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Golf: Coltart solid but there are good omens for Damien; Sports Betting.

Byline: Jeremy Chapman

AT last they've found a tournament that Andrew Coltart, one of golf's perennial bridesmaids, can win - the BMW Russian Open at the Moscow Country Club - and the Scot tees off a red-hot favourite for an event aimed at giving employment to those European Tour players not taking on Tiger and Co in the year's final Major, writes Jeremy Chapman.

The plan for this upgraded tournament has backfired with only a handful of main-tour regulars competing alongside a mass of Challenge Tour wannabes. Why the David Lynns, Steve Websters and Barry Lanes of the Tour, players who could really do with a victory however easy the pickings, cannot stir their stumps for a pounds 47,000 payday is a mystery, particularly as the course comes highly recommended.

We saw last week, with Thomas Bjorn made a very short-priced but ultimately unplaced favourite, that taking single-figure odds about golfers who are not in the habit of winning is a quick way to the poor house, so there will be no mad rush to back Coltart even at Ladbrokes' stand-out 10-1.

However, on recent form - third in Sweden, 13th in Denmark - he represents a shoo-in, particularly when you add in a seventh at The K Club and fifth at Celtic Manor over the last couple of months, and the bravehearts among you will doubtless be lumping on.

Two European wins in ten years on Tour do not do justice to Coltart's talent but that slim record underscores the pitfalls involved in backing him.

The opposition is so grim that he has to be in this week's staking plan if only as a backstop, yet enough players were close to him in Denmark on Sunday for it to be no stroll in the park for the Dumfries man.

My each-way money at 50-1 is on Ireland's Damien McGrane, a 32-year-old from Wexford who is a steady improver and was fourth to Iain Pyman on this course 12 months ago.

McGrane, only six shots behind Coltart at the weekend and a solid 24th in Malmo the week before, has come to the fore in these low-key events, making the frame in the St Omer Open, which ran alongside the last US Major, and finishing in the top 20 in Madeira in pre-Masters week.

Ahead of McGrane in Denmark was rookie pro Marcus Fraser, a young Aussie who has taken the Challenge Tour by storm by winning the Danish Open and the Finnish Challenge.

The 26-year-old from New South Wales has shown he can hack it with the bigger boys with Sunday's 25th place, a spot he shared with two of this week's contenders, Allesandro Tadini and Stephen Scahill, and his best days are still ahead of this former amateur star. He is one for your notebook.

New Zealander Scahill seems to have been around forever but he almost got his name on the main honours board when leading the Benson & Hedges at The Belfry with a round to go. He faded to finish third there but the opposition was light years ahead of this week's, so he is another for the short list.

Coltart apart, the other main-tour winners Sven Struver and Michael Jonzon need to be considered, particularly Struver, who was sixth in the Irish Open three weeks ago and followed up with 16th in Sweden.

As the German missed ten out of 15 cuts before the Open, he is dubious bet material even in this company but, equally, as a triple winner in Europe in the 1990s, he cannot be discarded.

A RASH of Littles, Stuart, Sam and Euan, all unrelated and all talented, in the line-up is confusing. Stuart is the one I particularly like as he performed with credit on the main tour last year - top tens in the Irish and Monte Carlo Opens - and played nicely at St Omer (eighth) and Madeira (14th) this year.

This is the right league for the Gloucestershire-based 36-year-old, who is twice a winner on the Challenge Tour.

Cases can also be made for Swede Johan Edfors, twice a Challenge Tour winner this year, Midlands driving-range pro Robert Rock who shone in several big main-tour events a couple of months back, Scot Andy Raitt who played well in Ireland and Denmark, promising Shaun Webster and journeymen Markus Brier, Ian Garbutt and Mark Pilkington in a tournament where so many players outside Coltart have similar ability.

Recommendations

Damien McGrane

1.5pts e-w 50-1 (Bet365)

Marcus Fraser

1pt e-w 25-1 (BlueSq, S James)

Andrew Coltart

2pts win 10-1 (Ladbrokes)

Course details

Russian Open

Venue: Le Meridien Moscow Country Club, Nakhabino

Prize money: pounds 282,000 (pounds 47,000 to winner)

Length: 7,174 yards. Par: 72

Field: 156

Course characteristics: Highly-regarded Robert Trent Jones Jr course 40 minutes from Moscow. Opened in 1988, it has been a Challenge Tour venue since 1996. Tree-lined and with a tough closing four holes, the last having been extended to a 476-yard par four

Last year: Iain Pyman won as Challenge Tour event

Course winners taking part: Michele Reale, Marco Bernardini

Course records - 72 holes: 269 Marco Bernardini (2000), Iain Pyman (2002)

Place your bets: By close of business tonight

Weather: Rainy all week, although pretty light on Friday. Temperatures mainly in low to mid-60s
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 13, 2003
Words:877
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