Looking ahead to the 2008 USPGA Tour, nobody is seriously wondering anymore whether anyone can challenge Tiger. Rather the burning issues are now how many Majors Tiger will win, and whether can he land win all four Majors in the same calendar year for the first time.
On the basis of the past 18 months, its fair to say Woods? form is comparable to the extraordinary levels of 2000/2001 when he held all four Majors at once. I?m not sure he?ll ever perform better than when winning the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots, but generally speaking he has a similar aura of invincibility at present. He?s won 15 of his last 24 US tournaments so should really be closer to odds-on for every tournament he starts rather than the current 2/1+.
Despite gambling unsuccessfully on Woods winning three or more Majors last year, I am much more confident this time around having considered this year?s venues. With eight wins across the two events, the Majors an in-form Tiger would normally be most fancied to win are the Masters and PGA, but this year it is the US Open that represents his most obvious chance. I?ve had this event ear-marked as a Woods banker for a few years, ever since I heard the 2008 renewal was to be played on the South Course at Torrey Pines.
Three of the four rounds at the Buick Invitational are played on the South Course, a brutal, long course that truly distinguishes the best long games from the rest. Since the course was lengthened after 2001 to prepare for the 2008 US Open, Tiger has been typically dominant, winning four times out of six. Presumably the course will be set up at its most penal in June, which should further emphasise Tiger?s dominance. When the US Open comes around in June, I don?t think there?ll be any more 2/1 around, so there?s no harm at all in backing Woods for the second Major at 11/4 with Hills now.
Following on from Torrey Pines, the Open Championship is held at Royal Birkdale, before Oakland Hills hosts the USPGA in August. Birkdale could be the toughest test, though I doubt the course will hold any fears for Tiger seeing as he finished a close fourth there in 1998 when nowhere near the accomplished links strategist of today.
The odds on Tiger winning the grand slam have shortened to just 25/1, which no longer represents betting value simply because a running accumulator placed on each Major would pay substantially more. Alternatively, 12/1 about Woods winning exactly three looks a cracking long-term trade. This way if Woods were to only win one of the first two Majors the bet would still represent fair value. And if he were to win the first three, or two of the first three, it would be easy to have a saver on the USPGA.
Tiger?s dominance has turned the Money List into a dead rubber for most of the last decade. Thankfully for betting interest though, most bookmakers have priced up a ?Without Tiger? market that looks sufficiently competitive. In five of the last six years, either Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh would have won this market, with Jim Furyk in 2006 the other winner. In fact only five other players have made the top-3 in the last six years, such has been the dominance of this trio. So its no surprise to see them dominating the market – a combined bet at best prices equates to around 4/5.
Though I expect Singh to make a strong start in Hawaii this week, there must be a doubt that he can sustain the same level of form over the next 12 months. For long periods in 2007, many of us were querying whether he was sinking into slow decline. Furyk can be relied upon to consistently accumulate lucrative high-finishes, but again is unlikely to be improving, whereas there are dozens of twenty-somethings making rapid progress.
Of the big three, Mickelson looks very much the strongest in my view. Prior to injury ahead of the US Open, his partnership with Butch Harmon was really bearing fruit and enabled Lefty to win a prestige event that he?d never previously even challenged for – the TPC at Sawgrass. Fully fit again, I expect another strong year, but seeing as he?s missing the early events I?m happy to wait a few weeks before backing him in this market.
For now, I recommend two each-way bets on KJ CHOI and TREVOR IMMELMAN. At 33/1, Choi remains the most under-rated player in the world. Perhaps its because he hails from an unfashionable golfing nation, but punters have taken a long time to fall in love with the US-based Korean. He?s now won an impressive six times on the PGA Tour, and last season?s 5th on the Money List was his best to date. Most of Choi?s best golf seems to come on tough courses, so strong performances are expected in the Majors and other lucrative events.
I tipped Immelman for this last year but despite getting no sort of run for my money there are no reservations about going in again at 80/1. His 2007 campaign was plagued by injury and illness and it was only towards the end of the year that we began to see the real Immelman again. The recent win at Sun City confirmed everything is back in working order now, so there?s much to suggest he can return to the form of 2006 when regularly contending big events in the States.