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STOP PRESS! Ladbrokes are offering 6 places each way this week in Valderrama - check out their prices here: Ladbrokes
Our final Europe-based event of the 2011 season, before we head East, takes us to arguably the best course on the continent, Valderrama. Described as the 'Augusta of Europe', the 90 or so players who are taking the trip to the south of Spain are, as always, in for a real treat on the Robert Trent Jones designed course. In attendance we have last week's winner Sergio Garcia (7/1 favourite - best priced with Paddy Power at the time of writing), plus the likes of Martin Kaymer, defending champion Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and the Molinari brothers.
There are a multitude of sub-plots this week - there are those trying to retain their cards, those trying to break into the top 60 to ensure a trip to Dubai, plus those trying to make impress Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabel who will keeping a watchful eye over the event whilst trying to improve on last year's excellent top 10 finish. Last week's golf will be difficult to top after Garcia blew the field away at home and Luke Donald produced a Tiger-esque birdie blast to secure what will be an unprecedented double by topping both the US and European money lists, however this is an outstanding event at an outstanding venue and is guaranteed to be compulsive viewing!
On to the tournament then. Similar to last week, the course is set just a few kilometres from the Mediterranean coastline, this time a little further south. It's a typical Trent Jones test in many respects with narrow, undulating fairways leading to tiny, sloping and fast bentgrass G2 greens. At a shade under 7,000 yards the course isn't long by today's standards, however it is still a stern test in all departments which can turn positively nasty if the weather closes in - the forecast from Friday onwards is pretty good, however Thursday looks challenging with the strongest breeze and potential for rain and thunderstorms. In fact, if there are any delays on Thursday which pushes some players' first rounds into Friday, then this could be a strong advantage - therefore picking players with a later tee time on Thursday could pay dividends in that scenario.
This week I'm looking for some course experience as well as recent form, however more than anything I want someone capable of grinding out a result on a tough course. Hitting greens in regulation is far from easy around here - the leaders will be hitting in the 60-65% bracket I'd say - so excellent scrambling is also key. In short you need to be the full package as any weakness will be exposed around these parts.
There's some great value around this week if you split each way selections into a win-only and top-5 bet instead - I've highlighted some of those options in my tips below. My 10 points are as below:
Following on from a strong PlayOff campaign in the US, Justin Rose has returned to European shores to top up his retirement fund by qualifying for the lucrative season-finale in Dubai. At 74th on the Race to Dubai, the World Number 17 knows that a decent finish inside the top 5 here will guarantee him a seat on the plane in December and that's exactly what he'll be gunning for this week. Equally important to Rose will be to build on that excellent victory at Cog Hill last month which has put him in 3rd place on the World Points list for Ryder Cup qualification - after controversially missing out under Monty's stewardship, Rose will be leaving nothing to chance this time around and another win here will put him in pole position for an automatic spot as we near the end of 2011. Surely Rose is too good a player not to make the 2012 team? We shall see!
So other than sheer determination to get the money he needs to qualify for Dubai and the points he needs to make Olazabel's team, why should we pick Rose? Well, as a previous winner around Valderrama (Volvo Masters 2007) he can clearly play the course - in fact, this style of tough, technical golf course is right up his alley as wins at Muirfield, Aronimink and Cog Hill would testify - all on bentgrass greens which is also a positive for Rose this week. Despite the obvious class of Garcia and Kaymer on show here, I think it could well be another English success this week. RESULT: T28
One player that you leave off the staking plan at your peril is the Dane who is in resurgent form at the age of 40. The headlines have been full of 'Bjorn again' puns over the last few weeks as the Bjorn secured his 3rd win of the season in Switzerland and his 4th win in a little over a year. He now sits inside the World's top 30 with invites coming to all the serious tournaments for the next season at least.
That most recent win is of particular interest as the tree-lined fairways and tiny greens at Crans are a good precursor of form for this event - and it wouldn't surprise me to see Thomas add another title to his growing list as his consistent tee-to-green game is at its very peak at present and he'll be suited to Valderrama's layout for sure. 8th on his last start was disappointing when you consider that he could only muster a final round 71, however with a week of R&R under his belt he must be backed here to improve on his 9th place finish here in 2008, even at a skinny 22/1. RESULT: T15
The very best you'll get on Lynn each way is 55/1 at the time of writing, so take advantage of Unibet's generous win only and top 5 prices here to effectively give you 69/1 EW at around 1/5 odds for a place. However, we're not backing Lynn purely on price here - there's a number of great reasons why we should back the Englishman to succeed around here!
Firstly, if you look at the kind of course that he's succeeded on recently you'll find positive performances in Switzerland (6th), Majorca (2nd) and Morocco (9th) - all courses where there's a premium on finding the tiny greens. The course at Agadir, Morocco is another tree-lined Trent Jones layout (albeit low-scoring), whilst the tough Pula golf course in Majorca is a tougher test with scoring more akin to Valderrama - clearly he can react on both types of event. Since that 6th place finish in Switzerland, Lynn has rewarded each-way backers twice in 4 events - finishing 2nd in Holland and 3rd on his last start in Portugal. On top of that, Lynn finished 9th here in 2006 and 6th in 2008 - after a week off, I'm fully expecting him to feature heavily here at a great price as he endeavours to add a long-overdue second European Tour title to his name. RESULT: T28
Sicilian Open winner Jacquelin is one of those players who just feasts on tough courses and the 100/1 about him to add a second victory of the season here is unmissable. It won't surprise you when I say that the course in Sicily is a tight affair with small greens requiring accurate irons and sound course management - that win gave the Frenchman his first title for 4 seasons and the springboard to play some excellent golf in patches since.
He finished 4th just up the coast from here in Malaga the week after that long-awaited victory in Italy, before finishing 4th at Wentworth and an excellent 8th at Sandwich where a number of GBS followers picked up each-way spoils at 275/1 with Boylesports following our longshot tip. 7th here last year and 9th in 2006 shows his liking for the course and, for me, this is exactly the kind of event when I'd expect Jacquelin to bounce back to form. RESULT: T15
I've saved a final point for an outsider selection that I just couldn't resist after Strange bounced back to form with an 11th place finish last week. As with my David Lynn selection, I've gone for a small win-only bet with Unibet (he's as short as 150/1 elsewhere), however I've opted for a top-10 finish to effectively give myself 10 places each way, albeit at about 1/14 of the odds.
So why Strange? I've mentioned last week's result which was his first pay cheque for 6 events, however at 130th on the Race To Dubai the talented Aussie needs a result - and quickly - if he's to secure playing rights for 2012. Strange is an excellent player with his irons, however often let down with the flat stick - what I saw last week was a big improvement with his putting and that's a dangerous combination for a man who's won at Celtic Manor and at the tough, tree-lined Beijing International in China in the last 3 seasons, both on bentgrass greens. When he's putting well, he could win almost everywhere - when he's not, he's generally flying home on a Friday evening. With a strong requirement to succeed this week, expect Strange to give this his all and continue his upward trend from last week here at Valderrama.RESULT: T38
Odds and bookmaker offers correct 17:50BST 25.10.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation.