JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC
The Johnnie Walker Classic always attracts at least a handful of world-class competitors and has been played at a variety of venues in Asia and Australasia in recent years. This year the venue is the Blue Canyon Country Club, in Phuket, Thailand. Its nine years since the European Tour visited this course, producing a world-class one-two-three of Woods, Els, Goosen. The previous Johnnie Walker Classic here, in 1994, also saw a win for the then world number one Greg Norman. So it seems this well-regarded venue is likely to prompt a world-class winner, especially against a field which includes mostly run-of-the-mill European and Asian Tour players.
Only four players here could seriously lay claim to being world-class ? ERNIE ELS, RETIEF GOOSEN, Adam Scott and PAUL CASEY. That?s probably a bit harsh on Colin Montgomerie and Mike Weir, but their lack of any world-class recent form has to exclude them. Ernie is quite prohibitively priced at 6/1, but justifiably so. Last week?s early exit at the World Match Play must be taken with a pinch of salt as he?s on record as disliking the format of an event where his record has been consistently poor. Prior to that he had looked a winner waiting to happen, with narrow defeats in the Middle East and the Nissan Open. Ernie is hungry, playing well and almost certain to be in contention here. Having last weekend off could now even work in his favour, and while there?s obviously a good chance he?ll trade at bigger than 6/1 in running, this still represents a decent price.
There has to be a slight question mark over Goosen after a slight dip in form over the past year, but he has a fine record here. It shouldn?t be forgotten that when he finished third behind Woods and Els nine years ago, beaten by just a shot, the Goose was merely a decent European Tour player, and few considered him to be the likely multiple Major winner that he went on to become. And though it hardly counts as a proper tournament, Retief did win a “skins” event here in 2005.
The temptation must be to back all four of these world-class players at combined odds of around 6/4. All four have a good record in Asia, so I?m loathe to ignore any of them, but in order to try and get the maximum value out of the two South Africans I?ve decided one of Scott and Casey must be left out. It would be frustrating if Scott comes good now having backed him two weeks in a row, but it’s also hard to overlook how bad those two efforts
have been. In losing to Shaun Micheel last week, his putting looked awful which could be a big problem here with low scores expected. Alternatively, while Casey?s price is more than reflective of some fine recent efforts, he did play very well at Dove Mountain so rates worthy of a saver.
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If betting in Thailand is hampered by the lack of recent course form, the Honda Classic looks a lottery at a completely new venue. The PGA National Resort at Palm Beach, Florida, is a relatively short course, with plenty of water hazards. With six of the last 11 Honda champions being first-time winners, the chances of a shock winner are stronger than usual so stakes should be kept to a minimum.
Accuracy and quality iron play look the order of the day here. Normally that would lead me towards defending champion Luke Donald, but he seems to have lost his trademark consistency in recent weeks. Another former champion, Padraig Harrington, is also overlooked after some very poor play at Dove Mountain. With rising superstar Henrik Stenson pulling out, the only leading player who doesn?t have any questions to answer is prohibitively priced favourite JIM FURYK. Since his last PGA Tour win last September, ultra-consistent Furyk has won the high-class Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, and never finished out of the top-20 in any tournament. In fact six out of 10 appearances in that period have produced top-six finishes. Furyk?s seemingly certain high finish leads me towards a rare double across the tournaments. I suggest two each-way doubles with Els and Goosen.
Looking down this moderate field, two more players make some appeal at big prices. Last week?s selection, STEVE STRICKER, lost little in defeat to a flying Geoff Ogilvy and remains a likely imminent winner. Since returning from injury last summer, Stricker has been a model of consistency, and retains his class. And, finally, this could be a good opportunity for future Major winner CAMILO VILLEGAS (pictured) to gain a first PGA Tour win. Like most Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, I expect this to favour the best iron players and it is layouts of this nature that seem to favour the young Colombian most. He?s still inexperienced and rather inconsistent, but at 100/1 he’s worth a speculative interest.
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JOHNNIE WALKER CLASSIC
8pts ERNIE ELS @ 6/1 (STAN JAMES, BETFRED, SKYBET, VCBET)
5pts RETIEF GOOSEN @ 9/1 (VCBET)
3pts PAUL CASEY @ 12/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
4pts JIM FURYK @ 15/2 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1pt ew STEVE STRICKER @ 80/1 (SKYBET, EXPEKT)
1pt ew CAMILIO VILLEGAS @ 100/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1pt ew DOUBLES (TOTAL STAKE 4pts)
JW CLASSIC – ERNIE ELS & RETIEF GOOSEN
HONDA CLASSIC – JIM FURYK
(BEST ODDS WITH VCBET)
2006/2007 STATS: +23pts
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