By Lewis Pacelli
After a week in Europe it is time for another long haul flight for the players as we arrive in Seoul, South Korea for the Ballantine’s Championship.
It will be only the third time the tournament has been hosted at Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon, after Lee Westwood won in 2011 and Bernd Wiesberger in 2012. Both winning scores were in double figures and something similar will be expected for the victor this week.
Interestingly, last year the average for the top 15 in putts per round was 28.3, which would be inside the top 30 in putting average on tour this season. Whilst the top 5 averaged 75.9% GIR, which would be inside the top 20 on tour. It is quite difficult to gage what the course will be playing, but it seems the longer ball strikers who can hole their putts will do well, BUT then you wonder how Westwood won?! Well he was 13th for putts per round on his way to victory… What we do know is that it is a par 72, measuring at 7,281 yards and there are plenty of water hazards with tree-lined but generous fairways.
Victor Dubuisson (28/1 Coral)
The Frenchman with gorgeous long flocks has been slowly coming into a bit of form over recent months, recording 3 top 10s in his last 5 outings – all of which were in Asia, which bodes well for the trip this week… Whilst two of these top 10s were at courses of similar length and he has proven himself to be another one of these younger breakthroughs with the potential for a mammoth drive. He is currently 13th for driving distance this season and he could attack this course a lot more than he did in Span last week. Even though he finished 61st in what was a difficult four days after a 3-week break, he currently lies 44th for both GIR and stroke average which add to his appeal band it does not mean he cannot handle the expected windy conditions. His best professional performance was here last year where he finished T3 in relatively tough conditions and had he not shot 75 on Friday he could have definitely challenged for the title. Two 68s and a closing round of 66 will give the 22-year old great hope going into Thursday and there is no reason why this can’t be his first Senior title.
Mikko Ilonen (50/1 Various)
When we backed Ilonen a few weeks ago, he played outstandingly in Morocco to finish T2 and give us a solid return. We feel confident putting our money on the Finnish star again as he looks in such good form that his price seems to high at 50s. He also finished T17 in Malaysia the week before Morocco and had a T9 in Qatar earlier in the season. If it was not for a poor 75 in the first round here last year, he could have contended, but he did manage to recover well with 3 rounds under par. His distance will not be a problem either, lying in 42nd on tour, whilst he is 26th for stroke average proving he can hit low and consistent scores. 27th for putts per round and 16th for putts per GIR show his ability with a putter and he has not been outside the top 5 in any putting stats in his last two outings. With his work on the greens on fire he could challenge every tournament and it will be no different this week
Peter Uihlein (50/1 Coral)
The American is in superb form at the moment, playing consistently well over recent months. In his last 3 European Tour starts he has finished T8, 4th and T19 and with his swashbuckling style he could get his first professional win here. 4th for driving distance will help him attack the longer holes, whilst he is 43rd for GIR and 29th for putts per GIR. Tee to green that is the perfect combination on a course that has forgiving fairways and could really suit someone with Uihlein’s game. And confidence will be at a premium having played very well in Spain last week, finishing T8 and finding himself 1st for driving distance, 22nd for GIR, 6th for putts per GIR and 12th for putts per round. Pushing himself that bit further is within his reach and even tough he has never played here, he could really defy the odds he’s at and mount a strong challenge come Sunday. There is a reason the American has plied his trade on the European and Challenge Tours and that is to gain experience and wins. This could be that first big leap.
Paul Casey (50/1 Coral)
The mercurial talent that is Paul Casey. Destined to be one of the great English golfers, his well-documented demise has started showing signs it may finally be over. He has the game to destroy many fields on his day and he should have way more than the 11 professional wins he has. There has also been an odd pattern emerging where he has won a tournament every other year since 2007, so doing the math, he should be picking up a title this season. And why not in South Korea? Without a top 10 as of yet, he has finished T19, T18, T23, T37, T37 and T16 in Spain last week. That is unbelievable form for someone whose game is supposed to rocky and we really feel he could push on and challenge on a course that will play into the hands of the Englishman. A very able wind player who averages around 290 yards and is 11th in GIR this year would grab the attention of any punter. Then when you think he 46th for stroke average and even finished 20th for putts per GIR last week, you realise Casey has the perfect game to adapt to whatever course is infront of him. In Casey we trust.