Golf: Great Dane top value to maul Tiger in Japan.
COURSE specialist Thomas Bjorn looks the obvious eachway alternative to hotpot Tiger Woods in a star-studded Dunlop Phoenix tournament at Miyazaki, Japan - and 20-1 is cracking value after the Dane's fine showing in Shanghai at the weekend.
Twelve months ago Tiger destroyed this event as a betting medium by building up a ten-shot lead after 54 holes, finally winning by a mere eight.
It was his first strokeplay victory of a poor 2004. Poor, that is, by his standards. But 14 top-ten finishes and victory in the Accenture Match Play from 19 US starts would have been hailed as a great season if your name was Scott Verplank or Zach Johnson.
Now, after defeats by Bart Bryant and David Howell, they're starting to talk again about his frailties and his delusions.
Losing to Howell head-tohead on Sunday was bad for his macho image. His current golf is no better than it was a year ago, despite his protestations that he's pretty well got it sussed, but even that was good enough to turn the Phoenix into a rout.
Even so, fewer players are frightened of him these days and this is one of those par-70 course with only two par fives that are not supposed to suit him.
One who has faced him for four straight days and come out the victor is the enigmatic Bjorn, who finally broke Woods in Dubai a few years ago, the world No. 1 breaking the deadlock with a mad sev-en at the 72nd hole. Backing Thomas is also fraught with danger. You can never be sure his neck, his temper or his brain won't pack in, but he is looking a lot more laid-back these days and Sunday's fifth place was an enticement to support him on a course where he won in 1999 and 2003.
He shot no Tigers those weeks but he did bag two Garcias, two Westwoods, a Goosen and a Maruyama. Bjorn was also seventh to Woods last year, so this is clearly a happy hunting ground.
Some of the Woods quotes such as evens are Scrooge-like in their meanness for a man who hits so many bad shots and an insult to the very decent field assembled.
Bjorn apart, we have Jim Furyk, Michael Campbell, Colin Montgomerie, Robert Allenby and all the best homebased Japanese players headed by Shingo Katayama, a late absentee from the Taiheiyo Masters last week.
But even at 13-8 Tiger is not wonderful value even if, as we always say, he is the most likely winner by some way.
At similar odds, I would rather be on the machine called Annika Sorenstam in Florida. Not in the same class as Woods, the US-based Hidemichi Tanaka has returned to bolster hopes of a home win.
That's asking a lot but Hide has definite each-way prospects at 40-1 after a good autumn Stateside in which he saved his tour card with a late flourish. His third place in the Chrysler Championship and eighth in Las Vegas were the features of six consecutive money-earning weeks in which he ended up 49 under par for 24 rounds.
Monty claimed he was knackered last week and he certainly played a poor tournament. There's no reason to expect him to play much better in what will be his final start of the year.
K atayama, clearly top of the Japan money list, won this five years ago and is is sparkling form. He has won the Japan Open and ABC Championship in the past six weeks and only a disqualification in the Bridgestone Open has interrupted a run of form figures which other wise reads 7-4-92-3-12-3-5-1-1-5. If that doesn 't tempt you to get on each-way at 28-1 nothing will.
US Open champion Campbell played nicely enough with a top ten last week to be worth considering and the European Tour contingent are generally preferred to their US counterparts.
Jim Furyk is second favourite but wins so rarely that anything under 16-1 is probably worth swerving. He was never a factor last time out in the Tour Championship although he had an okay week. Recommendations Thomas Bjorn 1.5pts e-w 20-1 (Coral) Shingo Katayama 1pt e-w 28-1 (Coral, Stan James) Hidemichi Tanaka 1pt e-w 40-1 (Bet365, Bet Direct)
Thomas Bjorn encountered his fair share of trouble in China, but still played well overall