WGC-ACCENTURE WORLD MATCHPLAY

Long-term readers will know that I don?t usually make a habit of using this column to congratulate myself after a big win. However, after picking last week?s Indonesian 1-2 at 150/1 and 33/1 respectively, I do intend to bask in the glory at least for a couple of days. It’s been a very long wait for a winner at those sort of odds, with many near misses along the way (Villegas and Slocum last season spring to mind as recent examples), and frankly I should make the most of it as such occurrences are very rare.

And just in case I needed to guard against complacency, there was a timely reminder last week of the fragility of the betting game with the news that gambling shrewdie Angus Loughran was apparently declared bankrupt. Loughran, we should remember, produced what I consider to be the finest golf tip of all time – Mark O?Meara to win the 1998 Open at 150/1 a full year ahead of the event.

Enough of all that though and on to the forthcoming golf. This is the biggest week so far of 2008, with attention overwhelming focussed on the Accenture WGC-Matchplay, where the world?s top 64 gather at the Dove Mountain course, Arizona. As we?ve seen several times over the years, the six-round knockout, 18-hole match play format represents one of the toughest examination for punters. Since the tournament started in 1999, four of the nine winners started at well over 100/1 and only Tiger Woods? two victories could be described as obvious. At its most open we?ve seen highly improbable finals between Jeff Maggert and Andrew Magee, Steve Stricker and Pierre Fulke, plus Kevin Sutherland and Scott McCarron.

The explanation for these shocks is obviously related to the tournament format. As I?ve said about this event previously and also countless Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups etc, there is no greater leveller in golf than 18-hole matchplay. The differentials that build up over a season, or over four rounds of stroke play, are reduced to their bare minimum over 18 holes. Even more so when a player can only win or lose one hole at a time, ensuring one catatrophic hole doesn?t automatically mean the end of a player?s challenge.

Even the very best are vulnerable in these conditions. I can?t imagine another scenario where Tiger Woods could have gone down to Jeff Maggert, Peter O?Malley or Nick O?Hern (twice). And for that reason, this is the first tournament in a while where I?ve been prepared to take on Woods in the main outright market. 3/1 is significantly bigger than the norm, but merely reflects the fact that he will have to win six consecutive matches. For those odds to be correct, Woods would have to start at an average of 1.26 for each game. This leaves no scope whatsoever for him to start badly in a match, and I will only consider backing Woods were he to drift to an attractive price in-running at some stage.

Tiger makes even less appeal upon inspection of his draw. Sharing the same bracket and therefore presenting a potential obstacle just to get to the semi-finals are serious contenders Rory Sabbatini, KJ Choi, Mike Weir and Aaron Baddeley. Not to mention Tiger?s great rival – you know the one who looks set to rekindle the spirit of Watson/Nicklaus by challenging Woods for global domination. I?m talking of course about Ian Poulter, though if the Luton man has any sense of humility he must be dreading what the commentators would make of a match-up between the pair, let alone how Tiger will respond to Poulter?s recent jaw-droppingly stupid comments.

To re-iterate then, Woods’ draw is tough and his price way too short to come in for consideration. My preferred alternative strategy is to leave that top quarter alone and pick two from each of the other three sections. Each-way terms are to reach the semi-finals, so none of my selections need worry about Woods until that stage by which they?d already have guaranteed place returns.

This tournament may have a propensity for producing shock winners, but there are also some strong form pointers. Over six rounds, with the winner potentially playing 144 holes, the younger and fitter players definitely have an advantage. That looks even more the case since the event switched to the Dove Mountain course last year. Played in sweltering heat on a long golf course, last year?s results clearly suggested an advantage to young players who rank highly in driving distance. The last four were Henrik Stenson, Geoff Ogilvy, TREVOR IMMELMAN and Chad Campbell, of whom only Campbell was over 30.

Furthermore, numerous players have regularly under-performed in this event. Stuart Appleby for instance, has won just two matches in the last six runnings, and the likes of Choi, Justin Leonard and Scott Verplank all boast similarly poor records. Ernie Els and Vijay Singh never threatened to win this event when at their Major-winning peak, so there?s little to suggest its going to happen now whilst they?re seemingly in decline.

Els? quarter, the Ben Hogan bracket, has more than its fair share of potentially over-rated contenders. Asides Ernie, there?s his struggling compatriot Retief Goosen and poor putting Spaniard Sergio Garcia. The most likely players to emerge are defending champion Stenson or in-form Adam Scott, but neither represent much in the way of value.

Alternatively at 80/1, Immelman looks well worth a punt on the basis of last year?s efforts. Then, he looked in imperious form and ideally suited to Dove Mountain en route to the semis before bumping into an even more inspired Stenson. Nevertheless, Immelman has the youth, game and temperament to not only contend again this year, but build up a solid bank of lucrative high finishes in this event over the coming years.

In the same quarter and potentially drawn to face Immelman in the quarter-finals is BOO WEEKLEY at 100/1. Again, Boo scores heavily in all the right departments of age, fitness and length. I like his attacking spirit and positive temperament too, and see little reason to fear anyone in this section. His opening match against Martin Kaymer could be interesting, but it would be asking a huge amount of the brilliant Kaymer to make an impact on his first US, and first WGC, start.

The bottom half of the draw is particularly interesting, not least because nobody lucky enough to be drawn here has to worry about Tiger at least until the final. It also looks extremely wide open as the one obvious candidate, Riviera winner Phil Mickelson, has yet to even make the semi-finals in nine World Matchplay attempts. In his quarter, the Gary Player bracket, I much prefer JUSTIN ROSE and NICLAS FASTH.

I backed Rose at a big price for this last year and, although he didn?t quite oblige, his efforts at Dove Mountain were a precurser of the career-changing season that followed for Justin. He played superbly, not least to eliminate Mickelson, en route to the quarter-finals where an on-fire Immelman ended his challenge. Having eased his way back into competitive golf with his first 2008 start at Riviera last week, its well worth taking the chance that we?ll see Rose closer to his peak under ideal conditions now.

As for Fasth, he looks massively under-estimated in the market at 100/1. For most of last year, Fasth was doing the business on both sides of the Atlantic and almost matched the likes of Rose and Harrington in the battle for top European status. Always a gritty competitor, Fasth looks well suited to match play and has won exactly half his matches in this event. In particular, I would fancy him at odds-against to beat Vijay should the pair both win their opening match to set up this second-round tie.

The most open section of the lot though must be the Sam Snead bracket. As a consequence of a fair, if unspectacular tournament record, plus a good finish on Sunday, Padraig Harrington is by far the shortest price. Certainly, the bottom eighth of the draw in which he resides does look very weak, with out of form Jim Furyk the main danger especially compared to serial event failures such as Monty, Jiminez and Charles Howell.

Pod is no sort of value at just 20/1 though, so instead I?m having a couple of each-way punts on HUNTER MAHAN and NICK DOUGHERTY. Both possess the attributes mentioned above ? youth, fitness and good length off the tee. One of the best young Americans around, Mahan looks the type to prosper here and is marginally preferred to first-round opponent Richard Sterne who has yet to show he can deliver in the States.

As for Dougherty, he is by no means a forlorn hope at 125/1. Presumably this price makes him a big outsider for his first-round match against old pal Luke Donald. I don?t see this match as one-sided by any means, in fact Dougherty?s extra distance could prove pivotal. After that, Dougherty?s attacking brand of golf would give him decent claims against anyone else in the section.

Good luck!

ADVISED BETS

WGC-ACCENTURE MATCHPLAY

2pts ew JUSTIN ROSE @ 33/1 (GENERAL, 40/1 EXPEKT)

1pt ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 80/1 (GENERAL)

1pt ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 80/1 (BLUESQ, VCBET)

1pt ew NICLAS FASTH @ 80/1 (GENERAL, LADBROKES)

1pt ew BOO WEEKLEY @ 80/1 (GENERAL, LADBROKES)

1pt ew NICK DOUGHERTY @ 125/1 (LADBROKES, SPORTING BET)

ANTE-POST 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

MAJORS SPECIAL

20pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN US OPEN @ 11/4

20pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN EXACTLY THREE MAJORS @ 12/1

2007/2008 STATS: +314pts