We?ve got three high-class events to get our teeth stuck into in this final week of the year. Largely due to Tiger Woods? presence, his charity invitational event will probably get the most headlines, but from a betting point of view it looks the toughest to solve. With very few of the field active over the past month, there?s some serious guesswork to be done trying to figure out which players are close to their best, and which will be rusty.
In particular, Woods? form is anyone?s guess. At the end of the season he was effectively unbeatable but chose to miss one of the Fedex Cup play-off events citing ?tiredness?. Unseen since the Presidents’ Cup in September and a relatively new father, Tiger could be forgiven for being a bit rusty. History suggests he will be up for it as he has only once finished outside the first two in the seven runnings of this event. Given the uncertainty though, he makes no appeal for a pre-tournament bet at less than 2/1 but equally I?d rather bet in the ?Without Woods? market than take him on.
A fortnight ago in the last limited field invitational event, the Nedbank Challenge, I adopted a process of elimination to successfully whittle down the field to five potential winners – even if frustratingly I ended up picking the wrong player! A similar strategy is employed here with many of the 16 players unfancied.
For instance, Vijay Singh has only one decent Target Challenge to his name from five attempts, while Jim Furyk?s record is four failures from four. No point in taking single figures about this pair then. Luke Donald has won at Sherwood, but has been well below his best lately. Steve Stricker hasn?t been seen since the end of the season in September, and Masters champ Zach Johnson has done little of note during the same period.
Lee Westwood was in cracking form when last seen just over a month ago, and would be a serious contender with a repetition. Its been a long time since Lee showed anything approaching his best this side of the Atlantic though, and he?s never been the most reliable ?fresh? golfer. PADRAIG HARRINGTON on the other hand loves this course and often produces his best golf after a break. He beat Woods head-to-head in this event five years ago, and made the top-3 in each of the next three years. Taking Woods out of the equation, 8/1 looks a very reasonable price for the Open champion.
Two players who have been in recent action are Rory Sabbatini and HENRIK STENSON. Sabbatini would probably have been a selection here had he not endured a nightmare finish in Sunday?s Australian PGA. Sharing the lead with nine to play, Rory had an uncharacteristic disaster and ended up losing by eight shots. Also taking into account the potential for jetlag, he is overlooked in favour of the Swede. 4th two weeks ago at the Nedbank was further evidence that Stenson is coming right back to his world-beating form of early 2007. He also played well enough in 4th place at Sherwood last year which cements his place on my shortlist.
With questions surrounding so many of the others, the very recent form of MARK CALCAVECCHIA is worthy of note. Alongside Woody Austin, Calc won the Shark Shootout pairs event at the weekend. Though not consistently in the same class as most of these nowadays, the 1989 Open champion retains his ability and can live with the best on his day. Don?t forget he won on the PGA Tour last year, an achievement several of this field couldn?t manage.