The ISPS Handa World Invitational debuts on the European Tour this week and Matt Cooper has three each-way selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying seven places...
"He’s making his debut at Galgorm Castle, but a tree-lined parkland test is right up his street."
Main Bet: Adrian Otaegui each-way @ 28/1
I'm not going to lie - there's something about this event finally making it to the main tour that makes me a little melancholy.
Last January I attended a press conference to announce its graduation at a swanky London hotel. It was a glorious winter morning, perfect for strolling the capital's streets, Niall Horan charmed us all, the finger buffet was top-notch, and we all chuckled at the quaint notion of one of the big wigs talking to us via a video link.
How outrageously carefree those scenes now seem. A finger buffet for goodness sake! So hedonistic and innocent!
But enough of my wistfulness. The tournament should have featured on the European Tour (and, indeed, the LPGA and LET - it has both a male and female field) last summer, but it's finally here and it's back at Galgorm Castle, the parkland track which stepped in at the last minute to host the Irish Open won by John Catlin nine months ago.
Before that Jack Senior and Stephanie Meadow were the winners of this event in 2019, and the Northern Ireland Open has also been hosted there with Calum Hill, Ryan Fox, Clement Sordet, Joakim Lagergren and Daan Huizing among the champions.
It's modern layout, but the greens do not sit especially high up, as is common with recent designs. It is also tree-lined, but not in an inhibiting sense.
Or is it? Many of those who have thrived here have form at tracks we know to be tight so perhaps those trees exert a greater influence than first glance supposes.
Last week this column ran close when Callum Shinkwin played in the last group out on Sunday and was the eventual winner's closest challenger midway through the Sunday front nine. Let's hope this week's trio can ride the wave they don't even know they're on and claim the win.
First up is Spain's Adrian Otaegui who I feel has been a little under-estimated and deserves to be shorter than 28/1.
That price is a consequence of a missed cut last week, but I'm not too fussed by that given that he's not shown any great form at Celtic Manor.
Before then he finished second in the Scandinavian Mixed (this week also features a women's field so that might work in his favour), followed by top 30s in the BMW International, Irish Open and Scottish Open.
His Strokes Gained Approach and Around the Greens have been superb in that run and in each of those latter three he got himself into contention at some point in the week.
He's making his debut at Galgorm Castle, but a tree-lined parkland test is right up his street.
He's got a win at Rinkven International, and also runner-up finishes at Nurtau, Geneve, Lake Karrinyup, Diamond CC, Hanbury Manor and Vallda.
Jon Rahm likes to argue that he feels at home in Ireland because he's Spanish. More specifically because he's from Basque Country.
So, too, is Otaegui and perhaps he can add to the region's success in Ireland these past few years.
Next Best: Francesco Laporta each-way @ 50/1
Earlier this month Italy's Francesco Laporta had a great time of it in the Irish Open at Mount Juliet, landing tied fourth thanks to four sub-70 laps.
He was solid enough with his long game, but he was especially good on and around the greens: top 10, in fact, for Scrambling, Putting Average, SG Around the Greens and SG Putting.
Most golfers making two golfing trips to Ireland, both of them inland, would be a little irked.
In fact, I once went on a golf trip with an American who literally went AWOL because we were playing parkland not links, but Laporta is unlikely to be quite so frustrated.
Not only does he have those recent nice memories of Ireland's countryside as opposed to its coast, but he's also enjoyed this week's course.
Back in 2018 he was T12th at halfway on his way to T31st and a year later he was one back of the lead after 36 and 54 holes ahead of landing tied fifth in the first edition of this event.
A week before that he was also tied fifth at Silkeborg Ry in Denmark which is another tree-lined track, and it kickstarted the run of form that saw him graduate from the second tier.
Since then he's threatened to win a few times and this week represents another good chance.
Final Bet: Alejandro Canizares each-way @ 125/1
A second Spanish pick to complete this week's team and it's among-the-trees specialist Alejandro Canizares.
He announced himself at this level in spectacular style with victory in just his fourth European Tour start at Moscow Country Club in 2006.
Since then he's enjoyed playing at Hong Hong, Kingston Heath, Eichenried, Kuala Lumpur, Sevilla, Lake Karrinyup, Wentworth, Glendower, PGA Catalunya, Valderrama and Milano.
He's played good golf elsewhere, of course, but the trees seem to suit his pysche.
He's not had a particularly good time of it in recent times, but where has he done well since the return from lockdown?
He was in the halfway top 10 at Valderrama last summer, he got off to a fast start in Kenya, he was in-contention all week at Diamond Country Club. More trees.
Then last week he found something on the greens and a Saturday 67 got him to T10th after 54 holes, before a Sunday 72 left him T25th.
A decent effort and quite the contrast with his base level at Celtic Manor.
Back in 2007, when still a young pup, he finished tied eighth on the Roman Road course, but the 2010 Course has been a disastrous spot for him: not just seven missed cuts in seven starts, but a stroke average of 74.50.
The fact he carded 71-69-67-72 last week, therefore, is rather intriguing.
He was also T35th on the course in last year's Irish Open - his first visit there - and he ranked ninth for SG Approach.
MATT'S 2021 P/L
2020 P/L: -32pts
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