Aaron Rai 2 points win @ 11-1
Adrian Meronk 1 point each-way @ 45-1
Clement Sordet 1 point each-way @ 33-1
Dunno. This is one weird season.
Whilst one would normally be over the moon to see main ante-post selection Aaron Rai go clear at the top of the rankings, it is with heavy heart. Not only have we missed backing him in his two victories, but it is almost odds-on that he wins again before too long and takes the automatic place on the premier tour. Should he do that quickly, he won’t have amassed enough points to place, let alone win, the championship and we will be left potless despite betting the Race To Oman winner for the third time in succession. We can only hope for a series of top-5s before that third win in October!
We also now have the ludicrous update to the Challenge and Euro tour websites, meaning ‘history’ has disappeared for now, let alone a number of other features, many useful to pundits and punters alike. Progress?
Still, that’s enough positivity – this isn’t Wetherspoon on a wet Wednesday night – and the tour finally returns to a regular 72-hole event played on a golf course, with no windmills, Mickey Mouse ears or anything to alter the format.
The Dritec resort holds the Czech Challenge for the sixth successive year and with the weather set fair, we should find a winning score of around 20-under and, if set up as easily as last year, maybe even approaching Damien Perrier’s 24-under.
I was looking forward to this event as there look to be clear links between this event and a couple of others on the schedule. Of the last five winners three are French with a couple of those, including the 2016 winner, winning their maiden here. However it is the clear association with form at Le Vaudreuill as well as hints to Slovakia, Kenya and Turkey.
In and around previous winners’ form, Perrier finished T8 in Slovak and T10 at the French venue, 2015 victor Fahbring finished T2/T12 in consecutive years in France whilst Thomas Linard backed up his 2014 win in the Czech Republic with a runner-up there and a T5 in Kenya.
The Kenya link is also valid for Harto (winner 2012) whilst the afore-mentioned Fahbring can show T6 there. It has to be that these figures, amongst current form, that is concentrated on and given the heavy weight of evidence I’m reluctant to look too far down the lists for once.
Back to the current and clear R2O leader Aaron Rai. Wherever you look, the fast improver just carries a huge chance this week. As well as current form that sees him having won half his four Challenge Tour events, it was the manner of those that lifts him into a class above. His short game destroyed rivals in Kenya, whilst he was not in a qualifying position for the weekend in Portugal until a birdie blitz through the final half-dozen holes saw him make the 32-man cut with shots to spare. Down a couple of times in the final, he eased to a 2&1 victory and, quite frankly, looks one of the best English prospects for a while.
If that needs enhancing, Rai has a runner-up at Le Vaudreuill as well as a top-10 in Turkey and, of course, the win in Kenya at the start of this year. Folk have been well prepared to take short single figures about Rory McIlroy, Jordan Speith and the like when they look dominant in their class and given he is likely to win at least one more event pretty soon I thought the 11-1 opening show was very fair. Unfortunately there is only one show so you may get better tomorrow, but either way I went closer to 8-1.
German second-favourite Seb Heisele has almost equal claims on last week’s semi-final placing as well as 4th in two of our significant events but I felt that someone who hasn’t quite put his head in front should not be just three points behind the jolly.
Julien Suri caught the eye when flying late in Portugal, just too late to catch Matt Wallace and whilst that 31st in windy conditions last weekend is also very acceptable, he may be the less ‘value’ of the maidens at 25-1 and is elbowed alongside Marcus Kinhult, with huge claims on past form in better grade and with four top-10s at this level in 2016 and already T12/T8 in Kenya and Turkey as well as 6th in the recent matchplay. However, sub-20 just doesn’t appeal at all.
We haven’t seen enough from Thomas Linard to think he can repeat his maiden victory round here, and that leaves just a couple on the list. Given the willingness of previous non-winners to gain their first victory, the dice stopped at Adrian Meronk.
The first Pole to play in the Palmer Cup, he was ranked world junior number one before gaining honours in college and playing alongside both Pep Angles and Thomas Detry in that 2015 amateur event. Sole outing in 2016 resulted in a T14 at Le Vaudreuill (hello again) and it was surely only that final round 74 that stopped a top-10 finish.
Meronk started the season matching eventual winner (Rai) with a 67/65 bookend effort in finishing an eventual 5th and only missed the cut in Turkey by a single shot. Beaten but at least making the cut in Portugal, we can ignore the matchplay over 36 holes, and concentrate on his return to a part of the world he must surely enjoy. There were a number of things to mention, but, to my chagrin, the Tour website have printed all of it. Suffice it to say he is home, plays aggressively and knows the course. Whether that is enough we will see, but he must go with plenty of the legendary PMA.
The only one left on the list is hugely promising but hard-to-read Clement Sordet.
The two-time winner at this level seems to produce victories from very little form, so this slightly better run may actually be a negative. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore two top-5s at ‘that’ French event (including T2 on debut) and a victory and T5 in Turkey (an event appearing in the lines of Harto, Linard and of course, tying in with Rai and Heisele). The aggressive nature of the course will suit and I felt that there is little reason why he is double the price of a couple of maidens.
All in all, the top third or so of the market looks incredibly strong. There may be more bookmakers odds up by tee-time and it is hugely disappointing that there is nothing available bar Bet365 but we can only work with the tools we are give. Let’s hope our selections do the same, but better!