Another Graceland?

Features

Branden Grace has the chance this week to become the first owner of back-to-back Alfred Dunhill Links Championship titles – but the defending champion isn’t the bookies favourite.

That title has been given to Germany’s Martin Kaymer who, at 20/1, tops the field for this always intriguing pro-am event in which players alternate between St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns for the first three rounds before a select group of 60 professionals and 20 amateurs who have made the cut head back to the cradle of golf, St Andrews, for the fourth and final rounds of the professional and pro-am contests.

Close behind Kaymer on the bookies list of favoured golfers are South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel at 22/1, three Englishmen, Paul Casey, Ross Fisher and Simon Dyson at 25/1 followed by two more South African’s, Ernie Els at 28/1 and Richard Sterne at 30/1.

Grace is also a 30/1 shot with some bookies, but others have him at 35/1 which, in my book at least, makes for a rather appealing bet.

The 25-year-old is clearly not in the same kind of form as he was last year when he arrived at St Andrews with three European Tour titles already under his belt, but while the 2012 four-time winner has yet to win another title this year, he has earned more than a million Euros on the 2013 European Tour.

He finished in second place in the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, tied for third at the Volvo Match Play championship, tied for sixth at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and tied for seventh at the Volvo Golf Championship.

His heroics in the Dunhill Links last year and his second-place finish in the Scottish Open this year indicate that he has an affinity for Scottish Links courses and his 18th place at the Masters also tells you he can handle the intense pressure of the kind you are put under at Augusta National, so don’t count him out.

And Kaymer? Like Grace, he has yet to win in Europe in a season he is splitting between Europe and the USA, but he has picked up five top 10 finishes in the 12 events he has played in Europe.

It may also be significant that three of those came in quick succession at the start of the year before he headed for the USA, where he made two top 10s in 17 starts.

I say significant because it might well indicate that the former PGA Champion is more at home in Europe than he is Sates side and that his American form may not be a true indication of what he is capable of on the other side of the big pond.

What might also be significant is that the 29-year-old six footer from Mettmann is, along with Grace and the likes of Dyson, Padraig Harrington, Paul Lawrie and Colin Montgomerie, one of the former winners in this week’s field for in short it means he knows what to expect and how to play it.

But in a competition featuring most of the cream of Europe’s Tour professionals, one or two hot-shot US PGA Tour campaigners like Dustin Johnson, 14 former major winners and many of the greatest names in sport including knighted stars Sir Ian Botham, Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Steve Redgrave, rugby greats like Morne du Plessis, Gavin Hastings, Schalk Burger and Rob Louw, cricket celebrities such as Andrew Strauss, Steve Waugh and Shane Warne, football legends of the calibre of Johan Cruyff and Ruud Gullit and show business celebs such as Andy Garcia, Bill Murray, Hugh Grant and Huey Lewis, there are many unusual influences that will be brought to bear and the favourites might not necessarily be this week’s front runners.

In fact its very possible that the bookies favourites could be upstaged by some of the fast-rising young guns in the field, notably players like Britain’s Tommy Fleetwood and Danny Willett, the USA’s Peter Uihlein, Denmark’s Thorbjørn Olesen or Austria’s Bernd Wiesberger.

I won’t underestimate the possibilities of Dustin Johnson or Padraig Harrington bringing their A-Games to the contest and sweeping the likes of Kaymer, Schwartzel, Casey, Fisher, Els and Dyson off their feet.

For as I’ve indicated, anything is possible in an event like this.

NOTE: To see the full draw on the official Alfred Dunhill Links Championship web site, you should click here.

The bookmakers’ favourites:

Following were the top 20 favourites on Bet365 at midday on Tuesday: For all the odds you should go to Oddschecker.com.

Martin Kaymer 20
Charl Schwartzel 25
Paul Casey 25
Ross Fisher 25
Ernie Els 28
Simon Dyson 25
Richard Sterne 30
Joost Luiten 30
Bernd Wiesberger 33
Branden Grace 30
Stephen Gallacher 33
Shane Lowry 40
Louis Oosthuizen 40
Peter Uihlein 50
Tommy Fleetwood 50
Victor Dubuisson 50
Danny Willett 45
Thorbjorn Olesen 45
Paul Lawrie 45
Brooks Koepka 55
Alvaro Quiros 66

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