BMW Masters: PGA Tour class can shine on Jack's Chinese monster

Deserved favourite Justin Rose can go close this week

It's the first event of the Final Series but a few of the big names are missing this week in China. Nevertheless, Steve has still found some value at the top of the market. 

"The course is wide open and exposed and will always suit the longer hitters but when the wind is up, as it was last year, an ability to handle such conditions will be essential."

Tournament History
This is only the third staging of the BMW Masters and it's just the second time that it's kicked of the European Tour's Final Series - an initiative that began 12 months ago. 

The Series is staged over a four week period, taking in this event, the WGC HSBC Champions, the Turkish Airlines Open and culminating with the DP World Tour Championship

Following complaints from the likes of Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia, there have been a few changes to the Final Series criteria after last year's inaugural staging. Players aren't now required to play a minimum of two of the first three events and the field will now consist of the top 60 players available, rather than the rigid top-60 on the standings, which is why world number one, Rory McIlroy, will be missing this week and next as he attends to legal matters

Henrik Stenson is also absent following the birth of his third child on Sunday and after moaning about the criteria last year, even though they've changed the rules to accommodate him, Garcia has decided to play in the CIMB Classic on the PGA Tour instead so the first three in the standings are all absent which is hardly ideal. 

There are also a number of invited players in the field, such as Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal and a group of invitees from the Chinese Golf Association.

Masters Course, Lake Malaren Golf Club, Shanghai, China

Course Details
Par 72, 7,607 yards

Stroke index in 2013 - 72.72
The Jack Nicklaus-designed Masters Course is a very long, flat and exposed course with a lot of large bunkers and a number of water hazards. The large greens are heavily contoured with lots of different pin placements and they're likely to run at around 12.5 on the stimpmeter.  The fairways were narrowed prior to last year's event which looked to make a slight difference with the first dozen home averaging around 20th for driving accuracy compared to an average of around 30th in 2012. 

For a bit more on the course, read this interview with Peter Hanson prior to last year's defence.

Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Details
Hole-by-Hole Guide
Tee Times
Weather Forecast
Alternative Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Live on Sky at 3.00 all four days, starting on Thursday

First Two Winners
2013 - Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano -11
2012 - Peter Hanson -21

What Will it Take to Win The BMW Masters?
The first two renewals of the BMW Masters panned out very differently. In benign conditions, Peter Hanson galloped to 21-under-par to beat Rory McIlroy by a stroke and 12 months later, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano edged out Thongchai Jaidee and Francesco Molinari by a solitary stroke, but he took ten strokes more than Hanson in blustery conditions.

The course is wide open and exposed and will always suit the longer hitters but when the wind is up, as it was last year, an ability to handle such conditions will be essential. At this early stage, the forecast doesn't suggest it's going to be too windy until Sunday so I suspect the leaderboard could be dominated by big-hitters with good greens in regulations stats - in the first renewal only one player in the top-ten ranked worse than 20th for greens hit and last year, of the first 14 home, only Molinari ranked worse than 17th for that stat. 

It's not just about hitting the greens though, it's important to hit the right spots on the greens which is why great wedge players, Thongchai Jaidee, Francesco Molinari and Thomas Bjorn all finished inside the top-five last year without lumping it miles off the tee. 

Is There an Angle In?
Given we've only had two renewals, it's not easy to find angles in but I do think desert golf specialists can do well again and the best guide, with so little data to go on, could well be the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Champions event.

The 2013 Abu Dhabi winner, Jamie Donaldson, led the field a merry dance here in 2012 when he opened up with a first round of 62. Peter Hanson and Rory McIlroy, first and second here in 2012, have both finished runner-up in Abu Dhabi (Rory three times!) and three of the first 13 home last year, Pablo Larrazabal, Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer, have all won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Champions event.

In-Play Tactics
Hanson was second behind Donaldson after round one and led thereafter. And runner-up, Rory, had never been outside the front four, suggesting that in benign scoring conditions, coming from off the pace might not be easy. 

Gonzo had trailed by six strokes at halfway last year but that's a little misleading as Luke Guthrie had been four clear through 36 holes and even in windy conditions, it may not be easy to come from off the pace. Only two of the top-14 last year, defending champ and top-class Kaymer, were outside the top-22 after round one.

Given we've only got two years worth of data, I would give those stats too much credence but one in-play angle might be to lay the leader late in proceedings on Sunday...

Fernandez-Castano looked to be in control with two to play but he hit a poor tee-shot on the very difficult par 3 17th and missed the green. With a par looking tough he then chipped in for birdie and it was a good job he did as he double-bogeyed the last hole to win by just one.

Twelve months earlier, Hanson also won be a solitary stroke, and he'd led by four with just four to play! The par 5 15th is the easiest on the course but the 16th averaged over par last year and the last two holes are really tricky. If your pick is leading with three to play take some profit and laying the leader with a couple to play could pay dividends. 

Market Leaders
With the top-three in the standings all missing, the first event of the Final Series has a rather weaker than expected look about it. In addition to McIlroy, Stenson and Garcia, there are a number others absent that I'd have expected to be present too and I'd have been interested in backing a couple of them. Paul Casey and Martin Kaymer both have brilliant records in Abu Dhabi but they're not playing.

With so many names missing, the worthy favourite and the man to beat is undoubtedly Justin Rose. He's long enough off the tee, a fine desert golf exponent, and he should arguably have won the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship last year in his only appearance. He didn't play in this event 12 months ago but finished sixth here in 2012 and the last time we saw him he was in fine fettle, finishing fourth at the Tour Championship.

With wins on both Tours already bagged in 2014, Rose is the form of his life and if the long break he's enjoyed since the PGA Tour finale hasn't disrupted him too much, he's a very worthy favourite and anything in double figures is a very fair price.

My initial instinct was to look carefully at second favourite, Victor Dubuisson. He won his first European Tour title this time last year - at next week's event in Turkey - and he comes here fresh on the back of a second place finish in Perth, on a course that wouldn't play to his long game strengths as well as this one will but there's enough to put me off at just 18.017/1.

He shot rounds off of 78, 75 and 72 to kick off last year's renewal and although he did finish with a 67 that's nothing to write home about and the fact remains, that victory in Turkey is still the only one chalked up to date.

It's great to see a few Americans make the effort to play but I wouldn't have this down as the sort of ideal test for Chris Kirk and he was a little disappointing at his home course on Sunday - starting slowly before running on for fourth when defending the McGladrey Classic.

Fellow American, Brooks Koepka, although monstrously long off the tee, still hasn't won on either of the two major tours and he again looks too short to me.

I can't get past Rose. I'm a little concerned that he hasn't played for a while and that he might just start slowly on a course that appears to suit frontrunners but all things considered, he ticks all the right boxes and is very much the class act in the field and the man to beat.

Since finishing fifth in the USPGA Championship, Ryan Palmer has maintained a strong level of form and is playing the best golf of his career this autumn. He's very long off the tee, should be very well suited to the course and I thought he was a fair price at 29.028/1.

Justin Rose @ 11.521/2
Ryan Palmer @ 29.028/1

I'll be back later with my CIMB Classic preview.

* You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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