We're off to Hong Kong this week for the first event of the 2018 European Tour season so read what Steve thinks it will take to win at Fanling here...
"The last 13 winners have all ranked inside the top-12 for GIR. Good scrambling is very important too. Brazel ranked third for Scrambling and seven of the last eight winners have now ranked inside the top-six for that stat."
Taiwan's Lu Liang-Huan, who some may remember as Mr. Lu, won the very first Hong Kong Open way back in 1959. It became a European Tour event, co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, in 2001 and just four days after Tommy Fleetwood signed off the 2017, by winning the Race to Dubai, the UBS Hong Kong Open will kick off the new season on Thursday.
Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling, Hong Kong
Par 70, 6,710 yards
Stroke index in 2016 - 70.28
There are three courses at the Hong Kong Golf Club - the Old, the New and the Eden - and a selection of holes from the New and the Eden courses are used for this championship.
It's a short, tree-lined composite with Bermuda greens and six dog-legs (four left and two right). Water is in play on the tricky 18th hole, which has ranked the second or third hardest on the course in each of the last three editions, and drainage ditches are in evidence on several holes for the seriously inaccurate.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 6:00 on Thursday.
Last Five Winners
2016 - Sam Brazel -13
2015 - Justin Rose -17
2014 - Scott Hend -13 (playoff)
2013 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -12 (playoff)
2012 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -15
What Will it Take to Win the Hong Kong Open?
Fanling is a tight and fiddly short track that rewards accuracy both off the tee and from the fairway.
The first and second last year, Sam Brazel and Rafa Cabrera-Bello, ranked 10th and first for Greens in Regulation and six of the top-ten for GIR finished inside the top eight places. A year earlier, the first and second, Justin Rose and Lucas Bjerregaard ranked one and two for Greens In Regulation and that's one of the most important stats. The last 13 winners have all ranked inside the top-12 for GIR.
Good scrambling is very important too. Brazel ranked third for Scrambling and seven of the last eight winners have now ranked inside the top-six for that stat.
Unsurprisingly for a par 70, with just two par fives, Par 4 Scoring has been the key stat. Nobody played the par fours better than Rose two years ago or Hend in 2014 and 10 of the last 12 winners have ranked no worse than 4th. The odd men out are Colin Montgomerie, 11 years ago, and last year's winner, Brazel, but Monty only ranked 10th and Brazel ninth. And the top-five ranked for Par 4 Scoring all finished inside the top-eight last year.
Big hitting Aussie, Scott Hend, who won here three years ago, would be about as far from a typical Fanling-type as I could imagine but in addition to playing the par fours better than anyone else, he ranked fifth for GIR and third for Scrambling that week so statistically, post-result, he ticked the right boxes. The stats to consider here are Greens In Regulation, Scrambling and Par 4 Scoring.
Is There an Angle In?
Two courses that correlate really well with Fanling are Wentworth and Crans-sur-Sierre.
Fanling-specialist, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has a superb record here, has a great record at those two venues too. In addition to this event (on four occasions), the Spanish legend has also won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth and the European Masters at Crans-sur-Sierre so form at those two venues is definitely worth close inspection.
Interestingly, Hend, who I wouldn't have imagined would take to Wentworth or Crans-sur-Sierre either, boosts both course correlations. He's finished second in Switzerland in each of the last two seasons (beaten twice in extra time) and he was leading the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth through 18, 36 and 54 holes in May last year before flopping on Sunday and eventually finished tied for 15th.
In addition to Jimenez, Colin Montgomerie has won all three tournaments and Rory McIlroy really should have done. He somehow lost in a playoff at the European Masters in 2008 after missing a tiddler on 18 for what would have been his first European Tour victory.
The 2015 winner, Rose, has twice finished second at Wentworth. The often wobbly Italian, Francesco Molinari, has had great chances to win all three tournaments, the 2013 PGA champ, Matteo Manassero, was second here and third in Switzerland in 2010, and the unheralded Swede, Freddie Andersson Hed, has finished runner-up in all three tournaments.
Tree-lined Woburn, the venue for the British Masters two years ago, provided a very similar test to Fanling so anyone in the line-up here that contended there could be worthy of serious consideration. The winner at Woburn, Matthew Fitzpatrick, finished third in this event a couple of weeks later, but it's the Wentworth form that looks to correlate best.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Scott Hend wasn't well-fancied and last year's winner, Brazel, provided one of the biggest shocks of the season. Matched at 500.0499/1 before the off and ranked at 480 in the official world rankings, he was impossible to fancy but the cream tends to rise to the top at Fanling more often than not.
Jimenez (four times!), Monty, Ian Poulter and major winners Rose, Rory, Jose Maria Olazabal and Padraig Harrington have all won this title this century and some in-form big names have been runner-up too. K.J Choi (twice), Robert Karlsson, Thongchai Jaidee, Simon Dyson, Matteo Manassero, Cabrera-Bello and Francesco Molinari have all finished second here in the last ten years.
Cabrera-Bello led after every round bar the last one 12 months ago and the winner was never outside the front three places. Rose sat tied for third and just a stroke off the lead after round one two years ago and he led all the way after that with the runner-up, Bjerregaard, hot on his heels all the way to the line, and they're fairly typical examples of how this event tends to pan out.
Jimenez (in 2013) is the only Hong Kong Open winner this century to shoot an opening round in the 70s (shot 70) and he was the first to trail by more than five strokes after day one. The vast majority of winners here are up with the pace all the way. The last three winners and seven of the eight winners before Jimenez, four years ago, were within three strokes of the lead and inside the top-five places after round one. The only exception was Ian Poulter but he was in front by halfway. This isn't a catch-up course and you really do need a good start.
The 2015 winner, Justin Rose, heads the market but I have to wonder how much he has left in the tank after Sunday's gruelling final round in Dubai.
He hit odds-on early on in round four as he sought his third win in as many starts but he ran out of steam on the back nine and I suspect he committed to playing this event months ago. He probably wishes he had the week off now so he's easy to swerve at the prices.
This is Rose's fourth appearance in the event. His victory was sandwiched by a missed cut in 2011 and a tied 36th last year but it might be worth noting that he was carrying a back injury last year when defending.
Despite being in the hunt for the Race to Dubai title, Sergio Garcia failed to play in the three events preceding the season finale last week and I suspect there'll be a few people scratching their heads when they see him lining up here. Gary Player was polite but vocal about him missing his event in South Africa a fortnight ago and it is a little strange that he should turn up here after missing those three tournaments. Especially considering he's previously won at Sun City and there was so much up for grabs there.
The Spanish have a rich tradition in this tournament and given his fine record around tree-lined Valderrama, Sergio could very easily take to Fanling immediately but I'm not going to play him at a single-figure price. That does look a fraction skinny.
Mathew Fitzpatrick has gone from being very unpredictable to a model of consistency and he's finished inside the top-15 in each of his last eight starts. He was very disappointing on Saturday in Dubai when he shot a level par 72 to fall out of contention but he's been playing well and this place is right up his street.
Fitzpatrick won the aforementioned European Masters and it would be no surprise to see him win here. He was third at Fanling on debut in 2015 and this is first appearance since. It would be absolutely no surprise to see him win but whether he's a value price to do so is debatable.
I'm amazed to see Tommy Fleetwood in the line-up and he looks like one to oppose - even though he finished third on debut last year. He's bound to be physically and emotionally drained after winning the Race to Dubai yesterday and he's not for me this week.
I really like Matthew Fitzpatrick this week but I don't like his price and I'm interested in a couple of others I might play if they drift on the Exchange. I'll update Twitter before the off if I do back anyone else in the win market but for now I'm going with just one, 29-year-old Indian, Ajeetesh Sandhu.
To say he's in the form of his life would be a sizable understatement given his last seven starts have produced form figures of 3-MC-1-2-45-2-13 on the Asian tour and his stats are just as impressive. He's not long off the tee but he's very accurate from tee-to-green and I thought he was worth chancing at a triple-figure price.
Ajeetesh Sandhu @ 120.0119/1
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