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Natural Bjorn winner makes fast start
And so the race is on to make Jose Maria Olazabal's side for the defence of the Ryder Cup at Medinah next September. Jeremy Chapman looks at the players most likely to be on the plane to Chicago

They’re off in the one race where there are 12 winners – the race for places in Europe’s 2012 Ryder Cup team and Thomas Bjorn’s second victory in a row and third of the year in the first counting event, the European Masters in Switzerland, have seen the 40-year-old Dane come from out of the clouds and into the forefront of the betting.

You gotta love Thomas Bjorn - especially if you're on 10% of his winnings

Victor Chandler were quick off the blocks with the first prices on players to make the Medinah gig next September and Bjorn was quickly cut from 14-1 to 5-2 after that scintillating 62 on the Sunday at Crans-sur-Sierre. Yet so strong is the competition that there are 14 golfers rated more likely to beat Bjorn to his third Ryder Cup spot – both previous appearances came on the winning side, at Valderrama in '97 and The Belfry in ’02. Making it a winning treble with the Americans on home ground is more difficult.

It will be interesting to compare Chandler’s list as quoted after Crans to the team which actually makes it on to the plane to Chicago. Currently the 12 most likely lads, with their odds (before the KLM Open) were: Luke Donald (1-33), Lee Westwood (1-33), Rory McIlroy (1-33), Martin Kaymer (1- 14), Graeme McDowell (1-6), Ian Poulter (1-3), Matteo Manassero (4-9), Paul Casey (1-2), Sergio Garcia (6-5), Padraig Harrington (6-5), Francesco Molinari (5- 4) and Justin Rose (7-4).

Also in front of Bjorn are Robert Karlsson and Ross Fisher, both at 9-4, and with Karlsson now a full-time member of the PGA Tour and playing pretty darned well over there, I rate the lofty Swede as a very strong contender even though he will be 43 when the match tees off.

But I wouldn’t be risking a dud fiver on Harrington, so lucky to make the squad at Celtic Manor – and a price of 1-2 is surely too short for Casey, who should definitely have been in that side but whose game has since gone a bit off the rails. Of course, there’s ten months or so before Jose Maria Olazabal announces his squad which will include two of his personal choices. Will he give the nod to two of his countrymen, Garcia, Jimenez or Quiros? That would simply be too obvious to be palatable and it is going to be hard for him to leave out the current Open champion, Darren Clarke, even though the Dazzler is unlikely to be Open champ when the team is named. Still, there are worse bets than 7-1 for Clarke to regain his Cup place after an absence of six years.

And just look at the talent lining up behind Bjorn and the other 18 already named: two-time 2011 winner Alexander Noren, super-reliable Simon Dyson, 300-yard bomber Nicolas Colsaerts, current Ryder Cup incumbents Peter Hanson and Edoardo Molinari, American-based Scot Martin Laird and USPGA third Anders Hansen.

That's 25 names already, enough for more than two teams both capable of taking on the world, never mind the USA. If Colin Montgomerie (available at 50-1 incidentally to regain his playing place – surely a misprint, shouldn’t it be 5000-1?) found naming his wild cards a nightmare, it looks like being an even bigger headache for Jose Maria.

Me? I wouldn’t mind Bjorn being in the team as he’s a real fighter who would bring much-needed ballast, much good sense as a former vice-captain and a cool nerve to the occasion. Here’s the side I would like to see defending the trophy: Donald, Westwood, McIlroy, Kaymer, Poulter, McDowell, Manassero, Karlsson, Rose, Bjorn and two out of Francesco Molinari, Casey, Clarke and Dyson, depending on who is in the best form. And my two best-value bets at current prices: Karlsson at 9-4 and Rose at 7-4 not least because both are American-based, have done well in the States, and the match is “over there”. That will surely influence Ollie, himself based in the USA.

Turning to more immediate matters, Keegan Bradley (or was it Bradley Keegan?) at 150-1 completed a terrific year for the bookies in the majors by beating 300-1 chance Jason Dufner (or was it Duffy Jasner?) in a fascinating play-off after Dufner had been four ahead with four to play. To recap, the prices for the other Major winners of 2011 were 100-1 Charl Schwartzel, 22- 1 McIlroy and 200-1 Clarke, so no prizes for working out which side won that punting battle.

And what about Tiger Woods – remember him? William Hill seem to think Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major wins is pretty safe after TW’s first two disappointing comeback efforts after a long break. They make Woods 6-5 to win no more majors before the end of 2016 (he’ll be 40 then and close to drawing a golfing pension having started the game as an infant at his father’s knee) and go 7-2 he wins one next year, 5-1 about his next major success coming in 2013, 6-1 2014, 8-1 2015 and 11-1 2016.

Plenty of food for thought there and isn’t it disgraceful that he’s already been given a wild card by skipper Fred Couples for the Presidents Cup match in Melbourne in mid-November? It means that one of those who have toiled long and hard to get the points for the chance to represent his country gets the short straw. Just read Tiger’s 2011 record and tell me he deserves such largesse: 44th at Torrey Pines, first-round exit at Accenture Match Play, 10th at Doral, 24th at Bay Hill, 4th in the Masters, 37th at Firestone, missed the cut at USPGA Championship.

And who’ll be favourite when Woods next tees it up at the Open on October 6, a tournament normally reserved for small fry? You’ve guessed it. We punters have always been gluttons for punishment.

September 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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