Volvo China Open: Big-hitting Burmester primed to prosper in Beijing birdie-fest

Dean Burmester - one of four picks for The Punter in China
Dean Burmester - one of four picks for The Punter in China

The European Tour stays in China again this week for the Volvo China Open so read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's early start here...

“It was a birdie-fest last year and I see no reason for it to be anything different this time around. A sharp wedge game and a hot putter will be the essential skills this week.”

Tournament History

Paraguay's Raúl Fretes won the first Volvo China Open in 1995 when it was an Asian Tour event. It was first co-sanctioned with the European Tour in 2004 when Wales' Stephen Dodd took the title and it's been an ever-present on the ET schedule ever since. Today it's a tri-sanctioned tournament with the ET, the OneAsia Tour and the Chinese Golf Association.

It's been a largely nomadic tournament, but for the second year in-a-row the Topwin Golf and Country Club in Beijing will be used again and after victories for home heroes, Ashun Wu and Haotong Li in each of the last two renewals, we can expect bumper crowds as the Chinese bid for an historic homeland hat-trick.


Venue

Topwin Golf and Country Club, Beijing, China


Course Details

Par 72, 7,261 yards
Stroke index in 2016 - 70.70

Designed by Ian Woosnam, Topwin opened in 2011. It's described as a beautiful parkland course that runs through rural countryside among fruit and pine trees, chestnut orchards, and an abundance of natural wildlife. From the course, there are frequent views of one of the Seven Wonders of the World - the Great Wall of China.

The course has undulating greens and water hazards on every hole except 13, 14 and 15, and the 2015 winner, Wu, had this to say about the course before the off last year: "The greens are difficult. The greens are very hard. I will try my best to put the ball in the right place on the green."

In addition to last year's renewal, Topwin was one of the courses used for the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge in 2011, where the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter no doubt scooped up plenty of cash, and more significantly it was also used in September 2014 on the China Tour for one of their PGA Tour China series events. The tournament was won by Australian, Bryden MacPherson, with a 16-under-par total, and prior to last year's event, Bryden was kind enough to reply to a tweet I sent him asking him about the venue.

"Hey Steve. It's a nice course. Long from the back tees. Sloping greens. Look for a bomber with good touch. But, if I can shoot -16 with a 63 then it'd be "safe to assume it won't be a tough test" for the Euro boys."

He wasn't wrong. Hennie Otto opened up the event with a nine-under-par 63, Haotong Li won with a 22-under-par total, and two thirds of the holes averaged below par scores for the week.


Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 07:30 on Thursday


Last Five Winners

2016 - Haotong Li -22
2015 - Wu Ashun -9
2014 - Alexander Levy -19
2013 - Brett Rumford -19
2012 - Branden Grace -21


What Will it Take to Win the Volvo China Open?

No stats were issued for last year's winner so that hinders us somewhat but what limited statistical evidence we have suggests that length off the tee is more important than accuracy and as you'd expect from a birdie-fest, hitting lots of greens and making putts is the secret to success.

Three of the top-five ranked for Greens In Regulation finished inside the top-12 on the final leaderboard and eight of the first 14 home had a Putting Average ranking inside the top-ten.

It was a birdie-fest last year and I see no reason for it to be anything different this time around. A sharp wedge game and a hot putter will be the essential skills this week.


Is There an Angle In?

Given this is only the second time this venue is being used, finding any firm angle in was always going to be hard but I do wonder if last week's contenders may be too strongly fancied in the market given the evidence of last year's renewal?

Admittedly, last year's Shenzhen International was more severely affected by the weather than it was last week, and the event even ran into Monday, but it's noticeable how few that contended in the Shenzhen 12 months ago figured here the following week.

The Shenzhen winner, Soomin Lee, missed the cut here, the runner-up, Joost Luiten, who went off favourite, finished tied for 44th, Alex Levy and Lee Slattery, who had finished tied fourth in the Shenzhen finished tied 28th and tied 34th respectively and the only player inside the top-12 here to have even remotely figured in the Shenzhen was Scott Hend. The powerful Aussie finished tied for sixth here after finishing tied for fourth at the Shenzhen but he was the only one here inside the top-12 that had played well the week before...

The winner, Li, had missed the cut the week before, as had Marcel Siem and Lucas Bjerregaard, who finished tied for third and the form figures of the runner-up, Felipe Aguilar, read MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-MC-58.

Being well rested or having missed the cut or having not even figured last week may not be much of a negative if last year's renewal is anything to go by. It could just be that those that contended at the Shenzhen were shattered after a protracted week last year and if that's the case it could have been a bit of a one-off but it's also plausible that the two venues differ significantly.


Is There an Identikit Winner?

In the 13 years that the Volvo China Open has been a part of the European Tour, players from 11 different countries have won the event with Australia and China being the only nations to have won it twice. Scott Strange in 2009 and Brett Rumford in 2013 obliged for the Aussies and the Chinese are bidding to win the event for the third year in-a-row following victories for Wu and Li.

Korea's Y.E Yang was quite well fancied back in 2010 but the last six winners have been fairly hard to find and the last three were unfancied outsiders. Li was matched at 170.0169/1 before the off 12 months ago.


In-Play Tactics

Again, with just two events to look at, we can't give the stats too much credence but for what it's worth, both tournaments played out similarly.

Bryden MacPherson sat tied for 43rd after round one and seven off the lead at the PGA Tour China series event in 2014 but he was tied for the lead at halfway after his second round 63. He sat second after round three and went on to win by three, with nobody on the final leaderboard making much of a move on the weekend and that was the case again last year.

The final top-five had all been inside the top-ten at halfway and Li's path to victory was very similar to MacPherson's. He was tied for 22nd and six off the lead after round one, he was tied ninth and three adrift at halfway and he was tied third and two back with a round to go. And just like MacPherson, he finished up winning comfortably by three strokes.


Market Leaders

Bernd Wiesberger understandably heads the market after his victory on Sunday but he's not anywhere near prolific enough to go backing at around the 10/1 mark and his tied 28th last year is nothing to write home about.

It is perhaps worth highlighting that he opened up last year's renewal with a seven-under-par 65 to sit second so he clearly took to the course but winning back-to-back is tough and he's not for me at the prices. And neither is the second favourite, Ross Fisher.

Like Wiesberger, Fisher doesn't get the number of victories his talent deserves and we perhaps saw an example of why on Sunday at the Shenzhen. The 36-year-old Englishman, who has just one win to his name in the last six years, had a great chance to win last week but he messed up the easy par five ninth after getting to within a stroke of Wiesberger, and after trading at a low of 2.526/4 in-running, he then three-putted the 18th green for bogey when a par would have seen him playoff for the title. He's a great player who's putting brilliantly but he's too short for my liking.


Selections

The recent Tshwane Open winner, Dean Burmester, ticks a few boxes this week and I thought he was very fairly priced at 50.049/1.

He was bang there last week before a terrible final round 78 saw him tumble out of contention but he played poorly in-the-mix in the week before he won the Tshwane Open so I'm not too perturbed by that and his length off the tee, coupled with his terrific putting, could see him in good stead. His missed cut 12 months ago is a negative but he did at least shoot 68 in round one before a disappointing 75 in round two saw him miss out on weekend employment.

I've had a very small bet on Scotland's Richie Ramsey, who I'm not convinced is long enough. He fell away a bit after a bright start last week, eventually finishing 21st but he was tied for sixth here 12 months ago, after playing the par fours better than anyone else in the field.

Powerful Portuguese player, Ricardo Gouveia, has similar attributes to Burmester, in that he combines long driving with hot putting when at his very best. He finished last week nicely with rounds of 69 and 67 and my fourth and my final pick is Finland's Mikko Korhonen, who again looked over-priced given some of his recent performances.


Selections:
Dean Burmester @ 50.049/1
Richie Ramsey @ 80.079/1
Ricardo Gouveia @ 150.0149/1
Mikko Korhonen @ 150.0149/1


I'll be back later with my Zurich Classic of New Orleans preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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