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Long term bets
My bookmaker owes me one. After a season of loyally putting my money on Pod Harrington to win, he does it when I have given up hope. Things have got to change.

Rain in Spain and particularly on the Jerez plain is understandable. Winds at forces sufficient to stop play are about as unexpected as a Pod Harrington win. Seven times the bridesmaid this year alone, with a career total of 16 second place finishes, Pod was about to enter the record books as 'the greatest all time loser'. That was before he holed a 25-foot putt on the 18th green to take the Volvo Masters from the threatening Paul McGinley, to whom I had transferred my allegiance and stake money.

Pod won the Madrid Open in 1996 and a couple of piddling things last year, but other than his World Cup win partnering McGinley he has done little to convince that he has the elusive winning touch.

But few on the European Tour play as consistently well or as profitably as Harrington. He leads the Tour stroke averages and greens hit in regulation. Hardly surprising, then, that after picking up the Volvo cheque for £330,000, he finds himself in second place in the order of merit and raised to 10th in the world rankings.

He and McGinley set off for Japan this week to contest the World Cup. Having won it before and both having enjoyed a solid season's consistency they should figure prominently in the betting. Dublin bookmakers would be well advised to take an early winter break about now.

If World Cup bets are on your mind, you might well ponder upon the English representation. Warren Bennett has pulled out of the event due to an ankle injury that forced him to withdraw from the Volvo Masters. Paul Casey (pictured, right, with American David Gossett) has filled his place in the two-man team with Ian Poulter. Casey and Poulter are a formidable duo. Poulter has been the rookie of rookies and Casey has made his Tour card and nearly half a million pounds on sponsors' invitations alone.

Taking nothing away from Poulter, it is a pity that Casey cannot be reunited with Luke Donald for the World Cup. Few who watched their progress will ever forget them. It was as clear as the Moray Firth air that we were watching Open Champions in the making. Casey has already more than justified this conclusion and it is noteworthy that Luke Donald is currently leading after the second stage of the USPGA Tour qualifying school at Palm Beach in Florida.

Paul Casey has always been head and shoulders above his peers although he has never enjoyed the adulation and hype that accompanied the emergence of Lyle and Faldo in their day. One heard of some crazy bets placed on them when yet still amateurs, which within five years seemed not so crazy after all. Now, it would be impossible to get reasonable odds on Casey winning four or five Majors in the next five years.

The old order is changing and one has the feeling that the wind that blew through Spain last week shook not a few leaves off the Tour tree. Ian Woosnam was certainly in a hurry to get away to America for the USB Warburg Trophy - somewhat disrespectfully being referred to as the 'wrinkly's Ryder Cup'. The old guard would appear to be entrenching themselves in nostalgia events - and who can blame them?

Casey leads a pack of young world talent that is bigger and better than ever before. In the States, David Gossett, JJ Henry and Charles Howell are the new young guns. They look good, but possibly not as good as the Aussie posse made up of Adam Scott, Aaron Baddeley and Bret Rumford, or the South African duo of Hugo and Immelman.

In England, Justin Rose, Jamie Donaldson, Simon Dyson and Ian Poulter could all become world class if they can rise to Casey's game.

Certainly the next big name in the game will emerge from this phalanx of talent. Pod Harrington and Paul McGinley may yet prove that at 30 their best years are ahead of them but I fear that they be overtaken and deprived of the chance to really shine.

Tiger Woods showed that the case hardened kid from the US Collegiate is essentially the finished article. The Tiger set new standards on the collegiate circuit, breaking every record that Phil Mickelson had previously established. Paul Casey came along and broke every one of Tigers' records. The big question is; can Casey better Tiger's professional performance record? Doubtful, perhaps, but well worth a walk to the bookmakers nevertheless.


©    13 - NOVEMBER 2001



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