After a series of near-misses, Rory McIlroy is all the rage with punters on his return to the scene of his first ever title. Paul Krishnamurty weighs up the pros and cons of a short-priced bet...
"Rory is superior to those players, but not overwhelming so in the way Tiger used to dominate opponents. Hence why he hasn't won since August, despite playing great golf...finding each-way alternatives is a better value option."
It's a clear sign of the times that, for the first time in nearly 20 years, Tiger Woods' seasonal debut is not the biggest golf betting story of the week.
While the greatest player ever to pick up a club is an easy to back 25.024/1 chance to win the Phoenix Open, all the money is for his successor as golf's top dog to win the Dubai Desert Classic.
As was always the case with Tiger, the question now is whether 4.67/2 about Rory McIlroy represents good or poor value.
The case in favour is compelling. Although McIlroy hasn't won since the USPGA in August, he has finished runner-up on four of his last five starts and looked very close to his best last time, hitting a remarkable 89% of greens in regulation. Given his superb first round record, particularly here, the chances are he'll trade shorter than the starting price at some point.
Moreover, we know he loves the course. The Emirates was the scene of his first title in 2009 and he's never missed a top-10 since. His last seven opening rounds here were sub-70, at an average of just over 66. Indeed Rory's record in the UAE is virtually flawless, only finishing worse than 11th once since 2008. Quite simply, he must contend and that means 4.67/2 will represent value at some point.
Nevertheless, for all the stats and short-term in-play trading potential, there is another side to this argument. 4.67/2 is about as short as imaginable nowadays in an event of this stature - at his peak Tiger would have been around 3.55/2 during an era when there was less strength in depth.
Nor are Rory's impeccable Dubai claims unique by any means. There are at least a dozen high-class players for whom a good case to be made. Using similar statistical justifications, it would be easy to recommend an each-way bet on Henrik Stenson, Martin Kaymer or Lee Westwood. Stephen Gallacher's recent course record reads 1/1/2. In any case, none of the last five Dubai renewals were won by elite players.
Yes, Rory is superior to those players, but not overwhelming so in the way Tiger used to dominate opponents. Hence why he hasn't won since August, despite playing great golf. That doesn't make him a good lay option by any means but, for my money, finding each-way alternatives is a better value option.
The way Stenson finished in Abu Dhabi suggested an imminent return to the form that secured the last two DP World Tour Championships on a similar style of layout against similar opposition. Likewise, Westwood's win on his final 2015 start in Thailand bodes well returning to a track where's he's finished top-five in three of his last four visits, twice as runner-up.
Preference, however, is for Kaymer. One should always take a long view in golf betting and be prepared to brush off some of the crazy things that happen. Kaymer's failure to convert a ten-shot lead in Abu Dhabi remains unbelievable a fortnight after it happened. Nothing like that has ever happened in his career before, and previously his nerveless temperament was famous.
Few players ever have a greater conversion rate when in contention and I'm expecting the reigning Players and US Open champion to bounce back immediately, determined to show his true colours. Though yet to win here, Kaymer's Emirates record from five visits is excellent, finishing 2/4/4 on his first three attempts and never worse than 13th. On those numbers, the four to one place part of his each-way odds must rival Rory's shorter win odds in terms of value.
Back Martin Kaymer 2u ew @ 16/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)