The 2019 European Tour season kicks off in Hong Kong and our man has the lowdown with his comprehensive preview here...
"The last four winners and eight of the nine winners before Jimenez, five years ago, were within three strokes of the lead 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."
Taiwan's Lu Liang-Huan, who was universally known as Mr. Lu, won the very first Honma Hong Kong Open way back in 1959. It became a European Tour event, co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, in 2001 and other than the US Masters at Augusta, the Hong Kong Open at Fanling is the only other professional event to have been played at the same venue for more than 50 years. It's also Hong Kong's oldest professional sporting event.
The Honma Hong Kong Open will kick off the 2019 European Tour season on Thursday, just four days after the Open winner, Francesco Molinari, was crowned the 2018 Race to Dubai champion.
Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling, Hong Kong
Par 70, 6,700 yards
Stroke index in 2017 - 70.67
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 the championship.
It's a short, tree-lined composite with small Bermuda greens which usually run at around 11 on the stimpmeter. There are six dog-legged holes (four left and two right) and 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 four editions. The fairways are described as being of an average width but they appear tighter than that to the eye and for the seriously inaccurate, there are drainage ditches present on several holes.
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Last Five Winners
2017 - Wade Ormsby -11
2016 - Sam Brazel -13
2015 - Justin Rose -17
2014 - Scott Hend -13 (playoff)
2013 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -12 (playoff)
What Will it Take to Win the Honma Hong Kong Open?
Fanling is a tight and fiddly short track that rewards accuracy over power. Driving Distance is an irrelevant stat but finding fairways is fairly important. Last year's winner, Wade Ormsby, ranked third for Driving Accuracy and he was the third winner in eight years to rank inside the top-10 for DA.
Ormsby ranked ninth for Greens In Regulation and four of the next five on the leaderboard ranked tied for 4th, second and first for GIR. The shock 2016 winner, Sam Brazel, and the runner-up, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, ranked 10th and first for Greens in Regulation and six of the top-ten ranked 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 GIR so that's clearly one of the most important stats. The last 14 winners have all ranked inside the top-12 for GIR.
Good scrambling is very important too. Ormsby ranked fourth last year and Julian Suri, who finished tied for second, ranked first. Brazel ranked third for Scrambling a year earlier and eight of the last nine 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 a key stat. Last year's winner only ranked eighth and the 2016 winner, Brazel, ninth, but nobody played the par fours better than Rose three years ago or Hend in 2014 and 10 of the last 13 winners have ranked no worse than 4th.
Prior to the last two winners, the odd man out had been Colin Montgomerie, 12 years ago, but Monty only ranked 10th so the last 13 winners have all ranked inside the top-10 for Par 4 Scoring. The top-five ranked for Par 4 Scoring all finished inside the top-eight two years ago and three of the top-four finished inside the top-seven and ties last year.
Big hitting Aussie, Scott Hend, who won here four 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.
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 two of the last three seasons (beaten twice in extra time) and he was leading the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth through 18, 36 and 54 holes in 2015 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 Race to Dubai champ, Francesco Molinari, who won at Wentworth in May has had great chances to win this and the European Masters, 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 three years ago, deserves a mention given the winner at there, Matthew Fitzpatrick, finished third in this event a couple of weeks later, and that he's won the last two European Masters events at Crans and finally, last month's Panasonic Open on the Asian Tour is worth looking at too.
Prior to last year's win here, Wade Ormsby's only previous victory had been in the Panasonic Open in 2014, at the Delhi Golf Club in India. Like Fanling, Delhi is tree-lined and Wade wasn't the only one to boost the course correlation last year...
SSP Chawrasia, who was matched in-running at [1.74] last year, has a stunning record at Delhi where his last seven starts there have produced form figures reading 5-2-4-1-2-1-2. He won the now defunct Indian Masters there back in 2008, as well as the Panasonic in 2014 and the Indian Open in 2016. He was second there last year and alongside him in a tie for second was Paul Peterson, who finished tied for second here 12 months.
Is There an Identikit Winner?
Following Ormsby's victory 12 months ago, three of the last four winners have been Aussies and they've all been outsiders.
Scott Hend was matched at a high of [200.0] before the off in 2014, the 2016 winner, Sam Brazel, provided one of the biggest shocks of the season and Ormsby was an [80.0] chance last year, having been matched at [100.0]. Hend was generally a [180.0] chance at the off but Brazel was matched at a whopping [500.0]. He ranked at 480 in the official world rankings and was impossible to fancy but, historically, 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 (at the time) have been runner-up too. K.J Choi, Robert Karlsson, Thongchai Jaidee, Simon Dyson, Matteo Manassero, Cabrera-Bello and Francesco Molinari have all finished second here in the last 11 years.
Ormsby was tied for 11th and just three off the lead after round one and he was seventh but five adrift after round two and just a stroke off the lead with a round to go. Cabrera-Bello led after every round bar the last two years ago and the winner, Brazel, was never outside the front three places. Rose sat tied for third and just a stroke off the lead after round one three years ago and he led all the way after that with the runner-up, Lucas 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 four winners and eight of the nine winners before Jimenez, five years ago, were within three strokes of the lead 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.
We've seen all sorts of drama here though and three players traded at odds-on last year before getting beat. As already mentioned, Chawrasia hit a low of [1.74], Alexander Bjork was matched at [1.6], and having hit long-odds on a couple of times in 2016, on both Saturday and Sunday, Cabrera-Bello again hit odds-on last year before yet again falling short.
There isn't an awful lot to choose between the front three in the market - Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood and Sergio Garcia. All three have very obvious chances.
Fleetwood has played here twice before, finishing third on debut two years ago and sixth last year, Reed was also third on debut, in 2015, but was only 43rd in 2016, and Garcia's first spin around the track yielded a disappointing 19th placed-finish 12 months ago, but there's absolutely no reason why the course shouldn't suit him nicely.
All three are trading at a single-figure price and they all look short enough after their exploits last week in Dubai. Reed has the disappointment of a narrow defeat to overcome, Fleetwood looked and sounded utterly drained and Garcia was never really in-contention. And that wasn't a shock after his own disappointing defeat the week before at the Nedbank.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello really likes it here but how many chances do you give him at a restrictive price and Matt Fitzpatrick hasn't really shone since he doubled up in Switzerland.
I was hoping to get 20/1 about Lucas Bjerregaard and he'd have ben a play at that price. This track suits him very nicely too but his scrambling figures aren't brilliant and that's just enough of a negative for me to swerve him at the price.
I'm quite keen on Mathias Schwab and he's definitely my strongest fancy. He's been playing nicely of late and his GIR and Scrambling stats are very good. He's a very fair price at [75.0]. After that, I've just thrown a few pounds at a plethora of wild outsiders who should enjoy the track, including my each-way fancy, SSP Chawrasia.
Mathias Schwab @ [75.0]
Angelo Que @ [180.0]
Clement Sordet @ [200.0]
Thongchai Jaidee @ [250.0]
SSP Chawrasia @ [300.0]
Siddikur Rahman @ [400.0]
Ajeetesh Sandhu @ [400.0]
Khalin H Joshi @ [700.0]
Rashid Khan @ [1000.0]
I'll be back later with my World Cup preview.
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