HSBC CHAMPIONS TROPHY

This week’s opening event counting towards the Order of Merit is in fact, a fairly pivotal one. The prize fund at the HSBC Champions Trophy of over ?4 million is one of the biggest of the season. The only problem for OOM contenders is that the overwhelming favourite to walk away with the ?655,883 winner’s cheque is TIGER WOODS. Tiger stunned the golfing world last week by withdrawing from the prestigious Tour Championship, citing fatigue after a busy autumn. Naturally the conspiracy theorists were out in force searching for an ulterior motive. Whether one exists or not, I’d be very surprised if he hasn’t been practising and turns up under-prepared for his bid for an amazing seventh consecutive victory. Lets not forget that the previous six include two Majors and two World Golf Championships.

I certainly wouldn’t have any doubts about his liking for the Shanghai venue. In the inaugural tournament last year, Woods finished second to a flying David Howell, despite spraying the ball all over the place from the tee. It’s fair to say that those imperfections in Woods’ game were more than ironed out by the summer, where he looked frankly unbeatable. It’s hard to identify any especially brilliant era in Woods’ career, as it has been nothing less than brilliant from day one. But my feeling is that the great man is in the kind of form that took him to that amazing 15-shot triumph in the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, the first of four consecutive Majors. If I’m right, then 40/1 about a Grand Slam in 2007 and 8/1 about three Majors look very attractive prices and well worth an interest.

So with Woods strongly expected to dominate again, my regular strategy of betting in markets without him is advised for all other bets. Thankfully several bookies and betting exchanges also offer a book for the tournament without Tiger, and it is on this one that we should focus our attention. The rest are headed by Jim Furyk, who put in yet another fine performance at East Lake at the weekend without ever looking like catching Adam Scott. I’m sure Furyk will be close up as ever, but he could be forgiven for winding down after a long, hard season. The effects of travel from the States to China with little or no time to acclimatise or practice on the course could well be a factor against Furyk, Retief Goosen, Luke Donald and KJ Choi.

I’m also loathe to expect too much from the Order of Merit protagonists Casey and Harrington just 11 days after that dramatic finale as both could be forgiven for winding down. Defending champ Howell is not in the same form this time around, and will also have various media distractions. Again, I think HENRIK STENSON has to come in for serious consideration here at 20/1 without Tiger. He was playing as well as anyone towards the end of the season, doing little wrong after winning the BMW Championship in Munich. A poor final round at Valderrama sent him down to 9th but he had looked every inch a serious contender going into the final day. Another positive is that Henrik won on his last start in China, back in April at the Asian Open.

At 33/1, the brilliant if erratic THOMAS BJORN looks worth a punt to continue a fine record in Asia. More than anyone I can think of, Bjorn fits the definition of a player who needs to feel comfortable in his environment to perform. Despite a disappointing finish to the season after missing out on the Ryder Cup team, I won’t be at all surprised if the Danish star bounces back during the ‘Far-East Swing’ leg of the European Tour. He’s consistently performed in this part of the world previously, and came fifth to Howell here last year.

Much further down the list, the player I really like here is CAMILO VILLEGAS. This young Colombian is a certain future Major winner in my view, and has just enjoyed a fine rookie season on the PGA Tour. The highlight was making the frame at Sawgrass, with three other top-five finishes. Unlike so many other PGA Tour regulars, even in his short career Villegas has shown plenty of form outside the States. Only last month, he finished third in Japan and he also has a number of good efforts on tough, Australasian courses to his name. Where many older pros may be winding down at the end of the season, Camilo will probably be bursting to make a big impression and is fancied to go well on a course where his superb iron play should be rewarded.

For a preview of the HSBC Champions event click here

TAIHEYO MASTERS

An arguably more attractive betting event is the Taiheyo Masters from Japan though unfortunately, there is no TV coverage available. This particular tournament has represented rich pickings for gambling purposes over the years, with the handful of European raiders dominating. Lee Westwood won the event three times in the late 1990s and Darren Clarke bids for his third consecutive win in the event. The only other leading world star is SERGIO GARCIA who heads the market at 5/1. As with Woods, we aren’t going to get rich at this price, but its plenty big enough when one considers just how far ahead his game is from the rest of the field.

In his last six starts, Garcia has finished close runner-up twice and fourth in competitive European events, plus third in the USPGA Championship. The fields in opposition those weeks were immeasurably superior to this largely Japanese field. The only doubt is Sergio’s continued woes with the putter, but anything approaching repetition of those recent efforts would see the Spaniard win this easily. Clarke must be worth a saver at double figures, even though his form has to be taken on trust. After his well-documented emotional rollercoaster, Darren did say he was winding down for the year and he didn’t produce anything close to his best on his only start since the Ryder Cup. However its also fair to say that he is exactly the type of natural talent who is capable of winning at this level despite not being fully wound up and he still rates as the main danger rather than the home contingent.

STAKING PLAN

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)

HSBC CHAMPIONS TROPHY

10pts TIGER WOODS @ 13/8 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

BETTING WITHOUT WOODS

2pts ew HENRIK STENSON @ 20/1 (SKYBET, TOTE)

1pt ew THOMAS BJORN @ 33/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

1pt ew CAMILIO VILLEGAS @ 66/1 (STAN JAMES, TOTE)

TAIHEYO MASTERS

8pts SERGIO GARCIA @ 5/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

4pts DARREN CLARKE @ 10/1 (STAN JAMES, VCBET, BLUESQ, SPORTINGBET)

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