Westwood and Garcia look the best bets to taste success at St. George’s

THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP
TOMORROW - From 9am, BBC Two

IF you’re thinking of heading to the Kent countryside for a relaxing break this weekend, forget it. You’ll struggle to find a room anywhere in Garden of England as from Thursday, the small port town of Sandwich — population 6,800 — plays host to the 140th Open Championship.

An expected 40,000 spectators a day will descend on Royal St. George’s Golf Club to see the world’s best, including US Open winner and 8/1 tournament favourite with William Hill, Rory McIlroy, scrap it out over the sand dunes to win golf’s most coveted trophy.

In Tiger Woods’ absence, Ulsterman McIlroy will be the man most under the media spotlight. Although I don’t disagree with those that have suggested his US Open win at Congressional will be the first of many major victories, he must deal with the pressures of being a major champion for the first time. Just ask Martin Kaymer, the reigning PGA champion, or Graeme McDowell, last year’s US Open winner, how difficult it can be to cope with the attention.

Betdaq are promising to refund commission on all Open markets if McIlroy or joint-second favourites Luke Donald or LEE WESTWOOD, available at 13.0 (12/1) on the exchange, win. Of the three market leaders, the ‘Worksop Wonder’ appeals most. Donald’s short game is the best of the bunch, but he did himself no favours by winning the Scottish Open on Sunday as no winner of that event has gone on to lift the Claret Jug the following week.

Westwood always seems to hit form at the right time and his major record, particularly at the Open, is difficult to argue against. He finished second at St. Andrew’s last year and tied for third at Turnberry in 2009, while in the two year period since he has also recorded a tied-third in the PGA Championship (2009), a second in the Masters (2010) and another tied-third in the US Open (2011). He has finished in the top 15 in each of his last eight starts and the time is right for Westwood to lose his ‘best player to have never won a major’ tag.

Spaniard SERGIO GARCIA has had a rough few years, culminating in missing out on a place in Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team in October, but he appears to be back on the ball in time to make the most of his trip to Royal St. George’s. The British public love him and he loves this event. In the last 11 years, Garcia has missed the cut just once and finished in the top 10 seven times — including his tied-10th at Royal St. George’s in 2003. He finished seventh at the recent US Open and missed out in a playoff on his last outing at the BMW International. He’s one of the best ball strikers around and I have a hunch he will also benefit from being grouped with the supremely calm Luke Donald and the exuberant Ryo Ishikawa. He’s a great each-way prospect at 30/1 with Paddy Power, who are paying seven places.

Six of the last 10 Open Championships have been won by US representatives, but I can’t see the Americans ruining the party this weekend. The advantage of bombers such as Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson is diminished due to a dry and bouncy track and a high rough but I reckon STEVE STRICKER might come close. He is one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour and will be aided on the fast and true greens by his masterful putting stroke. He has made the top 10 twice in the Open and is worth backing to be top US player at 11.5 (around 10/1) on Betdaq.

The conditions open up the prospect of a few big outsiders troubling the leaderboard and you could do far worse than selling veteran TOM WATSON’S finishing position at 61 (maximum make-up 70). With five Open victories to his name, none in the field could claim to be so adept over links despite his advancing years. Many will remember Watson’s shock second place finish two years ago and although he missed the cut in both 2008 and 2010, he did so by the narrowest of margins both times. A repeat of his performance at Royal St. George’s in 2003, when he finished T18, would pay a handsome profit.

There won’t be a Punter on Friday, but we’ll be returning for the start of the England v India Test series next Thursday.

POINTERS...

Lee Westwood at 13.0 (12/1) on Betdaq
Sergio Garcia e/w at 30/1 with Paddy Power
Steve Stricker to be Top US player at 11.5 (10/1) on Betdaq
Sell Tom Watson’s finishing position at 61 with Sporting Index

TIPS FROM THE TOP WITH
PADDY POWER

WE’VE already taken more money on 7/1 favourite Rory McIlroy than any other player in the tournament and Northern Ireland’s hero looks certain to break a record I would rather he didn’t. Such is the talent of Rory, and the popularity, he will almost certainly shatter Padraig Harrington’s record of costing us more money than any other sportsman in history and could well add to his tally this week on a course that could suit the Boy Wonder.

England’s Westwood and Donald are also proving irresistible for punters at 11/1 but with Paddy Power paying each way on the first seven places (seriously, why would you bet elsewhere if they are only paying five places?) who else is attracting the money?

Punters looking beyond the top three are taking a warm fancy to the likes of Australian Jason Day and Sergio Garcia at 40/1 and 30/1, respectively and I certainly like the look of Day at those odds for a top seven finish.