Australian Open 2017: Spieth and Day are a class apart but there's value elsewhere

Jordan Spieth is hot favourite to retain the title
Jordan Spieth is hot favourite to retain the title

Paul Krishnamurty previews the opening leg of the Australian triple-crown, where Jordan Spieth bids to win the Stonehaven Cup for the third time in four years...

"Between them, Spieth and Day take out nearly 50% of the book, inevitably creating each-way value elsewhere, so that should be our focus for now. There should be plenty of time to cover on the big-two in-running, unless they both get off to a flyer."

Throughout most of the golfing calendar, the idea of a 9-4 favourite would be mocked by value seekers. Save perhaps the odd co-sanctioned Race to Dubai event, the two main tours are simply too competitive for anyone to genuinely hold a 30% chance of winning. During the winter, however, it is perfectly normal and actually often proves to be good value.

Nowhere more so than Australia, where the annual triple-crown is usually dominated by the very small number of world-class players in attendance. The Australian Open - which kicks off this year's series - perfectly illustrates the point. The historic rollcall of past champions is packed with legends - Locke, Thomson, Nicklaus, Player, Norman, Watson.

More recently, Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy have won three of the last four renewals and, naturally, both were prohibitive betting options. And when a world-class overseas raider hasn't prevailed, usually one of the leading Aussies filled the void - Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy, Peter Lonard and John Senden shared six of eight Open titles between 2003 and 2010.

The explanation, which also applies to the forthcoming PGA and Masters, involves the strength of opposition and nature of the challenges. While these are prestigious titles, Aussie fields always lack depth. Moreover the venues are among the best in the world - always providing stern, almost majors-style tests where the cream is bound to rise to the top.

Spieth and Day dominate the market

In the last three years, that has been Jordan Spieth. The world number two pre-empted his miraculous 2015 campaign with a runaway victory at The Australian - which hosts again this year - lost a play-off here in 2015, then reclaimed the Stonehaven Cup at Royal Sydney. Unarguable credentials which are only strengthened by his recent form. Jordan hasn't won in six starts since the Open Championship in July, but he has been runner-up twice among a quartet of top-sevens.

Given this steep drop in grade, Spieth's chance is rock-solid but is he a good value bet? It is possible to manufacture arguments against. He was only due to arrive in Australia this morning and will be without his long-time caddy. Plus he has a genuine world-class rival in Jason Day, who makes his first home appearance in four years and is talking a good game.

Regardless of any potential negatives, I would estimate Spieth's chance at least at 30% and am certainly not a layer. Only Day inhabits the same golfing universe - third best Cameron Smith is ranked 99th in the world. Nevertheless this isn't a price to take pre-tournament, especially when there are so many alternative betting opportunities.

Between them, Spieth and Day take out nearly 50% of the book, inevitably creating each-way value elsewhere, so that should be our focus for now. There should be plenty of time to cover on the big-two in-running, unless they both get off to a flyer.

Moreover, not too many others make much appeal. Smith is in form but way too short at 12.011/1. Matt Jones remains the only player to have bettered Spieth in Australia but, after a horrible season, is in nothing like the form of 2015. Ogilvy hasn't been showing much at all in the States and has a relatively poor record at The Australian.

Rod Pampling's course and tournament record - 4/4/2 in the last three Opens - warrants the utmost respect but his US form this year is dire, with only one top-40 finish. Likewise regular triple-crown contender Brett Rumford has gone badly off the boil since winning a February win at the World Super 6 Perth and showed no better on two low-grade warm-ups in his homeland.

It wouldn't be a surprise if either were to suddenly improve as they have during previous triple-crowns and both Pampling and Rumford made my shortlist. However I'd rather go for youth, promise, good recent form and better odds. The following quintet are worth backing each-way or in my favourite triple-crown markets - Top 10 and Top 20 Finish. Given the aforementioned lack of depth, these really aren't stiff targets.

Beyond the obvious

Spieth's old room-mate at university Kramer Hickok is attracting plenty of attention after dominating the Canadian Tour. Since the beginning of July, he has two wins and three second places on that tour, and opened well in Australia with sixth place in last week's NSW Open - ruining his chance with a 75 on Saturday. The fact he's taken so much longer to emerge than wonderkid Spieth is irrelevant. At 25, he's still young and clearly has potential.

Curtis Luck was once the world's leading amateur and remains a top prospect, albeit inconsistent during this early stage of his career. He started very well here last year before fading to 11th and showed promising bits and pieces on the main tours. Luck has already won in his homeland and, following a month off, is fancied to go well.

Nick Cullen lacks their potential and his form on the European Challenge Tour is ordinary, if consistent. However he is another who seems to step up a gear when returning home. A former Aussie Masters winner, Cullen has finished top-11 in the last two Opens and top-15 in the last two Perth events. He's precisely the type to follow in finishing position markets.

Travis Smyth followed in the footsteps of Luck and Aaron Baddeley by becoming a winning amateur at September's Northern Territory PGA. Last week saw his professional debut and a respectable 11th place. That, along with other highlights as an amateur, suggest obvious potential and youngsters often thrive in these challenging tests.

Finally Rhein Gibson is another who made an impact as an amateur, finishing fourth in the 2013 renewal, and he's continued to catch the eye in these events. In six further triple-crown appearances as a pro, he's managed four top-20s and a couple of top-tens. He's not enjoyed a great season in the States but 25th in the Dunhill Links on his penultimate start reads well enough.

Recommended bets

Back Kramer Hickok 1u e/w @ 40/1
Back Curtis Luck 1u e/w @ 45/1
Back Travis Smyth 0.5u e/w @ 80/1

Top 20 Finish

Back Kramer Hickok 6u @ 6/4
Back Nick Cullen 5u @ 7/4

Top 10 Finish

Back Curtis Luck 3u @ 7/2
Back Nick Cullen 3u @ 9/2
Back Rhein Gibson 3u @ 9/2
Back Travis Smyth 2u @ 6/1

Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty

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