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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Tiger could be tamed by plethora of young golf talent

Racing Post Sport writers select their best bets for 2018

Tiger Woods will be targeting Major success in 2018
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Golf By Ian Wilkerson

The return of Tiger Woods is one factor that has whetted the appetite for the new golfing year but the plethora of young talent battling it out for the big prizes means the game may truly be entering a golden era.

Turning 42 on Saturday, 14-time Major winner Woods may struggle to keep up, which mean prices about him edging closer to Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 are probably skinny.

Instead, bet on none of the four biggest tournaments going to extra holes at Betway's generous 9-4.

Sergio Garcia's victory over Justin Rose at The Masters this year came after a playoff, but while that was the fourth time since 2005 that the Green Jacket winner has been decided by extended play, that may not be the case in 2018.

In the other eight Augusta showdowns the winning margin has been at least two shots, while the USPGA Championship has had two playoffs since 2004, just one of the last eight Opens has been settled beyond the 72nd hole and there has been only one extra day at the US Open since 2001.

No playoff in any 2018 Major
3pts 9-4 Betway

Football by Mark Langdon

Iran are Asia's most talented side but their World Cup draw alongside Spain, Portugal and Morocco in Group B means one goal could be enough to land the top scoring honours for Team Melli in Russia.

Golden boy Sardar Azmoun is the obvious favourite, although the 22-year-old has found life rocky at Rubin in the Russian Premier League this season, scoring just once which could make him vulnerable to 14-1 shot Alireza Jahanbakhsh.

Flying winger Jahanbakhsh hit double figures for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie last season and has scored seven times in 17 outings this term.   

A Jahanbakhsh top Iran World Cup goalscorer
1pt 14-1 188Bet 

Football by Dan Williams

Everton have been heavily criticised for their scattergun summer spending spree but the one player to live up to his hefty price tag has been goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, and his consistently solid performances give him a great chance of being England's number one by the time the World Cup starts in the summer.

Pickford made his England debut against Germany in November - keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw - and England manager Gareth Southgate was at Goodison Park last week to witness another sensational Pickford performance when he shut out Chelsea despite being bombarded with shots from start to finish.

Another clean sheet against West Brom on Boxing Day made it five from his last seven in the Premier League, and the fact that Everton's defence is looking far more organised under Sam Allardyce can only be a good thing for the young goalkeeper.

Joe Hart's career is in a rut after he lost his place in the West Ham team due to some shocking errors while Jack Butland's chances are hampered by playing in a struggling Stoke side, and with Pickford looking better and better by the week he could be the answer to Southgate's problem between the posts.

J Pickford to start in goal for England v Tunisia at World Cup 2018
2pts 3-1 Betway

Rugby league By Matthew Ireland

St Helens came within seconds of making the 2017 Betfred Super League Grand Final and many pundits are tipping them to go at least one better in 2018.

After sacking club legend Kieron Cunningham halfway through the season, Saints made impressive progress under new man Justin Holbrook to reach the playoff semi-finals, where they suffered an agonising golden-point defeat to Castleford.

The five-time Grand Final winners begin their 2018 campaign at home to the wounded Tigers and if they are successful they look to have a great chance of stealing a march on their rivals.

Their next three outings are away at Catalans, Huddersfield and at home to Salford - who all finished eighth or lower in 2017 - before a derby with a much-changed Warrington. Quotes of 9-1 about them winning all five look reasonable.

St Helens to win first five Super League matches
1pt 9-1 Betfred

Rugby union By Graham Woods

The highlight of 2018 could be the Twickenham showdown between England and New Zealand, the top-ranked teams in the world, and the first meeting since 2014.

Dual world champions New Zealand have looked unstoppable, and the consensus is that only England look realistic contenders to their crown in 2019, a view that Joe Schmidt and Ireland will hotly contest.

It's 6-4 with Betway that the All Blacks go through the year unbeaten, and 7-1 that England achieve that feat.

In the club game the best bet could be the 11-8 that an Irish side lifts the European Champions Cup.

Leinster and Munster have both lifted the trophy before and are looking comfortable for a home quarter-final, and while French challengers Clermont and La Rochelle are in the mix they both lack some of that sharp-end experience, while Saracens and Toulon, winners of the last five trophies between them, may have left themselves too much to do.

Irish team to win European Champions Cup
2pts 11-8 BoyleSports

Tennis by Adrian Humphries

Maria Sharapova should be looking to make a statement after returning from a lengthy drugs ban in April 2017 and the Siberian is worth an interest to win at least a couple of titles in 2018.

Bet365 make Sharapova a 5-6 chance to do that - she is the same price to win one or no titles - and it's worth backing her to show her class in at least two events.

She's top class on any surface so could come good at any time in the season, and the way Sharapova triumphed in Tianjin in early October, when she did not drop a set on the way to claiming the trophy, suggests a return to tennis's top echelon is possible.

Sharapova is 30 years old and ranked 59th in the WTA pre-season chart, but she should be hungry for further success after her enforced hiatus.

M Sharapova over 1.5 tournament wins
1pt 5-6 bet365

Formula One By Phil Agius

Five drivers won F1 races last season - both Mercedes drivers, both Red Bulls and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel - and it's worth taking an odds-against price that at least four reach the top step of the podium in 2018.

The formguide doesn't look so great for overs backers in the previous three years, which each saw only three individual winners, but there were five in 2013 and eight in 2012, which is an interesting season to consider.

That was the year when there were major changes to tyre compounds which caused upset results, such as Pastor Maldonado's 500-1 win in Spain, and Pirelli have widened the spectrum of tyres they will be bringing to races this year, introducing new hypersoft and superhard tyres and offering a broader selection at each event.

Draconian penalties for breaching engine component rules could leave the frontrunners in tough starting spots in some heats and a calendar that could see as many as 21 races gives overs backers a great chance.

Four or more grand prix winners
2pts 6-4 bet365

Cricket by Max Oram

Betway look way too big at 33-1 about a new fastest T20 international hundred being hit in 2018.

Okay,when South Africa's David Miller cracked a new low, reaching his 100 in 35 balls against Bangladesh, it had taken five years to eclipse the previous best of 45 held by Richard Levi.

But Rohit Sharma equalled Miller's effort against Sri Lanka last week and the general trend has been towards more T20 tons being tonked by a wider range of individuals than just all-time greats such as Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers and Rohit and from lower in the order not just the opening berths.

There were six T20 tons in 2016 and seven this year and new West Indies young gun Evin Lewis, who smacked England for 176 in a September ODI, and Black Caps middle-order man Colin Munro each hammered two. Indeed, six of the 11 fastest T20 tons have come in the last two years.

The proliferation of domestic T20 tournaments means that limited-overs specialists keep themselves ticking over for when international matches come around and these games tend to be on flat pitches at smaller venues, with entertainment almost the singular aim.

And the 50-over game is also getting more geared to aerial, attacking batting even if it is two years since de Villiers walloped his 31-ball ton against the Windies.

New fastest T20 hundred in 2018
1pt 33-1 Betway

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Turning 42 on Saturday, 14-time Major winner Woods may struggle to keep up
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