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Volvo China Open preview

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After last week’s Shenzhen International event, the European Tour is sticking around in China for the Volvo China Open. This event has been played at several courses over the years, but last year Topwin Golf and Country Club in Beijing played host for the first time and will do so again this week.

The Course and what it will take to win

Topwin Golf and Country Club, 7,261 yards, Par 72

Last year it was predicted that the bombers would enjoy this test, and whilst those that featured towards the top of the leaderboard certainly don’t lack distance, it wasn’t how far they hit it off the tee that week, that got the job done.

Marcel Siem, who finished in a tie for 3rd did lead the field in terms of distance, averaging 308.3 yards off the tee, however Felipe Aguilar (32nd), Lucas Bjerregaard (11th) and Richard Bland (45th) all ranked outside the top-10 for distance on the week but finished 2nd and tied 3rd respectively. Unfortunately the stats for winner, Haotong Li are unavailable but he averaged 294 yards a drive last season on the European Tour, which ranked him 41st on Tour.

Accuracy off the tee doesn’t necessarily correlate to good finishes here either, with Aguilar the only player in the top-5 to rank better than 36th.

Hitting Greens in Regulation does look important, with Aguilar ranking 5th, Bjerregaard 7th, Bland 39th and Siem 19th whilst Peter Hanson who just missed out on a top-5 place, ranked 2nd however it might be what you do when you get on the greens that is more important.

Excluding Li, who no doubt fared well with the flat stick, seven of the top-10 on the leaderboard ranked inside the top-10 for Putts Per Gir, with Bjerregaard (38th), Hanson (36th), Zanotti (51st) and Borja Virto Astudillo (20th) the exceptions.

Fabrizio Zanotti finished 9th last year, leading the field in Driving Accuracy whilst ranking 2nd in Greens in Regulation and his ball striking was let down only by his putter, ranking 51st in Putts Per Gir and 55th in Putts Per Round. Another player who had a very similar week to the Paraguayan was Frenchman, Romain Wattel. Wattel finished in a tie for 15th after ranking 5th in Driving Accuracy, 14th in Greens in Regulation, but only 47th and 42nd in the respective Putting stats. These two along with the likes of Bjerregard and Hanson highlight how big of a difference a good week on the greens can make on this course.

For me this is an all-round test, which gives up plenty of birdie opportunities, highlighted by both Li’s winning score (-22) and the fact that 38 players finished the week double-digits under-par. A good putting week will be key to putting together four low rounds, helped by hitting plenty of Greens in Regulation, whilst what you do off the tee almost seems secondary here.

Form in this part of the world is always going to be a plus and with just one year of course form to go by, it might be worth looking beyond last year’s renewal and look how a player has fared over the years both at this event and the Shenzhen International amongst others.

With all this in mind, here are my selections for the 2017 Volvo China Open.

George Coetzee 30/1 (Bet365 & BetFred) 1pt e/w:

Coetzee played tremendously well last week, right up until the 72nd hole as the South African tied the lead on 17, before finding water twice and recording an 8 on the Par-4 18th. Of course it is all ifs and buts, however an 11th placed finish doesn’t really represent how well he played for the majority of the week and I like his chances of bouncing back at an event he has previous form at.

In 2012, albeit at a different course, Coetzee finished T4 at this event and he can emulate that success this week.

Statistically he was very solid last week, ranking 3rd and 23rd in Driving Distance and Driving Accuracy respectively, in addition to ending the week inside the top-15 in Greens in Regulation, Putts Per Gir and Putts Per Round. Another week like that could easily see him in contention for the second week running, adding to his already impressive run of late.

Since missing the cut at the Qatar Masters, Coetzee’s form reads T7-MC-T14-T7-MC-T8-11 and as we know, that 11th could have been so much more. After a relatively poor start to the season, he has bounced back tremendously and looks to bubbling back to winning form once again.

It has been almost two years since Coetzee’s last win at the Mauritius Open, and as such it is still suggested he has underachieved for his talent level. A win this week will help towards realising the potential he has in abundance. Still just approaching 31 years of age, he has plenty of time ahead of him to grind out a very good career on the European Tour and possibly beyond.

He didn’t play here last year, but there is every reason to suspect this course will suit Coetzee, and I think it speaks volumes about his current form that he has decided to peg it up this week. This is only Coetzee’s second start at this event, and for a player that generally only plays the WGC event in this part of the world, he must like his chances this week. A T12 finish at the WGC HSBC Champions in 2014 gives further hope that he can perform well in China on top of his play last week.

Whilst 30/1 doesn’t immediately jump off the page, you are getting a three-time European Tour winner who has finished inside the top-14 in five of his last seven starts and has a top-4 finish on his sole start in this event.

Pablo Larrazabal 40/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w:

Larrazabal has always been a streaky player and after two top-13 finishes in the last two weeks, it looks as though the four-time European Tour winner is ready to contend again.

Should he win this week, the headlines are already pre-written, with no doubt many an article saying he was inspired by compatriot, Sergio Garcia’s Masters win. I don’t think it’s inspiration from his friend as much as it is Larrazabal knowing he has got the better of not only Garcia, but three other major winners in the form of; Rory Mcilroy, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson as well as beating European Tour legend, Colin Montgomerie in the first of his four European Tour victories. Those scalps more than anything are surely what pushes him to crack to world’s top-50 and earn himself a spot at Augusta.

Knowing that he has gone toe-to-toe with four major champions and come out on top will no doubt leave the Spaniard scratching his head as to why he has not A) won more and B) taken his form to America. It is no secret that the every pro has PGA Tour aspirations, and Larrazabal is no exception. The problem is not one of his four European Tour wins have vaulted him any higher than 53rd in the world rankings, such is his inconsistency which he is why he has never teed it up at the Masters. He has played in all three of the other majors, with limited success, finishing no better than T30 (2011 Open).

Enough of the history lesson though, Larrazabal can win for a fifth time this week, in a country he has shown plenty of form in. Last week at the Shenzhen International he left it late, opening with 72-71 before going 67-66 over the weekend. He ended the week 5th in Greens in Regulation and 30th in Driving Accuracy, so his ball-striking was great, he just needed a hotter week with the putter. The flat stick obviously warmed up over the weekend, however he only managed to rank 42nd in Putts Per Gir and 41st in Putts Per Round over the course of the week. A better performance on the greens this week will surely see him improve on his missed cut in this event 12 months ago and possibly his career-best T5 in this event in 2013.

In addition to his top-5 in 2013, he has a further two top-10’s and an 18th in this event, proving he is more than comfortable playing in this part of the world. Top-20 finishes in both his starts at the WGC HSBC Champions is further evidence of this, so I am sure he can go well again this week. At 40/1 it is worth chancing a winner of four quality events, in the hope his hot streak continues.

Total Points staked this week: 4

Profit/Loss for 2017: -2 (Winners: Kevin Chappell @ Valero Texas Open)