Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Kazakhstan Open 2016 (Challenge Tour)

All golfing eyes are on Hazeltine this week as the USA try to stop the European juggernaut winning the Ryder Cup for the 4th successive time but in the background, many aspiring tour players are slogging it out in Lisbon, Portugal and Hardelot, France in a bid to get through to the 2nd Qualifying Stage of Tour Qualifying. Others are trying to maximize points on the Challenge Tour by showing up at the biggest event in the season schedule to be played at the Zhailjau Gold Resort in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Berd Ritthammer returns to Challenge Tour action having mixed it with the big boys at The European Open & KLM Open in recent weeks and the Race to Oman leader will try to capitalize on recent good form by extending his 693 point lead over Jordan Smith here as 72,000 points go on offer. An interesting stat from the Europeantour website states that all previous eleven winners of this event have gone on to secure their cards for the European Tour. Four of those winners actually won the season long order of merit. There's your incentive this week lads!

The Course

The Zhailjau GC will offer up a sort of birdie-fest this week. The course was designed by the late Arnold Palmer and is a tree lined course with ample room off the tee. The bigger hitters and those that contend in birdiefests are sure to be prominent over the par-72, 7100 yard course this week. The course has five par-5s. Sam Hutsby won last time here in 2014 with a -19 score, good enough to beat Bjeung-Hun An and Andrew Johnston who feature regularly on the main tours these days, and a certain Matt Fitzpatrick who makes his Ryder Cup debut this week back in T8th. In other words, many of the rising stars in Europe have been here and can approach the week knowing that if they can find their game and put in a solid four rounds, the rewards could be significant. With this in mind, my shortlist couldn't ignore most of the market leaders not could it dismiss those that have form here on the course.


The Shortlist

As previously mentioned, Bernd Ritthammer arrives as the R2O leader having won at Mt Wolseley last month. He's since played the European Open in Bad Griesbach where he played all four rounds. Indeed he's only missed one cut in four ET starts this season. Confidence will be high and he looks decent value to me @ 29.00. My shortlist shows that the German has posted 8 TOP20s from his 15 starts on the Challenge Tour this year of which 6 are TOP10. Winner last time out, he can keep the momentum going and make it 12 winners to secure their European Tour card for 2017.

Ryan Fox, though is the player I fancy most here this week. Son of All Black legend, Grant, the Aucklander can use his length to great advantage here and secure his card. From only 8 starts on tour, the kiwi has amassed a win in Galgorm Castle, with a winning -19 total that included a closing 62, as well as another 6 TOP20s of which 4 of those were TOP10s. I'm surprised to see the 18/1 on offer here for him to win as I would have made him favourite.

Alvaro Velasco won on this course back in 2010 and proved his fondness for the course with a follow-up 4th two years ago. The Spaniard hasn't had the best season to date with just 1 TOP20 from his 16 starts, that being a win out of the blue in France just three weeks ago. He won on the back of 7 successive missed cuts (only 4/14 this season). That win though, probably does back up the belief that players can gain confidence ahead of either defending a title or visiting a tournament that they particularly like. Time and time again we've seen players hit form all of a sudden just 1-2 weeks ahead of a tourney that they love. Whether its due to an increase in their practice regime or its just down to the subconscious clearing out bad thoughts and overpowering the brain with positive thoughts, that's up for discussion, but we can't really ignore Alvaro's chances here given that he's won from nowhere seemingly just three weeks before he heads off to Kazakhstan where he secured European Tour cards in the past. He represents decent value here @ 66/1 and 9/1 for a TOP10.

Lastly, I was tempted to get onside with the two Irish lads, Selfridge & Phelan here but results have been a bit sporadic and had they showed up better in Carlow last time, especially the latter, I'd have had an interest. I wouldn't be surprised to see either make a push for TOP15 in the R2O over the next couple of tournaments but they need to start putting four rounds together and this is the week to strike