The European Tour pops over the Severn Bridge this week for the Cazoo Open at Celtic Manor. Steve Rawlings previews the tournament here...
"Justin Harding is no bigger than 16/1 on the High Street and I though 25.024/1 was more than fair."
After a break of six years, the Cazoo Open (formerly the Wales Open) returned to the European Tour schedule last year as part of its innovative UK Swing and it's great to see the tournament back again this year - despite the name!
First staged in 2000 and won by Denmark's Steen Tinning, the Cazoo Open was staged at this week's venue, the Twenty Ten Couse at Celtic Manor, between 2008 and 2014, as well as last year.
Twenty Ten Course, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales
Par 71 -7,315 yards
Stroke Index in 2020 - 72.73
The Twenty Ten Course was used for the 2010 Ryder Cup, this event between 2008 and 2014, for last year's edition of this event and for last year's Celtic Classic - won by Sam Horsfield - which was staged the week before this tournament last August.
Designed by Ross McMurray of European Golf Design, the Twenty Ten course is an amalgamation of nine new holes and nine holes from the old Robert Trent Jones II designed Wentworth Hills course. It winds its way around the River Usk and water is in play on 10 holes.
It's a long, flat and exposed course and given it was designed specifically for match play golf it's perhaps not completely surprising that those playing it in stroke play format aren't too enamoured by it.
It's a varied course, with a links feel for the first third. The lakes are a feature throughout the middle section but until you reach the tough 12th, there are chances to score around the turn. After that, it's a tough finish. The drivable par four 15th offers a great chance to pick up a birdie or eagle but it also causes plenty of carnage.
Be careful with the hole averages. As the course was built for match play there are plenty of tees to choose from and the holes can vary greatly from round to round. The organisers used to have a habit of moving tees quite markedly here and a hole that plays easy one day can be a brute the next. The par 5 finishing hole for example is reachable in two one day and a challenge in three strokes the next.
The weather very much dictates how the course plays. Sam Horsfield won the Celtic Challenge last year with a score of 18-under-par but that was ten strokes less than Romain Langasque took to take this title the following week and five of the last seven Wales Open winners at the Twenty Ten Course were all in single digits under-par.
Live on Sky Sports from 11:00 on Thursday
2020 Celtic Classic Result
1st Sam Horsfield -18
2nd Thomas Detry -16
T3rd Thomas Pieters -15
T3rd Andrew Johnston -15
T3rd Connor Syme -15
Cazoo Open Winners at the Twenty Ten Course
2020 - Romain Langasque -8
2014 - Joost Luiten -14
2013 - Gregory Bourdy -8
2012 - Thongchai Jaidee -6
2011 - Alex Noren -9
2010 - Graeme McDowell -15
2009 - Jeppe Huldahl -9
2008 - Scott Strange -22
What Will it Take to Win the Cazoo Open?
Looking back at last year's Celtic Challenge and the eight editions of the Cazoo Open staged here, length off the tee is fairly irrelevant. Alex Noren ranked first for Driving Distance when he won here in 2011 and Romain Langasque ranked ninth last year but every other winner has ranked 35th or worse.
Noren is also the only winner to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy (ranked ninth) and the two men to win here last year ranked 41st and 54th so driving straight isn't imperative either.
Denmark's Jeppe Huldahl was a strange winner at a huge price. He managed to win in 2009 ranking 37th for DD, 53rd for DA, and only 17th for Greens In Regulation. Gregory Bourdy, who ranked 27th for GIR, and Langasque, who ranked 13th, are the only other Cazoo Open winners not to rank inside the top-ten for GIR and Horsfield ranked 12th for GIR in the Celtic Challenge last summer so that's been a key stat.
Huldahl was deadly on and around the greens. Like five other Cazoo Open winners, he ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling and he had a Putting Average ranking of sixth.
At last year's events here, the front three in the Cazoo Open ranked fifth, ninth and first for Scrambling and the first and second in the Celtic Challenge ranked 11th and second so that looks like a key stat.
Is There an Angle In?
There are too many examples of players performing well here and at Le Golf National in Paris for it to be a coincidence. Graeme McDowell, Thongchai Jaidee and Alex Noren have won here and the Open de France in Paris for starters. The 2017 Open de France winner, Tommy Fleetwood, finished second to Joost Luiten here in 2014 and Peter Uihlein has finished runner-up at both venues.
Francesco Molinari, twice a runner-up in Paris, finished fourth here on debut and the 2019 surprise Open de France winner, Nicolas Colsaerts, has Twenty Ten Course form reading 12-4-63-53 with his two poor performances coming last year in consecutive weeks.
The first and second at the Celtic Classic, Sam Horsfield and Thomas Detry, had finished 14th and eighth in Paris the year before and last year's Cazoo Open winner, Langasque was just behind them in 18th.
Analysing the form at Le Golf National looks like a great place to start.
G-Mac shot weekend rounds of 64-63 to win from a long way back 11 years ago. He sat tied for 63rd and seven adrift after round one and he was still six back and tied 27th at halfway.
Huldahl was trailing at the 36-hole mark too. He sat tied 29th and five off the lead but they're the only two (of nine) course winners to be outside the top-eight places at halfway and six of the nine course winners here have been leading or tied for the lead with a round to go.
Horsfield was in front at halfway in the Celtic Challenge last year but in foul conditions, Romain Langasque won from tied sixth and five back in this event a week later. He'd sat tied eight and only three adrift at halfway.
Look out for the weather on Friday when we could see quite a bit of change on the leaderboard. It looked at the start of the week that there was the potential for a considerable draw bias, favouring those starting late on Thursday and early on Friday but the forecast has changed since.
On Monday it suggested that the early starters would enjoy much calmer and drier conditions but it now looks likely that the wind will blow consistently throughout the day and it may even favour those that start late on Friday as they'll have a chance to see how the course is playing and to realise what's a good score in the conditions.
Other than Friday, we look set for a fairly benign week with a bit of rain on Saturday so the winner could well be in the van at halfway given how well favoured the frontrunners often are at Celtic Manor.
If there's any value in the front three in the market, I can't see it.
The favourite, Matt Wallace, has been a bit of a disappointment since winning three events in 2018 and it's now almost three years since he last won. Having looked the grittiest of closers that year, he's struggled a bit in that department of late, giving up a couple of chances to win on the European Tour and the PGA Tour over the last ten months.
He really should have won the Scottish Championship last October (led by three with a round to go), he had a great chance to win at the Golf In Dubai Championship in December and he was tied for the lead at the Texas Open with a round to go in April and at the Wells Fargo Championship at halfway in May. He finished third and sixth.
This is a big drop in grade from those two events in the States and the field isn't strong but neither is Matt's current form which reads 55-56-MC-MC-26-40 since his sixth in the Wells Fargo.
We haven't seen the best of course winner, Sam Horsfield, since he finished eighth and third in consecutive weeks in Kenya in March and fourth in the Canaries a month later and he makes no appeal at the prices either.
He finished fifth in the BMW International Open, despite shooting 77 in round two, but since then he's withdrawn form the iorish Open after shooting 75 in round one, missed the cut in the Scottish Open and he finished tied for 67th last week at Royal St George's, where he ranked 64th for Greens In Regulation and 65th for Scrambling.
Last year's Scottish Open winner, Aaron Rai, has been consistent of late, with form figures reading 42-12-35-19 but he's putting poorly and his two finishes last year at the course - 31st and 44th - don't inspire much confidence.
Justin Harding arrives in Wales after a fair performance in the Open Championship last week where he eventually finished 19th after shooting 72 in round four. He'd opened-up with back-to-back 67s and he only dropped out of the top-ten on Sunday and that effort came on the back of some decent enough performances.
Harding, who won in Kenya in March, finished fifth in the BMW International Open three starts ago and he should have finished better than 23rd in the Irish Open the following week. He sat third and just three off the lead with a round to go and his missed cut in the Scottish Open a week later could well have been a reaction to the 75 on Sunday in Ireland.
He'll be pleased enough with last week's top-20 finish and he's playing better than those around him towards the head of the market. He's no bigger than 16/1 on the High Street and I though 25.024/1 was more than fair.
John Catlin has lost his way since winning the Austria Open and finishing fifth in the Tenerife Open but I was happy to take a chance on him at 40.039/1. The victory in Austria came out of the blue and it was his third on the European Tour in just eight months so he's prolific enough to take a chance on in what is a very weak event.
I'll have at least one more pick, and a couple of honorary mentions in the Find Me a 100 Winner column shortly but that will be it from me this week.
I'm going to take a bit of a break this weekend but Matt Cooper will be here with the In-Play Blog throughout the week and with the De-brief on Monday.
Justin Harding @ 25.024/1
John Catlin @ 40.039/1
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter