71° Open D’Italia 2014

Prize Fund – €1,500,000download

Winner’s Share – €250,000

The European Tour moves to Italy this week, where it will not just be Race To Dubai points grabbing headlines, but the imminent deadline of Ryder Cup qualification looms at the end of our trip to the mediterranean. Only one man in the field can qualify outright and that is Scot Stephen Gallacher, who arguably warrants a place after his fine and steady form over the past year or so.

He needs to finish in side the top 2 in order to overhaul Graeme McDowell and secure 9th spot and it will also prove to all of us how his temperament and big-game attitude is shaping up.  Is he worth a place?  If he can follow in the footsteps of Jamie Donaldson’s wonderful victory last week, then he will fully deserve it.

As for the course, we will be near the famous city of Turin at the Circolo Golf Torino.  The 7,208 yard par 72 hosted the event for the first time last year and as the home track to the Molinari brothers, it put on a great show with a final day scramble, which Julien Quesne finished out on top.

It is a tree-lined, parkland course with an abundance of bunkers and water hazards to overcome, therefore it will be important to keep the ball in play if you want to find any birdies.  Because as we saw last year, low scoring is key and the winner will undoubtedly show their true class around on the greens.

Putting was the most important stat last year and that looks set to continue on what are relatively quick Agrostis surfaces.  The 3 varying cuts of rough along the fairways do pose a great deal of danger, with the thickest being as long as 100mm, which is pretty much unplayable.  Those accuracy gurus will, without doubt, have a major say.

We are sure many people will be backing Gallacher this week and we have no qualms with that, we have decided against it because we feel there is more value out there, but obviously the Scot and both Molinari’s should be up there come Sunday.

TwitterDon’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!
Rafa Cabrera-Bello (40/1 various)

Let's get that winning feeling back again Rafa

Let’s get that winning feeling back again Rafa

The enigmatic Spaniard has been plying his trade across the pond recently and this is his first return in 2 outings.  He hasn’t fared too well in very difficult fields (including the PGA Championship) but you have to bare in mind that he shot two rounds in the 60s on both opening days, which shows his class – he just couldn’t keep it going…

He is now coming to a place where he will be one of a few who’s played here and achieved a cracking result.  T5 back in 2008 when the course hosted a Challenge Tour event and in that 6 years since, he is a far greater player, which clearly excites us.  We know he missed the cut last year, but again his form wasn’t anything to write home about going into the event.

He is slightly hit or miss, but when you look at his game, he is perfect for this track.  A tee to green guru, who can scramble when things go array, he will be able to resurrect his challenge if he finds the rough or bunkers.

One of the top players in this average field and if his game is on, he can definitely challenge.

Alexander Levy (50/1 various)

Cracking value for a cracking prospect

Cracking value for a cracking prospect

Alexander Levy had his big breakthrough this year winning his first European Tour championship over in China and then making the field for the PGA – his first major event.  A respectable T30 finish showed that the young Frenchman has got a lot of potential and he did not seem out of place amongst the greatest in the game at the moment.

We saw a lot of him when we went to Paris and although he suffered in torrid conditions on the Sunday, his bravado and tee to green game impressed us greatly.  He didn’t seem to buckle under the enormous pressure of a home crowd, but the weather ended up getting the better of him.  His potent mix of enormous drives – 13th in driving distance and ability to find the greens – 38th GIR makes him a very interesting proposition.

He finished T42 here last year, so has experience of the course and if he gets his full game going, he could be a danger at generous odds considering how his confidence should be soaring from a trip over the pond…

James Morrison (100/1 StanJames)

Not you.

Not you.

Can the real James Morrison please stand up

Can the real James Morrison please stand up

No not the singer or West Brom footballer, but the young English golfer who seems to be finally finding some consistency.  He has struggled to find a great deal of form for a few years now and we have seen him make 4 cuts in a row, including 3 top 30s.

Throughout his 4 days in Czech Republic last week, where he finished T13, he was inside the top 20 for putting and top 30 for driving accuracy, so he has clearly found some rhythm again.  It takes time to start challenging, but when we look at this field and a run of 4 decent performances, a big week could be just round the corner for Morrison.

He has played here 3 times, more than most taking part and like Bello, finished T5 in 2008, but missing the cut last year.  His form leading in was pretty woeful, especially compared to 2014.

Find that consistency and a surprise result could be in store.

Chris Wood (50/1 Coral)

Everyone tipped Chris Wood for big things after 2 incredible top 10s at the Open in 08′ and 09′.  He undoubtedly struggled until a cracking win in Qatar last year where he hit on of the most courageous approaches to a must (at least) birdie 18th.  He infamously ended up eagling and taking the title outright and we all thought, finally here he is!  He only managed to follow that up with 3 top 10s, one bing the WGC Invitational and that simply proves how much potential he has.

He has shown glimpses this year, recording a few top 10s and before his missed cut in Denmark, he made both cuts at the final 2 majors of 2014.  On his day he is a fine tee to green player, who can hit the ball long, but his irons are his true weapon.

He may never have played here, but someone of his class can blow away from a field such as this and like Levy, at very reasonable odds.

Outsiders

Steve Webster (80/1 StanJames)

Cheeky grin Stevie

Cheeky grin Stevie

Steve Webster has a couple of European Tour titles to his name but has not won anything since 2007.  He seems like an attractive outsider considering his performance here last year.  He finished T2 and could have definitely won.  But when you look at his form going into the 2013 edition, it is astonishing he was able to put in such a wonderful performance.  He had missed 7 cuts in a row, whilst this year he has managed to produce a couple of solid scores, all be it amongst shockers.

If he rallies on whatever belief he found last year, then 80s is great value.

Simon Wakefield (150/1 SportingBet)

One of the straightest hitters on tour, Simon Wakefield has found a bit of form in recent weeks.  A T9 in Denmark pretty much guarantees another year on the European circuit, whilst a solid T39 last week on a course that in no way suits him, will surely give him plenty of confidence.  He finished T32 here last year and if he can pull all the aspects of his game together, he could mount a serious challenge.  His putting never dropped outside the top 15 in Denmark and his accuracy was at its usual best in Czech Republic.  Why not?!

Nino Bertasio (400/1 various)

A complete unknown Italian youngster.  Nino Bertasio first and foremost has a superb name.  Secondly, the main reason why we have decided to put some pennies on him is because he is playing out his skin on the Italian Tour.  The sort of form that propels you to bigger things, no denying that.  He is leading the  money list by over double his nearest challenger, having won twice and recorded 6 top 15s in his last 8 outings.  (Another 3 of those finished were inside the top 3.)  At 400/1, always worth it!

Let us know your thoughts on our selections and who you fancy this week! @DownThe18th

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RBC Canadian Open 2014

Prize Money – $5,700,000  RBC-Canadian-Open-Logo

Winner’s Share – $1,026,000

Last week Rory McIlroy treated us to a majestic display of golf, which not only silenced his critics, but also edged the 25 year old further into the golfing elite – where only the likes of Woods and Nicklaus are talked about. We could be watching just the beginning of a very special career.

But over to Canada we go, to the Royal Montreal Golf Club which hosts the Canadian Open for the first time since 2001, where Scott Verplank won the 4th of his 5 career PGA titles.

2001 Bell Canadian Open Leaderboard at Royal Montreal

DSC_0252

Scenes from the 2007 President’s Cup

Being the oldest club in North America and also hosting the 2007 Presidents Cup, you can begin to imagine the aura that surrounds the course. At 7,153 yards, it is one of the shorter tracks on the PGA roster.  With the tight fairways and number of doglegs out there, accuracy will be crucial off the tee whilst the small greens mean there is extra importance on fairway positioning and pin proximity.

Steve Stricker and David Toms were two of the standout performers from the 2007 Presidents Cup which tells its own story considering their accuracy and putting prowess.

After looking through the yardages, you will also need someone with a very competent wedge game. Birdies are likely to flow so you need whoever you are backing to be confident with the short stick too!

TwitterDon’t forget to follow us throughout the week on Twitter @downthe18th for the latest news + banter. Please get in touch and let us know what you think of our picks and who you fancy as well!

Jim Furyk (14/1 William Hill)

Now obviously Jim Furyk at 14’s is always a big gamble and slightly criminal, but we just felt too strongly about him to not go there.

He has an amazing history in Canada having won this tournament twice in 2006 and 2007.  Although they were on different courses, it shows his liking for the country at least.  What has impressed us the most about our most favourite unorthodox guru is how he has been playing not just recently but during the whole of 2014.

Can he get the putter going?!

Can he get the putter going?!

He hasn’t missed one cut, which is unusual for someone like Jimbo because of his swing and he has amassed 11 top 20s which includes 5 top 6 finishes.  In fact barring a T51 at the Crowne Plaza he has not finished outside the top 20 since early March.

And how well did he play at The Open?!  When he really gets us going as spectators is the moment he starts getting on a hot streak with the putter.  His tee to green game is up there with the best, his scrambling and wedge play is outstanding, he just has the tendency to let himself down on the greens.

So, seeing him hole quite a few over the weekend – well, during the early part of his round on Saturday at least – was highly encouraging.  He shot a marvelous 65 on Sunday proving he can go low when everything clicks into place and do not be surprised if he does the same again this week.

Especially when you consider he has played on this track during the 2007 Presidents Cup.  He won half of his matches that week, so his prior knowledge gives him an advantage over the majority of the field.

David Hearn (60/1 Stan James)

Will take a lot of confidence from his display at Hoylake

Will take a lot of confidence from his display at Hoylake

It is always good to go into a tournament like this week with a homegrown player.  It would be one of those stories that just makes sense and David Hearn certainly fits the bill here.

He has been playing well recently without properly knocking on the door as it were, apart from a superb T6 at The Players a few months back.  That showed his potential in the best field possible, so we have no doubt that his golfing ability can compare to anyone.

Last week he finished T32, which is a superb finish at a major championship, and his tee to green performance was incredibly solid.  Nearly 70% in both categories proves that and if he can replicate anything similar in front of his home crowd, who knows what he can achieve.   He lies in the top 56 for all GIR stats below 175 yards, which shows how good he is with shorter irons and 29th driving accuracy, 51st GIR and 28th strokes gained putting make him an outrageous proposition.

KJ Choi (66/1 Various)

A wonderful servant to the game and an 8-time PGA Tour winner.  KJ Choi is entering the twilight years of his career, but there is still plenty the South Korean has to offer.

KJYes, he’s missed the cut in his last two outings, but that T2 at the Travelers on a similarly short, tight track gives us the confidence that he can replicate that sort of form over here to Canada.  He was his usual self from tee to green, finding the putting surface for fun and we all know what he is capable of with is putter.  To still be 25th for strokes gained putting is testament to his character with the short stick and that sort of form will be crucial for this week.

T13 at The Players also proves his worth on tougher courses and whilst this is by no means a difficult track, its tightness in places will bare no problems for someone of Choi’s ability.

He also played here during the 2007 Presidents Cup defeat to the Americans and did win his singles match against Mahan.  He, like Furyk, will be one of the few players in the field with a bit of course experience.

Tim Clark (66/1 Coral)

There is no denying Tim Clark has had a disappointing season.  Two top 10s all year is not the sort of golf you would expect from a winner of the Players.   He has bags of ability, it is just putting it all together for him to shine.

Come on Timmy!

Come on Timmy!

Interestingly, his 4 finishes inside the top 21 have come on courses at 7,200 yards or below and obviously this week is another shorter track.

His lack of distance off the tee can obviously hinder him on lengthy courses but 3rd in driving accuracy, 1st GIR 75-100 yards, 62nd inside 75 yards, 37th 150-175 yards, 4th inside 100 yards and 13th inside 125 yards.  Basically, he loves a shorter club and it all ties in together when you think of his performances on the smaller courses.

His last outing did result in an impressive T5 finish at the John Deere Classic, where he shot a 63 and 64 to set himself up for a winning chance on the Sunday.  67 was still an impressive final day score but proved to not be quite enough,

He finished T5 for GIR, T4 for driving accuracy but most interestingly 8th for putting average – often the club that lets him down.  Put all that together here and we could be in for an outsider here!

Outside Bets

Scott Brown (100/1 Stan James)

The 31-year-old has not had the worst 2014 with 4 top 5’s meaning he lies just outside the top 50 of the FedEx Cup standings.

It was his consistency at the John Deere Classic a couple of weeks ago that has drawn our attention to him. In his eventual T5 finish, which included a third round of 61, he ranked: T17 driving accuracy; 18th putting average and T18 GIR. If he can find fairways around Royal Montreal and putt like he has been, he will be a real threat. In season statistics, he ranks: T25 driving accuracy; T54 approaches from 125-150yards and 26th one-putt %.

Chad Campbell (100/1 Coral)

Rise from the dead?

Rise from the dead?

The 4-time PGA Tour winner has not won for 7 years now after once ranking in the top 10 in the world. For someone of his stature to have only recorded a top 3 finish once since 2009 is a real shame.

But this season, and in particular the last month or so, we have seen a lot of positive vibes coming out of the Campbell camp. After a T7 at the Travelers, he followed it up with a T13 at the John Deere and also shot a third round 62 in the process. He also ranked T7 GIR, all of which has taken our interest.

He ranks: T36 driving accuracy; T11 proximity to the hole; T14 approaches from 125-150 yards and 1st GIR. If he can get the putter going like he did for parts of the John Deere, we could see a rise from the dead not seen since the Undertaker in 2005.

Quicken Loans National 2014

Another name change across the pond this week, as the PGA Tour moves to Maryland and the 2011 US Open track Congressional Country Club.

It is the place where Rory McIlroy decided to actually play a different course to the rest of the field and break all sort of records.  It is a historical place and the field looks to be matching up to the quality of the place.  So much so that the long awaited return of Tiger Woods is due to commence and every fan, journalist, cameraman and punter will have their eyes fixed keenly on what the former world number 1 has to offer after a horrible back injury.

Wouldn’t be just so Tiger for him to come back and win here?!  He won’t though, don’t worry!

The course itself is a 7,569 yard par 71 and it’s length will challenge all the players, but it is by no means the key to finding a winner this week.  There is just as much importance on keeping it in play and giving yourself the chance of attacking pins on enormous greens, where 3-putts will be a regular sighting.

A historic and naturally beautiful course

A historic and naturally beautiful course

The putters and scramblers will certainly come to the fore as well, but for us, there is not really a type of player that will win here, you have to have a good all-round game, which excels in a key area to win – whether that be avoiding those 3-putts, hitting it long with an outrageous wedge game or an accurate plotter who knocks it next to the pin regularly.  Basically, anyone!

We have been going through a rough patch with our betting recently, so we can only apologise if you have been following us, but we have spent many, many hours this weekend trying to get us back to winning ways!

Jason Day (14/1 various)

Jason Day has a real chance this week

Jason Day has a real chance this week

The price?! We know, we felt it as well.  It’s absolutely criminal to think Jason Day is at 14s but we couldn’t help but go there.  Those of you who have followed us for a while will know that we rarely back front runners or guys at horrendous odds, so this is a rare choice and in some ways shows our real liking for the Australian.

His last 3 outings at  Congressional have yielded top quality performances, especially at the US Open in 2011 where he finished a solo 2nd.  Yes, we all know he was a country mile behind McIlroy, but considering he was +1 going into the weekend, he ripped the course apart to climb the leaderboard.  He matched McIlroy’s incredible first day 65 with one for himself on the Saturday and to do that on this track shows you have a liking for it and ways to combat its challenges.

He also finished T8 and T12 in the following years and will be going into this week not just in good nick, but in a period of time where he has actually been playing consistently for a few weeks.  He is one of those golfers that can take weeks off at a time, but 3 events in the last 4 weeks can only help his rhythm and aid him on a course he enjoys – especially after 3 rounds in the 60s in a row at the Travelers last week.

He will be able to attack the pin positions if he drives it well, especially considering how long he is and when his irons are on song it is terrifying how good he is.  As we all know, once he gets on a roll, his putting is unstoppable and birdies will come rain or shine.

At the end of the Day, he has to start winning more tournaments considering how esteemed he is regarded among the very best, so let’s add to the WGC please.

Nick Watney (80/1 PaddyPower)

Massive difference in price for our 2nd pick here, Nick Watney at 80s.  It may also seem slightly bizarre considering he is a player who is yet to record a top 10 this year, but we just have a hunch that he could go well here and finally put together 4 quality rounds.

Last week he shot 3 rounds in the 60s to finish T11, but it was how he played that excited us the most.  He was hitting the ball with real velocity – averaging 293 yards, but regularly surpassing the 300 mark.  Yet his accuracy did not falter and when you are averaging over 80% FIR, then something is going right.  If he can do that here then he well consistently set himself up to attack pins on the massive greens Congressional offers.

What went wrong for the American was his actual putting and at times that has cost him in his career, so he must get everything going if he is to justify why we chose him!

He did finish T10 a couple of years ago as well, so he has course knowledge and let’s hope everything finally clicks for Watney.

Hunter Mahan (50/1 various)

Hunter needs to up his game

Hunter needs to up his game

Hunter Mahan is another golfer who has had an absolutely shocking season, especially by his incredibly high standards.  This is someone many (including us) tip to win a major in his career, but there is no way that will happen with how his season is turning out.  BUT there have been signs for us that show he is working incredibly hard on his game to try and turn it around, his main problem seems to be getting everything going at once.

He showed promise at the Memorial a few weeks ago and even last week, he shot a 68 on the first day, going on to miss the cut somehow with a poor round on Friday.  He drove the ball well and got some rhythm going with his irons which has certainly encouraged us.

But he will be coming onto a course where he has found 3 top 10s in recent years, including a 2nd place in 2009, where he finished 1 shot behind Tiger after a magical 62 on the Sunday.  THAT is the sort of player he is and on the face of it, his game is absolutely perfect for this course.

It’s just a matter of whether he decides to turn up or not.

Angel Cabrera (125/1 Coral)

Angel Cabrera doesn't care where he smokes.  And nor do we if it helps him win!

Angel Cabrera doesn’t care where he smokes. And nor do we if it helps him win!

Angel Cabrera only turns up when the field is of top quality.  So, with the return of Tiger, we would not be surprised to see the burly Argentinean propping himself up with the leaders come Sunday.

He is a perfect fit for this course – he hits it long and straight and only ever has attack on his mind when it comes to his iron play.  He has been averaging at least 297 yards in his last 4 outings, but what impressed us about his T11 finish last week was the fact he found the fairway 71% of the time – the highest average all season.

That can only mean he has found some rhythm and a bit of confidence in his swing.  He did finish T13 last year as well, so if everything clicks then he could be an outsider certainly worth looking at.

Kevin Chappell (100/1 Coral)

Kevin Chappell somehow missed the cut last week after an impressive opening round of 66.  Many players suffered on the 2nd day and he was certainly one of them, but when you look carefully into how he has been playing recently, we feel he is a sleeper, waiting to come from ‘nowhere’ and challenge a tournament.

His T10 at the Crowne Plaza International was a solid performance, but the recent shorter, tight tracks do not quite suit his eye and therefore Congressional will be a place he can free his arms a lot more.  He averages over 300 yards regularly and is an incredibly solid tee to green player.

Plus, he will be coming onto a course where he finished T3 in 2011 at the US Open and really announced himself on the world stage. If he can put it all together and produce the qualities we all know he can, this will be a good week for Chappell.

Peter Hanson (100/1 various) and Shawn Stefani (200/1 various)

Our two real outsiders come in the form of Peter Hanson and Shawn Stefani.  Firstly, Hanson has not played a lot of golf recently, but is one of the more consistent performers in the game.  He rarely finds himself missing cuts, unless an injury is on the horizon. He averages it over 296 yards and is an iron guru, who can find greens for fun.  He finished T7 here in 2011 and could surprise a few this week.

Secondly, Stefani caught our eye because of how impressive he is off the tee and on the greens.  3rd for total driving and 36th for strokes gained putting could be the perfect combination this week.

Irish Open 2014

Prize Fund: €2,000,000

After Martin Kaymer secured one of the most dominant major wins since Rory McIlroy’s 2011 win last week, we now move to the Emerald Isles as the Irish Open comes to our attention.

In our eyes, it sort of signals the start to the swing of tournaments that will prepare players for a rigorous Open Championship next month.

Last year Paul Casey picked up the trophy in a truly wonderful win, carrying on this trend which has seen the last 7 winners of the Irish Open hailing from GB & I.

With the field including the likes of McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry, Casey and Stephen Gallacher, you would not be foolish to expect that trend to continue this year.

It has been a difficult process in dissecting the field however, because of a serious lack of knowledge about the course.  It will be held at Fota Island Resort in County Cork, which has not seen an elite tournament since 2002 (Soren Hansen) and 2001 (Monty came out on top).

It will be playing at 7,043 yards, which is short by today’s standards.   Hansen won with a score of -14 in 02’ and you can expect similar scores, if not more birdies on this parkland track that is spacious and has attackable holes throughout both 9s.

The beautiful aerial view of Fota Island

The beautiful aerial view of Fota Island

The two par 5s on the back 9 are great eagle chances, but over 100 bunkers and abundance of water does mean that the iron players will ultimately come out on top.  Not necessarily plotting your way round, but strategically understanding when to attack and grab those low scores.  There is a links feel to the track and we are certain the winner will be comfortable with those seaside courses.

We can expect large crowds all week, especially if an Irishman is contending on the Sunday, so it is going to be a cracking way to forget about the US Open!

Stephen Gallacher (25/1 Coral)

Stephen Gallacher (25/1 Coral)

We are sure that many people will be looking very seriously at Stephen Gallacher this week because there is no doubting his pure class and form in recent months.  If you have followed us for a while, you’ll know our admiration for the Scot because to us, there is no better sight than an iron guru strutting his stuff and that is just what Gallacher is.  His performances since that win in Dubai have been impressive, especially his T6 at the WGC Cadillac.

You can really see his tee to green abilities coming to the fore on this sort of course and he would have learnt from the US Open experience last week, where he eventually missed the cut.

He is the perfect sort of links players – T21 at the Open last year and his first European Tour win came at the Alfred Dunhill Links back in 2004.

He has shown he has no fears playing up against the big boys and if he is on song this week he will be a real danger.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello (33/1 various)

Let's get that winning feeling back again Rafa

Let’s get that winning feeling back again Rafa

Rafa Cabrera-Bello is our only pick this week that was not born on British shores and that in itself is a high accolade to how we feel about the Spaniard.

He is a flair player that recently turned 30 and he is now entering the time in his career where he needs to really push his talent forward and contend in more tournaments.

There is no denying he has had a mixed season, but 5 top 10s is a very solid return and they seem to come in clusters.  3 of those top 10s came in the space of 4 weeks and we have taken postivies from the fact he sneaked into a tie for 9th in his last outing at the Nordea Masters.

His driving distance and GIR at the weekend was exceptional – he never dropped outside the top 15 in either category and bizarrely he putted incredibly well to begin the week.  If he had put all those facets of the game together he would have won at an absolute canter.

He generally likes courses where birdie opportunities are more prominent (all his top 10s have come with scores of -10+) and if the wind does pick up, he is more than capable of shaping his shots and manoeuvring through the conditions like every Spaniard seems to be able to do.

David Horsey (80/1 SportingBet)

Horsey with horsey.

Horsey with horsey.

One of our perennial favourites.  David Horsey has become our go-to-guy if there is even a sneaky inkling of wind and/or a course that has a links feel.

He is a classical tee to green golfer whose only fault is being able to put 4 rounds together.  All 4 of his top 10s have included silly 70+ rounds and for someone of his calibre, it can be frustrating.  Some of that may be down to the fact he has not won since 2011, but we have seen signs this year that he will be lifting a trophy once again very soon, it is just a matter of time.

If he can find his range off the tee distance wise, then there is no reason why Horsey can’t have a big say in proceedings this week.

Matthew Fitzpatrick (100/1 various)

He has even had a round with Freddy Couples.  He is ticking off the greats with ease.

He has even had a round with Freddy Couples. He is ticking off the greats with ease.

A real jewel in the English game.  Matthew Fitzpatrick is yet to enter his 20s and he has already created a buzz around players and media alike at his potential future in world golf.  He is a genuine talent who has the all-round game to compete on any sort of course.

Whilst that is reason enough to consider him here, it will be an interesting few days for the Sheffield-born terrier because it will be his first tournament as a professional.

Last week he was paired with Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson, at times looking just as experienced and capable as his elder partners.  He then went on to become the first golfer since Bobby Jones to hold the accolade of low amateur in consecutive Open and US Opens – a truly remarkable feat.

With his astute abilities around the greens and surprising distance off the tee, he could be a cheeky outsider to have a punt on here.  What a story it would be.

US Open 2014 Preview 2

Date: 12th – 15th June

Venue: Pinehurst Resort, No. 2 Course, North Carolina

Course: Par 70, 7,562 yards

Current Champion: Justin Rose

Purse: $8,000,000

Winners Share: $1,440,000

Past 6 Winners –

2013: Justin Rose

2012: Webb Simpson

2011: Rory McIlroy

2010: Graeme McDowell

2009: Lucas Glover

2008: Tiger Woods

Past 2 Winners at Pinehurst –

2005: Michael Campbell

1999: Payne Stewart

One of the most eagerly anticipated US Opens is finally on our doorstep. The tournament that has historically brought out the real best of top quality players, testing every facet of their games.

So why are we saying 2014 is eagerly anticipated more so than previous years?

Well, the host venue, Pinehurst No.2, may be a renowned track but we can safely say that no one really knows exactly how it will play because of this extensive renovation that has completely overhauled the look and feel from the majors it has hosted in the past few decades.

It is a new course that has kept many of the traditions which designer Donald Ross originally intended to create. It is going to be a highly intriguing 4 days.

If you want a detailed look at what the course is all about, do check out our 1st preview here.

Pinehurst will be playing at 7,565 yards, making it the longest par 70 in US Open history. We have come to expect those short, nudgers and nirdlers tracks from the years 2nd Major, so whilst it still maintains the focus on outstanding iron and approach play, length has come into it for 2014.

Bill Coore and 2-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw set about the revamp and the extension of over 300 yards will create all sorts of havoc for the field.

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 20.33.44As you can see 3 of the 4 par 3’s are over 200 yards and if the wind is up, will test any player with a mid-long iron. There may be only 2 par 5’s but they are relatively monstrous, whilst 4 par 4’s are over 500 yards. It does make you scream BIG HITTERS DELIGHT but you have to stay cautious because it will not be that simple at all.

It has been well documented how the 2 golfing stalwarts ripped up 40-acres of grass and replaced it with 35 acres of ‘wasteland.’

It consists of sand and vegetation, pine needles and natural fescues, so by the time the weekend’s play comes around, lies will be completely different to the opening rounds.

Accuracy will be important, mainly on the approach shots – especially between 200-225 yards, as many approaches will be at this sort of distance – because the notoriously difficult greens have hardly been touched and will provide the courses’ main defence.

How Pinehurst has changed over the years.  Incredible.

How Pinehurst has changed over the years. Incredible.

The raised, bentgrass greens are tough to find and get the ball to stick, so no matter how pinpoint you are with your irons, everyone will miss greens and this is where scrambling because a necessity. Defending your score as much as finding those birdies are vital to any US Open and this will be no different.

The one worry we are sure the USGA has about Pinehurst this year is the fact the weather on all 4 days looks horrendous.

http://www.weather.com/weather/tenday/Pinehurst+NC+USNC0529

If the rain pours consistently and heavily it will make it easier for these top pros to get the ball to stick on greens and then scoring could go anywhere.

In all honesty we have seen an abundance of names get talked about as potential winners, more so than any tournament we can remember, because the unknown entity of the course and weather makes it difficult to judge.

We have really slaved over our picks, after deliberating for hours about whether this guy has the game, or this guy etc. We finally came to a decision that we are certainly happy with and it felt right to go with 5 main people followed by a group of outsiders worth looking at.

Note: Many bookmakers are offering 6 places this week, but Coral have an offer of betting £10, getting £10 free in play.  A good ploy to use for this sort of tournament, because all sorts could happen on the first few days!

Let’s make it a happy Father’s Day for all of us.

Jordan Spieth (28/1 Coral)

Better than Tiger?

Better than Tiger?

20-year old Jordan Spieth has made a rapid rise to the top of world golf. Having only turned professional in 2012, he is now 10th in the rankings and we couldn’t be surer that he will become a multiple major winner. It is just a matter of time before he picks up his first one and Pinehurst could be the place he achieves that feat.

His performance at Augusta was truly special, although finishing just behind Bubba for a tie of 2nd, he had a 2-shot lead at one point and for us, he didn’t bottle it.

He showed his remarkable character and lack of fear, had it not been for an incredible performance from Bubba, he would have become the youngest wearer of the green jacket. That experience will undoubtedly help him and he would have learnt from the 4 days and this could put him in a great mind-set for this week.

At The Players he went into the final day joint top with Martin Kaymer and he didn’t look as comfortable admittedly. A few uncharacteristic bogeys amongst his usual birdies halted his chances for a big victory, but again he would have learnt from it all.

He is an exceptional talent, with superb iron ability and he has averaged over 290 yards in his last 3 tournaments, so his length is not an issue. He is also very capable with his long irons – 55th approaches from 200-225 yards, 4th approaches from 250-275 yards.

But it is around the greens where his genius really takes hold. He is an adept scrambler and putter and with the tough surfaces, he will be able to find birdies at the right time, whilst hold onto those valuable pars – 9th scrambling, 5th scrambling from the rough, 39th 3-putt avoidance, 29th strokes-gained putting.

Spieth is not a young pretender at all, this guy is the real deal.

Luke Donald (40/1 Coral)

Time for some success from the Englishman

Time for some success from the Englishman

Here we go again. Luke Donald is one of those players on that ever-shortening list of world-class, non-major winners.

He is now 36 and arguably into his prime years and with 15 professional wins across the globe, this could finally be the Englishmans’ time.

Unsurprisingly he showed he class at Merion last year, a course that screamed Luuuuuuuuuke. We know that Pinehurst is considerably longer and he doesn’t have the greatest length off the tee, but as we have said already, distance is useful, however it is more crucial to have an all-round game that can combat anything and everything the tournament throws at you.

Of his 11 wins on the PGA/European Tours, 6 of them have come on courses over 7,350 yards, let alone the WGC matchplay win at Doral – a monstrous 7,700 yard track.

He is accustomed to finding other ways to combat long courses and his course management is up there with the best in the game. Therefore his long irons are simply outrageous – 21st GIR 200 + yards, 21st approaches from 200-225 yards, 16th approaches from 250-275 yards.

Whilst around the greens, we all know his capabilities – 18th scrambling, 22nd scrambling from the rough, 10th 3-putt avoidance, 6th strokes-gained putting.

You can have every faith in Donald when standing over those clutch-putts and we do feel the recent experiences of near misses will actually help him in a weird way.

The RBC Heritage is a tournament he has come so close to winning many times (5 top 5s in 6 attempts) and he was in pole position to win on the final day. Matt Kuchar ended up holing out from the bunker on the 18th to snatch victory away and whilst there have been a few bad rounds since, the T3 at the BMW PGA Championship shows he hasn’t lost his form.

With Rose winning last year, it would be unheralded to have another Englishman dominate the best the USGA can offer. Yet, it is a distinct possibility.

Charl Schwartzel (50/1 BetVictor)

A golfing marvel

A golfing marvel

The only question mark for us surrounding the South African is whether he is a good enough putter to win around here. He is one of those who consistently burns the edge and lips out but his weight of putt is actually really good and that could prove to be vital around Pinehurst.

To show this in figures, he ranks 73rd strokes gained-putting (not exactly bad) and yet ranks 17th for 3-putt avoidance. And when every shot counts in majors, 2 putting your way around the course could prove to be a winning formula.

Aside from his short game, we know what he does from the tee and fairways with one of the best swings technically in the game.

He ranks 18th total driving, averaging 297yards off the tee, 42nd scrambling, T10 approaches from 200-225 yards (one of the key yardages considering the par 3’s as well), T15 par 5 going for the green (showing his ability to attack greens from all long yardages). At 50/1 for a man in his prime with a major under his belt and that swing, it is too good to resist.

Contended heavily at last year’s US Open and his only other top 10 in majors, aside from his Masters win, was at the 2011 US Open.

Hideki Matsuyama (50/1 BetVictor)

Matsuyama will not be hiding in the shade this week.

Matsuyama will not be hiding in the shade this week.

The first thing that comes to our mind is, can he win two tournaments in a row, one of them being the US Open? Well short answer, yes.

We had been following Matsuyama for a couple of years over on the Japan Golf Tour and even won a bit of money on him. So it was no surprises when he came over to America and immediately started putting in quality performances.

It was his consistency in the majors, very similar to our main man Spieth, that is scarily good. T10 (US Open), T6 and T19 were his three major performances last year. For a 21 year old, you can’t ask for much more. We can genuinely see an historic ding-dong battle developing between Spieth and Matsuyama for the next 30 years.

Aside from his performances in big events, the way he plays the game sets up perfectly for Pinehurst. He fits the statistics we looked at arguably better than anyone in the field. T34 total driving, T23 scrambling, 6th approaches under 100 yards, 9th 200-225, T41 225-250 and 22nd par 5 going for the green.

His putting has left a little to be desired this year but 7th putting average on the way to his Memorial victory two weeks ago is enough for us to be happy. He has unquestionable talent with the driver and irons, it’s just whether that all important putter turns up!

Keegan Bradley (66/1 Coral)

The steely concentration of Keegan Bradley

The steely concentration of Keegan Bradley

It has been a bizarre year for Keegan Bradley. He hasn’t really excelled, but his consistency has caught our eye for a tournament where a solid swing and rhythm is vital.

3 top 10s, but 9 top 20s is quite some return and we just feel his game could suit Pinehurst to add another major trophy to his cabinet.

He is very long off the tee when he wants to be – 21st driving distance and his approach play, all be it slow, has everything needed to combat the challenge this week – 30th GIR 200+ yards, 36th approaches from 200-225 yards, 16th approaches from 250-275 yards.

He is one that will never shirk away from attacking greens and yes this has got him into bother at times, but if the rain does stay for all 4 days, then this ploy could reward him with a shot at lifting the trophy.

Around the greens he has immense patience and prowess, but a lot of his putting comes down to what head he brings. He can miss all sorts of putts, but he can also hole anything from anywhere for fun. If the latter of the schizophrenic-like Bradley turns up, we have a winner on our hands – 16th scrambling, 24th 3-putt avoidance, 58th strokes-gained putting.

For 66/1, a major champion, we just felt it was too good to ignore, especially with there being pretty poor value at the top. Keegan has the complete game to really challenge here.

Outside Bets

We usually incorporate players of big odds into our final 5 but with this being a major and the best possible field, there are plenty of people at tremendous value. So we have brought together 5 names at three figure odds and we will let you be the judge on whether you chuck a tiny bit of money on them or not. All of them will be at respectable odds in the top 10 market too.

Matt Every (125/1 Various)

If you get a chance, type in Matt Every into Google, there are some hilariously similar mug shots of the man.  Lad.

If you get a chance, type in Matt Every into Google, there are some hilariously similar mug shots of the man. Lad.

A player who might not be a household name but has a massive future at only 30 years of age. Bagged his first PGA Title back in March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and after a terrible run of form since that win, hit back last week with an impressive 3rd place behind Ben Crane. Finished 28th at Pinehurst back in 2005 when he was a younger lad, but this will not mean a lot.

Notable Statistics: T43 scrambling, T20 scrambling from rough, 3rd strokes gained-putting, T9 approaches under 100yards, 16th 200-225yards, T37 par 5 going for green.

Chris Kirk (125/1 Various)

Chris Kirk, a smiling hero

Chris Kirk, a smiling hero

Like Every, bagged a title in this 2014 wrap-around season at the McGladrey Classic. Went on to finish 2nd at the Sony Open and hasn’t missed a cut all season! That’s 18/18 cuts made. Finished T4 in his last appearance at the Memorial and was back striking the ball as cleanly as we know he can. Currently sits 6th in the FedEx Rankings, showing what a player he is. His iron play is one of the best in the game and will be invaluable around Pinehurst. Also ranked 3rd in putting average last time out.

Notable Statistics: 44th total driving, 19th scrambling, 40th strokes gained-putting, T52 under 100yards, 57th par 5 going for the green.

Ryan Palmer (150/1 Paddy Power)

We’ve had him earmarked for the US Open for quite some time now and it’s always just been a case of making sure he qualifies. His game pretty much is perfect for this course and has 5 top 10’s to his name in 15 starts this season, including 2 runner-up finishes. Looked very good a few weeks ago in his T5 finish at the Crowne Plaza. Has 3 PGA Tour titles to his name and knows how to get the job done. Next step is doing it on the big stage.

Notable Statistics: 25th total driving, 23rd driving distance, 35th scrambling from rough, 75th strokes gained-putting, T45 under 100yards, 13th par 5 going for the green.

Paul Casey (100/1 Paddy Power)

We're in awe of this photo

We’re in awe of this photo

Really, really good to see the Englishman back contending in America and shooting some good numbers. One of the best drivers of the ball in the game, particularly evident in his victory at last year’s Irish Open on the European Tour where he was hitting it miles. Growing up in England he will be more than used to the weather that he will experience in the first two rounds at Pinehurst. Led for quite a while at the Memorial Tournament and will be buzzing about the way he is playing.

Notable Statistics: T73 strokes gained-putting, T9 under 100yards, 31st 200-225, T63 par 5 going for the green.

Brooks Koepka (250/1 Various)

Koepka will be prepared if the weather turns sour.

Koepka will be prepared if the weather turns sour.

Followed this guy for quite some time now since his Challenge Tour days and absolutely bombs it off the tee. After a few weeks full-time in America, has started to look quite decent. Will be used to adverse conditions playing all over the globe on the Challenge and European Tours. With a tidy short game added to his length off the tee, worth a few coins surely?

Notable Statistics: T6 driving distance, T39 3-putt avoidance, 44th strokes gained-putting, T26 under 100 yards, T13 200-225.

Zurich Classic of New Orleans 2014

Purse: $6,800,000 

Winning Share: $1,224,000

Another dramatic week on the PGA Tour is over, after Matt Kuchar unbelievably holed out from the bunker on the 18th to win the RBC Heritage.  Our pick Luke Donald lost out with a few very close putts, but we cannot deny Kuch the victory because had he not won from his position, it would of knocked him right back after the final day Sunday’s he’s had recently.

Onto this week and we are down in Louisiana for the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.  The field isn’t as strong as recent tournaments, which is understandable considering the enormity of the events, but Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Patrick ‘one of the greatest ever’ Reed have made the trip south.

The TPC Louisiana course is one of the heralded tracks on Tour, another designed by the great Pete Dye.  It is a 7,400 yard par 72 with over 100 bunkers and water hazards on 8 holes.  69 of those bunkers are ‘pot-bunkers’, so getting out of them is no easy feat.  There are 5 par 4’s under 400 yards and you can argue that downwind, some of them are reachable, if not 50 yard wedge 2nd shot, so they come as a risk-reward tee shot.  If you are going to release your arm and use the driver, then you HAVE to be straight.

A gorgeous layout that will try and defend itself with the sand and water.

A gorgeous layout that will try and defend itself with the sand and water.

However, the remaining holes are considerably long, which instinctively makes you think of big hitters.  Admittedly you cannot ignore them, but if they are not straight then there is no chance they will be winning here.  Course management and knowing when to force is the key to winning around here and GIR guru’s are the ones that usually prevail.  Billy Horschel was T2 for GIR last year on his way to victory, so iron players have a knack of doing well – Horschel, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Jason Bohn, Jerry Kelly, Andres Romero, Nick Watney – these are all recent champions and they are all established GIR specialists.

Many things to consider when making your picks this week, but GIR with long, straight hitting and the ability to save from the bunker will provide the winner.

Ryan Palmer (33/1 StanJames)

Now is the time Ryan.  Now is the time

Now is the time Ryan. Now is the time

We have been big fans of Ryan Palmer’s for quite a while now and if you follow DownThe18th regularly, you will have seen us back him quite often.  He is one of those players part of a unique group who are due a win very soon.

He has been playing some outstanding golf (mixed in with some shocking golf!) since that T5 at The Players last year.  He had every chance of winning that event going into the weekend and he has certainly had chances to win since.  The Humana Challenge he finished solo 2nd but going into the Sunday wasn’t anywhere near a dominant Patrick Reed.  Boy did he make him fight though, shooting a remarkable 63 on the final day to post a score – a total of -26 shows how low he can go, which is a necessity here as well.

Whilst at The Honda Classic, he played some superb golf, even when he realised he had a chance to win it.  BUT he had that moment when he could have birdied the 18th and post a truly great score.  Bottling that putt ultimately led him to a playoff which he lost, so there has been times where he could have won.

He did follow up with a T7 at the Shell Houston a few weeks ago and he will be coming to New Orleans invigorated with a flowing confidence.  It is a course which should suit his eye and has done before, when he tied for 4th in 2012.  He has only missed 1 cut in his 6 outings here and you can understand that considering his tee to green abilities.  This past year or so he has excelled further and his iron play has been outstanding – 16th total driving, 15th driving distance and 15th GIR.  A lethal combination.

When you factor in he is 61st for strokes gained putting and 24th in scoring average he is a perfect fit this week.  It would be about time that he delivers not just for himself but for us!

Kevin Stadler (50/1 StanJames)

The Walrus and The Smallrus.  Yes.

The Walrus and The Smallrus. Yes.

The Smallrus.  What a specimen big Kev is and what a golfer he is proving to be this year on the PGA Tour.  He has a decent track record in the ‘lower’ tours, accumulating 9 wins, but it wasn’t until this year that he won his first title on the big stage in Phoenix.  He played some superb golf, constantly plonking the ball next to the flag and it is because of this foundation with his irons and off the tee, that we couldn’t look past him this week – 7th total driving, 48th driving distance, 58th driving accuracy and 20th GIR.

Since that win he hasn’t even tailed off which most first time winners seem to do, so it is of great testament to the man.  He finished T8 at The Masters – in some quarters he was an outside bet on the Sunday.  He failed to hole the mid-range putts though, because his iron play was genuinely astonishing.

Whilst he didn’t have the best finish last week (T38), he proved that he can hack those tight, short tracks as well which puts him in great shape for this mix of requirements in New Orleans.  We did see him hole a few putts during the early coverage on Sunday though which gave us even more confidence, because that is the part of his game which lets him down.

He finished T8 here last year, so his new found belief will be mentally buzzing for a challenge where he has played well before. If he can really get going with the short stick then he will challenge.  At 50s he just felt too good to turn down, especially considering the real lack of star quality in the field.  Plus at 26th for scoring average, he does know how to go on a roll.  Come on the Smallrus.

Russell Knox (40/1 various)

Russell Knox has yet to win on the PGA Tour.  We are aware of that but with so many first time winners in the past year or so, he doesn’t seem hugely far away of joining the elite.  He was part of that playoff at The Honda alongside Palmer and he had a chance to win it on the 18th, but his approach was not the best and he did hole one of those infamous ‘clutch putts’ to earn his spot.  The pressure did look too much for him though as he lost in the playoff but the signs that week were very positive indeed.

He showed his capabilities to attack at the right time and from tee to green he looked like a stalwart belying his 28 years – 19th driving accuracy and 28th GIR.

In fact, his worst finish this season, barring the 2 missed cuts, is T45, which is some going.  7 results inside the top 26 is an impressive return and that T9 last week shows his eye enjoys the tracks where you have to think.  TPC Louisiana may be a long course and Knox isn’t the biggest hitter, but it still requires plenty of thought and the Scotsman could really play his way round here.  He did finish for a tie of 30th a couple of years back and that will give him confidence, having at least had 4 rounds here before.

We do feel that 40s is probably a bit short for him, but his case was too appealing for us to ignore, so let’s all be hoping and cheering he Knox in a few putts this week…

Will McGirt (100/1 various)

William McGirt is another player without a PGA Tour victory but he has only been playing at the top level for a couple of seasons now.  He is an inconsistent player no doubt, but he has shown in his 2 top 10s that he does have the quality from tee to green to compete.

He should have finished higher that T9 last week because he opened and closed with a 66, but his Friday 76 was a woeful showing.  It is a shame because those scores included some top quality golf, but the way we look at it is he will be taking so much confidence from shooting low on a tough track, especially on the Sunday and he can go into this week thinking he can post a cracking score again.

Like Knox, he is not the longest off the tee but he is a plotter – 49th driving accuracy, 69th GIR and even 46th in scoring average.  Yet what he does have in his armoury that our top 3 picks lack at times is his abilities on the green.  He is 13th in strokes gained putting and if he can get all of his game flowing together then he could be a dangerous prospect.

Stuart Appleby (140/1 Bet365) and Hudson Swafford (200/1 various)

Take your own guess as to who this is.

Take your own guess as to who this is.

Our final two picks may be high odds but they are well worth their place on the list because they have qualities that could surprise this week.

Firstly the old-timer Stuart Appleby.  A 9-time is no mug.  This dude knows how to win and he may not have done that since 2010, but he has proven this year that he can still work his way round those thinking courses.  T8 at the Honda Classic and T12 last week show he is not only in good form, but when the irons are needed, he will use them like he always did.  What encourages us the most though is the T9 at the Humana Challenge because he shot -21 there and a score like that could be needed to win here, so he knows how to go on a birdie train and not get off – 30th strokes gained putting and 41st scoring average.  Last week he was T7 for driving accuracy and T53 for GIR. Another Aussie win please.

Secondly, Hudson Swafford.  A ridiculously ludicrous name.  When you say it out loud it makes you feel like part of the British Royal Family, but that aside, what an interesting prospect at high odds.  He has never played here and his form this season has been pretty poor, but a recent T43 at The Shell Houston Open may just make things feel better for the rookie.  That’s the thing, this is his first season in the big time!  So, what attracted us to him apart from his name?  His stats are more of a joke than the ones he would of received as a kid – 11th total driving, 37th driving distance, 66th driving accuracy and 12th GIR.  His one problem whenever we have seen him (which is very few and far between) is his putting.  Infact we were racking our brains thinking if we had seen him hole a putt in the handful of putts we’ve seen him hit.  No is the answer, but we are hopeful that will all change this week!

Maybank Malaysian Open 2014

Prize Fund: $2,750,000

After an exhilarating end to The Masters, the European Tour kicks in again as we move to Malaysia for the 9th Maybank Malaysian Open.  Many people put heart over head and backed Lee Westwood at Augusta and his tee to green performance was outstanding but that old tale of him with the short stick proved to be his downfall once again.

The Englishman will be teeing it up over in Asia this week for his first crack at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.  Whatever he managed to do in his tie for 7th, it does not mean he should at single figures with some bookmakers.  That is absolutely criminal, especially when you think Louis Oosthuizen, Francesco Molinari and Matteo Manassero will be there as well.

The Umbrellas may be out again this week!

The Umbrellas may be out again this week!

The course itself is a 6,967 yard par 72 and although on the short side, the undulating fairways, parkland style, abundance of bunkers and water make it imperative to be an iron god.

The greens can be tricky at times, but on the whole it is quite open from the tee so even though it’s a short track, you can look at longer hitters to chance their arms because if they find good positions, then it will be a simple wedge into the greens.

There are 3 reachable par 4s and 5 par 5s that could make the difference between 1st and 2nd, so whether it be bombing it or tactical genius, you got to find those birdies.

Obviously, the weather last year was absolutely horrendous and Kiradech Aphibarnrat won after only 3 rounds and it is going to be a whole lot different in 2014.  Four days play, four days rain (even some thunderstorms.)

Keep up to date with all the forecast movements, because it could be an important factor to the outcome here!

Grégory Bourdy (50/1 Bet365)

Enjoying his champagne... Courtesy of GettyImages

More champagne?
Courtesy of GettyImages

Grégory Bourdy hasn’t played since the Trophée Hassan II, mainly because the European Tour has seen hardly any action itself.  This is the case for a lot of the field who haven’t jumped the ship to America in recent weeks, but before the break the Frenchman was starting to find some encouraging form.

Firstly, he is yet to miss a cut in 2014 and he has been shooting scores below 70 more regularly, which is something he will need to do this week without doubt.

He has made some impressive displays in KL before, in 2011 he came 2nd, 1 shot behind Manassero and even with a final round -5, he double bogeyed the par 3 11th, which turned out to be the difference.  Llast year he finished T11 but should have arguably done better, going into the delayed 3rd round final day in 2nd place.  He was just 2 shots behind Aphibarnrat but the ridiculous weather that ensued played havoc with a lot of players and his +1 score diminished his title opportunities.

His GIR and driving accuracy that week were superb throughout the 3 days and that is something he has been showing again lately.

11th in GIR on Tour, 5th in driving accuracy and even 7th for putts per GIR.  That sort of solid tee to green made Bourdy unbelievably appealing to us, especially at 50s, so someone that could definitely add to his 4 European titles.

Hennie Otto (50/1 PaddyPower)

Always calculating everything when it comes to all his shots.

Always calculating everything when it comes to all his shots.

Hennie Otto is playing some outrageously consistent golf this year.  He is yet to finish higher than 37th and in the 9 outings he’s had, he has recorded 5 top 20s, including 3 top 10s.

His last performance on the European Tour resulted in a marvellous T5 at the Tshwane Open.  His final 3 rounds in the 60s were all based around an outstanding tee to green game, missing very few fairways or greens.  This could be his lethal weapon this week.

He will be coming onto a course that he has only played once a couple of years ago, but he did manage to finish in a tie for 7th.  He shot a 64 in the 2nd round to go into the weekend 1 behind Oosthuizen but two mediocre rounds at the weekend meant he didn’t manage to get a place and he must feel like there is unfinished business around here.

26th in driving accuracy, 20th in GIR and 44th for driving distance.  To say that is a dangerous combination is beyond an understatement and the idea that if his game comes together he could be straight, long and accurate means he is the perfect fit for this course.

You Gotto believe it.

Tommy Fleetwood (80/1 Ladbrokes)

Tommy Fleetwood is one of a number of young talents coming through on the European Tour at the moment.  At just 23 years of age, he has already won his first title at the Johnnie Walker Championship last year and he seems like he’s continued that sort of form, all be it inconsistently, into the 2014 season.

A T3 at the Volvo Champions to start, showed his capabilities amongst the best from 2013, although he was in a great position to win the trophy.

Although a couple of missed cuts did follow, he got back to some sort of form at the Trophée Hassan II where he finished T23.

He will be going onto a course where he has proven it suits him, after shooting a 66 in round 2 last year, before falling victim to the weather and not playing the conditions particularly well.  Finishing T11 is a solid return though and there is no reason he couldn’t do something similar now.

We all know what he can do from tee to green when his game is on and although the overall stats suggest he is pretty poor, just look at his outrageous GIR and driving accuracy in Morocco a few weeks ago.  He never ventured outside the top 15 all week.   Plus averaging it 285 will come in handy.

Emiliano Grillo (50/1 SkyBet)

Emiliano Grillo has come under the spotlight this season because he is another one of these prodigious young talents but he has had two opportunities to get a maiden European Tour trophy, although in two very different circumstances, failed both times.

You can only say that he will learn so much from the experiences, because they were both so unique.  The first came after a T2 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where he finished 1 shot behind Stephen Gallacher, but he was miles back going into the final 9.  He knew that on the par 5 18th, he had to get eagle and duly delivered, giving himself every chance, but Gallacher birdied 16 and 17 to guarantee a win.

But at the Africa Open he squandered a 2-shot lead going into Sunday, having played a majestic 62 in the 3rd round.  This would have haunted him for a week or so, but we are very confident this mess will be behind him because he is such a confident young player.

He will always attack pins and when scoring will be important, you cannot ask for much more.  Tee to green he is outstanding – 12th driving accuracy and 11th GIR.  If he can get his short stick moving properly then he will have every chance of etching his name into the record books.

Mikko Ilonen (50/1 SkyBet)

Mikko Ilonen with his Nordea Masters trophy.  He tried to tell his kid that wearing a cap like Jesper Parnevik is not the Finish thing to do...

Mikko Ilonen with his Nordea Masters trophy. He tried to tell his kid that wearing a cap like Jesper Parnevik is not the Finish thing to do… Photo Courtesy of Jonas Elkstromer

What an absolute honour it is to be backing Mikko Ilonen this week.  When he won big for us at the Nordea Masters last year, we were treated to a masterclass in how to use your irons.  He just kept knocking them next to the pin, time and time again and although he understandably went off the boil afterwards – bear in mind he qualified for 3 majors and a WGC after the superb season he was having – he is now showing those signs he means business again.

Watching him fight back with a 66 at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters to force a playoff with Sergio Garcia had us jumping out our seats.  He eventually lost the resulting duel, but followed it with an impressive T5 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.  To come back after a tantalising defeat shows the sort of character the Fin has and it cemented him firmly in our heads for the sort of tournament that would suit his game.

So, when we find ourselves looking at this week, Ilonen seemed like a cracking choice at 50s, especially after a T17 last year, showing he understands the course.

Like Fleetwood, he doesn’t read particularly well tee to green on the season’s stats, but those two top 5s, he never left the top 20 for GIR or driving accuracy.  His putter has been on fire of late as well – 31st in putts per round.

We are so confident that Mikko can FINish off what form he has started with a victory.