Of the 28 countries in this year’s World Cup, eight look completely out of their depth and start at 200/1 or more. The odds of the other 20 differ quite substantially, but recent evidence of this team event suggests the gap is closer than the market suggests. Defending champions Scotland were nowhere near the head of the market, and tipped up in this column at 25/1. 2007 winners Germany were even bigger, and Wales in 2006 were also successfully tipped at around 33/1. None could be described as all-star pairings.
Those recent winners, along with several other big-priced placed teams, urge a similar betting strategy. In short, that strategy is to oppose teams in single figures in favour of each-way value, and then employ a process of elimination between the rest. With four places available for each-way purposes, it isn’t asking that much to bank at least the one place that would retrieve most of the combined stake.
No team can afford to carry a weak link, and any team that does is automatically eliminated from my calculations. So a team like Italy, represented by the Molinari brothers, can join the ranks of no-hopers in my view. In their case, Francesco is playing some fine golf at the moment but Eduardo has looked completely out of his depth at European Tour level. Likewise, hosts China will need Lian-Wei Zhang to improve markedly on recent efforts, while Wales, Korea and Chinese Taipai are all carrying at least one player with no previous form at the highest level.
And while they both hold very obvious chances, at just 9/2 the two joint-favourites make no appeal. Based purely on the head-to-head quality of their representatives, Sweden and England do stand out as the class acts. Sweden’s hopes lie with Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson, England’s with Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.
That’s four world-class players, and if either pairing gels they’ll take some beating. But team golf is rarely like that, and we’re asked to take a price that equates to the same as most other candidates are to make the top-4. If one player struggles, it will be enough to ruin that country’s chance, particularly in the two foursomes rounds. So while player of the year Karlsson may well shoot the lights out again, it will count for little if Stenson continues in the same form he’s shown since the PGA in August.
In any case, its not clear that either of those pairings are four times superior to SPAIN, for whom the very different styles of Miguel-Angel Jiminez and Pablo Larrazabal could well compliment one another. In Jiminez, they have an ultra-experienced, world-class player and in Larrazabal, a player with world-class potential whose main weakness is inexperience. Both are in good form. Jiminez producing a blistering 62 to close in Hong Kong, while Larrazabal was in contention right through till the 71st hole.
Gallery: Omega Mission Hills World Cup