Magical Kenya Open Each-Way Tips: Rai can conjure another Nairobi trick

Aaron Rai
Rai is looking for a second in Kenya.

The European Tour's Magical Kenyan Open returns to Karen CC after last year's cancellation and Matt Cooper has three each-way selections with the Betfair Sportsbook paying seven places...

"Something about a desert/resort test really doesn’t suit his game, but this week’s tight, tree-lined, traditional examination is far more to his liking."

Back Aaron Rai E/W @ 29.028/1

Main Bet: Aaron Rai each-way @ 28/1

I often think of my Wolverhampton-based grandfather when Aaron Rai lifts a trophy.

Granddad Ike was a sports-nut who'd seen the Wolves beat Honved in the 1950s and would later delight in the success of any home-grown sportsman or woman.

If the emotion that flowed when Tessa Sanderson won Olympic gold and Steve Bull scored against Scotland are anything to go by, Ike would have been wiping the tears from his eyes when Wolverhampton-born Rai won the Hong Kong and Scottish Opens in recent years.

And if I'd told him the full story of Rai's win in the 2017 Kenya Open, then a Challenge Tour event, I suspect the old fella would have sobbed himself silly.

It's a tale that is definitely set for another chapter this week (because Rai will be welcomed back with open arms) and quite possibly, if he wins again, those extra pages will be really rather lovely.

Back in 1970 Rai's mum Dalvir, born in Mombasa, left Kenya and she didn't return until attending this tournament four years ago, a trip booked by Aaron who then provided her with a spectacular week.

With the locals alerted to his connections he was treated as a hero by the Nairobi equivalents of Granddad Ike. "They were calling him Toto which means 'our young one''," Dalvir told me at Challenge Tour Grand Final later that season.

"I had a sore leg and the spectators were helping me down the fairways, urging both me and Aaron on, shouting: 'He's one of ours, he's one of us!'"

A return to Kenya before now was on the cards, but Rai's rise up the world rankings intervened and only now does he get the opportunity.

Moreover, thanks to some poor form in the desert, he's a price that has a touch of value.

That desert record is interesting because it really is rather dismal: 20 starts in the Middle East, not one top 10 and just three top 20s.

Something about a desert/resort test really doesn't suit his game, but this week's tight, tree-lined, traditional examination is far more to his liking.

His win in this event came at Muthaiga CC rather than this week's host the Karen CC, but the courses are alike, and Hong Kong GC, scene of his debut main tour win, is not dissimilar either, while his 2017 top ten at Valderrama also reads well.

Given that we've established how little he likes playing in the Middle East, if you rule those out, his recent form looks a lot different.

It would show T15th at the Belfry, second at Galgorm Castle, victory in the Scottish Open, a missed cut at Wentworth (a rebound from the win but it did include a 68 in round one), third in the Scottish Championship and T18th in the WGC Workday Championship at the end of last month.

It's a little too convenient to overlook all that UAE and Qatar golf, but those efforts do read well against the field.

He's a calm and intelligent fellow, who can cope with the attention again and contend for another title.

Next Best: Joachim B. Hansen each-way @ 45/1

The golf courses of Nairobi and Johannesburg share quite a few characteristics.

They tend to be traditional in design, often a consequence of being ex-colonial country clubs, and both cities are at altitude so the ball flies a lot further than normal.

In 2015 Haydn Porteous and Brandon Stone, both South Africans with wins in the Johannesburg region, conducted a play-off on this course and that thread of thought leads me to the Dane Joachim B Hansen, who won the South African Open at Randpark late last year.

He's a curious player, one who makes an absurd tally of par breakers, but also throws in some big numbers to ruin much of his good work.

But shortly before that breakthrough he landed a smart top ten at Wentworth among the trees and a year before that he was fourth at Club de Campo in Madrid - more golf in the trees, on a similar traditional course to Karen CC, again hard running and also at altitude (much less than this week admittedly).

Hansen also finished tied ninth last week and the final piece in the puzzle is that he has course knowledge, finishing a solid T19th back in 2015.

Sebastian Soderberg swinging.jpg

Final Bet: Sebastian Soderberg each-way @ 125/1

Altitude is also a factor at Crans, home of the European Masters, and the similarity between the last leaderboard there, in 2019, and the last leaderboard in this event earlier that year is striking.

Christiaan Bezuidenhout finished top 12 in both, Kalle Samooja top six in both, Adri Arnaus a shot back of the 72-hole low score in both.

Two of the men in the Crans play-off were previous winners of this tournament - Lorenzo Gagli, winner at Muthaiga, was an unlucky loser in the Swiss mountains.

Sebastian Soderberg won in Crans and he won here at Karen, too, in 2016.

The Swede has not played great since landing a place payout for this column in Wales last summer, but at three figures he's well worthy of attention because of how alive he becomes when the air gets thin.

His first top 10 on the Challenge Tour came at El Encin in Madrid in 2015 and his first top five on the European Tour arrived up in the clouds at Santo da Serra in the Madeira Islands Open later that year.

In addition to winning on this course five years ago, he was also sixth in the tournament at Muthaiga in 2018, when he was two shots clear after 54 holes.

He's also been T11th in the Joburg Open at Royal Johannesburg Country Club.

He's clearly a man with a steady head for heights.

MATT'S 2021 P/L
Staked: 24pts
Returned: 0pts
P/L: -24pts

2020 P/L: -32pts

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