Kenya Open: Strong in-play trends point to a patient approach before the off

Golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar
Gaganjeet Bhullar arrives in Kenya in form

The European Tour moves from Qatar to Kenya and to the delightful Karen Golf Course just outside Nairobi. Read Steve' comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"Palmer sat fifth at halfway, three off the pace, and Migliozzi was four back after 36 holes two years ago but the other ten winners here have sat first or second at the midway point."

Tournament History

The Kenya Open has been in existence since 1967 and it was won by some big names in the early days with the likes of Seve Ballesteros and Ian Woosnam both taking the title. It was a mainstay on the Challenge Tour from 1991 but it switched to become a European Tour event for the very first time two years ago.

The Kenya Open was one of the events lost to the pandemic in 2020 so it's good to get back this year and the venue, Karen Golf Course, is also going to be used for next week's Kenya Savannah Classic, which will be played between Tuesday 23 and Friday 26.

Venue

Karen Golf course, Nairobi, Kenya.

Course Details

Par 71, 6,922 yards
Stroke average in 2019 - 71.45

Located just 12 miles south of the capital, Nairobi, Karen Golf Course, which was founded in 1937, is named after Danish pioneer, Karen Blixen, who's book Out of Africa, was made into a film in 1985.

The course is largely situated on Blixen's land and the shade trees from her coffee plantation still dominate parts of the golf course, 80 years after they were planted.

In addition to this event, Karen is also the venue for the Karen Masters on the Sunshine Tour, won by Michael Palmer in 2018 and by Toto Thimba in 2019, and it was the venue for this event when staged on the Challenge Tour in 1968, 2004-08, and 2013-16 but the final edition of that event is arguably the best one to concentrate hardest on as a number of changes were made to the course in 2015.

At less than 7,000 yards, Karen certainly isn't long by modern standards and the fact that it's at altitude shortens it even further. The Kikuyu fairways are described as quite flat and narrower than average and the rough - a mixture of Kikuyu, buffalo and star grass - was over-seeded with rye grass in 2019.

Water is in play on holes two, three, six, seven, nine, 11, 13 and 14 and the greens are small and undulating, and much quicker than they used to be. Prior to the David Jones redesign six years ago the Bermuda greens would be set at less than 10 on the stimpmeter but they've now been changed to Bentgrass and they ran at a fairly speedy 12.5 on Sunday two years ago.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 10:00 on Thursday.

Inaugural Winner with Pre-event Exchange Price

2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Guido Migliozzi -16 150.0149/1

What Will it Take to Win the Magical Kenya Open?

We don't have any stats for the Challenge or Sunshine Tour events here but we do have figures for the 2019 renewal of this event and they make for interesting viewing.

Although tree-lined and fairly tight off the tee, Driving Accuracy wasn't a vital stat. The winner ranked 41st for DA and the runner-up, Adri Arnous, was the only player in the top-five to rank any better than 18th for that stat. He ranked ninth.

As you'd expect at a short course at altitude, Driving Distance was an irrelevance with the first five home ranking 30th, 39th, 25th, 14th and 48th.

Gaganjeet Bhullar, who finished fifth, topped the Putting Average rankings for the week but the front four only ranked 17th, 44th, 11th and fifth and Greens In Regulation and Scrambling were very much the key stats...

As many as five of the top-seven ranked sixth or better for GIR and the two that didn't, Justin Harding (T2) and Bhullar, ranked first and third for Scrambling so you've got to hit lots of greens and/or get up-and-down relentlessly won't you miss them.

The winner, Guido Migliozzi, ranked sixth for both GIR and Scrambling.

Is There an Angle In?

It's been suggested before that South African courses (and Karen is similar to a South African venue) are often comparable to a number of the tree-lined courses the top Italians play growing up. For example, I don't think it's a coincidence that Francesco Molinari has a great record at Wentworth and it's interesting to note that his brother won here at Karen in 2007. Lorenzo Gagli won the Kenya Open at Muthaiga GC in 2018 but that too is tree-lined and it might be worth checking out the Italian contingent again this time around after Migliozzi's success two years ago.

Is There an Angle In?

South Africans have a great record here and I can see why. Nairobi sits at just a shade under 1,800 metres which is around 50 metres higher than Joburg so anyone growing up playing there will have felt right at home here. The 2015 results highlighted that perfectly with Joburg resident, Haydn Porteous, beating Pretorian, Brandon Stone, in a playoff. Pretoria's only 1,339 metres above sea level so maybe Porteous had the height advantage!

The course looks typically South African and with its Kikuyu fairways and small undulating greens, so the South Africans must feel like there at home. Louis De Jager led by four at halfway in 2019 and it won't be a mere coincidence that Haydn Porteous followed his win here with success in the Joburg Open at the Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf club but the majority of courses the European Tour visit in South Africa have Kikuyu fairways so any form there is a plus really.

A number of players that played well here in 2019 also performed admirably in the Andalucía Masters at Valderrama in September so that's a track to consider and two others that could correlate nicely are Fanling, home of the Hong Kong Open, and possibly the New Delhi Golf Club in India that used to host the Indian Open on the European Tour. Both are short, fiddly, tree-lined venues with grainy greens.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Event Cancelled
2019 - Guido Migliozzi tied for the lead 7.26/1

In-Play Tactics

Looking at the 12 previous events here, it doesn't look like you could come from too far off the pace.

Iain Pyman trailed by six after the opening round here when he won this event in 2008, as did Thima in the 2019 Karen Masters and Michael Palmer trailed by five after the first round of that event in 2018 but the other nine course winners were all within three after the opening round.

Palmer sat fifth at halfway, three off the pace, and Migliozzi was four back after 36 holes two years ago but the other ten winners here have sat first or second at the midway point.

Daniel Vancsik shot 75 in round three in 2005 to go from three clear to three back between rounds two and three but he bounced back to win by three with a 63 in round four and he's the only one of the 12 course winners to be trailing by more than a stroke and to be outside the first two places with a round to go.

This is clearly a frontrunners track.

Market Leaders

With 2020 form figures that have improved with every start, reading 35-20-12-9, Kurt Kitayama heads the market despite never having played the course before and that's the negative, whereas the second favourite, Guido Migliozzi, is the defending champion.

Migliozzi is a considerably shorter than he was when finishing second in Qatar last week but so he should be. He emphatically ticks the course and current form boxes and an argument could be made that he should be the favourite.

Kalle Samooja, who finished tied sixth here in 2019 was an impressive fourth in the Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January and he was in contention in Qatar last week before a 78 in the wind derailed his challenge in round. He's the only other player trading at less than 30.029/1 which demonstrates just how competitive an event this.

Selections

This is a wide open and very tricky tournament but the in-running trends are very strong, so it makes no sense to go ploughing in before the off.

I've had a very small bet on Sam Horsfield, who lost his form last year after winning twice, and I've had and equally modest play on Gaganjeet Bhullar, who has both course and current form.

Selections:
Sam Horsfield @ 80.079/1
Gaganjeet Bhullar @ 95.094/1

I'll back tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner column and I've got at least two more here for that and at least one in the Honda Classic, which I've previewed here.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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