Almost equally strong cases can be made about several other leading Europeans, though none appeal quite as much as the front two because of their unconvincing win ratios. Peter Hanson, for instance, has been extremely consistent since winning in his native Sweden at the start of August. A close third behind Garcia a fortnight ago in Shanghai, and 5th last year, Hanson looks bound to feature on the leaderboard at some stage. However, 20/1 are plenty short enough odds about a man with only two top-level wins to his name after eight years on the Euro Tour.
Very similar sentiments apply to Soren Kjeldsen,though he did improve his reputation as a finisher no end with that recent front-running performance at Valderrama. Perhaps that will be the making of Kjeldsen, a consistent player who has twice made the top-6 on this course before. Again, though, 25/1 is very short given the natural suspicion that the Volvo Masters title merely represented his rare winning turn. Nevertheless, I’d rather consider Kjeldsen than over-rated, erratic Rory Sabbatini on his first Chinese start.
Others worthy of the utmost respect are last week’s winner Jeev-Milkha Singh, THONGCHAI JAIDEE and the rapidly improving Rory McIlroy. That title in Singapore, his third of 2008, was the least Singh deserves for a fine season which also yielded many near-misses. Winning back to back will be no easy task though.
If there is to be a first Asian winner, I rate Jaidee the likeliest candidate. In recent months, I’ve felt he looked more comfortable and consistent than ever in Europe, and he played really well again in Singapore to finish 13th, fighting back strongly after a poor opening round of 76. He’s made the top-3 in the last two renewals of this event, and as a proven multiple winner looks well overdue a change of luck after a couple of luckless seasons.
As for McIlroy, a maiden title is surely around the corner after five top-10s in his last seven starts. McIlroy’s progress at the age of just 19 is mightily impressive; better than anyone else at this age in living memory with the exception of Sergio Garcia. His presence on such a world-class leaderboard in Singapore sent an ominous message to his vastly older and more experienced opponents. I will almost certainly be backing McIlroy in the weeks ahead, but others are very marginally preferred here.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL also looks a man to follow over the winter months, starting here before a series of events in Australasia. Very few players have been more consistently impressive than Campbell since the former US Open Champion found some form at the Open Championship in July. His last six events produced four top-10s including two top-3s, and he’s been talking a very good game in recent interviews. No player has had a more up and down career than Campbell,but we’ve seen over the years that he’s a man to follow when on a hot streak. His record in China is also impressive, with four top-3s in the country to his name.
On the basis of his latest, much improved effort, former course winner Jose-Maria Olazabal could be on the comeback trail after a year plagued by injury. Simon Dyson also won at Fanling back in his Asian Tour days, but is in my bad books after blowing a golden opportunity of at least a place in Singapore. David Lynn, top-6 on his last two starts and 3rd at Fanling in 2006, is another notoriously bad finisher who could threaten the places.
Speaking of good players who find it hard to get over the winning line, FRANCESCO MOLINARI has been particularly frustrating of late. Molinari has been recording relentlessly impressive greens in regulation stats since July without managing to put four good rounds together. His most loyal supporters will feel they’re due at least a place payout soon, and Fanling should be ideal. All of Molinari’s eight rounds on this course have been below 70, and he’s probably improved since finishing 8th here two years ago.
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