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An established Major venue and home to the 2011 US Open, any tournament played at the magnificent Congressional CC is something to look forward to. The only slight negative concerns the absence of one notable individual, something were going to have to get used to in the months to come. Inaugurated last year, this is effectively Tiger Woods own event, with a share of proceedings going to his foundation.
No matter, a championship course such as Congressional always produces an exciting tournament, and usually a high-class leaderboard. The last three winners here, all in different events, were KJ Choi, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els. Of the eleven players to register a top-10 finish last year, nine were fairly prominent in the betting. Only one of the top-5 started higher than 33/1.
The ninth hardest course out of 55 on last years PGA Tour, this par 70 is typical of championship courses in producing a thorough test of a players long game. The key stats to consider are greens in regulation, and on last years evidence, driving accuracy.
Another interesting trend from the two PGA Tour events held here this century has been the success of Australians. Though none have won, five made the top-20 on each occasion. There has never been a stronger Aussie challenge on the PGA Tour than today, and three of their number made their way into this weeks staking plan.
First though, a number of strong contenders deserve a mention. Jim Furyk 3rd last year and 5th in Els 1997 US Open here, starts favourite despite an uninspiring season and a poor showing on one of his favourite courses last week. Im itching for Furyk to return to his best as he was a long-range fancy for the forthcoming Open at Birkdale, but need to see some positive signs before parting with any cash.
Mike Weir was in contention last year before a poor final day sent him back to 8th spot, and has played well on recent starts. He owes me a payout and is feared, though l cant say he represents value at 22/1. The same goes for Hunter Mahan, another with a fine long game, good recent form and a top-10 finish last year. Ben Crane, runner-up here in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic, only just missed the staking plan,
Instead, my preference amongst the market leaders is for Aussie pair, ROBERT ALLENBY and STUART APPLEBY, both of whom are overdue a win. Fifteen times a winner worldwide, four times on the PGA Tour and owner of the best play-off record around, nobody could doubt Allenbys bottle. However, at first glance his 2008 record very much gives the impression of a choker. He hasnt missed a cut since his opening event, has five top-10s and four top-20s, without managing to convert one. If he can maintain his tremendous long-game performance then Allenbys luck will surely turn soon, and its interesting that he finished 6th here last year when in notably worse form.
Appleby, too, has played some of his best golf at Congressional in the middle of seasons that were less impressive. Again like his similarly named compatriot, Appleby is a proflic winner overdue a break, yet to win in 2008 despite generally being more consistent than ever. Hes finished top-7 in both recent events here, including 3rd last year when ruining a winning chance with a poor final day.
We saw the brilliant best of ANTONY KIM when the youngster blitzed an elite field on a championship course at Quail Hollow, and I think Congressional could also be the ideal setting to showcase his prodigious talent. Its impossible not to have been mightily impressed with 23 year-old Kim in his first 18 months on the PGA Tour. Along with Martin Kaymer, he strikes me as the most likely future Major champion amongst the ever increasing band of brilliant twenty-somethings. Inevitably hes still a little inconsistent, but four top-5s including that Wachovia win this year is still an impressive return and he didnt play badly at the US Open either.
Compared with 2007, the course demands were slightly different for that Booz Allen Classic in 2005, with driving distance pivotal. Short-hitting TIM CLARK did well then to finish 13th, and will be much happier if Congressional plays like last year. Probably the best PGA Tour regular still without a win, the South African has often produced his best on the best golf courses in Majors, making the frame in both the Masters and US Open. Having returned to form recently when runner-up behind Mickelson in Texas, this event represents one of Clarks best chances this summer to break his duck.
Others who came in for consideration included last weeks selection Lucas Glover, who was unlucky to just miss out on the places at Warwick Hills. Hes plenty short enough at 40/1, as is in-form Jeff Quinney at 50/1. The emphasis on straight driving could bring out the best in unlucky Bay Hill runner-up Bart Bryant.
I also very nearly picked veteran Aussie Steve Elkington, who has shown a few times recently that hes not to be written off just yet, but ultimately preferred his younger compatriot NICK OHERN. The left-hander tends to play tough courses well, and has been characteristically consistent from tee to green in recent weeks. Hes played well in the US Open before and is the sort of player I could see landing a massive upset in a Major one day. For now though, well settle for a first PGA Tour win at 80/1.
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2pts ew ROBERT ALLENBY @ 25/1 (STAN JAMES, BETDIRECT, HILLS)
2pts ew ANTONY KIM @ 28/1 (GENERAL, 33/1 CENTREBET)
2pts ew STUART APPLEBY @ 28/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew TIM CLARK @ 45/1 (BOYLES, PADDY POWER, SKYBET)
1pt ew NICK OHERN @ 80/1 (TOTE, CENTREBET)
A T & T NATIONAL