Ryan Palmer presented me with my 6th second place finish of the season at TPC Four Seasons last week at a price of 80/1. I even backed Keegan Bradley during the closing holes on the basis that the “Bamford Kiss of Death” would guarantee the win for Palmer, but to no avail. Was it just me or should Palmer have hit 3-wood off the tee in the play off to guarantee a long iron from the short stuff? It reminded a little of Garrigus at TPC Southwind last June when an experienced (3 time winner in the case of Palmer) player lost his head a little. Anyway that’s a win (Sabbatini @ 80/1), 6 runner-ups and a further 3 Top 5 positions for the season so I can't be overly disappointed!
So we are still looking for that elusive 2nd winner of the 2011 season and Muirfield presents a decent opportunity, especially as we bagged last year’s winner Rose at 80/1 last season. I make no apologies for my strategy this week as I’m concentrating on the “W” rather than a value player returning an Each Way place position. For the record there are some superb EW picks out there. Barnes, Pettersson and Allenby at 100/1 all make sense as do Jerry Kelly, Matt Jones and Tim Petrovic at 200/1. Criminal prices and well worth a few quid each way of anyone’s money or a speculative “trading” punt at our friends Extrabet where you can close your bet without having to lay it off - click here for more details: Extrabet Close Bet Feature
We move “up state” for the first time in 2011 and Dublin, Ohio is our next stop for the Classical test that is Muirfield. This 7,200+ yard Par 72 is the creation of Jack Nicklaus and offers a stern test for the cream of the PGA Tour. The combination of a relative lack of prize funding in PGA Tour terms in combination with the injury to Tiger Woods equates to a slightly lacklustre field compared to previous seasons, but any tournament that can boast Donald, Mickelson, Kuchar, Stricker, Watney, D.J., McIlroy, Choi, Furyk and The Masters Champion Schwartzel ain’t too bad!
This classical, tree-lined parkland Par 72 test links in beautifully with Carolina-style courses and naturally Augusta. I’ve pulled together a team of Bentgrass green specialists who have a track record of delivering on tough courses and who potentially have the game to tame Muirfield.
Call me mad (and many have!) the Northern Irishman looks a superb bet this week to triumph in Ohio. I like to go against golfing wisdom and Rory for me makes perfect sense this week. At Wentworth on Friday he cut a lonely figure when I saw him on the Back 9. But give him credit he made the cut and delivered a Top 30 finish, when many would have thrown in the towel and headed to Wembley to watch his beloved United. His first competitive visit back to these shores since his Augusta collapse was something the Holywood man was never going to relish or thrive on. However slowly he’s getting over his Augusta “hangover” and the truth is that his game is perfectly suited to Classical golf courses. After all, he chose Muirfield over TPC Sawgrass in terms of his restricted US schedule this season and it’s easy to see why. 28/1 suggests a player in poor form (for a player of his quality), but the World No 6’s last 5 tournaments have delivered 24-9-MC (Quail defending)-3-15(Augusta)-10. Hardly disastrous and much better than when he triumphed at Quail Hollow last year at a whopping 66/1. Rory doesn’t mind a Nicklaus layout as 10th here on debut last year, 13th at PGA National in 2009 and 4th behind G-Mac in December at Sherwood Thousand Oaks testifies. So why not rebel against the golfing “form addicts” and jump on Rors in Ohio this week. Result: 5th
Wisconsin’s Number 1 son reminds this tipster so much of 3-time Muirfield champion Kenny Perry it’s untrue. Steve is a true specialist who, since 2008, has only had less Bent success than Lefty, in doing so beating Woods....that’s impressive! All 8 of his PGA Tour strokeplay victories have been on Bent or Bent/Poa and the past 3 seasons have gleaned wins at Colonial, Deere Run x2, TPC Boston and Riviera. Colonial and Riviera are truly worthy of note as they like Muirfield are true tree-lined classical tests. I’d be lying if I said that Stricker had impressive course form, but 17th here last season was his best outing in Ohio since 1996, whilst in the midst of a loss of form. What also gets me excited about Stricker this week is his careful schedule selection. Whilst McIlroy and Westwood grabbed the headlines for snubbing The Players Championship, the World No 8 also quietly gave TPC Sawgrass a miss! For a US player that’s a big call and shows he’s focussed on performing on his favourite Bent surface. 6 Top 20 finishes, including 3 Top 10 finishes season to date, and strong course form at corresponding courses like Sedgefield, Waialee, Augusta and Copperhead make Steve a must have for my team this week. Many claim Stricker is in a slump and not ready to win but a form-line of 12-13-11-4-18-29 tells me the opposite. Result: Winner
Where McIlroy and Stricker are class acts on Bentgrass greens, South Carolina-based Bill Haas lacks a little pedigree. Don’t get me wrong, a best finish of 30th in 6 appearances at Muirfield and Top 10 finishes at TPC Boston, Sedgefield, Colonial (2 weeks ago) and Cog Hill allied to 4th place at Quail Hollow in May get me interested but it’s fact that Haas prefers Bermuda greens. However what gets me truly inspired about Bill, in tandem with his growing confidence on Bent, is his specialism on Par 72 tracks and Nicklaus-designed courses. The last few seasons have seen Haas finish in the Top 10 at a number of world renowned Par 72 courses. Take Quail Hollow and add Torrey Pines, Doral and Turning Stone to the list. Nicklaus designs also set-up well for Bill who has Top 20 finishes at Glen Abbey and PGA National. That’s not impressive Steve! Ok we can add a Win, 3rd and 4th at the Nicklaus designed Par 72 at Annandale, Mississippi and a Win and 2nd (this season) at the Bob Hope “Lottery” where Haas shot -10 across 36 holes at Nicklaus designed PGA West. 6 Top 20 including 5 Top 10 finishes in 2011 suggest a player who's both talented and motivated enough to move forward from his current World Number 43 rank and become a Major player. Result: T45
Cink adds quality to the squad this week and I’m still a believer that Cink will win on Bent in 2011 and Memorial is one of his better chances. Why? Well Stewart’s failing in 2011 is his driving and the wide fairway landing areas at Muirfield make contending this week a real possibility. Cink comes alive on classical courses where scoring isn’t too low and although Muirfield this week is likely to require around -14 to -16 to win due to a total lack of wind I’m thinking Cink who sits in the Top 25 on Tour for Birdie Average and 28th for Par Breakers can compete. If he makes Birdies, the course set-up should reduce the number of silly bogeys generated by errant drives which have manifested themselves in Cink’s psyche in 2011. A total of 5 Top 10s in 2011 including a 9th at Quail Hollow in May highlight to me a Bent positive player whose “hungry for success” after dining out for too long on his Turnberry 2009 triumph. 6 Top 10s at Muirfield suggest this could be the week everything finally fits. Result: T30
Grabbing one of 2011’s true stars at a weighty Each Way price tops off my Muirfield team. Glaswegian Laird’s development over the past 18 months has been nothing less than spectacular, but his US base and focus on the PGA Tour, allied to Donald, Westwood, McIlroy et al means that he gets no British media attention. Fact is though that the Colorado State graduate could well be a member of our 2012 Ryder Cup team and like Haas he’s still hungry for further success with cementing a World Top 50 slot that first goal so as to guarantee entry to all Major and WGC events. He wants to dine at the top table! Laird’s “power bomber” game suits Par 72 tracks well and his high trajectory iron play will suit perfectly at Muirfield where the Bent greens rival Augusta in their stimp speed. 10th last time out on Bent at Colonial signalled a return to form after a couple of poor performances and wins at Bay Hill and TPC Summerlin, allied to Top 5s at Kapalua, Ridgwood (let the tournament slip out of his grasp up the 18th), Montreaux (Nicklaus designed Par 72), Copperhead and Sedgefield in recent seasons really whets my appetite. It’s all topped off by the fact he finished 20th this year at the ultimate Bent Par 72 test that’s Augusta on debut. Result: M/C
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 20:00BST 31.5.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation