As mentioned, Westwood, McIlroy and Fisher all have rock-solid claims, but forced to make a choice between the three, it has to be Fisher. Westwood is going to end this bizarre two year winless run sooner or later, and the chances are its going to frustrate me enormously when he does. With top-8s in five of his last six Dunhill Links appearances, this could well be the week.
Rory’s claims are equally watertight, having grown up playing links golf and finishing 3rd and 8th on his two previous attempts. My only very slight concern is that he has tended to struggle in windy conditions so far, possibly due to a high ball-flight, and strong winds are forecast for at least two of the four days this weekend. However, I should add here that I’m largely looking for a justification to oppose him because there isn’t room in the staking plan, and fully expect him to make the top-10 again, at least.
If that forecast is correct, it should be ideal for Fisher. Ross has shown several times already that he has the perfect swing to drive the ball through strong winds, most memorably when thrashing a similar strength field in the 2008 European Open. He has also proved he has the credentials to win on a proper links course, going well in the last two Opens and losing a play-off in this event last year. We have to forgive a disastrous third round to blow another good chance when carrying this column’s cash last time out, but I am determined to keep the faith with Fisher.
As for the rest, it’s not that they’re so far behind this leading five. Rather it’s that their records in this unique event are clearly below their usual standard. Miguel-Angel Jimenez, for instance, has never made the top-10 in seven tries, an identical return to that of Charl Schwartzel. Francesco Molinari’s best from four is a mere 60th.
In fairness, a similar criticism could have been levelled against the last two winners, Robert Karlsson and Nick Dougherty. Karlsson was however in the form of his life last year, but this term has been hampered by injury and there’s little to suggest he’s found peak form just yet. Dougherty’s win came in low-scoring, calm conditions, and if that were the case again then a similar surprise cannot be ruled out. After all, pro-ams usually produce birdie-fests and offer chances to anyone with a hot putter.
However, the weather forecast suggests the gap
between the best links exponents and the rest may be accentuated this time. The other two leading candidates worth mentioning are Soren Hansen and Graeme McDowell. The former has never really looked a links natural, but has improved with top-10s in the past two years. But as another close miss in Austria last time out showed, he is simply not a player to take a short price about.
McDowell is much more interesting at a bigger price, having played well in the Vivendi Trophy and in a number of prestigious US events this term. McDowell certainly can play links well, and has been a selection in previous runnings of
this event, but his record is surprisingly poor. Apart from 2nd in 2004, in calm conditions, he’s never made the top-10.
Instead, I prefer a couple of each-way bets at big prices on Paul Lawrie and JAMIE DONALDSON. Lawrie gave us a great run for our money in bad weather at Gleneagles recently, and must come into the argument given ideal conditions again. It is no coincidence that Lawrie has won both this event, and an Open championship, despite never rating as a genuinely world-class player. Furthermore, recent form is his best for a few years.
Finally, Donaldson is huge value at 80/1. He’s looked a winner waiting to happen in recent weeks; making the top-6 on three of his last five starts. This has been Donaldson’s best season by a distance, so it must bode well that he’s prospered in this event before. The Welshman made the top-10 both last year, and very early in his career back in 2001 when the weather was terrible. He must break his European Tour duck soon, and the combination of a links course and bad weather looks ideal.