The European Tour pops over the Severn Bridge this week for the fourth event of the UK Swing - the Celtic Classic at Celtic Manor. Steve Rawlings previews the one and only edition of the tournament here...
"There are too many examples of players performing well here and at Le Golf National in Paris for it to be a coincidence. For starters, Graeme McDowell, Thongchai Jaidee and Alex Noren have won here and the Open de France in Paris."
Like last week's English Championship, the Celtic Classic is intended to be a one-off event. It's the fourth leg of the innovative "UK Swing".
The UK Swing has been hastily but very well organised as a response to the disruption caused to the European Tour schedule by the COVID outbreak. Following this week's event, the Tour remains at Celtic Manor for the ISPS Wales Open, before signing off at the Belfry with the ISPS Handa UK Championship at the end of the month.
Twenty Ten Course, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport, Wales
Par 71 -7,354 yards
Stroke Index in 2014 - 70.94
The Twenty Ten Course was used for the 2010 Ryder Cup and the Wales Open between 2008 and 2014.
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, the drivable par 4 15th apart, it's a tough finish.
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.
It's a tough test of golf all round and four of the last six Wales Open winners at the Twenty Ten Course were all in single digits under-par.
Live on Sky Sports from midday on Thursday
Wales Open Winners at the Twenty Ten Course
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 Celtic Classic?
Looking back at the seven editions of the Wales Open staged here, length off the tee is fairly irrelevant. Alex Noren ranked first for Driving Distance when he won here in 2011 but every other winner has ranked 35th or worse and including Noren, the average DD ranking of the seven winners is only 36.4. Take him out and it drops to 42.33.
Noren is also the only winner to rank inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy (ranked ninth) and the average DA ranking of the seven winners is 24.
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, is the only other winner not to rank inside the top-ten for GIR and that's been a key stat.
Huldahl was deadly on and around the greens. Like four other winners, he ranked inside the top-six for Scrambling and he had a Putting Average ranking of sixth. The seven winners here had an average PA ranking of 11.28.
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. For starters, Graeme McDowell, Thongchai Jaidee and Alex Noren have won here and the Open de France in Paris. 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 last year's surprise Open de France winner, Nicolas Colsaerts, has only played the Twenty Ten Course twice. He finished 12th on debut in 2010 and was fourth behind Luiten in 2014.
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 ten 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 winners to be outside the top-four places at halfway and five of the seven course winners have been leading or tied for the lead with a round to go.
After his extremely impressive stroll to victory in the English Championship on Sunday, Andy Sullivan is a worthy favourite. He has some mixed form here that reads MC-MC-17 but that final appearance in 2014 was a reasonable effort given he sat tied for 104th after an opening 74.
He has decent Open de France form figures reading MC-26-6-5-13-21-23 and given he won three times in 2015, another victory this year has to be considered. A couple of things do put me off here though...
Last week's event appeared to correlate strongly with the Portugal Masters and that's another tournament staged on a really easy course where the scoring is super low. Unless they set the Twenty Ten up considerably differently to previous events here, this is going to be a very different test and looking back at his previous three victories, he's not one to back to the week after a win. In his three starts after his three previous victories he's finished 57th, MC and 60th.
Joost Luiten absolutely loves it here and he has course form figures reading 2-4-1 and in contrast to those that played in England last week, this is going to seem like a much easier course having battled his way to a tie for 51st in the US PGA Championship at Harding Park last week. He threatened to win both of the tournaments in Austria before missing the cut in England at the Hero Open but with the year's first major looming large, it's quite possible that he wasn't really at the races that week.
It's going to be interesting to see which event provided the best preparation for this one - the English Championship, where the scoring was easy, or the tough grind of a major - but either way, I'm happy to swerve Luiten. He was awful in-contention at the two events in Austria and I'm not sure I could trust him in-the-mix, even in this grade.
Thomas Detry has never played here but he has improving le Golf National figures reading 25-MC-16-8 so this venue really should suit the classy Belgian but he's now just too unreliable to consider backing at a relatively short price.
He very nearly won the Hero Open two weeks ago from off the pace but he still managed to mess it up when missing a short par putt at the last. He may well win sooner rather than later but he strikes me as someone that will need things to fall just right for him to get across the line and that isn't factored in to his pre-event price. He's very easy to swerve.
Having made the cut and finished 51st in the US PGA Championship last week, Kurt Kitayama is an interesting contender on his first start back on the European Tour since he finished sixth at the Dubai Desert Classic back in January.
He's been plying his trade on the PGA Tour since then with limited success with an 18th place at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am the highlight but I thought he was worth chancing here at in excess of 30.029/1.
He won two of his first 11 starts on the European Tour, finished fourth at the Open de France last October and showed signs of life last week when opening up with a two-under-par 68 to sit just three off the early lead.
I'm not convinced that playing in either the English Championship or the US PGA Championship last week will have been ideal preparation for this so I'm more than happy to play Alexander Bjork, who took last week off after a promising third at the Hero Open two weeks ago.
In two visits to Le Golf National, the talented Swede, who has a fabulous touch around the greens, has finished third and eight and this place might just suit him perfectly.
After a third in the Hero Open and a top-20 finish last week, Chris Paisley, who was eighth at Paris National in October, looks a worthy candidate at 50.049/1 plus and I'm also chancing Andrew Johnston who will be better suited to this tougher test than he was to last week's birdie-fest, where he finished a very respectable tied 19th in his first start for six months.
Beef was playing some spectacular golf on Friday when he climbed up to fourth place at halfway but the rust showed over the weekend when he could only shoot 71-69.
Kurt Kitayama @ 32.031/1
Alexander Bjork @ 50.049/1
Chris Paisley @ 55.054/1
Andrew Johnston @ 75.074/1
I'll be back tomorrow with my Wyndham Championship preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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