy (pictured) won his first Major at the US Open plus the World Match Play, Stuart Appleby won his third consecutive Mercedes Championship, while Rod Pampling, John Senden and Aaron Baddeley all opened their Stateside accounts for the first time. The only negative for me about this famous old championship is that, with sponsors preferring the emerging Far East, Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and the European contingent have opted for the big money on offer in Japan and Hong Kong and consequently, the foreign contingent in Sydney is very sparse.
It would be very dangerous to assume that the Australians will automatically resume the pecking order of the PGA Tour. Scott and Ogilvy may be the most likely forthcoming challengers in the Major championships, but these golf courses are usually very different and require slightly different skills. Whereas most PGA courses are soft, target golf courses with receptive greens, a course like Moonah is hard and fast, requiring more imaginative shotmaking and placing a massive premium on accuracy. I see these differences as the main reason why Scott has never looked the same player at home. Despite 11 worldwide wins in 5 years, Scott is still looking for his first success in Australasia. Ogilvy is also yet to open his home account, though he has gone close a few times earlier in his career. However, he is also well worth taking on this week after two disappointing previous efforts on the course.
For me, there is only one player who should start favourite every time he tees off in Australia – ROBERT ALLENBY. The defending champion, and winner of the Triple Crown last year (of which this is the first of three big events in quick succession), gave an interview a couple of days ago explaining just how much he prefers the test of this type of golf as opposed to what he described as the ‘boring’ US Tour. Whereas others have indifferent records, 11 of Bob’s 19 worldwide wins have come at home. Only twice in the last nine years has Allenby failed to make the top-10 in his native Open, and he has only failed to make that position once in his last 11 starts in Australia. Furthermore, Allenby is always worth a bet because he is one of the most reliable finishers in golf. This is a guy who has never lost a play-off, and with the exception of Tiger Woods and perhaps Lee Westwood, I can’t think of any player I’d rather have on my side in a tight finish.
If Allenby is one of the best, Nick O’Hern remains arguably the worst finisher in world golf. The left-hander’s only two wins came in very low-grade Aussie events back in 1998 and 1999. This is frustrating from a betting point of view, because in terms of finishing positions, Nick’s record is even more impressive than Allenby. He has finished no worse than 3rd on his last five home starts and has missed the top-10 once in ten starts. Twice runner-up in this event, he looks bound to be there or thereabouts yet again. But as he seems unlikely to win, match bets and spreads seem a more sensible punting route with O’Hern.
Of the other leading contenders, two more are reluctantly overlooked. Stuart Appleby on the grounds that his two Moonah Links efforts were just average and his price of 10/1 is short enough, and Rod Pampling. Pampling is another one bound to be on the premises, and remains a player I like to follow at good prices in the US. However, at 16/1 his price is also nothing out of the ordinary considering a poor conversion rate with only three career victories. Rod remains another to watch in the speciality markets, though.
Winning has never been a problem for AARON BADDELEY. He crashed straight into the big time when winning this event twice in succession as a teenager, the first time as an amateur who showed no hint of stagefright as he put legends like Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman to the sword. He has remained essentially an inconsistent, but supremely talented player since, though has just enjoyed his breakthrough year in the States. The fact that Badds’ first victory came at Hilton Head Island came as no surprise, as clearly he has a penchant for linksy type conditions. At 25/1, he looks decent each-way value against the big names.
JOHN SENDEN was another first-time winner in the States this year, which must have been a monkey off his back as he’d waited eight years since his last victory in Asia. Though that win was near impossible to predict from a betting standpoint, Senden had looked a vastly improved player last winter. In the three big Australian events last winter, he finished no worse than 6th including runner-up in this event on the same course. His tremendous greens in regulations statistics (ranked 3rd on the PGA Tour last year) are a priceless asset on courses such as Moonah Links, and he represents fine each-way value.
My other two selections are the pair that fought out the 2003 Australian Open at Moonah, PETER LONARD and STEPHEN LEANEY. Lonard has fallen down the Australian pecking order this year as so many of his compatriots have made an impact in the States, but this should not be taken at face value. In his home country, Allenby is the only player who can hold a light to Lonard’s record. The only downside to Allenby’s Triple Crown was that he was merely repeating Lonard’s amazing feat of the previous year. Peter also defended the Australian Open title in 2004, another of five home wins since 2002, and one of nine top-5 finishes from his last fifteen starts in his homeland. That record also looks much worse because he did little last winter apart from 6th at Huntingdale. But those efforts are easily forgiven as he rushed a return from injury to defend his titles, and a much bigger winter is expected this time around.
Finally in this tournament, Leaney looks overpriced at 50/1. Another one who has slipped down the pecking order this year, Leaney nevertheless enjoyed a solid year with a couple of summer top-10s and the usual solid greens in regulation statistics. It took a flying Lonard to stop him three years ago, and I can see this multiple worldwide winner staking a big claim from what could be a favourable early tee-time tomorrow.
HONG KONG OPEN
We will, however, be restricted to watching highlights of the Australian Open as for some inexplicable reason Sky refuse to show the event live as they used to. The only live event on British screens this week is the second instalment of the new European Tour season, the Hong Kong Open. Over the years this event has proven something of a goldmine for punters following the adage of backing the handful of top European players. The last seven winners have been European, with only Simon Dyson and Patrick Sjoland not being amongst the handful of market leaders.
That strategy has to be open to question now after Jeev Milkha Singh and Yong-Eun Yang have stunned the betting community by landing two consecutive lucrative European Tour events. Clearly the Asian Tour is also on the rise, but while it would be folly to write off Singh, Thongchai Jaidee and Jyoti Randhawa there is still a massive gulf in class between the rest of the Asians and the leading players in this event. Retief Goosen is hot favourite despite blowing a big chance to win in Shanghai, a final-round disaster that has led some to question whether the Goose has truly recovered from his 2005 US Open nightmare, when he blew a big lead on the final day. Such talk is ridiculous in my view – Goosen has been one of the great front-runners of recent times, with a perfect laid-back attitude. I’m more interested in the fact that this was his third consecutive good event after a disappointing season. I will be keeping a very close eye on Retief over the next few weeks, particularly in the South African events. However, this week’s course is not one where his prodigious length will be a huge advantage, and his price is nothing to write home about.
With Goosen so short, the value seems to lie elsewhere, particularly with defending champion COLIN MONTGOMERIE and KJ CHOI. I had a terrible time of it trying to predict Colin’s form last year – when he came good it was generally when I least expected it. But he has retained his ability well, particularly the fabulous iron play that brought the Scot eight Order of Merit titles. After a strong finish at Shanghai, followed by a head-to-head win over Goosen in Monday’s friendly team affair, as long as the putter behaves then the chances are that Colin will be very hard to keep out of the frame here.
Choi’s chances are even more obvious at a slightly shorter price. A runaway winner last month in the States, and a solid 9th at the weekend confirm the Korean is bang in form. He has the perfect game for this course, and finished runner-up to Monty last year. Again, a place looks the minimum ambition on a course that could separate the men from the boys.
On his best form, MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMENEZ would be a small fraction of his 40/1 odds here. Jimenez won this 2 years ago, and generally has a good Far East record, but has had an awful summer by his own standards. Since a decent 16th at the US Open, hot on the heels of some good efforts in Europe, the evergreen Spaniard has not made a top-20 finish. However, there have been signs of form, such as his first two rounds in the recent Dunhill Links, and after a couple of weeks off, I’m backing him to turn it around at some very attractive odds.
At bigger odds, I really like the look of KEVIN NA. This youngster has been firmly marked down in my notebook for a few years as a quite exceptional prospect. As a teenager, he regularly made the leaderboard in exalted company on his few invitational starts. He took like a duck to water on the PGA Tour, finishing second twice in 2005 before injury curtailed most of 2006. How interesting that on his first start, on the competitive Nationwide Tour, Na cruised to an all the way victory to show there are no ill-effects. That was followed by four sub-70 rounds on his return to the PGA Tour the next week. The opposition here lacks strength in depth and this could be a big opportunity for Na to re-emerge as one of the outstanding young talents in world golf.
For a preview of the HONG KONG OPEN click here
DUNLOP PHOENIX MASTERS
Despite the complete lack of TV coverage the Japanese event should be slightly more interesting than last week for two reasons. Firstly, Betfair have created a market, so we can at least take in-play positions, and secondly TIGER WOODS is playing so there should be plenty of money available on there. Despite getting my fingers burnt last week on the Tiger at short-odds, I can’t seriously recommend anything other than a cakewalk for him here in a much weaker field.
There are some dangers in the field. Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Justin Rose and Thomas Bjorn represent a quality foreign contingent alongside the Japanese best in Shingo Katayama, Daisuke Maruyama and others. But Tiger has won this event two years running, not to mention his previous 6 before Sunday’s ‘disastrous’ runners up position. I’m expecting another easy win here, and as short as it sounds, a best price of 6/5 could actually be the value bet of the week!
6pts win ROBERT ALLENBY @ 10/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
2pts ew AARON BADDELEY @ 25/1 (CORALS, LADBROKES, PREMIERBET)
2pts ew JOHN SENDEN @ 33/1 (LADBROKES)
2pts ew PETER LONARD @ 33/1 (CORALS, LADBROKES)
1pt ew STEPHEN LEANEY @ 50/1 (CORAL)
HONG KONG OPEN
3pts ew KJ CHOI @ 16/1 (CORALS, LADBROKES, PREMIERBET)
3pts ew COLIN MONTGOMERIE @ 20/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1.5pts ew MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMINEZ @ 40/1 (LADBROKES, PADDY POWER)
1.5pts ew KEVIN NA @ 50/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
DUNLOP PHOENIX MASTERS
15pts TIGER WOODS @ 6/5 (BETFRED, SKYBET, TOTE)
2006/2007 STATS: (After Week 1): (-30pts)
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)