Kenya Savannah Classic: Kawamura a big price to bounce back in Kenya

Golfer Masahiro Kawamura
Masahiro Kawamura - fancied to improve on last week's MC

Less than 48 hours after the Kenya Open finished, the European Tour's brand-new Kenya Savannah Classic will kick off tomorrow so read our man's comprehensive preview here...

"Palmer sat fifth at halfway, three off the pace, Harding sat tied for sixth and two back last week 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 Savannah Classic is a brand new event created to help fill the gaps in the European Tour schedule created by the pandemic and it follows hot on the heels of last week's Kenya Open, won by Justin Harding.

Played on the same track as the Kenya Open - the Karen Golf Course - and starting tomorrow instead of Thursday, it's a fabulous initiative by the European Tour and one that mirrors their work in Wales and Cyprus last year when the inaugural Celtic Classic preceded the Wales Open in August and two brand new events, the Cyprus Open and the Cyprus Showdown, were played back-to-back at the Aphrodite Hills Resort.

Venue

Karen Golf course, Nairobi, Kenya.

Course Details

Par 71, 6,921 yards
Stroke average last week - 70.01

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 last week's Kenya Open (also staged in 2019) and 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 the Kenya Open when it was played 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 quite flat and narrower than average and the rough - a mixture of Kikuyu, buffalo and star grass - was almost non-existent last week. It should be slightly more problematic at this event though as there are no plans to cut it.

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 run a bit faster now.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning at 10:00 on Tuesday.

What Will it Take to Win the Kenya Savannah Classic?

We don't have any stats for the Challenge or Sunshine Tour events here but we do have figures for last week and for the 2019 renewal of the Kenya Open.

Although tree-lined and fairly tight off the tee, Driving Accuracy wasn't a vital stat last week or in 2019. The last two winners, Justin Harding and Guido Migliozzi, have ranked 30th and 41st for DA. Jean-Baptiste Gonnet, who finished tied for fifth on Sunday, was the only player inside the top-23 to rank inside the top-ten for DA and the runner-up in 2019, Adri Arnous, was the only player in the top-five to rank any better than 18th. He ranked ninth.

As the rough won't be cut in-between the two tournaments or during this event, accuracy off the tee might be slightly more important than last week but I'm not convinced. The runner-up on Sunday, Kurt Kitayama, ranked 74th for DA and Sebastian Garcia Rodriguez, who finished fourth, ranked 77th. There were the odd bad lies in the rough but if you avoided the trees, missing fairways didn't seem to have too much of a negative effect.

As you'd expect at a short course at altitude, Driving Distance has been an irrelevance. The first four home on Sunday ranked 44th, sixth, 62nd and 58th for DD and the first five home in 2019 ranked 30th, 39th, 25th, 14th and 48th.

The front four all putted well last week, ranking 10th, ninth, 16th and fourth for Putting Average but the front four in 2019 only ranked 17th, 44t h, 11th and fifth and Greens In Regulation and Scrambling were far more important stats two years ago...

As many as five of the top-seven ranked sixth or better for GIR in 2019 and the two that didn't, Justin Harding (T2) and Gaganjeet Bhullar, ranked first and third for Scrambling whereas the top-four last week ranked 23rd, seventh, first and 73rd for GIR and eighth, 16th, 77th and seventh for Scrambling so you've got to hit lots of greens and/or get up-and-down relentlessly won't you miss them.

Is There an Angle In?

As Harding demonstrated perfectly, South Africans have a great record here.

Harding wins in Kenya.jpg

The course looks typically South African and with its Kikuyu fairways and small undulating greens, the South Africans must feel like there at home.

A number of players that played well here in 2019 also performed admirably in the Andalucía Masters at Valderrama in September and that link was boosted again last week. The third placed finisher, Connor Syme, finished tied eighth at Valderrama and although he faded on Sunday, Johannes Veerman, who'd finished tenth at Valderrama, was tied for second with a round to go.

Valderrama is 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 and Scott Hend, who also sat tied for second with a round to go, certainly boosted the Fanling angle. He won the Hong Kong Open back in 2014.

Is a good performance last week essential?

As this is the third time that the European Tour have staged back-to-back tournaments on the same track, I thought it would make sense to take a look at the leaderboards from the two events staged second last year for two reasons...

Firstly, it shows how many of the top-ten at each had played the week before and how they'd fared, and secondly, to see if there are any players playing this week in Kenya that have already shown that playing the same track two weeks running has been beneficial.

Wales Open 2020 result with finishing position from the week before in brackets

1 Romain Langasque (NA)
2 Sami Valimaki (T6)
T3 Matthew Jordan (T47)
T3 David Dixon (NA)
T5 Sebastian Soderberg (T10)
T5 Laurie Canter (MC)
T5 James Morrison (T27)
T8 Connor Syme (T3)
T8 Callum Shinkwin (T11)
T8 Calum Hill (T39)
T8 Haotong Li (NA)
T8 Jorge Campillo (MC)
T8 Jason Scrivener (T14)
T8 Gavin Green (T11)

Cyprus Showdown 2020 result with finishing position from the week before in brackets

1 Robert McIntyre (T3)
2 Masahiro Kawamura (T34)
3 Jorge Campillo (T52)
T4 Johannes Veerman (T34)
T4 Callum Shinkwin (1)
T4 Thomas Detry (T10)
T7 Gavin Green (MC)
T7 Alex Levy (MC)
T9 Steven Brown (MC)
T9 Bernd Ritthammer (MC)
T9 Matthew Jordan (T13)
T9 Louis De Jager (T34)
T9 Niklas Lemke (MC)

Matthew Jordan, Callum Shinkwin and Jorge Campillo finished inside the top ten and ties in both tournaments, having played the week before and Campillo is particularly interesting given how much improvement he found in his second starts. The Spaniard missed the cut last week so it will be interesting to see how he fares this.

Romain Langasque didn't tee it up in the Celtic Classic but the runner-up, Sami Valimaki built on a sixth placed finish the week before and Robert McIntyre definitely telegraphed his win in Cyprus.

As for the two winners, Sam Horsfield missed the cut in the Wales Open, after winning the Celtic Classic the week before, but Callum Shinkin fared much better, finishing sixth in the Showdown, one week after winning the Cyprus Open.

In-Play Tactics

Looking at the 13 previous events here, it really doesn't look like you can come from too far off the pace.

Iain Pyman trailed by six after the opening round here when he won the Kenya Open 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 strokes of the lead after the opening round. Harding was two off the lead after round one last week (De-Brief here).

Palmer sat fifth at halfway, three off the pace, Harding sat tied for sixth and two back last week 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 13 course winners to be trailing by more than a stroke and to be outside the first two places with a round to go.

The first and second last week, Harding and Kurt Kitayama, sat first and second with a round to go and this is clearly a frontrunners track.

If you're look to play in-running, the middle section of the course is where the scores are made with the six easiest holes on the course all being played in a seven hole stretch between holes six and 12. The par four eighth, which last week ranked as the tenth hardest, averaging 4.03, is the only hole that averaged over-par during that stretch last week.

Market Leaders

Unsurprisingly, the first and second yesterday dominate the market with the runner-up, Kurt Kitayama, favourite for the second week in-a-row.

Kurt Kitayama.jpg

Kitayama had been playing well in the lead up to the tournament but the winner is arguably better suited to the track and although he's shortened up considerably form the 60.059/1 he was generally available at last week, of the two, he'd be the one I'd favour given how well he played on Sunday and how much confidence the win will have given him.


Guido Migliozzi put up a bold defence last week, finishing tied for 12th after a slow start and South Africa's George Coetzee was a bit of an eye-catcher in tied 16th. He opened-up with an error-strewn 72 on Thursday but gradually found his form as the week progressed.

Romain Langasque ranked 13th for Greens In Regulation and first for Scrambling when finishing tied for fifth and he's a huge threat if he putts slightly better and last week's 80.079/1 pick, Sam Horsfield, is considerably shorter this time around after a respectable tied eighth.

Selections

I may yet back last week's fancy, Gaganjeet Bhullar, who I see Matt Cooper's put up in his each-way column and I may have one or two more picks once the market has matured a bit more later today but with such strong trends, most of my attention will be on the in-play market so I've just got one pre-event pick for now - Japan's Masahiro Kawamura, who missed the cut last week.

Kawamura went MC-37 in Wales and 34-2 in Cyprus so we can expect some improvement and given there's such a short gap between events, a weekend off may even be a bonus.

Kawamura finished tied for eighth at Valderrama last year so this venue really ought to suit him and although he missed the cut, there were signs of life last week given he birdied six holes in eight in round two before a poor finish saw him miss out on weekend employment.

I thought he was worth a small investment each-way at 125/1 with the Sportsbook.

Selection:
Masahiro Kawamura @ 125/1 each-way (sportsbook)

I'll be back later today/tonight with my WGC Match Play preview.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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