Couples in great form for solid US Senior Open tilt
Weekend win has come at the right time for Boom Boom
Sky Sports 4 red button, 7pm Thursday
Tournament starts midday
Bernhard Langer's quest for a third straight Champions Tour Major has increased significantly with the non-appearance of Steve Stricker at the Senior US Open at Salem Country Club, Massachusetts.
Stricker has played six of the last seven weeks, multi-tasking in two as host or ambassador at the US Open and last week's American Family Insurance tournament, both in his home state of Wisconsin, and is too exhausted to bid for the main event on the senior calendar.
So Langer lines up as 5-1 favourite, a point ahead of Sunday's winner Freddie 'Boom Boom' Couples, usually a great pessimist but bubbling with confidence and chuffed with the state of his game after a lay-off of almost two months.
This pair are entitled to dominate as Miguel Angel Jimenez is not the golfer he used to be and has tossed away several chances, Colin Montgomerie is not the man who won three senior Majors in his first two years of being eligible, and Vijay Singh remains an enigma.
To be fair to Monty, he has been injured and may yet rule the roost again but seems to have a full life with his TV job and business interests.
Singh has yet to win anything bar a pairs event in the over-50s even though still capable of picking up big cheques on the main tour. He is proving expensive to follow but did run Langer right to the wire in the last major, the Senior PGA. On the strength of that, he is given one more chance.
The Senior Open brings a rare competitive sighting of Sir Nick Faldo and also in the line-up is the great Tom Watson, 68 in September but with a swing and speed of play that has barely changed.
Neither is likely to contend but David Toms and Jerry Kelly, both in their first season among their elders, Scott McCarron and recent winner Brandt Jobe won't lie down without a fight.
Jobe looks a tad overpriced at 33-1 now he has won again after a 19-year gap. He is a limited plodder but can be a lethal putter.
Langer is chasing his tenth senior major and is laying claim to being the greatest over-50 golfer of all time. Three times a winner this campaign with four more top-four finishes beside his name, it is only twice in ten outings that he's been worse than sixth.
Couples is less predictable and much depends on his putting nerve but both men are on a roll. Langer is under the greater pressure as winning three consecutive majors would be an extraordinary achievement but the German has always thrived on challenges.
Couples is excited about playing "very, very well" again and at 6-1 looks impossible to kick out of the frame. Toms has been slower than expected making a senior impact but a sixth and seventh in the first two majors are a warning he's ready to strike and at 25-1 he could be the each-way bet along with Vijay and the underrated Jobe.
2.5pts each-way 6-1 general
1pt each-way 33-1 general
1pt each-way 25-1 Ladbrokes, Coral
1pt each-way at 18-1 Ladbrokes, Coral
Course Salem Country Club, Peabody, Massachusetts
Prize money $4m ($720,000 to the winner)
Length 6,916 yards Par 72 Field 156
When to bet By midday Thursday
Where to watch Sky Sports 4 from 7pm
Time difference Massachusetts is five hours behind UK and Ireland
Last week - American Family Insurance Championship 1 F Couples, 2 S Verplank, T3 S Stricker, J Durant, 5 P Broadhurst
Course overview Designed by the legendary Donald Ross in 1925, it has hosted one Senior Open, won by steady Bruce Fleisher in 2001. He beat Isao Aoki and Gil Morgan by one and Jack Nicklaus by two. Rolling fairways, difficult rough, plenty of water and stances that are rarely level are the order of the day at this medium-length parkland layout.
Story of last year In a Monday finish brought about by regular weather delays in normal time, Gene Sauers, who spent seven years out of the game with a rare skin disorder, prevailed by one at Scioto, Ohio. It was his first Champions Tour victory after Miguel Angel Jimenez threw it away.
Weather forecast The good news is that it will be very warm (27-30C); the bad - it will probably rain every day. Shades of last year when they had to run to a Monday finish.
Type of player suited to challenge As it's the national Open, the USGA will want it to be a proper test, so look for narrow fairways and fast greens. Precision iron play will be required
Key attribute Accuracy