For what seems like the first time in living memory England are overwhelming favourites to win a World Cup, and deservedly so. Whereas many countries, the USA being the prime example, rarely, if ever, manage to send anyone closely resembling their best players, England are represented by two men of the moment, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter. With Rose crowned European No 1 and Poulter entering the world?s top-20 after his weekend victory in Japan, they start at the very short odds of 3/1.
While I?m sure they will be there or thereabouts, there?s no sense in backing that price pre-tournament. World Cups generally produce very low scoring, which means an average day on the greens can leave ground to be made up. I?ll be very surprised if significantly better than 3/1 isn?t available at some stage in-running.
Similar comments apply to the other two countries at prohibitive, single-figure odds. Both the South Africans have been part of the winning pair in this before, Retief Goosen in 2001 and Trevor Immelman in 2003. At their best, they?d take some beating but Goosen hasn?t been anywhere near his best for several months.
Swedish pair Robert Karlsson and Peter Hanson will have a strong chance if replicating their weekend efforts in Hong Kong, and assuming Karlsson has recovered mentally after snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Again though, their odds of 7/1 hardly scream value.
Of the 25 nations lining up in China, it’s very hard to make a case for more than 13 of them. With bookies paying each-way for four places, and the top three eliminated for betting purposes on value grounds, there must inevitably be some each-way value around amongst the remaining 10 countries.
Best of the lot for me are the defending champions, GERMANY. Martin Kaymer and Alex Cejka replace last year?s winning pair, Langer and Siem, and at least on paper look much stronger. Kaymer is Cejka?s sixth different World Cup partner, and together they look to have the perfect blend of precocious young talent and experience. Cejka could be exactly the kind of wise counsel to harness Kaymer?s emerging talent. Both have been in excellent form either side of the Atlantic, Cejka missing just one cut on the PGA Tour since May and Kaymer doing everything except win in his rookie year.
Apparently it was asking too much of any of the 13 highest ranked Americans to represent their country in China, even though many were already there for lucrative individual tournaments until a few days ago. Nevertheless, Heath Slocum and Boo Weekley are still a decent pairing and could be very competitive if they can translate their PGA Tour form to another continent. In Weekley’s case, there is much to suggest he can after he performed so well on his first trip to Scotland this summer. And Slocum finished the season strongly with two top-10s from his last three starts.
ARGENTINA have gone well in this tournament over recent years, and once again have a talented, if wildly inconsistent pairing in Ricardo Gonzalez and Andres Romero. From looking a world-beater in the late summer after winning in Germany and very nearly landing the Open, Romero has struggled badly. It’s hard to make a case for him on that recent form, but let’s not forget that he was also wildly inconsistent before that summer peak. Both of this pair are extremely attacking, almost to the point of recklessness. With low scoring the order of the day and two rounds of fourballs, such an attacking strategy could pay dividends.
Probably the best value of all lies with SCOTLAND, for whom 25/1 is a huge price to earn the country some consolation after their Euro 2008 heartbreak. Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren reform the successful partnership that just missed out in second place last year. Monty played very well in the most part on his last start at Valderrama, and as one of the great ?pairs? golfers in recent times could easily return to his best in China. Warren, a talented but extremely inconsistent player who has managed to win Euro Tour events in consecutive years, seemed to flourish under Monty?s tutelage last year.

Long-term readers will remember how much I look forward to this stage of the season and this tournament in particular. The Masters at Huntingdale, under a variety of sponsors, has consistently produced a list of the most predictable winners over the past couple of decades. Greg Norman won it six times, and the six winners this century have all been prominent in the betting.
Like all the Melbourne ?sand-belt? courses, and indeed most Australian courses, Huntingdale is a venue that properly accentuates any differences in either class or form. Fast-running, bunker-strewn fairways, and undulating, fast greens ensure that inaccuracy from tee to green does not go unpunished. Inevitably, it suits the best ball strikers.
And there are quite some class differences to be accentuated in what must be the weakest Masters field in living memory. There are only seven players from the world?s top-100, and as per usual on this tour the bottom two-thirds of the field have virtually no chance.
Furthermore, there are four notable absentees from the regular Masters line-up. The two leading Australians, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, have opted out, while Nick O?Hern and Nathan Green are representing their country in China.
Previous years always attracted at least a couple of top-class overseas stars – Justin Rose won last year, Monty in 2001, Paul Casey has been a frequent visitor. This time though the strongest European contenders are serial Huntingdale failure Daniel Chopra, Thomas Björn and teenage sensation RORY MCLLROY. It all points to a tournament dominated by the same old faces, that know Huntingdale inside out and seem to always contend when they slip down a level from the PGA and European tours.
Though I?m not sure AARON BADDELEY is ideally suited by the accuracy test of Huntingdale, he is too overwhelmingly an obvious favourite to completely leave out of the staking plan. His form in the States has been a class apart from the rest of these, and strongly suggests at least one win from the three ?triple crown? events. Though his best Australian form has come in their Open, Badds did at least make the top-5 here last year, and also finished 9th back in 2002.
A trio of course specialists look rock-solid each-way investments. 14/1 chance ROBERT ALLENBY has won this in two of the last four years, amongst six top-10s from his last nine Masters. Though he finished the US season in low-key fashion, Allenby had plenty of decent finishes earlier on and always comes into his own at this time of the year.
The same goes for PETER LONARD. Lonard has never been the same player outside Australia, and can be forgiven a poor finish to the season. Since missing his last three cuts, Lonard has taken a complete break from golf and now reports himself in proper competitive mode ahead of the triple crown. Another twice former Masters champion, Lonard?s consistent record at home is nothing short of magnificent. He?s made the top-10 at Huntingdale in every year since 2000 and in 14 of his last 18 Australian events.
Given the weaker field this year, the same price of 20/1 looks superb each-way value about RICHARD GREEN. Green can?t match Lonard?s consistency, but did win the Masters in 2004 and finish runner-up last year. Having won in Europe this year and landed his best ever Majors finish in 4th at the Open, the left-hander will surely be a massive contender over the next few weeks.
The premium on long-game excellence could offer a good opportunity for two of the most exciting young talents in world golf to set down an early season marker. Certainly, age and inexperience have never been too much of a handicap in these big Australian events. Baddeley was a multiple winner on this Tour before turning 20, Garcia a teenager when 3rd at Huntingdale.
RORY MCLLROY has slipped down the betting after relative failures in Hong Kong and Portugal that were only his 4th and 5th starts as a professional. I don?t see that as any reason to lose faith because at this stage in his career Mcllroy can?t be expected to produce the goods everywhere and week in, week out. He is still a very inexperienced putter and therefore likely to reserve his best for the courses that reward his superb long game, such as Huntingdale.
NICK FLANAGAN has already made his first breakthrough, winning his PGA Tour card after three Nationwide Tour wins in 2007. Like Mcllroy, his long game stats are outstanding. He?s one of the most likely first-time winners on the main Tour next season, and could well add a first home triumph in the meantime. I certainly don?t expect to see 40/1 about Flanagan for much longer against this level of opposition.
Good Luck!
3pts ew GERMANY @ 14/1 (GENERAL)
2.5pts ew USA @ 16/1 (GENERAL, 18/1 STAN JAMES)
2pts ew ARGENTINA @ 22/1 (CORAL, VCBET)
2.5pts ew PETER LONARD @ 20/1 (GENERAL, 22/1 BETFRED)
2.5pts ew RICHARD GREEN @ 20/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew NICK FLANAGAN @ 33/1 (GENERAL, 40/1 CANBET)
1.5pts ew RORY MCLLROY @ 40/1 (GENERAL, 50/1 CANBET, 45/1 VCBET)
4pts PAUL CASEY @ 14/1
2007/2008 STATS: +88pts