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Spoiled for choice in the top flite

So outstanding is he that Rory has spawned a betting industry of his own. But could 2013 be the year Donald, Rose and Poulter finally earn major honours? There’s value in backing them

The five consecutive birdies from Rory McIlroy which gave the Race To Dubai such a rousing send-off and confirmed his position as the greatest golfer on the planet had bookmakers scurrying to chop the young Northern Irishman’s odds for next year’s majors and he is now just 100-1 with William Hill to achieve “mission impossible”, the same-year Slam.

Every penny wagered on this outcome since the bet was invented in the days when Jack Nicklaus was in a class of his own has ended up in the bookies’ satchels and, judging from McIlroy’s lack of consistency in the majors, anybody interested in that 100-1 would have to be regarded as ripe for the loony bin.

Unlike Tiger Woods at a similar age, Rory has yet to learn how to peak four times a year for the correct weeks of April, June, July and August, as a look at his record since turning 21 quickly underscores. In 2010 he missed the cut in two out of four majors; in 2011 he had one and three-quarter great majors, leading the Masters into Sunday before collapsing, then picking himself up brilliantly to land the US Open by eight. But against those positives, he also shot 150 on the weekend at Augusta, 147 for the final 36 holes at the Open and 148 down the stretch at the PGA; and in 2012, until that dazzling triumph at Kiawah, he was truly struggling, finishing 40th at the Masters, missing the cut at the US Open before an anonymous 60th place behind Ernie Els at Lytham.

At this time, with McIlroy superior to Woods in practically every department of the game, it’s easy to forget just how consistent Tiger was at his peak. That came at 24, the age which McIlroy reaches in the first week of May, and in that year Woods finished fifth at Augusta, then reeled off the next four majors – culminating in the Masters – the following year, for his own version of the Slam (in that he held all four majors at one and the same time).

And from the time Tiger won his first major at 21, breaking all records in the 1997 Masters, it was 38 majors and the 2006 US Open before he finally missed a cut in one. More than that,he was not remotely close to missing a cut. So please pause before you think of tossing away those fivers on a McIlroy Slam. It would be wonderful if it were to happen but it hasn’t happened before and it ain’t going to happen now.

Even so, we are witnessing the consolidation of a remarkable talent, and the way he shrugged off missing the cut in the defence of his Hong Kong Open title to brush aside Europe’s finest when not 100 per cent fit in Dubai was some thrill. BetVictor make McIlroy 7-4 to win a major in 2013, then it’s 2-1 Tiger, 11-2 Luke Donald, 8-1 Justin Rose, Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott, 10-1 Els and 14-1 Ian Poulter. While with William Hill you can have 10-1 about Rory winning two majors, 33-1 he wins three...and 2-5 that he doesn’t win any.

Like Tiger, McIlroy is now not only so outstanding but so much part of the public’s perception of golf that he is almost spawning a betting industry of his own. Hills even have a market on when McIlroy’s next major victory will be: 5-1 the 2013 Masters, 10-1 US Open, 12-1 Open, 10-1 USPGA, 9-2 any 2014 major, 6-1 any 2015 major and 6-5 that his third major win does not come until 2016 or later.

What is clear is that McIlroy’s five victories in 2012 – that latest in Dubai coming when he was 6-1 favourite – have lost the layers a bundle. In fact, it wasn’t a great year for the bookmakers although Els’s 45-1 Open victory gave them a breather and Bubba Watson’s 50-1 success at Augusta no hardship (even though Louis Oosthuizen would have been a better result).

But Rory’s USPGA runaway was a disaster as was the Ryder Cup – thanks to Woods missing that final five-footer and then conceding Molinari his from missable range on the final green.

“Up until Poulter turned round that match on Saturday night, everything was going swimmingly for us,” said Ladbrokes’ golf guru Brad Barry. “But everybody suddenly sensed that Europe had a chance going into the last day and everything went wrong for us in the singles. A tied result would have been like Christmas but Woods has done us a few nasty turns over the years and this was another one.”

Woods is 7-1 second favourite for next year’s Masters, just half a point behind McIlroy, and then the best available prices are 14-1 Mickelson, 20-1 Donald, 22-1 Westwood, 33-1 Rose and Scott, while for the Open at Muirfield, where reigning champ Els won in 2002, the South African veteran rates a 40-1 quote this time and not bad value at that. Other top Open quotes: 10 McIlroy, 12 Woods, 16 Donald, 22 Westwood, 28 Harrington, 33 McDowell, Rose, Scott, 40 Mickelson, Oosthuizen, Poulter, 50 Dufner, D Johnson, Garcia, Simpson, Watson, Kaymer.

Looking further ahead, to the 2014 Ryder Cup, how do you fancy 91 per cent interest on your investment? It’s not absolutely guaranteed but the 10-11 for Europe to retain the trophy at Gleneagles looks a bargain and the price sure to be shorter on the day.

Why? I’ll tell you. With Henrik Stenson back in winning form again, Matteo Manassero winning for the third time before reaching the age of 20 and injury-prone Paul Casey finally coming back to something like his best, Europe will have the strongest competition for places in the contest’s history and almost certainly their best team ever, whereas have you noticed how desperately short of young talent they are in the States? The only 20-somethings to win there this year outside those already in the Ryder squad were Kyle Stanley, John Huh and Scott Stallings and, although Huh was quite impressive in his rookie season, there are no superstars there.

So the players who are going to take over from Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, the ageing Mickelson (44 when the next Ryder Cup comes around) and the creaking Woods are almost certain to be known quantities such as Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler and Bill Haas.

So, remembering we have home advantage and already hold the trophy, who do you want to have your money on? It’s a no-brainer.

January 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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