Monday, 25 January 2016

Qatar Masters - 2016

The second leg of the Desert Swing tees off on Wednesday this week so punters need to be mindful if placing bets pre-tournament. Branden Grace does defend this week having missed out on an opportunity to do so in Johannesburg a couple of weeks ago and he looks the one that they will all have to beat here. The South African alluded to his fondness of the greens at Doha GC when winning last year, in that they were very similar to what he grew up with in his homeland. The wind factor here, and the weather forecast this week suggests we'll see plenty, is the main defence of the course and players with strong wind statistics and links type experience tend to go well. Despite being designed by the same designer as last week's Abu Dhabi GC, Doha will not be as penal from the rough and the course offers the big hitters an advantage as results in previous years have shown. Big hitters with strong GIR for the week have produced the goods here and its these statistics that I've concentrated on when finalizing my staking plan. The course will play around 7,400 yards so its not short by any means and it may pay to go with those that can get it down there. Alvaro Quiros, has had some great success here in the past with a win and two runner-ups and he could be one to keep an eye on here again this week. This blog has recently put up Ben Evans a number of times,and it could be a course like Doha that the Englishman can finally make a challenge. He makes his debut here and can improve on his T46th last week in Abu Dhabi.

Nicolas Colsaerts showed signs towards the end of last season that his form was on the ascendancy and following his opening two events this campaign, the Belgian may be wondering where that form has gone having withdrawn after round one at Glendower and having missed the cut last week by a shot. I'm going to ignore that result last week and side with him here as he plays a course that he appears to like. He had a TOP10 and two further TOP20s in his last three efforts in 2015. Big hitting and strong GIR stats last year ensured a TOP15 finish, which complemented his TOP10 on his previous visit in 2013 and he should be pleased to see Doha again to kick-start the 2016 season and re-climb the world rankings having fallen over 100 places in the past twelve months. Nico has shown he can also play in the wind and is worth a dabble here at a nice price of 80/1or 120.00 on the exchange.  His website says he plays alongside "Frenchman and long time friend" Gregory Havret in the opening rounds suggesting he is looking forward to playing with him. They will be joined by Rhys Davies in an early opening round 1 grouping.

George Coetzee likes Doha GC having finished 12-5-2-35 the past four years.He arrives here on the back of a T35th in Abu Dhabi and a 13th in Johannesburg. With the rust out of the system, I expect big George to go well. George returned from an ankle injury this month having taken a few months off to recover,which was a pity after such a great effort at the PGA Championship when finishing T7th at Whistling Straits last August. Time and time again the South African has produced his better results on links courses and although not a links this week, the course does tend to suit those with links form. He has recorded many TOP10s here in the Middle East too so obviously likes this part of the world. He's taken to produce another here this week at 4.50

Tommy Fleetwood is a big price this week (100/1 in places ) and I'm not quite sure why. Yes, he may be lacking some form with a missed cut last week and a new swing in the make-up this year, but on a windy, linksy course where Driving Distance and strong approach play are required, there may be some value in the price. I'm reluctantly leaving Tommy out this week  though (toss of the coin stuff) and instead will side with 19 year old Italian, Renato Paratore. On his debut in 2015, he finished T38th and ranked inside the TOP15 for both DD & GIR. He is quite capable of going low and opened with  two 69s last year before a poor weekend saw him slip down the leaderboard. He has a full season under his belt now and although still quite young he should progress this season. If he can start well, there is no reason why he can't sneak a TOP20 this week @ 10.00. He has a late/early tee time this week and he may just get the better of the wind conditions to position himself for the weekend.


0.50 pts WIN N.Colsaerts @ 120.00
1.50 pts T10  N.Colsaerts @ 8.00

2.50 pts T10 G.Coetzee @ 4.50

1.50 pts T20 R.Paratore @ 10.00

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Abu Dhabi Championship 2015

As is becoming the norm at Abu Dhabi in recent years, some of the world's best will tee it up this week on the European Tour. World Number Once, Jordan Spieth will do so for the very first time and will see him do battle with Rory McIlroy, who despite excellent course form goes in search of the Falcon Trophy for the first time. The Irishman has pocketed an incredible four runners-up spots, two either side of his missed cut when playing with his new Nike clubs for the first time in 2013. He also boasts two other TOP5s ! If Rory has course form then what can be said about Martin Kaymer, who let's be honest, really should have won this for the fourth time twelve months ago who at one stage in the fourth round had a ten shot lead only to see Frenchman, Gary Stal take the spoils. Kaymer hasn't won since but be assured he'll be out to put the nightmare of twelve months ago to bed here and kick off 2016 in fine form. The aforementioned, Spieth has already kicked started 2016 in spectacular fashion by taking out the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii by a whopping eight shots ! If those three players don't whet our appetite enough, we can look forward to strong challenges from the World Numbers five and six, Stenson & Fowler ! It's a star studded line-up and its sure to have its drama played over the 7,600 yard course where strong GIR stats for the week will complement decent driving stats for the victor.

We may be in a post-Tiger Woods era, where a new Big-3 or indeed Big-4 are emerging but there are plenty of challengers from all quarters that cannot be discounted lightly. In a sport where the mental aspect can play such a huge part in achieving success, this week's tournament presents us, the spectator, the betting man, a conundrum as to who is most likely to taste success come Sunday evening. Will it be in the in form, hot Texan or will the Ulsterman be motivated to put one past his pretender to the throne early in the season ? Will Kaymer show is class again on a course that he knows so much better than anyone else or will one of the young guns continue their rise within the game and take the scalp of the big boys ? The latter scenario offers probably the most likely outcome where if we were to look at the results over the past four years, the hot favourites have been defeated by less fancied players ; Rock, Donaldson, Larrazabal and Stal having taken the honours ahead of the likes of McIlroy, Woods, and Kaymer.

So, of the two leading protagonists, I would tend to side with Rory over Jordan here despite the American's red-hot form of late. Why? Spieth will play in Abu Dhabi for the first time and whilst he is the type of player that can suit any course, he may find a "low-key", ordinary European Tour event different to that of a Major or WGC and may take some time to adjust whereas, Rory, despite making his seasonal debut here (as he always does here) has the edge over him in terms of course knowledge and has been practicing out in the desert for a week or so at this stage - Rory's fired up for this week and would like to close the gap on Spieth quickly and put down his marker ! With both players priced up @ 9/2 (5.50) I'll take my chances further down the field in the hope that Rory's putter doesn't heat up under the desert sun.

Haydn Porteus may have taken some inspiration from his good friend, Brandon Stone when winning last week and the same inspiration could  be sought by their compatriot, Branden Grace this week too. As alluded to in my preview on this blog twelve months ago, South African's have tended to go well here, especially coming off form in the South African swing and Grace will be glad to have dusted off the new year cobwebs when finishing TOP5 at Glendower two weeks ago despite not hitting top gear. He produced a TOP20 twelve months ago along with a TOP5 in 2013 but this is a much improved player from those outings. He ranks high for GIR and is no slouch off the tee either. Coming into this week, Grace has 3/3 TOP10s this season, and should be ready to go.

Another who may be just inspired or simply motivated to have a good week is Danny Willett. Willett was undefeated in the EurAsia Cup the weekend and should be motivated to make the Ryder Cup team later in the year. Having run Rory to the wire in last season's Race to Dubai, the Englishman has stepped up over the last twelve months, and despite mixed course form (just the one TOP10 in seven visits and that on his debut), he could be a factor this week. On the other side of the coin to Willett's successful contribution last week is Tongchai Jaidee who was a member of the defeated Asian Team in Malaysia. The 46 year old has solid course form having played here for the first ten instalments, producing two TOP10s and a further four TOP15s. Those two TOP10s came on his last two visits and although I'm inclined to favour the young brigade these days, the 46 year old Thai could be smarting from the heavy team defeat and produce a result at a nice price. At 66/1 he's certainly better value than those around him in that price bracket and he wont fear the big guns.

Daniel Im has got off to a prefect start to his first season on the Tour with back to back TOP10s in South Africa. He can maintain his form this week and if driving the ball as well as of late could be worth chancing in the TOP10/20 markets (16/1, 7/1). The American won on the challenge tour last year as did Stone and Porteous and who's to say he can't maintain form in a stronger field this week ?

I could back a few here this week, particularly Chris Wood and Peter Uihlein, and were it not for better course form I probably would include. I also wanted to back Alex Noren this week but as he makes his comeback yet again, I'm happy to take a watching brief here and hopefully get involved in Qatar where course form is better than here. However, another, like Rory who has been out in Dubai for over a week practising and acclimatizing ahead of the tournament, is Joost Luiten, who has produced two sixth place finishes in his last two visits. Luiten produced just one TOP10 on the European Tour in 2015 but has 1/1 already this season when finishing 5th at the Alfred Dunhill Championship in November. Luiten will be determined to make Hazeltine in September but to do so, he needs to take advantage when the opportunity arises. He seems to be focused and prepared for this week and he's the TOP10 selection @ 6.50

0.25 pts e/w T. Jaidee  @ 67.00
2.5  pts J. Luiten TOP10 @ 6.50
3 pts D. Im TOP20 @ 8.00

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Joburg Open 2016

The Royal Johannesburg and Kensington GC will host the Joburg Open for the tenth time this week where for the second week running, England's Andy Sullivan is the defending champion. However the Englishman won't be in attendance this time round, but nonetheless, we do have a similar field as to that which teed it up at last week's tourney. This blog's each way selection at Glendower last week had a slow start but exploded into life on Saturday, as when faced with an imminent cut, he found three birdies to qualify for the weekend right on the mark. He then returned in the afternoon to go -7 for his round before weather suspended proceedings for the day. Mr Sterne had moved into the TOP15 at that point and I had high hopes of a Sunday charge but it just didn't happen. It turned out to be a day of mixed emotions though for the blog as the TOP20 selection held on to to win the title @ 50/1 odds pre-tournament. It's one that got away perhaps but Brendon Stone ensured we started the year in profit with a solid performance.

Whilst Stone rewarded recent solid performances with victory it was worth noting the effort of Christiaan Bezhuidenhout! The 21 year old is another youngster we will see a lot more of and I wouldn't be surprised if he produced the goods this week on the back of a top result last Sunday. He makes my shortlist off the back of that result and given his obvious talent he is sure to make his mark on home soil in these co-sanctioned events at some point. Whilst Bezhuidenhout was making an impression at Glendower the same cannot be said for Sweden's next big thing, Markus Kinhult, who surprisingly missed the cut. The cross-over from amateur status to professional status is never an easy transition to make but his game suggests that he is one to make an immediate impression on tour and it could come this week having had the weekend off last week - he could be chomping at the bit to get going here! The missed cut may have helped his odds too as he has drifted out to 80/1 and its a price with 6 places on offer that could look generous in time. But for the time being, I'd rather take a watching brief to see how he fares before getting involved.

In an event that celebrates just its tenth anniversary we will see the 206 players compete over two different courses for the opening two rounds; the easier West Course and the East course, which will be in use for the weekend. Past results here point to players with excellent GIR Stats for the week, as being those most likely to contend but it's also worth noting that players with form coming into it fare better than those who haven't the form coming in. With that in mind I'd have to give a lot of thought to backing the two Englishmen in Tyrell Hatton and David Horsey who open their 2016 campaigns here. Both could perform well and be inspired by their compatriot, Andy Sullivan, who broke through in South Africa before also taking out this title soon after his maiden win. The Joburg Open despite producing class winners has had a tendency to produce first time winners in it's short history.

As with last week though, these co-sanctioned events in SA usually go the way of one of the home based players and whilst Jaco Van Zyl may seem to be the likeliest of those to win here given his course form here over the years, he can't be backed at such short odds. Especially has he has had chances to clinch his first Europeantour Title in recent weeks which he didn't grab. Instead I am drawn back to last week's selection , Richard Sterne, who did show form on the aforementioned Saturday birdie spree. He should take the positives from that result as well as the two outings towards the end of last year and approach this week in confidence where he has prevailed twice in the past at the Joburg Open. At the price, Sterne is a quality player that cannot be ignored easily and he is my each way selection to contend for the title. 

Of the others, there could be an opportunity for TOP20 results from the likes of Justin Walters, Keith Horne, Dean Burmester, Trevor Fisher Jnr. and Darren Fichardt of the home players and another who I fancy to have a good week is Chris Swanepoel. The 31 year old has mixed form at the Joburg Open but has posted a TOP10 (last year) as well as TOP20 in 2012. He played nicely last week for T45th following some fine Sunshine Tour Form where he has won and posted a further two TOP10s and a TOP20 in his last six starts. Justin Walters and Keith Horne likewise have been in solid form on South African soil of late and if continuing the trend of bringing form into the Joburg Open to produce a decent result, then both must be of consideration here. I do like the chances of both but with the 50/1 on offer for 6 places, Horne would be the preferred selection of the two. With Sterne the main each way pick though, I'll add Horne into the staking plan for a TOP20 @ 3.75

Horne has played in each of the previous nine Joburg Opens and has only missed the cut once whilst bagging himself two TOP10s and a further two TOP20s. Has he form coming in ? Well he was tied 4th last week following a strong weekend and he can pick off where he left off there and go low enough to produce another solid result here.  Finally, Tom Lewis is a player that could relish conditions this week if wind and rain descend on the Johannesburg course which is possible according to weather forecasts, and he could surprise at a decent price in a field that he should be quite competitive in. He'd be my back-to-lay pick here. He's been gradually improving over the past few months and with a new season in front of him he could just be ready to go and play, but with the big open field in play this week, I'm happy to stick with just two selections.


0.5 pts e/w R.Sterne @ 33/1
5 pts TOP20 K.Horne @ 3.75

Monday, 4 January 2016

South African Open 2016

Europeantour action for the 2016 season resumes in South Africa this week for the second oldest National Open Golf Championship in the world, when Ernie Els hosts at Glendower GC. Whilst Ernie will take on the responsibility of growing the National Open in his homeland, he can be pleased to see his compatriots and fellow Major winners, Retief Goosen and Trevor Immelman tee it up too despite the forced withdrawal of Charl Schwartzel. England's Andy Sullivan will defend.

Reports from the course is that it is in immaculate condition with little rough and weather seems perfect for low scoring. It should suit the bigger hitters where accuracy will not be as critical as most weeks. Schwartzel's withdrawal will mean Branden Grace will go off the clear favourite having produced four TOP10s in his last five starts worldwide and it may be difficult to see him getting beat here if he kick starts 2016 is much the same vein as he ended 2015. As is the case normally in South Africa co-sanctioned events such as this, the winner usually comes in the guise of a home player and Grace's leading challengers from his homeland are best represented with a 40 year plus old brigade such as Els, Goosen, Horne, Hugo, Fichardt, Van der Walt, and Van der Berg, whilst those slightly younger, and considered more of a challenge, could include Jaco Van Zyl (aged 36) , Trevor Fisher (36) and Hennie Otto (39). So, if Grace is not to succeed this week and a South African is to prevail with youth on his side, are we to look at and consider George Coetzee and Brandon Stone and Jbe' Kruger?  I'd like to think, of the leading home contingent though, that perhaps with a new season upon us, fresh goals and targets in their minds, that perhaps Richard Sterne can reproduce the quality of golf to re-ignite his career after a sustained rib injury enforced a rest for much of 2015 before returning to action in November in SA to finish with a T20 before producing a T34th at Leopard Creek where but for a poor third round 77, would have seen him finish closer to a TOP10. With a nice break over Christmas under his belt, the Pretoria man can follow up his T20 here of twelve months ago and contend. Of the 67 players from South Africa in the field (just under 50%), the average age of these players is 31 and the 34 year old is a class above the vast majority of them. If injury free he could have a good January.

Brandon Stone is one of the youngest in the field at 22 years of age and has a recent TOP20 under his belt at Leopard Creek following his win on the Sunshine Tour in his previous start at the Lion of Africa Cape Town Open. Stone was on the European Challenge Tour last season finishing 14th on the Order of Merit before producing a 6th place finish at the NBO Golf Classic Grand Final in Oman, three shots behind winner Ricardo Gouveia. Stone will be encouraged and should be confident heading into this week on the back of securing his card on the full tour this season and those recent results.He can ignore his course form of the past two years at this event and hit the ground running here and produce a bold showing. I will be ignoring the course form !


0.5 pts e/w  R.Sterne @ 51.00
5 pts T20 B.Stone @ 3.00