Australian Open Golf: Front two look a class apart but watch out for the youngsters

Brett Coletta is fast making a name for himself
Brett Coletta is fast making a name for himself

Paul Krishnamurty previews the first leg of this year's Australian triple-crown, where Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott head the field for the Australian Open...

"Curtis Luck is the reigning US Amateur champion and Brett Coletta just won the Queensland Open as an amateur...Both look set for big careers and should not be assumed to be inferior to the aforementioned Aussie rank and file."

One feature of the winter golf season is very short-priced favourites who can nonetheless make perfectly good betting sense. That is the case for this week's DP World Tour Championship, where plenty of big-hitters will be eyeing up Rory McIlroy for a third win and it is easy to make a case for the big-two in the Australian Open.

Combined, the odds about Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott equate to a 44% probability and it is hard to argue with that number. The formbook invariably stands up in Australian triple-crown events and, with all due respect to a largely home-based line-up, the front two represent a different class.

Spieth loves coming here and has finished first and second in the last two renewals. In 2014, his six-stroke victory kickstarted an incredible run that saw him land five titles, including two majors over the following year. 2016 was less productive but he arrives fresh after two month's break.

As for Scott, it seems equally unimaginable that he won't contend. Since 2010, he's only finished outside the top-five once in 13 starts in his homeland, winning three times. The last came in 2013, but he's finished second on four out of six triple-crowns since.

When Royal Sydney last staged this event in 2013, Scott and Rory McIlroy completely dominated affairs, finishing six shots clear of third placed John Senden. It is easy to imagine a similarly dual developing but I'm loathe to take short odds or pick one over the other at this pre-tournament stage.

Neither has been in winning form lately so there's no reason to assume a really fast start and we may see bigger odds emerge. Perhaps the best plan is to focus on the best of the rest now, then seek to get on the front-two at some stage in-running.

Defining just who are the best of the rest nowadays is less obvious. Due to a recent upturn in fortunes on the PGA Tour, Aussie stalwarts Rod Pampling and Geoff Ogilvy are the next most popular in the betting, along with Senden and the fast-improving Cameron Smith.

I'm not convinced about the first two though. The Shriners Open birdie-fest - where Pampling won and Ogilvy finished fourth - is nothing like an Australian Open. There will be plenty of birdies, for sure, with only average winds forecast but tree-lined Royal Sydney will present a tough test in typically firm, fast conditions.

For me, this much better favours Senden, who also won here in 2006. He can usually be relied upon to relentlessly hit greens in regulation, which is just the ticket for tough triple-crown events. If you're looking for an each-way alternative to Spieth and Scott, he fits the bill.

Smith is also interesting. This highly-rated prospect has yet to make a huge impact in triple-crowns but has played consistently well in the States recently. After finishing runner-up on the Tour, Smith registered consecutive top-11s on the PGA Tour and looks one to watch over the next month.

Also of tremendous interest are two very high-class youngsters. Curtis Luck is the reigning US Amateur champion and Brett Coletta just won the Queensland Open as an amateur. Both seem to be in great form. Luck edged out his young rival in last month's Asia-Pacific Amateur and Coletta followed up on his win with a second place.

An interesting footnote is that Aaron Baddeley won an Australian Open at Royal Sydney as an amateur, demonstrating that a breakthrough is perfectly possible at this level. Both look set for big careers and should not be assumed to be inferior to the aforementioned Aussie rank and file. Indeed, they look much better value than exposed types like Pampling at more than twice the odds.

Historically, I've found the best market to play in triple-crowns has been Top Ten Finish. These fields lack strength in depth and the cream invariably rises to the top. Whereas it might be asking a lot for anyone to compete with the front-two, this is a relatively straightforward target.

My plan is to back a four-strong portfolio - on Senden, Smith, Coletta and Luck. So long as we can get one of them into the top-ten, most of the stake will be covered, while two would yield an overall profit. This really isn't a huge ask, given how few of this line-up can boast either meaningful overseas form, or anything recent at home.

Recommended bets

Top Ten Finish

Back John Senden 8u @ 2.77/4
Back Cameron Smith 7u @ 3.02/1
Back Brett Coletta 4u @ 5.04/1
Back Curtis Luck 4u @ 5.04/1

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