JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE OPEN

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This annual autumn fixture in the Nevada desert has gone under many different names throughout its long history. This year, its the turn of singer Justin Timberlake to sponsor the event, which is played on two resort courses at TPC Summerlin and The Canyons.

As is often the case with low-scoring, target golf affairs, this event has been an absolute nightmare for punters in recent years. Five of the last six winners, including the last four, were first-time winners that started at over 100/1. You would have had to be a genius to pick either Phil Tataurangi, Andre Stolz or Wes Short, all of whom were around 500/1.

Its one thing trying to pick out capable 100/1 chances, but quite another with these type of player right at the bottom of the market. Therefore, even though I’m quite clear about the essential requirements to contend at Summerlin, stakes must be kept to a minimum. With generous fairways and huge greens, there’s a distinct advantage to the long-hitters on these courses. More to the point, a hot putter will be essential to prosper this week.

In-form Mike Weir thoroughly deserves favouritism at 16/1. Four of the Canadian’s last six starts, usually in much stronger fields, have produced top-7 finishes, and he played well enough in 10th place last year. However, given the tournament stats and the fact that the course conditions clearly act as a leveller, I can’t back the favourite or indeed anyone challenging for favouritism.

That rules out Rory Sabbatini, despite the fact I could make a compelling case for him. After a terrible year, his form in Texas last week was particularly encouraging as La Cantera looked a totally unsuitable course for his talents and had never previously brought out the best in him. Summerlin is a very different test; one that produced finishes of 2nd, 5th and 9th from Sabbatini earlier this century when he was an inferior player to today.

After his Ryder Cup heroics, Hunter Mahan will also have plenty of supporters. This is his first start since Valhalla though, and he’ll need to vastly improve on two previous missed cuts here. Team-mate Chad Campbell also looks up against it, having surprisingly never bettered 16th in five previous Summerlin visits.

I’d rather take a bigger price about a player who we’ve seen before is ideally suited to this type of target golf. BEN CRANE finished runner-up in 2006, and had previously registered three Summerlin top-20s in the earliest part of his career. This superb putter’s recent form is perfectly respectable too, with a top-10 in the high-class Barclays Classic, and four rounds of 70 or better in the following Fedex Cup event.

Though I’ve never been a massive fan of CHARLES HOWELL, he is a player I’m prepared to take a decent price about when conditions suit. As far as I can see, Howell’s skills rarely extend beyond target golf, but when birdie-chasing is the order of the day he can live with the best. He has four top-20s to his name at Summerlin, including two top-6s. And his last two results have signalled a return to form, with 3rd place on his penultimate start and three decent rounds out of four at the totally unsuitable La Cantera last week.

We’ve already seen how these Fall Series events can bring the best out in players fighting hard to make the top-125 on the money list and therefore retain their cards for next season. The three Fall Series winners to date – Will Mackenzie, Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson – were all struggling in this regard.

Two players in similar strife that could be worth chancing this week are JASON GORE and DAVIS LOVE. Currently 127th and 133rd respectively, both have proven credentials on this course and others like it. In Gore’s case, he was 7th last year and has shown enough recently to warrant respect. Three of Gore’s last six events have produced top-20s, including a couple of top-10s. Across the key statistics of driving distance, greens in regulation, putting average and birdie average, nobody in this field scores better than Gore.

Love is perhaps more interesting, as prior to a fortnight ago we’d all assumed he was finished. 3rd place at Atunyote showed there’s life in him yet, and its interesting to note from his stats that he still ranks among the very longest hitters on the PGA Tour. Back in his best days, Davis relished the Las Vegas golf experience, making the top-5 three times from six attempts in this tournament.

Others to consider include Daniel Chopra, who has plenty of course form credentials but played poorly in India over the weekend. Ryuji Imada looks to have found his form once again, and is always a threat when the emphasis is on good putting. Outsiders that came in for consideration include big-hitting pair Robert Garrigus and Bill Haas, while Steve Marino will win an event sooner or later.

Finally, I must give another chance to JOE OGILVIE, who had looked a strong contender before a poor final round in Texas. Again, the stats strongly point to Ogilvie’s birdie-generating game, and his recent form with the putter should stand him in good stead. Five of Ogilvie’s last seven performances contain something to recommend him, and he has played well here in the past, including last year’s top-10.

Good Luck!

ADVISED BETS

TIMBERLAKE SHRINERS OPEN

1.5pts ew BEN CRANE @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew CHARLES HOWELL @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew JOE OGILVIE @ 60/1 (GENERAL, 66/1 SPORTINGBET)
1pt ew DAVIS LOVE @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew JASON GORE @ 66/1 (GENERAL)

2007/2008 STATS: +645pts