Links form points to top men
Andres Romero looks value to be the best Argentinian at the Open Championship, according to our Ben Coley.
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2pts Andres Romero to be the top Argentinian at 23/20 (sportingbet).
0.5pt Michael Hoey to be the top Irishman at 16/1 (General).
0.5pt Darren Clarke to be the top Irishman at 16/1 (General).
4pts Raphael Jacquelin to be the top Frenchman at 8/13 (Boylesports).
The Open Championship returns to Royal Lytham St. Anne's for the first time in over a decade for what should be yet another fantastic golfing spectacle.
The trouble is that, from a punting point of view, what could be described as the pinnacle of the sport's calendar could also be called the most unpredictable event on Tour.
That's because, unlike most week-to-week events, course form is close to none-existent. There are some who performed well here in 2001, but just what that's worth now is open to some debate.
Then there's the weather. The winds that swept across St Andrews cost Rory McIlroy a shot at the 2010 title, while Rickie Fowler might feel he would've bettered last year's share of fifth had he not suffered a rough draw over the opening two rounds.
Throw in the very nature of links golf, a discipline that sees almost every shot held hostage to fortune, and it's hard to argue that the best this sport has to offer from a viewing standpoint is also the best betting arena.
However, where there's a will there's a way, and win or lose there's certainly some value to be had in the specials markets.
We'll start with top Argentinian, a market in which Andres Romero arguably deserves to be odds-on.
To oblige, he'll have to beat twice-Major winner Angel Cabrera and Challenge Tour qualifier Rafa Echenique, and at 23/20 he's worth backing to do so.
Romero of course came so close to winning this tournament in 2007, a stunning Sunday 67 not quite enough to join the play-off between Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia.
The signs were there as 12 months earlier he shot four under-par rounds to share 12th on his Open Championship debut, and he's since underlined his love of links golf with finishes of 32nd and 13th.
So, that's four starts and an average finishing position of 15th, a scoring average of 70.875, zero missed cuts and a very, very solid Open Championship profile.
Cabrera meanwhile has two top-10s from 13 starts, has missed three of his last four Open cuts and shot 80-75 here back in 2001.
The 31-year-old Echenique has been a professional for well over a decade but this will be his Open debut and, while he's got plenty of form under windy conditions, his form on the Challenge Tour this season suggests he'll miss the cut.
It may be, then, that Romero simply has to make the weekend to land us a winning bet at 23/20, and in contrast to Echenique and Cabrera there's enough in his 2012 form suggests that's perfectly possible.
He chased home Tiger Woods under the firm and fast conditions of Muirfield Village in The Memorial, backed that up with a share of 34th in the AT&T National at Congressional, and opened with a 65 before inexplicably missing the cut in the Greenbrier Classic.
Like Cabrera, he failed to make the weekend in the Scottish Open but conditions will be totally different here, and everything in his profile says that this tournament brings out his best golf.
Anything like his best should see him take care of his compatriots with something to spare.
In the top Irishman betting, I can't help but think that 15/2 about either Michael Hoey or Darren Clarke coming out best is good business.
Make no mistake; they have three special golfers to beat. Between them, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have five Major titles, and they've also shown plenty of form already this season.
But they're not unbeatable.
While keen not to write off McIlroy entirely, I could see him missing the cut if the wind does blow. Whether it does or not, this sort of test isn't what suits him and although he has the natural ability to produce on any stretch of grass, from a value perspective he helps shape the market and is worth opposing.
Harrington, of course, is entitled to respect, but I just can't help but think that some eye-catching but ultimately fruitless play has led to his price becoming somewhat false. After all, it's been a long time since he won a 'proper' tournament, and his short game is not as sharp as it was when he ground his way to two of these titles.
McDowell is also a long time without a win and although he produced in the US Open, his record in this event is vastly inferior. For a player supposedly at his best under these conditions, three missed cuts in eight Open starts and zero top-10 finishes is not a record to be feared.
With that in mind, Hoey and Clarke should be coupled to take them on.
Hoey missed the cut here back in 2001 but rounds of 73-76 were perfectly solid, given that he was still among the amateur ranks at the time.
All of his best form has come when the wind has blown on courses that place an emphasis on keeping your ball in play, including this season's win in the Trophee Hassan II at Golf du Palais Royal in Morocco.
His finest hour came in last season's Alfred Dunhill Links when holding off a host of illustrious names down the stretch, and he's shown in winning his four European Tour titles that given the right conditions he can return to form quickly.
With that in mind it's no concern that he missed his last cut, and a share of 28th in the Irish Open at Portrush further demonstrates his love for the conditions expected in Lytham.
Whether or not he can make a run at this title remains to be seen but he's certainly among the more interesting outsiders, and at 16/1 looks great value to be the best Irishman.
It's similar logic that leads me to side with Clarke, too.
Here's a player who, throughout his career, has shown that the conditions presented by an Open Championship bring out the best in his game, one based around some of the most natural ball-striking quality you'll ever see.
Like Hoey this time around, he'd have been among the more interesting outsiders last year whether he made the final shortlist or not, given that he'd already won the Iberdrola Open at a wind-swept Pula Golf Club in Mallorca.
Clarke doesn't quite fit the bill this year, having failed to contend for a title all season, but he could still do enough to compete among his fellow countrymen here.
He finished a respectable 39th in the Irish Open and was on course to make the cut at -1 in the Open de France before the seventh, his 16th, cost him a quadruple bogey.
There was enough encouragement in his ball-striking that week, though, and for all that Clarke is seen as the relaxed golfer-next-door, he'll be absolutely determined to defend his Claret Jug this week.
He has seven top-15 finishes in this event and if he can somehow summon the inspiration to make that eight, he could well land us a winning bet at 16/1.
Finally, he's a short price but Raphael Jacquelin should be more than capable of beating Gregory Havret to top Frenchman honours.
Jacquelin has found his form of late, finishing a highly commendable third in his home Open before backing that up with a share of 16th in Scotland.
He also finished 21st in the US Open, a massive improvement on his previous appearance in that event, and all the evidence going suggests his game is in top shape.
Havret, in contrast, is struggling. Since finishing 10th in the Nordea Masters his form figures read 50-40-MC, and he's been really wayward off the tee at times.
That will be punished at Lytham, a venue new to him, whereas Jacquelin was 13th here back in 2001.
He also finished eighth at Royal St. George's last year and anything bigger than 1/2 looks value, so we'll have a good bet with Boylesports at 8/13.