South Africa have a decent record in this event, but former world champion Rory Sabbatini may need to produce too many heroics unless his out of form colleague Richard Sterne suddenly finds a spark. Soren Hansen’s form in this part of the world, (and last week in Dubai for that matter), is a concern, so while I can see his partner, Soren Kjeldsen, having a good week, they are also opposed.
Twelve months ago, Robert Karlsson was arguably the hottest golfer on the planet, and the Swede certainly played the leading role in winning this title for his country. Despite finding some form last week when second in Japan, Karlsson’s 2009 campaign has been blighted by injury and loss of form. His partner Henrik Stenson also hasn’t looked in perfect nick over recent weeks, so while the defending champions can’t be entirely written off, there may be better value bets elsewhere than these 7/1 shots.
That leaves us with just six teams, including the 5/1 joint-favourites England and IRELAND. Such odds may seem short compared to the golfing norm, but are completely justified in my view because it’s very hard to imagine either of these classy pairings outside the top six or seven.
Ireland are slightly preferred, partly due to the fact that this exact same pairing, Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher, failed to justify English favouritism last year. Sixth wasn’t a bad performance, but it was 12 shots behind winners Sweden, and they were never in serious contention. Furthermore, Fisher’s below-par record in China must be a matter of concern, as he’s only made the top 25 twice in 11 tries. He was disappointing last week in Dubai, and while that is forgiveable considering he won the World Match Play title last month, I have a slight concern that Fisher won’t hole enough putts on these different greens.
In contrast, I just can’t find any holes to pick in the Irish case. Both Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell remain very high on any list of players overdue a win, and in good form. Most importantly, they’ve both shown some of their very best form in Asia, whereas so many other Europeans struggle to truly thrive in these conditions. It may also help that these two are apparently good friends, and while Rory’s case barely needs repeating, its worth noting that McDowell has thrived in previous team events.
In addition to a win only bet on Ireland, I recommend each-way bets on ITALY, GERMANY and the USA. Firstly to Italy, who are represented by the bang-in-form Molinari brothers. This pairing has struggled on both previous visits to Mission Hills, but those results must be taken with a pinch of salt for one very obvious reason. Until this season, Eduardo had very much been the weak link. This year, he has improved leaps and bounds, dominating the Challenge Tour and climbing into the world’s top 70 with his best win to date in last weekend’s Dunlop Phoenix Tournament. Francesco is of course better established, and very much one to respect after top threes in two of his last four events.
Germany look overpriced based on their efforts at Mission Hills. The very same pairing of Alex Cejka and Martin Kaymer has finished fifth and sixth on their two previous visits to this Chinese course, having challenged strongly for at least a place throughout. That must bode well, especially considering that both Cejka and Kaymer have both enjoyed much better seasons this time around. The latter is only just outside the world’s top ten, very much on my regular ‘to back’ list, and must be expected to take on the lead role now. And while Cejka’s putting is always a concern, he has a wealth of experience in this event and has had his share of decent top-ten finishes in the States this term.
Such PGA Tour form is significant, as it remains the tour with the greatest strength in depth. With that in mind, even if they aren’t anywhere near their country’s first choices, Nick Watney and John Merrick are no forlorn hopes for the USA. Watney is clearly world class already, winning at Torrey Pines last year and going close in other big events. Last time out, he was fifth against an elite WGC field in Shanghai. As for Merrick, on recent PGA Tour form and a ranking of 139th, he might seem like a nobody, but should not be under-estimated. After all, this is a man who has made the top ten in three of his last six US majors.
Finally, a quick word about the ‘first reserve’ selection of South Korea. Their quote of 28/1 is frankly an insult to a pairing that consists of USPGA champion YE Yang and PGA Tour regular Charlie Wi. Ultimately they were overlooked as neither has really fired on all cylinders over the past couple of months, but at their best they are certainly well capable of making a mockery of those odds.
OMEGA MISSION HILLS WORLD CUP
8pts win IRELAND @ 5/1 (GENERAL)
3pts ew GERMANY @ 16/1 (GENERAL)
2.5pts ew ITALY @ 16/1 (SKYBET, EXPEKT)
2.5pts ew USA @ 14/1 (GENERAL, 15/1 BOYLESPORTS)
2008/2009 STATS: -259pts
2007/2008 STATS: +618pts