A legendary Ryder Cup venue plays host to this week?s European Tour event, the British Masters. Several of this week?s contenders have very fond memories of The Belfry, though it may be a future Ryder Cup star who grabs all the headlines.
Expect much media attention surrounding the professional debut of Rory Mcllroy, the teenager who created such an impression in the Open Championship. Make no mistake, Mcllroy is destined for the top and may prove to be the finest of an extremely promising crop of European youngsters, but it would take something quite extraordinary to contend on his debut.
Paul Casey had looked a strong favourite until his withdrawal, but in his absence the other market leaders only make limited appeal. Lee Westwood has disappointed in every strokeplay event he?s ever played at The Belfry, and let himself down badly at the weekend after having the tournament at his mercy following an amazing first round 61. Ian Poulter and Niclas Fasth also come into this in decent form, but neither have any notable Belfry efforts to their name.
Once again, greens in regulation is probably the crucial statistic to follow, with pinpoint accuracy required to avoid the numerous water hazards and approach small greens. It looks the perfect set-up for RICHARD GREEN, who can always be relied upon to hit a high percentage of fairways and greens. This explains why he?s made the top-20 on four out of five attempts at The Belfry, with a best of 6th back in 2001. The left-hander has enjoyed the best year of his career so far, winning in Austria and making the frame in the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Having looked a serious contender before a poor final round at the weekend, the Australian looks one of the players to beat here.
After missing a few weeks with injury, it was encouraging to see RICHARD STERNE back to form in Germany. I haven?t forgotten the favourable impression created by the young South African earlier in the season, when he made the top five in six of his eight tournaments between the beginning of March and the Open. That level of consistency has probably not been matched by anyone in Europe this year, and leads me to conclude that, at odds of 33/1, he is still under the radar of bookmakers.
Few if any can have fonder memories of The Belfry than COLIN MONTGOMERIE, who turned in one of the all-time great Ryder Cup performances on this course in 2002. Though obviously the eight-time Order of Merit winner has a huge bank of memorable performances to his name, I can?t ever remember seeing him play better than that weekend. Monty also has plenty of strokeplay form on a course that suits his game, twice making the frame here earlier this century. He is easily forgiven a poor weekend effort as I never expected to see him contend in that unsuitable putting contest. 40/1 looks quite an over-reaction.
Sweden?s PETER HANSON was going well in this event last year before a disastrous final-round 80 and he is another perfectly suited to the greens in regulation test. Few have been more consistent than Hanson this summer, who looks long overdue another win. He hasn?t missed a cut since the first week in June, and has made the top-15 on five of his last eight appearances.
My final European selection was a toss-up between two of the Tour?s best young prospects, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and MARTIN KAYMER. In the end, having backed Kaymer regularly of late I had to keep the faith, and especially as he is slightly bigger odds than the Spaniard. The Belfry has proved a happy hunting ground for similar, long-hitting prospects searching for their breakthrough win. Henrik Stenson first appeared in the big-time when winning here at a canter six years ago, while Johan Edfors managed his breakthrough win in this event last year. Having played solid if unspectacular golf again last week in Germany, Kaymer looks worth persevering with at three figures.
TURNING STONE RESORT CHAMPIONSHIP
Part two of the new PGA Tour schedule begins this week with a series of events entitled ?The Fall Series?. These will be largely contested by the rank and file Tour members battling to improve their ranking for next year, though we may yet see the odd leading player over the next couple of months.
The opening event looks to be target golf in its purest form, and a real lottery for punters. The New York course of Atunyote has been used once previously on the PGA Tour, for last year?s BC Open, a distinctly moderate affair which clashed with the British Open. Few easier courses have been seen at the highest level, with wide fairways and an absence of penal rough ensuring very low scoring. The one essential attribute this week will be a hot putter.
Under the circumstances, there?s little point in backing the market leaders. My strategy, therefore, is to pick out five players at 50/1 and above knowing that one place will yield an overall profit. First up is a player who has yet to fulfil the high hopes I had for him at the beginning of the year, VAUGHN TAYLOR. After some very promising performances early on, including a serious tilt at the Masters, Taylor went off the boil for a while. His most recent effort at Cog Hill in the play-offs suggested he?s back to somewhere near his best though, with rounds of 68-69-69 to finish. One of the best putters around, Taylor is ideally suited to this sort of target golf.
At around the same odds, RYUJI IMADA is another decent prospect hinting at a return to form. Top-25 finishes in the opening two play-off events was the best we?ve seen from the Japanese player since May, when he was touched off by Zach Johnson in the AT & T Classic at Sugarloaf. Imada is another player who is generally seen to best effect on easy golf courses.
Imada is the only one of my five selections who has yet to win on the PGA Tour. The other three are JASON GORE, RICH BEEM and RYAN PALMER. Gore has proven before that, when on song, he is capable of overpowering easy courses like this. A multiple winner on the Nationwide Tour besides his one PGA Tour success, this long-hitter has looked a big threat in recent weeks. Having nearly added to his winning tally when runner-up at Warwick Hills, Gore confirmed his well-being with 7th place finish a few weeks later at the Wyndham Championship.
When it comes to ?bottle? on the final day, few score higher in my book than former shock USPGA winner RICH BEEM. Who could forget his heroics at Hazeltine in 2002, when a truly inspirational performance defied a charging Tiger Woods. For one of the game?s lesser lights, Beem has an impressive win ratio with three tournament victories. I?m surprised to see him at odds of 80/1 here, given that he was right in the thick of things in the first play-off event at Westchester a few weeks back.
Palmer?s previous win also came in a target golf affair, and he could be a spot of value at three figures. He made the top-20 here last year, and has shown some encouraging form on recent starts. The latest was a solid mid-division effort at the Wyndham Championship where he scored four rounds of 70 or better. Much more notable was his 3rd place behind Jim Furyk in Canada three starts ago. A repetition of that would take him very close in this moderate field.
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2pts ew RICHARD GREEN @ 28/1 (GENERAL)
2pts ew RICHARD STERNE @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew COLIN MONTGOMERIE @ 40/1 (STAN JAMES, EXPEKT)
1.5pts ew PETER HANSON @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew MARTIN KAYMER @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
TURNING STONE RESORT CHAMPIONSHIP
1pt ew VAUGHAN TAYLOR @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew RYUJI IMADA @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew JASON GORE @ 66/1 (LADBROKES, VCBET)
1pt ew RICH BEEM @ 66/1 (80/1 CORALS)
0.5pts ew RYAN PALMER @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
2006/2007 STATS: -105pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1
2pts PAUL CASEY @ 80/1