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Golf: Go for Bo against an old force in decline.

Byline: STEVE PALMER

FORMEROpenchampion Mark Calcavecchia probably thinks he should have won at River Highlands by now - he has had countless chances to claim the Greater Hartford Open crown, but it has always eluded him.

The 11-time US Tour winner was fourth in the 1989 GHO, runner-up the following year, and had three further top-five finishes in the late-1990s.

But the Hartford event, now known as the Buick Championship, has brought Calcavecchia nothing but despair, and it is hard to imagine him ending this week with his hands on the silverware.

Calc has not performed so well at River Highlands this millennium and Ladbrokes may have based their decision to pair the chunky American in a 10-11-your-choice Buick match with the progressive Bo Van Pelt on old form with little relevance. These days Van Pelt should be favourite every week.

Calcavecchia missed the cut at River Highlands last year and was 52nd in 2003. The 45year-old is not a perennial challenger in Hartford like he used to be.

It is four years since Calc won a tour event and his 2005 campaign to date does not suggest victory No. 12 is around the corner. Just three top tens in 21 events this year is worrying form from the 1989 Open hero and he may be in decline.

Van Pelt's career is heading the other way - he made the each-way places three times last year in his rookie season and he has kicked on this term with fifth spot in the Zurich Classic and third in The Memorial. It can only be a matter of time before he bags a maiden win.

After three weeks with his feet up, Van Pelt finished 17th in the USPGA, and he looks primed to better the 21st spot he managed on his River Highlands debut 12 months ago.

Three bookmakers have made stablemates Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood Buick match opponents and the Ulsterman looks the most likely winner.

A key aspect to succeeding at River Highlands is having the ability to scramble pars. The tiny greens resemble upturned saucers and the ball often runs off the edges. The weakest department of Westwood's game has always been pitching and chipping around the greens and he may not enjoy his first experience of the course.

Fellow debutant Clarke is much more of a feel player with magic in his hands, so he islikely to get up and down more often.

Justin Rose was second for greens in regulation at River Highlands last year, but the dancefloors bemused him and he finished in 71st place. With lessons learnt from that debut spin and confidence boosted by finishing 15th in Reno on Sunday, Rose looks fair value at 19-10 to beat Tim Clark and Omar Uresti today.

Recommendations B Van Pelt to bt M Calcavecchia 5pts 10-11 (Ladbrokes)

D Clarke to bt L Westwood5pts 10-11 (Hills, Skybet, Stan James)

J Rose to win threeball 2pts 19-10 (Hills)

Already advised outright Zach Johnson 4pts 20-1 (Bet Direct) Jason Gore 1pt each-way 50-1 (Coral) Jason Bohn 1pt each-way 50-1 (general) Todd Fischer 1pt each-way 66-1 (general)

course details

Buick Champioship

Venue: TPC at River Highlands, Cromwell, Connecticut Prize money: $4.3m ($774,000 to winner) Length: 6,820 yards. Par: 70. Field: 156 Course characteristics: River Highlands hosted 13 Greater Hartford Opens before the tournament became the Buick Championship last year. The course is not particularly taxing, but there are only two par-fives (the 574-yard sixth and the 523-yard 13th). In-running punters should note that the 296-yard par-four 15th can be a pivotal hole with the green well in range. The 444-yard par-four 18th is a seriously testing finishing hole. The putting surfaces are smaller than usual and many slope away from the holes, often leaving competitors with plenty of scrambling to do around the greens Defending champion: Woody Austin (previous six 2004 outings: MC-46MC -24-62-8)

Other course winners taking part: Notah Begay, Brent Geiberger,

Olin Browne, David Frost

Course records - 72 holes: 260 Begay (2000); 18 holes: 61 Kirk Triplett(2000), Phil Mickelson (2001), Scott Verplank (2001)

Place your bets: By 1pm todayTV: Live on Sky all four days starting at 9pm tonight on Sky Sports 2 Weather: Hot and humid. No thunderstorms forecast until Sunday Time difference: Connecticut is five hours behind UK time
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 25, 2005
Words:717
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