Maybin value to upstage Irish stars
Ben Coley heads to the nationality markets and fancies Gareth Maybin to upstage his Irish peers in the Open Championship.
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Given the selections put forward in my outright preview, you'd be forgiven for thinking the best 'top player' bet is Chris Wood in the top Englishman market.
Certainly, he makes appeal at 16/1 but my overriding feeling is that if he is the top English player in the Open, he'll have landed us the place part of the outright bet anyway.
That isn't to say he doesn't represent value, simply that given the risks attached a two-point stake next to his name seems enough to me, especially given the strength of the English challenge this week.
- 1pt Gareth Maybin to be the top Irish player at 28/1 (BetVictor) - in the form of his life and looks outstanding value
- 3pts Henrik Stenson to be the top Scandinavian player at 100/30 (General) - back to his best and concerns surround his rivals
- 0.5pt Mikko Ilonen to be the top Scandinavian player at 11/1 (Spreadex) - former Amateur Champion is the danger on this layout
Even if US Open winners typically struggle when trying to add the Open Championship straight after, there's something about Justin Rose that leads me to think he'll cope better than most. The confidence he took from Merion should show itself immediately and, while short enough in the betting, he's expected to play well.
And whether you admire their consistently superb (or superbly consistent) play or decry their lack of major titles, both Luke Donald and Lee Westwood - in particular the latter - know exactly how to bring their best to major championships.
Throw in a player who nearly won this event once in Ian Poulter and you have a very, very strong quartet of English players and, repeating my earlier statement, if Wood beats them all he'll be very close to the top of the leaderboard.
I don't believe that's the case in the top Irish player betting and for that reason Gareth Maybin has to be worth a small punt.
Maybin simply arrives in the form of his life. For the first time in what's still a relatively young career, he enters a tournament bidding for his third consecutive top-10 finish on the European Tour.
That the two he's managed so far have come on the tough, links-style layout at Le Golf National and in last week's Scottish Open means we have a player who has completed what must be considered an ideal preparation for Muirfield.
Certainly, he arrives in better form than when missing the cut on his sole Open start to date at St Andrews in 2010, and the Belfast man will be really hopeful he can feature on the leaderboard.
But rather than his extremely good form, what really attracts me to Maybin here is that he may not need to perform brilliantly to land a 28/1 touch.
Of course, I'm not writing Graeme McDowell off. But any player who has missed five of his last eight cuts having previously missed just one of his last 12 arrives with risks attached and while he could go on and win this event, he could also falter as he did in the Irish Open recently.
The same goes for Rory McIlroy, whose record of zero wins in Europe and love of soft, long, par-72 courses rather than firm, fast, par-71 courses is clear. He too missed the cut in Ireland and while writing him off is not advised, it does seem he can be taken on at the prices.
As for Padraig Harrington, your guess is as good as mine. He continues to speak well and play well in patches, but by his own admission missing the cut in the Scottish Open did not represent an ideal preparation for this tournament.
Perhaps, then, Shane Lowry is the most reliable of the Irish bunch. He put in a bold effort in the Irish Open, the best of the home brigade, and has basically produced the goods in Europe ever since winning the Portugal Masters late last year.
But the fact is he was 26 places behind Maybin in Scotland and, at four-times the price, it seems obvious to me that it's Maybin who is the value in a market where Darren Clarke can't be expected to feature on 2013 form.
The other top player market which catches my eye is top Scandinavian, where Henrik Stenson and Mikko Ilonen look worth backing.
Stenson really should take all the beating. A fine links player with two third-placed finishes in this championship, he arrives on the back of a similar finish in Scotland and has been in fine fettle throughout 2013.
Take a look at the PGA Tour stats and you'll see that he's eighth in driving accuracy and third in greens, so Stenson's ball-striking really is back to its brilliant best - the sort of best which saw him win a Players' Championship plus a World Golf Championship event, and shine in a Ryder Cup.
All this is fairly obvious, but what really makes him stick out is the fact that his key rivals all have questions to answer.
Thomas Bjorn withdrew from the Scottish Open last week nursing an injury and was likely to miss the cut anyway. Peter Hanson has been described as '50-50' having also incurred an injury, Alex Noren was awful without excuse in Scotland and Freddie Jacobson has missed three of his last four cuts.
Thorbjorn Olesen would've looked the 11/1 poke of the century when threatening to win on the PGA Tour earlier this season as well as starring on his Masters debut, but he too has been plagued by form and fitness concerns and went backwards alarmingly last week.
So it's Ilonen, winner of the Nordea Masters at Noren's expense earlier this season, who is worth a saver.
The Finn is a former winner of the Amateur Championship who loves and links test, and right now he's probably playing the best golf of his career.
It's golf which has seen him re-qualify for the Open at long last and the evidence of four starts so far - which include shares of ninth and 16th - is that he has what it takes to play four solid rounds of golf.
With that in mind we'll have a decent bet on Stenson but cover with Ilonen.