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The Iskandar Johor Open: Horizon Hills to suit the Big Easy, says The Punter

Ernie Els, The Punter's only pick in Malaysia

"The more I looked at the event, the more I liked the Big Easy’s chances and whilst he’s not a spectacular price, in what is a pretty weak field, he’s certainly a fair one."

Steve takes a comprehensive look at this week's Asian Tour finale in Malaysia, where Open Champion Ernie Els will be looking to end the year in style...

Tournament History
First staged in 2007, this will be just the sixth staging of the Iskandar Johor Open. The purse was increased to US$2 million last year when it was co-sanctioned with the European Tour and despite being dropped from the European Tour schedule after just one year, the purse remains at US$2 million for what is now the Asian Tour's final event. 

Horizon Hills Golf and Country Club, Johor, Malaysia

Course Details
Par 72, 6,857 yards

Officially opened in 2008 and designed by renowned Australian architect, Ross Watson, Horizon Hills has been the event's venue for the last two years. Water is a feature on almost every hole and many holes have dramatic changes in elevation. The fairways and rough are Seashore Paspalum and the greens are Tifeagle Bermuda grass.

The par 4 4th and 16th holes are both risk reward holes and drivable for the longer hitters. The par 3 17th features an island green and the par 5 18th is a spectacular closing hole with two fairways. The brave will attempt to find the smaller island fairway, and if they're successful, the green is easily reachable in two.

After heavy rains in the run-up to the event last year, it played to a of par-71, as the par 4 4th hole was reduced to a par 3.

Useful Sites
Event Site
Course Layout
Weather Forecast

TV Coverage
Recorded highlights on Sky on Thursday and Friday, then live from 5.00am on Saturday and Sunday

Last Five Winners
2011 - Joost Luiten -15 (54 holes)
2010 - Padraig Harrington -20
2009 - K.J Choi -15 (54 holes)
2008 - Retief Goosen -12
2007 - Artemio Murakami -5

What will it take to win the Iskandar Johor Open?
Patience is often essential in this part of the world, as weather delays are almost inevitable - two of the last three renewals only went to three rounds. 

It's going to be a birdie-fest so whoever wins will need to make lots of birdies. Last year's winner, Joost Luiten made 20 over the three rounds- two more than anyone else. 

What's more important, driving accuracy or distance? Who knows? Luiten ranked number one for fairways hit last year but runner-up Daniel Chopra ranked tied 62nd and Chopra ranked 2nd for distance, compared with Luiten's 33rd and third placed Rhys Davies' 61st! 

Hitting plenty of greens and setting up plenty of chances is what's required this week.

In-Play Tactics
As is so often the case when scoring is low, a fast start is essential and both winners at Horizon Hills were in front after round one.  And given the perennial threat of a reduced length event, it's even more imperative that you leave the blocks swiftly.

I'm my preview for the Alfred Dunhill Championship, I highlighted the likelihood of a changeable leaderboard late-on but it's the opposite here. The last three holes are not complicated at all and if needs be, the par 5 finishing hole can be played conservatively for a simple par. 

The toughest stretch of holes is 7-12. Last year they ranked 2nd, 3rd, 11th, 8th and 4th respectfully in terms of difficulty. And they'll all probably rank a notch harder this year as the toughest hole twelve months ago, the reduced in par 4th, will play much easier this time around when played as drivable par 4 again. 

Market Leaders
After a decent 4th placed finish at the Thailand Golf Championship and a reasonable top-ten at the DP World Tour Championship, Sergio Garcia heads the market but he doesn't interest me. He's certainly going in the right direction of late, now that he seems to have gotten to grips with his putting woes, but a few things put me off. 

This is his first visit to Malaysia and he's not exactly a renowned grainy/Bermuda greens specialist. And nor does he have a great record at converting chances. I'm more than happy to move on.

Ernie Els trades second best at 7.413/2 and for me, he and Garcia are the wrong way round. The more I looked at the event, the more I liked the Big Easy's chances and whilst he's not a spectacular price, in what is a pretty weak field, he's certainly a fair one. 

Others to consider
Thongchai Jaidee has won a couple of times in Malaysia, is in decent enough form and was a fast-finishing 15th on debut twelve months ago.  Michael Campbell was in fine form when last sighted and he's won a couple of times at The Vines course Down Under, another of Watson's creations but he's still waiting for his clubs to arrive and that has to be a big negative.  Chopra has very obvious course form and contended until day four last week, and US PGA Tour winner, Kevin Na, has to be respected.

I'm overlooking Thaworn Wiratchant, Marcus Fraser, Jbe Kruger and Gaganjeet Bhullar on account of the fact that all four still have a chance of winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit and that may just prove too much of a distraction.

After a bit of deliberation, I decided to make a small play on Ernie Els, who might just outclass all. It's far from unusual to see one of the 'names' win these Asian Tour events and he actually ticks quite a few boxes.

The last time we saw Els, he was finishing runner-up to Ian Poulter at the WGC - Champions in China and the week before that he finished in the top-five in Malaysia, at the CIMB Classic, so although he hasn't been seen for a month, at least he was in fine fettle before his break.

Ernie actually plays quite well after a break anyway and I quite like the fact that, according to his last diary entry, he's been practising at the Bear's Club, which could be another plus. You may or may not recall Rory McIlroy claiming that being based, as Ernie is, at the Bear's Club in Florida was great preparation for his win at the US PGA Championship because the Bear's, like Kiawah Island the venue for the PGA, and this one, is also layed to Paspalum. It's a unique grass that the players don't come across very often so the fact that Ernie's very familiar with it can only help.

Having grown up on tricky grainy South African greens, he has a decent record on Bermuda greens too and although I haven't gone mad by any means, I felt he was worth a small wager for starters.

Ernie Els @ 7.613/2

In addition to this event and the Alfred Dunhill Championship, which I previewed earlier, there's also action Down Under again this week, at the Australian PGA Championship, which Paul Krishnamurty has previewed here.

I'll be back on Thursday afternoon/evening with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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11 December 2012

The Punter


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