Finding the winners of this year?s Majors has so far proved a less than
straightforward task. Despite their triple figure odds, Zach Johnson and
Angel Cabrera weren?t entirely unbackable. Johnson would have made a very
plausible US Open or USPGA winner and Cabrera had been a long-range fancy of
mine for this week?s Open Championship. The trouble was few could have
predicted Johnson would be suited by Augusta, nor Cabrera by Oakmont.
If the last Open to be played at Carnoustie is a pointer, then we could once
again be looking at a surprise winner. It was here in 1999 that rank
outsider Paul Lawrie claimed the Claret Jug after an even bigger outsider,
Jean Van De Velde, famously lost his mind and threw away certain victory
with a triple-bogey on the final hole. Lawrie?s win was also the last time a
European landed a Major championship, an increasingly tiresome statistic
that will surely come to an end very soon.
Form from 1999 is of limited value this time though, as the course is not
expected to offer anything like the ultra-penal conditions of that year.
Reports from players who have seen the course suggest a much ?fairer?
set-up, with the rough nowhere near as penal. In fact, scoring could be
pretty good this week. In other events at Carnoustie, low scores have been
possible and if the weather is as benign as forecast then I expect to see a
decent under-par winning total.
It remains a tough golf course though with plenty of hazards, including what
can be a brutal final four holes. Unlike the past two years at St Andrews
and Hoylake, wayward tee-shots will be punished. There is little to suggest
the long-hitters have any major advantage. Carnoustie boasts only two
par-5s, one of which requires supporting wind for even the most powerful to
have a prayer of reaching the green in two. As always in an Open, much
depends on how much wind there is and at what time of day.
All of which adds up to a very different task ahead for Tiger Woods as he
bids for his third Open in a row after routs at St Andrews and Hoylake.
Outside of those two courses where inaccuracy is fairly irrelevant, Tiger?s
Open record is moderate by his own standards. Obviously only a madman would
write him off and he?s done little wrong to finish 2nd in both Majors this
year, but odds of 7/2 seem no more than reflective of his chance.
Despite a long losing run outside South Africa, Ernie Els is once again the
most obvious danger. One of the all-time great links players, Ernie has made
the top-10 in nine Opens, winning in 2002, finishing runner-up on three
other occasions and managing third last year when seemingly below his best.
He looked right back to his best at Loch Lomond, losing by a shot despite a
very cold putter. Once again though his price of 12/1 looks a little short,
so instead I suggest backing Els in a 72-hole match bet against Phil
Judged on his Loch Lomond efforts, Mickelson has clearly recovered from the
wrist injury. There?s no point reading anything into his poor finish to lose
in the play-off as Mickelson has always been liable to the odd final round
collapse – its never had a lasting impact before. I?d be more concerned that
if he sprays his tee-shots as wildly as on Sunday, Mickelson will pay a
heavy price on this course. He remains winless outside the US in 14 years,
and has only once contended in an Open Championship. As far as the match bet
with Els is concerned, in every single Open the pair have both played Ernie
has finished higher.
Despite slightly disappointing odds I have to stick with my long-range fancy
for this Open, PADRAIG HARRINGTON. Harrington knows Carnoustie like the back
of his hand, twice winning the Dunhill Links Championship where one of the
rounds is played here. He?s notched two career milestones in the last year;
at last winning the Order of Merit and becoming the first home winner of the
Irish Open since 1982. A first Major is the obvious next career goal. I had
hoped for a bigger price after some recent disappointing form, but 28/1 is
still probably fair enough for one of the few proven world-class links
players in the field.
Several emerging stars, who might normally have come into consideration, are
overlooked as they have yet to prove they have learned the art of links
golf. Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey, Rory Sabbatini and Luke Donald all have no
Open record to speak of. Adam Scott improved on a poor Open record with 8th
place at Hoylake and would have come in for close consideration were it not
for two recent poor missed cuts following a string of missed chances. Vijay
Singh will surely improve on a disastrous 19 over par here eight years ago
but remains winless on a links course.
Carnoustie ?99 was also a disaster for SERGIO GARCIA. At the tender age of
18, Garcia came here with a huge reputation having turned professional a few
weeks earlier and immediately won the Irish Open. Brutal Carnoustie showed
no respect for reputations though, with Garcia slumping to a miserable 89/83
missed cut. All of that means nothing now as the Spaniard has since become a
world-class links player, making the top-10 in five of the last six Opens.
Garcia could well take his revenge on Carnoustie, and 40/1 looks decent
Another long-range Open fancy is GEOFF OGILVY, who can be backed at a juicy
50/1. The 2006 US Open champion has proved himself on tough golf courses and
big tournaments several times in recent years. As well as that career
highlight at Winged Foot, Ogilvy also landed the 2006 World Matchplay title
before finishing runner-up when trying to defend that title. Furthermore, in
the past two years he has made three other Major top-10s. Everything points
to another big run on a course that should suit, making Ogilvy the best bet
amongst a strong Australian contingent.
Just as Harrington has proved his links credentials in the Dunhill Links
Championship on this course, LEE WESTWOOD is another former winner who must
come into the argument this week. Since winning in Spain a couple of months
ago, he?s fallen back into a frustrating recent trait of ruining his week
with one bad round. Westwood?s long game remains in excellent shape though,
ranking 2nd on the European Tour greens in regulation statistics. A prolific
worldwide winner and Ryder Cup legend, he remains one of the more likely
Europeans to break that Majors losing streak, especially at Carnoustie.
Beyond the elite of Woods, Mickelson and Furyk, few Americans have obvious
chances. Few of the last Ryder Cup side have any form of note on links
courses or anywhere else outside the comfort zone of the PGA Tour. One
player who bucks that trend is SCOTT VERPLANK, who says the Open
Championship is his favourite of the year. He finished a solid 15th at
Carnoustie in 1999, and has steadily improved as a links player since with a
best finish of 7th at Troon three years ago. Verplank has also rarely
entered an Open in better form, winning the Byron Nelson in April and
finishing top-8 on his last four starts.
As always in the Majors, there’s a plethora of interesting speciality bets
to pore over. The Open Championship offers perhaps the best value of the
year in these markets, as there are so many players who can be written off
because they haven?t mastered the finer arts of links golf. The best bet is
the aforementioned 72-hole match bet on Els to beat Mickelson, and I also
fancy three other match bets.
Rory Sabbatini has plenty of talent but little in the way of patience or
consistency, nor has he shown any penchance for links golf. He is worth
taking on with ROD PAMPLING in a match bet with Hills. Pampling first took
the eye of the golfing world when leading after the opening day at
Carnoustie in 1999 before embarrassingly going on to miss the cut. He?s come
a long way since then though, and looks one of the more plausible outsiders.
Consistent PETER HANSON also looks a good match bet against last week?s
winner Greg Havret. Carnoustie is a completely different type of test to
Loch Lomond, and Havret has never shown any liking for links golf in
numerous outings in the Dunhill event.
As RICHARD STERNE is clear leader in the European Tour stroke average, 9/1
to reach the top-10 looks a massive price. In ten starts since February,
Sterne has registered two wins and only once finished outside the top-5. The
young South African has long been spoken of as a top prospect by the likes
of Gary Player and this year?s results seem to justify that. Sterne is also
strongly recommended for a 72-hole match bet against Nick Dougherty.
Skybet have priced up a top-20 finish market, where NICK O?HERN stands out
as top value at 5/1. Though a very rare winner, this ultra-consistent
Australian left-hander is always one to keep an eye out for in such markets.
This bet went agonisingly close in the US Open, where O?Hern missed out by a
shot after coming back well from a poor start. Since then, he?s confimed his
good form by finishing 3rd on the PGA Tour.
In the top nationality markets, the two to focus on are ?Top European? and
?Top US without Tiger Woods?. In the former, Sweden?s CARL PETTERSSON looks
well overpriced at 40/1.Twice a PGA Tour winner, Pettersson went well for a
long way in the recent US Open at Oakmont before settling for 17th. Since
then he?s continued that good form with 15th followed by 5th place at the
weekend. Few Europeans can boast that level of form in the US, and he has
some Open form too. At Muirfield in 2002 he was in contention for two days
before getting blown away in high winds, and made the top-10 last year at
The Top US Without Woods market is always a favourite of mine in this event.
There are 44 runners but its hard to make a case for more than a dozen or
so. Previous Open contenders Davis Love and Chris Dimarco are in poor form,
and I?ve already argued against Phil Mickelson. Verplank looks a very
obvious contender in this market, as does SEAN O?HAIR. O?Hair has taken to
links golf very quickly, registering top-15 finishes in the last two years.
In the meantime, he?s made significant strides to become one of the most
consistent players on the PGA Tour. As a top-15 finish could well bank a
place in this market, his odds of 22/1 look pretty reasonable.
In the same market, HUNTER MAHAN and TOM LEHMAN make up the remaining
portfolio. Mahan is another youngster who has taken well to links golf early
in his career. Both of his previous Open attempts have produced respectable
mid-division finishes. The best may be yet to come as his recent form in the
States is by far the best of his short career. His last four PGA Tour starts
have all produced top-17 finishes, including a maiden win three weeks ago.
I?m surprised to see Lehman at 50/1 in this market, which may be an
over-reaction to last week?s missed cut. Prior to that the 1996 Open
champion had been in his best form for some time.
US BANK CHAMPIONSHIP
While most eyes will be on Scotland, there is the small matter of a $4M
prize fund to settle in the US Bank Championship at Brown Deer Park,
Milwaukee. Length has never been a factor on this course, the shortest on
the PGA Tour rota, with course management, driving accuracy and good putting
the crucial attributes. Last year?s shock winner Corey Pavin was the
shortest hitter in the field by some way, the latest of seven winners since
1994 who were over the age of 40.
Pavin aside, this hasn?t been the hardest tournament for punters over the
years. Course form is all important with the same players in contention year
after year. Carlos Franco has won twice, as has Jeff Sluman who also
registered further top-4 finishes in the last two years. Sluman is badly out
of form lately though, in stark contrast to another course specialist, KENNY
Winner in 2003, Perry has made the top-15 for seven consecutive years since
2000. He?s rarely come here in better form, looking a winner in waiting over
the last month. Since switching to the belly putter and embarking on a
fitness regime, Perry has made the top-15 on each of his last four starts,
holding winning chances in each. Its very hard to see him being far away on
Sunday in what is basically a weak field.
All of last week?s frustratingly close selections are prominent in the
betting. It could take me a while to forgive Tim Clark for his closing holes
catastrophe, though I couldn?t back him anyway this week given his recurring
neck injury. Clark may only be playing here rather than the Open because a
long flight could damage the neck.
Billy Mayfair looked like nicking a place for a long way at the weekend
before falling just short and has claims again. I?m not too excited about
taking half the odds this time though, considering he hasn?t won for 9
years. Of the weekend selections, I much prefer HEATH SLOCUM who also very
nearly grabbed a place. Slocum finished like a train to finish 6th, another
good effort on a course that rewards accuracy. He?s shown a liking for Brown
Deer Park previously, finishing runner-up to Perry in 2003.
Looking for the usual profile of an experienced player with good course
form, BILLY ANDRADE takes the eye. He?s done nothing out of the ordinary,
making the last six cuts and finishing mid-division amongst stronger fields
than this and recording good putting statistics. Andrade has plenty of form
here, with three top-10s in the last six years. Now 43, Andrade does have
four PGA Tour victories to his name though it has been seven years since the
Finally, MATTHEW GOGGIN looks an interesting contender at 50/1. Goggin has
only really established himself in the States in the past couple of years,
clearly improving with experience. So its interesting to note that he played
in this event for three years from 2000 – 2002, finishing 3rd and 12th in
two of them. Furthermore, Goggin has been in decent form lately, with two
top-15s from his last three starts.
2pts ew PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 28/1 (BETDIRECT, BETANDGAME)
2pts ew SERGIO GARCIA @ 40/1 (LADBROKES, BETANDGAME)
2pts ew GEOFF OGILVY @ 50/1 (GENERAL)
1pt ew LEE WESTWOOD @ 80/1 (HILLS, BETANDGAME)
1pt ew SCOTT VERPLANK @ 100/1 (LADBROKES, VCBET)
1.5pts ew CARL PETTERSSON @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
TOP US WITHOUT TIGER WOODS
2pts ew SCOTT VERPLANK @ 16/1 (GENERAL, 18/1 EXPEKT)
2pts ew SEAN O?HAIR @ 22/1 (STAN JAMES, EXPEKT)
1pt ew HUNTER MAHAN @ 40/1 (PADDY POWER)
1pt ew TOM LEHMAN @ 50/1 (BET365, STAN JAMES)
72-HOLE MATCH BETS
20pts ERNIE ELS @ 9/10 (VS MICKELSON) (PADDY POWER, 4/5 GENERAL)
15pts RICHARD STERNE @ 4/5 (VS DOUGHERTY) (BLUESQ)
11pts PETER HANSON @ 10/11 (VS HAVRET) (SKYBET)
11pts ROD PAMPLING @ 9/10 (VS SABBATINI) (HILLS)
2pts RICHARD STERNE @ 9/1 (STAN JAMES)
6pts NICK O?HERN @ 5/1 (SKYBET)
US BANK CHAMPIONSHIP
6pts win KENNY PERRY @ 12/1
2pts ew HEATH SLOCUM @ 28/1
1pt ew BILLY ANDRADE @ 50/1
1pt ew MATTHEW GOGGIN @ 50/1
2006/2007 STATS: -262pts
2005/2006 STATS: +144pts
ANTE-POST ALREADY ADVISED
VOLVO ORDER OF MERIT
5pts PADRAIG HARRINGTON @ 7/1
5pts HENRIK STENSON @ 10/1
US MONEY LIST W/O TIGER WOODS
2pts ew TREVOR IMMELMAN @ 20/1
Finding the winners of this year?s Majors has so far proved a less than