After a dramatic return to form that has yielded three prestigious titles from his last five events, Vijay Singh looks almost home and hosed in the Fedex Cup race. Even if he struggles in the final two play-off events, the only way he could be overhauled is if one of his principal challengers wins them both.
Nevertheless, theres still everything to play for all the remaining 69 players. The top-30 in the list after this weeks BMW Championship will go forward to the lucrative Tour Championship, and a chance to transform their season and win a fortune, even if the biggest cash bonus is beyond them.
For the third-leg of the play-offs, the BMW Championship moves to a different venue at Bellerive CC in St Louis, Missouri. A famous championship course where Nick Price won his first PGA title in 1992, Bellerive has been redesigned since last seen at the 2004 Seniors US Open. It has been likened to other Major venues Winged Foot, Medinah and Riviera, and would appear to be a second shot course due to the emphasis on approach play to large, undulating greens.
Predicting the tournament conditions is far from straightforward though, with Hurricane Gustav creating havoc in the region. At the very least, thunderstorms are forecast so delays seem certain. Bellerive is already a long course at over 7,400 yards, so if its softened by rain then players driving it long and straight will enjoy a big advantage.
For obvious reasons, Vijay starts a prohibitively priced favourite to win three on the bounce. The reason for his sudden return to form is straightforward – this notoriously weak putter has started holing everything in sight. His chance on a championship golf course is blindingly obvious, but three consecutive wins is an extremely rare feat unless your name is Tiger Woods, so I’ll look elsewhere.
By far the greatest threat to Vijays forthcoming $10M payday is SERGIO GARCIA, who is playing well enough to win both remaining events. Though weve all had our fingers burned on Garcia at some stage in recent years, its impossible to argue with the quality of his golf recently, which represents the best spell of his career to date.
Since landing the most prestigious title of his career at Sawgrass in May, hes enjoyed no luck. Hes finished runner-up three times, twice unlucky to bump into on-fire opponents in Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington. And last weeks play-off defeat at the hands of Vijays hot putter must have been particularly hard to take. He did however manage to put those disappointments instantly behind him with another good week in the places in Boston, and must be fancied for another very strong showing on this ideal golf course.
Even at 10/1, Garcia must rate better value than the 12/1 about Phil Mickelson, whose missed cut in Boston was the latest in a series of uninspiring efforts. It doesnt bode well that hes rarely shown much form this late in the season. Ernie Els enjoyed his best finish for several months in Boston, but one week doesnt make a season and Id want to see more evidence of a return to form before supporting him. Bellerive does look perfect for Harrington, but after consecutive missed cuts and little form to speak of outside the Majors, he hardly looks a reliable bet at shortish odds.
Because the course may play long, Im also loathe to back a short-hitter such as Jim Furyk, or even Mike Weir despite his fine form over the past fortnight. In contrast, Adam Scott would love such conditions and it will be extremely frustrating if he takes advantage at a tasty price having failed miserably whilst carrying our money lately. Antony Kim looks in need of a break before were likely to see a reproduction of his earlier exceptional form.
In fact, relatively few players look at the peak of their games at present. With each play-off event carrying lucrative rewards and ranking points, theyre compelled to carry on regardless, try and play their way back into form rather than take a break.
Preference then is for players who look near the peak of their powers. By snatching a share of 3rd, CAMILO VILLEGAS at last rewarded our support with some place returns. He got better as the play-offs went on last year, and has the ideal combination of big driving and top-class long iron play to prosper at Bellerive.
With good ball-striking expected to be the key determinant, KJ CHOI and HUNTER MAHAN come into the reckoning. KJs season hasnt hit the heights promised early on, but he has looked to be coming back to his best over the past fortnight. His last seven rounds have been 70 or below, recording excellent greens in regulation stats in both events. Again, Chois long iron play could be a crucial asset on these large, undulating greens.
Besides struggling in the last two majors, Mahan has been a model of consistency in the ball-striking department all year. After enduring a nightmare weekend at the Barclays, where he slipped outside the top-30 from sharing the lead, Mahan bounced back well to make the top-15 in Boston. And hes already received a big confidence boost this week with Paul Azinger awarding him a wild-card into the Ryder Cup side.
Finally, though he never threatened to challenge in Boston, Im giving ANDRES ROMERO another chance at 80/1. The young Argentinian may lack consistency, but he has proved that he has the game to challenge on championship golf courses several times. And if the course softens, his huge driving, shoot the pin style could reap rich dividends.
5pts win SERGIO GARCIA @ 10/1 (BOYLESPORTS, SKYBET, VCBET)
1.5pts ew CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew KJ CHOI @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 55/1 CENTREBET, 66/1 LADBROKES)
1pt ew ANDRES ROMERO @ 80/1 (LADBROKES, CENTREBET)
LONG-TERM ALREADY ADVISED
2008 VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
10pts HENRIK STENSON @ 7/1
4pts PAUL CASEY @ 14/1