For the remainder of the 2009 season, the climax of the European Tour’s ‘Race to Dubai’ takes centre stage, starting with this week’s lucrative pro-am, the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

This event tends to prompt a mixed set of reactions from golf fans. On the one hand, any event played on the classic links of Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews is always going to be something of a highlight and we are always guaranteed a high-class line-up. On the other, pro-ams are not everyone’s cup of tea with rounds taking up to six hours.

Whatever one’s view on that score, this is always one to look forward to from a gambling perspective. Of the eight previous winners, five were obvious and the two big-priced outsiders, PAUL LAWRIE and Stephen Gallacher, at least had claims on the grounds of being Scottish and proven on links courses in bad weather. As I’ll explain shortly, several regular contenders at this level have distinctly below-par tournament records, while the top five in the betting look very strong indeed.

If you took the current win only prices on Betfair, the combined odds of PADRAIG HARRINGTON, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, ERNIE ELS and ROSS FISHER would equate to around 2/1. Such a strategy is not my betting style, but that doesn’t strike me as bad value given their very obvious claims. But because I prefer to generally bet each-way and also fancy a couple of outsiders, that shortlist must be reduced.

Harrington starts as clear favourite at 9/1, so can therefore only be justified as a win only bet. Nevertheless, he must be supported as his recent form is clearly superior to the rest, and this event is arguably his best opportunity to win in the entire season. He has won the Dunhill Links twice, and also registered another couple of top-5s. In the States, only Tiger Woods has been in better form throughout the recent run of elite events.

Harrington’s last six starts have all produced top-10s, and were it not for no more than a handful of catastrophic holes, he would have won at least once and perhaps two or three times in that period. This field, while top-class, is weaker than all of them. The only slight doubt would be whether this gruelling recent schedule, followed by travel from the States this week, might take the edge off Harrington’s form.

A similar concern would therefore have to be factored into the chance of ERNIE ELS, but again its one I’m prepared to overlook. He may have been overtaken by Harrington on this score in the last few years, but Ernie remains the best links golfer of his generation. 

It is one of golf’s great mysteries how he’s never won this event. Much of that must be down to bad luck. In 2001, he was denied a play-off by Lawrie holing from the ‘Valley of Sin’, and in 2003 he could have been considered unlucky to be touched off by a stunning performance from Westwood. Five of Els’ six completed attempts in this tournament have produced top-7 finishes; a record that rather resembles his incredibly consistent performance in the Open over the past two decades.