OPEN DE FRANCE
In recent years, the French Open has proved arguably more of a minefield for punters than any other event. A soothsayer couldn?t have predicted the first-time wins of 500/1 Malcolm Mackenzie in 2002 or 250/1 Phil Golding the following year. And in the three years since, only the shrewdest judges could have pinpointed either of Jean-Francois Remesy?s consecutive wins or 150/1 chance John Bickerton.
The case for backing the favourites is further weakened by an unconvincing bunch of market leaders. Richard Green heads the market after winning the Austrian Open last month, but this rare winner didn?t really boost his reputation with a very nervy finish. Jose-Maria Olazabal is always dangerous at this level, but has rarely convinced this year. Miguel-Angel Jiminez and leading home hope Raphael Jacquelin have also rarely prospered on this course.
Of greater interest are recent winners Richard Sterne, Anders Hansen and LEE WESTWOOD. Sterne has been the leading player on this Tour in recent months, gaining a well-deserved second victory last time out in Wales. The young South African has clearly made enormous strides lately; so four moderate showings on this course can probably be ignored. He is only overlooked because of the rarity of back-to-back wins. In contrast, Hansen has a great course record and confirmed his wellbeing when in the frame on Sunday. At just 20/1 though, I can?t help but feel any value has long gone on a player who would have started at least double those odds six weeks ago.
Westwood played pretty well at the US Open in mid-division, in line with his spring form in Europe. Following recent rain, the rough at Le Golf National is more penal than ever placing an even greater emphasis on accuracy. This very much plays to the strengths of Westwood, ranked top for greens in regulation on the European Tour this year.
The last time this course played really tough was 2004, with then rookie GRAEME MCDOWELL managing a very respectable fourth place. Despite struggling for consistency, Graeme remains an outstanding young prospect with a proven winning temperament. On his last outing in Europe, McDowell closed with a 64 to make the top-10, before following up with an excellent showing at the US Open. If that sort of form is carried over, he will have strong claims this week.
I?m having a speculative punt that MICHAEL CAMPBELL returns to somewhere near his best this week. Cambo remains the streakiest player in golf, unbackable when out of form, but world-class on his day. The first half of 2007 very much came into the former category with some shocking scores, but there have been many positive signs on his last two starts. He usually comes to the boil around this time of year, with this course and Loch Lomond being particular favourites. The former US Open champion finished 3rd here last year, adding to 7th and 11th on his two previous visits.
With an even greater emphasis on driving accuracy and greens in regulation than usual, I expect PETER O?MALLEY to add another high finish to an impressive record at Le Golf National. Five of O?Malley?s last six attempts on this course have yielded top-7 finishes, which makes a mockery of his 80/1 odds.
Finally, in a bid to find another three-figure priced French Open winner, don?t rule out OLIVER WILSON. A decent prospect already, Wilson has made further strides in 2007 including defeat in a play-off for the lucrative Johnnie Walker Classic. Like the others, his strengths lie in an accurate tee to green game, which has yielded a series of respectable if unspectacular recent finishes just outside the top-10. 125/1 represents a sporting bet.
Given his superb record at Warwick Hills, its no surprise to see Jim Furyk installed at the very short odds of 5/1 favourite here. The World No.3 lost absolutely nothing in defeat at the US Open, and stands head and shoulders above the rest of this field. Furyk won this event in 2003, has twice finished runner-up including last year to Woods, and has made the top-10 in seven of the last eight years.
In fact, Furyk is the only player in the last 5 years to win this event apart from Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh, as short-priced backers have been rewarded time and again. Bearing in mind that neither Woods, Singh or anyone else from the world?s top-10 are here, it would therefore be easy to conclude that 5/1 represented decent value on another win for the favourite, but I?m not convinced. For all Furyk?s many admirable qualities, he is nowhere near as prolific a winner as that pair, and 5/1 for any PGA Tour event is extremely short.
A short course with few penalties, Warwick Hills is likely to yield very low scores again. Long-hitters have made hay in recent years, but a more important statistic could be putting. Ultimately though with little serious trouble from the tee shot, this has become a ?second-shot? course, which usually favours the top players.
It looks certain to play to the strengths of SEAN O?HAIR, the second-favourite available at four times the price of Furyk. This much-improved young player has looked a winner waiting to happen for months with rock-solid form throughout the spring. O?Hair finished 4th and 8th on his two previous Warwick Hills visits, and has since improved markedly so looks a very likely candidate.
The last player to win before the Woods/Singh/Furyk years was KENNY PERRY back in 2001, who has since confirmed his liking for Warwick Hills with top-15 finishes in each of the last three years. 15th place last week was confirmation of the improvement in Perry?s game since a fitness regime and switch to the belly putter.
Despite failing to get a return on LUCAS GLOVER from several bets this year, I?m determined to keep the faith. Last year?s 15th place was his best yet at Warwick Hills, and Glover looks the exactly the type of player to prosper on a second shot, target golf course such as this. Glover?s case is strengthened by the fact that good putting is essential on this track, which also means it could be worth looking at another player who always ranks well in that department, BRIAN GAY. He played well in 4th last time out before a fortnight?s break. Gay has shown a liking for Warwick Hills in the past, with three top-15 finishes, including 2nd and 6th in 2001 and 2002.
Finally, at 125/1, huge-hitting JB HOLMES makes good each-way sense. We?ve seen in recent years with Woods, Singh and John Daly that the really long hitters can prosper on this course as they can let rip with impunity, knowing few hazards await their tee-shot. Holmes regularly ranks 1st for driving distance, and has a tournament to his name, the 2006 FBR Open. He played fairly in mid-division at the weekend, his best since an excellent 16th in the elite Players Championship at Sawgrass last month.
OPEN DE FRANCE
3pts win LEE WESTWOOD @ 18/1 (STAN JAMES, SPORTING ODDS, EXPEKT)
2pts ew GRAEME MCDOWELL @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew MICHAEL CAMPBELL @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew PETER O?MALLEY 80/1 (TOTE, EXPEKT)
0.5pts ew OLIVER WILSON @ 125/1 (GENERAL, 125/1 WITH PADDY POWER)
2.5pts ew SEAN O?HAIR @ 20/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew KENNY PERRY @ 28/1 (VICTOR CHANDLER, SPORTING ODDS)
1pt ew LUCAS GLOVER @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew BRIAN GAY @ 66/1 (GENERAL, 80/1 WITH HILLS)
0.5pts ew JB HOLMES @ 125/1 (GENERAL)
2006/2007 STATS: -195.5pts
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
OPEN DE FRANCE