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VALERO TEXAS OPEN

So far the Fall Series has been decidedly tricky for punters, with only the very smartest picking out either Will Mackenzie or Dustin Johnson. For this week’s third event, at least we have a huge bank of previous course form to study in one of the PGA Tour’s longest running events. Analysis of previous results clearly point to driving accuracy and putting being the key statistics on a short, positional course with large, fast greens.

Recent Texas Opens champions fall into one of two camps – they’re either a rank outsider or their name is Justin Leonard. Outstanding in the Ryder Cup, Leonard bids for his fourth Texan Open, and the defence of last year’s title which propelled him out of the doledrums and back into golf’s big-time.

Clearly with that course record, (he also finished runner-up in another year), and the best 2008 form on show, its impossible to argue with his claims. However, considering that the previous four winners all started at 200/1, this doesn’t look an event to take single figures about the favourite. I’m sure he’ll make the top-10 again, but he can’t win the event every year.

Nevertheless, previous experience is clearly an advantage at La Cantera so, at much better prices than Leonard, I am going in with a couple of other course specialists in the form of DEAN WILSON and JJ HENRY. Wilson has twice finished top-3 at La Cantera and never worse than 7th in four visits, so one would expect him to be raring to go after a month off. Having twice made the top-3 this summer to confirm fairly recent form, he looks a very likely candidate.

Henry was massively disappointing when carrying this column’s money a few weeks back, but must be worth another chance given his history at the venue. JJ was runner-up here back in 2001, and has made the top-6 in each of the last three years. He has the added incentive of sitting in 132nd place on the money list, just outside the all-important top-125 that retain full playing privileges for next year. The increased urgency of his situation seems to have prompted clear improvement in recent weeks, with last week’s top-20 his best since 4th in August’s Wyndham Championship.

Also in money-list trouble, surprisingly, is 2007 Masters champion ZACH JOHNSON. Obviously, this has been a poor year by Zach’s standards but he remains one of the better American players and a surefire future multiple winner. No doubt his anxious status in the rankings is the reason he’s chosen to make his course debut at La Cantera, a course that really should ideally suit his accurate game. Most importantly, all of Johnson’s best form has come on fast greens.

Its also possible to make an argument for Texan Chad Campbell, the only other Valhalla hero besides Leonard in the field. Campbell has three top-20s on the course without, surprisingly given his class, ever seriously challenging. Stephen Ames also warrants respect in this company, especially having made the frame last time out.

Sean O’Hair took the eye on occasion last weekend, but this doesn’t really look his course. Nor would it appear to suit Rory Sabbatini, who still hasn’t made a top-10 since January. David Toms at least corrected his own equally dismal statistics with 8th place last time out, but is hard to fancy having never thrived here even when at his best. Accurate Heath Slocum would probably have made the staking plan were it not for a few miserable recent results.

The added emphasis on driving accuracy and a hot putter suggests Texan resident BRIAN GAY will be there or thereabouts on Sunday. Gay made the top-30 on this course in every year from 2001 to 2006, and takes the eye now after by far his best season to date. Having finally broken his PGA Tour duck, Gay has been a model of consistency since, with the highlights being a top-20 in the USPGA and runner-up on his latest start in the Viking Classic.

Another Texan resident fancied to go well is JOE OGILVIE, who has often been a threat at this level in the past. Four of Ogilvie’s last six starts have yielded top-25s, with Sunday’s effort his second top-10 in that spell. If he can carry on in the same vein, at least a place payout is around the corner, and that could well be this week given the fact he registered consecutive top-15s at La Cantera in 2004 and 2005.

Good Luck!

ADVISED BETS

2pts ew DEAN WILSON @ 28/1 (GENERAL)

1.5pts ew BRIAN GAY @ 33/1 (GENERAL)

1.5pts ew JJ HENRY @ 40/1 (GENERAL)

1pt ew ZACH JOHNSON @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 66/1 STAN JAMES)

1pt ew JOE OGILVIE @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 55/1 BET365, PADDY POWER)

LONG-TERM ALREADY ADVISED

2008 VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT

10pts HENRIK STENSON @ 7/1

4pts PAUL CASEY @ 14/1

USPGA TOUR MONEY LIST

BETTING WITHOUT TIGER WOODS

2pts ew KJ CHOI @ 33/1

1pt ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 80/1

2007/2008 STATS: +564pts