Last week's blank was a disappointing end to a run of 8 consecutive weeks without an overall loss on the week from my selections, however all good runs have to come to an end eventually. Peter Lawrie had a good go at keeping that run going with a super front 9 on Sunday in Wales, however he couldn't buy a putt on the back 9 to finish a couple of shots outside the money. Time to dust ourselves down, delve into the accumulated profits for 2012 and get back to winning ways this week!
A couple of years back Sky Sports advertised The Players Championship with the 17th at Sawgrass being depicted as a 'nightmare' hole with Insomnia by Faithless blasting in the background (Sky's best effort to date in my opinion) - well, for many of the attendees here this week, the 17th at Bro Hoff Slott will have been the real stuff of nightmares over the last 10 months or so. With the wind seriously blowing on the final day last year, the penultimate hole played nearly 1.5 shots over its par and featured scores of 6,7,8,9 as well as an 11 from Steve Webster and a 12 from Fredrik Andersson Hed - not a hole to be messed with when it's blowing!
The real story of last year though was the demolition of a reasonable quality field by Alex Noren who went into the final day with an 11-shot lead and simply sauntered to the finish, despite a final round 77. The first 3 rounds featured some of the most sublime ball-striking and putting you're likely to see and he defends again here for the second consecutive week after a re-jig in the golfing calendar has put both of his 2011 successes in consecutive weeks. Last week's headline selection pulled up after 18 holes though in Wales and I, for one, won't be putting my faith in him here again this week after he cited back problems for the reason he withdrew after a dismal opening round of 81. If he wins then so be it, however whether it was a hurt back or hurt pride that prompted the withdrawal I cannot support the Swede for another week in what will arguably be even more pressure in front of his home fans.
Instead I've put together a team who I think are capable of taming the 7,600 yard Trent Jones Jnr design which clearly isn't all about brute force as proved by Richard S Johnson's 2010 victory here. That said, with 5 par 5s and a soggy course following a wet end to May and start of June, the course may well favour those who can hammer the ball off the tee on this exposed setup. The forecast is for a damp start to affairs (which starts on Wednesday this week don't forget) followed by drier but slightly breezier conditions. Any wind can be accentuated by the course's position alongside a fjord and when it blows this course can turn into a real test and results less predictable - just look at the scores from Sunday last year if you need any convincing. Here's who I'm backing this week:
Readers of my column will know that I rarely ignore the player who tops the predictor - typically last time I didn't follow the predictor number 1 was Luke Donald at Wentworth! I won't make that mistake again, despite the seriously short price on Westwood here, as the Englishman is head and shoulders above most of this field in terms of quality. The biggest question mark for me here is whether Lee will actually want to win this week - last time he was victorious before the US Open (St Jude, 2010) saw him just about scrape a top 20 a week later when we're far more used to seeing Worksop's finest in closer order at the business end of the big 4 events.
Well, will he want to win here if the opportunity is there as he approaches the weekend? After all, he's nailed on for a Ryder Cup place currently sitting 4th in the World Points List for the Europeans and in terms of OWGR points this event is far lower than those available in the US this week - even a victory wouldn't get him within touching distance of Rory and Luke.
In a funny way I think that he could approach this with an even more laid-back style than normal and with no pressure to feel he needs to perform he could find himself at the head of affairs at a canter if he plays the sort of tee-to-green game we know he's capable of - especially as his putter is seemingly warming up (7th at Wentworth believe it or not!) and he's hitting the ball further than ever in 2012.
Noren's win last year reminded me a lot of the way that Westwood played when blowing the field away at the 2009 Dubai World Championship - this is the kind of course where the right combination of total driving and positive putting on Westwood's favoured Bentgrass could see his favouritism being justified. RESULT: Winner
South African Sterne is an exciting selection for me this week as it's clear the 5-time European Tour winner has finally shaken off his back injury problems and looks set to once again pick up his progression towards golf's top table which was curtailed after 2 victories in the 2009 season. He couldn't build immediately on his comeback 6th place at East London GC back in January, however 6th at Wentworth and 2nd last week in Wales suggest he's on the cusp of a return to winning ways. He has the firepower to compete here as his 2008 victory at the 7,590 yard Royal Johannesburg and Kensington course proves and with his irons and putter improving every week I think that he could well be at the top of end of the leaderboard on Sunday for the third consecutive week. RESULT: T7
Back to the 'well' here for me and I'm expecting another big week from Cabrera-Bello who has produced each way results for us to the tune of 50/1 (Malaysia) and Volvo Match Play (40/1) in the last couple of months. Rafa's 4 professional wins (2 Challenge Tour, 2 European Tour) have all come on open courses where birdies can be made - winning totals of -16, -25, -20 and -18 are testament to that - and the 5 par 5s all present good scoring chances. His most recent win was at the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year where 21 birdies and 3 bogeys was enough to take the title in a field packed with talent and a repeat of that form would see him in with more than half a chance here. As well as those 2 recent results he also finished 15th at Wentworth on a course which is ultimately a bit tight for the Spaniard - this is much more up his alley and I'd expect to improve massively on last year's 44th place here which followed a string of 3 missed cuts as he's in far, far better form right now. RESULT: T47
I'm going to keep faith in another Spaniard this week as I saw enough positive signs at Celtic Manor to warrant another investment in Pablo this week. The 29 year-old from Barcelona packs the requisite punch off the tee to put most of the par 5s within reach in 2 shots if he can find the short stuff off the tee - with accuracy off the tee being Pablo's weakest suit it was encouraging to see him rank well inside the top 20 last week at Celtic Manor in that respect. Larrazabal will undoubtedly make mistakes, however his aggressive style will ensure that a bounceback birdie is just around the corner and the wet weather will effectively make the fairways wider for the 2008 French Open champion. RESULT: T47
Aussie Rumford has one of the best short games in the world and is seemingly capable of getting up and down from a multitude of nigh-on impossible positions - if conditions are tougher than expected then we may well find the 34 year-old gravitate to towards the top of the pile as scrambling for par becomes the order of the day. He didn't play last year so we'll never know how we would have fared in Sunday's gale, however his 4th place finish here in 2010 suggests that Bro Hoff Slott suits his eye. Interestingly last week's top 20 effort in Wales (his best finish of 2012) saw a distinct improvement in Greens In Regulation for Brett who ranked inside the top 25 for that statistic over the 4 days - a repeat of that coupled with scrambling skills when he misses the dancefloor may well make the 3-time Tour winner this week's surprise package. RESULT: T66
Our tips, picks and predictions for the 2013 edition of this event will be published here on the Tuesday before the event - bookmark this page and come back soon!