Before getting to my selections, I’ll deal with the contenders who aren’t fancied. John Senden is among the best of these on the world stage, but has generally struggled at Huntingdale, making just two top-10s in twelve attempts. Similarly, Marcus Fraser and Scott Strange have never really prospered here.
 
Last year’s runner-up Daniel Chopra is in nowhere near the same form this time. Nathan Green, Brett Rumford plus course specialists Craig Parry and Peter O’Malley have all endured miserable results in 2008. Michael Sim and Marc Leishman both come into the argument on their US form, but need to improve dramatically on their previous Huntingdale efforts. Alex Noren could challenge on his best in Europe, but finished way back in this event last year and strikes me as better suited to target golf.
 
This leaves nine possible candidates under 66/1. Under the circumstances, even 7/1 about favourite ROBERT ALLENBY landing his third Australian Masters title looks fair value. He really is head and shoulders above the rest on his 2008 PGA Tour form, despite failing to convert consistently high finishes into a fifth US win. He hasn’t missed a cut since January, and registered two of his seven top-10 finishes in the last month of the Fall Series. Allenby was visibly furious with himself when an unlucky final hole bogey at Grayhawk ended his challenge there, but I expect his luck to turn over the forthcoming weeks.
 
Stuart Appleby’s season tells a similar story. He too has probably become more consistent at the top level recently, but again hasn’t been able to add to his eight PGA Tour wins. He scores well below Allenby on domestic form though, who has six previous triple-crown events to his name. In contrast, Appleby hasn’t won in his homeland since the 2001 Australian Open and has only occasionally produced the goods at Huntingdale.
 
Nevertheless, he could be hard to keep out of the frame, and similar comments apply to Rodney Pampling. After struggling at Huntingdale earlier in his career, Pampling has started to get the hang of it, making the top-5 three times in the last five years. That coincides with considerable improvement made in the States, but question marks still hang over Pampling’s ability to close the deal. To be fair, he answered some of those criticisms when winning the prestigious Bay Hill Invitational in 2006. However he hasn’t won anywhere since and his only winning return in Australia came nine years ago in the low-grade Canon Challenge.
 
There are absolutely no worries in the ‘bottle’ department about course specialist PETER LONARD, who rates an outstanding each-way bet at an ever-shortening 14/1. Twice a Masters champion and top-10 in each of the last seven years at Huntingdale, this year’s weaker field offers a golden opportunity to land his eighth triple crown event. As usual, its best not to read too much into Lonard’s PGA Tour form, as he will never be a great target golfer and these home tournaments are much, much more to his liking. In any case, consecutive top-20s in less than ideal events during October suggest all is well with his game..
 
As he makes his Australian Masters debut, it may pay to assume we’ll see a different TIM CLARK to the one that regularly contends in the States, only to let himself down at the finish time and again. Make no mistake though, Clark is a world-class player who has shown rock-solid temperament to win in Scotland and his native South Africa. This is a man who has been placed in all three US majors, so the championship style of Huntingdale and emphasis on tee to green accuracy should suit him well.

That emphasis on long game skills make OLIVER FISHER excellent value at 40/1 in this moderate company. Fisher remains an outstanding long-term prospect, and while there is much progress yet to be made, he’s clearly made strides since impressing here in 13th place back in 2005 at the age of 17. There was plenty to like about Fisher’s 11th spot in Hong Kong last week, which was ruined by one poor round.
 
Others to consider include Aussie pair Greg Chalmers and Jarrod Lyle, who play most of their golf on the fair standard Nationwide Tour. Chalmers is particularly interesting as a two-time Australian Masters runner-up, though his 25/1 odds more than take that course form into account. Steve Webster has plenty of form in higher-class European events, but never really set Australasia alight when a regular visitor around the turn of the century.
 
Instead, the final slot in the staking plan came down to a close call between promising Challenge Tour recruits Gareth Maybin and DAVE HORSEY. I’ve barely seen anything of Maybin, but have noticed several good judges talking up his future. He could be interesting at a big price on his Australian Masters debut, but preference is for Horsey, who played so well to finish 5th on his Huntingdale debut last year after a poor opening round of 77. The 23 year-old has certainly made further strides in the twelve months since, as he won twice on the way to topping the Challenge Tour rankings, and should make a promising recruit for the main tour.
 
Good Luck!

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