Adam Scott is the star attraction at this week's Emirates Australian Open, and golf expert Ben Coley will be disappointed if he's not firmly in the mix.
The Emirates Australian Open takes on extra significance this year, serving as an ideal way for several members of the International side to prepare for next week's Presidents Cup, and ADAM SCOTT can whet the appetite with another victory on home soil.
Australia's first Masters champion will be absolutely key to next week's team event, a player on whom Ernie Els will hope to rely, and he's been talking tough in the build-up, asking home fans not to cheer for Tiger Woods at Royal Melbourne.
Clearly frustrated at having never been on the winning side and, at 39, now entering the final phrase of his career at the very top, this former world number one is going to be all business over the next fortnight and he's a strong fancy to kickstart it by lifting the Stonehaven Cup for a second time, marking the decade anniversary of a five-shot romp at New South Wales Golf Club.
This year, the event heads back to The Australian, where Scott lost out by a shot in 2015 and was fifth in 2014. It's around a 15-minute drive from NSW, and Scott's ties with this part of the country were further strengthened earlier this year when his foundation began a scholarship program at the nearby University of Sydney.
But never mind all that: the point here is that prices from the bottom-end 6/1 to the standout 8/1 underestimate his chances, particularly from an each-way perspective, and he's firmly expected to be in the mix come Sunday.
Scott's record in the event is outstanding. He's played in 13 previous Australian Opens and has hit the top-five on six occasions, a strike-rate which alone suggests his prospects of cracking the top six or seven here have been underestimated.
His form at the course is flawless with the exception of a missed cut in a different tournament more than 20 years ago, when he was still an amateur, and he's also highly motivated - not just by the prospect of peaking for the Presidents Cup, but because he's not played in the event since 2016. When Scott won the Australian Open, in 2009, he was returning to the event after a similar three-year absence.
As for his current form, Scott was 11th in the WGC-HSBC Champions last time out, a third-round 75 costing him a place. It was an extension of the form he's shown since finishing eighth in the PGA Championship in May, after which he moved to 17th in the world having been outside the top 40 in January. To underline the consistency of his play since, Scott has been no lower than 20th and no higher than 15th since the start of summer.
All of this makes him an interesting contender on any given week, but my reluctance to support him stems from the fact he's not won anything since 2016. However, the return Down Under - where he's won all three Triple Crown events and is so rarely out of contention - makes all the difference. This proud Australian marries a determination to perform in front of his people with a skill set so obviously suited to demanding, hard-running courses like this week's venue, and he's by some distance the most reliable option here.
Given that Louis Oosthuizen and Paul Casey are next in the betting, the pair often criticised for their lack of victories, and that Marc Leishman still hasn't won a top-tier tournament on home soil, and that Abraham Ancer is surely underpriced ahead of his title defence, and that you only have to get to 25/1 for a player like Matt Jones, the 2015 winner who hasn't been in the world's top 100 for over three years now, Scott's prospects here are very difficult to ignore.
Back in 2013, when his Triple Crown bid was denied by a resurgent Rory McIlroy, Scott was going off at closer to the 2/1 mark. This is a good field, but it is not packed with the sort of world-class, frequent winners, like McIlroy (2013) and Jordan Spieth (2014, 2016), who have denied locals in this before, and Scott should be a good deal shorter in the betting.
If you're in any doubt as to what this event means to him, Scott said earlier this week that his biggest regret is that, "I didn't win more Aussie Opens, or majors for that matter, in a period when I'd say I played my best golf from 2011 through to the end of 2016."
For Australians, this event does mean more, and historically it's taken an elite overseas player to keep it from them. This year, Scott's biggest threat looks to come from his compatriots and, for now, he remains at the top of the tree.
"I'd very much like to win here at The Australian," he added. "I like this course a lot."
Scott may never have a better chance to double up in this event, with his 40th birthday approaching in 2020 and a family life demanding more and more of his time. He has everything in his favour here and can inject life into Els' Presidents Cup mission with a popular victory.
Five to follow...
Aware as I am that not everyone wants to back the favourite, here are five at bigger prices to consider. The names at the top and the bottom have been underestimated, to say the least, at their biggest respective odds.
UNLV junior from Brisbane, and one who finished 29th on his PGA Tour debut in October. Aged 20, that was some effort for an amateur who at the time ranked outside the world's top 200, and it could have been better still - he made double-bogey at the very final hole of the tournament, when lying 11th.
Now back on home soil, Trent - who putted beautifully in Las Vegas - is being dismissed at 500/1 by a couple of firms. To be frank, they have it wrong. It would be a little disingenuous to advise a bet at a price which would go immediately were I to do so, but in the hope the layers don't read the actual content, take note. He's probably a 150/1 chance with place prospects in reality.
Probably not a world-beater, but here's another young(ish) Australian who isn't on many radars and, at 150/1, perhaps he should be. Back in form courtesy of seventh place in last week's New South Wales Open, Marchesani can call upon form of 56-10 at the course, latterly producing an excellent weekend.
Though disappointing at Leopard Creek last week, McLeod looks a player with potential and some of his form over the last few months - most notably a final-round 63 for eighth in Portugal - reads well here.
McLeod was 24th, improving throughout the event, two years ago at this course. Then, last year, he took an excellent third place courtesy of a final-round 66, without really troubling Ancer.
Also 20th in 2016, he's building an excellent record in the event and the 25-year-old, whose sole professional win came nearby, is a contender at 80/1.
Were it not for a round of 81 last Friday, enough for a missed cut in the NSW Open, I expect Micheluzzi would have been a popular selection here.
He was fifth in last year's Australian Open when still an amateur, and having been among the best unpaid golfers in the world his rise to the professional ranks was much anticipated.
Prior to last week's missed cut, in an event he actually started with a round of 68, things had gone well with back-to-back top-10 finishes. It's not inconceivable that he could get right back on the bike here.
Chun An Yu
There will be plenty of talk about Takumi Kanaya this week, the Japanese sensation who won last time out courtesy of a blistering finish in the Taiheiyo Masters, and so there should be. He's around the 50/1 mark and time may prove that to be generous, even at this early stage in his career.
However, for the more speculative there's also Chun An Yu, a top-10 amateur who qualified for the US Open back in the summer. Yu has the rare benefit, for a youngster who turned 21 in August, of having played in this event, finishing an excellent 30th in 2015.
He also has further winning form in Australia as an amateur - earlier this year, he won the Master of the Amateurs, succeeding Micheluzzi in an event won previously by Jason Day, Aaron Wise and various others of high calibre - and was fifth in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.
We're talking about a big prospect here and, again, odds of 250/1 do him a disservice in an event where an elite talent often emerges.
Posted at 1630 GMT on 02/12/19.
We are committed in our support of responsible gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.