Mahan is more interesting, as he has already prospered in an Open when 6th at Carnoustie two years ago. He’s clearly improved in the meantime and his last three finishes of 6th, 4th and 2nd mark him down as another winner in waiting. I toyed long and hard with a bet on this talented young American, but ultimately rejected the idea because 33/1 is such a short price for an overseas player with just one victory on a target golf course to his name.
Along with massive prospect Anthony Kim; whose 7th on last year’s Open debut entitles him to massive respect; these Americans dominate the ‘Top US Player Without Woods‘ market. As long-term readers will know, this has been a lucrative market for us in recent years. The key is that, while there is always a sizeable American contingent at any Open, most have minimal experience on links courses and can therefore easily be written off. No more than a dozen made any serious appeal this time, and even then several of the most obvious are confidently opposed. Zach Johnson and David Toms, for instance, have never looked suited to tough links courses, while this major has only ever been an afterthought for Kenny Perry.
Two each-way bets take the eye. Firstly, 2002 champion BEN CURTIS has proved his links ability beyond doubt with top-10s in the past two years, and is in great form right now. Curtis was on my final shortlist for the outright market, because his accurate driving should prove a key asset, but on reflection 16/1 in this market probably represents better value than 66/1 against Woods and all the non-Americans. Secondly, 1997 champion JUSTIN LEONARD, renowned as an accurate driver and master of windy conditions, is overdue a good Open. Since losing the 1999 play-off, Leonard has made the top-20 three times in this major, and given some fair recent form looks booked for another decent finish.
Finally, as I’ve already expressed doubts about Kaymer and Stenson, there could be some mileage in playing the ‘Top Continental European’ market. Along with Garcia, this trio take out well over half the book, and with no more than 16 plausible winners, there must be some each-way value alternatives. I’m going with three in-form characters, MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMENEZ, THOMAS LEVET and GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO.
Jimenez has hinted strongly at a return to form in the last few weeks, and is fancied to go well if repeating last week’s performance off the tee which saw him head the driving accuracy stats at Loch Lomond. Levet has already shown his liking for links when finishing runner-up at Muirfield in 2002 and 5th at Troon in 2004. The Frenchman is always one of the most accurate drivers around, and is enjoying his best season in years.
As for Castano, his long game performance at Loch Lomond was exemplary. That was his fourth runners-up spot of the year, with a failure to hole birdie putts on the final day proving very costly. As mentioned above with regard to Garcia and Els, I reckon that weakness will be less relevant than usual at Turnberry, so Gonzo could rate a decent outside bet for the tournament, let alone this limited market.