Marcus Armitage 1.5 points each-way @ 40/1 365
*Excellent run last time, great form in significant events, bloody nice chap, strongly fancied*
Kim Koivu 1.0 point each-way @ 50-1 skybet
*Hugely impressive in China from the front building on 14th in Kenya. Could be anything*
Sebastian Heisele 0.75 each-way @ 40/1 skybet
*Still hasn’t reached peak but looks ready to come back to high-class junior form, ranked 16th on the R2O last year*
Borja Virto 0.50 point each-way @ 80/1 unibet
*Led last time after r1 before fading but comes to life round here*
Duncan Stewart 0.50 points each-way @ 140/1 365
*Better play than recent figures and plays best at quality courses; the tougher the better*
***Prices from first show Bet365***
Figures don’t always tell the story.
Whilst we currently stand the princely sum of blank, things could have been so different. You’ll all know by now that Soderburg took a two-shot lead down the back in Kenya only to blow the lot whilst, in China, location specialist Charlie Saxon followed four birdies in his first eight holes with four bogeys in the next five to go from second to nowhere. There is no question that eventual winner Kim Koivu was incredibly impressive and would probably have won anyway but….
Both this season’s winners try to back up their maiden victories. Lorenzo Gagli and Koivu have differing styles with the former attempting to back up course form of mc/10/2 but also to annoy further with this column having tipped and backed him here last year.
The Finn looks a different type of beast. Completely unexposed after a moderate professional career so far, he looks as if he may start justifying the lofty reputation gained at college and he could genuinely be the next Broberg or Koepka, coming from relative obscurity to dismantle the tour. Going back-to-back isn’t unprecedented on the tour and whilst I wouldn’t usually go in on such a recent winner, I expected no bigger than 20-1 given his undoubted class shown at the tight Yunnan track and he has been added late at 28-1. He hasn’t had the chance to shine at the tracks detailed below but if Foshan is anyway related to Yunnan…
However, having looked at the history of recent winners there looks to be something of a connection that neither of these two possess.
Firstly, none of the last four winners have come in with any notable form. Only last year’s victor, Ryan Evans, came in without a recent missed-cut with all of Clement Sordet, Rhys Davies and Oliver Farr boasting far from impressive form in the lead up.
Farr’s win came in very difficult conditions at the National GC but even with the change in venue to Gloria GC, this event ranks alongside any of the higher quality venues of the year. Indeed, when discussing the tournaments towards the end of year, all of Gloria, Le Vaudreuil, Foshan and Oman are mentioned and these are hugely significant alongside events that have now gone by the wayside.
Going backwards, Evans managed a 3rd and two top-10s in his first year at this level in 2015, including 11th at Tecina and 17th at Le Vaudreuil, before 12th on the now high-class looking leaderboard in Oman. Following his initial effort on the main tour, he was back last season to record his first victory here alongside a brace of 3rd place finishes at….Le Vaudreuill and Foshan!
When Evans won the bronze medal in Foshan, 2016 Turkish winner Clement Sordet finished 13th, whilst the young Frenchman also boasts hugely impressive form at Vaudreuil with a runner-up finish when unknown in 2014 followed with 5th and 9th last year. It can’t do any harm that he followed his victory here with a 5th behind Evans whilst his victory at the finale boosts the evidence.
Rhys Davies unfortunately spoils the party a bit but was still 7th when the finale was at Al Mouj but Oli Farr gets us back on track having followed his win with a 12th round this venue a couple of years later. His 2014 finale was the last at Al Badia with a very respectable 3rd but key is that his first victory for three years came at Foshan last season.
Evidence over, I’ve tried to find players that link the three venues (two at worst) with possibly form here, although the latter is less vital given the lead-in form of the winners. It may or may not help to have had the new event in Yunnan come into play between Kenya and Turkey but Chinese form is so hard to read I am happy to take or leave it. Our ante-post bet on Oliver Lindell looks in trouble already after a dubious start to the year but he was quite clear on the Challenge Tour website that if you hit a bad shot in China, you were looking how to save bogey. This wouldn’t have suited a few and there is plenty of evidence to show that players can simply not take to playing in the Far East.
Saying all that, Marcus Armitage stands right at the top of my list this week. It wasn’t hard to be impressed with a final round 65 in China and had it not been for a couple of double-bogeys through the tournament, who knows? It certainly suggests his game is in as good a shape as it was when recording 5/15 at Joburg a few months ago and at the Australian PGA (won by Cam Smith) at the end of last year. As for the discussed events, the 30-year-old (peak age?) was 14th at Le Vaudreuil in 2016 before winning his maiden at Foshan and completing a season with a top-10 in Oman. He may have narrowly lost his card last year but not before recording three top-20 finishes and I strongly suspect he’s on the way back there by the end of this season. He started using a new type of golf ball in China and clearly got used to it as the event progressed, a confidence that will be required this week. The Tour highlighted his best shots in China and he was clearly enjoying himself so much so I felt he would be a good 15 points shorter than he opened even if taking notice of his one outing here when 41st (final round 67, his best of the event by far)
i was hoping Borja Virto would be a bigger price last time out in China but there was very little to choose as only one book went up before Wednesday. Having led after round one he was hugely disappointing in finishing outside the top-50 and it may be hard to stomach him again so soon. However his best result of a poor 2017 was round here when 5th to Evans, backed up with 11th at the significant French venue (3rd after round three) alongside four other top-20 finishes. Winner at Slovakia and Foshan on his first attempts in 2015, he immediately followed that with a top-20 at the finale when it mattered little as his card was safe, though it is worth noting he was 9th going into Sunday. He surely clicks soon and having rested in Dubai should be ready to fire at a favoured venue.
Scot Duncan Stewart is one of the growing breed of golfers that sell shares in their performance to fund the season, and in turn reward backers. They would certainly have been happy with his efforts in 2016 when his best ever season resulted in finishing the season ranked 10th and gaining a card on the main tour.
To obtain such a lofty position on the Road To Oman, the then 32-year-old won his only event in Madrid backed up with six further top-10 finishes including at Foshan (65/65 weekend). Further front page finishes include Nejati, Sweden and Brittany, the latter always a rich picking for home players as Turkey seems to have been. Finishing the year with a top-20 at the finale was good enough for qualification and whilst last season looks a tad blank at first glance, he spoke very encouragingly believing he had played well in spurts but had been too inconsistent to keep his place inside the top-100. There is certainly enough in that top-20 at Tshwane and Irish Open to encourage whilst that 9th in Matt Fitzpatrick’s Swiss victory is a league above this level. Looking through his record, his best finishes include T5 and T4 at Le Vaudreuil through the years and he definitely wants a classier venue to show his best, although the tougher the conditions the better. His opening events of 2018 may not shake the record books but he was top-10 at the cut-line in Kenya and finished with a Sunday bogey-free 65 in China to rise from the depths to 36th. It’s there and a matter of controlling the errors and there is certainly room for improvement. As he indicates, the play may be better than the actual results.
At the start of the year there was a back-of-bus-ticket group of players that I felt were sure to contend the illusive fifteen main tour cards and Sebastian Soderburg was one. With his 3rd here in 2016 he had to be on the list this week and, given his class, I was happy to ignore China and to concentrate on his play at Kenya. However, recent interview suggests he is not quite 100% and he can’t be risked at the price despite claims on pure ability. Instead I am taking a chance on another Seb I am convinced is better than his recent results.
German Sebastian Heisele grew up on the Emirates Course in Dubai so certainly has the background to be playing at the top level and was very unfortunate to finish 16th in Oman last year and in the same position in the rankings to miss out by one place and around 4.5k. Having been inside the top-10 at halfway he would have expected to get promotion and continue an excellent career that has seen him improve his status from 74th in 2015, all following his spell as a leading world junior.
It hasn’t happened so far for the still promising 29-year-old and he is another for who performances are better than figures – a perfect example being last time out in Spain when going from 20th to missing the cut via a bogey/double bogey final two holes.
Heisele’s qualifications here are more than just promise although, as said, missed-cuts do not matter when finding winners here. Figures round Gloria of 19/12/41 read very well but look closer – a third-round 63 took him to 6th before a horror show 78 on Payday, whilst he was 4th going into the weekend a year earlier. He clearly likes it here and with his 4th at Le Vaudreuil sitting nicely with three other top-10s in 2016, his two top-17 finishes in Oman and his 8th earlier this year in Qatar we have a player that should be doing far better. Let’s hope it’s this week.
G L O R I A GLOOOOORIA.