The European Tour remains in Cyprus, at last week's venue, for another brand-new event with a unique format. Read Steve's take on the Cyrus Showdown ahead of Thursday's start here
"The course seems to suit him, he wasn’t in the heat of battle last week, the peculiar format shouldn’t hinder him and he has the incentive to show he’s still Finland’s top dog."
Following on from the latest successful last-minute event, the Cyprus Open, arranged in haste quite brilliantly by the European Tour as a reaction to the pandemic, we stay at the very same venue in Cyprus - the spectacular PGA National Cyprus at the Aphrodite Hills Resort - for yet another new event, the Cyprus Showdown. But this one is a little bit different to the usual 72-hole stroke play events experienced most weeks...
This week's field of 105 will be reduced after 36 holes by a harsh cut that will see the top-32 and ties only progress to Saturday's third round.
Somewhat bizarrely, the scores will be reset and after another round on Saturday, the top-16 and ties will return on Sunday for a final round shootout when once again, the scores will be reset.
I'm trying my best to keep open-minded about the event but it seems like a particularly daft concept.
It will no doubt be consigned to the bin immediately. Just like the other quirky events introduced in recent years - the World Super 6 Perth, the GolfSixes, the Belgian Knockout and the Shot Clock Masters - it's hard to see this format standing the test of time.
PGA National Cyprus, Aphrodite Hills Resort, Paphos, Cyprus
Par 71, 6956 yards
Stroke Average last week 68.61
Designed by Cabell Robinson and opened in 2002, the course underwent an upgrade and complete modernisation, including the reconstruction of greens and bunkers in 2017, to become the first and only course in Cyprus carrying the PGA title. According to the course website.
"Robinson has designed Aphrodite Hills to be the perfect mix of challenging pot bunkers, manicured fairways of lush Bermuda grass and generous tiered greens. Visually spectacular, the course expands through indigenous olive and carob trees and is built on two plateaus, separated by a dramatic ravine with outstanding views over the Mediterranean. The staggering 130 metre gorge dividing tees at the 7th hole is an enticing challenge for all lovers of this beautiful game."
Aphrodite Hills is an exposed coastal course primarily designed for tourists so with no significant wind present, with its fairly wide fairways, the course played fairly easily for the pros last week. Callum Shinkwin and Kalle Samooja both reached 20-under-par for the week, only six holes averaged over-par, with the toughest being the par three 15th which averaged 3.2, but it may play a little tougher this week.
The wind is forecast to blow a bit harder and I can't imagine they'll be able to do much to the course to alter it in just a few days. The greens sped up as the week wore on last week so they might be a bit faster at this event but to counter that, most of the field have now got a feel for the place.
Water is in- play on only two holes, the fairways and rough are Bermuda and the large greens are bentgrass. The course comprises of nine par fours, five par threes, and four par fives.
It's a unique and interesting course with the par three seventh played over a huge ravine. I really enjoyed watching last week's event and I'm looking forward to seeing it again so soon. The flyover below provides a great feel for it.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 9:30 on Thursday
What Will it Take to Win the Cyprus Open?
Prior to last week, I felt form at places like Doha (Qatar Masters) and Dom Pedro Victoria (Portugal Masters) might be of some use and I haven't changed my mind. last week's runner-up, Samooja, has form at Doha and throughout the event I felt there were similarities in appearance to Dom Pedro Victoria.
The two playoff protagonists last week, Shinkwin and Samooja, both have form in Scottish Opens at low-scoring links tracks so that's a possible angle in and the fact that the Oman Open winner, Sami Valimaki, traded at odds-on is probably pertinent too as the host course, Al Mouj, is another exposed coastal track.
Stats-wise, the first five home last week ranked between 23rd and 32nd for Driving Distance so length matters but it isn't critical. Jamie Donaldson, who finished tied for third, ranked fifth for Driving Accuracy but that's an irrelevant stat given he was the only player in the top-20 to rank inside the top-ten for DA and that the two playoff protagonists ranked 58th and 41st.
Shinkwin ranked second for Putting Average but Valimaki in tied sixth, who ranked fifth for PA, was the only other player in the top-nine places to rank any better than 10th. Donaldson topped the Scrambling stats but the first and second ranked tied 45th for that stat and the only thing that stood out prominently was Greens In Regulation. The first five ranked ninth, second, third, sixth and 13th.
How Much Credence Should We give Last Week's Form?
This is the second time this season that we've seen two events played out on the same course in consecutive weeks. The Wales Open followed the Celtic Classic at Celtic Manor back in August so I thought I'd have a little look at how those two worked out.
Valimaki, who was sixth in the Celtic Classic, finished second in the Wales Open a week later and Sebastian Soderberg finished fifth, a week after finishing 10th - although he was tied for the lead with a round to go with Connor Syme, who'd finished tied for third in the Celtic Classic. Syme ran out of steam like Soderberg and he finished tied for eighth.
The winner of the Wales Open, Roman Langasque, hadn't even played the week before and the majority of players that had contended in the Celtic Classic, failed to shine the following week.
On that evidence, although there aren't many playing this week that didn't play last week, they can certainly win and I'd probably just favour those that had a quiet week last week over those that contended.
Is There an Angle In?
The betting market is very interesting and one we can possibly exploit. It's a very condensed market with the better players longer in price than they'd ordinarily be and the lesser lights shorter. The event is clearly being considered to be a bit of a lottery but for the first two days at least, the value probably sits with the market leaders. If you're a Thomas Detry or Matthias Schwab fan, this could be the week to get a bit of value.
Looking back at previous European Tour events, every single winner this season has been inside the top-32 places at halfway and since Fabrizio Zanotti won the BMW International Open way back in 2014, having sat tied for 45th at halfway, only two winners have been outside the top-32 after 36 holes - Jon Rahm at the 2019 Irish Open and Alex Noren at the Open de France in 2018. So, in simple terms, if you're going to win on the European Tour, you almost always need to be inside this week's halfway cut line anyway.
After that, it all gets a bit weird, with the scores all being reset twice! More on that in the in-Play Tactics section below.
Avoid the 36-hole Market
There isn't one up on the exchange at the time of writing but I've seen a few bookmakers price up the 36-hole market and it needs avoiding like the plague. With the top-32 and ties qualifying for the weekend but with their scores all being reset, there is absolutely no incentive to try and be in front after two rounds when a top-32 finish will suffice.
We're almost certain to see players that are leading with four, five and six holes to play on Friday playing conservatively just to make absolutely sure of qualification and it's simply never wise to back on anything in which the outcome doesn't matter.
As highlighted above, prior to the off, I fancy the value sits with the better players who are priced up more generously than they ordinarily are but it's going to be a devil of a job to work out where the value lies after the first cut.
The odds on each player qualifying for the fourth and final shootout round will depend on how many get through the first cut. With the top-32 and ties progressing there could be quite a large field on Saturday but if it's a bare 32 that qualifies, or very near to 32, they'll have a very slightly greater chance than even money of qualifying for the fourth and final round, just because it's top-16 and ties.
I'd suggest leaving it alone entirely until after Saturday's second cut, unless there's a player you like that you think will be more than half the price they're trading at, should they qualify. But that's really tricky to gauge as it all depends on who else makes it through.
Looking at the hole averages from last week, the front nine is very scorable and the only tough hole encountered is the tricky par three fifth with its undulating green. The back-nine is tougher once the easy par five 10th has been negotiated and holes 15 and 16 were the hardest on the course last week. The draw on Sunday, given everyone starts on the same score, could be crucial and I'd favour those drawn early over those drawn late. If one of the early starters opens up a lead on the back nine, they may not be caught.
At the head of the market are three players that contended last week that are all in search of their first wins - Thomas Detry, Matthias Schwab and Robert McIntyre - and none of them interest me particularly.
All three put themselves in to contention before flopping again. McIntyre has less scar tissue than the other two and he hasn't been playing well of late so last week's effort was encouraging. Of the three, he's the one I like the best but I still don't want to back him.
Surprise entrant, Rasmus Højgaard, who played in the Bermuda Championship on the PGA Tour last week, is hard to fancy given he's gone off the boil since he won the UK Championship and Sami Valimaki has to overcome the disappointment of Sunday's collapse. I wouldn't want to put anyone off Valimaki though. He improved from sixth to second in Wales and looked to take to the venue better than anyone else last week.
At just 21 and with a European Tour title already in the bag, South Africa's Garrick Higgo looks to have a massive future. he was nerveless in-the-mix again last week and it would be no surprise to see him contend again this week, having finished alongside MacIntyre in tied third last week.
I like Sami Valimaki and Garrick Higgo towards the head of the market but I'm worried about how they'll react to last week and I may yet play two of my picks form last week - Nicolas Colsaerts and Joakim Lagergren - who both had nice quiet weeks. As already highlighted, I suspect that could be the best build up for this event but for now I'm playing just one - Mikko Korhonen.
Korhonen has form at the Portugal Masters and the Oman Open, he played nicely enough last week to finish a never-in-contention 17th, he's a winner of another quirky event - the Shot Clock Masters - and he also has the inspiration of having watched two younger Finns contend last week.
The course seems to suit him, he wasn't in the heat of battle last week, the peculiar format shouldn't hinder him and he has the incentive to show he's still Finland's top dog. He's also in search of his third win in three years. I thought 50/1 with seven places up for grabs was fair.
Mikko Korhonen @ 50/1 (Sportsbook)
I'll be back later with my Houston Open preview.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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