Outside of the Majors, this looks one of the best weeks of the year with top-class events either side of the Atlantic. A top-class field assembles at the K Club, Dublin, for the European Open though it was a lot stronger prior to three significant withdrawals. Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and Richard Sterne were all very serious contenders but there?s still plenty of talent in their absence.
Following heavy rain, the course will play long and soft, offering considerable advantage to long, straight hitters. Even without rain, this has always been a tough golf course which penalises any long game weaknesses. Scoring is never great with plenty of penalties around, plus large, sloping greens that place great emphasis on the approach shot. I expect this will favour the better players with fewer outsiders than usual in the places.
Its nice to see ANGEL CABRERA opt to make Europe the venue for his first appearance as the new US Open champion. Cabrera had always looked a slight underachiever in the game until Oakmont, and it will be interesting to see if this new status can signal further improvement. He certainly has the talent to win more Majors, and reminds me in a way of Retief Goosen. Throughout the 1990s, Goosen won many plaudits for his long game but was
held back by a failure to breakthrough in the States. After winning the US Open as a rank outsider, he was transformed into a world-class player overnight. Its highly doubtful Cabrera can match Goosen?s achievements, but nobody in this field is better suited to the tests presented by a long, wet K Club. Expect further improvement on two previous decent finishing positions of 8th and 17th on this course.
Padraig Harrington will also appreciate the soft fairways and greens, and deservedly heads the market in Casey?s absence. Having finally nailed one of his career ambitions by landing the Irish Open, Harrington is an obvious selection again on home turf. He must improve considerably on two disappointing efforts here though, not to mention four poor efforts in a row across the Atlantic when seemingly in good form.
I prefer the chances of Harrington?s Irish Open play-off victim, BRADLEY DREDGE. A lighter schedule appears to be paying dividends for the Welshman, who has finished runner-up again in one of the three events since the near-miss in Ireland. Dredge finished with a fine 68 on Sunday to make the top-10, suggesting another big week could be on the cards back at the K Club, provided there are no demons from last year?s experience. Halfway through round three, Dredge held a five shot lead and was trading at short odds-on before several disasters struck, forcing him back to 9th place. As he also made the top-20 the previous year, its safe to assume the course suits.
The long game of two players particularly took the eye in France over the weekend, Colin Montgomerie and MARTIN KAYMER. With only marginally better luck on the greens, either could have won the title. The K Club promises to accentuate a good long game even more than Le Golf National so both should have strong claims. Monty though is half the price and increasingly unreliable, whereas Kaymer looks excellent value at 50/1. The more I see of
Kaymer, the more I?m determined to persist backing him at these kind of odds. There seems almost universal agreement amongst Euro Tour watchers that he is the real deal, a superstar in the making. We have to be careful about expecting too much too soon, but he?s definitely capable of winning at this level already.
Speaking of prospects, the erratic but highly promising ROSS FISHER is worth a small punt at 200/1 given the likely conditions. Fisher has shown on several occasions, in South Africa, Dubai and Ireland, that he is capable of competing with the best on his day. At this early stage in his career, its unlikely he?ll be seen in contention in tournaments unless conditions determine his length off the tee is an advantage. The K Club looks exactly the type of course that will maximise those strengths.
AT & T NATIONAL
This new event replaces the old stableford scoring fixture at Castle Pines, The International. In its place we have a truly world-class field, with four of the world?s top six, on a great course, Congressional.Country Club. The course was last used on the PGA Tour for the 2005 Booz Allen Classic, but is more famously known as the scene of Ernie Els? second US Open win in 1997 and will again host that Major in 2011.
Consequently, we have little in the way of course form, We do know it is a tough track which will reward a quality long game and probably produce a household name as winner. With reasonably generous fairways but water hazards and tough, sloping greens, it promises to be a second-shot course. There?s also plenty of unsettled weather forecast for the next few days, which could help the longer hitters.
Normally this could be expected to play into the hands of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but both have more questions to answer than usual this week. Being Tiger?s first event since the birth of his daughter, many punters may be tempted to refer to the ?Nappy Factor? theory. This was a term coined by several golf tipsters, arguing that a player?s form is often boosted by the arrival of their first child. Anecdotally, I?ve seen it work both ways ?
some have won immediately, others have appeared rusty due to lack of practice and focus. In any case, normal rules never apply to Tiger. Proceeds from this event contribute to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which may explain his swift return at this surprising juncture, just a fortnight before the Open. His odds of 11/4 are probably a fair reflection of his
chances, but I?d rather wait and see what develops in-running.
Mickelson makes his comeback following a wrist injury that disrupted what looked to be a likely summer charge towards Tiger. Such was the improvement shown after teaming up with Butch Harmon, that I expect Mickelson to be winning again within weeks. But even assuming he has fully recovered, Phil could be forgiven for easing himself back into competitive golf as part of a slow preparation towards Carnoustie.
Australians accounted for three of the top-10, and five of the top-20 in the 2005 Booz Allen Classic. Since then the Aussie invasion of the PGA Tour has really taken off, with 10 PGA Tour victories from six different players since the beginning of 2006. Three of those six are in my staking plan, ADAM SCOTT, GEOFF OGILVY and ROD PAMPLING.
Scott finished runner-up here in the 2005 event and, fresh from a fortnight?s break, looks worth a bet to put his June horrors behind him. Normally a very reliable front-runner, Scott endured two consecutive disastrous Sundays to blow serious winning opportunities at Memorial and Southwind. Unsurprisingly he followed up by missing the cut at the US Open,
never looking comfortable at Oakmont. Its worth remembering the quality of his golf at Memorial, Southwind and also Sawgrass previously though, form which if repeated will yield success before long.
Ogilvy will almost certainly be carrying my money at Carnoustie in a fortnight. Despite a few recent disappointments, I?m still of the view that he is still a bit over-priced in the big events where he so frequently prospers. Ogilvy loves Major golf courses, explaining his excellent recent record in them. Like Scott, he is overdue. As for Pampling, he finished 7th
two years ago and has impressed with his consistency in 2007. This former Bay Hill winner often thrives on ?second-shot? courses, and looks excellent each-way value at 100/1.
Its also very hard to knock the form of JUSTIN ROSE since he reduced his schedule. Rose has played only four times since February, but has produced the goods every time. His four finishing positions have been 5th at the Masters, 2nd at Wentworth, 10th at the US Open and 9th the following week. Again in this sort of form, Rose looks a winner waiting to happen.
Finally, I?m having a small punt on CAMILO VILLEGAS at 100/1. The Colombian prodigy seems at his best on tough golf courses that reward his length off the tee and fine iron play. Furthermore, if the rain comes his weakness on the greens could be minimalised. He nearly landed a much-needed three-figure touch for us earlier in the season when losing a play-off for the Honda Classic. As with Kaymer, its worth persisting with these top prospects
whilst still available at attractive odds.
4pts ew ANGEL CABRERA @ 12/1 (GENERAL, 14/1 VCBET)
2.5pts ew BRADLEY DREDGE @ 18/1 (GENERAL, 20/1 EXPEKT)
2pts ew MARTIN KAYMER @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
0.5pts ew ROSS FISHER @ 200/1 (GENERAL)
A T & T NATIONAL
2pts ew ADAM SCOTT @ 20/1 (GENERAL)
2pts ew JUSTIN ROSE @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
2pts ew GEOFF OGILVY @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew ROD PAMPLING @ 100/1 (LADBROKES, STAN JAMES)
1pt ew CAMILO VILLEGAS @ 100/1 (GENERAL, 125/1 TOTE)
2006/2007 STATS: -220.5pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1
US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS
2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1