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Tee-times were the decisive factor in separating co-favourites Kim and Villegas, as their 10/1 odds were too short to justify backing them both. Despite a disappointing week in Malaysia, I’m loathe to write off Kim, because he did play much better over the weekend and his high ball flight will be a big asset on these firm greens. Even with a bad draw, I’ll be surprised if Kim is outside the top-10.
 
Villegas has the ideal draw in the second group out, and has shown his liking for ‘second-shot’ courses like this one in the States. 3rd place on his latest start at the Buick Invitational was a slight disappointment having dominated the first 36 holes, but I don’t see his temperament as being of any concern having proved himself in that department a couple of times last summer. With only five players in the world’s top-50 amongst this line-up, the opposition is markedly less competitive and I can see him getting off to another blistering start.
 
Of the other early starters, the class acts on show are PAUL CASEY and Lee Westwood, with clear preference for the former. There’s no arguing with Casey’s start to 2009, which I maintain will be the best of his career to date. Having won the Abu Dhabi Championship, there was much to like about his 4th place in Dubai. When the event was last played at The Vines three years ago, Casey held a decent chance going into the final day only to disappoint and drop back to 15th. In my view, his long game is far more controlled nowadays, and with just a modicum of better fortune on the greens, Casey looks booked for at least a place.
 
On the other hand, Westwood has looked anything but convincing of late. His two performances in the Gulf were extremely disappointing considering the high standards set over the last 18 months, and in any case Westwood is on my list of players to avoid having repeatedly failed to finish the job when in contention. The third world-class Englishman in Perth, Ian Poulter, finished 6th here in 2006 and will be a massive contender if fully charged up for a belated seasonal debut. However, doubts on that score after corrective eye surgery last month, plus an afternoon draw, removed Poulter from my initial list.