Celtic Classic: Do Not Leave Brandon Stone Unturned

Stone Celtic
Stone can kick on from recent near misses

The European Tour's UK Swing crosses the Severn Bridge into Wales this week and Matt Cooper has three each-way selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying seven places...

"It all hints that Stone's best golf will be an excellent fit this week."

Back Brandon Stone each-way @ 50/1

Main Bet: Brandon Stone each-way @ 50/1

Much of 2019 was nothing to write home about for South African Brandon Stone whose first 20 starts in the calendar year reaped only one top 30 and a best of no better than T21st.

Oddly, he had sort of predicted the dip in form when chatting to the media at the Turkish Airlines Open late in 2018.

Asked how his sensational win in the Scottish Open of that year (completed with a final round of 60 that included a putt for a 59) had impacted on his career, he chose not to focus on the solid form he followed it with, but instead hope that the security of long term playing rights would help him deal with lengthy periods when he struggled with his game.

If that sounds a little downbeat and pessimistic, there was also an element of realism about his words because he was perfectly willing to accept that his best golf is very, very good.

And, since breaking his run of bad performances in 2019, he has proved again what a fine talent he is, particularly at European Tour level.

He closed last year by contending at both the Open de France and Mauritius Open, whilst in-between those efforts he was only one shot behind winner Steven Brown in the Portugal Masters.

At the start of 2020 he went one better, equalling the 72-hole low total in the Oman Open before Sami Valimaki bettered him in the play-off.

Last week he revived memories of that form with tied sixth in the English Championship, albeit, like the rest of the field, he was left trailing in the fumes of runaway winner Andy Sullivan.

The fact that he is a three-time winner on the European Tour in 134 starts indicates that he has strong pedigree and last week is a tick for the form, which leaves only the question of his suitability for a course he is yet to play.

Celtic Manor's 2010 course, host of the Ryder Cup ten years ago, has 14 holes on the flat and four which follow the contours of the side of a large hill.

Many of the holes are retained from an original Robert Trent Jones Sr design, with later additions made by the European Golf Design team.

It's a classic modern resort test, with undulations and green complexes created by machinery rather than nature, plus plenty of shots that are hit over water hazards.

Much of it will be familiar, both visually and in shot-making requirements, to last week's test which is a positive.

But Stone's good form at Le Golf National (three of the seven winners on this course have also triumphed in Paris), Dom Pedro in Portugal and Heritage in Mauritius also read well.

So, too, does his dalliance with the win at Al Mouj because the last winner on the 2010 was Joost Luiten who owns a superb record at both courses: never outside the top four in three visits to Celtic Manor and three-for-three at grabbing top 12s in Oman.

It all hints that Stone's best golf will be an excellent fit this week.

Next Best: Nicolas Colsaerts each-way @ 50/1

"For whatever reason I've always played well here," the big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts said six years ago in the process of finishing tied fourth in the Wales Open.

"It's quite modern and it rewards good ball-striking, which is what my game is all about," he added. "If you can hit a lot of greens the ball will work close to the hole and give you a lot of birdie opportunities."

His only other start on the course was four years earlier, when he landed T12th.

Before that he made four of five cuts on the previous incarnation of the course and also on the Roman Road layout so his fondness extends to the resort which will be his home for the next fortnight.

There is good news, too, regarding his post-lockdown form which was re-invigorated last week at Hanbury Manor, when he broke a run of three missed cuts with tied ninth after opening with laps of 65-66.

The clincher in the 37-year-old's case is a triangulation of course fire.

The three men to have completed the Celtic Manor-Le Golf double are Thongchai Jaidee, Alex Noren and Graeme McDowell; the first of those two are also the only winners at PGA Sweden National when it held the Nordea Masters.

Colsaerts bounced back to the winner's circle with a win at Le Golf towards the end of last year and he was also tied seventh on that Swedish layout.

It makes for a persuasive combination when allied with that solid course and current form.

Final Bet: Marc Warren each-way @ 100/1

Joost Luiten is not only very fond of this course and Al Mouj - he's also a very fine performer at Diamond Country Club near Vienna where he owned five top seven finishes before threatening to make it eight last month.

He still finished in the top 20, but the trophy was lifted by Marc Warren on another track that is modern in design and features plenty of carries over or alongside water.

In the immediate aftermath of that victory the Scot failed to match, never mind beat, par in four rounds at the British Masters and Hero Open, but given his rather enigmatic nature, and the huge career-boost that win gave him, it was not entirely surprising that he suffered a hangover.

marc warren cropped.jpg

In carding rounds of 68-686-67-70 last week at Hanbury Manor, however, he got himself back into gear and something he said after the Austrian win provides hope that more success is a distinct possibility.

He explained that he had stopped trying to hit the ball in both directions and had instead accepted the happy limitation of one shape.

"Because of that decision shot selection and club selection felt so easy," he said. "I stuck with what I knew would work, just one clear decision. I stopped asking myself so many questions.

"I've gone back to how I used to play when I did well in big tournaments."

If he can reignite that simplicity this week's test might really suit because he has form there.

He thrashed a brilliant 63 in the final round of the 2010 Wales Open to claim T12th and added tied fourth in 2014.

Admittedly he's also missed four cuts, but with Warren there is always touch of boom or bust.

However, at three figures it's a chance worth taking.

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