The Avantha Masters
By Lewis Pacelli
The European Tour travels to India this week for the fourth installment of the Avantha Masters. With a combined field from The Asian, European and PGTI (Professional Golf Tour of India) Tours, there is a sense that this could literally be won by anybody. It has been a difficult task trawling through the various Indian online papers and Asian Tour website, trying to find that one homegrown talent who could shine this week. We can truthfully say that it hasn’t been all too fruitful, but several names have shouted out to us, with prices varying between the criminal and absurd.
The tournament itself has moved to the Greg Norman designed Jaypee Greens Golf Course near Delhi, where it will be staged for the first time. The Par 72 course has been open for just over a decade and at 7,347 yards, it is the longest course in India. Fairways are wide and spacious, giving big hitters the chance to destroy everything in their path, especially with a forecast for rain on Thursday, which could slow down the otherwise dry grass. Interestingly, Jeev Mikha Singh said last week that due to a harsh winter, the rough has simply not had the chance to grow and will sadly hamper the week, with an expected birdie fest on the horizon.
Even with 14 lakes and 88 bunkers scattered around the course, not much will stop players attacking the pins, especially without wind. As we stated earlier, there are many names in this competition that are not only very difficult to pronounce, but complete unknown entities. So, we have collated an interesting list of players who could really give Mr.Norman a reason to smile this week.
Also for all those real lovers of golf out there you will be absolutely delighted to know that Colin Montgomerie will be playing this week, which means he will NOT be on the commentary team at SkySports. Thankyou Avantha.
David Howell (50/1 PaddyPower)
David Howell was a golfer who once graced the top 10 in the world rankings, yet the man from Swindon, England has had a real howeller over the past few years, with a catastrophic decrease in form. When you consider that halfway through the season last year he was 367th in the world, to where he is now, it is little wonder that he is a name on the minds of a lot of people once more. He has pushed himself up to 185th in the rankings and has started the season sublimely. T6 in Abu Dhabi, where a 4-putt cost him the opportunity to challenge for the win, followed by T22, T30 and T10 at the Tshwane Open two weeks ago. For someone with obvious natural ability, form as consistent as that is a major sign that confidence is kicking back into his game.
Admittedly, his driving doesn’t stand out at all when it comes to the potential long hitting on offer, but he is 11th for stroke average and a low score will win this week. 40th for GIR, 44th for putts per GIR, 47th for putts per round, 29th for one putts and 18th for sand saves, show how unbelievably consistent he is across the board. We are confident his current game can adapt to anywhere and with a relatively weak field, he is arguably one of the best on show. At prices as high as 50/1, it would be ludicrous not to get involved.
We were very interesting to see what he said in an interview last week and it certainly made us sit up and listen.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing in India, it’s a fascinating country. You see some sights and sounds which you’re not used to seeing back home in Europe, so it really opens your eyes,”
“I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had one week off since playing in South Africa, spent a bit of time with the family and did a bit of practice. I’m in a good run of form, so I come into the week in confident mood.”
“I’ve been playing consistently for the past year now, and I have to give my new coach [Jonathan Wallet] a lot of credit for that. He’s got me to see things a bit differently, and I’ve worked differently over the past 12 months than I had the previous for our five years. It’s paid dividends.”
We know he hasn’t won since 2006, but we have a gut feeling he will return to the podium this year and it could very well be this week.
Andy Sullivan (50/1 PaddyPower)
We have a real liking for Andy Sullivan at DownThe18th and he seems to be showing a few signs that he has a real future at the top end of the game. Barring his missed cut at the Tshwane Open, he has been in fine form this season, especially at the Africa open, where he finished T5. Although he hasn’t played at this tournament before, he will be arriving in a confident mood, especially in the knowledge that his driving distances can offer plenty of birdie chances. He is averaging over 296 yards, leaving him 25th on Tour, whilst he is 28th for stroke average and 34th for GIR. He may not be the hottest with his putter, but we are certain he will attack a forgiving course and give himself plenty of opportunities. His odds certainly do not reflect someone that has been in and around the top 20 on a regular basis in much more difficult fields. His first win on tour could come this week.
Alvaro Quiros (55/1 SkyBet)
A wrist injury and resultant surgery in November last year, meant Quiros has missed the early parts of the new season recovering. Now, it is rare we will select people that are in their first tournament back after having such a major operation, however if the Spaniard is fully fit, he will have no trouble running away from the rest of the field. There must have been some careful consideration and planning that has gone into his return, potentially in the knowledge that this is an open field, with wide fairways and a chance to attack a wonderful golf course. If you are only half fit, you do not travel all the way to India for a tournament like this; we are quite sure Quiros will be raring to go.
Since turning pro he has never averaged less than 300 yards. Even with an injured wrist at the back end of last year, he was still hitting it over 300 consistently. If he really gets his driver going, then literally anything can happen. Whether that is a top 10 or lost balls, it is yet to be seen.
Gaganjeet Bhullar (35/1 PaddyPower)
Our first homegrown talent comes in the form of Gaganjeet Bhullar. The Indian initially caught our eye at the Singapore Open last year where he finished a very respectable T18 in a very strong field consisting of players like Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Matteo Mannasero. This shows he has no fears with big names and we can promise you that this field is nowhere near that quality. He may have started the season slowly on the European circuit, but in his last two outings on home soil he finished T25 and T8. He has also recorded 4 victories on the Asian Tour, proving he has the capability and strength to stay the distance. (A cheeky horse-racing pun for all the Cheltenham lovers out there…) He also averages over 290 yards off the tee and when he is the mood he can easily reach 300+ yards. On home soil, it is players like Bhullar who will be spurred on by the home crowd and as we all know, that sort of advantage can do wonders for your confidence!
Danny Chia (225/1 Bet365) and Shamim Khan (125/1 PaddyPower)
Our last selection is a double header, with two Asian stalwarts at very high prices who could upset the applecart this week. Danny Chia is an Asian Tour golfer who made history in 2010 by becoming the first ever Malaysian to play in all four rounds of The Open. (He finished T55) Whilst he seems to be in scintillating form at the moment, winning on his last outing at The Northport Glenmarie Masters, breaking a five-year wait for his 15th professional win. In his other 2 starts in 2013, he finished T13 and T20 and with a driving average of 301 yards, he could be a perfect fit at Jaypee. As for Shamim Khan, he is our second homegrown talent and a player who was in superb form throughout 2012, winning the PGTI overall rankings. (The equivalent of The FedEx Cup or Race To Dubai) He won 3 trophies and finished inside the top 10 a remarkable 18 times. And his start to this year has seen him place T38 at The SBI Open, whilst he has not been fazed by bigger names, finishing 22nd at this tournament last year and 11th the year before. So if the local Delhi lad can shrug off any nerves and get the crowd on his side (which won’t be too difficult) then you never know. You just never know.