Having been upstaged for once by the European Tour event last week, normal service is resumed in the States with a stellar field for the Memorial Tournament. Naturally the main focus of attention will be TIGER WOODS, and his intriguing rivalry with Phil Mickelson. Make no mistake, Woods remains top dog having landed nine wins in the last 12 months, but Mickelson looks stronger than ever since teaming up with Tiger?s former coach Butch Harmon.
Winning at Sawgrass was something I doubted I?d ever see Mickelson achieve as that accuracy test has never really been his forte, but his performance there on his last outing was an exercise in controlled perfection. At the very least, Lefty looks in the same form as 2004 when he won his first Major and held serious winning chances in all four. But with Tiger being the competitor that we know he is, the great man will no doubt be itching to respond in style and must be fancied on a course where he?s already won three times.
Muirfield Village has been the venue for the Memorial for over 20 years, developing a reputation for producing world-class winners. Wide fairways and lightning fast greens make it a second shot course, favouring long hitters and demanding quality iron play and a classy short game. No wonder then that Woods has won three times here, and finished in the top four on his last three visits. He?ll need to improve on a disappointing show at Sawgrass, but his problems there were caused by wayward driving which is less of a worry on these generous fairways. Mickelson?s record here is only moderate, a surprise given the course demands, though he has made the top 10 on his last two visits. If he can win at Sawgrass then he can win anywhere, but given the Tiger factor I prefer the favourite this week.
For all the focus on this top pair, there are plenty of other world-class players on show. Jim Furyk is a former winner and bounced back to form at the weekend, losing in a play-off. Vijay Singh is another former Memorial champ who made the frame at the weekend, but can?t be backed with confidence on these greens. Back-to-form Adam Scott is overlooked for the same reasons, while Ernie Els just isn?t in good enough form to expect a repeat of his 2004 Muirfield Village triumph.
All of these make little appeal compared to Tiger, so my other bets are in the “Without Woods” market. STEWART CINK has been sneaking back into form lately and is worth close inspection at 40/1 without the favourite. He produced four good efforts in May including two top-five finishes. Again at the weekend he looked a serious contender until some poor closing holes. As for course form, Cink has made his last nine Memorial cuts, finishing top-12 in four of the last six years.
A couple of Europeans make some appeal to add to Carl Pettersson?s 2006 triumph. Firstly PAUL CASEY looks ready to win in the States, after some lean years dogged by some controversial post-Ryder Cup comments. He has the perfect game for Muirfield Village, relishing the wide fairways and possessing a confident putting stroke, and made a promising course debut in 18th place last year. Three consecutive top-15 finishes recently in elite
company at Bay Hill, Doral and Augusta confirm the young English prospect as one of the most obvious first-time PGA Tour winners in waiting.
There are few players better suited to the demands of this course than JOSE-MARIA OLAZABAL. One of the all-time great iron players, Olly looked back to his best at Sawgrass where he finished third behind Mickelson. In three trips to Muirfield Village, the dual Masters champ has made the top-11 twice and could improve on that this week.
The Wales Open usually throws up a top-class winner, regardless of which course at Celtic Manor is used. The 2010 Ryder Cup track will be showcased next year, making this the last year the par-69 Roman Road course will be used. In previous runnings of the event, four of the seven winners have been Ryder Cup players, and Ian Poulter also certainly fitted the bill as a high-class European Tour player.
This year with plenty of rain around, length off the tee looks certain to be a bigger advantage than usual, and if the bad weather also involves strong winds, I expect this to be dominated by the market leaders. By far the classiest player on show is RETIEF GOOSEN, who makes his course debut.
Despite slipping to number 10 in the world rankings, Goosen is still ranked 20 places ahead of his nearest rival, defending champion Robert Karlsson. As the course is likely to play long due to the wet conditions, 10/1 about big-hitting Goosen looks massive. Those odds are the consequence of four disappointing efforts since finishing runner-up in the Masters last month. It is true that the South African has been below his best, but there have been mitigating circumstances for those results as the courses involved never really played to his strengths. Particularly claustrophobic Wentworth last week, where he has never looked anywhere near his best. In general, when a player of Goosen?s class is seen on the European Tour we should sit up and take notice, as the South African proved earlier in the year when winning in Qatar.
If Karlsson plays as he did last year he?ll defend his title without too much difficulty, though that is never an easy feat. He?s certainly in good enough form, having finished sixth at Sawgrass in what was arguably a career highlight, but his 2007 form has not been as consistent as 2006 and his chance is more than factored into his odds of 16/1.
At slightly bigger odds I prefer the main home hope, BRADLEY DREDGE. On his two best recent efforts, at the Masters where he went well for a very long way and in Ireland when losing a play-off to Harrington, Dredge ranked in the top 10 for driving distance. Seventh here last year, the course certainly suits and this could be even more the case should the weather turn bad. It may also yet turn out to be an advantage to have missed the cut at Wentworth before the tough weekend conditions.
SIMON DYSON and NICK DOUGHERTY have proved rather expensive to follow lately, but at reasonably generous odds of 33/1 are worth persevering with. I can?t really criticise Dyson for failing to win as he hasn?t blown any really great chances, rather his form has been extremely consistent for six months and sooner or later such form is going to deliver a win. Having finished seventh in this event last year, I see no good reason why he shouldn?t challenge again.
Dougherty on the other hand does have serious questions to answer having blown yet another very obvious winning opportunity in Italy recently. If he hits the front early, things could get a bit nervy but I still think the young Scouser is worth another chance. Earlier in his career, Nick had looked a tenacious competitor and remains capable of a good deal better than his achievements in Europe to date. He did well to stay in the top 20 after an early triple-bogey put paid to an outside chance at Wentworth on Sunday.
And finally on the subject of young talent, Celtic Manor could be a good chance for MARTIN KAYMER to further a flourishing reputation. His last two mid-division efforts at Adair and Wentworth were perfectly respectable as neither are courses where one would expect inexperienced youngsters to prosper. Rather, they are part of the learning curve and in both cases it was encouraging that the German closed with his best round of the week. This
week?s test should play far more to the strengths of his impressive long game.
8pts win TIGER WOODS @ 5/2 (LADBROKES, CORAL, VICTOR CHANDLER)
BETTING WITHOUT WOODS
1.5pts ew STEWART CINK @ 40/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER, STAN JAMES)
1.5pts ew PAUL CASEY @ 50/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER)
1pt ew JOSE-MARIA OLAZABAL @ 66/1 (BET365, PADDY POWER, STAN JAMES,
6pts win RETIEF GOOSEN @ 10/1 (GENERAL)
2.5pts ew BRADLEY DREDGE @ 20/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew SIMON DYSON @ 33/1 (BET DIRECT, VICTOR CHANDLER)
1.5pts ew NICK DOUGHERTY @ 33/1 (SPORTING ODDS, TOTE, CORAL)
1pt ew MARTIN KAYMER @ 50/1 (BET DIRECT, BETFRED, VICTOR CHANDLER)
2006/2007 STATS: -101pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1
3pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN GRAND SLAM IN 2007@ 40/1
10pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN 3 MAJORS IN 2007 @ 8/1
US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS
2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1