The European Tour's 2021 season concludes with this week's DP World Tour Championship and Matt Cooper has three selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying seven places...
"Golfers who thrive on the Earth Course tend to have proved themselves in the Middle East in the past so his win at the Emirates GC is a huge plus point."
This column has a distinct brief which is to find value with each-way picks and that often rules out the top of the market (unless a very fine player has been overlooked by the compilers).
Arguably, that difficulty is intensified in a week such as this one, when the European Tour has a particularly strong field, one with plenty of fine golfers priced 33/1 and lower, boasting good course form, strong skill sets and excellent form.
But in Lucas Herbert I think we've got plenty on-side and, as with last week's headline selection Francesco Laporta, he sort of leapt at me from page (let's just hope he can go one spot better than the Italian whose valiant effort was marred by a fretful thrash with his approach to the 72nd hole).
There is, undoubtedly, one missing element in Herbert's record book: a lack of form at Jumeirah's Earth Course.
Down the years, winners of this event have tended to have tested the waters in the top 10 prior to lifting the trophy and Herbert's only visit here, three years ago, saw him make a slow start which he never recovered from.
But he's a stronger and more confident golfer than back then and I'm content with the idea that he has it in him to contend this week.
There's not much doubt that he's something of a boom or bust merchant, but the boom definitely has a lot going for it.
Just four months ago he won the Irish Open at Mount Juliet, a week later he was tied fourth in the Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club, and a mere three weeks ago he landed his first victory on the PGA Tour in the Bermuda Championship.
In the first of those wins he displayed raw talent with a 64-67 to open, then added guts and savvy to convert the win over the weekend.
In the second it was middle rounds of 65 which shone a light on his potential before his determination and resilience on a windy Sunday afternoon once more turned opportunity into triumph.
That's two wins in 12 starts and you don't have to go too far back in history to find his other success in the pro ranks.
That came in the 2020 Dubai Desert Classic.
The year before he had led at halfway before finishing tied seventh. On this occasion, he found himself a little off the pace heading into the final round, but then negotiated breezy conditions supremely to force a play-off with Christiaan Bezuidenhout which he won in bold style.
Golfers who thrive on the Earth Course tend to have proved themselves in the Middle East in the past so that win at the Emirates GC is a huge plus point.
And when added to a brace of wins in his last dozen starts I'd have him among those in the 33/1 and lower bracket.
Next up is the enigmatic Englishman Danny Willett.
He's an odd sausage who refers to himself in the plural, is the definition of a fellow who looks like he has ants in his pants, and has a fondness for the bigger stages.
An eight-time winner on the European Tour, the second of them was Africa's Major (the lucrative Nedbank Challenge), the fourth the well-regarded Dubai Desert Classic, the fifth a Major (the 2016 Masters), the sixth this event (in 2018), the seventh the European Tour's flagship tournament (the 2019 BMW PGA Championship) and the most recent came at the Home of Golf St Andrew's (the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship).
Like Herbert there are an awful lot of bad weeks among the good ones, but boy is he good when he sniffs a chance - and also when he's on favoured turf.
His first-ever win was at Gut Larchenhof and he led before finishing eighth on return. He followed the win at the Gary Player CC with fourth and T11th. A winner at Crans, he also has another two top five finishes there.
He twice contended at both Emirates and the West Course at Wentworth before lifting the trophy, and he had three top sixes at the Old Course before winning the Dunhill Links.
He had his early difficulties with the Earth Course, but a second round 65 in 2012 seemed to turn things around.
He was tied second at halfway in 2014, finished fourth in 2015, was fifth on defence of his trophy in 2019, and tied ninth heading into the final lap last year.
Off that win two month ago he can go close again on a test that suits.
It will be a mighty tough task for the young Dane Nicolai Hojgaard to win this week, but he is well-capable of enjoying an exciting week.
I'm obviously attracted by his raw talent which is revealed in big-hitting and fearless approach work, plus the capacity to drain a lot of putts.
I also like that Danish golf is on a hell of a roll right now, with four different winners this season (and number one in the Challenge Tour rankings as well).
But I'm also intrigued by his runner-up finish at the Portugal Masters because a good effort at Dom Pedro has proved a decent pointer towards those contending on the Earth Course.
The first winner of the tournament was Lee Westwood (third in Portugal), he was succeeded by Robert Karlsson (second in Portugal). The third winner, Alvaro Quiros, was a past champion at Dom Pedro.
In 2015 Andy Sullivan won in Portugal and was second in Dubai, three years later Portugal winner Tom Lewis was tied seventh in the season-ender, and last year Laurie Canter was second in Portugal before sharing the lead after 54 holes on the Earth Course before finishing fifth.
The young Dane has the game to join the ranks of those who have enjoyed both tests.
MATT'S 2021 P/L
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