With the lucrative ?Middle East Swing? now over, the European Tour fields become slightly less illustrious as we embark on its Far East equivalent. The Malaysian Open is the first of seven events co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour between now and the end of April.
A decent field has assembled nevertheless, with all the top Asian players plus Darren Clarke, LEE WESTWOOD, Thomas Bjorn and MICHAEL CAMPBELL to name but a few. The Saujana course in Kuala Lumpar has been used four times for this event in the last decade, providing us with some useful form pointers.
Firstly, the extreme humidity and tricky, grainy greens offer considerable advantage to the Asian Tour players – or at least players with plenty of experience of the region. It’s no coincidence that the greatest Asian player of all time, Thongchai Jaidee, is bidding for his third consecutive Malaysian Open. So while it normally pays to side with the top overseas players in Asia, that strategy is less obvious than usual here. The second useful pointer is the importance of accuracy, rather than length, off the tee.
Jaidee is a worthy favourite, even if he trails several of his rivals here
in the world rankings. He has, after all, proved time and again that he can
match Europe?s best when in Asia. However, at single-figure odds there must
be some better value around in a tournament that could easily produce a
shock winner. Similar comments apply to Jyoti Randhawa, whose obvious
chances on his ?home? tour are more than reflected in his odds. However good
they are, its hard to argue that they deserve to be considerably shorter
odds than a US Open winner like Campbell.
The only two Europeans that make the staking plan are the ones with the best
winning form in this part of the world, Westwood and SIMON DYSON. Westwood
has a great record in the Far East, including a win on this course back in
1997. Despite only intermittently returning to the form of those heady days
in recent years, Lee looked on his way back to his best in the latter half
of 2006. Yet another starring role in Ryder Cup was complimented by five
top-10 finishes from his last six starts. He didn?t set the Middle East
alight, but produced two solid efforts nonetheless with only one over par
round from eight in Qatar and Dubai. If his last round in Dubai is anything
to go by, a 68 at the Emirates on a tough scoring day, Westwood has now
shaken off any winter rust and a big run is expected now in this less
As for Dyson, he made his name on the Asian Tour and for years struggled to
reproduce that form in Europe. Over the last year he has made significant
strides though, winning twice in good company, in Indonesia and Holland. And
Simon is another one who looks to be working his way into form just in time
for this, with an excellent 7th place behind Els, Woods, Stenson and co in
Campbell is a more speculative selection as his form has blown hot and cold
in recent months. He is another who usually goes well in Asia, as a pair of
top-three finishes in China last November testify, but little form of note
has followed since except second place in his native New Zealand Open. His
two efforts in the Middle East were distinctly average but at least he did
hit a very high percentage of fairways which will count for a lot here. At
22/1, the price on this world class player is simply too big to overlook.
Of the Asian players, the one player I do think represents a touch of value
is Indian prospect SHIV KAPUR. Kapur usually goes well on courses that
favour accuracy, and won many admirers with his efforts in the Middle East.
For three rounds, he was right in the thick of it in Abu Dhabi alongside
Els, Goosen, Stenson, Dimarco and the rest before understandably wobbling on
Sunday. He carried much of that form over to Dubai where 27th was no
disgrace. Back in conditions he knows well, he could be a factor on Sunday.
For a preview of the MALAYSIAN OPEN click here
AT & T PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM
From a betting point of view, I?m quite pleased Tiger chose not to make this
the latest leg of his attempt to challenge Byron Nelson?s longstanding
record of 11 consecutive PGA Tour wins. Because without him, we?ve still got
an all-star line-up but which now looks a wide-open punting heat. I?m no fan
of pro-ams, but this is no ordinary pro-am as two of the rounds are played
at the superb Pebble Beach course, a regular on the US Open schedule. This
world-class venue usually produces a world-class winner. In the past decade
the only two winners that don?t quite match that description were Aaron
Oberholser (who is certainly no mug) and Matt Gogel.
So the odds are that the winner will come from the following leading batch –
VIJAY SINGH, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Luke Donald, PADRAIG HARRINGTON,
Mike Weir and DAVIS LOVE. Firstly, lets deal with the negatives in that
group. Mickelson has started the season terribly by his own standards, and
has only a mixed record in this event. The weather is invariably poor at
this venue at this time of the year, and this week?s forecast suggests much
of the same. Phil has never been a great player in bad weather. Furyk too
has a disappointing record here for such a consistent player and is also
Donald is certainly consistent enough and will no doubt be there or
thereabouts yet again but even this massive LD fan had to raise an eyebrow
at the way he blew his chance at the Sony Open in Hawaii. 12/1 is plenty
short enough until he can resume winning ways. Mike Weir presents something
of a conundrum. The Canadian has the best course form on show, with six
top-10 finishes from his last eight visits and finishing in the top-4 every
year since 2003. The problem is he hasn?t made a single top-20 anywhere
since the USPGA in August.
So by process of elimination we?re left with Singh, Harrington and Love, all
of whom have strong claims of their own. Vijay was hugely impressive when
winning the season?s opener in Hawaii, and can be forgiven a couple of
lacklustre efforts afterwards as they were on courses where he?s rarely been
seen at his best. He loves Pebble Beach, with seven top-10 finishes from his
last nine visits, the highlight of which was a win in 2004. His last three
rounds at Scottsdale over the weekend – 67/67/64 – suggest a return to the
winners? enclosure could be imminent.
Harrington has never played this pro-am before. The fact he?s here now is
perhaps an illustration of how the new Fedex Cup will alter players?
schedules, as I would have thought him more likely to be playing in Malaysia
this week. Now he?s here though, its hard to think of anyone in the field
better suited to playing Pebble Beach in bad weather. Whilst he may have
never played the pro-am, he did finish 5th in the 2000 US Open on this
course. And as I?ve said before, I?ve got big expectations for Pod in 2007.
Since last August, seven of his nine starts have yielded top-6 finishes,
winning twice including a head-to-head triumph over Tiger Woods. It may well
be that winning the Order of Merit after several near-misses will prove to
be just the kickstart he?s needed to make that critical final step into the
Davis Love is so inconsistent these days that any bet should carry a health
warning, but it shouldn?t be forgotten that he has twice won this event in
the past, and on his day is still capable of competing with the very best.
His closing round of 65 at Scottsdale at least suggests he comes here in a
confident frame of mind.
For a preview of the AT&T PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM click here
3pts ew LEE WESTWOOD @ 16/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE, 18/1 VCBET)
2pts ew MICHAEL CAMPBELL @ 22/1 (CORALS, PREMIERBET)
2pts ew SIMON DYSON @ 25/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1.5pts ew SHIV KAPUR @ 40/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
AT & T PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM
5pts win VIJAY SINGH @ 10/1 (BETFRED, TOTE, LADBROKES)
3pts ew PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 16/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
1.5pts ew DAVIS LOVE @ 25/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE, 33/1 WITH TOTE)
2006/2007 STATS: +75pts
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