After going 0-for-2 in picking winners of the first two PGA Tour events of the season in Hawaii, I’m glad the Tour is starting the California Swing this week with the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation at PGA West in La Quinta. It’s a solid field led by Phil Mickelson in his 2013 debut. And Lefty usually fares well on the California Swing.
Last week, someone named Russell Henley looked like Ben Hogan with a final-round 7-under 63 to win the Sony Open in Hawaii at 24-under 256, the third-best score for a 72-hole tournament in PGA Tour history. I follow golf for a living: I have no idea who Russell Henley is. He became the first player in 12 years to win in his debut as a PGA Tour rookie – he played two tournaments previously as an amateur.
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Actually, my top value pick to win last week was a solid choice: Charles Howell III (22/1) finished tied for third, seven shots behind Henley. It was Howell’s seventh Top-5 finish in 12 starts at the Sony. I also liked Tim Clark at 25/1, and he finished runner-up by three shots. On the Top-5 props I hit “yes” on Howell III (+550) and “no” on Dustin Johnson (-325), Keegan Bradley (-550) and Webb Simpson (-550). Missed on yes for Zach Johnson (+450) and no on Matt Kuchar (-550).
It won’t be too often I will preview a European Tour event, but I am going to shift my focus this week to the United Arab Emirates for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. It’s the season debut for the world’s top two players, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods. These two stars have become fast friends and now are pseudo co-workers. McIlroy just signed a mammoth endorsement deal with Nike, which, of course, made its first golf splash on a young Tiger. Yeah, that was a pretty good investment. Reports are that McIlroy got a whopping $200 million deal, and there’s a great new commercial featuring McIlroy and Tiger.
You can see the duo go head-to-head as they will be paired with three-time Abu Dhabi winner and former No. 1 Martin Kaymer for the first two rounds – the group is set to tee off at 10:40 p.m. ET Wednesday night for Round 1 and at 3:05 a.m. ET Friday for the second round. Somehow, Tiger and McIlroy never played an official round together until this tournament a year ago, when they played three. Overall, the two played eight official rounds together in the 2012 season along with a few exhibitions.
McIlroy is making a potentially dangerous move of switching equipment (from Titleist) after a year that saw him win the money titles on both tours, joining Luke Donald (2011) as the only player to accomplish that. Six-time major winner Nick Faldo has been among those voicing that McIlroy could be playing with fire.
Tiger, meanwhile, seems to be ready to finally add a 15th major this season. He was probably the world’s second-best player a year ago with three wins. However, he never really was in contention at the Masters, and weekend troubles cost him the U.S. Open when Tiger led halfway through. I almost think Tiger is reveling in the fact that McIlroy has stolen the alpha male spotlight from him. It should fuel Woods in a big way. Tiger is making the long trip this weekend because he gets a mammoth appearance fee, something the PGA Tour doesn’t allow. Woods will make his PGA Tour debut next week at Torrey Pines.
European Tour Golf Odds: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Favorites
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you who the Bovada favorites are: McIlroy (9/2) and Woods (6/1). McIlroy has had a great run at this tournament. He has played five times and hasn’t been worse than 11th, with two runner-ups. That includes last year when he finished a shot behind virtual unknown Robert Rock. Tiger played for the first time a year ago and held a share of the lead heading into the final round before finishing tied for third, two shots behind Rock.
Kaymer is next at 9/1. The German is the man who holed the winning Ryder Cup putt at Medinah last fall. Kaymer’s play at this event makes McIlroy’s look ordinary. Kaymer won in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and finished runner-up in 2009. He didn’t win a European Tour event last year, missing the cut here, with a best finish T5 at the Italian Open in September. His last victory came at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions at the end of 2011.
The favorites are rounded out by world. No. 5 Justin Rose (14/1) and the only other American in the field, Jason Dufner (22/1). Both are playing here for the first time. Rose closed 2012 strong with a victory at the eight-man Turkish Airlines World Finals in October and finishing runner-up at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Dufner won twice on the PGA Tour a year ago.
European Tour Golf Odds: Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship Picks
On the Top-5 props, I like yes on McIlroy (-115) and Kaymer (+220) but no on Tiger (-170), Rose (-450) and Dufner (-750). Head-to-head, take McIlroy (-120) over Tiger (-110) and Rose (-110) over Kaymer (-120).
My best value on the board to win is another rising young star: Italy’s Matteo Manassero at 40/1. In his past four European tournaments, Manassero has three Top-10 finishes, including a win in Singapore. He’s the next McIlroy and finished T6 in this tournament last year. But the pick is Peter Hanson at 25/1. The Swede has won two of his past five tournaments and finished fourth in the Race to Dubai in 2012. Hanson has two Top-10 finishes in this tournament, with a best of T2 in 2007.
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