3pts ew IAN POULTER @ 16/1 (GENERALLY AVAILABLE)
3pts ew ROSS FISHER @ 18/1 (BETFRED, BOYLESPORTS, VCBET, SPORTINGBET)
3pts ew LEE WESTWOOD @ 18/1 (BETFRED, BOYLESPORTS, VCBET, PAGEBET)
1.5pts ew JEEV-MILKHA SINGH @ 33/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew PETER HANSON @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
GINN SUR MER CLASSIC
1.5pts ew JB HOLMES @ 35/1 (STAN JAMES, CORAL, BETDIRECT)
1.5pts ew GEORGE MCNEILL @ 40/1 (GENERAL)
1.5pts ew STEVE ALLAN @ 40/1 (50/1 STAN JAMES, BETDIRECT)
1pt ew ROBERT GARRIGUS @ 66/1 (STAN JAMES, CENTREBET, BETDIRECT)
1pt ew TROY MATTESON @ 80/1 (STAN JAMES, CENTREBET, CORAL, BETDIRECT)
2007/2008 STATS: +625pts
This week marks the end of a golfing era, with the last Volvo Masters from Valderrama, and the last time the Order of Merit will be awarded for topping the European Tour money list. Taking its place, starting with the HSBC Champions Trophy next week in China, is a revamped schedule entitled the Race to Dubai.
Valderrama’s well-established season finale will be missed, and there’s naturally a temptation to lament the further shift of golfing power away from mainland Europe. But equally, its been apparent for some time that the lucrative additions to the schedule in Asia and the Middle-East represented the game’s future, and merely reflect the fact that golf is now a truly global game. The European Tour is now in every sense the ‘global tour’, and this could be one step towards eventually overtaking the US in terms of prestige and prize money.
Its also the last week of what has been an amazing season for this column, of which the fondest memories were Felipe Aguilar and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano delivering the goods at 150/1 and 100/1 respectively. To be over 600 points up at this stage was beyond my wildest expectations, and sets a formidable target for next year. There are actually two PGA Tour events remaining, but I’ll start a new set of stats when the new European schedule starts next week. Lets hope we can sign off with one, or maybe even two, more winners.
Four players still hold a mathematical chance of winning the Order of Merit, though Miguel-Angel Jiminez requires a miracle. Robert Karlsson, my choice as European player of the year no matter what happens this week, holds a E300,000 lead over Padraig Harrington, with LEE WESTWOOD a further E170,000 behind. The first prize in Spain is E708,000 so things could yet turn around, but given Karlsson’s consistency the chasers will almost certainly have to win this event.
Harrington and Westwood can at least draw some hope from their vastly superior course records to Karlsson. The Swede has never bettered 9th in six attempts on this course, whereas Harrington has been 4th and 2nd in the past two years. Less encouraging for the Irishman is a very disappointing set of results since winning the USPGA, and a strong suggestion that he’d had enough for the season. Nevertheless, Pod is reported to be taking this one seriously, and therefore cannot be written off.
Westwood’s credentials are more convincing. His record at Valderrama is exemplary, besides a couple of poor efforts when badly struggling with his game several years ago. From eight visits in total, he’s been runner-up twice and made the top-7 on four further occasions. After a very impressive, consistent year which has produced a string of near-misses, Westwood richly deserves his first title in over a year.
His problem has been a failure to hole enough birdie putts on the final day, a failing which fits neatly into a long-held theory of mine about Valderrama. The greens on this course are so tricky, that even the very best putters usually fail to hole a significant number of birdie putts, and miss more than their usual share of short par-putts. As a consequence, those players who relentlessly set up birdie chances, only to convert less than their fair share, are penalised less than they would in other weeks.
Valderrama certainly isn’t a putting contest in the usual sense of the word. Anyone grinding out pars on this extremely tough course will move steadily up the leaderboard. Besides July’s one-off brutal Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, Valderrama has consistently been the toughest test in Europe over recent years. The name of the game here is to monotonously hit greens in regulation, and possess a world-class short game to salvage some near impossible situations when those greens are missed.
All of these characteristics explain why Sergio Garcia has such a good record here. Prior to a poor effort last year when his putting confidence was at its lowest ebb, Sergio had been runner-up three years in a row and never worse than 7th. On the basis of that course form, his world-class performances all summer and last week’s highly impressive win in Madrid, its very hard to see Garcia out of the top-5.
However, we also have to factor in an absurdly short price. Sergio starts a best-priced 11/2, the same as in Madrid only this time against world-class opposition. I would only consider taking odds that short on Tiger Woods, or very occasionally a high-class player in a low grade event. Never about a man who, despite last week, has only won twice in three years.
Drawing up a short-list was much easier than usual this week. Mainly because Valderrama is such a distinct test that we can confidently predict that numerous players will ever get the hang of it. In particular, the lightning fast, undultating greens will always give several players nightmares.
Consider some of the big-names confidently written off. None of Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson or Darren Clarke have ever bettered 9th, the same mark as Karlsson. Soren Hansen, a rock of consistency in recent months, is easily overlooked as he’s never made the top-20 in five attempts. Remember this is a limited field of never more than 60, so these kind of positions represent mid-division, and anyone outside the top-10 is usually at least 10 shots off the pace.
One man that seems to love this test is 2004 champion IAN POULTER, who has made the top-10 five years in a row. In my view, he’s improved leaps and bounds this season, and now looks a potential Major winner. Finishing runner-up in the Open, and then comfortably outscoring the rest of the European Ryder Cup side at Valhalla were the highlights of his career to date. Given this wider improvement, it stands to reason that Poulter should at least equal his previous achievements at Valderrama.
Speaking of improvers, ROSS FISHER has moved up several leagues since a promising Valderrama debut in 2007. Fisher finished 14th, a position that would have been a whole lot better were it not for one disastrous round of 80. In the twelve months since, his short game has improved dramatically, suggesting further improvement on a course where that aspect of play is pivotal. His last four events have produced a worst finish of 7th, including three top-3s, marking Fisher down as a winner waiting to happen.
Martin Kaymer also enjoyed an impressive debut last year in 6th place, and he was first reserve for the staking plan. He, like Fisher, has prospered on fast greens before and was only overlooked because of my confidence in the main three selections. Others who came in for consideration, and who could make appeal in place markets are last year’s joint runners-up, Simon Dyson and Soren Kjeldsen.
JEEV-MILKHA SINGH was a rank outsider when winning this title two years ago, and is another whose vast improvement over the past 12 months suggests he can go close once again, albeit at the much shorter-odds of 33/1. Sunday’s fast-finishing 13th was the latest good effort in a season that has produced two wins, a couple of very near-misses and a regular stream of top-20s. If he doesn’t win this week, then Jeev must remain a man to follow closely in the forthcoming Asian events, though I doubt any will play more to Singh’s strengths on fast greens than Valderrama.
Finally, PETER HANSON has shown a liking for this venue, and has shown enough recent form to improve on his course best of 4th place back in 2004. His record of never hitting worse than 75 in sixteen rounds at Valderrama is pretty impressive given the huge totals many players rack up. Since winning the SAS Masters in his native Sweden in August, Hanson has made three further top-15s, including 7th at the weekend.