Last year’s inaugural Ballantine’s Championship was one of the lowest scoring events on the European Tour calendar. Graeme McDowell and Jeev Milkha Singh both took the course apart with a 24-under total, before the former emerged as victor in a play-off.
I’m not so sure, however, that this year will see such a birdie fest. For this South Korean venue played particularly easy last year because the rough wasn’t grown fully after a dry spell. Apparently its grown properly this year, and at its toughest, Pinx GC should present a decent test, with narrow, firm, tree-lined fairways ensuring position off the tee is essential to set up approach shots to undulating greens. On the upside, those greens should still play as true as one is ever likely to see, making good putting essential to keep pace with the leaders.
The other similarity with 2008 is that I expect to see a high-class leaderboard. All seven of the players to register at least a share of a top-5 place last year started at less than 100/1, no doubt due to the importance of quality approach shots. As I’ve emphasised many times before, second shot courses usually accentuate the difference between the best and the rest. So hopefully unlike so many other tournaments this year, not least in the last fortnight, the formbook will stand up this week.
Nevertheless, I still rather doubt Henrik Stenson will become the first favourite to oblige on the European Tour in 2009. While I respect the Swede enormously on the right type of course, this doesn’t appear to be one. Stenson seems to be at his best on wide open courses, ideally target golf affairs in the desert. The extra emphasis on position may negate any advantage he would otherwise enjoy, and in any case he hardly covered himself in glory last time at the Masters.