Bradley Neil – 1 point each-way @ 80-1
Oliver Lindell – 1 point each-way @ 40-1
Mark Tullo – 0.75 each-way @ 55-1
Just two events left on the main schedule before the top-45 in the rankings fight it out in Oman for the fifteen available European Tour cards and there are still many more than that number in contention.
The race for the title now looks between just a handful of players, with last week’s victor, Erik Van Rooyen, launching into 4th and becoming a real contender alongside Guerrier and Koepka, the almost eternally absent Rai, and clear leader Tapio Pulkkanen. In truth, the current number one probably just needs to throw in a couple of top-20s and a top-10 at the finale to win but it isn’t mathematically impossible for any of the top five.
Far more interesting is the race for the top-45. Ultimately, players will be wanting to entering Oman within the top-25 but with just 16,000 points separating the current 40th Matthias Schwab from 65th Ross Kellett, these two lucrative events will prove excellent viewing all the way down the board.
Unlike last week when the weather forecast incorrectly predicted storms and possible tornadoes, the weather conditions in Foshan look to be very placid and the 7117-yard course should provide a tough but fair test.
Scores of around -16 will contend on Sunday, but with a tough 17th hole and a risk-reward par-5 final hole, this will be a pressure situation for anybody playing for vital positions.
In the four seasons of it’s current status, the Foshan Open has been won by three maidens, two of whom had not played the previous week and the other, winner last year Marcus Armitage, missed the cut in Hainan.
Foshan has become the second event of a Chinese swing in only two of the past four years and whilst Armitage overcame that missed-cut, there are a few players that also improved on their first effort in the region. Rather like on the main Tour, where the likes of Ross Fisher, Lee Westwood and latterly Alex Levy all show a penchant for the region, so the likes of Alex Knappe (form of 1/2 last season), Dylan Frittelli, Andre Pavon and Mark Tullo amongst others keep appearing on the leaderboards in China. It isn’t the be-all and end-all but they seem to improve either from the first week of the swing, or from a previous years outing.
The top of the market this week is extremely strong. Hainan champion Van Rooyen heads the market with most firms and it is hard to argue against his current run of form, especially given 2016 Hainan winner Knappe went so close attempting the back-to-back.
Given the option, I would make Tapio Pulkkanen the pick of the top. He isn’t scared to win, having now won five events on the way to the Nordic league title and this year at Kazakhstan (appears in the formlines of several contenders at Foshan). He has taken full advantage of the absence of Suri and Rai and comes here on the back of a runner-up finish last week. He looks stronger than the likes of Orrin (form here but faded badly after a good opening round in Hainan), and Kinhault and Brown who are both very hard to win with.
Given the success of maidens, I have to back two players who have caught my eye several times this year and who also indicated they could improve on perfectly satisfactory warm-ups last week.
Twitter pick as soon as I saw the price had to be Bradley Neil at 80-1 with one firm.
The former Amateur champion has stalled slightly since the middle of the season and now ranks 13th from a promising 7th just a few weeks ago. He will need to kick on a bit over the next two weeks to ensure his full card but I felt last week’s mid-20 finish was full of promise and he deserves a chance over a track that should suit his very long, attacking style.
An opening 75 at Hainan was always going to be tough to overcome but a following trio of 68/67/70 was comparative with the eventual top finishers. Having not played for a couple of weeks, he is certainly one that will improve on that showing and has a much better early first-round tee-time this week. Key to the young Scot is less the inevitable amount of birdies he will make, rather the dropped shots but these improvers can click at any point. It may as well be now.
If current 34th ranked Oliver Lindell doesn’t get his main card this year, keep backing him until he does – you will not wait long!
A multiple winner on the Nordic League, this decorated amateur is going to the top before he reaches 20 years of age, a thought justified by the eight top-10s already recorded at this level. Latest of those front page finishes was last weekend’s 10th place, again a first outing for a couple of weeks. Enthusiastic about his driving as the event wore on, he is expected to improve on that outing and go very close to confirming his place in Oman.
Just 600 points ahead of Lindell in the rankings is Mark Tullo, a far more experienced campaigner but one with such a good record in China that he is hard to ignore.
I know he is very hard to get home in front but the stats tend not to lie and the Chilean has figures that make him hugely tempting here this week.
In 2014, Tullo followed up a 6th in Shankai with a 3rd round here, whilst two years later he went 39th at Hainan with an improved 6th at this track. That he comes on massively for a run-out has to suggest that he will leave last week’s 42nd place finish behind round a track that suits and he will surely know this is best chance to gain points when it counts. Yes, 55-1 isn’t screaming value but there is plenty there and I would rather play the figures than, for example, work out which one of the locals will be inspired by the large media interest this week.
For those still holding hopes about Aaron Rai in the championship, he isn’t entered for next week either and it is hoped he does pay respect to the Tour, turn up at the finale, and at least nab us a top-4 each-way payout. It could be very close though.