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Open book
For those who lost a little over the excesses at Bethpage State Park, thoughts will be turning to Muirfield and recompense. Although only few overlooked Woods at Bethpage, the best odds available at 5/2 hardly compensated for what was lost on the back-up bets and all of the other irresistible combination bets on offer.

I notice, but am not surprised that my bookmaker has put four new tyres on his Mercedes.

It is a little surprising that the best odds on offer for Woods winning at Muirfield is 2/1. Bethpage was probably the hardest test of this years Majors, and with odds of only 5/2 there, 2/1 at Muirfield suggests that the bookies are not suffering from a surfeit of generosity. After all, only a handful of big-hitters could have won at Bethpage; Muirfield is another matter altogether.

Of all the tipsters pre-Bethpage, it was the leading players themselves who got it right. It was generally held that Bethpage was made to measure for Woods. Mickelson must have been a bit galled when he predicted that he could win it on level par. He did indeed finish on 280 but could only take second place. The sage, Nick Price, said that if anyone broke par they would take the laurel. Others suggested that only Woods could break par on the Black course, which of course he did and took the title.

It is clear that Woods dominance is such that he must be the clear favourite at Muirfield. Indeed, one tends to look for the money on quarter odds betting for a top four place from the rest of the field. The better bet is an arranged accumulator on Woods winning with any one, two or, manna from heaven, three out of the top four.

Mickelson is second favourite at 14/1 with Els and Garcia at 16/1. All three are worth a few bob accumulator with Woods. Duval is a surprising 25/1 and Price, Harrington, Goosen and Singh are all on 33/1. Harrington and Singh may be worth a place bet on current form. Price is a doughty competitor with brains and Muirfield certainly calls for all the grey matter going. Harrington and Garcia are probably better bets on the shorter odds on offer for the leading European.

Olazabal and Darren Clarke are available at 40/1 and both are worth the risk. Ollie has the shot making capability required for Muirfield and Clarke is the sort that can burst into a flash of brilliance at any time.

It is, however, the group going at 50/1 that could well puncture the bookies tyres: Cabrera, Montgomery, Furyk and Faldo, any one of them could do it. Cabreras length and accuracy off the tee will be rewarded at Muirfield and the presence of his name on every leaderboard this year speaks volumes for his consistency. Monty has the iron play and the ball control required and one should not make too much of his past failings on links courses. But I suspect that Faldo is the most likely to upset the book.

Nick Faldo has posted his intent over these past six weeks with Fanny back on the bag and a new found purposefulness that has taken him into contention in both the PGA at Wentworth and in the US Open at Bethpage. Faldo is back in, and certainly appears to mean business.

But can he deliver at Muirfield? One might doubt that he can beat the Tiger, but he could certainly make a top four finish. Muirfield has become him in the past. He won the last two Opens at Muirfield in 87 and 92 and he did it in convincing style. It may well be argued that Faldo is not the player that he was. It is certainly true that he lost the intense focus that rewarded him with three Opens Championships and three Masters titles, but there is some indication that he has relocated it.

Faldo is strong, athletic and determined; he is not likely to choke with the pressure and, at 50/1, I for one will be risking more than a few bob on him in an each way bet.

Among the even longer odds, Allanby and Weir stand out at 80/1 with Langer, Daly, Woosnam and Mike Campbell at 100/1. Campbell has made me and cost me a few bob over the years since he led so convincingly at St Andrews in 95, yet my faith in him remains. Woosnam, like Langer, has the game and the temperament for Muirfield. Both are left with only the glory to play for and would much like to see their names on the Claret Jug.

Although I would dearly like to see one of the young guns do it, realistically Muirfield is not the sort of place to cut your teeth. Scott, Howell, Rose, Donald and Casey have all of the shots required for the regular tour venues but Muirfield is as far removed from the regular tour venues as is Pittenweem Municipal from Augusta.

Woods simply has to be the banker. At 2/1 the odds are hardly stimulating and at 6/4 to win the USPGA at Hazeltine he is hardly worth the walk to the bookies. But at 6/1 to do the Grand Slam the odds must be considered generous for he is half way there already.

Although one may hesitate before putting the house on him  his putting touch can desert him as it can everyone else  getting something on him now for the Grand Slam certainly makes sense for there will surely be no adds at all on him after Muirfield.

©    25 - JUNE 2002

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