A case could be made for numerous Europeans who are nearly, if not quite, in the same bracket as these illustrious counterparts. Gut Larchenhof was the scene of Soren Hansen’s last win two years ago, and only his second this century. Perhaps those memories will create the required spark for Hansen to turn his consistent figures into gold, but no way on earth will I ever take 16/1 about this dodgy finisher in such a high-class field.
Similarly, last week’s failed selection Francesco Molinari has claims on both recent and course form, but is simply too weak whenever near the lead to contemplate at relatively short odds. Jamie Donaldson’s recent form is exemplary, but he is another who has repeatedly struggled when presented with opportunities to win. Still, at least Donaldson can take solace from Alex Noren’s long overdue first title on Sunday.
I’d much prefer to back Soren Kjeldsen, who has looked much better in contention of late, and has decent prospects of improving on 16th and sixth in the past two years. Nor are there any worries on the ‘bottle’ front about GRAEME MCDOWELL, who was gourth here in 2004 and has made the top 20 in the last two years. McDowell has some decent figures against the very best company to his name this season, making the top 20 in all three US Majors. As a multiple winner already, it can only be a matter of time before he lands another title in Europe, and given that decent course form, Gut Larchenhof looks as likely a venue as any.
The same could be said about GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO, who has finished second four times already this year. Again in Castano’s case, we can overlook any potential weaknesses in ‘bottle’ as his career win ratio remains impressive. Rather, his great problem is a poor putting stroke, and given his clear weakness in this respect, that recent record speaks volumes about the quality of his long game. He finished a decent 16th here in 2007, and last year’s 25th is better than face value as he opened with a disastrous 80. Castano has performed respectably in elite events since finishing runner-up at Loch Lomond, so 50/1 could represent a bit of each-way value.
If any of my selections were to withdraw, the first reserve spot would be between two course specialists, Nick Dougherty and Alex Cejka. The former has made the top 6 three times on this course, and won the last event in Germany just over a couple of months ago. Cejka, who has snippets of PGA Tour form this season, is interesting back on a course he knows well, and where he has five top 25s, including three top 6s, from his last seven appearances.
Finally a few words about the rest. Seniors king Bernhard Langer always warrants respect in his homeland and has thrived around this course many times during his glittering career. Niclas Fasth, who looked to be returning to form before a disappointing last fortnight, also has some decent figures on his course. Jeev Milkha Singh, though not quite in the brilliant form of 2008, has chances after reaching the top 20 here two years in succession. A case of sorts could also be made for numerous outsiders, but history suggests the winner at Gut Larchenhof will be more obvious.
MERCEDES-BENZ CHAMPIONSHIP preview
4pts win LEE WESTWOOD @ 12/1 (BOYLESPORTS, EXPEKT)
4pts win ROSS FISHER @ 12/1 (BOYLESPORTS, EXPEKT, LADBROKES, STAN JAMES)
2.5pts ew MIGUEL-ANGEL JIMENEZ @ 20/1 (BETFRED, PADDY POWER, LADBROKES, HILLS)
2pts ew GRAEME MCDOWELL @ 28/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
LONG-TERM ALREADY ADVISED
RACE TO DUBAI
2.5pts ew ROSS FISHER @ 20/1
2.5pts ew PAUL CASEY @ 20/1
6pts win PAUL CASEY @ 8/1
1.5pts ew OLIVER WILSON @ 33/1
2008/2009 STATS: -120pts
2007/2008 STATS: +618pts