Steve Rawlings takes a detailed look at this week's European Tour action in China where he fancies Scott Hend to go well again and says in-running may well be the best way to play. Read his comprehensive preview here...
“Scott Hend was very disappointing in-contention again on Sunday when he threw shots away at easy holes but he was still bang there with a few to play and in two visits here he’s finished third and ninth.”
The first Volvo China Open was staged as recently as 1995 and it only became a European Tour event in 2004. It's been a nomadic event since then and last year was staged at last week's venue, the Genzon Golf Club.
Tomson Shanghai Pudong GC, Shanghai, China
The snappily named Tomson Shanghai Pudong opened in 1997 and in 2004 it had the honour of being the first course used on the Chinese mainland for a European Tour event when it hosted the BMW Asian Open for the first time. The BMW Asian Open stayed here for the next four years and here's a list of the winners.
2004 - Miguel Angel Jimenez -14
2005 - Ernie Els -26!
2006 - Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano -7
2007 - Raphael Jacquelin -10
2008 - Darren Clarke -8
Tomson Shanghai Pudong also hosted the Crowne Plaza Open on the Asian Tour in 2004, which was won by Terry Pilkadaris.
I've dusted off some very old notes and see the course was believed to be quite tight back in 2008 and the stats back that up that year. The winner, Darren Clarke, ranked 17th for Driving Accuracy and Robert-Jan Derksen, Francesco Molinari, John Bickerton and Peter Lawrie all finished inside the top-ten and inside the top-ten for Driving Accuracy but I'm not convinced...
In two starts here, the far-from-straight Scott Hend has finished inside the top-ten twice and the European Tour website now describes the flat Bermuda fairways as of generous width. The rough is said to be not very penal this year and the three winners that preceded Clarke weren't exactly straight. Raphael Jacquelin ranked 42nd for Driving Accuracy, Fernandez Castano-Castano ranked 63rd and Ernie Els just 34th. However, Miguel Angel Jimenez ranked 1st for Driving Accuracy when he won here in 2004.
The Creeping Bentgrass greens, due to run at around 11.5 on the stimpmeter, are described as large, undulating, firm, true and in very good condition with lots of runoff areas.
Most holes are tree-lined, water is in play on 14 holes and the course may well play long as the weather has been cool and wet of late.
And finally, since the 2008 edition of the BMW Asian Open, the greens on holes 2, 8, 16 and 17 have all been redesigned.
Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting on Thursday
Last Five Winners
2014 - Alexander Levy -19
2013 - Brett Rumford -19
2012 - Branden Grace -21
2011 - Nicolas Colsaerts -24
2010 - Y.E Yang -15
What Will it Take to Win The Volvo China Open?
I keep reading how accuracy is the key to success around this course but I'm not convinced at all given the course is said to be soft and that the fairways are described as being of generous width. All that points to the bigger hitters having an advantage and the average rankings of the five BMW Asian Open winners supports that. Here are the average rankings in all the key stats of those five.
Driving Distance - 16
Driving Accuracy - 31.4
Greens In regulation - 12.8
Putts Per GIR - 10
Purrs Per Round - 19.2
With the likes of Nicolas Colsaerts, Branden Grace and Alexander Levy winning three of the last four renewals on three different courses, length has been of huge benefit in previous renewals and I fancy it will be again.
As the game is so new there, all the courses in mainland China are immature and unless woodland has been cleared to accommodate a new course, any trees present are still maturing. I've looked at footage of past BMW Asian Opens and there are plenty of trees but I've also seen players having no problem playing from the rough and between the trees. Yes, players will get unlucky occasionally and it is far better to be on the fairway but if Ernie Els can rank just 34th for Driving Accuracy and win by 13 strokes, being arrow-straight off the tee can't be of paramount importance.
Is There an Angle In?
This has been a tricky event to assess and I've struggled to find any strong angles in but the draw bias could just be one...
Unless the weather goes badly against the early starters, a morning tee time on day one is usually more advantageous than a late start so when the forecast suggests that those drawn Thursday morning/Friday afternoon we have to take note. Especially when playing a venue that suits the early pacesetters (see below).
There isn't an awful lot in it at this stage but if the forecast is correct, I suspect the morning starters on Thursday will be advantaged by a shot or over the first two days and so if you're umming and ahing between a couple and one starts early and one late, I'd plump for the early one.
When Jimenez won the BMW in 2004, he trailed by five after the opening round and he was sat as far down as tied 29th but a second round 66 saw him rise up to second at halfway. Every other winner has been within four strokes of the lead after round one and only one of the six course winners (Fernandez-Castano) has been outside the front three after round two.
Two of the six winners have won wire-to-wire and had Henrik Stenson got the better of Gonzo in the playoff in 2006, it would have been three. When Pilkadaris won on the Asian Tour he was never outside the front-four and that's pretty typical. Gonzo is the only winner or playoff protagonist not to be in the first three places at halfway and every winner sat first or second with a round to go.
This may not be a catch-up course but don't tell Simon Dyson. He was six clear of Jimenez through 54 holes in 2004 but lost by three!
Tommy Fleetwood was really frustrated at missing out on last Sunday's playoff and he was right to be. He flushed it off the tee and found 17 greens in regulation but missed far too many putts.
He's back in form and clearly hitting the ball well but I'm not a huge fan of his in-contention play and think he's often too short. As I believe he is again this week - especially given there's a chance he'll push a bit too hard to make up for last week.
Back-to-back winners are rare and whilst I will back players attempting to double up occasionally, the price has to be right and I don't think Kiradech Aphibarnrat's is. Having led or been up with the lead for much of last week, his emotional win would have taken plenty out of him and he's very easy to dismiss at the prices.
Pablo Larrazabal is even harder to fancy. He traded at odds-on last Sunday but lost the plot with the title on the line. His play became ragged and some of his short putts were awful. I like Pablo and think he's brilliant for the game but he's started to become very unreliable in-the-mix and he'll do well to lift himself after Sunday's calamitous finish.
There's no doubting Emiliano Grillo's talent but I have to question his ability to close out a tournament. He's extremely consistent and seems to appear on the leaderboard at some stage most weeks but he's becoming expensive to follow and he's one I dismissed immediately.
With so little to go on, I've decided to take it easy before the off. As highlighted above, past results suggest this is a frontrunners course so it makes sense to keep most of the powder dry and look again after round one but I have played a couple before the off.
Having crabbed the market leader's in-contention play it's perhaps a bit rich to then go and back Scott Hend but that's what I've done. He was very disappointing in-contention again on Sunday when he threw shots away at easy holes but he was still bang there with a few to play and in two visits here he's finished third and ninth. If I'm right that the bombers will be advantaged then Hend could go well and if I'm wrong, my only other pick may fare well instead.
Hitting the ball miles off the tee is definitely not one of Marco Crespi's fortes but at a huge price I'm happy to overlook that - especially after last week's eye-catching performance. Nobody hit more fairways than the Italian, only four players hit more greens in regulation and he ranked 13th for putting on his way to a tie for 4th. Anything over 200.0199/1 looks extremely generous to me.
Scott Hend @ 50.049/1
Marco Crespi @ 260.0259/1
My lay book is coming together nicely at the Zurich Classic (previewed here) and I will update the figures tomorrow sometime.
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