All eyes this week are on New York, where a new era begins for the PGA Tour. The Barclays is the first of four extremely lucrative Fedex Cup play-off events over the next few weeks. The top-144 on the Fedex Cup points list line-up at Westchester, after which the bottom 24 will be eliminated with 120 moving on to next week?s Deutsche Bank Championship. Two further cuts will take place, with the field reduced to 70 for the third play-off and 30 for the finale Tour Championship. An eye watering £10M bonus is then awarded to the leading Fedex Cup points scorer. What we have in effect is four chances for players to dramatically enhance their bank balance and ranking if they can find their best form over the next month.
A stellar field and testing venue give this tournament the appearance of a Major in all but one crucial aspect – the absence of Tiger Woods citing tiredness. Evidently Tiger feels confident enough holding an 11,000 point lead but he?s taking a chance. 9,000 points go to the winner of each of the first three events, and over 10,000 for the Tour Championship. The bonus is clearly still up for grabs.
Westchester has previously been the venue for the tournament immediately preceding or following the US Open, emphasising many of the same qualities required for that Major. A couple of months later than usual, these traits should be even more pronounced with the course expected to be firm and fast, the rough penal. There?s been a number of world-class past winners but its too simplistic to assume Westchester is the type of venue that always
separates the best from the rest. Certainly, stars like ERNIE ELS, Vijay Singh and SERGIO GARCIA love it here with six course wins between them, but equally Phil Mickelson, Retief Goosen and KJ Choi all have course records that must be described as moderate at best. There has been the occasional shock winner too, such as Dennis Paulson, Jonathan Kaye and Chris Smith.
Vijay currently sits in second place, but is overlooked this time because he?s rarely seen at his very best in firm, fast conditions. Jim Furyk?s impressive course record is also discounted until we can be certain he?s recovered from a troublesome neck injury. Some might raise an eyebrow at Els status as favourite having gone almost three years without a PGA Tour win. However his performance at Southern Hills, chasing Woods all the way with a
score that might usually have won on that course, suggested Ernie was finally back to his best. His long game has been in top order all summer, ranking in the top-8 for greens in regulation in six of his last nine events. The memory of Ernie?s second Westchester victory in 1997 lingers long in the memory, comfortably leading all the way in the week following
his US Open win at Congressional. So while I?m not enamoured by the price, Els must enter the staking plan.
Sergio?s record at Westchester is second to none. In six completed tournaments, he?s won twice, made the top-4 on two other occasions and never finished worse than 22nd. His switch to the belly putter threatens to shave a few shots off his scorecard every week from now on, which would surely elevate Garcia to the status of regular winner and who knows, perhaps even a challenger to Woods. Beyond him, the European challenge may be best served by Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald, both of whom hold impressive course
This course has always presented something of an accuracy test, and the tougher conditions could accentuate that trend. Its imperative here to relentlessly hit greens in regulation, such is the difficulty around the putting surfaces. ZACH JOHNSON should appreciate conditions, and went into the notebook on his penultimate start in the Bridgestone Invitational. Tiger
was unbeatable that week, but Johnson remained at the heart of the battle for second throughout. One disaster hole on Saturday particularly cost him dear, making his final 11th position the worst it could possibly have been. Johnson has played Westchester once, three years ago finishing 23rd. He?s a considerably improved player nowadays, and looks well capable of landing his third win of a memorable year.
Its also been three years since STEWART CINK played this course. Previously he?d shown a liking for Westchester with three top-6 finishes. Cink is probably overdue some reward for a good summer, making the top-6 in four of his last ten events. Interestingly, he ranked 3rd for greens in regulation at Southern Hills, a statistic that would serve him well this week if
repeated. And with an even greater emphasis on accuracy this year, TIM CLARK must come into the equation. He has a good record in Majors on tough courses, and is currently in his best form for at least a year. Last month he finished runner-up in consecutive weeks, before another good effort in 6th at Firestone. That high level of form is not reflected in odds of 66/1.
Not for the first time, the Dutch Open has suffered at the hands of rescheduling. Clashing with the play-offs means the sponsors were only able to attract four players from the world?s top-100 and nobody higher than 73rd. A far cry from the days this event used to attract numerous world stars in the week following the Open, but even without the stars this
wide-open affair should be entertaining.
The same course is used as last year, Kennemer GC. A seaside, linksy course exposed to incoming North Sea winds, its not too dissimilar from other Dutch venues such as Hilversum and Noordwijkse. The fairways are undulating and rough penal so any inaccuracy off the tee will be penalised, but the weather is its main defence. Last year, rain delays played havoc with tee-times and more is forecast. This does make early betting something of a lottery as its impossible to predict which group of starters will play in the best and worst of the conditions.
If SIMON DYSON and Nick Dougherty could repeat their best Majors form they?d be certainties in this company. Dyson, the defending champion, produced the golf of his life to grab a share of 6th at the recent USPGA, and played well enough last week on his return. Its never easy to defend a title, though at least Dyson has achieved this feat previously in Indonesia. He?s challenged on a number of occasions since that last win a year ago, and is probably overdue a bit of luck.
Dougherty on the other hand seems to be consistently over-rated in betting terms. I?ve written many times before about his tremendous potential, which was emphasised by many judges when making the top-10 in the US Open. Again last week his long game looked in great nick, though once again he failed to deliver the goods on Sunday. For me, he?s run out of chances to justify sub-20/1 odds.
The rest of the market leaders look plenty short enough. Bernhard Langer could be interesting after a return to form in the States, if fully prepared following surgery to remove kidney stones. The likes of Peter Hedblom and Christian Cevear played well in Scandinavia causing their odds to collapse unjustifiably. Robert-Jan Derksen has a surprisingly poor record in his national Open while fellow Dutchman Maarten Lafeber has been well below his best lately.
So in spite of a missed cut when carrying our money in Scandinavia, THOMAS LEVET is retained for another week. As a good links player, extremely accurate off the tee and perhaps as importantly here, a good scrambler, Levet could prosper on his first tournament in Holland. He looked in decent form last week after the first day and a live contender, only to ruin it with a poor second round. Hopefully that was a blip and the Frenchman can return to the form shown a few weeks back at the K Club and Gut Kaden.
Former Dutch Open champion GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO also looks well overpriced at 80/1 in a place. The reason for those odds is a bad run of eight tournaments since the end of May. Inconsistency is to be expected amongst young, up and comers like Castano, who has shown much liking for this week?s type of golfing test before. And as the young Spaniard has already won three times in a brief career, we know he can get the job done
South African ANDREW MCLARDY went well in 7th place here last year, and has shown enough form this summer to rate a speculative bet at 80/1. He?s not the most consistent, but four top-15s from his last 9 European events is a reasonable return. A multiple winner in South Africa, McLardy is another who has proven his mettle under pressure, looking well capable of landing that first European Tour victory.
And finally another speculative bet on a player who has repeatedly shown his liking for the usual Dutch Open conditions. GARY MURPHY finished a respectable 14th here last year, and 6th back in 2003. He seems to be coming into form at the right time, finishing 6th on his penultimate start in Russia and registering some excellent statistics in Scandinavia last weekend. Most importantly, Murphy is a proven performer in bad weather.
4pts win SIMON DYSON @ 16/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew THOMAS LEVET @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew GONZALO-FERNANDEZ CASTANO @ 66/1 (GENERAL, 80/1 CORALS)
1pt ew ANDREW MCLARDY @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew GARY MURPHY @ 100/1 (GENERAL)
3pts ew ERNIE ELS @ 14/1 (GENERAL)
2.5pts ew SERGIO GARCIA @ 25/1 (BET365, BETFRED, LADBROKES)
1.5pts ew ZACH JOHNSON @ 50/1 (GENERAL, 55/1 BET365)
1pt ew STEWART CINK @ 66/1 (TOTE, LADBROKES)
1pt ew TIM CLARK @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
2006/2007 STATS: -15pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1