Volvo China Open
This week’s China Open is all about Alexander Levy as he returns to defend the title he won last year. But he is also looking to go back to back after his win last week in Morocco and unsurprisingly he is the 10/1 favourite. It is perhaps as hard to argue with as it is to back him at those prices however. There is no question he will be looking to take his Ryder Cup position out of the hands of Thomas Bjorn by qualifying automatically and another win would go a long way to securing that. Despite having plenty in his favour though it will surely be difficult for him to play his best again this week. All the extra media work involved in defending and the pressure he will now be putting on himself to make his home Ryder Cup team make him opposable. But who should we oppose him with? The field looks wide open again at Topwin Golf Club so there were plenty of options on my short list this week.
The course is of average length at 7261 yards and looking at the two renewals so far, I think it represents a good all-round challenge. The fairways are pretty wide but with lots of elevation changes, lots of trees, water in play and dog-legs, the driving lines will look a lot more intimidating standing on the tee and there will be preferred landing areas for finding the greens. While the scoring has been low to date, Levy won on -17 and Li with -22, the players will have to remain focussed as there is still a lot of trouble out there for those who aren’t in control of their distances.
Stats wise last year 5 of the first 6 in the all-round ranking finished inside the top 7 and the year before 5 of the first 8 in the all-round ranking finished inside the top 8. This confirms that while scoring is low, every aspect of the game is needed to contend at Topwin. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect but if any part of their game is in poor nick then they surely won’t manage to contend this week. Therefore I’m looking closely at the recent all-round stats rankings, previous form at Topwin and previous form in Asia on similar courses. If pushed for one stat to focus on it would probably be scrambling. Many of the courses on the Asian Tour involve fiddly green complexes and that was noticeable when watching last year. As things heated up on Sunday, the sharper short games thrived on a relatively packed leader board.
Pablo Larrazabal is a player who I really struggle to get right but I think there seems to have been a massive over reaction to his missed cut last week. Prior to that he was in fine form with results reading 21-4-4-44-3 with the 3rd coming at the Maybank Championship at Saujana Golf Club where form has tied in very nicely with Topwin over the last couple of years. Topwin winners Levy and Li were both inside the top 5 there in 2017. Pablo was also 3rd here last year and despite him not always being the most solid in contention these days, he is still a 4-time European Tour winner and I’m a little shocked that he is double the price of Bernd Wiesberger and Joost Luiten among others. They may be a little more consistent but are no better in contention and I believe we are getting a little bit of value with the Spaniard as I’d have had him around the 28/1 mark in this field. If we forgive him his missed cut in Morocco then his whole game had been in decent shape and during that 3rd at the Maybank he ranked 1st in the all-round stat. On a course he clearly likes and with a winning total in line with his 4 titles to date I expect this to be a good week for him. He is often feast or famine these days with 3 missed cuts and 3 top 5s so far in 2018 but at 40/1 that is probably factored in and I like his chances if he can get off to a good start.
Ryan Fox doesn’t have a great record at the course (MC-63) but two things are in his favour for me here this week. Firstly his whole game has been improving gradually back to its best in 2018 and last week on his way to finishing 12th in Morocco he ranked 1st in the all-round ranking. Secondly he was 3rd at the Maybank earlier this year where form ties in nicely with this event and he was 6th in the all-round ranking. When his game clicks he usually contends such is the quality he possesses. Last year Fox found his form in the summer so we know he takes a little time to get going in the season but after last week I think we might be about to see another strong period of form and he looks worth following closely over the coming months, starting here at 66/1.
Erik Van Rooyen’s chance is an obvious one but unfortunately his price has just about gone. He opened as big as 55/1 and that was an excellent price. But despite him perhaps arriving as the most consistently in-form player over the last 3 months, it is hard to make a case for him being any kind of price at 40/1. While he has been brilliant lately his golf has tailed off over the weekend more often than not as the occasion of chasing his first European Tour looked to get on top of him. He looks very much a winner in waiting this season but possibly not at this track and I can just about let him go unbacked at his current price. Maybe one for the multiples this week.
Benjamin Hebert and Alexander Bjork are two more European Tour maidens who look to have a good chance but have been cut since Monday. So I’ll complete this week’s team with a rank outsider who I’m also going to back for a top 20. Poom Saksansin hasn’t had any fantastic results so far in 2018 but some of his stats suggest that his game is in good order as he ranks 24th in strokes gained: tee to green and 17th in strokes gained: around the green. I think he should enjoy this test providing it doesn’t play too long for one of the shorter hitters on Tour. The young Thai is still finding his feet in these bigger events but he proved just what he was capable of at the Eurasia Cup at the start of the year when he took down Paul Casey in the singles to finish with a record of 2pts out of 3. He also finished 24th on his only start in China to date which happened to be the WGC HSBC Champions event. With top 20s in similar strength fields like the Hong Kong Open and Singapore Open I think we might see him outplay his odds of 300/1 and if he doesn’t find himself on the leaderboard we might manage to get a run at the top 20 money.
Pablo Larrazabal – 1pt ew @ 40/1 (1/5 odds 7 places Coral, general 33/1 ok)
Ryan Fox – 1pt ew @ 66/1 (1/5 odds 6 places BetVictor and Sunbets)
Poom Saksansin – 0.5pt ew @ 300/1 (1/5 odds 6 places) and 2pts Top 20 @ 9/1
2018 European Tour Results;
Points advised = 67.50
Points returned = 90.69
ROI = 34.36%