The last two weeks have flown by and as a result we are now onto the third and final leg of the desert swing.
So far America’s Rickie Fowler and South Africa’s Branden Grace have taken the spoils in the desert with wins at the Abu Dhabi Championship and Qatar Masters respectively, the latter successfully defending the title he won 12 months prior.
Neither is a big shock as both were well fancied before the off, so it will be interesting to see if anyone can pull of a shock this week.
This event has been dominated over the last few years by one player – Stephen Gallacher.
Gallacher finished 2nd in 2012, before winning back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, and then 3rd behind last year’s winner Rory McIlroy and runner-up Alex Noren.
Now you could be forgiven for looking at the 66/1 about the Scotsman this week and think it’s an absolute steal, but that may not be the case.
Whilst these odds are set in order to tempt us in, Gallacher has missed his last two cuts, not broken par in 2016 and looks out of sorts after a first round 81 in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago.
He had a pretty dull 2015 as a whole with just two top-10s, one coming here, when 3rd and the other a T9 finish at the Portugal Masters back in October.
He suffered wrist/hand injuries last year which notably saw him pull out of the Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, and you have to think that took its toll on him and effected his season. He has since undergone surgery and it may just been taking time to adjust to that, or he may well have had to reduce practice time etc.
Whether he is going to find his form anytime soon is anyone’s guess, but the fact that only three players have beaten him at this course in three years suggests he’s in the right place to do.
He has been nowhere near showing the signs of form he showed in his best season of his career to date (2014) which was good enough for Paul McGinley to name his a Captain’s Pick the 2014 Ryder Cup held in his native, Scotland, so it is going to take a huge improvement from him this week, but at the price he may well be the ultimate risk/reward bet.
If he’s going to play well anywhere anytime soon, this would be the place he would do so, and we often see players can find form at any time, especially at a course you’ve had success at in the past, proven by compatriot Paul Lawrie at the Qatar Masters last week.
Although uninspiring, Gallacher did shoot level par on both days last week, which meant missing the cut on the number but that was far and away better than the 81-73 effort he posted the week before and hopefully he can continue to trend in the right direction, at a course he has a clear affinity with.
Hitting greens seems to be the key statistic here, with eight of the last ten winners ranking inside the top-5 for Greens in Regulation that week, however you don’t need to hit fairways regularly in order to find the greens at this venue. Much like the course last week, this 7,300 yard layout does not tend to favour the straight hitter, and in fact bombers tend to prosper.
McIlroy ranked 68th in Driving Accuracy, whilst Gallacher ranked 55th in 2014 and 34th in 2013, whilst they ranked 1st, 8th and 4th over the last three years in Driving Distance.
As a result the bigger hitters will love the somewhat freedom off the tee this week to try to give it a bit extra with their opening shot and not have to worry about the second shot.
This is the perfect track for the likes of McIlroy as proved by his two wins and four top-10s in nine starts here.
He won last year ranking 24th in Putts per Round so he doesn’t even need to have his best week with the flatstick to win here, and that will be a concern for the chasing pack.
At 23/10 top price, I am no way interested in backing him and can let him win, but he is the clear and deserved favourite this week, especially after his 3rd placed finish two weeks ago.
With McIlroy being so short, there is value to be had, and with Henrik Stenson (10/1) Martin Kaymer (25/1), Byeong-Hun An (28/1) and Louis Oosthuizen (28/1) also all sub 30/1 there is some prices that may look a little inflated by the end of the week.
Stenson has not posted a top-10 here since 2010 when he finished 8th, but a 13th place finish last year, and a 3rd place finish two weeks ago will see him have his backers.
There to me always seems to be plenty of doubts over the Swede and after he pulled out of last week’s event due to injury I’m more than happy to leave him alone. He seems to play well despite struggling with his fitness, but at 10/1 you would have to think he’s a home-run selection, which I don’t think he is.
He is a previous winner here (2007) and between 2006-2010 his worst finish was that aforementioned 8th in 2010, but again it still isn’t enough to convince me.
Kaymer is a little more tempting, as in six starts here he’s 6-6 for cuts made, never finished worse than 31st (2011) and finished 4th last year. Between 2008-2010, like Stenson he flourished, finishing 2nd-4th-4th and he looked in decent form two weeks ago finishing 16th, but this could also be considered a disappointing effort.
The German loves the Abu Dhabi championship, an event he’s won three times (should be four but for his horror collapse last year) so a 16th place finish can actually be considered disappointing.
At 25/1 I would want him to have at least finished inside the top-10 in Abu Dhabi and as such will leave him out.
Oosthuizen hasn’t played this event for five years, and on his last start here (2010) he finished 44th so again, I am happy to avoid.
The pick of the bunch at the head of the market for me would have been 2015 Rookie of the Year, Benny An, who finished 13th here on debut last year and has finished in the top-5 in four of his last seven starts.
He should benefit from getting a look at the layout in 2015 and before last weekend I fully expected him to improve on that showing this time around.
My concern is what transpired at the Singapore Open last weekend. Not only did he shoot 77-73 over the last two rounds to fall to a less than impressive 36th, but he also had to wait around as weather delays led to a Monday finish. This would have effected his travel plans and although he’s good enough to shake such issues off, I’m going to leave him this week.
So now I have picked holes in all of the market leaders, bar McIlroy who I just can’t back at the odds, let’s look at who I will be backing.
Andy Sullivan 33/1 (Betfred, BetBright, Ladbrokes) 2pts e/w: Not many players had better 2015 season’s than Andy Sullivan on the European Tour, as the likeable Englishman picked up three European Tour wins, two earlier in the year in South Africa and then later in the year he followed those up with a win at the Portugal Masters in October.
Since his last win he has also remained extremely competitive, with a T17 finish in the BMW Masters and a 2nd a week later at the DP World Tour Championship, in which he was beat by the only man to eclipse his season, Rory McIlroy.
If you can say that the only person better than you that year on your respective Tour was someone of McIlroy’s calibre than you are doing something very right. Of course you want to be the best and to do that you need to beat the best, but he stayed with Rory until the very end that week and he looks a fierce competitor these days.
He proved this yet again with a stellar performance at the EurAsia Cup, and many expect him to be a very useful addition to the Ryder Cup team, as they look to retain the trophy State-side in September.
It looked as though Sullivan had every chance to make it 4 wins in 12 months in his last outing as he was in great shape after two rounds at the Abu Dhabi Championship a fortnight ago.
Sullivan opened the week with two 67’s on the Thursday and Friday, which saw him take a two-shot lead over the impressive amateur, Bryson DeChambeu however a third round 74 saw him fall into a tie for 12th and a final day 73 saw him drop a further 10 places into 22nd.
I am happy to forgive these two rounds, as a triple-bogey due to a lost ball on the 9th tee in round three completely derailed him and with the weather delays added into the mix, it was no doubt difficult to cope with mentally, and the pressures of McIlroy, Fowler, Pieters and Luiten all playing well around him will of no doubt been very unsettling.
He can bounce back here, refreshed after a week off and should be raring to go, desperate to make amends for his disappointing collapse two weeks ago.
In 2015, three weeks after getting his first European Tour victory, Sullivan teed it up here and finished in a tie for 4th place. He was seven shots adrift of his mate, McIlroy when all was said and done but it was an impressive week nonetheless and there is no reason why he can’t better that performance this week.
Even in 2013, before he sprung into life and became a three-time winner, he managed to finish 12th here, so although he did miss the cut in 2014, when he makes the weekend he clearly does well here.
His ball striking was excellent when 4th last year, ranking 24th in Driving Accuracy and 9th in Greens in Regulation, with only Kaymer’s performance (20th in DA and 2nd in GIR) being more impressive in that respect, so I am hoping for more of the same this week.
At 33/1 I am going to give Sullivan the nod to go on and bounce back from his dissapointing weekend in Abu Dhabi and mix it with the big boys once again en-route to claiming his fourth European Tour title.
Lee Westwood 66/1 (BetVictor, Coral, StanJames) 1pt e/w: Continuing with the English theme I am going to give Lee Westwood a chance to prove his critics wrong, on a course that he has enjoyed relative success at over the years.
Twelve months ago I tipped Westwood to win this very event at 20/1 and whilst a lot has gone on since then, I don’t think his “decline as a golfer” if you are one of those that believes he had his day is quite as bad as the price change suggests.
Yes he missed the cut two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, but that was the first time he had played in that event in four years, whereas he tees it up here after missing just one edition of this event in 2014.
Last year he finished 9th here and that was the first time he had played in seven weeks. That event seven weeks prior was the Thailand Golf Championship, which he won. He played the same event this year and finished T2, and followed that up with a talismanic display at the EurAsia Cup.
Westwood partnered Chris Wood on day one, and the pair beat Kiradech Aphibarnat and SSP Chowrasia 2&1, before he teamed up with youngster Matthew Fitzpatrick to beat Ashun Wu and Anirban Lahiri comprehensively, 5&4. After destroying Nashun Fung 7&6 in the final-day singles, he finished the week 3-0, and rounded off a terrific performance.
He is a great team player, and he will have one eye on the Ryder Cup team all season, but as it is widely known he is a good friend of captain, Darren Clarke and to avoid any suggestions of favouritism I am sure the man from Worksop will look to play his way onto the team.
In 20 appearances at this event, Westwood has 3 runner-up finishes, 5 top-5’s and 9 top-10’s, with an average score of 69.96, so I am fully confident he can perform well this week, and I think people are writing him off too quickly. He won twice in 2014 and once last year, albeit in average company, but he still had to beat those fields and those three Asian Tour wins saw him rise to third on the all-time Asian Tour wins list.
He should never have to prove he is capable of winning, all the time he’s still fit and healthy the man who ranks T8th all time on the European Tour and 3rd on the Asian Tour with 42 professional wins worldwide should definitely be respected, especially at a course where he’s gone close on multiple occasions before.
Marcel Siem 100/1 (BetVictor) 1pt e/w: Siem, now a four-time European Tour winner has proven over the last few years just how capable he is, and has got 2016 off to a good start also.
The German who picked up his first European Tour win in 2004, two years after joining the European Tour, had to wait a further eight years to add to his collection, but since then has showed he has what it takes to become a prolific winner.
After winning the Alstom De France in 2012, Siem went on to get a win in both his 2013 (Trophee Hassan II) and 2014 (BMW Masters) seasons and wins at those three events are hard to come by.
In France he pipped Francesco Molinari by one shot, whilst he went wire-to-wire in Morocco, finishing three shots ahead of Mikko Ilonen and David Horsey, and then beat Alexander Levy and Ross Fisher in a play-off in China, the first event of the European Tour Finals Series.
After going win-less in 2015 for the first time in three years, he will be keen to bounce back, and he looks in good shape to do so any time soon.
Despite missing the cut in his first event of the year (SA Open), Siem has made a very promising start to the season, finishing T22 at the Joburg Open, T5 in Abu Dhabi and T29 last week. His T29 last week could have been a lot better had it not been for a third-round 75 which saw him drop almost twenty places on the leaderboard.
Of course it is all ifs and buts, but I am convinced he can go well again this week, and at 100/1 I thought he was worth chancing.
He finished 4th here in 2012 after finishing 12th the week before and 35th the week before that, so he was in similar form to what he is right now, and I am hoping he can produce a week similar to that as opposed to his missed cut last season. That missed cut last year did come off the back of a missed cut the week before, and hopefully now that he is carrying a bit of form into the event he can go close.
Total Points Staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2016: -9.5