Prize Fund: $7,000,000
Winner’s Share: $1,160,000
Course: Lake Malaren Golf Club (7,606 yards par 72)
The race is well and truly on indeed. The ‘Final Series’ gets underway this week as we begin the shuffling, re-shuffling, confusion and countdown to the season ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
If you thought the FedEx Cup was a confusing web of rules, then the adapted version of the European Tours equivalent will make you reach for the cupboard and open that 1975 Malt whisky you got tucked away.
We understand that you no longer have to play 2 out of the 3 tournaments preceding Dubai, which is ludicrous in itself, but if you play all 3 then you are eligible for some sort of 20% bonus points that get added to your overall score. Basically, we can’t quite get our whisky-fuelled heads round it, but if you want to try – have a look at this graph and a read of these 2 sites –
As for this opening tournament though, the Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai plays host to the BMW Masters. It is an absolute monster of a course, measuring in at a whopping 7,607 yards. The par 72 has a couple of ridiculous par 4s and one monstrosity of a par 5. Apart from that though, it is like any other course…
It isn’t just about the length though, because this Jack Nicklaus design includes all his trademarks and is a stern test of precision and accuracy as well as brutal power. Whilst distance off the tee will obviously play a part, GIR gurus will ultimately be the difference, as it has shown in the past 2 outings. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño won last year with an unbelievable iron performance, whilst Peter Hanson had the combined brilliance of holing everything alongside approach-play genius.
Yes both players were not short off the tee, no denying that, but they weren’t in the Colsaerts league either. The strategists come into play due to the well positioned bunkers and abundance of water that defends the greens and negotiating you’re way round will be a factor. The undulating greens are quick, tough and will test the field, so it is important to be on your game with the short stick.
You do look at last years leaderboard to see Francesco Molinari and Thongchai Jaidee close behind Castaño and think, well, they aren’t long. They may not be big hitters, but they are plotters who have an outrageous ability with long irons. If you are a shorter hitter, your woods and long irons have to be outstanding.
BUT we are throwing a spanner into the works some what. The weather could make things a little more interesting this week because the first 3 days are scheduled for quite heavy rain, meaning that there could be a bigger emphasis on length, as it will play even longer with soft fairways and potentially be low-scoring.
We know this may all sound like a jumble of ideas, types of players etc but it is a tough one to call. There is a whole host of factors to consider and with the small 78 man field, we have extensively gone through to see what could be that winning combination to try and add to our Thorbjørn Olesen victory last week…
Don’t forget to follow us throughout the week on Twitter @downthe18th for the latest news, betting + banter. Please get in touch and let us know what you think of our picks and who you fancy as well!
Brooks Koepka (20/1 various)
My my did we deliberate over this first pick. It probably wasted an hour of our lives discussing 3 players we really thought could challenge, but were at the wrong end of the market to potentially even have one let alone all of them. Victor Dubuisson and Chris Kirk understandably took our fancy, as I am sure they will for many others. We decided Kirk has too long to travel after challenging Stateside last week and we don’t have a bad word to say about Victor, it’s just we had to decide on one. So, we uncharacteristically went with a player we feel has nearly been priced out of it in Brooks Koepka.
If you’ve followed us for a while, you will know how big a statement it is for us to go Koepka at such low odds, but we just felt too many things were pointing in his direction and it would be too heart-breaking if he were to win and we didn’t have him.
The young American, as all European Tour followers will know, has been a breath of fresh air in the past year or so. Him and his mate, Peter Uihlein decided to attack leaderboards this side of the Atlantic instead of America and it’s been a great thrill. However, you get the sense that may be changing as he has started the PGA Tour season and been outstanding.
T4 at the Shriners and T8 at the Frys.com is one hell of a return considering it will still be relatively new for him. Plus, he was absolutely tanking the ball – recording a drive of 362 yards at the Shriners! He was 9th in driving distance that week and 1st at the Frys.com – where he was also 9th for GIR. Basically, this guy is the perfect player for a course of this distance and magnitude, especially if it rains like predicted.
Which brings us to our next point – he is not scared of horrible conditions. We felt Kirk may not be used to horrendous rain, whilst Koepka has made a cracking living from playing in touch weather these past 18 months or so. T9 recently at the Alfred Dunhill in wind and rain, bizarre and mixed conditions at the Omega Dubai where he finished T3, a win at the Challenge Tours Scottish Hydro Challenge last year in torrid weather – basically we could go on. He will be used to it and in the form he is in (a worst finish of T11 in his last 5 outings), nothing will halt him at the minute.
There are so many risk/reward shots on this course and his length, form and confidence is a dangerous combination, because he has the potential to shoot very low here. If you are worried about his pedigree, then we must remind you of his T4 finish at the US Open…
Plus, he has had a week off unlike many of the field, arriving in Shanghai nice and early on Sunday, compared to the likes of Dubuisson, who was busy challenging for a title in Perth and will not have arrived until at least a day later – food for thought.
If anything, Brooks, don’t make us look like mugs backing you at 20s this week…
Alexander Levy (50/1 PaddyPower)
Alexander Levy finally started to show his true promise this season. He has already picked up 2 titles – over in the rain-effected Portugal Open and interestingly in China back in April. He played out his skin for that 4-shot win, hitting it long and straight, which instantly makes you think he has the attributes for another victory in China.
We were slightly surprised at his odds of 50s – which has already been reduced to 40s with most – because he is still in fine fettle after that bizarre win in Portugal. With quite a number of players, we rarely back anyone who has won in the weeks prior to a tournament, simply because the strain, mental strength and consistency is so tough to replicate. However, we really do feel that winning like he did, means you can take all those factors out of the situation – he went into the weekend after 2 magnificent rounds not having to hit another ball before lifting the trophy. He will simply gain a shed load of confidence, not be mentally drained.
That was proven by his performance at the Volvo World Matchplay. We are not denying he lost all his matches, but he was actually -6 for the 3 rounds, which isn’t too bad at all. He lost the odd silly hole, but it was not a disgraceful outing by any means.
He too, like Koepka, has never played on this course, but the fact he has already won in China, averages nearly 300 yards off the tee and is 45th for GIR, then you have to feel he has a cracking chance to 100% announce himself on the world stage.
Bernd Wiesberger (45/1 StanJames)
In so many ways, Bernd Wiesberger can be such a frustrating player. He has all the talent in the world with his natural tee to green ability and can hit the ball a mile. He showed his abilities by winning 2 European Tour titles in 2012, but has failed to fully push himself further since.
But then we all saw how wonderfully he played at US PGA in his tie for 15th. He went into the final round just 1 shot behind Rory McIlroy, after 3 cracking rounds, only to struggle with the attention of his playing partner and mad surroundings. We simply cannot class it as a bottle, because it’s the first time the 29-year old challenged for a major and it must be a daunting experience.
Since then, he has only had 1 top 10 over at the Italian Open, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t playing good golf. Far from it. He has gone under the radar with solid performances (barring in Portugal) and has only failed to challenge due to one inconsistent round.
He is 45th for driving distance and 13th for GIR across the season – a lethal combination – and he usually enjoys courses that offer the chance for birdies. Both his wins came at -19 and if the rain softens everything up, he will without doubt be in the mix.
Pablo Larrazabal (66/1 StanJames)
One of our favourites. We’ve said it so many times in the past about our love for the mercurial Pablo Larrazabal and even when he has let us down, he still manages to win us back.
It is difficult to describe how talented the Spaniard is, he’s just one of them. He hasn’t had the greatest of season by any means, surprisingly not able to capitalise on a few good performances and push on. That isn’t like him and we really thought after that win in Abu Dhabi, he would be right up there come this time of year.
He isn’t, that’s fine, but we have seen enough and know enough about him to suggest he could have a decent week over here.
Firstly, he played out his skin at the weekend here last year to finish T5 which shows his liking for the course. He didn’t start particularly well, but he is one of those players who gets on a roll and it’s difficult to stop him once he does. There will be periods of tough golf for the whole field this week, it is just how well you play in that purple patch and Larrazabal is someone you want on your side. He is long, accurate and a genius with his irons, whilst we have to take into account what McIlroy said of this course last year. The world number one said you’ve got to find the green yes, but when you inevitably don’t, the chipping is completely different to most tracks. No flops or anything, just the usual chip and run on such quick, large greens.
Taking that in, makes you like Larrazabal’s case even more. He is a stunning scrambler around the greens and can easily find his way out of many messes. He arrives in good knick, even though he got demolished by Joost Luiten at the matchplay – although -1 isn’t a disgraceful score.
If his game clicks into place, trust us, he is one to watch.
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (66/1 various)
Another unbelievably talented Spaniard. Rafa Cabrera-Bello should be winning more tournaments than he does. No win since 2012 is highly disappointing, although he did come close at another BMW sponsored event this year in Germany where he lost in a playoff.
He usually goes on mini-runs as well, so the fact he finished T12 over in Portugal makes us interested in him for here. We are certain he would of challenged Levy had the tournament continued, especially after a magical 64 on the 1st day, but that obviously never materialised.
His stats were scary for those 2 days though. Top 16 in accuracy, distance and GIR across the opening rounds, which makes him frighteningly interesting for this course. Yes his putting wasn’t amazing, but he was still able to go on a roll or 2 and if he can do anything like that over here, he has a genuine chance.
He also finished T8 here last year, which shows he likes the track and when we first saw him on offer at 80s this morning we jumped on it. Unsurprisingly he has dropped in the past few hours, but 66s is still very decent value to be had.
Morten Ørum Madsen (200/1 various)
Our cheeky outsider this week comes in the form of Danish youngster Morten Ørum Madsen. We have followed him for a long time now, since his graduation from the Challenge Tour and we were undeniably delighted to see him pick up his first European title at the South Africa Open right at the start of the year.
It’s been a roller coaster of a year since then however, not finding another top 10 till a couple of weeks back at the Portugal Open. He finished T4 with rounds of 65 and 66 and if that doesn’t give him great confidence, then we aren’t sure what will.
He enjoys playing in rainy conditions and can hit the ball an absolute mile (21st in driving distance) whilst he was in the top 20 for GIR on both days in Portugal. A decent price for someone whose just finished 4th and has a lot of natural ability.