Air Canada Championships
Air Canada Championships
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Leading contenders for the Air Canada Championships

It's aboot this time of year that the US Tour heads to Canada and presuming that the place has recovered from the battering it took in the South Park movie it's all systems go for the fourth running of the Air Canada Championship at Northview.

Previously this visit to the land of Olympic ice skater Brian Boitano has coincided with the NEC Invitational, meaning a weakened field, but even with sole billing this time the vast majority of US Tour stars have chosen to stay at home.

And so we have the slightly bizarre sight of Carlos Franco vying for favouritism.

The Paraguayan battles it out at the front of the market with US Open champion Payne Stewart and US Tour regulars Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.

The 6,832-yard Northview Course can yield some low scores and last year's winner Brandel Chamblee took the title with a winning total of 19-under-par.


Payne Stewart: Stewart is the class act in this field and odds of 14-1 may look very generous if he tops the leaderboard on Sunday night - especially given his excellent record at this course. Two years ago the US Open champion was tied sixth here and last time he was runner-up to Brandel Chamblee after leading with a round to go. Stewart has only played Majors (30th British Open and tied 57th USPGA) since his US Open win so his form is hard to assess for a regular Tour event.

Carlos Franco: The bookies are finally taking Franco seriously and, although you would have laughed at the prospect of him entering a tournament as market leader at the start of the year, his two US Tour wins this season make his new-found status more than justified. Showed more good form when tied seventh in a world-class field in the NEC Invitational last week so he could challenge seriously again.

Mark Calcavecchia: Calc is a course and distance winner here having won this tournament two years ago. His eighth win on Tour came courtesy of four rounds in the 60s - achieved with the help of a putter borrowed from Jeff Maggert. Calc has shown hints of a return to form lately (tied third at Greater Hartford and tied 12th at the NEC last week) and if he finds another hot putter he would have a decent chance.

Loren Roberts: Roberts, a winner of the Byron Nelson in May, has a good record in these low-key events and shouldn't be hampered by his lack of course experience. Although he missed the cut in the USPGA on his last start he made the top 10 on his last regular Tour outing in the Buick Open. Apart from a blank in 1998, he's won every year on Tour since 1994 and a win here would match the two victories he achieved in 1996.

Scott Hoch: Hoch has a reputation for being one of the most consistent players in the game and should have more than eight US Tour wins at this stage of his career. Events like these should really give Hoch a glorious chance to add to his victories but despite his experience he still gets the jitters when he puts himself in contention. Three successive top 25s shows his game is in decent nick but a lack of course form suggests a top ten may be his limit here.

Stuart Appleby: The Aussie is another first-time visitor here and is another with the class to beat a weak field. Enjoyed a brilliant May when winning the Shell Houston Open and finishing tied 11th at Colonial and tied sixth at the Kemper but since then he's been disappointing. Four missed cuts in the last six tell their own story although he can suddenly hit form when seemingly in a trough.

Bob Estes: Estes so nearly played himself onto the Ryder Cup team at the USPGA but his challenge just faltered over the final few holes. Nevertheless for him to be in such a position shows that he's had an excellent year with eight top ten finishes. He boasts a fine record here also - third in 1997 and tied fifth in 1998 - so he has an strong each-way chance. We stop short of saying winning-chance as just one US Tour victory seems to suggest a defect.

Brent Geiberger: The son of former player Al - one of the elite few to break 50 on the US Tour - made his big breakthrough by winning the Canon Greater Hartford Open at the start of August. Perhaps as a reaction to that he's missed his last two cuts but this could be the perfect place for him to strike again. Tied 12th and tied 11th in two starts here shows he likes the course and he could be a big threat.


Local favourite Mike Weir will have massive support from the galleries and tied fifth finishes in 1996 and 1998 suggests it seems to have paid off. Another with a Canadian connection is 1998 British Open runner-up Brian Watts. He's played some fine golf this year and a win would be deserved. Russ Cochran has a remarkable record here in the last three years (T5-4-T5) and was an encouraging tied ninth last week.


There's plenty of excellent value knocking about this week in what the bookies see as a wide-open contest but in reality it looks possible to narrow the field down to a select few.

Although the tournament's only been played here since 1996, course form has already proved a strong indicator and our headline tip is a player who hasn't finished outside of the top five in those three years.

Russ Cochran is perhaps best known for being one of the Tour's few left-handers but Canadian crowds are very familiar with him given his strong showings here.

Those finishes of tied fifth, fourth and tied fifth show that Cochran's game is made for Northview and he will have been waiting all year for this tournament to come round.

The man who led the 1996 USPGA after three rounds has had a pretty horrid year but, perhaps knowing that his trip to Canada was around the corner, he showed a welcome return to form with a ninth place in the Reno-Tahoe Open.

After that top ten I was fully expecting the bookies to hit him hard this week given his wonderful course record and that's certainly the case at Coral who put him in at just 28-1.

But Hills seem to have overlooked it completely and look way wide of the mark in making him a 66-1 shot.

Take those huge odds with the extra insurance of a fifth the first five - a logical move given that he's twice finished tied fifth.

Home advantage can often be a key weapon for golf punters and two players with Canadian links this week look to have a fine chance of success - Mike Weir and Brian Watts.

Weir shot to fame when he went out in the final group with Tiger Woods at last month's USPGA Championship.

Although his final round 80 was a huge disappointment the experience will have been invaluable and in the more serene surroundings of his native Canada he has an excellent chance to give his fine play a reward.

Weir has already shone in this tournament in the past, finishing tied fifth in both 1996 and 1998, and this could be his week.

The roars for Weir may be equalled by the cheers for another `home' boy - Brian Watts.

Watts, who was born in Montreal, also rose to national prominence on the back of a Major when he lost to Mark O'Meara in a play-off at the British Open at Birkdale.

Since then he's proved emphatically that that was no fluke and after having to make his money in Japan he's made an excellent job of cutting it on his return to the US Tour this year.

Nine top 25s this season have helped him up to 58th on the Money List and this could be a golden chance for him to gain his first US Tour win and maybe earn a place in the top 30 who play the money-spinning Tour Championship next month.

Weir and Watts are both available at 33-1 and an each-way punt on both is strongly recommended.

Finally we'll plump for recent Greater Hartford Open winner, Brent Geiberger, to make a quick follow-up.

Geiberger chalked up another top ten straight after his breakthrough win but since then has missed cuts in the USPGA and the Sprint International.

But this looks the sort of course for him to bounce back on and he's already shown his liking for the place with top 12 finishes for the last two years.