For this weeks tournament previews click here.
This event, the third World Golf Championship of the year, has previously been played in the week following the USPGA but the new schedule moves it forward a fortnight. A limited field of 84 compete at Firestone Country Club for a purse totalling $8M and over 26,000 Fedex Cup points. Firestone is the type of brutal long golf course that sorts men from boys, and even the more obvious challengers will have their work cut out giving TIGER WOODS a run for his money at one of his favourite venues.
The influence of Woods? price on how much betting value appears in a tournament seems ever more apparent. There are numerous courses and events, Carnoustie being an obvious example, where Woods? dominance and advantage is less pronounced. Being the world?s finest and best-known by a country mile, however, bookmakers are forced into pricing him at cramped, under-valued odds. In the last two Majors for example, Woods proximity on the leaderboard has ensured big value prices were available from start to finish on a wide range of potential alternative winners.
Alternatively, there are the courses where Tiger?s advantages are maximised, but because Woods has shown himself to be mortal in other events more or less the same odds are available as usual. It must be a nightmare for odds-compilers deciding how to evaluate Woods’ price this week, or at St Andrews, Torrey Pines or Bethpage Black. I do know however, that the correct statistical chance of a Woods win at these places is a lot higher than this week?s odds of 11/4 suggest.
At St Andrews he has two wins from two Opens. He?s won five times from ten at Torrey Pines, and only once missed the top-5. Woods? record at Firestone is equally awesome, winning five of nine tournaments, and never finishing below 5th. Furthermore, the fact this is a WGC event strengthens the case. Of 24 such events, which also includes the infinitely less suitable World Matchplay, he has won 13 times. Statistically he should be odds-on.
Woods? dominance at Firestone stems from its length. The South Course was the longest par-70 on the PGA Tour in 2006 by over 100 yards, and its been lengthened further for this year?s renewal. Adding in the penal rough, we?re left with a test that only the most powerful and best long-iron players can tame. This usually makes picking winners somewhat easier, so alongside a sizeable bet on Tiger I suggest a number of bets in the ?Without Woods? market.
Several obvious contenders have questionable form at Firestone. Phil Mickelson used to dominate here before they toughened the course, but since then he has four poor efforts to his name. Ernie Els has never been seen to best effect here in over a decade of trying, nor has new Open champ Padraig Harrington. Retief Goosen has a best of 10th in five attempts and is therefore unlikely to suddenly bounce back to form this week. We can only wait and see how Sergio Garcia responds to his Carnoustie heartbreak, though I wouldn?t want to back him anyway at Firestone where he has only one top-10 from five visits.
If Woods were to slip, then the most likely beneficiaries are Sunday?s 1-2, JIM FURYK and Vijay Singh. Singh played well enough and looks back to his best, but has never finished above third here in countless attempts. Furyk lacks length from the tee, but his superb long-irons and class around the greens have produced a typically consistent record at Firestone. Jim has five top-10s in the last seven years here, including a close third last year and losing an epic play-off to Tiger in 2001. 8/1 without the big man looks fair value.
An ever stronger European challenge may be best represented by the English pair, JUSTIN ROSE and PAUL CASEY. There?s no arguing with Rose?s form in 2007, even if he is yet to win. A light schedule has paid dividends, only twice finishing outside the top-10 since February. In the three Majors, he?s finished second, 10th and 12th. In the last at Carnoustie, 12th was no mean feat after a poor first morning.
Brute strength is a crucial asset here with the rough penal, and few come better equipped in that department than Casey. On all four visits to Firestone he?s made the top-20, improving considerably as a player in the meantime. Some moderate recent starts may be partially attributed to recovering from a back-muscle injury, though he played well enough for three rounds in Germany to suggest he?s well on the way back.
Sooner or later STEVE STRICKER is going to end that long, winless run if maintaining his current form. The resurgent Stricker, back from a long period in the doldrums since winning the 2001 World Matchplay in Australia, has been a serious contender on the final day of the last two Majors and a string of tour events. Interestingly, Stricker finished runner-up on his sole Firestone visit 11 years ago in the World Series of Golf. Firestone is very much a ?Major? golf course, the type that Stricker has shown a particular liking for over the years.
After a shocking opening round, RORY SABBATINI fought back superbly in Germany for a share of 11th place, and comes into the argument here as long as jetlag doesn?t affect him. Sabbatini has improved out of all recognition since finishing runner-up here in 2003, and has a win and three other top-three finishes since April on the PGA Tour. He is another who seems to come into his own when his length off the tee is used to best effect.
With all the top Europeans either playing at Firestone or preparing for next week?s USPGA, this is an extremely low grade affair. Nevertheless, with all four days live on Sky its worth having a crack, though stakes should be kept to a minimum.
The standard is little better than the Challenge Tour, which might suggest prospects such as Zane Scotland and Lee Slattery could go well as they have looked very strong at that lower level. Both would have been seriously considered were it not for the fact that they finished in such disappointing style in Germany having contended throughout. Back-to-form Steve Webster starts favourite, though is shocking value at less than 20/1 given the fact
he has just one Italian Open to show for a long career.
Last year?s event produced a winning score of -22 on this short course, and another birdie-shoot looks in store. Length off the tee is not particularly relevant, with good putting essential. At least, in what looks a bit of a lottery, we do have several years of course form to work from.
My suggestion is to start the event with four small each-way bets, with a view to trading in-running over the weekend when the number of candidates has been drastically reduced. The standard here is so low that anyone with a consistent track-record for top-25 finishes in the usual stronger company must be taken very seriously.
Three that meet that criteria and tick all the correct boxes in relation to stats are ROBERT-JAN DERKSEN, CARLOS RODILES and PETER LAWRIE. In Derksen?s case, two of his last four starts have yielded top-15 finishes and a repetition of that form would make him very tough to beat. The Dutchman has won and contended on numerous occasions in better company than this, and his recent statistics are excellent.
Lawrie is a player I?ve backed several times at big prices in recent years, as yet to no avail. I?ve long rated the Irishman a potential first-time Euro Tour winner and he has come close on a number of occasions, without ever delivering the goods. Back in the days when he was a Challenge Tour regular, he was a multiple winner at this sort of level and won ?Rookie of the Year?. Interestingly, on his last visit to this Moscow course in 2002, Lawrie finished 6th.
Rodiles too has form in much stronger company than this. He very nearly won the megabucks season-ending Volvo Masters a few years back before a spell in the doledrums. 2007 has been his best for a while though, nearly winning in Spain and finishing a good 12th behind Harrington in the Irish Open. After four solid rounds in Germany over the weekend, Rodiles could be set to improve on last year?s seventh place.
My final selection is a very speculative bet on RAFAEL CABRERA-BELLO. The 23 year-old Spaniard is only just beginning to make his way on the main Tour, producing the odd impressive finish, (top-25s at the K Club and Celtic Manor in considerably stronger company for instance), but generally struggling to put in four good rounds. He does score very highly in the two important stats ? greens in regulation and putting. A talented junior, Cabrera-Bello has much in common with last year?s rookie Spanish winner, Alejandro Canizares.
There?s much more prize money and status on offer in this week?s PGA Tour event, the Reno-Tahoe Open, even if it looks as wide open as Russia. Played in altitude at Montreux Golf and Country Club in Nevada, this tournament always coincides with the Firestone showpiece and suffers as a consequence. The past roll-call of unlikely winners reads like a bookies? benefit, with only Vaughan Taylor?s successful defence in 2005 qualifying as anything approaching obvious.
As in Russia, the crucial stats to focus on are greens in regulation, putting and course form. Another ingredient is the altitude factor, with the ball travelling further through the air and making distance control a more specialised art than usual. Until this year, this week?s slot on the schedule has been another event played at altitude, The International at Castle Pines. There has been a strong correlation between form in the two events which could be a useful tool in our search for an elusive PGA Tour winner.
Once again, I?m keeping stakes to a minimum while still going in with a batch of five for the weekend?s entertainment. All of my selections are available at 50/1 with at least one firm. Firstly, ALEX CEJKA is well capable at this level, especially having signalled a return to form with a top-10 at the weekend. Always rock-solid from tee to green, the German showed his liking for Montreux in ninth place last year, and has also proven himself at altitude when runner-up in the 2004 International.
Another former runner-up of The International is CHRIS RILEY, who also won this event five years ago. I mentioned Riley had been showing signs of resurgence last month after he won on the Nationwide Tour. Since then, the former Ryder Cup player has made three out of four cuts, with two top-25 finishes. Riley also has the perfect early tee-time.
Two other players yet to win on the PGA Tour who?ve unsuccessfully carried my money this season are BRIAN GAY and DANIEL CHOPRA. Both are great putters with good course form, and both are available at 66/1. Chopra has top-10s to his name at Montreux in 2004 and 2006, while Gay has made his last eight cuts on this course, twice making the top-10 and top-25 on five occasions.
Finally, a small, speculative bet on JEFF BREHAUT at 125/1. Brehaut landed his best finish in this event last year, finishing 5th, but the clincher is his proven form at altitude at Castle Pines. In The International, this Tour also-ran performed noticeably better than his usual standard, making the top-six in consecutive years to 2006.
15pts TIGER WOODS @ 11/4 (SKYBET, STAN JAMES)
BETTING WITHOUT TIGER WOODS
4pts win JIM FURYK @ 17/2 (STAN JAMES)
2pts ew JUSTIN ROSE @ 25/1 (BET365, STAN JAMES, BETFRED, PADDY POWER)
1.5pts ew PAUL CASEY @ 40/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER)
1.5pts ew STEVE STRICKER @ 40/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER)
1.5pts ew RORY SABBATINI @ 50/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER)
1.5pts ew ROBERT JAN DERKSEN @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew PETER LAWRIE @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew CARLOS RODILES @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew RAFAEL CABRERA-BELLO @ 100/1 (LADBROKES, HILLS)
1pt ew ALEX CEJKA @ 40/1 (GENERAL, 50/1 WITH BET365)
1pt ew BRIAN GAY @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew CHRIS RILEY @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew DANIEL CHOPRA @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew JEFF BREHAUT @ 125/1 (GENERAL)
2006/2007 STATS: -160pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1