The 2007 golfing year starts earlier than I can ever recall with the opening PGA Tour fixture starting late on Thursday in the form of the Mercedes Championship at Kapalua, Hawaii. The Mercedes is an event restricted to last season?s winners on Tour. With Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson both opting to stay at home, and fellow stars Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington all failing to win in the States last year, the field looks weaker than in previous years.

But before I get to the Mercedes, a quick word about the US Money List markets. Unlike the Order of Merit, this has generally been a very dull betting heat since the emergence of Tiger. A new Tour schedule and prize format may liven things up a little though. The Mercedes is the first counting event towards the new FedEx Cup, a quite dramatic introduction to the schedule. In addition to prize money, players will earn points from tournaments until the middle of August, which will determine the seeding positions of the top 144 qualifiers, who then progress to a series of four play-offs. As the play-offs progress, that number is gradually whittled down to the top 30 who enter the Tour Championship finale. The leading points scorer at the end of this wins the Fedex Cup and a eye-watering $10M bonus.

However, that won?t be quite the end of the Tour, as there then follows seven autumn events to determine next year?s eligibility. Players who missed out on the top 30 will compete for places 31-125.

It’s certainly an interesting development, that will liven up the summer months. There weren?t many quiet summer weeks before, but there certainly won?t be any from now on. Another possible change will be that the leading players? competitive seasons will now be finishing earlier. Some will no doubt just opt for the longer winter break, but it may also encourage others to travel a bit more, and boost the fields in Europe, Australasia and China
over the autumn and winter months. From a betting angle though, I?m keeping stakes relatively small for now until I?m certain of any impact from the FedEx Cup.

Just the one money list bet appeals for now. Regular readers from 2006 will know I?m very excited about TREVOR IMMELMAN. The money list market without Woods is dominated by seven players. Naturally, Furyk, Mickelson and Vijay Singh are considerably shorter than the rest as they have dominated previously. The other four at less than 25/1 are Els, Goosen, Adam Scott and Immelman. Without taking anything away from these
stars, Scott and Immelman are the only players who have yet to reach their potential. In the cases of Singh, Els and Goosen, it may be that they never quite hit their previous heights again. Scott is overlooked because of his poor Majors record and generally quite limited schedule, which leaves Immelman as a decent each-way bet. I?m undecided about whether he is quite ready to win a Major just yet, but on the basis of the latter half of 2006,
Trevor looks certain to accumulate a lot of prize money from the regular Tour events.

And despite making his course debut at Kapalua, Immelman looks certain to finish high on the leaderboard. The key attributes needed on this wide-open and wind-exposed course are length off the tee and the ability to play in the wind. At least on the first count, Immelman is as suited to this test as anyone. The general trend at Kapalua is for the classiest players to separate themselves from the pack, though this year does look more open than usual. Certainly, 5/1 favourite Jim Furyk is well worth taking on. Winner in 2001, and top-4 on three other occasions, I can see why he is such a short price, but it shouldn?t be forgotten that, as a short hitter, he is at something of a disadvantage against many of his main rivals. I?ll be shocked if a bigger price isn?t available in-running at some stage.

More attractive betting propositions lie in the form of course specialists VIJAY SINGH and Stuart Appleby, as well as big-hitting ADAM SCOTT and Immelman. Appleby is going for an amazing fourth consecutive win in this event, and is opposed for that reason alone. As suited as he is to the Kapalua test, runs like this have to come to an end and even Tiger rarely wins events four times in a row. It’s amazing to think Singh hasn?t won this event already. In seven visits he?s never finished lower than 8th and only been out of the top-4 twice. It’s an absolute certainty that workaholic Vijay has continued practising over the winter, determined to correct a disappointing 2006 and will strip fitter than most for the season’s opener.

Scott just gets the nod over Immelman this week due to experience of the course. While Trevor makes his debut, Scott’s two visits have resulted in six sub-70 rounds out of eight and two top-7 finishes. After running away with the Tour Championship at the end of the season, Adam looks as serious an alternative to Woods as anyone these days.

Another factor in favour of Scott is the fact that he is Australian and hasn?t stopped playing competitive golf over the winter. I?m sure plenty of the Americans are well prepared for this event, but some will also probably have used the winter months to rest and recuperate, whereas Australians and South Africans have just played the biggest events of their national tours.

Another Aussie who makes plenty of appeal is AARON BADDELEY. Despite being at a disadvantage on his course debut, he should love this test. In his native land, Badds has shown just how much he loves shaping iron shots in the wind, and I haven?t forgotten his first visit to Hawaii back in 2004. On that occasion, his first US professional start, Aaron went down in a play-off to Ernie Els for the Sony Open, an effort that cemented his place
in most player-to-follow notebooks.

Finally, RORY SABBATINI has been in Hawaii for weeks now, primarily to celebrate his anniversary but also to prepare for the new season. Six years ago, he nearly won the Mercedes as a novice, missing a short-putt to hand victory to Furyk. The big-hitting South African is a much more accomplished player nowadays and is perfectly suited to Kapalua, so I?m expecting another big run.

Good Luck!

For a preview of the Mercedes Championship click here

ADVISED BETS

US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS
2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)

MERCEDES CHAMPIONSHIP

4pts win VIJAY SINGH @ 9/1 (STAN JAMES, BETFAIR)
4pts win ADAM SCOTT @ 11/1 (SKYBET, PREMIERBET, BETFAIR)
1pt ew RORY SABBATINI @ 50/1 (SPORTING ODDS, LADBROKES)
1pt ew AARON BADDELEY @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 66/1 LADBROKES)

2006/2007 STATS: -21pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts

ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED

VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT

5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1 (PRICES AVAILABLE WITH LADBROKES, BET DIRECT)
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1 (BET DIRECT, BLUESQ, LADBROKES, TOTE)

3pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN GRAND SLAM IN 2007@ 40/1 (HILLS)
10pts TIGER WOODS TO WIN 3 MAJORS IN 2007 @ 8/1 (BLUESQ)

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