Trio primed for battle at Tour opener in Hawaii

HAVING been starved of tournament action for a fortnight, punters will be champing at the bit to get involved in the 2008 PGA Tour opener in Hawaii, where the new season gets underway in the shape of the limited field Mercedes-Benz Championship.

The traditional curtain-raiser to the American term is open only to winners from the 2007 tour, but with the top two in the world, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, side-stepping the event (again) and Pádraig Harrington also an absentee, it will feel a little like a false start to the campaign.

Still, with just 32 players teeing up at the tough Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui — with each-way terms a quarter the odds the first four — I always believe that this tournament represents one of the best betting opportunities of the season.

Three players look primed to battle it out for the $1.1million (€750,000) first-place prize money — Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Vijay Singh, and all of them should be backed each-way to level stakes.

It will only be the second time that last year’s Masters champion is teeing up at the par-73, 7,411-yard course, but he was so taken with the layout when finishing, an admittedly poor, 23 rd in 2005, that he vowed to take his extended family the next time he qualified for the event. So, 14 of the Johnson tribe are being treated to a week on the Pacific Islands courtesy of the 2007 Green Jacket winner.

It will surely help him on the course to have his family around him off it. And if he continues in the same vein of form he showed in post-term unofficial tournaments over the past month and a half or so, he should go close this week.

Sabbatini was last seen on a golf course at the Target World Challenge, when he withdrew from the tournament citing personal reasons before the final round. The South African doesn’t endear himself to the rest of the pros but there is no doubt he is a talented player. Since walking out of Sherwood Country Club, Sabbatini has been holidaying on Maui and should be well acclimatised to the conditions.

Second at Kapalua in 2001 and 13th last year suggest he can handle the layout.

Singh has been a standing dish for punters in this event over the years and although there are some concerns about the Fijian’s game at the moment, a saver, at least, on the champion is advised. Singh’s form figures on Maui, where he owns property, read 4-8-3-4-2-5-2-1. And although a recent swing change could hamper his progress, his course knowledge is so good he cannot be ignored this week.

Collins Picks Mercedes-Benz Championship — Zach Johnson, Rory Sabbatini and Vijay Singh.

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