After a series of putting contests in the Mediterranean region, the Race to Dubai moves to a different continent, and a very different type of test. The Volvo China Open always attracts a decent line-up, which partly explains the dominance of European, rather than Asian Tour regulars. The solitary Asian winner, Jeev Milkha Singh, deserves to be considered more as a global player.
Those trends can also be seen in the places. Of the last 29 players to have made the top five, only seven were Asian Tour players. The previous winners are a mixture of the very obvious; Singh, Paul Casey; and plausible outsiders like Scott Strange, Damian Mcgrane and Markus Brier.
COURSE AND KEY STATS
When first noticing that this would be played at a new venue, for which we have no previous form, I was expecting to advise keeping stakes to a minimum. However on reflection, this may actually offer a good betting opportunity. My reasoning is that a combination of the course, a rare Asian links layout, and tough weather conditions should particularly favour certain players whilst penalising others.
Jinji Lake GC is actually two sets of nine holes, both designed by Gary Player. They are reported to have a genuine Scottish links feel about them, with penal pot bunkers and fescue grass. If that doesn’t make the Brits feel at home, then the weather may. Current conditions are cold and wet, with more of the same forecast for the weekend.
That dampness should add a bit of length to the course, but rather than driving distance, I suspect the key stats may be driving accuracy and greens in regulation, with a view to staying out of trouble. Previous form on links courses or in bad weather were a pre-requisite to qualify for the staking plan.
2pts ew GONZALO FERNANDEZ-CASTANO @ 25/1 (GENERAL)
Despite reservations about the price, I am very keen on Castano this week. The Spaniard, runner-up in this event last year, went into the notebook with sixth last time out in a putting contest that was anything but ideal. Castano can never be trusted on the greens, usually saving his best for tougher layouts with a greater emphasis on ball-striking. He is also one of the few in this line-up to have thrived before on links, such as when runner-up in last year’s Estoril Open, and generally copes with bad weather better than most.
2pts ew GRAEME MCDOWELL @ 28/1 (BETFRED, STAN JAMES, CORALS)
McDowell gave us no sort of run for our money last week at the Masters, dropping several shots early on and never looking like recovering. That sort of thing happens in Majors, so I reckon bookies have over-reacted in offering 28/1 in this vastly lesser company. Indeed, if we took Graeme’s recent sixth place at Doral literally, he’d be favourite. As far as this test is concerned, McDowell ticks all the right boxes, as a player with extensive links experience, and plenty of top-class form in China.
2pts ew PETER HANSON @ 28/1 (GENERAL, 33/1 LADBROKES)
Hanson has been relentlessly consistent for months, usually just below those in contention, and looks overdue a place payout. He’s made eleven straight cuts since last season’s USPGA, registering four top tens and only once finishing outside the top 30. Moreover, he has plenty of good form on tough golf courses, including links.
1pt ew THOMAS BJORN @ 66/1 (GENERAL)
The return to a links course may bring Bjorn some reward for a much improved set of recent figures. Prior to missing the cut last time, Bjorn had registered four consecutive top-20s and has been hitting a high percentage of greens in regulation all season. In his heyday, there were very few better links golfers in the world than Bjorn. Still shy of his 40th birthday, he could become a factor once again.
1pt ew PAUL LAWRIE @ 80/1 (GENERAL)
With cold, wet weather and a links course, everything points towards a bet on the former Open champion at 80/1. Time and again over the years, Lawrie has shown what a fine player he is in these conditions, and that we should ignore his largely anonymous performances elsewhere. It is certainly no surprise that his last two top-ten finishes came at Gleneagles, and the Portugese links Oitavos Dunes. Moreover, his latest effort, a top 20 in a completely unsuitable putting contest, shows his game is in good enough nick.
1pt ew JAMIE DONALDSON @ 100/1 (SPORTINGBET, CORAL)
Just a few months ago, Donaldson was being regularly mentioned as a winner waiting to happen, but a few bad results have him back amongst the rank outsiders. This is an over-reaction in my view, given that the Welshman held several decent final day opportunities to land a first title on the main tour last season. The 100/1 price tag makes even less sense after an excellent sixth place in Andalucia last time out. Donaldson is another with plenty of links experience, making the top ten twice in the Dunhill Links, in addition to those two events where Paul Lawrie thrived.