ORDER OF MERIT 2007/2008
No sooner has Justin Rose taken a huge stride forward in his own career by establishing himself as Europe?s leading player than the new season is off and running again. The European Tour season is now a 52-week affair, with the curtain-raising HSBC Champions Trophy from Shanghai brought forward a few weeks to maximise pulling power. It makes perfect sense, as several of the main contenders were already in Asia for last week?s Singapore Open.
Its no surprise to see Rory Mcllroy attracting cautious quotes of under 50/1 to win the money list considering the tremendous impression he managed to create in just a handful of professional starts. I strongly fancy Mcllroy to start winning events quickly, but the Order of Merit will surely be too big an ask. As we?ve seen, the money list will be largely determined by roughly a dozen extremely lucrative events, headed by the Majors and World Golf Championships. And no matter how great Rory?s potential, he?s going to be up against it even qualifying for those events, let alone winning them.
History suggests that the Order of Merit will be won by one of the obvious candidates capable of earning lots of cash in the big events across the Atlantic. The last five winners have been Rose, Harrington, Montgomerie, Els and Goosen. Indeed Harrington has only once finished outside the top-three since 2000, and Els only twice outside the top-4 since 1998.
Rose could quite plausibly win again with an equally good show in the Majors. Its always going to be hard work though with such a light European schedule so preference must be for those who play in enough counting events to assure a strong chance. Interestingly, Els played more events last year than he did in either of his winning years of 2003 and 2004. This was three more events than Pod and six more than Rose, before throwing his chance away by missing the lucrative Volvo Masters.
Both Els and Harrington look rock-solid contenders once again, and could set an early marker down by taking this week?s E575,000 first prize. However, another lesson from recent years is that it can pay to wait for fluctuations before betting too heavily. With so many big money events at the end of the season, there?s always scope for dramatic turnarounds – in each of the last two seasons the eventual winner was available at big prices ?in-running?. So lets wait and see the early exchanges before backing single figures.
At a more attractive 14/1, I could see PAUL CASEY giving the others a run for their money. Casey did everything but win this in 2006, losing his lead to Harrington on the final green. His money list failings stem from a poor Majors record, but I expect stronger showings in the Masters at Augusta and US Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. He tends to play many more counting events in Europe than his main rivals, and has proved proficient in the early ?Far-East Swing? before.
ORDER OF MERIT 2007/2008