- Oliver Lindell 0.50 points each-way @ 55/1
- Victor Perez 1 point win only @ 14/1
- Daan Huizing 1 point win only @ 22/1
- Borja Virto 0.50 points each-way @ 60/1
- Charlie Saxon 1 point win only @ 28/1
- Cao Yi 1 point win only @ 25/1
*All prices from Bet365
That was a fun few weeks!
Just as well that a super Masters is fresh in the memory and removes the nagging failure of our number one bet at the Kenyan Open. Standing on the 10th tee, a par5, Sebastian Soderberg had a two shot lead on a hole on which he was already 4-under for the week. What followed was a disastrous back-9 score of 39, plummeting him down to only a share of 6th place and two shots off the lead. Given a score of 2-over would have got him into an eventual play-off, the result hurt a lot.
Still, time is a great healer and, suitably refreshed we are back with an even bigger challenge.
Whilst the Challenge Tour has regular events in China (often one and nowadays a couple) they appear well down the fixture list, taking place towards the end of season. For the form pundit, players have more-or-less sorted out any swing issues and the like and are twenty-plus events into the year judging how they need to attack the final few tournaments and perhaps even thinking about the finale, or what to do next year.
This time we have a new event on a new course, taking place after a three week break and only after one event. That may not be the best target so early in the year but it should also be noted that this course has been used for a few years on the PGA China and there is evidence to suggest this will be a low scoring week even if taking place on a highly regarded track.
I’ve had to look at this fairly methodically and have to believe that experience in China is a huge advantage. Indeed two of this week’s more progressive players have commented as such – multiple winner at a lower level German Nicolai von Dellingshause commented on the Challenge Tour website that ”playing in China last year will help me when I return this year. I was able to get to know the culture because for Western Europeans it can be different”, whilst newbie (and quietly fancied, just missed the cut) Callum Tarren told The Northern Echo in 2016 that “It was a bit different out there. I was based in Kunming and that was a connecting flight from Beijing, and the food was a bit dodgy. I will have to get used to that, I was having chow mein and eggs for breakfast; I don’t think I can be doing that every day.”
Whilst that is clearly the worst that can happen there is no doubt that for many of these younger players, the culture change will be hard to get used to and it may be prudent just to take note of those that bubble under the top positions and that will improve for the experience.
So thats criteria number one and there are a few players that played both Hainan and Foshan on the list but I note also that of the three winners there in the past two years have form in Spain whilst there is remarkable similarity in results in Italy and at Le Vaudreuill , both high quality events at quality courses.
Of the four winners mentioned (two each at the tracks at the end of the year) Knappe, Armitage, Farr and Van Rooyen were all top-16 at the French track whilst the Welshman tied his fellow winner with a 12th in the Italian Challenge.
Of course nothing is certain and this may be a wrong path, but I’m happy to believe it is the basis for a tough selecting week and there are a number of contenders based on what may be genius or foolish. You choose.
I can forgive our ante-post bet, Oliver Lindell, his low finish in Kenya. The course was never sure to suit and it was just a late offer from one bookmaker that forced the bet. The usual shenanigans with airlines losing his clubs couldn’t have helped him with any practise before they were re-united but in every respect he is a far better player than that.
The usual ramblings are on the ante-post article and in the Kenya preview so whilst I won’t go over it all this is clearly a player of immense promise and a proven multiple winner one rung down. He had a few chances in his maiden season and this year will tell a lot and I believe these more open tracks will suit a lot more.
If the course correlation is correct he holds strong claims on a brace of T7 at both Italy and Le Vaudreuill (after ten years doing this I still look up the spelling) whilst he made the final stages of the matchplay in Spain and was 11th at the high-quality finale in Oman (2nd into Payday). These results at ‘proper’ courses demand respect and his claims also lie with a fast-finishing 10th at Hainan last year and he has already eulogised about this week’s course. Expect a big week.
Another of our Kenyan wagers, Victor Perez, again has decent qualification this week. Winner of the Spanish Challenge last October in 24-under, results round this course from the PGA China suggest a similar score will be required this week and he does his case no harm recording a top-20 at Foshan. Top-20 in Italy came courtesy of a low scoring weekend and he has been impressing away from the spotlight with T13 at both Joburg and Tshwane before that Kenyan warm-up. Interestingly, Joburg features in both Van Rooyen and Armitage’s formlines (2nd and 5th respectively) whilst the former also lodged a top-10 in the latter event (admittedly his home tracks). There is something about him that suggests he might be somewhat better than his results and of interest may be that he qualified for the latter stages of the 2014 US Amateur, in the company of Jon Rahm, Bryson Dechambeau et al. He hasn’t burst into the main frame yet but it’s a steady approach that should not have finished yet.
Dutchman Daan Huizing is hard to read but his credentials suggest he needs backing this week. Taking a few months to bed in new clubs, he recorded 7th in Italy (Van Rooyen and Farr behind) and T31/T7 in China last year to give evidence of his chance whilst a top-10 in Oman shows he has what it takes on quality courses. The 28-year-old former multiple amateur winner (ranked world number two after winning the Lytham Trophy and Links) warmed up with four rounds of 70 in Kenya and has sounded hugely positive and confident in a recent interview. If he gets his putting going, he is very capable of the long birdie runs that will be needed this week.
One that I hope will be a bigger price this week is Borja Virto Astudillo, who did precisely nothing in Kenya but has back-form that makes him of interest.
In the 2015 season the Spaniard jumped from 1548 to 211 in the rankings following two victories including his second victory at Foshan, whilst a top-6 in Italy and a 10th and 11th across two Spanish events read well. Another to be approaching his 30th birthday in a couple of years, he did look as though he might be able to kick-on after progressing from a solid Alps career. However, 2016 was very much a damp squib at the highest level, interestingly his best effort by far being a top-10 at the Volvo China Open. Back down a grade last year, he managed to secure six top-20 finishes, surely the most significant being 11th at Le Vaudreuill (3rd after round three, a birdie-free 4-over Sunday) and T10 at Hainan (again his worst round being the last). Form at the right courses suggests we see a better effort this week so the trigger is pulled.
There are more bets this week than usual but with many local players invited for the craic, this does look a limited field in terms of winner finding. However, when in Rome pick players with experience here and a couple stick out and are added.
Charllie Saxon could easily continue the fine record of American players at this level. Julian Suri won the Czech at this level before surprising with a victory at the co-sanctioned Denmark event and securing his main tour card very early. He has, of course, continued his progress to show that was no fluke, whilst Brooks Koepka needs no introduction.
Saxon may not be in their league yet but this former star college player is making waves in China and is surely set to take his place at a higher level next season.
The vast majority of his career so far has been on the China Tour and he has impressed from the start, recording two wins in 2016 alongside a very significant runner-up here at Yulongwan. 2017 saw an attempt on the web.com tour but only a single 11th place was of note although he came back to form at Latino level. Brushing that off, he is two from four so far this year, winning both events on the China Tour, swapping places with regular rival Cao Yi and whilst it is very difficult to gauge form from ‘there’ to ‘here’ he surely has some advantage given experience and winning habit.
Cao Yi considered giving up golf a couple of years ago but dedicated himself to improving some ‘so-so golf’ and it clearly shows. T6 here in 2015 after an opening 63, he followed that with a 4th behind the talented Xinjun Zhang before four top-10s a year later included a 4th around Yulongwan (Saxon 2nd) and 4th again behind Saxon later in the year. A stint on the MacKenzie tour saw nothing of note, his best result of 2017 being 24th at the higher quality Volvo China Open (two low rounds of 68 and 67) but he took all that into a play-off on the PGA China in March to defeat in-form William Harrold after a final round 63 for his maiden victory. That recent victory may well be the impetus the 28-year-old (are they ALL 28?) needs to push forward and round a course he clearly knows and plays well, he has to be included with any doubts negated by the positives.