The European Tour moves south from Newcastle to Birmingham for the second of six events in the UK. Read Steve's preview of the Hero Open ahead of Thursday's start here...
"Justin Harding tends to hold his form once he’s found it and he looks a generous enough price at [36.0] given he’s no bigger than 25/1 on the High Street."
Formerly known as the English Open and last staged back in 2002, the Hero Open returns to the agenda due to the post COVID 19 revamp of the European Tour schedule.
Darren Clarke won three of the last four renewals and this week's venue, the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel & Country Club, was the host venue for the last three stagings.
Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel & Country Club, Birmingham, England
Par 72, 6,958 yards
In addition to the last three editions of this event, the Forest of Arden was also used for the last three editions of European Seniors Masters, this tournament between 1994 and 1996 and it was also the venue for last week's event, the British Masters, in 1997 and 1998 and between 2003 and 2005.
As per usual, the European Tour website has absolutely no information about the course, other than a card, but this is what Keith Elliott wrote about the course after the 2005 British Masters, won by Thomas Bjorn.
"This treelined parkland course is quite flat yet it provides a severe test with water hazards in play on ten holes (I've read it's 11 this year). The bentgrass greens are undulating with subtle slopes and they measured 11 on the stimpmeter.
"The greenside rough is severe, very consistent and punishing. The emphasis has to be finding the fairways then accurate shots to avoid the greenside rough.
"The back nine, more exposed to the wind, is the tougher half with the final two holes very interesting as the par five 17th is reachable in two over water, and the final hole, very unusually, is a really tough 211 yard par three over water."
How much value this information has 15 years later is debatable but according to the card of the course on the European Tour website, the last two holes are the same.
Live on Sky Sports form midday on Thursday
Previous Course Winners
2017 European Seniors - Thomas Levet -10 (54 holes)
2018 European Seniors - Santiago Luna -10 (54 holes)
2017 European Seniors - Stephen Dodd -2 (54 holes)
2005 British Masters - Thomas Bjorn -6
2004 British Masters - Barry Lane -16
2003 British Masters - Greg Owen -14
2002 English Open - Darren Clarke -17
2001 English Open - Peter O'Malley -13
2000 English Open - Darren Clarke -13
1998 British Masters - Colin Montgomerie -7
1997 British Masters - Greg Turner -13
1996 English Open - Robert Allenby -10
1995 English Open - Philip Walton -14
1994 English Open - Colin Montgomerie -14
What Will it Take to Win the Hero Open?
Looking at the stats for the three winners between 2003 and 2005 (the only ones I could find from the course), Greens In Regulation was a key metric. Thomas Bjorn only ranked 19th but Barry Lane ranked fifth and Greg Owen fourth.
A number of course winners were renowned for their iron play and both Robert Allenby and Colin Montgomerie were among the best in the world at their peaks - year after year producing very strong GIR figures.
With plenty of wet weather this summer in the UK (as per bloody usual) the rough should be thick and whilst Driving Accuracy wasn't an important stat between 2003 and 2005 (winners ranked 68th, 19th and 47th for DA) I can't imagine missing fairways will do you much good this year and I expect missing greens with regularity will be a significant hinderance.
With not much to go on, GIR looks the best stat to study.
Is There an Angle In?
In his excellent preview, Ben Coley highlights a possible link with Doha - home of the Qatar Masters and given it has a links feel and so many fine links players have played well here, that makes sense.
Another venue that looks nothing like this one but appears to produce correlating form is Paris National - home of the Open de France. Philip Walton, Monty, Allenby and Thomas Levet have all won at both courses. Paris National is a really tough track where strong iron play gets rewarded so that connection also makes sense and like Arden, there is plenty of water in play in Paris.
This is just the fourth event back on the European Tour and the last two winners both benefited from a recent start so I'd be wary of backing someone completely fresh - especially given dialled-in iron play looks key.
Interestingly, the last two winners, Renato Paratore and Joel Stalter, both won having contended in their previous start before falling away.
There are no strong in-running trends looking at past results but it appears a slow start can be overcome.
Bjorn came from four back with a round to go in 2005 when Michael Campbell relinquished a three-stroke lead and Clarke, who's one of three winners to be at least four back and outside the top-ten at halfway, came from miles back when winning the English Open here in 2000.
The Irishman trailed by ten at the hallway stage and he was still six adrift through 54 holes before going on to win by a stroke.
In the nine European Tour events staged here, three clear 54 hole leaders have won and Clarke won by three in 2002, having been tied at the top though three rounds.
And on the Seniors Tour, Stephen Dodd came from three back to win by one, Santiago Luna won by two, having been tied for the lead, and Levet had sat second, trailing by one, when he won by a stroke last year.
Joost Luiten heads the market for a third event in-a-row having gone off favourite for both tournaments in Austria, where he traded at a very short price before getting well beaten on both occasions. He's a multiple European Tour winner so it's hard to know how much gravitas we can give those two performances but it's a worry given his price and that he didn't play last week.
The second favourite, Thomas Detry, is yet to win on the European Tour and he was the second favourite last week too when he missed the cut. He's certainly not for me at less than 20/1.
Local lad, Andy Sullivan, makes much more appeal after a decent week at the British Masters where he briefly threatened to put in a Sunday charge. He hasn't won for five years but he did win three times in 2015 and I can see him contending again.
The only other player trading at less than [30.0] is the man I backed last week at [120.0] when he finished second - Rasmus Højgaard. Having witnessed Joel Stalter winning a week after I'd backed him at [300.0], it would be very painful to see the young Dane emulate the Frenchman but I can't back him at 100 points less than last week. He has to recover from the disappointment of Sunday and that's never easy.
There's no denying that South Africa's Justin Harding was a bit disappointing on Sunday after he'd tied the lead after three holes on Sunday - eventually finishing third - but there was an awful lot to like about his first outing since an unsuccessful Qatar Masters defence way back in March.
Harding sat tied for 29th and five back after a rusty opening round but he sat second after a 63 in round two. He tends to hold his form once he's found it and he looks a generous enough price at [36.0] given he's no bigger than 25/1 on the High Street.
Jordan Smith's an excellent iron player, who often ranks highly for Greens In Regulation, and his 35th last week was an encouraging first outing back given he shot 75 on Sunday when just out of contention. He looked like a real prospect when he won the Porsche European Open three years ago and it might not be long before he goes in again. This track should play to his strengths and [42.0] is fair.
Calum Hill looked a danger at halfway last week before a poor weekend saw him slip to tied 26th. That's a very similar performance to the one put in by Paratore at the Austrian Open before he won last week and not dissimilar to Joel Stalter's Austrian Open effort prior to his Euram Bank Open victory.
I was happy to play Hill at a triple-figure price and although it's very difficult to win back-to-back, I'm not so sure Stalter should be [200.0] to do so.
Justin Harding @ [36.0]
Jordan Smith @ [42.0]
Calum Hill @ [110.0]
Joel Stalter @ [200.0]
I'll be back later in the week with the In-Play Blog.
*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter
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